Blogs

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao Explains Rising Unemployment

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 3:39 PM EDT

The Labor Department reported today that the unemployment rate rose from 5.0 percent to 5.5 percent in May, the largest monthly spike in more than two decades. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao's explanation?

"Today's increase in the unemployment rate reflects the fact that unusually large numbers of students and graduates are entering the labor market."

Sounds ridiculous? That's because it kind of is. Here's some sense from Jared Bernstein at EPI:

"An increase in the youth labor force played a role in May's unemployment spike. However, even if we take teenagers out of the data, unemployment still rises from 4.5% to 4.8%, a considerable 0.3% increase, and well above the 4.0% adult rate of one year ago."

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Behold the Sperm Remote

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 1:45 PM EDT

From EcoGeek via Grist comes word of a nifty new birth control method for men:

The remote control, implanted device will allow users to 'press pause' on their sperm. (although it doesn't mention whether a 'rewind' function is in the works). The device has been developed by Australian scientists, and could herald a new dawn of even more convenient contraception for men, which has the potential to keep population growth under control more effectively.

Which of course raises the age-old question: Who controls the remote?

Fox News Isn't Even Trying Anymore

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 12:51 PM EDT

Maybe the Republican Party's struggles are driving Fox News employees to hit the bottle. Because there's no other explanation for this video clip. Make sure to watch the second half, which is arguably worse than the first.

What I love about this is that, while it's conceivable that the Fox News producers mixed their clips up, the host and his guest plow on through like there isn't a problem. Like they aren't literally creating attacks out of thin air.

(H/T Ben Smith, who doesn't need the traffic)

The GOP's (Hilarious) Down Ticket Struggles, Cont'd.

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 12:08 PM EDT

This ought to become a running segment. Yesterday, I highlighted ten races where Republican incumbents are seeing their reelections chances sink. I should have also pointed out that Republicans are having just as hard a time, if not harder, finding challengers to go against incumbents on the Democratic side. In Montana, the winner of the Republican primary and the man who will challenge entrenched Democratic Senator Max Baucus, is an 85-year-old former Green Party candidate who has raised less than $5,000. He formerly ran for president on a plan to remake Congress into a parliament.

At least this guy didn't get the Republican nomination for the Senate race in New Jersey. But the fact that he was once the New Jersey GOP's favored pick is kind of embarrassing.

And then there's the situation in New York's 13th District. That House seat currently belongs to Vito Fossella, the disgraced Republican congressman who is retiring because of a drunk driving arrest and revelations of a long-time affair and secret child. A Republican holds the seat now; it shouldn't be that hard for the GOP to find a viable replacement who can be counted on to keep it, right?

McCain Adviser Phil Gramm in the News Again: Did His Bank Help Wealthy Clients Evade Taxes?

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 10:08 AM EDT

For someone who wants to change Washington, John McCain has surrounded himself with plenty of guys who game the system. His campaign in recent weeks had to boot out a bunch of lobbyists, though his two top campaign aides—Rick Davis and Charles Black—remain in their posts, despite the fact they recently were high-powered lobbyists. Then there's Phil Gramm, a campaign cochairman and economic adviser to McCain. After leaving the US Senate, he became an executive and lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss mega-bank. And as I noted recently, eight years ago, when he chaired the Senate banking committee, he helped create the current subprime meltdown by slyly slipping into a must-pass appropriations measure a bill that completely deregulated certain financial instruments. Isn't that the sort of person you want advising a president and in line to be Treasury secretary?

Gramm is back in the news today. The New York Times reports that federal authorities are investigating UBS to determine whether the bank helped thousands of wealthy Americans hide their assets from the IRS in UBS offshore accounts. Without mentioning that Gramm is a top McCain ally, the paper notes:

The case could turn into an embarrassment for Marcel Rohner, the chief executive of UBS and the former head of its private bank, as well as for Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator from Texas who is now the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the Swiss bank's investment banking arm. It also comes at a difficult time for UBS, which is reeling from $37 billion in bad investments, many of them linked to risky American mortgages.

So it's not too early to ask, What did Phil Gramm know about UBS' offshore practices, and when did he know it? And reporters ought to ask McCain if he has asked Gramm about this investigation. Another query: how long can Gramm remain on McCain's campaign?

Dolphins Recovering From Tuna Nets at Last

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 11:21 PM EDT

At long last the dolphins once caught in the Pacific tuna fishery seem to be recovering. Spotted and spinner dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific appear to be on the increase after severe depletion in the tuna purse-seine fishery. Between 1960 and 1990 their populations dropped by 80 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of pre-fishery levels. And though they've been (largely) spared capture and drowning in purse-seine nets since the early 1990s, due to severe restrictions on the fishery, their numbers have not rebounded. Until now. "We expected to see these populations begin their recovery years ago, because fishermen have been so successful at reducing dolphin deaths," said Tim Gerrodette of NOAA's Fisheries Service. "The new data are the first to indicate the beginning of a recovery." The news is tempered with caution though, since the numbers represent a short dataset (only the 2006 season), and since one of the four censused populations still seems to be declining. Nevertheless, it's the first glimmer of hope that maybe we didn't wait too long to take action.

On a personal note, this is the truly welcome news I've been hoping to hear for a long time. In 1990 I co-produced a documentary with Hardy Jones that included Sam LaBudde's heartbreaking footage, shot undercover, of dolphins being slaughtered in the tuna nets. We included an unusual plea at the end of the broadcast, asking viewers to send telegrams to a big-name canned tuna company to protest the dolphin kill. We aired a Western Union telephone number (yeah, that's how long ago it was). The response broke all Western Union records, and within two days, if I remember correctly, the tuna company announced it would no longer buy tuna unless it was caught with dolphin-safe methods. Others tuna companies quickly followed suit… So I for one will raise a glass in toast tonight to the people who worked so long and so hard on this issue, and who spilled a fair share of their lifetime's allotment of sweat and blood in hopes of today's good news. Thank you, ocean crusaders.

However, keep in mind, not all tuna labeled dolphin-safe really is. You can keep on top of what is and what isn't at Earth Island Institute's Approved Dolphin-Safe Importers, Distributors, Brokers, Retailers, Agents.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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John McCain's Top Priorities: Getting Your Vote, Questioning Obama on Iraq, and... Golf?

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 9:35 PM EDT

In anticipation of the general election, the McCain campaign just revamped its website to focus more specifically on his contest with Barack Obama. The front page now has four main tabs that visitors can use to access the rest of the site. They are, in this order: "Decision Center," "General Election," "Obama & Iraq," and "Golf Gear."

Golf gear?

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It's no surprise that John McCain wants you to donate money, and of course he wants you to know what he thinks of his opponent. But what he wants just as much is for you to head out to the green with your buddies, McCain golf pack in tow.

The disdain you may notice in my voice is not because the maverick is trying to sell us something—in the modern campaign, every candidate needs merchandise. It's that he's pushing golf, the classic sport of the leisure class. Even George Bush, historically oblivious to the pain of the common man, claimed recently to have given up golf because he couldn't bear the irony of trying to perfect his swing while troops died in Iraq. "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf," he said recently in an interview with Politico. "I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal." McCain apparently didn't get the memo...perhaps he was out golfing?

Did Obama Take a Page Out of HRC's Playbook on Jerusalem?

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 8:16 PM EDT

Reuters is reporting angry Palestinian reaction to Barack Obama's statement yesterday at AIPAC that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." In response Mahmoud Abbas told reporters, "This statement is totally rejected," and Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Obama "has closed all doors to peace."

Saying "Jerusalem" and "undivided" in the same sentence is an easy applause line at AIPAC, but we have to remember that when it comes to statements about Jerusalem, syntax is everything. In her official statement on Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton went so far as to use the words "undivided" and "capital" in the same clause: "Hillary Clinton believes that Israel's right to exist ... with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital ... must never be questioned." But as was pointed out to me in April, even Hillary's stronger formulation left some wiggle room:

Chart Beat: Coldplay's Biggest Hit Ever; Duffy Doffs Madge

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 6:47 PM EDT

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Well shut my mouth: I've been ragging on Coldplay's upcoming Viva la Vida for a while now, but the lead single of the same name has just jumped to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the band's highest-charting single ever in the U.S. ("Speed of Sound" peaked at #8 in 2005, and the ubiquitous "Clocks" never made it past #29). The album's out June 17th. Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III finally hits stores next week (I'll believe it when I see it) and "Lollipop" remains at #1 on the singles chart for a fourth week, while second single "Got Money" debuts at #13. That's only half of his four appearances in the top 40 this week, the most since 50 Cent back in 2005.

Over on the albums chart, Usher beat out the Sex and the City soundtrack this week, debuting at #1 with Here I Stand, while music to drink cosmos to landed at #2. Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs dropped from #5 to #10.

Across the pond, hotly-tipped Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy hops back up to #1 on the European albums chart with her debut album Rockferry, replacing Madonna's Hard Candy at the top spot. (Rockferry climbs to #7 in the US this week). Portishead's Third is barely hanging on in the European Top Ten after five weeks, although it was just certified gold in the UK for sales of 100,000 copies.

A selection of accompanying videos, after the jump.

Record Labels Make Hint-Laden Mixtape for NAB

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 5:07 PM EDT

mojo-photo-cassette.jpgAh, it brings me back to my early teens. With the image of an unrequited crush object fixed firmly in my mind, I'd labor for hours at my crappy Sears stereo, arranging song after song onto a C-90 cassette, in the hopes that the music would carry a message I was too chicken to voice myself: The Smiths "I Want the One I Can't Have," The Cure's "Close to Me," Violent Femmes "Add It Up." A master of subtlety I was not. Then, the magic cassette (complete with intricately detailed cover) would be handed off to said crush object, who I can only assume listened to it for hours while longingly gazing at a picture of me. Or, tossed it in the trash.

Either way, it never really worked, but that isn't stopping record label-funded musicFirst, who are trying to express their unrequited love of performance royalties to the National Association of Broadcasters with lyrically appropriate music this week. Cheekily calling the attempt a "four-day prank," the organization is sending NAB president David Rehr an iTunes certificate for these songs: