Archive for January 18th, 2011

Wikileaks: US berates Rigoberta Menchu

Wikileaks: US berates Rigoberta Menchu

Censored News

Sunday, January 16, 2011

by Brenda Norrell

The US Embassy in Guatemala berates Nobel Peace Prize winnter Rigoberta Menchu in the latest Wikileaks diplomatic cable release, dated 2008, over Menchu’s defense of the land.

The US Ambassador begins with:
“During the Ambassador’s July 8 farewell call on President Colom, Colom defended his decision to sign a PetroCaribe deal with Venezuela, asserting that the deal would help to alleviate rising fuel and food prices. Colom expressed confidence in new Minister of Government Jimenez, and reviewed the mixed performance of Attorney General Florido and Environment Minister Ferrate. Colom said that Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu, whom he called a ‘fabrication,’ had incited indigenous residents of San Juan Sacatepequez to oppose local construction of a cement plant …”

After the cable release on Monday, President Colom’s spokesman Renaldo Robles said the cable is full of “subjective opinions of former embassy personnel,” and “the government reiterates its respect for Dr. Menchu,” according to AP Guatemala.

The Menchu foundation and the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City declined to comment to AP.

Read cable:

En espanol:

Censored News will update this entry in the event Menchu responds to the cable.

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Garage Innovation

Garage Innovation

The potential costs of regulating synthetic biology must be counted against putative benefits.

by Rob Carlson, The Scientist,

Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

What to do about biohackers in the garage? The apparent answer from the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, whose first task has been to examine the emerging field of synthetic biology, is “prudent vigilance.”

It isn’t just tinkerers who are intrigued by the prospect of building genes and genomes. Many scientists are discovering exciting new ways to use synthetic DNA. Moreover, the exponentially decreasing cost of such DNA has encouraged innovative approaches to making drugs, biofuels, and other materials. As early as next year, synthetic biology may be used to produce flu-vaccine strains in days to weeks, rather than the 12 months now required.

Yet discussions of synthetic biology always include the din of warnings about artificial pathogens and Frankenstein experiments escaping the lab. Therein lies the rub for the commission: “Let science rip,” in the words of chair Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania, or attempt to constrain access to an already globally commercialized technology.

When I addressed the commission in July of last year, I emphasized the critical importance of small organizations in producing technological innovations. There is every reason to expect that garage innovation will be as important to biological technologies as it was to IT and dozens of others that we rely on every day. Consequently, one challenge the commission faces is to reconcile the concern for safe development with the drive for rapid development. Restriction of access to technology and markets would slow development.

Regulation could result in a black market — the worst possible outcome.

Given the apparent power of the emerging toolkit of synthetic biology, it is too easy to call for restrictions, such as regulations and licensing, without pausing to account for the consequent potential costs.

One possible strategy—restricting access to raw materials and markets—has had very clear negative consequences in the effort to reduce the production and consumption of illegal drugs. In the case of methamphetamine, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s own reporting reveals that suppression of “mom-and-pop” production has resulted in foreign manufacture that surpasses the domestic production it replaced. In the case of cocaine, restricted access to markets led drug cartels to build semisubmersible vessels that can carry illicit cargo worth hundreds of times the cost of the vessel itself. In both cases, the basic policy failure lay in the attempt to control tools and skills in the context of a market in which consumers are willing to pay prices that support use of those tools and skills.

The potential negative consequences of regulating the synthetic biology toolkit are similar. Many questions must be addressed before implementing any such policy. For instance, what is the line dividing do-it-yourself biology from a start-up company operating in a garage? Should all individuals interested in learning about biotechnology be certified in some way? If so, that process will increase the costs of both education and innovation. What if those costs are so large that they discourage research and innovation, and thereby depress economic growth? Alternatively, what if the certification costs are large enough, but the physical barriers to use low enough, that it is possible to avoid certification while engaging in backroom research and development? What if backroom R&D finds a demand for illicit products at prices that encourage avoiding certification—the very definition of a black market? As the meth and cocaine examples demonstrate, many policies intended to increase safety and security turn out to be counterproductive in practice. Regulation of synthetic biology could result in a black market—the worst possible outcome, and one that should be avoided as an unbearable cost.

Everyone involved in this conversation wants to maximize safety and security. Regulation might be an appropriate mechanism toward this end, but it must be smart regulation. Proposals to regulate are every bit as deserving of “prudent vigilance” as the field of synthetic biology itself.

Dr. Rob Carlson is a Principal at Biodesic, an engineering, consulting, and design firm in Seattle. At the broadest level, Carlson is interested in the future role of biology as a human technology. He has worked to develop new biological technologies in both academic and commercial environments, focusing on molecular measurement and microfluidic systems. Carlson is the author of the book Biology is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life, published in 2010 by Harvard University Press. Carlson earned a doctorate in Physics from Princeton University in 1997. Links to additional articles and his blog can be found here.

Thaw of Earth’s icy sunshade may stoke warming

Thaw of Earth’s icy sunshade may stoke warming


By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent,

OSLO | Sun Jan 16, 2011 3:45pm EST, Reuters

OSLO (Reuters) – Shrinking ice and snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is reflecting ever less sunshine back into space in a previously underestimated mechanism that could add to global warming, a study showed.

Satellite data indicated that Arctic sea ice, glaciers, winter snow and Greenland’s ice were bouncing less energy back to space from 1979 to 2008. The dwindling white sunshade exposes ground or water, both of which are darker and absorb more heat.

The study estimated that ice and snow in the Northern Hemisphere were now reflecting on average 3.3 watts per square meter of solar energy back to the upper atmosphere, a reduction of 0.45 watt per square meter since the late 1970s.

“The cooling effect is reduced and this is increasing the amount of solar energy that the planet absorbs,” Mark Flanner, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, told Reuters.

“This reduction in reflected solar energy through warming is greater than simulated by the current crop of climate models,” he said of the findings by a team of U.S.-based researchers and published in the journal Nature Geoscience Sunday.

“The conclusion is that the cryosphere (areas of ice and snow) is both responding more sensitively to, and also driving, stronger climate change than thought,” he said.

As ever more ground and water is exposed to sunlight, the absorbed heat in turn speeds the melting of snow and ice nearby.

Arctic sea ice, for instance, has shrunk in recent decades in a trend that the United Nations panel of climate scientists blames mainly on greenhouse gases from mankind’s burning of fossil fuels in factories, power plants and cars.

Many studies project that Arctic sea ice could vanish in summers later this century in a trend that would undermine the hunting cultures of indigenous peoples and threaten polar bears and other animals, as well as adding to global climate change.


But Flanner said that it was impossible to draw conclusions from the study about the rate of future melting, for instance of Arctic sea ice, since it was based on only 30 years of data.

“There are a lot of other things that determine climate … this is just one of them,” he said.

Other factors include whether there will be more clouds in a warmer world — whose white tops also reflect sunlight. Or there could be more water vapor that traps heat in the atmosphere.

The study estimated that each degree Celsius (1.8 degree Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures would mean a decline in solar energy reflected out to space of between 0.3 and 1.1 watts per square meter from the Northern Hemisphere’s snow and ice.

Temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere have risen by about 0.75 degree Celsius in the past three decades. The study did not look at the Southern Hemisphere, where Antarctica has far more ice but is much colder and shows fewer signs of warming.

“On a global scale, the planet absorbs solar energy at a rate of about 240 watts per square meter averaged over a year. The planet would be darker and absorb an additional 3.3 watts without the Northern Hemisphere cryosphere,” Flanner said.

For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on:

(editing by David Stamp)

Amount of carbon absorbed by ecosystems each year is grossly overstated, says new study

Amount of carbon absorbed by ecosystems each year is grossly overstated, says new study

Emily Kirkland,
January 17, 2011

According to a new paper published in Science, current carbon accounting methods significantly overstate the amount of carbon that can be absorbed by forests, plains, and other terrestrial ecosystems. That is because most current carbon accounting methods do not consider the methane and carbon dioxide released naturally by rivers, streams, and lakes. This new paper suggests that rivers, streams, and lakes emit the equivalent of 2.05 billion metric tons of carbon every year. (By comparison, all the terrestrial ecosystems on the world’s continents are thought to absorb around 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon each year). This is, as the lead author of the paper said, is a “major accounting error”.

Each year, rivers, streams, and lakes release 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. In addition, as this new paper explains, rivers, streams and lakes also emit 103 million metric tons of methane every year—equivalent to about 650 million metric tons of carbon. (Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas; a single ton of methane has much larger impact on the atmosphere than an equivalent ton of carbon dioxide.) It remains difficult to measure methane emissions precisely; methane bubbles may emerge from river and lake sediments suddenly, or at very irregular intervals. Given this uncertainty, these numbers may actually be under-estimates. Even so, the methane emissions calculations alone suggest that we have been overestimating the absorptive ability of the continents by 25 percent.

This paper makes it clear that freshwater ecosystems play a valuable role in the world’s carbon cycles—especially given how little of the earth’s surface they cover. In addition, this paper also highlights just how little we know about natural carbon cycles. Previous papers have suggested that freshwater ecosystems may also be storing large quantities of carbon dioxide—perhaps as much as 600 million metric tons. There is an urgent need for further study, as precise measurements of natural carbon sources and sinks are vital for shaping policies on conservation, deforestation, and other issues.

Citation: Bastviken D, Tranvik LJ, Downing JA, Crill PM, Enrich-Prast A. Freshwater methane emissions offset the continental carbon sink. Science. 2011 Jan 7;331(6013):50.

Drinking water in Vietnam has excessive arsenic

Drinking water in Vietnam has excessive arsenic

Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Ron Popeski,

January 17, 2011

(Reuters) – More than a quarter of drinking wells in Vietnam’s densely-populated Red River delta contain unsafe levels of arsenic that can cause cancer, neurological problems and hypertension, researchers warned on Tuesday.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they also said 44 percent of the wells in the delta carried levels of manganese that exceed World Health Organization guidelines.

“About 7 million people are at a considerable risk of chronic arsenic poisoning. This is particularly worrying because groundwater is the main source of drinking water throughout the delta,” lead author Michael Berg wrote in an email to Reuters.

Arsenic contamination of groundwater occurs in many countries, like Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Chile, China, Hungary, India, Mexico, Peru, Thailand and the United States.

Manganese can disrupt the development of growing children.

Home to 16.6 million people, the delta straddles eight provinces and two municipalities, the capital Hanoi and Hai Phong port. Eleven million people have no access to the public water supply and are dependent on other sources, such as tubewells.

Experts have long known that groundwater in parts of southeast Asia contain unsafe levels of arsenic, a naturally occurring chemical, but their locations have never been clear.

Berg, a senior scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and colleagues collected samples from 512 private wells across the delta and analyzed them for arsenic, manganese and other toxins such as selenium and barium.

“Sixty-five percent of the groundwater wells in the Red River delta contain naturally occurring toxic elements, at levels which exceed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety standards,” Berg wrote.

“The most health threatening … are arsenic, where 27 percent of the wells (are) above WHO guidelines and manganese, 44 percent.”

Berg and colleagues believe the widespread contamination is due to a long history of groundwater exploitation in the delta.

“The practice … has caused arsenic to leech downward and taint the municipal water supply,” they wrote, urging households to use sand filters and other water treatment methods.

According to the WHO, water containing more than 10 micrograms of arsenic per liter is unsafe, and chronic poisoning leads to accumulations in the skin, hair, and nails, resulting in skin pigmentation, hypertension and neurological dysfunctions. It may also cause cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Glacier melt in Peru becomes more than a climate issue

Glacier melt in Peru becomes more than a climate issue


By Heather Somerville

Sunday, January 16, 2011; 11:39 PM

Washington Post,

HUARAZ, Peru – Glacier melt hasn’t caused a national crisis in Peru, yet. But high in the Andes, rising temperatures and changes in water supply over the last 40 years have decimated crops, killed fish stocks and forced villages to question how they will survive for another generation.

Without international help to build reservoirs and dams and improve irrigation, the South American nation could become a case study in how climate change can destabilize a strategically important region, according to Peruvian, U.S. and other officials.

“Think what it would be like if the Andes glaciers were gone and we had millions and millions of hungry and thirsty Southern neighbors,” said former CIA Director R. James Woolsey.

Peru is home to 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are also found in Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. Peru’s 18 mountain glaciers, including the world’s largest tropical ice mass, are critical to the region’s water sources for drinking, irrigation and electricity.

Glaciers in the South American Andes are melting faster than many scientists predicted; some climate change experts estimate entire glaciers across the Andes will disappear in 10 years due to rising global temperatures, creating instability across the globe as they melt.

If Peru and its allies don’t fund and create projects to conserve water, improve decrepit water infrastructure and regulate runoff from glaciers within five years, the disappearance of Andean glaciers could lead to social and economic disaster, said Alberto Hart, climate change adviser at Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“This will become a problem for the United States,” he said. “When you have a dysfunctional country, you have a problem for the entire region.”

The United States spent $30 million on climate change assistance in Peru in fiscal year 2010, according to documents provided by the State Department. The funding, allocated as part of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, went mostly to preserving the Amazon rainforest in Peru.

Peruvian officials would hardly turn away money to preserve the Amazon. But the immediate problem is adaptation to rapid glacier melt, Hart said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers the majority of climate funds, recently received a $1.25 million grant to work with The Mountain Institute, a Peruvian non-profit organization, through 2012 and assist mountain communities in adapting to glacier melt.

“It will take more resources than are currently available . . . but the trend is going in the right direction,” said Steve Olive with USAID in Peru.

The Peruvian government is asking Washington and other allies for at least $350 million every year through 2030 to build reservoirs and dams, and improve irrigation, said Hart.

Japan, Australia and Switzerland also have offered assistance for climate change, Hart said. The World Bank is also working in Peru to monitor water supplies and implement drought-resistant agriculture, part of a larger climate change project that includes several Andean nations, according to Walter Vergara, a World Bank engineer who started the project in 2004.

But Peruvian officials say the United States has a majority share of the responsibility to help Peru, because of the close trade alliance between the two nations, and because the United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

“We are knocking on many doors, and obviously the U.S. is one big door we are knocking on,” said Hart.

Bolivia and Ecuador are also threatened by glacier melt and Colombia’s costal and riverside cities are being wiped out by floods and landslides – disasters that are only expected to get worse, according to a study by the Pew Center on Climate Change.

Climate change is “a significant threat” to the region, and the United States must “really come to terms” with the security challenges it poses, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela said recently.

Its ice is melting, but the majesty of Huascarán Mountain hasn’t diminished. Its white peak still pierces the clouds on an overcast day in the Cordillera Blanca, part of the Andes range that stretches through Peru’s northwest region of Ancash.

Communities revere Huascarán, Peru’s tallest mountain, for its beauty and its water that allows them to survive the extreme terrain. But over the last 20 years, they’ve watched Huascarán’s glacier diminish.

“It used to take you two or three hours walking to reach the ice. But now you have to walk five, six hours to reach ice,” said Maximo Juan Malpaso Carranza, a farmer in Utupampa, a small community high in the Cordillera Blanca.

“We all get water from there,” he said, pointing to Huascarán. “But if the ice disappears, there won’t be any more water.”

More than 2 million people, stretching from the Andes to the coastal cities, get their drinking water and irrigation from rivers fed by glacier runoff from Cordillera Blanca. But research by Cesar Portocarrero, the Peruvian government’s lead glacier scientist, shows the Cordillera Blanca has lost 30 percent of its glaciers since 1970.

Most of Peru’s agriculture is fed by water from the Andes. Glacier-fed rivers also support the nation’s largest hydroelectric plants. Lima, the world’s second-largest desert city, is almost totally dependent on Andean rivers from the Cordillera Central, where some mountains have lost more than 60 percent of their glaciers in the last 40 years.

Water conflicts have been frequent in southern Peru over the last few years, and glacier melt will create even more across the country, and, in extreme cases, spreading to neighboring countries, said retired Maj. Gen. Luis Palomino Rodriguez, head of Peru’s National Civil Defense Institute, in an interview.

The Pentagon is starting to address the impacts of climate change. It gave the Southern Command, in charge of Latin America, $600,000 to develop a mapping tool that will allow Latin America and the United States to share information about climate change risks. It is also spending $1.4 million to study the climate change effects on foreign military bases.

SouthCom will release a new environmental security strategy in the next couple months, but the military is far from integrating its climate change studies into operations.

“We have a lot to do,” said Myrna Lopez, environmental security expert with SouthCom. “We’re not there yet where we have a complete buy-in from the DoD that this is a core military role.”

Peru has taken steps, but lacks resources. It created a national strategy on climate change in 2003 and has set up a Ministry of Environment with oversight of climate change programs. Officials are working with USAID and non-profit organizations to build reservoirs in Andean communities and monitor water flow from the glaciers.

“We may think that current wait-and-see policies are adequate to the task,” said Chad Briggs, Minerva Chair for Energy and Environmental Security with the U.S. Air Force. “Peru may be a looming example of how that is not the case.”

This article is part of theGlobal Warningseries on the national security implications of climate change produced by the National Security Reporting Project at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Sierra Madre folk doubt logging ban

Sierra Madre folk doubt logging ban

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:32:00 01/15/2011,

Sierra Madre Logging Trucks

LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Natives of a mountain range being ravaged by logging expressed doubt President Aquino’s plan to order a logging ban would succeed, saying they had heard the same promise over and over but logging continued.

Ramcy Astoveza, a leader of the Agta-Dumagat tribe and executive director of the Tribal Center for Development Foundation Inc., recalled that after the 2004 killer flash floods and landslides in northern Quezon, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a logging moratorium in Sierra Madre and other forested parts of the country.

“But the real intention to save the forest from further destruction miserably failed because of insincere implementation of the log ban,” said Astoveza.

“As a matter of fact, illegal logging never stops and has continued to rape our natural habitat up to the present,” he said in a phone interview yesterday.

He said his tribe was saddened because, despite their willingness to support Arroyo’s total log ban policy, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources failed to enforce it.

Astoveza said almost all past presidents had declared a log ban.

“But all of them failed. They all blew their chances to really save our forests,” said Astoveza.

“Now, here comes another one from President Aquino. Truth is, we are not optimistic that another log ban would really solve the problem of continued forest rape,” he said.

On Friday, President Aquino announced that he planned to order a logging ban in provinces that were devastated by floods and landslides believed caused by forest denudation.

Fr. Pete Montallana, chair of Save Sierra Madre Network, reported to Mr. Aquino the continued logging in Sierra Madre in Aurora province and northern part of Quezon and blamed widespread corruption in the DENR.

In his open letter to the President dated Jan. 13, Montallana cited documented cases of illegal logging that was made possible by corrupt DENR men in Aurora and Quezon.

“Environmentalists have welcomed your administration with much hope that things would finally change at the DENR,” said Montallana. “But as far as the destruction of the forests in the Sierra Madre is concerned it has been business as usual,” the priest’s letter said.

Montallana said the DENR simply deceives the public with press releases on its supposed anticorruption campaign and accomplishment list.

“If only there is a big camera in the Sierra Madre, then the whole country would know the real score,” Montallana said.

“The big question is this: Can DENR heal itself?” the priest said.

Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona, head of the Prelature of Infanta, also blamed corrupt DENR personnel for the continued destruction of Sierra Madre.

Tirona called on the government to “wage an all-out war, not words only” against illegal loggers and miners in Sierra Madre.

Three DENR Quezon chiefs have been sacked due to failure to stop illegal logging in Sierra Madre. One of the sacked environment officials, Emrich Borja, managed to return to his old post last year.

Citing their long years of experience as forest watchdog, Montallana told Mr. Aquino that the situation remained the same in the Sierra Madre under his administration. Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon

Peru: evidence mounts of “uncontacted peoples” in Amazon oil zones

Peru: evidence mounts of “uncontacted peoples” in Amazon oil zones

Submitted by WW4 Report on Sun, 01/16/2011 – 02:19.

World War 4 Report,

As oil companies with pending contracts in the Peruvian Amazon continue to deny the existence of indigenous “peoples in isolation” in remote forest areas, new evidence has emerged. In November, Peru’s National Institute of Development of Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvians (INDEPA) released video footage of a newly “discovered” tribe in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti reserve (Upper Camisea River, Cuzco region).

INDEPA personnel saw the indigenous group while monitoring a checkpoint installed to protect the reserve from illegal loggers. The video shows indigenous tribes interacting with INDEPA workers, and includes images of their communal huts made from palm leaves and cane. “With work that has been done from the five monitoring posts in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti reserve, we have been able to find and casually meet with voluntarily isolated populations or initiate first contact,” said INDEPA president Mayta Capac Alatrista. (ANI, Nov. 14)

Some two weeks earlier, on Oct. 24, a young indigenous man was hospitalized in the southern jungle city of Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios region, after being shot with an arrow by presumed “uncontacted” tribesmen of the Mashco-Piro ethnicity near the community of Monte Salvado. The community is on the border of a reserve created by the government under pressure from indigenous organizations for the protection of putative “peoples in isolation.” Jaime Corisepa, president of the Native Federation of the Río Madre de Dios (FENAMAD), said the attack proves “the isolated brothers in the Territorial Reserve are seeking more territory to live.” (Servindi, Oct. 26)

In the wake of the revelations, Survival International, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Save America’s Forests and some 50 other NGOs issued a joint statement pledging their support to stop the development of oil blocks 39 and 67 in the northern Peruvian Amazon (Loreto region). “Anthropological research has shown that the area is inhabited by at least two uncontacted tribes, who lack immunity to diseases brought by outsiders and who could face extinction if contact is made,” said Survival International in a statement.

Despite strong opposition from Peru’s indigenous organizations, Anglo-French Perenco has applied to the Peruvian Energy Ministry to build a pipeline in block 67 that would cut across 207 kilometers of land. The Spanish-Argentine Repsol-YPF along with its US partner, ConocoPhillips, has applied to cut 454 kilometers of seismic lines and build 152 heliports in block 39.

Several oil workers have reportedly been killed by “uncontacted” tribesmen in the Yasuní National Park, which lies adjacent to block 39, just across the border in Ecuador. Survival International director Stephen Corry said: “Operating in this area demonstrates an utter disregard for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, who may feel forced to defend their territory. If the companies have any sense, they will leave the area to its rightful owners before lives, and reputations, are ruined.” (Survival International, Nov. 16)

See our last posts on Peru and the struggle for the Amazon.

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Reality Provides a Real Unemployment Rate

Reality Provides a Real Unemployment Rate

by Jason Greene, Kansas City Economic Policy Examiner,

With a new year comes more disheartening employment news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent during the month of December. How can this decrease be disappointing, isn’t this new information encouraging? On the surface it is, but once examined beneath the statistics and data another thing appears, actual facts.

According to the BLS, during the same time period, the United States economy only gained 103,000 new jobs, not even enough to keep up with the population growth.  The unemployment figures didn’t decrease due to the numerous policy interventions of the federal government, but to the way that information is reported.

The BLS only reports an individual as being unemployed if they are currently seeking work, last month that number decreased.  This decrease demonstrates those who have become discouraged with their employment prospects and are no longer looking for work, these individuals no longer meet the BLS label of unemployed and are no longer counted within the report.  In other words, the unemployment rate fell because the number of discouraged individuals increased, not because employment rose.  Demonstrating this fact is the recent climb of these discouraged job seekers, totaling to 929,000 in December, the largest since the documenting of such began.

Last month, the United States labor force also shrunk by 661,000.  Had these workers and job seekers continued their employment and search for such; the actual unemployment report would have been around 10.4 percent.  In addition, this number is also excluding the 1.7 million Americans who have left the workforce from July of last year to the present. Considering these facts and the nature of temporary holiday employment during the month of December, the BLS figures offer little to be optimistic about.

In a less publicized employment indicator, the underemployment rate, a more accurate view can be attained of the severity of the market.  In counting unemployed and discouraged individuals, along with part-time workers who cannot get full-time work, the numbers rose from 17.2 percent to 17.3 percent last month.  These numbers show that it is actually becoming more difficult for individuals to meet their employment goals.  This information provides a more grimly picture of the job market than the BLS numbers, sometimes reality gets in the way of reported statistics and data.