Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is a former Mother Jones reporter. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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Jobs Report: Good, Bad, and Ugly

| Fri Jun. 4, 2010 9:36 AM EDT

The Labor Department put out its latest employment report today, for the month of May, and the news is decidedly mixed.

Good: The unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent, from 9.9 percent. (Caveat on this after the big graph below.) The US economy created 431,000 jobs last month, the most in two years and since the start of the recession in December 2007, continuing a growing trend of job creation under the Obama administration and its stimulus package. (The graph in this New York Times article illustrates this trend.) The number of part-time workers decreased last month, which lowered what many consider the real unemployment—not just the actively searching unemployed but those not searching (i.e., “discouraged workers"), the underemployed, and a few other categories—to 16.6 percent, from 17.1 percent.

Bad: 411,000 of those jobs were temporary positions for the 2010 US Census, jobs that will disappear once the summer’s over. In May, net job gain—the difference between jobs added and lost—was 390,000 for government jobs, but a meager 41,000 in the private sector. That means companies are stretching the resources and manpower they already have to meet demand instead of adding new workers to their payrolls.

Ugly: The ranks of the unemployed (but still searching) for six months or more yet again set a record, at 6.763 million Americans. That's the highest since 1948, when the statistic was first recorded, and it accounts for almost 4.5 percent of the entire US workforce. Here's a nifty graph showing the spike in the long-term unemployed, courtesy of the invaluable economics blog, Calculated Risk:

* As Bill McBride at Calculated Risk points out, the drop in unemployment may not be reason to cheer: "The reason the unemployment rate declined was because people left the workforce—and that is not good news." He cites the Labor Force Participation Rate, the ratio of employed workers to the working-age population, which edged downward last month—not a good sign. "As the employment picture improves," he writes, "people will return to the labor force, and that will put upward pressure on the unemployment rate."

So what does today's report mean for Obama? On the one hand, the administration can update its much-publicized, color-coded job-creation chart to show more growth in May, even though the majority of those jobs are temporary and will soon go away. Obama can also point to the 0.2 percent drop in the headline unemployment rate. But if you scratch just beneath the surface, the news isn't all that great for the White House, and I wouldn't expect to see the administration openly touting today's report. "As always, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative," wrote White House economic guru Christina Romer today.

More updates to come as we dig into today's report. Questions? Leave them in the comments, and I'll try to answer (or call up someone who can and report that here).

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Is BP Hanging Florida Out to Dry?

| Fri Jun. 4, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Florida is the new front in the ever-widening disaster stemming from BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a now 44-day-old calamity sending tar balls and slicks onto beaches and into marshes. Yesterday, oil was identified in regions off Florida’s coast still open for fishing, and oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon rig is expected to wash onto Florida's white-sand shores as early as Friday. Are BP and government agencies prepared?

Local officials contacted by Mother Jones don't think so. The Pensacola area, in the westernmost tip of the Florida Panhandle, is among the first locales in the state expected to be hit by oil. Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, boasts 36 miles of beaches, according to county commissioner Grover Robertson. County officials said on Thursday that some oil was as close as seven miles off the county's shoreline, and that the majority of the oil was about 35 miles away.

But Robertson says he's "concerned" that BP and the multiple government agencies that make up the Unified Command organization (the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) aren't ready for the oil's onslaught. Robertson said Escambia County had secured the help of about 300 volunteers, via the Unified Command, some of whom will divide into teams of 10 to act as spotters for when the oil hits. After that happens, those spotters will dig up the sand absorbing the oil washed ashore. The county also plans to use tractors and sifters to extract oil from sand. Still, Robertson says, "We are very concerned that [Unified Command] will not get this done in a timely manner."

Carly Fiorina: What Climate Change?

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 9:00 AM EDT

In a slickly produced commercial with an outright bizarre message, Carly Fiorina, the Republican frontrunner vying for the US Senate, ripped her opponent, Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer, for describing climate change as an issue of national security. The ad shows a 2007 clip of Boxer, in a tiny video frame (no doubt intentional), saying, "One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change." To which Fiorina, whose image now fills the frame, retorts, "Terrorism kills—and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather."

Really, Fiorina? This is demon sheep stuff here. No one doubts that terrorism, as Fiorina mentions, is a major national security issue. But, according to the Pentagon, climate change is, too. Indeed, the mighty Pentagon has been warning for years, even during the Bush administration when climate change wasn't believed by the White House, that climate change be could a destabilizing force throughout the world, stoking ethnic, racial, and economic conflicts. In the Quadrennial Defense Review released earlier this year, the Pentagon said "While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world." And the CIA, an institution Fiorina name-drops in her Boxer-bashing ad touting her experience having worked on an external committee there, has opened a intelligence center on climate change to collect data on its effects around the world. The question is: With the US's major defense and intelligence organizations saying climate change is a national security issue, how Fiorina say otherwise and retain any credibility?

And back to the "weather" rhetoric. The evidence supporting global climate change is so abundant, so voluminous, that to call it "weather" is appalling. Even Fiorina herself has previously said, "I think there is growing consensus that the issues of climate change and energy independence are inextricably linked," and that climate change "matters to a lot of people." Now: "weather." Talk about a flip-flop.

Here's the full ad for your viewing pleasure:

Will the BP Spill Sink Charlie Crist?

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 8:28 AM EDT

This week, oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to hit the shores of Florida's northwest panhandle, greasing the Sunshine State's pristine white-sand beaches in time for the summer tourist season. Already, hotels and restaurants are losing bookings for the coming weeks, though the extent of the BP disaster on Florida's economy—not to mention its coastlines and the water off its shores—is still unclear.

Leading the charge to assure Floridians and potential tourists that the state is open for business is Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist is a candidate for the state's open US Senate seat, and he sent ripples throughout the country with his decision in late April to ditch the GOP and run as an independent. Right now, Crist holds a small lead in the polls, edging out Republican (and Tea Party golden boy) Marco Rubio, a former state legislator, and Democrat Kendrick Meek, a US congressman from South Florida. But will the BP oil spill, expected to last until August, sink Crist's Senate dreams?

Democrats and Republicans alike have lambasted Crist for what they say is his delayed reaction to the spill's impact on Florida. State chief financial officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, pointed out that it took 32 days for Crist to arrange for TV ads to calm fears about the spill's toll on Florida businesses. When Crist did obtain $25 million for commercials touting Florida's untainted vacation spots in the Panhandle, Sink, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, told the Miami Herald, "I am very disappointed in the lack of sense of urgency about getting this problem solved and getting it solved now." Republican state senator Don Gaetz echoed Sink’s sharp criticisms, lamenting, "It's in days like this that I miss Jeb Bush."

Kentucky Politicos Rip Rand Paul

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

Add this notable group to the growing list of Rand Paul critics and opponents: the Kentucky Senate. On Friday, the lawmakers in that state's Senate passed a resolution rebuking Rand Paul, the GOP candidate for Kentucky's open US Senate seat, for his questioning of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while expressing their full support for the landmark piece of legislation. The resolution said in part, "Suggestions have appeared recently that we retreat from the core values of the protection of equal rights of the citizens of the United States"; the resolution characterizes these suggestions as "outside the mainstream of American values" and believed by only an "extreme minority of persons in the United States."

The resolution attacks Paul for his remarks last month in which he blanched when asked whether he fully supported the Civil Rights Act, which banned segregation. Paul's wavering caused a firestorm in political circles and in the media, and likely led to a recent shake-up on Paul's campaign staff, with the replacement of his campaign manager. While a little behind the news cycle, the Kentucky Senate's resolution further compounds the fallout from Paul's gaffes, which appear to have taken a toll on Paul's support. Yesterday, a Rasumussen survey in Kentucky reported that Paul's lead over Democratic opponent Jack Conway had shrunk to 8 points, with Paul earning 49 percent and Conway 41 percent. That's a precipitous drop from a few weeks ago, before Paul's civil rights comment, when he led Conway by 25 percent.

Here's more from McClatchy on the Kentucky resolution:

In interviews with national media outlets, Paul has cited this part of the law as an example of the government overreaching, although he also has said that he would have voted for the law if he were in the U.S. Senate at the time.

“Here is an individual from Kentucky speaking nationally on a fundamental value, a fundamental right enshrined in our laws, and there had been no official response on behalf of Kentucky,” Neal said. “I felt it was important for our institution to say that not everybody here agrees with the ideological positions put forward by Mr. Rand Paul.”

Neal said he filed his resolution last Wednesday under a procedure that listed all senators present as co-sponsors unless they objected. Nobody objected over the next two days, he said.

“Senate leadership clearly knew what was going on, they were paying attention,” Neal said. “I talked to the majority floor leader. There was no opposition.”

Williams, the top Republican in Frankfort, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. Williams last week said Paul is not a racist, but he is too young to remember the history that made the Civil Rights Act necessary.

“When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, Rand Paul was 2 years old,” Williams said. “Those of us who lived during that time period — I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to know that some things in the United States had to be changed.”

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