US Unemployment at 16.4% (U6)

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means today’s labor report is out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for last month. The U6 unemployment rate nationwide hit 16.4% for May 2009.

This is much higher than the normally quoted U3 rate, of course, in case that seems high to you. But as I explained when the February data came out, we should be looking at the U6 to get an accurate understanding of the situation. I encourage you to read that post, if you didn’t before, since understanding the difference between the “official rate” and the U6 rate is critical, in my opinion, to understanding the US economy, especially when we’re not in a recession.

I call the U6 “real” unemployment, just like people talk about “real” wage growth (which accounts for inflation).

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

American Exceptionalism and the Torture Debate

Mark Thompson at the League of Ordinary Gentleman has what I think is an excellent post on how torture runs contrary to this idea that America is an exceptional country.

If you think the United States is just another country, or even just another Western country, then the moral issues of whether waterboarding is torture, or whether it was a war crime to drop the atomic bomb, can and perhaps should be either irrelevant or only of minor significance compared to whether those actions saved more lives than they cost. But if you are a true believer in American exceptionalism, then you must accept that maintaining that exceptionalism comes with costs, perhaps sometimes in human lives.

Shining cities don’t just appear and maintain their shine without sacrifice and risk-taking by their citizens. It does no one any good to pretend otherwise; nor does it do any good to secretly and gradually apply a bit of plaster and polish to a monument from which you have taken much gold restores the monument to its previous glow. Instead, that monument must be stripped of its plaster for all to see in its newly grotesque shape. Then, and only then, can the people properly evaluate whether the lost shine was worth the increase in safety.

 
He goes on to state in the post and in the comments that America is not and has often not been the right country or the most free. Instead, he bases his ideas of American exceptionalism on the founding documents of our nation, which laid out the premise that all men are created equal and endowed with certain natural rights. Since I’m in a historical minded mood (I should be studying instead of writing this…), I wondered about this.
Read more

If he can walk and chew gum…

Or: Why President Obama must deal with the torture issue now

It got really cliche when supporters countered critics of Obama’s bold agenda by saying the president was capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Even some people in the administration kept saying that. If he can work on Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, and health care all at the same time – since he does have all these people working for him – it seems theoretically possible to do some other things simultaneously as well.

Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, says Obama is focused on “looking forward” and not back, which is supposed to be a good enough explanation for his disinterest in following the law and investigating and prosecuting those in the previous administration who authorized or carried out torture.

If Obama were the only person in charge of doing everything at once, this might be a reasonable thing to say. But he’s not. He’s the head of a gigantic administration (and he could, for that matter, leave it entirely up to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, like he’s supposed to, and not worry about it). That means it’s possible for the administration to be looking forward and back at the same time.

Like Janus, the Roman god of doorways and the namesake of the month of January:
janus

But on a serious note… think about it this way: If people committed crimes in the previous administration (and the evidence is overwhelming that they did), then they should be prosecuted. Because what sort of signal does it send to less-than-honest people in current and future administrations? If we prosecute, it tells people they can’t get away with it just because they’re out of office. If we don’t prosecute, it tells them that laws don’t mean anything because everyone will be ready to move on and “look forward.”

It doesn’t make sense to me that we should just “look forward.” That’s the same argument that Gerald Ford used in pardoning Nixon, and it pissed everyone off and may have cost him the 1976 election. Sure, it’s a distraction and it’s politically draining, but if we don’t hold up the law, does the law mean anything? Why bother writing laws if we never plan on enforcing them?

If we always cower because we don’t want to look like we’re politically motivated in carrying out the law, then it encourages further law-breaking. That’s not a slippery slope argument, it’s just reality. There are bad people out there who want to do illegal things, some of them will break the law anyway, but some of them will be stopped because they know there will be consequences.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been looking at this in a different light, and he also makes these points and others better. Particularly, he suggests that there is a double standard for how the law gets enforced:

Endorsing justice, consequences, and “personal responsibility” for poor black fathers, as Obama does for instance, is moral, upstanding, and honest. Endorsing justice, consequences and “personal responsibility” for your colleagues who are charged with safegaurding the future of hundreds of millions of people is, apparently, mere retribution. What a joke.

 
Our country is based on the rule of law. If we enforce the laws for the poor minorities, we also have to enforce the laws for the powerful, rich white guys. I’d like to see these right-wing nuts stop defending illegal torture and start calling for enforcement of these laws, just as loud as they call for enforcing immigration laws and other such things.

We don’t get to pick and choose.

 
NATE UPDATE: More TNC on moving forward

Here’s what TNC actually thinks about “moving forward”

There’s a bar in the East Village that offers five shots of anything for ten bucks. I’m going there tonight, and taking 10 shots of anything the crowd reccommends. Then I’m going to stand on the street soliciting random women for sex. Should I be arrested I shall have the perfect rejoinder, “Officer, I think we should focus on looking forward.” Should I be slapped, I’ll have the perfect rebuttal, “Baby, I think we really should be focused on looking forward.” Should I succeed and come home, hung-over, and have to face my spouse’s accusing eyes, I shall be armed with the perfect riposte, “This relationship should focus on looking forward.”

 
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

“CIA official: no proof harsh techniques stopped terror attacks”

Oh? That headline comes from McClatchy DC:

WASHINGTON — The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks.

 
Unsurprising. Didn’t know it had been found codified yet in an official document. There was a Bush speech in 2006 that explains that a foiled 2002 plot was later identified by torturing KSM in 2003, suggesting that some information was gained but not anything vital or time-sensitive that stopped an attack. The 183 waterboardings just explained to the CIA which plot had been stopped previously by a local arrest of an Al Qaeda agent.

By the way, I skimmed and read parts of the 2005 Bradbury memo, which the McClatchy article above mentions later as citing (and contradicting) the 2004 memo. I didn’t get to that part yet, but I’ll check into it.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Torture “safety measures”

More disturbing discoveries in the torture memos: doctors were on hand with equipment to perform emergency tracheotomies on detainees in case they stopped breathing properly due to extensive water boarding.

You know, where they cut a hole in your throat so you can get enough air not to die.

I don’t understand how people can still insist this wasn’t torture.

I’ve crawled through several sections of the 2005 memo cited (pdf) myself now. The tracheotomy part can be found in the second paragraph of page 14. (I actually read the memo backward for some reason, but this particular part is on p. 14). I’ve also found from reading it that these rules were created pretty much in response to worse torture before this, such as the repeated waterboarding of KSM 183 times in one month… though they don’t acknowledge that.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Make sure to see this…

I was away when this story broke, or I would have covered it in more detail, but I want to make sure people read about this story. It was first broken by “emptywheel” on Firedoglake and then picked up by the New York Times.

According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

 
That’s mind-boggling. It’s almost impossible to understand how that amount of torture was accomplished mathematically, let alone the moral implications.

Most important note of all: No information was gained.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Deficit Levels

This video was on the front page of Daily Kos mainly to highlight what the author saw as betrayal by Sen. Evan Bayh on FOX News, where he explained why he planned to vote against the Federal spending bill that runs budget programs. I’m not, however, posting it here for that reason, as you’ll read below the video.

If he and other deficit hawks stopped for a moment to consider what they are actually saying, they might realize they were making the case FOR increased deficit spending. He cites the Civil War and WWII as the only times when he thinks the deficit-to-GDP ratio was higher than now (Bayh thinks it’s 12% of GDP right now, and by the end of WWII it was over 100% of GDP).

Ok, setting the Civil War aside because that brings up unrelated issues, let’s examine the issue of citing World War II deficits. Right now, we’re in a major recession. It’s the worst since the Great Depression (1929-1942ish). Now, we trundled along from 1929 to the US entry to war worrying about deficits and not spending too much compared to the national GDP, which was much smaller then than it is now. No amount of New Deal programs worked until 1942, when the New Deal went on Allied War Effort steroids. That doesn’t mean the New Deal failed because it was useless, it means it didn’t succeed because it didn’t go far enough.

World War II came along and we went WAY into debt and spent at a federal budget deficit exceeding the entire gross domestic product of the United States. This money went to buy and build weapons, pay factory workers, expand the bureaucracy, pay soldiers, overhaul the manufacturing industry, and increase government control over the American Total War Economy. Our long malaise and stupor finally broke and we emerged out the other side of the war on an economic crest (which temporarily dampened as spending and price controls were slashed rapidly by a Republican-run Congress). But the Great Depression was finally over and we didn’t go back to it. Without the extreme wartime spending, though, it’s probably safe to say the Depression would have continued longer.

While the debt was never entirely paid off, the deficit and debt levels were both brought reasonably quickly back under control, and they largely remained that way for the rest of the 20th century. By the time President George W. Bush took office, we were still paying down the national debt, but the spending was close to par with the revenue. No harm done.

Obviously, in the very long run, World War II-level spending would be unsustainable, but it was only meant for the short-term. Evan Bayh clearly makes an exception to his deficit concerns “rule” when he cites World War II…which came after/during the Great Depression and ended it permanently. That means that he knows it’s critical to act by massive government spending for a few years. There are exceptions to his rule, and he knows it, but doesn’t connect the dots.

Aren’t we in exceptional times right now?

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.