Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! I’m having trouble finding any new news, but I’ve done my best to dig up a few interesting reads for you.

The Boston Herald has the lowdown on President Obama’s illegal immigrant uncle.

An illegal immigrant from Kenya busted for drunken driving after nearly striking a cop car in Framingham is the uncle of President Obama, the Herald has learned.

Obama Onyango told cops he wanted to “call the White House” after he was nabbed for OUI Aug. 24 after nearly plowing his SUV into a police cruiser. He was arraigned Thursday and was ordered held without bail because he was wanted on a federal immigration warrant, officials said.

Mike Rogers, a spokesman for Cleveland immigration attorney Margaret Wong, who is representing Onyango, confirmed that the 67-year-old is the president’s uncle. Wong is the same lawyer who represented the president’s aunt, Zeituni Onyango, in her fight to win asylum last year.

Reached at her apartment in a South Boston public housing complex today, Zeituni Onyango said of her brother’s arrest: “Why don’t you go to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washingon, D.C. and ask your president? Not me.” She then hung up on a reporter.

OK, it’s another right wing source, but Fox News has a funny article on Obama’s announcement of his new economic adviser Alan Krueger: Seriously? Obama Uses 2 Teleprompters for 3 Minute Speech

President Obama required two heavy-duty teleprompters on Monday during a three-minute speech in which he nominated Alan Krueger to serve as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers.

“I am very pleased to appoint Alan and I look forward to working with him,” Obama said, staring at the large, flat-screen monitor to his right, then shifting his eyes to the teleprompter on his left. “I have nothing but confidence in Alan as he takes on this important role as one of the leaders of my economic team.”

Why couldn’t he just memorize that?

In more serious news, the aftermath of Hurricane Irene has been devastating in Vermont, but the networks aren’t covering it 24/7. I wonder why?

Vermont is reeling today from what is becoming the state’s worst natural disaster since the epic flood of 1927. At least three people have died in the storm, one man is missing, hundreds of roads statewide are closed, and thousands of homes and businesses suffered power outages and serious damage from flooding associated with Tropical Storm Irene.

[Update 5:40 p.m.] Three people are confirmed dead in Vermont in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, and a fourth person is missing, state officials said at a news conference in Montpelier late this afternoon.

The deaths occurred in Wilmington, Rutland and Ludlow. Another person, the son of the Rutland victim, is missing and feared dead, according to state officials.

Perhaps if the media elites lived in Vermont, we’d hear more about it. But they don’t, so it’s not real to them. This is why we can have 25 million people unemployed in this country and the media and political class completely ignore the devastation it causes.

Sarah Jaffe has an important article at Alternet on “How the Surveillance State Protects the Interests Of the Ultra-Rich.”

Jaffe discusses the refusal of the British government to recognize that poverty played a role in the recent riots in London and other cities, as well as the shutdown of cell phone service by BART during the protests of the killing of a man by BART police. She writes:

The techniques that were roundly decried by Western leaders when used by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak against his people’s peaceful revolution are suddenly embraced when it comes to unrest at home. Not only that, but techniques honed in the “war on terror” are now being turned on anti-austerity protesters, clamping down on discontent that was created in the first place by policies of the state.

[….]

As a burgeoning international protest movement takes shape, opposing austerity measures, decrying the wealth gap and rising inequality, and in some cases directly attacking the interests of oligarchs, we’re likely to see the surveillance state developed for tracking “terrorists” turned on citizen activists peacefully protesting the actions of their government. And as U.S. elections post-Citizens United will be more and more expensive, look for politicians of both parties to enforce these crackdowns.

Despite growing anger at austerity in other countries, those policies have been embraced by both parties here in the States. Groups like US Uncut have stepped into the fray, pointing out the connection between the tax dodging of banks like Bank of America and other corporations and the slashing of the social safety net for everyone else. The new protest movements are led not only by traditional left groups like labor unions, but a generation of young, wired activists using the Internet for innovative protest and revolutionary activism.

It’s a lengthy article, but well worth reading.

Joseph Heller as a young man

I’ll end with a literary piece. I’m a big fan of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, so I got a kick out of this review of books about Heller at the NYT: The Enigma of Joseph Heller.

“Oh God, this is a calamity for American literature,” Kurt Vonnegut said on learning of Joseph Heller’s death in 1999. John Updike was less alarmed: Heller “wasn’t top of the chart” as a writer, he reflected, though he was “a sweet man” and his first novel, “Catch-22” was “important.” Note the Updikean judiciousness of “important”: he didn’t say he liked the book, but it was a great cultural bellwether as novels go, and it has endured. Despite mixed reviews on publication in 1961, “Catch-22” was soon adopted by college students who recognized a kindred spirit in Yossarian, the bombardier who rebels against a materialistic bureaucracy hellbent on killing him. “Better Yossarian than Rotarian” became a popular slogan, all the more so with the timely (for the novel’s sake) military escalation in Vietnam, which became the “real” subject of “Catch-22” and partly accounts for its sales of more than 10 million copies to date. It’s hard to argue with that kind of importance.

IMHO, John Updike’s work isn’t likely to be read 100 years from now. Does anyone still read “Couples?” Please. “The Witches of Eastwick” was funny, but hardly deathless literature. Catch-22, on the other hand, might hold up 100 years from now. To me it’s the ultimate book on the insanity of war. I might just check out that Heller biography, even though the NYT reviewer wasn’t that thrilled with it.

That’s all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Nicholas Kristof Suddenly Discovers the Unemployment Crisis

I probably shouldn’t pick on Nicholas Kristof, because I guess as media elites go, he’s one of the least offensive. But really, his latest column just about sent me out into the street screaming and tearing my hair out. The piece is titled “Did We Drop the Ball on Unemployment?”

WHEN I’m in New York or Washington, people talk passionately about debt and political battles. But in the living rooms or on the front porches here in Yamhill, Ore., where I grew up, a different specter wakes friends up in the middle of the night.

It’s unemployment.

I’ve spent a chunk of summer vacation visiting old friends here, and I can’t help feeling that national politicians and national journalists alike have dropped the ball on jobs. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed — that’s more than 16 percent of the work force — but jobs haven’t been nearly high enough on the national agenda.

Duh! I have a question for Captain Obvious Nick Kristof: Is the Pope Catholic? Here’s another one: Does a bear sh*t in the woods? Yes, Nick. You and your pals dropped the ball, missed the boat, and every other metaphorical cliche you can think of. Yes. And it’s way too late for your mealy-mouthed *concern* to make a difference.

What is wrong with these people? Kristof goes on to provide a few examples of people he knows in Oregon who are suffering from joblessness and hopelessness. Frankly, I found his little anecdotes rather patronizing. Maybe I’m being too hard on him, but really, if this man claims to be a “journalist,” why didn’t he recognize years ago that unemployment was a huge problem for the American people and for the economy as a whole? Kristof’s half-hearted prescriptions for solutions aren’t much better than Obama’s:

There are no quick fixes to joblessness, but Washington could temporarily make federal money available to pay for teachers who are otherwise being laid off. We could increase spending on service programs like AmeriCorps that have far more applicants than spots.

We could extend the payroll tax cut, which expires at the end of December. Astonishingly, Republicans in Congress seem to be lined up instinctively against this basic economic stimulus. Could the Tea Party actually favor tax reductions for billionaires but not for working Americans? Could we have found a tax increase the Republican Party favors?

Mr. Obama, with 25 million Americans hurting, will you fight — really fight! — to put jobs at the top of the national agenda?

Give me a break! Obama isn’t going to fight for anything except his own reelection and keeping his wealthy donors happy. And Nick Kristof, after tossing of a facile column in which he pretends to care about struggling Americans, will return to Washington and New York, smile his self-satisfied smile, and continue to ignore the depth of what is really happening to our country.

Why doesn’t The New York Times hire Jeffrey Kaye, who writes about important topics like torture? Joblessness can be a kind of torture too, and a couple of weeks ago, Kaye wrote a fine article about the links between unemployment, depression, and suicide.

When considering the effects of unemployment, and the desultory, really uncaring response of the current Democratic administration, as well as Republicans in Congress, to the human devastation of joblessness, it is important to consider the terrible emotional and psychological effects of such unemployment. Such effects are well-documented, but rarely mentioned in articles or blog postings.

A well-regarded 2010 study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, “The Anguish of Unemployment,” quantified the tremendous emotional suffering engendered by unemployment. “‘The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally,’ wrote one respondent to the survey.” ….

Just last April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study that showed that suicide rates rise and fall in tandem with the business cycle.

Kaye, a clinical psychologist actively working with clients, says he has seen the devastating effects of joblessness in his own practice since the financial crisis. He writes:

Unemployment is deadly. The effects of the capitalist boom-and-bust system seriously damage millions of lives. But with an almost daily bombast of propaganda about terrorism, the populace lives in fear, while wondering how they will make their bills, ground down between anxiety over ghostly terrorists and eviction, or how to put gas in their car, or afford a bus pass. Hopelessness stalks the land, not Al Qaeda. And yet the politicians in D.C. care little or nothing about the suffering their policies cause. Indeed, their pockets are lined with campaign donations from corporations that routinely layoff hundreds of thousands, and ship many thousands more jobs overseas.

Callous disregard for human lives is what links the terrible policies of war and torture with the policies of neglect and indifference towards the jobless. Such callousness is the by-product of a get-rich-quick ethos that worships profit over all else, over worship of a capitalist system that has brought about terrible world wars, massive depressions, colonial atrocities, and even genocide. U.S. society awaits its turn through the meat-grinder of history.

That is the kind of writing I’d like to see on the op-ed page of the NYT. Of course I know it will never happen. The elite media, the out-of-touch political class, and their wealthy enablers must not be made to feel even slightly uncomfortable about the effects of their actions–not even for the few minutes it takes to read a newspaper column.