US job growth likely rose in February in rebound from slump
WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s employers likely stepped up their hiring in February as confirmed viral cases declined, consumers spent big chunks of their government aid checks and the economy appeared to be sustaining a tentative recovery.
Economists have forecast that job growth reached 175,000 last month, according to data provider FactSet. That would mark a sharp improvement over an average of just 29,000 jobs a month from November through January.
Yet with the nation still 10 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level, monthly hiring would need to significantly accelerate to bring relief to the many people who remain laid off, especially at restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and other areas of the hospitality industry that are far from recovered. The unemployment rate is predicted to have ticked up from 6.3% to 6.4% on the assumption that more Americans started looking for work in February and began to be counted as unemployed.
One year into the pandemic, most analysts are growing more optimistic that hiring will accelerate in the coming months, with the economy strengthening and gauges of consumer spending and manufacturing rising. Americans as a whole have accumulated a huge pile of savings after having slashed spending on travel, movie tickets and visits to bars and restaurants. Much of that money is expected to be spent once most people feel comfortable about going out.
And nearly all of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue package looks likely to win approval in Congress in the coming weeks. It would provide, among other things, $1,400 relief checks to most adults, an additional $400 in weekly unemployment aid and another round of aid to small businesses.
Myanmar crackdown on protests, widely filmed, sparks outrage
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Footage of a brutal crackdown on protests against a coup in Myanmar unleashed outrage and calls for a stronger international response Thursday, a day after 38 people were killed. Videos showed security forces shooting a person at point-blank range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.
Despite the shocking violence the day before, protesters returned to the streets Thursday to denounce the military’s Feb. 1 takeover — and were met again with tear gas.
The international response to the coup has so far been fitful, but a flood of videos shared online showing security forces brutally targeting protesters and other civilians led to calls for more action.
The United States called the images appalling, the U.N. human rights chief said it was time to “end the military’s stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar,” and the world body’s independent expert on human rights in the country urged the Security Council to watch the videos before meeting Friday to discuss the crisis.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip in recent years, the international community lifted most sanctions and poured in investment.
China announces ‘over 6%’ economic growth target, tech plans
BEIJING (AP) — China’s No. 2 leader announced a healthy economic growth target Friday and plans to make this nation self-reliant in technology amid tension with Washington and Europe over trade, Hong Kong and human rights.
The ruling Communist Party aims for growth “over 6%” as the world’s second-largest economy rebounds from the coronavirus, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech to China’s ceremonial legislature. Some 3,000 delegates gathered for its annual two-week meeting, the year’s highest-profile political event, under intense security and anti-virus controls.
The party is shifting from fighting the virus that emerged in central China in late 2019 back to its longer-term goal of becoming a global competitor in profitable technologies including telecoms, clean energy and electric cars.
The NPC meeting usually focuses on domestic issues but increasingly is overshadowed by geopolitics as President Xi Jinping’s government pursues more assertive trade and strategic policies abroad, cracks down on dissent at home and faces criticism over its treatment of Hong Kong and ethnic minorities.
Also Friday, the government announced a 6.8% rise in military spending to 1.4 trillion yuan ($217 billion) as China faces tension with India and other neighbours over conflicting territorial claims and ambitions to match the United States and Russia in ballistic missile, stealth fighter and other weapons technology.
By slimmest of margins, Senate takes up $1.9T relief bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted by the slimmest of margins Thursday to begin debating a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, after Democrats made eleventh-hour changes aimed at ensuring they could pull President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority through the precariously divided chamber.
Democrats were hoping for Senate approval of the package before next week, in time for the House to sign off and get the measure to Biden quickly. They were encountering opposition from Republicans arguing that the measure’s massive price tag ignored promising signs that the pandemic and wounded economy were turning around.
Democratic leaders made over a dozen late additions to their package, reflecting their need to cement unanimous support from all their senators — plus Vice-President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote — to succeed in the 50-50 chamber. It’s widely expected the Senate will approve the bill and the House will whisk it to Biden for his signature by mid-March, handing him a crucial early legislative victory.
The Senate’s 51-50 vote to start debating the package, with Harris pushing Democrats over the top, underscored how they were navigating the package through Congress with virtually no margin for error. In the House their majority is a scrawny 10 votes.
The bill, aimed at battling the killer virus and nursing the staggered economy back to health, will provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. There’s also money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry, tax breaks for lower-earners and families with children, and subsidies for health insurance.
EXPLAINER: Why rising rates are unsettling Wall Street
NEW YORK (AP) — Interest rates keep marching higher, and Wall Street keeps shaking because of it.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury climbed back above 1.50% Thursday, prodded higher by comments by the Federal Reserve’s chair, and it helped send stocks on Wall Street on another slide. The speed at which the yield has climbed has forced investors to re-examine how they value stocks, bonds and every other investment. And the immediate verdict has been to sell them at lower prices, particularly the most popular investments of the last year.
Yields have been climbing with optimism for an economic revival following a year of coronavirus-induced misery, along with expectations for the higher inflation that could accompany it. That’s key because those yields form the bedrock that the financial world uses to try to figure out the value for anything from Apple’s stock to a junk bond.
For years, yields have been ultralow for Treasurys, meaning investors earned very little in interest for owning them. That in turn made stocks and other investments more attractive, driving up their prices. But when Treasury yields rise, so does the downward pressure on prices for other investments. Here’s a look at why the recent moves have been so rocky:
WHY ARE TREASURY YIELDS RISING?
Little damage from huge Pacific quake; tsunami threat passes
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — One of the strongest earthquakes to hit the South Pacific in modern history triggered tsunami warnings across the ocean and forced thousands of people in New Zealand to evacuate coastal areas Friday. Small tsunami waves were seen, but little damage was apparent hours later.
The magnitude 8.1 quake in the Kermadec Islands region about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from New Zealand’s two main islands was the largest in a series of temblors over several hours, including two earlier quakes that registered magnitude 7.4 and magnitude 7.3.
The tsunami threat caused traffic jams and some chaos in New Zealand as people scrambled to get to higher ground.
Residents recorded videos of small wave surges in some places, including at Tokomaru Bay near Gisborne. In the afternoon, the National Emergency Management Agency said the threat had passed and people could return to their homes, although they should continue avoiding beaches.
One of the earlier quakes hit much closer to New Zealand and awoke many people as they felt a long, rumbling shaking. “Hope everyone is ok out there,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook during the night.
Dallas police officer charged with arranging two killings
DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas police officer was arrested Thursday on two counts of capital murder, more than a year and a half after a man told investigators that he kidnapped and killed two people at the officer’s instruction in 2017, authorities said.
Bryan Riser, a 13-year veteran of the force, was arrested Thursday morning and taken to the Dallas County jail for processing, according to a statement from the police department. Jail records show Riser is held without bond pending an appearance before a judge, but do not list an attorney for him.
Riser was arrested in the unconnected killings of Liza Saenz, 31, and Albert Douglas, 61, after a man came forward in August 2019 and told police he had kidnapped and killed them at Riser’s direction, police Chief Eddie Garcia said during a news conference. He said investigators don’t know the motives for the killings, but that they were not related to Riser’s police work.
Garcia did not explain why Riser was arrested nearly 20 months after the witness came forward, and police declined to answer subsequent questions about the timing. Riser joined the department in 2008, and Garcia acknowledged that he had been patrolling Dallas while under investigation for the killings.
The chief stressed that his homicide division and the FBI were still investigating and said the department was reviewing Riser’s arrests.
US demands Myanmar release detained journalists, protesters
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration stepped up its condemnation of the coup in Myanmar on Thursday, demanding that military authorities stop their brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and release demonstrators and journalists who have been detained.
The White House called the situation, including the arrest of an Associated Press journalist, “troubling” and of “great concern.” The State Department said it’s working with other countries to send a unified message to the military that its actions are unacceptable and will be met with consequences.
The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s top military leaders since the Feb. 1 coup, but stepped up pressure after security forces killed as many as 38 people on Wednesday. The administration says it’s in close touch with partners and allies, as well as with countries like China, to try to convince Myanmar officials to ease their heavy-handed response to the protests.
“The detainment of journalists, the targeting of journalists and dissidents is certainly something that is of great concern to the president, to the secretary of state and to every member of our administration,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price said the administration was “deeply saddened” by reports of deaths in the crackdown on protests. “This latest escalation in violence demonstrates the fact of the junta’s complete disregard for their own people, for the people of Burma,” he said. “It is unacceptable.”
Boston Marathon plan to hand out 70,000 medals roils runners
BOSTON (AP) — Distance running, traditionally one of the world’s most genteel sports, has been roiled by an ugly mid-pandemic squabble over who should get a shot at a coveted Boston Marathon medal.
Rival camps in the running world began snapping at each other’s heels this week. It began after the Boston Athletic Association, which still hopes to hold a truncated in-person edition of the planet’s most prestigious footrace in October, said it will award medals to up to 70,000 athletes if they go the distance wherever they are.
Practically within minutes of the BAA’s announcement greatly expanding its virtual version of the race, a boisterous social media maelstrom ensued.
On one side: Runners who’ve spent years training to qualify to run the real thing, including some who complain that mailing medals to people who run the 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometres) in Dallas or Denver will cheapen the iconic Boston experience.
“A dagger through the heart to someone who has worked hard to finally earn the qualifying standard,” one runner, Mark Howard of Salisbury, North Carolina, groused on Twitter.
Capitol Police chief appeals for National Guard to stay
WASHINGTON (AP) — Worried about continuing threats, the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police appealed to congressional leaders Thursday to use their influence to keep National Guard troops at the Capitol, two months after the law enforcement breakdowns of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.
Yogananda Pittman told the leaders in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that the board that oversees her department has so far declined to extend an emergency declaration required by the Pentagon to keep Guardsmen who have assisted Capitol officers since the riot.
Pittman said she needed the leaders’ assistance with the three-member Capitol Police Board, which reports to them. She said the board has sent her a list of actions it wants her to implement, though she said it was unclear whether the points were orders or just recommendations.
The letter underscored the confusion over how best to secure the Capitol after a dismal lack of protection in January and biting criticism for law enforcement’s handling of the invasion.
And it came came as authorities spent the day on high alert, primed for a “possible plot” by a militia group to storm the building again, two months after Trump supporters smashed through windows and doors in an insurrection meant to halt the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
The Associated Press