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Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

Mother Jones

The American economy added 169,000 new jobs last month, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 79,000. That’s about the same as last month—except for the fact that last month’s numbers got revised sharply downward today. Net job growth in July was reduced from 72,000 to 14,000, barely the breakeven point, and just for good measure, June’s numbers were revised down a bit too.

The headline unemployment number declined slightly to 7.3 percent, but for the worst possible reason. It’s not that more people were at work in August. In fact, fewer people were employed than in July. Normally this would produce a lower employment rate (and therefore a higher unemployment rate), but because lots of people exited the labor force entirely, the size of the civilian labor force dropped by 312,000 people. Here’s how the employment arithmetic works out:

July: 144,285 / 155,798 = 92.61%

August: 144,170 / 155,486 = 92.72%

So there are fewer people working, but because the size of the labor force dropped so much, the employment rate actually went up by a tenth of a point. Likewise, the unemployment rate went down by a tenth of a point.

The question is why the labor force shrank. As it turns out, it’s not because there were more discouraged workers. There were fewer. Nor were there more people forced into part-time work because of the bad economy. There were fewer. There were more people who switched to part-time work for noneconomic reasons, but presumably that doesn’t reflect one way or the other on the state of the economy.

It’s a little bit mysterious, and maybe someone with better economic chops will explain it all later in the day. In the meantime, there’s one takeaway from this that’s simple: This is a really weak jobs report. It’s crazy that we’ve all but given up on both monetary and fiscal policy designed to fight this weakness.


Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

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New Mexico county is first in the nation to ban all drilling and fracking

New Mexico county is first in the nation to ban all drilling and fracking


The ruins of Fort Union in Mora County, N.M.

Mora County, N.M., has a message for the oil and gas industry: “You’re not welcome here.”

County commissioners voted 2-1 on Monday to ban all oil and gas extraction in their drought-ravaged county near Santa Fe, home to fewer than 5,000 people. A temporary drilling moratorium is already in place in neighboring San Miguel County, but it is believed that Mora County is the first in the nation to impose an outright ban on all oil and gas drilling.

From E&E Newsvia NRDC:

Commissioner Alfonso Griego said “he supported the measure because he feels that federal and state laws fail to adequately protect communities from the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.” He also stated: “They just come in and do whatever is necessary for them to make profits. There is technology for them to do it right, but it’s going to cost them more money. They’re not willing to do that yet. So we don’t want any oil and gas extraction in the county of Mora. It’s beautiful here.”

Any detractors? Oh, yeah, here’s an industry guy saying things to the AP:

Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the potential of the natural gas deposits in the area may never be known if exploration isn’t allowed and that could result in lost revenues for the county, as well as the rest of New Mexico.

The county commissioners also adopted a bill of rights that asserts Mora County’s right to block drilling, even if the state or federal governments try to allow it. Again from the AP:

In addition to putting the county off limits to oil and gas development, the ordinance establishes a bill of rights aimed at affirming the county’s right to local autonomy and self-governance.

The ordinance states that any permits or licenses issued by either the federal or state government that would allow activities that would compromise the county’s rights would be considered invalid.

“This is the fight that people have been too chicken to pick over the last 10 years, which is essentially deciding who makes decisions about the future of the places where we live,” said Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. “Either it’s the people who live there or it’s the corporations that have an interest in exploiting them. It’s very basic.”

Congratulations, Mora County. May you continue to conserve and enjoy your precious groundwater supplies and clean environment.

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


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Public Service News Update on the Boston Marathon Bombings

Mother Jones

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A quick update on yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon:

There was not a third bomb at the JFK Library (it was a fire in the building’s mechanical room).
There are no suspects in custody (the “Saudi national” that dominated the news yesterday is a witness, not a suspect).
There are not 12 people dead (the New York Post just jumped the gun).
Police did not find any unexploded devices elsewhere in the city (that’s what Gov. Deval Patrick says, anyway).
Cell phone service was not shut down by the authorities after the bombs detonated (AP has walked back its original claim, and various people have reported sending texts immediately after the bombing.)

Just thought you’d like to know. For more on what did happen, check out our ongoing explainer here, which is being updated regularly. In the meantime, read Bruce Schneier on how we should think about all this.

UPDATE: Dana Liebelson and Tim Murphy have a longer, more detailed version of this list here. Plus a bonus sixth report that turned out to be false!


Public Service News Update on the Boston Marathon Bombings

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How to Write a Meaningless Law

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Currently, licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check before they can sell you a gun. The FBI conducts the check but deletes its record of the inquiry within 24 hours. The only place that records are maintained longer than that is with the dealers themselves. Private transactions, often done at gun shows, don’t require any background check at all.

You need to know this background to understand how ludicrous this report is:

Senators negotiating a bill mandating background checks for all gun buyers are privately expecting the National Rifle Association not to fight the measure — provided the legislation does not require private gun sellers to maintain records of the checks, NBC News has learned. If that requirement is met and key Republican negotiator Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma signs on, the powerful gun lobby has signaled to lawmakers that they would not actively oppose the bill — and not count votes in favor of it as part of its highly influential NRA lawmaker ratings — according to Senate aides familiar with the stalled negotiations.

Under these conditions there would be no way to enforce the law. If you suspected someone of selling a gun privately without conducting a background check, they’d simply tell you that they did, but they didn’t keep the record. The FBI wouldn’t be of any help, since they’re required to destroy all their records. And that would be that.

So there you have it. This is apparently the compromise that Republicans are offering: they’ll support the background check bill only if it’s written so that it’s literally meaningless. And keep in mind: this is the least controversial piece of true gun legislation on the table right now. It’s the one supported by 90 percent of the public, the one everybody figured Obama would settle for because he knew he’d never get a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Welcome to post-Sandy Hook Washington DC. Seems an awful lot like pre-Sandy Hook Washington DC, doesn’t it?

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N.Y. Times and Thomas Friedman call for killing Keystone

N.Y. Times and Thomas Friedman call for killing Keystone


The New York Times editorial board and Times columnist Thomas Friedman have both come out swinging against the Keystone XL pipeline.

A strong editorial today calls on Obama to kill the project. The headline: “When to Say No.”

[Obama] should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem. …

Supporters of the pipeline have argued that this is oil from a friendly country and that Canada will sell it anyway. We hope Mr. Obama will see the flaw in this argument. Saying no to the pipeline will not stop Canada from developing the tar sands, but it will force the construction of new pipelines through Canada itself. And that will require Canadians to play a larger role in deciding whether a massive expansion of tar sands development is prudent. At the very least, saying no to the Keystone XL will slow down plans to triple tar sands production from just under two million barrels a day now to six million barrels a day by 2030. …

In itself, the Keystone pipeline will not push the world into a climate apocalypse. But it will continue to fuel our appetite for oil and add to the carbon load in the atmosphere. There is no need to accept it.

In an op-ed published on Sunday, Friedman also calls for rejecting Keystone, but with a different spin. He thinks Obama will end up approving the pipeline, so he wants activists to make such a stink about it that Obama feels compelled to take other big steps to forestall climate change in exchange.

I hope the president turns down the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Who wants the U.S. to facilitate the dirtiest extraction of the dirtiest crude from tar sands in Canada’s far north?) But I don’t think he will. So I hope that Bill McKibben and his coalition go crazy. I’m talking chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy, because I think if we all make enough noise about this, we might be able to trade a lousy Keystone pipeline for some really good systemic responses to climate change. … So cue up the protests, and pay no attention to people counseling rational and mature behavior. We need the president to be able to say to the G.O.P. oil lobby, “I’m going to approve this, but it will kill me with my base. Sasha and Malia won’t even be talking to me, so I’ve got to get something really big in return.” …

If Keystone gets approved, environmentalists should have a long shopping list ready, starting with a price signal that discourages the use of carbon-intensive fuels in favor of low-carbon energy. Nothing would do more to clean our air, drive clean-tech innovation, weaken petro-dictators and reduce the deficit than a carbon tax. One prays this will become part of the budget debate. Also, the president can use his authority under the Clean Air Act to order reductions in CO2 emissions from existing coal power plants and refiners by, say, 25 percent. He could then do with the power companies what he did with autos: negotiate with them over the fairest way to achieve that reduction in different parts of the country. We also need to keep the president’s feet to the fire on the vow in his State of the Union address to foster policies that could “cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years.” About 30 percent of energy in buildings is wasted.

Friedman’s support is nice, but this is, in the grand tradition of D.C. pundits, too clever by half. If the green movement were strong enough to make the president nervous, why wouldn’t he just reject the pipeline? And if it isn’t, why would he bother with a symbolic “trade”?

Obama can’t “trade” for a price on carbon. A carbon tax just isn’t going to happen under the current Congress, which won’t even work with Obama to keep the country financially solvent — so the president would be left trading with … himself?

Friedman is right that the president can take significant steps without the approval of Congress, including the big one of cracking down on dirty old coal plants. Obama should take those steps because they are the right thing to do. But does anyone really think they’d make the green movement any less angry about Keystone approval?

Obama should do the right thing. Period. This talk of “trades” is little more than Beltway navel gazing.

Anyhoo, these two Times pieces come just a week after The Washington Post irked climate activists with an editorial accusing them of “fighting the wrong battles” by protesting Keystone instead of pushing for a carbon tax. Grist’s David Roberts sums up the Post’s logic:

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N.Y. Times and Thomas Friedman call for killing Keystone

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Totem Bags Turns Trash Into Street-Chic Style

Founded by Toronto mom Melissa Richardson, Totem Bags features street-chic purses, messenger bags and carry-alls made from upcycled materials, including truck tarps, promotional banners, seatbelts and bike tires. Earth911 sat down with Richardson to learn more about her compelling story, her design inspiration and how she took truckers’ trash and transformed it into seriously awesome upcycled fashion.

Each Totem Bags design is made from upcycled materials, such as trashed promotional banners, truck tarps, seatbelts and bicycle inner tubes. Photo: Totem Bags

An inside look at Totem Bags

When she was expecting her first daughter, young mom Melissa Richardson found herself hesitant to return to her job in the corporate world. Inspired by a successful Swiss brand that repurposed old truck tarps into bags and accessories, Richardson decided to modify the idea to fit the urban-hip fashions of her hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Totem Bags founder Melissa Richardson shows off some of her creations. Photo: Totem Bags

With the support of her husband, the budding entrepreneur started Totem Bags in 2009 from the basement of her Toronto home. Created to repurpose durable waste materials, Totem Bags emerged as a creative marriage of style and sustainability.

The young brand got its first big break when the National Ballet of Canada signed on to hand over a stockpile of promotional banners to be repurposed into new products for its gift shop. Not knowing how to use a sewing machine, Richardson sat down and created the very first Totem Bag, which later became the T2 market tote design that is still one of the brand’s biggest sellers.

Since that fateful day, Totem Bags has expanded its list of clients to include top names like Chevrolet, Audi, Honda, IMAX and the Toronto International Film Festival.

Most companies send over their old banners to be remade into bags for giveaways and in-house promotions. But the eye-catching bags made from National Ballet of Canada banners, featuring productions such as Romeo & Juliet, Sleeping Beauty and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, are some of the retail line’s most popular designs.

Other bags in the Totem Bags retail line incorporate non-branded promotional banners, truck tarps, seatbelts and bicycle inner tubes sourced from across Canada.

“It’s kind of like the Johnny Cash song ‘I’ve Been Everywhere,'” Richardson tells Earth911. “That seatbelt, it saved somebody’s life, potentially. The truck tarp has traveled across Canada and in some cases into the states as well. Every single bag has a history.”

Bet You’ll Love: Recycled Purses Will Benefit Haitian School

The Alice Messenger Bag is made from upcycled promotional banners from the National Ballet of Canada’s presentation of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and is one of Totem Bags’ top sellers. Photo: Ethical Ocean

As a mom and stepmom to four kids, age one to nine, you would think Richardson has adopted a more hands-off approach to her brand over the years, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Each bag in the line is handmade at a manufacturing facility about five minutes from Richardson’s home, and the Totem Bags founder gives every piece her stamp of approval before it heads out the door.

“I want to make sure that when the bags come off the line, I’m the last one who sees them,” Richardson says. “Everybody should know that I have actually touched every single bag. I continue to do that, and I will continue to do that… because I don’t want to send anything out that has any type of imperfection.”

In addition to lending a personal touch to each bag, Richardson says she is now a well-known upcycler in Toronto and receives calls daily about new shipments of waste materials waiting to be repurposed – jokingly referring to herself as “the crazy bag lady.”

“Every single bag is a win,” Richardson says. “One bag is a little less in the landfill, and that’s what I do this for.”

For more information on Totem Bags, head to the brand’s website, or pick up a bag of your own from the company’s web store or one of our favorite online sellers, Ethical Ocean.

Related: 10 Awesome Upcycled Products from Ethical Ocean

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Totem Bags Turns Trash Into Street-Chic Style

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Republicans Vote to Oops….No They Didn’t

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See update below. Basically, you can ignore this entire post.

The original idea behind the sequester was simple: It was something so horrible that eventually a deal would be cut to replace it. Why was it so horrible? For Democrats, because of all the domestic spending cuts. For Republicans, because of all the defense spending cuts.

The flaw with this has always been the fact that if Congress wants to, it can simply choose to rescind some of the cuts but not others. “You can always put money back in for defense,” Tom DeLay remarked a few weeks ago, and that possibility makes the sequester a lot less scary for Republicans than it otherwise would be. Sure enough, Dave Weigel reports that House Republicans have already started the process:

It wasn’t even close. Shortly after 1 p.m., with plenty of time to catch flights home, Republican members of the House voted to approve the continuing resolution to fund the government through September. As written, it plussed up the defense funds that had been stricken by sequestration….Almost all Republicans, 214 of them, voted aye, and a Republican aide announcing the vote to reporters reminded them that they only needed 210 votes to pass it.

The bill could have passed with no Democratic votes, but 53 Democrats voted for it anyway. If there are enough Democratic defense hawks in the Senate—or even just senators afraid of being attacked for voting against the Pentagon—it’s possible that the defense cuts could get restored and the sequester would then turn into a pure domestic spending cut. Would Obama sign it if that’s the bill he gets? Or would he risk a government shutdown by vetoing it? We’ll have to wait and see how that goes.

UPDATE: According to the Washington Post, “The measure the House passed on Wednesday would provide new flexibility to the Pentagon to manage the sequester’s deep spending cuts, but would otherwise leave the reductions in place for the year.” Both the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal agree: the defense cuts are still in place, but the House bill gives the Pentagon a little more flexibility in where to apply them.

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Republicans Vote to Oops….No They Didn’t

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Shark, Sexposition, and "Game of Thrones" Season 3

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In 2006, when David Benioff and Dan Weiss, cocreators of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, sat down with author George R.R. Martin to talk about adapting his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin’s Hollywood bullshit detector was on high alert. “He gave us a pop quiz,” Weiss told one interviewer, but they passed the test because their passion for Martin’s books “was real and natural and completely unforced.”

Their geek-boy résumés probably didn’t hurt: Benioff, a D&D dungeon master in his youth, did the screenplay for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Weiss had a video-game-themed novel under his belt. Nor did their willingness to shelve all other creative pursuits—no small sacrifice for Benioff, who had adapted his own first novel, The 25th Hour, into the Spike Lee film starring Edward Norton, and followed that up with the fabulous 2008 book City of Thieves.

For the uninitiated, Game of Thrones is an engrossing tale of clans struggling for dominion in the fictional realm of Westeros. (Benioff’s two-second elevator pitch: “The Sopranos in Middle Earth.”) With a stellar crew and ensemble cast anchored by Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf scion of a power-hungry family, the show has raked in 17 Emmy nominations and eight wins, including Dinklage as outstanding supporting actor. Benioff and Weiss told me via email about their favorite characters, learning to “fail better,” and the challenges of shooting Season 3, which premieres March 31 on HBO.

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Shark, Sexposition, and "Game of Thrones" Season 3

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Meet Obama’s energy secretary pick: Ernest Moniz

Meet Obama’s energy secretary pick: Ernest Moniz


Here’s Ernest.

Today President Obama nominated Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy, as widely expected. If confirmed, he’ll replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Moniz, like Chu, is a super-brainy physicist.

Here’s what Philip Bump wrote about Moniz last month on the pages of Grist:

Who is Ernest Moniz?

Here’s who he is, as articulated by Reuters:

Moniz, a former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

Ha ha. Sounds great! We will come back to this part, obviously.

At MIT, Moniz led intensive studies about the future of coal, nuclear energy and natural gas, and he helped attract funding and research momentum to energy projects on campus.

People familiar with Moniz’s work said, if chosen, he would bring his own energy and pragmatism to the job. …

Moniz earned kudos for a pragmatic approach toward using research to find ways to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels and transition to cleaner forms of energy.

We’ll come back to this, too.

What does he look like?

As you can see above, he kind of looks like a Founding Father who teaches high-school English in New Hampshire.

Has he ever been in any movies?

No. According to IMDB, he’s only ever been on Frontline. Put those autograph books away!

What’s his actual, non-summarized background?

Here’s part of his bio at MIT:

Professor Moniz received a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in physics from Boston College, a doctorate in theoretical physics from Stanford University, and honorary doctorates from the University of Athens, the University of Erlangen-Nurenburg, and Michigan State University. He was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Saclay, France, and at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Moniz is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Humboldt Foundation, and the American Physical Society and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He received the 1998 Seymour Cray HPCC Industry Recognition Award for vision and leadership in advancing scientific simulation and, in 2008, the Grand Cross of the Order of Makarios III for contributions to development of research, technology and education in Cyprus and the wider region.

(Honestly, “the Grand Cross of the Order of Makarios III” sounds made up.)

I would like to hear him in his own words, please.

Fine. Here you go, via Switch Energy Project, as pointed out to us by D. Ray Long.

How do environmental groups feel about his nomination?

A charitable way to describe how they feel would be: mixed.

As noted above, his program at MIT receives a lot of money from fossil fuel interests. And Moniz has been unabashed in his advocacy of the use of natural gas as a “bridge” fuel and even some expansion of nuclear power. (You can read his thoughts on the latter here.)

The Hill has a small collection of quotes from disaffected greens, but the better overview comes from Inside Climate News, which has a good article on Moniz’s background. It starts with his thoughts on natural gas.

In December, while speaking at the University of Texas at Austin, Moniz warned that while natural gas could reduce carbon emissions by displacing coal-fired electricity, its increasing use could also slow growth in the clean energy sector.

“When it comes to carbon, [natural] gas is part of our solution at least for some time,” said Moniz, who served as undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration. “And we should take advantage of the time to innovate and bring down the cost of renewables. The worst thing w[ould] be is to get time and not use it. And that I’m afraid is where we are.”

This isn’t incorrect, mind you — natural gas has spurred a drop in carbon emissions and is certainly going to be part of the mix. But it’s not something that most environmental organizations are currently championing, especially given the process usually used to extract that gas: fracking.

Moniz has accepted fracking as a necessary-but-unnecessarily-polluting evil. In 2011, Moniz presented a report from his MIT group to the Senate, saying:

“Regulation of shale (and other oil and gas) activity is generally controlled at the state level, meaning that acceptable practices can vary between shale plays,” Moniz wrote in his prepared testimony. “The MIT study recommends that in order to minimize environmental impacts, current best practice regulation and oversight should be applied uniformly to all shales.”

Moniz didn’t elaborate on how to standardize regulations and oversight …

“Prior to carrying out our analysis, we had an open mind as to whether natural gas would indeed be a ‘bridge’ to a low-carbon future,” he told the committee. “In broad terms, we find that, given the large amounts of natural gas available in the U.S. at moderate cost … natural gas can indeed play an important role over the next couple of decades (together with demand management) in economically advancing a clean energy system.”

At the same time, however, the report projected that natural gas will “eventually become too carbon intensive” and should be phased out around 2050.

Moniz’s record also demonstrates commitment to renewable energy development.

As a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, he helped write a 2010 report that recommended a federal investment of $16 billion per year for clean energy innovation — about triple the 2010 investment. Some of that money could come from the private sector, the report said. For example, “we use about 200 billion gallons of transportation fuel annually, so a two cents per gallon charge would … generate about $4 billion per year.” It said the same amount of money could be raised by charging a fee for the electricity used nationwide — a suggestion Moniz reiterated at the Texas conference.

Expect this to come up during confirmation hearings.

So, will he be confirmed by the Senate?

Well, given the drawn-out, ridiculous path Republican Chuck Hagel was forced to crawl to become secretary of defense, God only knows. Granted, defense is a more high-profile Cabinet position, but it seems clear that his nomination happened under the belief that confirmation would be easier than it has been.

Also read about Obama’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy.

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Meet Obama’s energy secretary pick: Ernest Moniz

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#7: Fulcrum 20019-301 Battery-Operated LED Clip-On Task Light


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#7: Fulcrum 20019-301 Battery-Operated LED Clip-On Task Light

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