Marines with Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, execute a combat logistics patrol exercise on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Sept. 22, 2012. U. S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony Ortiz.

The monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was released on Friday, and it had good news for President Obama: Non-farm unemployment numbers dropped below 8 percent—to 7.8—for the first time since January 2009.


As soon as the report hit, conservative commentators seized on the unexpectedly low figure as evidence of a sinister plot by the Obama presidential campaign to cook the books four weeks before Election Day. Within an hour, the conspiracy had reached the ranks of Republican members of Congress. Here's Florida Rep. Allen West, locked in a tight re-election fight, calling the Obama administration "Orwellian" in a post on his Facebook page:

We all want the suffering of the American people from this rampant scourge of unemployment to end. However, today's jobs report is confusing to say the least. Previous months numbers have been revised and yet the workforce participation rate remains at a 30 year low. The unemployment rate drops to 7.8 percent, that is where it was in January 2009 when the President took office. But the U6 computation of unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged Americans remains the same at 14.7 percent. I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here. Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election. This is Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book "Rules for Radicals"- a must read for all who want to know how the left strategize . Trust the Obama administration? Sure, and the spontaneous reaction to a video caused the death of our Ambassador......and pigs fly.

The American economy added 114,000 new jobs last month. However, about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth is closer to 24,000 jobs. The chart below, which I update monthly, shows net job creation since the beginning of 2008. Those of you with sharp memories will note that the past three months look bluer than they used to. This is because the BLS revised its July and August estimates upward. It's still nothing to write home about, but job creation over the past few months has been a bit healthier than it initially looked.

Politically, this jobs report has something for everyone. The Romney will camp will correctly point out that the recovery remains pretty sluggish. The Obama camp will correctly note that the unemployment rate has now fallen from 9.0% to 7.8% over the past year. The Romney camp will correctly point out that the payroll survey (see chart below) doesn't suggest job creation is really all that robust right now. The Obama camp will simply be happy that the headline unemployment number went down a bunch and the Romney team can no longer chirrup endlessly about "xx straight months of unemployment above 8%." You should feel free to adopt your own talking points accordingly.

UPDATE: I originally said that the unemployment rate had gone down partly because people were dropping out of the labor force and therefore no longer being counted as unemployed. That was true last month, but not this month. Sorry about that. I've corrected the post.



Taken 2
20th Century Fox
92 minutes

Taken 2 is an unqualified dud, and it has taken two hours of my life that I will never get back. Despite being the sequel to 2008's Taken (which is forever awesome) and starring the elder statesman of ass-kicking Liam Neeson, this entry into the series is nothing to be taken seriously.

In the first film, Kim Mills (Maggie Grace), daughter of good-natured CIA torturer Bryan (Liam Neeson and Liam Neeson's stunt double) was taken by human-trafficking Albanians and chauvinist Arabs. He eventually un-takens her, using his very particular set of skills; namely the ability to massacre ethnic caricatures at will. In the second film, the families of the slaughtered Albanian stereotypes have taken it upon themselves to plot brutal vengeance. And so Bryan and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get taken, too, in Taken 2.

I was taken aback by the conspicuous sparseness of the action; the set pieces that do crop up are lazily staged and disjointed. All of the actors seem listless and detached, like many scenes were shot during coffee breaks taken during other, better movies. (Also, in Taken 2, Bryan and Kim at one point attack an American embassy, which may seem somewhat tone-deaf to viewers who have been watching the news lately.)

Taken together, the movie is an hour-and-a-half stretch of anti-climax. If you haven't taken two Provigil right before walking into that dark theater to see Taken 2, you risk slipping into a spout of narcolepsy. Do not allow yourself to get taken to Taken 2.

Never again will I take the original for granted.

Take a look at the international trailer for part deux, regardless:

** To take a serious tack for a minute: If box office returns are good enough to warrant another installment, what would it be called?

  • Taken 3D?
  • 3 Take 3 Taken?
  • Taken 3: The Retakening?
  • Tomado Tres?
  • Took?

Unless the studio hires a champ like William Friedkin to take over and make the series wonderful again, I have zero interest in finding out.

Taken 2 gets a wide release on Friday, October 5. The film is rated PG-13 for generic Takening. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To listen to the weekly movie and pop-culture podcast that Asawin co-hosts with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot



"Throughout its existence, [our nonprofit] has regularly consulted with experienced tax counsel to ensure it is in full compliance with the federal tax laws."
A statement to ProPublica from the Government Integrity Fund, defending its 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status despite spending more than $1 million favoring Republican Josh Mandel in his challenge against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The Fund is a so-called "social welfare" group, which can't make politics its primary purpose. What that means, exactly, has been an ongoing discussion this year. The IRS is investigating potential violators of the rule, but it hardly ever audits nonprofits.


attack ad OF THE WEEK

At Wednesday night's debate, Mitt Romney declared, "I like PBS" and "I love Big Bird," but "I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for." (Just .00014 percent of last year's federal budget was spent on PBS.) After the debate, the liberal super-PAC American Bridge 21st Century released two web ads hammering Romney. The one below criticizes the candidate's offshore bank accounts, then switches to a scene showing Big Bird getting smashed by an anvil. American Bridge, which has spent more than $6 million supporting Democrats in the 2012 election, also rolled out a series of depressing images of Sesame Street characters bemoaning Romney's policy positions.



$1.84: The reduced cost, per gallon, of gas that the Koch-affiliated 501(c)(4) Americans for Prosperity has been offering on a tour that has hit Nevada, Iowa, and Michigan. The reduced cost, offered to about 100 to 150 motorists per gas station, is meant to reflect the cost of gas when Bush left office (conveniently not mentioned is that the low cost was thanks to the economic crisis). Thus far, AFP has also spent more than $30 million on ads attacking Obama.


charts OF THE WEEK

The Sunlight Foundation has a series of eight charts exploring where the money is going to House races, organized by the Cook Report's likely victor ratings. Below, the first chart shows total amounts of money in House races; the second, which shows outside spending, suggests that while incumbents tend to have an overall cash advantage, super-PACs and nonprofits often favor their opponents. (Also: Don't miss Sunlight's Senate elections charts.)



Ralph Reed's Group: An Obama Victory Means "He Can Complete America's Destruction": The nonprofit run by the ex-Christian Coalition leader blankets voters with grab bag of right-wing Obama hatred.
Are Super-PACs Overhyped?: Sure, they're blowing rich donors' money. But don't write them off quite so fast.
• Are your dark-money donations tax-deductible? Wall Street Journal
• Suggestions from tax experts on how to remove dark money from the shadows. Roll Call
• Jonathan Alter explores the role of small money in Citizens United-era politics. Bloomberg

Pitch Perfect
Universal Pictures
112 minutes

The movie includes a cabal of incessantly mocked "deaf Jews." It makes a shameless rape-whistle joke. It features a prolonged sequence in which a naked, cowering college girl is harassed by another naked college girl in a cold dormhouse shower. And then there's a scene toward the end of a woman spewing a couple gallons of projectile vomit (like she's in a Sam Raimi movie) at a gathering of several other young women, thus instigating an orgy of kick fighting, and causing a petite Korean with limited social skills to collapse into the plashet of lady bile and spontaneously start to snow-angel.

Am I describing an old John Waters film? Maybe the next Broken Lizard movie? David Lynch's sudden foray into teen comedy, perhaps?

Nope. That was the newly released Pitch Perfect, a cuddly PG-13 rated movie that's all about self-discovery and a cappella remixes of Kelly Clarkson and other top-40 fixtures.

And despite this less-than-flattering description, I can't recommend it highly enough.

I'm a little tired of debate navel gazing, so let's look around for other topics to talk about. Glenn Greenwald must have one. Let's take a look:

Wednesday night's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney underscored a core truth about America's presidential election season: the vast majority of the most consequential policy questions are completely excluded from the process....In part this is because presidential elections are now conducted almost entirely like a tawdry TV reality show....But in larger part, this exclusion is due to the fact that, despite frequent complaints that America is plagued by a lack of bipartisanship, the two major party candidates are in full-scale agreement on many of the nation's most pressing political issues. As a result these are virtually ignored, drowned out by a handful of disputes that the parties relentlessly exploit to galvanise their support base and heighten fear of the other side.

Most of what matters in American political life is nowhere to be found in its national election debates. Penal policies vividly illustrate this point.

Damn. Even Glenn is talking about the debate. He thinks that allowing third-party candidates to participate would "highlight just how similar Democrats and Republicans have become, and what little choice American voters actually have on many of the most consequential policies." Maybe. But keep in mind that the topics of last night's debate were chosen in advance by Jim Lehrer. Here they are:

  • The Economy – I
  • The Economy – II
  • The Economy – III
  • Health Care
  • The Role of Government
  • Governing

Penal policy wasn't there, so it wouldn't really matter much if Gary Johnson had been on the stage. The problem here was the moderator, not the two-party system.

However, there will be a stronger case for a third-party presence in the next debate, which includes foreign policy topics. Even if Candy Crowley sticks to the big-ticket topics — Iran, Afghanistan, China, etc. — a third-party candidate like Johnson would have genuinely different things to say. At the same time, I wouldn't expect too much from this. Ron Paul participated in all of the Republican primary debates, and he didn't noticeably move the public opinion needle on foreign policy issues. I'm not sure Gary Johnson would either.

Still, maybe he should have a chance to try. So here's a question for the hivemind: what's fair here? The current threshold is that candidates have to score at least 15% in selected polls to be invited to the debates, and this year no one has qualified. Gary Johnson is around 3% nationally. But maybe that's the wrong threshold. I'm violently opposed to a really small threshold, like 1% or so, because it has the potential to turn the debates into a circus. (Well, more of a circus.) The public really does deserve to get a good close look at the two major-party candidates, since one of them is certain to win the election, and having half a dozen true-believing obsessives on stage doesn't help that.

So here's another idea: the debates should always feature three candidates. Two of them would be the major party candidates and the third would be whoever polls the best among all the minor party candidates. If there were literally no minor party candidates who even appeared on enough state ballots to be serious contenders, then maybe we'd be stuck with two debaters after all. Otherwise, though, we'd always make room for at least one more. Maybe the debate commission would commission its own polls, or maybe it would rely on existing polls. Either way, it would publish the ground rules, and a week before the first debate it would announce who the best performing third-party candidate was.

This system has the virtue of ensuring that the non-mainstream has at least some representation, but without turning the debates into a free-for-all. Comments?

Pundits largely took two things away from the debate last night: President Obama turned in a lackluster performance, and moderator Jim Lehrer let Mitt Romney walk all over him. A presidential debate moderator's job is not unlike a parent with two squabbling six-year-olds: While it's important to maintain neutrality, it's also necessary to find out which kid is lying about cutting the legs off all the Barbie dolls. Because Lehrer could hardly get a word in last night, let alone call out any questionable truths, we've done it for him: by comparing the statements made by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on "The Whopper Scale." Five Whoppers means that the statement is complete baloney. One means that the statement is kind of tasteless, but basically real: So…like the beef you'll find in fast food restaurants! 

Mitt Romney

The Statement: "Let—well, actually—actually it's— it's—it's a lengthy description, but No. 1, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan."

How Accurate Was It? Coverage for preexisting conditions keeps the most vulnerable Americans from falling through the cracks, and according to the Department of Health and Human Services, without Obamacare, up to 129 million citizens could be denied coverage. Romney, who has repeatedly promised he will repeal Obamacare, is misleading those Americans here. According to Talking Points Memo, even a top Romney adviser implied yesterday that under Romney's plan people with pre-existing medical conditions would likely be unable to purchase insurance.

Number of Whoppers:

The Statement: "[Unlike Obama] We didn't put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive."

How Accurate Was It? Romney didn't go so far as to invoke Sarah Palin's "death panels" in describing Obama's health care plan, but that's essentially what he was referring to. The idea that there is one board to rule them all, which will determine what kind of treatment Medicare patients receive, is false. The board Romney is referring to is the Independent Payments Advisory Board, which, according to PolitiFact, is "forbidden from submitting any recommendation to ration health care" and can't make decisions about individual patients.

Number of Whoppers:

The Statement: Obama said: "The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more [under Romney's tax plan]. Now, that's not my analysis; that's the analysis of economists who have looked at this." And in response, Romney replied: "Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it's completely wrong."

How Accurate Was It? Romney has pointed to these studies before (this time, he added one) in trying to convince the middle class that tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are a good idea. The problem is, these aren't reliable studies. According to the Huffington Post, three of the "studies" are opinion pieces, which are not academic in nature and have an overlapping author. One is paid for by Romney for President Inc. And the last one, an actual study, is being misinterpreted by the Romney campaign.

Number of Whoppers:

President Obama

The Statement: "I've put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It's on a website. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise. And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for a dollar of additional revenue, paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit."

How Accurate Was It? According to the Washington Post's Fact Checker, "virtually no serious budget analysis agreed with this accounting." Obama's figure includes two questionable sources of income: the bipartisan, $1 trillion budget reduction cleared by Congress last year (which would apply to Romney, if he is elected), and also billions in so-called savings from leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, which, as you'll see next, don't really count.

Number of Whoppers:

The Statement: "I think it's important for us to…take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way."

How Accurate Was It? "The use of this war gimmick is quite troubling," writes Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. As the committee points out, the $850 billion Obama claims the United States is getting by leaving Iraq and Afghanistan hardly amounts to savings: Instead, it's money borrowed from abroad, which needs to paid back with interest. But at the very least, Obama is right that we won't be continuing to funnel money into active conflict zones.

Number of Whoppers?

The Statement: "Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut."

How Accurate Was It? Obama repeated the $5 trillion figure several times, then Romney denied that he even has a tax cut of that scale. So who's right? According to PolitiFact, Obama's figure, which is based on a study done by the Tax Policy Center, is "accurate but misleading." That number includes tax cuts over the next 10 years. And while Romney does have tax cuts of that scale, he theoretically plans to reduce tax breaks to offset the cuts. But the problem is, no one knows how Romney plans to do that exactly.

Number of Whoppers: 

I don't really begrudge conservatives their victory lap today. This campaign has been a grim one for them, with a candidate they don't like much making gaffe after gaffe and now trailing a president they loathe in virtually every swing state. Romney's debate win last night is a rare ray of sunshine for them, and it's no surprise they're making the most of it.

But honestly, someone needs to collect some of the best reactions on the right and put them up in one place. Just for laughs. Over at NRO, Peter Kirsanow has a hilarious set of over-the-top bullet points, topped off by this one:

Romney’s was the best performance of any presidential candidate in the television age.

Better than the Gipper? Say it ain't so! And why only the television age? I guess so that Kirsanow isn't claiming that Romney was better than Lincoln. Or something. I'm not quite sure. In any case, these guys need to watch out. The way they're crowing about Mitt's world historical performance, he's going to have to show up with a halo over his head to meet expectations in the next debate.

Here is Mitt Romney last night, criticizing the green energy loan guarantee program that was part of the stimulus bill:

You put $90 billion into green jobs…And these businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in have gone out of business.

Close! The DOE 1705 program has approved 33 loans worth about $16 billion. So far there have been three failures (Solyndra, Beacon, and Abound), which works out to a failure rate of…

Nine percent.

By dollar volume, these loans will cost a maximum of about $600 million if the government ends up on the hook for the entire loan amount. That comes to maybe 4 percent of the total. By other measures, the failure rate is less than 1 percent.

Still, close enough for a national debate, I guess! Michael Grunwald tweets that Romney's people later told him that "Mitt didn't mean to say half the stimulus-funded green firms failed." So I wonder what he did mean to say?