Daily Archive: 07/05/2013

Jul 05 2013

More Jobs Than Expected But Don’t Get Optimistic

The June employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US added 195,000 jobs but the unemployment rate remained at 7.6%. This better than expected number, along with upward revisions of the April and May jobs numbers led to some speculation by Wall Street analysts to speculate that the Federal Reserve would start to back away from part of its stimulus program.

But hold your horses on the optimism. The reality is that this an anaemic recovery with flat growth and low productivity, as Dean Baker points out in his article:

First, it is important to remember the size of the hole the economy is in. We are down roughly 8.5 million jobs from our trend growth path. We also need close to 100,000 jobs a month to keep pace with the underlying growth rate of the labor market. This means that even with the relatively good growth of the last few months, we were only closing the gap at the rate of 96,000 a month. At this pace, it will take up more than seven years to fill the jobs gap.

It is easy to miss the size of the jobs gap since the current 7.6% unemployment rate doesn’t seem that high. However, the main reason that the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 10% in the fall of 2009 is that millions of people have dropped out of the labor force and stopped looking for jobs. These people are no longer counted as being unemployed. [..]

This gets to the type of jobs that have been created in the upturn. Over the last three months, three sectors – restaurants, retail trade, and temporary help – have accounted for more than half of the jobs created. These sectors offer the lowest-paying jobs, with few benefits and little job security. [..]

Workers take these jobs when there are no better alternatives available.

There is also the impact of sequestration that has yet to have its full impact on the economy and Congress seems content to leave in place with one side blaming the other. There is little chance that a budget or any significant legislation will get through this Congress:

Do you see the problem here? The president’s adversaries lament his lack of warmth and his remote intellectualism; his supporters see the same quality as an analytical and cool-headed virtue. This could be a cute “the president is from Mars, Republicans are from Venus” thing – if it weren’t for the fact that several important issues this summer, including the budget and food-stamp funding, hinge on whether these two crazy kids will ever figure it out. At the base of their problem is an absence of mutual respect and a lack of legislative sportsmanship.

Until the players figure this out – and there’s no sign they ever will – we’re going to be stuck in an endless loop of revisiting these unhelpful battles that drag on for years. This summer is the last chance for any legislation to get through. Starting in the fall, the campaigns for the 2014 midterm elections are going to start, and the window for serious legislative action will have closed – at which point you can kiss any progress on major bills goodbye. [..]

the sequestration cuts are not a question of “one side” winning or losing. They’re a question of the nation, the economy and the American people losing. They’re a question of poor people losing: Meals on Wheels will suffer, as will those living in federal housing.

No one, so far, is winning at all. Even more concerning, it’s not abundantly clear that anyone in Washington knows how to play the game anymore.

Voters need to start making greater demands on their congress critters and start threatening to throw them out for ones who will represent the people and not Wall Street and their own self-interests.

Jul 05 2013

Comey’s Torture Advocacy Questioned

Try as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder might to denounce torture their actions with the last round of nominees and appointments to crucial positions speak louder than their words. First is was John Brennan to head the CIA, whose dubious record during the Bush/Cheney regime on torture and covering up war crimes was glossed over by Obama. Then there is Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, an inveterate liar who has a memory problem as well, “I forgot the Patriot Act.” Really? Clapper also served as an executive for Booz Allen Hamilton, a private security company contracted to gather data for the NSA, who employed Edward Snowden.

Now, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Robert Mueller is retiring and who does Obama choose to replace him? Another Bush crony, James B. Comey, who served as deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005. Comey, as has been hammered by the Obama administration supporters, blocked, along with Mueller, the Bush administration’s attempt to renew a still secret and illegal surveillance program on Americans’ electronic communications. That incident is only part of Comey’s record at DOJ which includes his support of torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention. In her article at The Guardian, Laura Murphy reviews Comey stands on these issues and questions just what illegal surveillance program did Comey oppose so much he would resign over it?

On Torture

On 30 December 2004, a memo addressed to James Comey was issued that superseded the infamous memo that defined torture as pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure”. The memo to Comey seemed to renounce torture but did nothing of the sort. The key sentence in the opinion is tucked away in footnote 8. It concludes that the new Comey memo did not change the authorizations of interrogation tactics in any earlier memos.

In short, the memo Comey that approved gave a thumbs-up on waterboarding, wall slams, and other forms of torture – all violations of domestic and international law. [..]

On Warrantless Wiretapping

While, to his credit, (Comey) he immediately began raising concerns (pdf), the program was still in existence when the New York Times exposed it in December 2005. This was a year and a half after Comey’s hospital showdown with Gonzales and Card. In fact, the warrantless wiretapping program was supported by a May 2004 legal opinion (pdf) produced by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and signed off by Comey, which replaced the 2001 legal opinion Comey had problems with (pdf).

This, of course, raises the question: just what illegal surveillance program did Comey oppose so much he would resign over it? Last weekend, the Washington Post provided a new theory: the Marina program, which collects internet metadata. Now, the Senate has an opportunity to end the theorizing and find out what exactly Comey objected to.

On Indefinite Detention

The final stain on Comey’s record was his full-throated defense of the indefinite military detention of an American citizen arrested on American soil. In a June 2004 press conference, Comey told of Jose Padilla, an alleged al-Qaida member accused of plotting to detonate a dirty bomb as well as blow up apartment buildings in an American city. By working for al-Qaida, Padilla, Comey argued, could be deprived of a lawyer and indefinitely detained as an enemy combatant on a military brig off the South Carolina coast for the purpose of extracting intelligence out of him

In a letter to Comey, two Democratic senators, Senators Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, expressed concern on Wednesday about Mr. Comey’s views on waterboarding and his role in approving “enhanced interrogation techniques” while at the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration. They are asking Comey to explain his e-mail of April, 2005, where he gave his approval of 13 interrogation techniques that included waterboarding.

. . Mr. Comey gave his assent to a Justice Department legal opinion that authorized the C.I.A. to use 13 interrogation methods, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation. The opinion “was ready to go out and I concurred,” Mr. Comey wrote to a colleague in an April 27, 2005, e-mail message obtained by The New York Times.

But he said in the e-mail that he disagreed with another legal opinion addressing the “combined effects” of the harsh methods, suggesting that their use in combination might be illegal. He recorded his views in e-mails to Chuck Rosenberg, then his chief of staff, as if deliberately creating a record in case his position might become relevant to his record in the future, as it has.

Appointing Comey to head the FBI is a another slap in the face to voters to whom Mr. Obama promised that he would end the Bush era abuses. Instead, Mr. Obama and his appointees not only continued these programs but covered up the wrong doing of the past, reinforcing and expanding the abuses.

This is what Barack believes.

Jul 05 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: E Pluribus Unum

It’s that time of year – the long weekend when we gather with friends and family to celebrate hot dogs, potato salad and, yes, the founding of our nation. And it’s also a time for some of us to wax a bit philosophical, to wonder what, exactly, we’re celebrating. Is America in 2013, in any meaningful sense, the same country that declared independence in 1776?

The answer, I’d suggest, is yes. Despite everything, there is a thread of continuity in our national identity – reflected in institutions, ideas and, especially, in attitude – that remains unbroken. Above all, we are still, at root, a nation that believes in democracy, even if we don’t always act on that belief.

And that’s a remarkable thing when you bear in mind just how much the country has changed.

Glen Ford: Obama Visits Mandela’s Old Cell, But Won’t Free His Own Political Prisoners

Obama sees no irony in making a pilgrimage to Nelson Mandela’s place of political imprisonment, while holding 80,000 human beings in solitary confinement. “Racist South Africa’s treatment of Mandela and his co-revolutionists was downright benign and enlightened, compared to fate of U.S. prisoners who are deemed a threat to the prevailing order.”

“Obama has no sympathy, however, for political prisoners of any race in his own country.”

President Barack Obama, a man of infinite cynicism, made a great show of going on pilgrimage to Nelson Mandela’s old prison cell on Robben Island, where the future first Black president of South Africa spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. With his wife and daughters in tow, Obama said he was “humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield…. No shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit,” said the chief executive of the unchallenged superpower of mass incarceration, a nation whose population comprises only 5 percent of humanity, but is home to fully one-quarter of the Earth’s prison inmates.

Jim Hightower: Oh Say Can You See… Through the Frackers’ Big Lie?

The surge in fracked gas is headed for export and won’t boost the nation’s energy independence.

Big Oil’s frackers are wrapping their shameless profiteering in our flag.

In shale fields across the country, you’ll see fracking rigs festooned with Old Glory, and they even paint some of their rigs red, white, and blue.

This ostentatious patriotic pose is part of the industry’s cynical PR campaign to convince you and me that its assault on our health, water, air, and economic future should be mindlessly saluted, rather than questioned. [..]

Joel Dyer, editor of the Boulder, Colorado Weekly, has peeked behind their-star spangled curtain. The investigative digger uncovered what he called “one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on America.”

H. Gilbert Welch: Diagnosis: Insufficient Outrage

RECENT revelations should lead those of us involved in America’s health care system to ask a hard question about our business: At what point does it become a crime?

I’m not talking about a violation of federal or state statutes, like Medicare or Medicaid fraud, although crime in that sense definitely exists. I’m talking instead about the violation of an ethical standard, of the very “calling” of medicine.

Medical care is intended to help people, not enrich providers. But the way prices are rising, it’s beginning to look less like help than like highway robbery. And the providers – hospitals, doctors, universities, pharmaceutical companies and device manufactures – are the ones benefiting.

Juan Cole: Egypt’s “Revocouption” and the Future of Democracy on the Nile

The argument over whether what happened in Egypt on Wednesday, July 3, was a coup or a revolution is really an argument over the legitimacy of the actions taken. If it was a revolution, it was perhaps a manifestation of the popular will, and so would have a sort of Rousseauan legitimacy. If it was merely a military coup against an elected president, then it lacks that legitimacy.

In fact, there certainly was a popular revolutionary element to the events, with literally millions of protesters coming out on Sunday and after, in the biggest demonstrations in Egyptian history. You can’t dismiss that as merely a coup d’etat from on top by a handful of officers.

But on Wednesday there was also a military coup, provoked by the officer corps’ increasing dissatisfaction with President Muhammad Morsi as well as a determination not to stand by as the country threatened to devolve into chaos, as rival street crowds confronted one another.

Tim Radford: A Warming Climate Will Alter the Soil That Feeds Us

Global warming may be about to change the ground under our feet – and perhaps not in a good way. It could be about to affect one of the most important communities on the planet: the tiny microbes that make life possible for the rest of creation, according to new research by scientists in the US and Spain.

Cyanobacteria are almost everywhere, have been around for the whole of life’s 3.5 billion-year history, and fix nitrogen from the atmosphere to fertilise plants and feed animals.

They are so common, and so numerous, that they form collectives that can be picked up by hand, and be seen even from space. As photosynthesisers, these blue-green algae also deliver the oxygen to keep the animal world on the move.

Jul 05 2013

On This Day In History July 5

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge.

July 5 is the 186th day of the year (187th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 179 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1937, Spam, the luncheon meat, is introduced into the market by the Hormel Foods Corporation.

Spam (officially trademarked as SPAM) is a canned precooked meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation. The labeled ingredients in the classic variety of Spam are chopped pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, and sodium nitrite as a preservative. Spam’s gelatinous glaze, or aspic, forms from the cooling of meat stock. The product has become part of many jokes and urban legends about mystery meat, which has made it part of pop culture and folklore.

Varieties of Spam include Spam Classic, Spam Hot & Spicy, Spam Less Sodium, Spam Lite, Spam Oven Roasted Turkey, Hickory Smoked, Spam with real Hormel Bacon, Spam with Cheese, and Spam Spread. Availability of these varieties varies regionally.

Spam that is sold in North America, South America, and Australia is produced in Austin, Minnesota, (also known as Spam Town USA) and in Fremont, Nebraska. Spam for the UK market is produced in Denmark by Tulip under license from Hormel. Spam is also made in the Philippines and in South Korea. In 2007, the seven billionth can of Spam was sold. On average, 3.8 cans are consumed every second in the United States.

Name origin

Introduced on July 5, 1937, the name “Spam” was chosen when the product, whose original name was far less memorable (Hormel Spiced Ham), began to lose market share. The name was chosen from multiple entries in a naming contest. A Hormel official once stated that the original meaning of the name “Spam” was “Shoulder of Pork and Ham”. According to writer Marguerite Patten in Spam – The Cookbook, the name was suggested by Kenneth Daigneau, an actor and the brother of a Hormel vice president, who was given a $100 prize for creating the name. At one time and persisting to this day in certain books, the theory behind the nomenclature of Spam was that the name was a portmanteau of “Spiced Meat and Ham”. According to the British documentary-reality show “1940s House”, when Spam was offered by the United States to those affected by World War II in the UK, Spam stood for “Specially Processed American Meats”. Yesterday’s Britain, a popular history published by Reader’s Digest in 1998 (p. 140), unpacks Spam as “Supply Pressed American Meat” and describes it as an imported “wartime food” of the 1940s.

Many jocular backronyms have been devised, such as “Something Posing As Meat”, “Specially Processed Artificial Meat”, “Stuff, Pork and Ham”, “Spare Parts Animal Meat” and “Special Product of Austin Minnesota”.

According to Hormel’s trademark guidelines, Spam should be spelled with all capital letters and treated as an adjective, as in the phrase “SPAM luncheon meat”.

Jul 05 2013

Sam the Eagle for President in 2016!

The Muppets: Stars & Stripes FOREVER!

Jul 05 2013

Egyptian Evolving Revolution

While America was taking a day to celebrate its 237th birthday, Egypt was swearing in an interim president to replace deposed president Mohammed Morsi who was removed from office by the military on Wednesday. Former Pres. Morsi and many members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been detained. As military coups go, this one has the backing of the populace which makes it hard to really call this a coup d’etat.  

Top judge sworn in as Egypt interim president

Chief justice Adly Mansour takes oath hours after democratically elected Mohamed Morsi overthrown by military.

Top judge Adly Mansour has been sworn in as Egypt interim president, hours after Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in a military coup following huge protests against his one-year rule.

Mansour took the oath of interim president on Thursday, as his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, was held in an unspecified military barracks along with senior aides. [..]

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officials were also reported to have been arrested, with many senior leaders being held in the Torah prison in Cairo – the same prison holding Hosni Mubarak, who was himself deposed in the 2011 revolution.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood leader said on Thursday that the Islamist group will not take up arms in response to the coup.

Muslim Brotherhood calls for demonstration

Army releases statement saying it will not stop peaceful protests, but warns against abusing the right to demonstrate.

An Islamist coalition, led by the Brotherhood, urged people on Thursday to take part in a “Friday of Rejection” protest following weekly prayers.

The call is being seen as a test of whether Morsi still has a support base in the country, and how the army will deal with it.

Egypt’s army released a statement later on Thursday on its Facebook page, saying that everyone had a right to peaceful protest, but that right should not be abused.

Egypt’s revolution and diplomacy: when a coup is a ‘military intervention’

Allies wary of Mohamed Morsi-led Muslim Brotherhood offer cautious welcome to ‘popular’ ouster of Egypt’s president

Foreign governments reacting to the Egyptian military’s move against Mohamed Morsi have been getting into semantic knots about the difference between a “coup” and a “military intervention” – though no-one disputes that a democratically elected president, albeit an unpopular one, has been overthrown.

Statements from Washington, London and elsewhere reflected the awkwardness of the issue, with President Barack Obama avoiding use of the C-word to stave off the risk that US financial aid to a strategically important Middle Eastern ally might be cut off by Congress. [..]

William Hague, the foreign secretary, came up with a formula that decried military “intervention” while pragmatically urging that the transition be fast and inclusive. But it was, Hague added, a “popular” move. “We have to recognise the enormous dissatisfaction in Egypt with what the president had done and the conduct of the government over the past year.”