Category - USA

United States of America

Jobs Report Disappoints, Participation Rate Falls to Lowest Since 1977

Bloomberg Business, By Sho Chandra, July 2

The U.S. labor market took one step forward and one back in June as job creation advanced while wages stagnated and the size of the labor force receded.

The addition of 223,000 jobs followed a 254,000 increase in the prior month that was less than previously estimated, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The jobless rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent as more people left the workforce.

The figures indicate corporate managers are confident they can temper hiring and meet demand against a backdrop of stronger consumer spending and feeble overseas markets. At the same time, more moderate job gains may still be enough to reduce the unemployment rate, consistent with the Federal Reserve’s perceived timetable to raise borrowing costs by year-end.

“One month’s low number wouldn’t shake our optimism,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. “The job market still has a ways to go but we’re making progress.”

US, Cuba to announce embassy openings after 50-year stalemate

RT, July 1

US President Barack Obama will announce on Wednesday that the United States has reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen embassies in their respective capitals of Washington and Havana, according to American officials.

The United States severed political ties with Cuba in 1961 after imposing an embargo on the island nation just 90 miles south of Florida a year before. Tourism to Cuba for Americans has been banned since that time. Though Cuba is still under communist rule, the Cold War mentality that has defined the relationship between the two countries over the last 50 years at last seems to be thawing.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the US interests section in Cuba, will meet Cuba’s Interim Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina in Havana on Wednesday to deliver a letter from President Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro regarding the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations, Cuba said in a statement on Tuesday.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Says Island’s Debts Are ‘Not Payable’

New York Times, By Michael Corkery & Mary Williams Walsh, June 28

Puerto Rico’s governor, saying he needs to pull the island out of a “death spiral,” has concluded that the commonwealth cannot pay its roughly $72 billion in debts, an admission that will probably have wide-reaching financial repercussions.

The governor, Alejandro García Padilla, and senior members of his staff said in an interview last week that they would probably seek significant concessions from as many as all of the island’s creditors, which could include deferring some debt payments for as long as five years or extending the timetable for repayment.

“The debt is not payable,” Mr. García Padilla said. “There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math.”

It is a startling admission from the governor of an island of 3.6 million people, which has piled on more municipal bond debt per capita than any American state.

Black Churches Are Burning Again in America

This week, there were fires in at least six predominantly African American churches. Arson at religious institutions has decreased significantly over the past two decades, but the symbolism remains haunting.

The Atlantic, By Emma Green, June 25

“What’s the church doing on fire?”

Jeanette Dudley, the associate pastor of God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, got a call a little after 5 a.m. on Wednesday, she told a local TV news station. Her tiny church of about a dozen members had been burned, probably beyond repair. The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco got called in, which has been the standard procedure for church fires since the late 1960s. Investigators say they’ve ruled out possible causes like an electrical malfunction; most likely, this was arson.

The very same night, many miles away in North Carolina, another church burned: Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, which was set on fire some time around 1 a.m. Investigators have ruled it an act of arson, the AP reports; according to The Charlotte Observer, they haven’t yet determined whether it might be a hate crime.

Two other predominantly black churches have been the target of possible arson this week: Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina, which caught fire on Friday, and College Hill Seventh Day Adventist, which burned on Monday in Knoxville, Tennessee. Investigators in Knoxville told a local news station they believed it was an act of vandalism, although they aren’t investigating the incident as a hate crime. (There have also been at least three other cases of fires at churches this week. At Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee, and the Greater Miracle Temple Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Florida. Officials suspect the blazes were caused by lightning and electrical wires, respectively, but investigations are still ongoing. A church that is not predominantly black—College Heights Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio—was burned on Saturday morning. The fire appears to have been started in the sanctuary, and WKYC reports that the cause is still under investigation. The town’s fire and police departments did not immediately return calls for confirmation on Sunday.*)

SPLC: String of Nighttime Fires Hit Predominately Black Churches in Four Southern States
Buzzfeed: Arsonists Strike Black Churches Across The South

Gawker: Racist Idiots Hold Pro-Confederate Flag Rallies Across the South
Raw Story: League of South leader: John Wilkes Booth ‘took too long’ to assassinate ‘treasonous’ Lincoln

Supreme Court rules [5-4] gay couples nationwide have a right to marry

Washington Post, By Robert Barnes, June 26

BREAKING NEWS: In a landmark victory for gay rights, a divided Supreme Court ruled that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.

The Supreme Court will be back at work Friday putting the finishing touches on a historic term, with one major decision completed and a landmark ruling on same-sex marriage to be announced.

The court on Thursday delivered a pair of decisions that delighted civil rights groups and the Obama administration. In one, it said that the protections of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 extend beyond policies that are intentionally discriminatory and forbid actions that appear neutral but have the effect of harming minorities.

More prominently, the justices upheld a major part of the Affordable Care Act that said subsidies intended to help low- and moderate-income Americans buy health insurance are available to all who qualify, not just to those who live in states that have set up insurance marketplaces.

Scotus Blog Live Blog

Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.

Each of the four dissenters has written a dissent.

The Guardian’s Live Blog: Supreme court: gay marriage legal across the US – live updates

Decision: OBERGEFELL ET AL. v. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. [PDF]

Spy Agency’s Secret Plans to Foster Online “Conformity” and “Obedience” Exposed

Internal memo from secretive British spy unit exposes how GCHQ and NSA used human psychological research to create sophisticated online propaganda tools.

Common Dreams, By Jon Queally, June 22

With never-before-seen documents accompanied by new reporting on Monday, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman are offering a more in-depth look than ever into how a secretive unit of the UK’s GCHQ surveillance agency used a host of psychological methods and online subterfuge in order to manipulate the behavior of individuals and groups through the internet and other digital forms of communication.

[…]

Among the most troubling revelations is a 42-page internal JTRIG memo that describes in detail how the elite unit developed, maintained, and apparently sought to expand its “scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behavior can be influenced” in order to increase its ability to “manipulate public opinion” via online tools like email, social media, video, discussion forums, and other platforms.

Stop!

The 80,000-Volt Handcuffs That Let Cops Shock Prisoners

The quiet rise of “Stun-Cuffs” give police officers, prison guards and bailiffs an easy way to electrify people into submission.

The Atlantic, By Connor Friedersdorf, June 25

What gives an electric jolt as strong as a typical Tase but is designed for prisoners already in police custody rather than suspects not yet arrested? Wireless “Stun-Cuffs” from Myers Enterprises. “Today’s criminal is more hardened, desperate, and more dangerous than ever,” its imperfectly punctuated brochure warns. “Whether taking a prisoner for a doctor visit, transporting them for trial, interrogations or dealing with a prisoner that is under the influence. They must be controlled.”

Here’s how the devices work: A prisoner’s wrists or ankles are cuffed––and then, if the person holding the transmitter desires, he or she can send tens of thousands of volts of electricity coursing through the prisoner’s body from a distance of up to 100 yards. As the brochure puts it: “A demonstration of this in front of a prisoner and they will know if they are out of compliance the Single Cuff model will drop them.”

The fun they had: New York Times staff mimicked mass killings in leaked photos

RT, June 23

Two leaked photographs show top New York Times staff in poses making fun of mass killings shortly after they happened.

An unnamed former New York Times employee provided Gawker with the photos, which were then published on Tuesday. They show an apparent disconnect between the NYT image of decorous professionalism and literal images of staff making light of mass death.

[…]

“These photos are in poor taste, not reflective of the values of The New York Times and deeply regrettable,” NYT’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told Gawker in a statement Tuesday morning. Schulzberg is also the Chairman of the paper’s owner, The New York Times Company.

This embarrassment occurs only three days after it was revealed that the paper was tricked into publishing an article claiming that the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was a diehard fan of the children’s cartoon My Little Pony.


From the Gawker article:

Rosenthal did not respond to a request for comment. Asked by email about his part in staging the photos, Keller responded: “This is what journalists did with their childish impulses before there was Gawker.”

Fifth Circuit Rules in Favor of Obamacare’s Birth Control Benefit Accommodation

RH Reality Check, By Jessica Mason Pieklo, June 23

Religious conservatives challenging the accommodation process for employers to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit have lost yet another legal battle, this time in the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A unanimous panel of judges on Monday ruled that the plaintiffs in East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, a consolidated group of cases involving religiously affiliated employers who object to providing health insurance coverage for some or all forms of contraception, were not substantially burdened by completing an opt-out form that triggers third party contraceptive coverage for employees who want it.

The plaintiffs in East Texas Baptist University argue that the task of completing the government’s form that self-certifies them as religious employers—and eligible for an accommodation to the benefit—“triggers” or “facilitates” the ability of their employees to get contraceptive coverage elsewhere.

That, the plaintiffs argue, makes them complicit in what they believe to be a sinful act: supporting contraception generally.

On Monday the Fifth Circuit joined the Third, Seventh, and D.C. Circuits in flatly rejecting that argument.

After Freddie Gray

The Kingsley decision creates a crucial new constitutional protection against police abuse.

Slate, By Mark Joseph Stern, June 22

In April of 2010, five police officers put Michael Kingsley face down on a cement bunk in a holding cell, shocked him with a stun gun for five seconds, then left him alone, writhing in pain with his hands cuffed behind his back, for 15 minutes. Kingsley sued the officers, claiming they violated his constitutional rights by using excessive force. He lost.

On Monday, the Supreme Court gave Kingsley a second chance, ruling that the trial court gave the jury bad instructions. In a narrow sense, the decision turns on a technical question of intent. In a broader sense, though, the ruling is a blast of good news for opponents of police brutality—an emphatic declaration that the Constitution bars police from beating and abusing suspects in custody.

At the heart of Kingsley v. Hendrickson is a pretty straightforward question of intent. During the trial, the judge told the jury that Kingsley must lose unless he could prove the officers knew their actions could unduly harm Kingsley but went through with them anyway. Under that high standard, Kingsley lost. It’s incredibly difficult to prove law enforcement intentionally deprived suspects of their constitutional rights. Just ask the family of Michael Brown.

But Kingsley argued that he shouldn’t have to prove the officers were subjectively aware that their use of force was unreasonable. By forcing him to convince a jury that the officers had a malicious state of mind, Kingsley believed, the court made him clear too high a hurdle to vindicate his constitutional rights. Rather, Kingsley insisted that he should only have to prove that their use of force was objectively unreasonable to win his suit.

A bare majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Kingsley, sending the case back down to an appeals court to decide whether the error was so grave that Kingsley must be given a new trial. The dry majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer barely hints that the decision will have an impact beyond Kingsley’s case. But in reality, Kingsley constructs a crucial new constitutional protection against police abuse—a protection especially vital in the shadow of Freddie Gray’s shocking death.

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