Mojo - 2013...on-unstoppable?page=96

November's Jobs Report Is Good, But Many Americans Are Still Struggling

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 3:51 PM EST

The economy added 203,000 jobs in November, according to new numbers released Friday by the Labor Department. The unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent—the lowest level in five years. But many Americans are still struggling.

Employment increased in the private and public sectors, despite the continuing effects of the drastic budget cuts that went into effect in March. Industries including transportation, manufacturing, retail, and leisure and hospitality saw jobs gains, and average hourly earnings increased by 4 cents to $24.15.

The stock market rose on the news, and economists say the new employment numbers make it likely that the Federal Reserve will halt its stimulus efforts early next year. But many Americans are still out of luck.

As my colleague Kevin Drum notes, 90,000 of the 203,000 new jobs created last month were needed to keep pace with population growth. That means net job growth last month was more like 113,000.

And although about 2.1 million unemployed workers found jobs last month, 2.4 million stopped looking. November is the 43rd month in a row in which more job seekers left the labor force than found employment. A total of only 63 percent of American adults are either working or looking for work. That's the second-lowest monthly labor force participation rate in 35 years. (The lowest-ever labor force participation rate was recorded in October, but the data for that month was skewed because of the government shutdown.)

The number of long-term unemployed—those without a job for 27 weeks or more—edged up slightly to 4.1 million. Unemployment amongst African-Americans and Latinos remains much higher than average—at 12.5 percent, and 8.5 percent, respectively. For those without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 10.8 percent. It's 14 percent for people under 25.

About a third of employment gains in the private sector last month came in the form of low-wage service jobs in retail, hotels, restaurants, bars and temp agencies. Retail employment added 22,000 jobs last month, and bars and restaurants added 18,000. Low-paying service sector jobs have been the hallmark of the recovery. The growth of these low-wage jobs has given rise to a string of strikes over the past year by workers at Wal-mart, and fast-food joints like Wendy's, McDonald's and Burger King, who are demanding a living wage.

In his speech on the economy on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on Congress to boost job growth by investing in infrastructure and education; doing away with harmful sequestration cuts; ending incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas; and increasing the minimum wage. "[I]f we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody," the president said, "then I remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past."

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The Worst Reactions to Nelson Mandela's Death

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 1:27 PM EST

Yes, some of the reactions to Nelson Mandela's death have been less than ideal. As a few have pointed out, the comments on, say, this National Review blog post or Sen. Ted Cruz's Facebook page regarding Mandela (the guy was a commie, racist murderer, yada yada) are fairly disgusting. To be fair, some commenters on the internet are always nasty and dumb, whatever the topic. But how about people who (maybe?) should know better? Here are the worst reactions to Mandela's passing, courtesy of…

1. Rick Santorum: With a straight face, the former Republican senator and failed presidential candidate, who is now making pro-Christian movies, compared Mandela's long struggle against the apartheid regime to Republicans' battle against…Obamacare: "He was fighting against some…great injustice," Santorum said on Fox News yesterday, "and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people's lives, and Obamacare is front and center in that."

There are a few key difference between the Affordable Care Act and a racist tyranny, but whatever.

2. Bill O'Reilly: During the same Fox News segment, host Bill O'Reilly emphasized that "great man" Nelson Mandela was a "communist." This is not true, but it is true that South Africa has a partially socialized health care system.

3. Nikki Finke: The famous Hollywood blogger tweeted this gem:

Nothing like keeping your eye on the prize.

4. PJ Media: The conservative opinion website went with this sure-to-please-O'Reilly headline:

nelson mandela communist
Screenshot: pjmedia.com

5. Gaz from Geordie Shore: The star of the MTV UK reality show, who claims he "should have a degree in pulling women," sent this (since-deleted) tweet:

Gaz Twitter Nelson Mandela
@GazGShore, via metro.co.uk

Because nothing says "mourning the loss of a towering hero" than "free launch party tickets for a debut single."

Update: This one, too, courtesy of Rick Clark, sheriff of Pickens County, SC, who wrote on Friday that he would defy President Obama's order to lower American flags to half-staff in honor of Mandela.

"Nelson Mandela did great things for his country and was a brave man but he was not an AMERICAN!!!" Clark writes. "The flag should be lowered at our Embassy in S. Africa, but not here. Our flag is at half staff today for a Deputy in the low country who died going to help his fellow Deputy. He deserves the honor. I have ordered that the flag here at my office back up after tomorrow's mourning of Pearl Harbor Day!"

Rick Clark sheriff Nelson Mandela
Rick Clark/Facebook

 

What Kind of Crazy Anti-Environment Bills Is ALEC Pushing Now?

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 12:06 PM EST

The American Legislative Exchange Council may be hemorrhaging members and grappling with a funding crisis, but that hasn't hampered its ambitions. In 2013, the conservative outfit, which specializes in generating state-level legislation, launched a multi-front jihad on green energy, with more than 77 ALEC-backed energy bills cropping up in state legislature. Among the most prominent were measures to repeal renewable energy standards and block meaningful disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. Most of these bills failed. But as state lawmakers and corporate representatives gather in Washington this week for the group's three-day policy summit, ALEC is pushing ahead with a new package of energy and environmental bills that will benefit Big Energy and polluters.

On Wednesday, The Guardian reported some details of ALEC's anti-green-energy offensive and its new policy roadmap, which began taking shape at an August gathering of the group's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force in Chicago. The newspaper focused largely on ALEC's efforts to undermine net-metering policies, which allow private citizens to sell excess power from rooftop solar panels to utilities. ("As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system," John Eick, an ALEC legislative analyst, told the Guardian.) But the group's energy task force—which includes as members fossil fuel interests, such as Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil—will also be peddling other pro-corporate state initiatives, some with far-reaching implications. Below is a roundup:

Now There's a Zombie Drone That Hunts, Controls, and Kills Other Drones

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 11:50 AM EST

When 27-year-old Samy Kamkar—a security researcher who famously made one million Myspace friends in a single day—heard the announcement on Sunday that Amazon was planning to start delivering packages via drone in 2015, he had an idea. He knew that whenever new technology, like drones, becomes popular quickly, there are bound to be security flaws. And he claims that he found one within 24 hours and promptly exploited it: America, meet the zombie drone that Kamkar says hunts, hacks, and takes over nearby drones. With enough hacks, a user can allegedly control an entire zombie drone army capable of flying in any direction, taking video of your house, or committing mass drone-suicide. 

"I've been playing with drones for a few years," Kamkar, who is based in Los Angeles, tells Mother Jones. "I'm sure that with most of the drones out there, if you scrutinize the security, you'll find some kind of vulnerability." Kamkar says that the Amazon announcement was an opportunity to point out that drone security has room for improvement. 

Kamkar's hack, also known as "Skyjack," was performed on a Parrot AR Drone 2 (More than 500,000 Parrot drones have been sold since 2010, and it's been used to help collected flight data for the European Space Agency.) It's unknown what kind of drone Amazon will end up using, but these drones have high-definition photo and video, a flying range of about 165 feet, and can be controlled using an iPhone or an iPad. Kamkar equipped his drone with a battery, a wireless transmitter, and a Raspberry Pi computer—the total of which costs about $400, including the drone. Then, he wrote software (which he made available on the open-source website GitHub, for anyone to use) that he says allows his drone to find wireless signals of other Parrot drones in the area and disconnect the wireless connection of another drone's original user, giving Kamkar—or any user with the software—control over both drones. The drones can even be forced to self-deactivate and drop out of the sky. "How fun would it be to take over drones carrying Amazon packages…or take over any other drones, and make them my little zombie drones. Awesome," writes Kamkar. 

Parrot did not respond to request for comment, but the BBC notes that, "experts said Parrot appeared to have ignored well-known guidelines" to prevent this kind of hack. Christopher Budd, a threat communications manager for Trend Micro, a data security company, tells Mother Jones that "reading what he's got, on the face of it, it certainly sounds like a plausible proof-of-concept" but says Parrot still needs to validate it. 

Here's a video:

So does this mean that your Amazon blender will be attacked by a hoard of hungry zombie drones? Not necessarily: "Amazon would be able to make drones that are immune to this," Kamkar tells Mother Jones, claiming that the Parrot Drone's wi-fi system is not fully encrypted, which is a security measure that Amazon would be likely to take. (Amazon did not respond to Mother Jones request for comment.) "I just want people to be concerned enough that it forces these drone makers to take an additional look at them. When you have enough people scrutinizing technology, you're going to have added security and added attention, and that's the benefit."

That's certainly how companies have responded to Kamkar's hacks before: After he crippled Myspace in 2005 using what some called the fastest spreading virus up to that point—(he was arrested and convicted under California penal code, and Kamkar says, "community service was a blast!")—Myspace revamped its security procedures. Still, even if Amazon manages to fend off the zombie drones, it faces other obstacles—including states that have banned drones, potential collisions in urban areas, and major privacy concerns. 

"Drones are an impressive piece of technology and part of me is super excited whenever I get it outside and fly it around," Kamkar says. "But part of me is a little fearful." 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 6, 2013

Fri Dec. 6, 2013 10:47 AM EST

Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit clean their weapons after completing a small-arms training exercise at Range 111 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 25. The training focused on enhancing the unit’s confidence and proficiency with personal weapons and M67 Fragmentation Hand Grenades.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos/Released)

ALEC Boots Mother Jones From Its Annual Conference

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 7:00 AM EST

Starting Wednesday, hundreds of state lawmakers descended on downtown Washington, DC, for a big three-day confab hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative advocacy group that that brings together lawmakers and representatives of major corporations to draft model legislation on issues such as taxes, energy, workers' rights, education, and agriculture. These bills are then introduced in state legislatures around the country—in some cases, lawmakers pass ALEC-inspired bills without changing a word.

There were dozens of press credentials laid out on ALEC conference's check-in table when I arrived Thursday morning. Mother Jones' was not among them. ALEC's board of directors had refused my request for credentials, according to spokesman Bill Meierling.

When asked why I'd been turned away, Meierling pointed to our previous coverage of ALEC and said it's clear that Mother Jones "fundamentally hates" ALEC. We've covered ALEC for more than a decade—a 2002 exposé titled "Ghostwriting the Law," coverage of the group's proposals regarding voting rights and workers' rights, and more recently the departures of big-name corporate members.

At the same time he was explaining why I couldn't attend, Meierling stressed to me that ALEC is "moving toward transparency." To his credit, he acknowledged the irony.

If ALEC had given me a press credential, the only events I would've been allowed to cover were keynote speeches by Republican luminaries Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Grover Norquist. But the real action at ALEC conferences, the meat-and-potatoes work, happens at the meetings of the group's many task forces—the environment and energy task force led by American Electric Power, the tax and fiscal policy task force led by tobacco giant Altria, and the international relations task force run by tobacco company Philip Morris. Meierling says that even credentialed reporters can't cover those meetings. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank learned this firsthand on Wednesday, when DC police and ALEC staff stopped him from attending the group's private task force meetings.

It's been a tough week for ALEC. On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that the group faced a "funding crisis" after 40 of its corporate members and hundreds of state lawmakers ditched ALEC in the wake of Trayvon Martin's killing last year. Those members fled after it was revealed that ALEC's model legislation included the same Stand Your Ground law invoked by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Martin. ALEC has since eliminated its gun-related advocacy and, with a narrower fiscal focus, is trying to woo its erstwhile members to back into the fold.

Given the organization's recent struggles, I can understand why ALEC would be feeling defensive. Meierling, the ALEC spokesman, was polite throughout our conversation. We traded business cards before I left and promised to get a drink to talk more about Mother Jones. Fingers crossed for next year.

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Conservative Think Tank Network Plotting "Coordinated Assault" on Medicaid, Education, Workers' Rights

| Thu Dec. 5, 2013 6:05 PM EST

The State Policy Network, an umbrella group overseeing a constellation of right-leaning think tanks in all 50 states, is plotting a nationwide "coordinated assault" to cut public-employee pensions, oppose cap-and-trade legislation and Medicaid expansion, and advocate for school vouchers, according to documents obtained by the Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian's documents reveal that State Policy Network's think-tank affiliates sought financial support for this blitz from the GD Searle Trust, a conservative foundation that bankrolls many major nonprofits including Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the climate-denying Heartland Institute. The documents show 40 different funding requests pitching conservative policy reforms that were written by think tanks in 34 states.

Here's more from the Guardian:

Most of the "think tanks" involved in the proposals gathered by the State Policy Network are constituted as 501(c)(3) charities that are exempt from tax by the Internal Revenue Service. Though the groups are not involved in election campaigns, they are subject to strict restrictions on the amount of lobbying they are allowed to perform. Several of the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents propose the launch of "media campaigns" aimed at changing state laws and policies, or refer to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings", in ways that arguably cross the line into lobbying.

The documents also cast light on the nexus of funding arrangements behind radical right-wing campaigns. The State Policy Network (SPN) has members in each of the 50 states and an annual warchest of $83 million drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, food giant Kraft and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.

SPN gathered the grant proposals from the 34 states on 29 July. Ranging in size from requests of $25,000 to $65,000, the plans were submitted for funding to the Searle Freedom Trust, a private foundation that in 2011 donated almost $15m to largely rightwing causes.

[…]

The proposals in the grant bids contained in the Guardian documents go beyond a commitment to free enterprise, however. They include:

• "reforms" to public employee pensions raised by SPN thinktanks in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania

• tax elimination or reduction schemes in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska, and New York

• an education voucher system to promote private and home schooling in Florida

• campaigns against worker and union rights in Delaware and Nevada

• opposition to Medicaid in Georgia, North Carolina, and Utah

As I've written before, SPN exists to help out its influential state-level affiliates around the country and to push conservative policies in state capitals. It's enjoyed quite a lot of success lately: SPN members also played a role in the crackdown on workers' rights in 2011 in Wisconsin, Ohio, Idaho, and Tennessee. A year ago this month, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an SPN member, rightly took credit for making Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state. Months later, Dick DeVos, the Amway heir and onetime in Michigan gubernatorial candidate, used SPN's annual conference as a chance to share his strategy with state-level allies itching for right-to-work in their states. The Guardian's documents strongly suggest that conservatives are coordinating their attacks on unions, public employees, and government.

Like prominent liberal nonprofit groups, the State Policy Network appears to have plenty more planned for the near future. If you thought the 2011 fight over workers rights was intense, what's coming next could be even fiercer.

Catholic Bishops Won't Comment on Rush Limbaugh's Pope-Bashing

| Thu Dec. 5, 2013 3:33 PM EST

Rush Limbaugh has incensed Catholic groups by attacking Pope Francis's blueprint for a more inclusive, social justice-oriented Catholic Church as "pure Marxism" and saying, "somebody has either written this for [the Pope] or gotten to him."

But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the top American leaders of the Catholic church, isn't commenting on the radio host's attacks. "We don't follow Rush Limbaugh," says Mary Ann Walsh, USCCB's media relations director. Annmarie Sanders, a spokeswoman for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Limbaugh has continued to bash the Pope, saying Wednesday that "the pope is ripping American"—and, that thanks to the pope's exhortations on poverty and powerful financial institutions, "Obama's having an orgasm."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 5, 2013

Thu Dec. 5, 2013 11:05 AM EST

NANGAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shelby Johnson scans the horizon Nov. 18, 2013, during a dismounted patrol from Forward Operating Base Torkham to an Afghan Border Police checkpoint near the village of Goloco. Johnson serves as a squad leader with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, @4th Brigade 10th Mountain "Patriots". The mission's purpose was to establish partnerships with the ABP officers at the checkpoint. This partnership will enhance security for Afghans and Coalition Forces operating in the area. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Eric Provost, Task Force Patriot PAO.

These Cities Are Trying to Bully Undocumented Immigrants Out of Town

| Thu Dec. 5, 2013 9:31 AM EST

As House Speaker John Boehner continues to block immigration reform, a couple of US cities are pushing laws that would run immigrants out of town.

Last month, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Farmers Branch, Texas, asked the Supreme Court to hear cases challenging city ordinances that make it illegal for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants. Both cities say that the high court should uphold their local laws, which have been struck down in lower courts, because a US appeals court recently upheld similar legislation passed by the town of Fremont, Nebraska.

But immigrant advocates say that the two cities' laws are doomed because they are very similar to Arizona's draconian immigration law, passed in 2010, which also criminalized being an immigrant. The Supreme Court invalidated most of the provisions of Arizona's statute in June 2012 because they interfered with the federal government's authority over immigration. Both the Hazleton and Farmers Branch laws were struck down by lower courts for this precise reason.

"The Supreme Court spoke clearly in the Arizona decision about overriding the federal role of immigration enforcement," says Sam Brooks of the Souther Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Project. Not only are these types of laws likely unconstitutional, he adds, they encourage racial profiling by community members worried about giving leases to the wrong people.

Other towns have proposed laws that would stop landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. San Bernardino, California, was the first to consider such a law in 2006. It was eventually voted down. Valley Park, Missouri, enacted this type of ordinance in 2006. It was challenged twice but upheld by a federal court in 2008. Scores of other municipalities and states have considered legislation that mimics the city housing ordinances and Arizona's law.

Most of the anti-immigrant statutes can be traced back to one man: Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and chief counsel at the conservative Immigration Law Reform Institute (ILRI). Kobach helped craft the laws in Arizona, Hazleton, Farmers Branch, Fremont, and Valley Park, and has defended them in court.

ILRI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was founded by John Tanton, an English-only advocate who has ties to white supremacists.