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The 151,000 jobs added to the economy in October represent a glimmer of
hope to thousands of American families suffering through the two-year Great
Recession. But with the official
unemployment rate unchanged at 9.6% and the unofficial rate (which includes part-time
workers desiring full-time employment and discouraged job seekers) rising to 17.1%,
today's improved jobless numbers are far from heralding the end of the
"With 6.2 million Americans unemployed for more than 27 weeks,
this job number is good news, but not nearly enough", said Michael J.
Wilson, National Director of Americans for Democratic Action. "And with many of the newly elected
Members of Congress proposing to slash public investments, there's a real
threat of a double dip recession."
The average length of unemployment, after falling for 3 consecutive
months, increased in October to 33.9 weeks, the 4th highest level on
record. As a result, the Manchester Index increased to 503 million weeks of unemployment,
also the 4th highest level on record.
The Manchester Index (named for its creator, economist Paul Manchester)
is derived by multiplying the number of jobless workers by the average duration
of their unemployment.
"Creating jobs remains the biggest challenge to the American
economy," said Wilson. "The case for public investment
seems to have fallen by the wayside in the face of short-term political
considerations. This report also
does nothing to remove the obvious need for the Congress to extend unemployment
benefits this month-failure to do so will not only devastate tens of
thousands of families, but will have a direct impact on the holiday
season. We can only hope that Congress
does the right thing in the extended session."
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"Everything I've heard about it, it's a prescription for trouble," the Senate Finance Committee chair said of the House speaker's debt reduction panel.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden on Friday warned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's commission tasked with reducing the nation's growing debt is a "prescription for trouble" that will likely result in the slashing of vital programs on which tens of millions of Americans rely—including Social Security.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently announced the launch of a fiscal commission that will find ways to reduce the national debt—on the heels of striking a deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the nation's borrowing limit until 2025.
While some other leading Republicans have embraced the idea of a commission, many Democrats are wary.
Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, toldThe Associated Press that he views the plan as a way for Republicans to rack up "ideological trophies."
"Everything I've heard about it, it's a prescription for trouble," Wyden said, adding that Republicans are "looking at a glide path to reduce benefits."
Biden was loudly booed by GOP lawmakers during his State of the Union address in February when he accused some Republicans of wanting to "sunset" Social Security, prompting McCarthy to shake his head no. A week earlier, McCarthy had asserted that cuts to Social Security and Medicare—each of which serve more than 65 million Americans—were off the table.
However, last month McCarthy alleged that Biden "walled off" cuts to Social Security and Medicare during the debt ceiling talks and said the commission would "look at" reducing funding for both programs.
"I'm going to make some people uncomfortable," the speaker said.
\u201cAfter trying to cut veterans benefits and funding for law enforcement during the debt ceiling negotiations, House Republicans will now create a commission to cut Social Security and Medicare.\n\nIt\u2019s Kevin McCarthy with Pandora\u2019s Box.\u201d— Mondaire Jones (@Mondaire Jones) 1685995803
In response to McCarthy's commission launch, Andrew Bates, the White House deputy press secretary and senior communications adviser, issued a memo warning that Republicans are going after Social Security, despite previous pledges.
"These new statements from the speaker demonstrate that the House GOP are reversing the promise they made to President Biden and the country in the State of the Union, and that to shield billionaires and multinational corporations from paying a cent more in taxes, they very much intend to slash Americans' Medicare and Social Security benefits," Bates wrote.
"The American people—including majorities of conservatives—reject that approach, and support President Biden's work to stand up for the benefits they pay their entire lives to earn," he added.
Advocacy groups also panned the idea of a GOP-led fiscal commission.
"Kevin McCarthy's commission is a scheme to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors," Social Security Workstweeted Friday. "Hands off our earned benefits!"
"By underwriting and investing in new and expanded fossil fuel projects, U.S. insurers are helping Big Oil bring us closer to the worst runaway climate scenarios," said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
As insurance giants limit coverage in hundreds of disaster-prone areas across the United States, a Senate panel on Friday launched an investigation into seven major carriers' continued backing of planet-heating fossil fuel projects that are driving increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather.
Senate Budget Committee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent letters to the executives of seven companies—American Insurance Group (AIG), Berkshire Hathaway, Chubb, Liberty Mutual Group, Starr Wright USA, State Farm, and Travelers Insurance—demanding that each firm disclose how it underwrites, invests in, and profits from coal, oil, and gas.
The letters—also signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both members of the committee—further ask the companies to explain what plans, if any, they have to reduce, wind down, or eliminate support for current and proposed fossil fuel projects in accordance with the Paris agreement's goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. In addition, the letters seek information about the insurers' climate-related lobbying activities and human rights policies, including methods for securing free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities affected by drilling or pipelines. The companies have until June 23 to respond to the questions.
"By underwriting and investing in new and expanded fossil fuel projects, U.S. insurers are helping Big Oil bring us closer to the worst runaway climate scenarios, which threaten lives, livelihoods, and the federal budget," Whitehouse said in a statement. "This information is especially relevant as some of these companies begin to pull out of certain markets because they see the coming catastrophic climate risks—despite continuing to provide services to the fossil fuel industry."
As The Wall Street Journalreported Thursday, AIG is planning to scale back home insurance sales in roughly 200 ZIP codes around the country at elevated risk of floods or wildfires, affecting parts of Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Montana, New York, and Wyoming.
"The U.S. insurance industry continues to dismiss the urgency of eliminating support for fossil fuel expansion and implementing credible, science-based plans to phase out their underwriting and investments in coal, oil, and gas."
Earlier this year, Farmers Group stopped accepting new applications for home insurance policies in Florida, citing hurricane exposure and soaring rebuilding costs. AIG and Chubb had already begun to restrict coverage in California last year. Two weeks ago, State Farm halted the sale of new residential and commercial property insurance policies in the state. Earlier this week, Allstate confirmed it did the same thing last year.
Unmitigated global warming is fueling larger and more frequent blazes in the U.S. West and elsewhere, intensifying hurricanes and typhoons, and causing sea-level rise, which increases the likelihood of flooding and damaging storm surge events in coastal areas.
With an estimated $582 billion invested in fossil fuels, meanwhile, U.S. insurers are making the problem worse, progressive lawmakers and advocates argue. Despite mounting evidence of the climate emergency's growing toll of death and destruction as well as abundant warnings from scientists who have made clear that exploiting new oil and gas fields is incompatible with preserving a habitable planet, U.S. insurers have yet to rule out support for increased fossil fuel extraction and combustion.
"The U.S. insurance industry continues to dismiss the urgency of eliminating support for fossil fuel expansion and implementing credible, science-based plans to phase out their underwriting and investments in coal, oil, and gas," Deanna Noël, climate campaigns director at Public Citizen, said Friday in a statement.
"AIG executives need only look out the windows of their New York City board rooms to see the realities of an unfolding climate crisis," said Noël, alluding to smoke-filled skies brought about by wildfires still raging in Canada. "Empty climate promises do nothing but set entire regions of the country on course to be deemed too risky to insure and communities everywhere to grapple with an uncertain future. Inaction and inadequate action are unacceptable."
Referring to the budget committee's recent hearings examining how "climate change poses multiple 'systemic risks' to the economy," Whitehouse, Wyden, and Sanders wrote:
Witnesses have warned that sea-level rise and wetter, more intense storms could eventually make more than $1 trillion in coastal real estate uninsurable, and therefore unmortgageable, leading to a coastal property values crash; that more frequent and intense wildfires could result in a similar death spiral for Western property in the wildland-urban interface; that climate-related losses are making it harder for the insurance industry to price risk, already resulting in insolvencies among regional insurers; and that, as demand for oil and gas declines, hundreds of billions of dollars in fossil fuel assets may be stranded (the "carbon bubble"). Each of these disruptions could become "systemic," and more than one could occur simultaneously.
The trio proceeded to ask each company how it "evaluates these climate-related risks, decides to invest in or underwrite fossil fuel expansion projects that drive such risks, and prices policies insuring such projects." As the senators observed, "Underwriting dangerous fossil fuel projects makes it harder to achieve global climate goals, and there is little transparency about how the myriad risks factor into industry decisions."
"Given the threat that climate change poses to both the insurance industry and its policyholders, it is difficult to understand how the industry can carefully price and manage climate risk in some areas of its business while simultaneously having no apparent plan to phase out its underwriting of and investment in the projects and companies generating the emissions that are causing these very harms," the letter says. "Many fossil fuel projects would not be able to move forward without insurance, and all industries and sectors in civil society have a role to play in meeting the United States' international climate goals."
"We were particularly alarmed by the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders," reads the report, "who are routinely subject to a range of punitive measures as part of the occupation regime."
Civil society groups in Israel and Palestine face serious human rights violations by Israeli authorities seeking to perpetuate an illegal occupation and apartheid regime, according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The report—authored by the Independent International Commission Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory—examines "attacks, restrictions, and harassment of civil society actors by all duty bearers," including the Israeli government and occupation forces, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Hamas in Gaza.
"We concluded that all duty bearers are engaged in limiting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement. "We were particularly alarmed by the situation of Palestinian human rights defenders, who are routinely subject to a range of punitive measures as part of the occupation regime."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8According to \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf3 UN Commission of Inquiry, rights of civil society members in Israel & OPT are being violated by authorities in all areas through:\n\u27a1\ufe0fharassment\n\u27a1\ufe0fthreats\n\u27a1\ufe0farrests\n\u27a1\ufe0finterrogations\n\u27a1\ufe0farbitrary detention\n\u27a1\ufe0ftorture\n\u27a1\ufe0fdegrading treatment \n\ud83d\udc47\nhttps://t.co/1vFwjdbuBK\u201d— UN Palestinian Rights Committee (@UN Palestinian Rights Committee) 1686247724
The commission found that "the Israeli authorities' silencing of civil society voices that challenge government policies and narrative is intrinsically linked to the goal of ensuring and enshrining the permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people."
"This includes criminalizing Palestinian civil society organizations and their members by labeling them as 'terrorists,' pressuring and threatening institutions that give a platform for civil society discourse, actively lobbying donors, and implementing measures intended to cut sources of funding to civil society," the report states.
According to the publication:
The Israeli authorities' use of anti-terror legislation to categorize civil society organizations as terrorist organizations aims to delegitimize and isolate them and undermine their activity, and to harm their international funding and support. The commission concludes on reasonable grounds that the designations by Israeli authorities of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations and a seventh Palestinian NGO as unlawful were unjustified, undertaken to silence civil society voices, and violate human rights, including freedom of association, freedom of expression and opinion, and the rights to peaceful assembly, to privacy, and to fair trial.
Israeli officials claim the six humanitarian groups—Addameer, AlHaq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International—Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees—have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular political movement with an armed wing that has carried out resistance attacks against Israel. The groups deny the accusation, and a probe by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency found no evidence supporting Israel's claim.
The report further states that "Israeli authorities are increasingly using surveillance to monitor the activities of human rights defenders, including through spyware planted on mobile phones," including by planting Pegasus spyware manufactured by the Israeli company NSO Group on the phones of Palestinian human rights workers and Israeli activists participating in 2020 protests against the last Netanyahu government.
A section of the report on the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu notes:
In late 2022, a new government in Israel was sworn in, with a stated mission of weakening the judiciary and increasing government control of the media and freedom of expression, which would have a significant impact on civil society in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In February 2023, the government started enacting new legislation to weaken judicial independence amid large-scale countrywide demonstrations. The proposed changes would dismantle fundamental features of the separation of powers and of the checks and balances essential in democratic political systems. Legal experts have warned that they risk weakening human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and disfavored communities, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, asylum-seekers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons.
The report states that Israeli authorities are subjecting both Israeli and Palestinian journalists to monitoring and harassment, with Palestinians being "particularly targeted" for intimidation, "attacks, arrests, detention, and accusations of incitement to violence, seemingly as part of an effort to deter them from continuing their work."
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Israeli forces have killed 20 journalists this century, with none of the killers ever facing prosecution. These include at least one U.S. citizen, Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while covering a May 2022 raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera producer Ali Samodi was shot in the back but survived. An independent international probe subsequently concluded that Abu Akleh's "extrajudicial killing" was "deliberate."
On Wednesday, 22-year-old Palestinian photojournalist Momen Samreen, who was covering Israeli forces' demolition of a suspected Palestinian militant's family home—an illegal act of collective punishment—was shot in the head with a "less-lethal" projectile and was hospitalized in serious condition.
\u201c\ud83d\udea8Breaking news:\n\n A Palestinian journalist in full uniform, Momen Samreen, was deliberately shot in the head by Israeli occupation forces, during his work in Ramallah. His condition is serious!\n\nMomen is a very known journalist & works with various Palestinian media outlets\u201d— Younis | \u064a\u0648\u0646\u0633 (@Younis | \u064a\u0648\u0646\u0633) 1686183857
The Israeli government—which maintains that the commission of inquiry "has no legitimacy"—rejected the report's findings. Israel's U.N. mission in Switzerland said that "Israel has a robust and independent civil society which is composed of thousands of NGOs, human rights defenders, [and] national and international media outlets, that can operate freely."
The report also states that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are targeting human rights defenders "with the aim of silencing dissenting opinions," and that activists, journalists, and others have been harassed, intimidated, and in some cases arbitrarily arrested and jailed.
"The commission has received information on the use of torture and ill-treatment to punish and intimidate critics and opponents by internal security officials in Gaza and intelligence services, preventive security officials, and law enforcement officials in the West Bank," the report says. "The frequency and severity, and the absence of accountability, suggest that such cases are widespread."