The nation’s unemployment rate has reached 10.2 percent, the highest it has been in twenty-six years. The Labor Department announced on Friday that the economy lost 190,000 jobs last month. October marked the twenty-second consecutive monthly decline in jobs. This is the longest losing streak on record dating back seventy years. African American workers remain hardest hit. The black unemployment rate is now 15.7 percent and significantly higher for black men. In all, more than one out of every six workers were unemployed or underemployed in October. Many economists are projecting the unemployment rate will continue to rise.
Aneta Markowska, economist at Societe Generale: “It is obviously psychologically damaging. And I think it is likely to go up a little bit further, given that we’re already at 10.2 percent and the type of growth and the type of employment trends that we anticipate over the next few months. You know, it is quite possible that we might even test the post-war record high of 10.8 percent at some point early next year.”
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives has narrowly passed its landmark health insurance reform bill by a vote of 220-to-215. Only one Republican supported the bill. President Obama praised the vote and called on the Senate to pass similar legislation.
President Obama: “Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people. And I’m absolutely confident that they will. I’m equally convinced that on the day that we gather here at the White House and I sign comprehensive health insurance reform legislation into law, they’ll be able to join their House colleagues and say that this was their finest moment in public service — the moment we delivered change we promised to the American people and did something to leave this country stronger than we found it.”
While supporters of President Obama celebrated the passage of the healthcare bill, the legislation also marks a victory for opponents of abortion rights. On Saturday, anti-abortion Democrats helped push through an amendment to prohibit anyone who receives government health insurance subsidies from enrolling in an insurance plan that covers abortion. In addition, abortions won’t be covered under the proposed government-run insurance plan. The amendment has been described as the biggest victory in years for opponents of abortion rights.
The McClatchy Newspapers report President Obama is nearing a decision to send 34,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan next year. Under the proposed plan, the first additional combat brigade would arrive in Afghanistan next March, with the other three following at roughly three-month intervals. On Sunday, Army chief of staff, General George Casey, said the troops are needed in Afghanistan.
Gen. George Casey: “I believe that we need to put additional forces into Afghanistan to give General McChrystal the ability to both dampen the successes of the Taliban while we train the Afghan security forces.”
In other news from Afghanistan, a NATO air strike on Friday reportedly killed seven members of the Afghan security forces. The incident marks one of the worst cases of friendly fire in the course of the eight-year war.
Iraqi lawmakers have passed a long-stalled election law paving the wave for national elections in late January. The election law provides for an open candidate list, allowing voters to cast their ballot for an individual rather than a party.
Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar: “This election law is important to Iraqis because it increases the transparency of the Iraqi election system. Now Iraqis will be able, for the first time, to know who they are voting for, so all the candidates’ names must be public. And in addition to the domestic importance of the law, I think internationally it’s important because it will not give those who want to prolong the occupation an excuse. Many people have been trying to use delaying the Iraqi elections as an excuse to prolong the US occupation.”
In Honduras, an American-mediated accord to end the four-month political crisis appears to be in shambles just a week after it was signed. On Friday, ousted President Manuel Zelaya declared the deal was over. Meanwhile, Roberto Micheletti, the head of the coup government, said he would install a national unity government without the participation of Zelaya. Supporters of Zelaya accused the coup government of killing the power-sharing agreement.
Arturo Reina, delegate for Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: “We don’t think the de facto government ever had good faith intentions, just the desire to prolong its stay despite the Honduran people’s will.”
The Guardian newspaper reports the last formal negotiation before the climate summit in Copenhagen concluded in acrimony Friday, with developing countries threatening to walk out of the December conference unless rich countries commit themselves to greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, hopes for a strong global deal that would pay poor nations to stop deforestation hit a new low on Friday after negotiators released a draft proposal that many environmentalists say lacks teeth.
Here in this country, the Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a pair of cases to decide whether it is unconstitutionally harsh to sentence juveniles to life-without-parole. There are more than 1,700 people in the United States who will spend the rest of their life in prison for crimes committed as juveniles. Some were as young as thirteen when they committed the crime. No other nation has even a single person serving such a sentence.
The Senate has unanimously confirmed the nomination of Joseph Pizarchik to serve as director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, despite widespread opposition from environmental groups and critics of mountaintop coal removal. The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said, “President Obama’s choice to run the Office of Surface Mining signifies that campaign promises to end environmentally destructive coal mining practices, such as mountain-top removal, will be abandoned.”
A new report by the Center for Responsive Politics has found that 237 members of Congress are millionaires. That’s 44 percent of the body. California Republican Darrell Issa is the richest lawmaker with a net worth estimated at just over $250 million. At least seven lawmakers have net worths greater than $100 million.
In Japan, over 20,000 protesters gathered on the island of Okinawa on Sunday to rally against a plan for the US Marines to build another permanent base off the coast of Okinawa. The US operates more than a dozen US military bases all over the Japanese island, which has been described as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” President Barack Obama will be visiting Japan later this week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington today to meet with President Obama. The talks come amid floundering US efforts to jump-start stalled Middle East peace talks.
In the West Bank, Palestinian protesters on Friday knocked down part of the Israeli separation wall that divides much of the region. The protesters said the action was done to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall. Palestinians hung a banner on the wall reading “No matter how tall, all walls fall.” Israeli troops responded by firing tear gas and skunk spray, a chemical concoction that smells of corpses and feces.
And tens of thousands of people are gathering in Berlin today to celebrate the events of November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. The event precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union and led to German reunification within less than a year.