2010 - %3, July

Disappointing Jobs Report, Unsatisfying Obama Response

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 10:57 AM EDT

The new jobs—or lack thereof—numbers are not encouraging. Unemployment did drop to 9.5 percent. But overall the economy shed 125,000 jobs—while adding a measly 83,000 private-sector jobs. Reminder: the economy needs about 150,000 new jobs a month to keep up with population growth and new entries into the jobs market. It needs a lot more than that to make up for the 8 million or so jobs lost in 2008 and 2009.

Obama administration officials can point to a small drop in the unemployment rate. But if you factor in the 652,000 folks who left the labor force in June—a particularly high number—the unemployment rate would be 9.9 percent. So how can the Obama crowd sell this report? They're sticking to the default position: we're making economic progress, but need a lot more.

Speaking after the June labor report was released, President Obama said:

[The report] showed the sixth straight month of job growth in the private sector.  All told, our economy has created nearly 600,000 private sector jobs this year.  That’s a stark turnaround from the first six months of last year, when we lost 3.7 million jobs at the height of the recession. Now, make no mistake:  We are headed in the right direction.  But as I was reminded on a trip to Racine, Wisconsin, earlier this week, we’re not headed there fast enough for a lot of Americans.  We’re not headed there fast enough for me, either.  The recession dug us a hole of about 8 million jobs deep.  And we continue to fight headwinds from volatile global markets.  So we still have a great deal of work to do to repair the economy and get the American people back to work.

On the White House blog, Christina Romer, chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, noted,

These continued signs of healing are important, particularly given the recent volatility in world markets and the mixed behavior of other recent economic indicators.  However, much stronger job gains are needed to repair the damage caused by the financial crisis and put the millions of unemployed Americans back to work.

Democratic Party chief Tim Kaine issued a statement,

Today’s news offers hope for American workers that businesses and employers across the country continue to hire, but it also demonstrates the hard work we still have ahead to recreate the millions of jobs lost as a result of the recession.

All these statements are true, but hardly satisfying. How long can Obama and his crew keep saying the same thing: the recovery is weak, but we're doing the best we can? As I noted elsewhere, because Obama messed up the politics of the first stimulus initiative, he doesn't have many options these days to juice up the economy further. And there are only four months to the congressional election. If the GOP does gain House and Senate seats, Obama's hands will be tied even more so—and he'll have less to talk of in response to disappointing economic news.

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Dem Voters: Not Scared Enough

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 10:13 AM EDT

A new Pew Research Center poll confirms the yawning enthusiasm gap between Republican and Democratic voters this year—a difference that's becoming all the more worrisome for Democrats as the midterm elections creep closer. The GOP has a large advantage among older voters, who are far more likely to come out to the polls this fall than younger voters, the vast majority of whom vote Democratic. The result?

Fully 56 percent of Republican voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in previous elections—the highest percentage of GOP voters expressing increased enthusiasm about voting in midterms dating back to 1994. While enthusiasm among Democratic voters overall is on par with levels in 2006, fewer liberal Democrats say they are more enthusiastic about voting than did so four years ago (52 percent then, 37 percent today).

The Republican Party now holds about the same advantage in enthusiasm among its party’s voters that the Democratic Party held in June 2006 and the GOP had late in the 1994 campaign.

Though this trend is nothing new, the Pew findings give another clue as to why Democrats are still falling short. Almost three-fourths of Republican and GOP-leaning voters expect the GOP to do better than it has in recent years—which is also the prevailing sentiment among politicos, analysts, and pollsters across the board. But Democratic voters don't seem to share the same fears—and half of them expect the party to do the same as they had in recent elections:

However, Democratic voters this year are not particularly pessimistic about the election: 29 percent expect the Democrats to do better in this year’s midterm, far more than the percentage of GOP voters who said that four years ago (16 percent). Nearly half of Democratic voters (48 percent) expect the party to do about the same this fall as in recent elections, while just 18 percent say it will do worse.

Palm smacks forehead. The reality is that Democrats are expected to bleed anywhere between 30 and 40 seats in the House, losing their majority, as well as five to seven seats in the Senate, which could make it impossible for them to overcome a GOP filibuster. A number of major governorship are up for grabs as well. All of this will most definitely give Republicans a much stronger hand in obstructing Obama and the Democratic agenda—and will give them far more authority to impose their agenda on the country. Elections have consequences. And, yes, Democratic voters should be very, very afraid.

But Dem supporters don’t seem to realize how far the pendulum could swing in the other direction. And it’s clear that the Democratic Party is failing to communicate what’s really at stake in this year’s elections.

Charlie Crist's Hookers Headache?

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 10:10 AM EDT

Despite his best efforts to distance himself from the Florida GOP's disgraced former chairman, Charlie Crist, governor and US Senate candidate, just can't shake off Jim Greer's long tail of controversy. The latest twist in Greer's saga, who as party chairman is alleged to have stolen $200,000 in GOP funds and was arrested in June, is this: A Florida lobbyist and state GOP member said she'd heard that, at a supposedly men-only fundraiser in the Bahamas for the GOP, "women were involved and paid," the St. Petersburg Times reported. Having attended the fundraiser, Crist called the claims "absurdly false." Regardless of who's right and wrong, the allegations are nonetheless a new nightmare for Crist.

Crist, an independent candidate for the US Senate, abandoned the Republican Party in April, saying the party had become too right-wing for him. Outsiders, on the other hand, saw Crist's jump as a move to avoid losing to conservative Marco Rubio in a Republican primary. Since becoming an independent, and looking for support (and money) from both Democrats and Republicans, Crist has opened a modest lead over Rubio and Democratic also-ran Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fl.). Nonetheless, revelations about Greer, who headed the Florida GOP from 2007 to 2010, continue to threaten Crist's run for the Senate.

Worse yet for Crist is the news that Greer's trial will open in October—just weeks before election day. If you're Charlie Crist, you couldn't ask for more unfortunate timing. We'll see in the coming months if Crist can raise enough money and run enough ads to fully distance himself from Greer and the walking ethics nightmare that's become the Florida GOP.

A Sense of Where We Are: Today's Map

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 9:52 AM EDT


View Westward Expansion in a larger map

Outside South Wallingford, Vermont— For those following at home, here's a quick look at where the route has taken us so far. I'm driving through Vermont today, where I'll be considering such weighty questions as, "what is Ethan Allen's legacy in the 21st century?" and "Did people really think maple syrup could bring an end to the slave trade?"

Eco-News Roundup: Friday July 2

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 7:52 AM EDT

Politics of Healthcare: How's it doing? This new poll gives a rough idea.

Temperature of Trade: Cap-and-trade has gotten a cold Republican reception this year.

BP Buddies: Five ways the US Chamber of Commerce shills for BP.

Can't Sue: A maritime law prevents families of the BP rig explosion's victims from suing.

High Seas: The BP disaster is now even worse due to hurricane-blown waves.

Ivory Towers: How Big Pharma influences doctors, in school and seminars.

Private Army: Police officers near the Gulf moonlight for BP, while in uniform.

Spill Widows: Wives of fishermen in the Gulf face a heavy psychological toll.

Who Will Take the Hit for the Drilling Moratorium?

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The six-month moratorium that the Obama administration has imposed on deepwater drilling may complicate its effort to compensate Gulf residents affected by the oil spill. Kenneth Feinberg, whom President Obama has appointed to administer the $20 billion claims fund BP has agreed to establish, has said that this fund will not distribute claims to people affected by the moratorium. The White House, on the other hand, has said that it will.

Confusion abounds in the Gulf as everyone from small businesses to big oil companies attempt to sort out the economic damages of a catastrophic spill with no end in sight. A New Orleans judge blocked the drilling moratorium last week, a decision the Obama administration is appealing to the Fifth Circuit. Drilling projects remain stalled, however, and more and more claims are piling up. A Louisiana State University economist told Bloomberg that if rigs are idle for a full six months, the payroll loss alone could hit $450 million.

BP has set aside a separate claims fund of $100 million for workers affected by the moratorium. As opposed to the $20 billion spill fund, which was the result of an explicit agreement with the White House that obligates BP to replenish the fund if necessary, BP has described the moratorium fund as a "goodwill gesture." This framing is clearly designed to imply that, although the Deepwater Horizon spill was the impetus for imposing the drilling moratorium, BP is not liable for damages resulting from it. It is unlikely that BP would contribute more to the moratorium fund when the money inevitably runs out.

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Ghana's Missing World Cup Fans

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The stands will be slightly less studded with red, yellow, and green at the Ghana-Uruguay World Cup game today in Johannesburg. One thousand Ghanaian football fans, bankrolled by their government to cheer on the Black Stars, have been sent home due to lack of funding. (North Korea pulled off something similar, but didn't even send their own citizens).

The fans were called back one day before Ghana's game against the United States last Saturday, which the Black Stars handedly won 2-1 in overtime. No other African teams have advanced to this stage; in fact, Nigeria's president suspended their national team because of their poor showing this year. Ghana's historic victory has advanced the team to the final 8, the third African nation to do so (Cameroon in 1990, and Senegal did the same in 2002). None have made it to the semifinals.

According to myjoyonline.com, a Ghanaian news service, the budget included visa fees, hotel accommodation, feeding, medical support, transportation and match tickets. In a statement signed by Deputy Minister of Information Samuel Okudzeto Ablakw, "Government indicated that it had budgeted for 15 days and though the Black Stars have qualified for the next round it was imperative for the supporters to be brought back home since government wants to keep within its budget and maintain prudence.”

Some Ghanaian citizens, questioning the validity of such spending, are demanding that the budget be made public. In response, the statement said that "once the fans return and the final computations are made, the cost of the entire exercise will be made public." Though politically stable by regional standards, Ghana has a GDP ($1500 per capita) nine times less than that of Uruguay ($12,700 per capita).

Both teams today entered the tournament as underdogs: this is Ghana's second appearance in the World Cup, and Uruguay is the first South American team other than Brazil and Argentina to advance this far since Peru in 1978 (though, in all fairness, Uruguay is a blend of past glory and underdog verve, having won this tournament twice—in 1930 and 1950, the first and fourth World Cups to take place). Uruguay (ranked 16th in the world) is largely favored to win, given that three of Ghana's (ranked 32nd) best players may sit out due to injuries.

The Black Stars are the last remaining African team in this year's World Cup, and enjoy a great deal of fan support from Africa and beyond. With tens of thousands of seats filled and vuvuzelas humming like a plague of locusts, a few less Ghanaians will go mostly unnoticed. It is a reminder of the economic and social challenges that many African nations face, compared to that of their American and European counterparts. But the torch that the Black Stars carry, the hope of a continent to win the tournament on its own soil, is a potent symbol of the Africa's resolve.

Keeping Up With the Jones Act

| Fri Jul. 2, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Have you heard of the Jones Act? Unless you read Newsmax and listen to a lot of right-wing radio, probably not. It's an obscure statute that's been on the books since 1920, and it requires all shipping between U.S. ports or in U.S. coastal waters to be carried in U.S.-flag ships that are owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.

So why are conservatives suddenly up in arms about it? Because, they claim, it's a labor-inspired rule that's obstructing aid to a Gulf Coast being ravaged by the BP oil spill. Why, if only President Obama would stand up to the union bosses and grant a waiver to the rule, we could get help from the Dutch, the Norwegians, the Belgians, and all the other countries that desperately want to help but are being kept away. Sarah Palin got the ball rolling on this meme a couple of weeks ago when she said, "It’s amazing to me and to so many others that though President Bush had been able to waive Jones Act provisions for Katrina, President Obama hasn’t thought to do that yet?" It's been a right-wing talking point ever since.

This is, as it happens, entirely false. No waivers have been requested yet because so far none have been needed. The Jones Act doesn't apply to vessels like oil skimmers that would be used in coastal areas, and the world's largest skimmer, a converted Taiwanese supertanker, is in the Gulf and will begin operations soon. It doesn't apply at all more than three miles off the coast, where the spill itself is taking place. There are, it turns out, over a dozen foreign flagged ships helping out with spill operations. "To date," reports FactCheck.org, "25 countries and four international organizations have offered support in the form of skimming vessels, containment and fire boom, technical assistance and response solutions, among others." Only one offer has been declined.

Not surprised? Me neither. But I was pleasantly suprised by this headline on a Jones Act story distributed on Wednesday by McClatchy:

GOP's false talking point: Jones Act blocks Gulf help

One of the reasons that conservatives get away with mendacious memes like this one is because the media rarely calls them out directly on it. When it came up on Meet the Press last weekend, for example, David Gregory's response was "Mm-hmm," and it was left to Rep Ed Markey (D–Mass.) to explain why the charge was baseless. So three cheers to the heroic but anonymous copy editor at McClatchy who read William Douglas's story and didn't try to fudge things. It's a false talking point, full stop, and it's nice to see someone in a mainstream organization say so plainly.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 2, 2010

Fri Jul. 2, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

Army 1st Sgt. Tina Brown, Army Maj. Jennifer Reed, and Army Sgt. Rosalyn Anderson, deployed with the 525th Military Police Battalion in support of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, run in front of the Honor Bound sign at Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s Camp Delta during a physical fitness session, on June 16, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Nistas.

Video: Mac on Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Fri Jul. 2, 2010 1:12 AM EDT

On Thursday night MoJo's human rights reporter Mac McClelland appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss BP's stonewalling tactics and the health impact of the oil disaster. Watch the video below.

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