US Jobless Benefit Claims Edge Higher Again

First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation edged higher again last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to play havoc with the world’s largest economy.

A total of 362,000 jobless workers filed for assistance, up 11,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the third straight week the figure moved higher. The increase last week was at odds with projections of economists, who had predicted a declining number.

Still, the claims figures for the last month have been on the whole the lowest since the pandemic swept through the U.S. in March 2020, although they remain well above the 218,000 average in 2019.

The increase in unemployment compensation claims comes as the U.S. government in early September ended extra $300-a-week payments to jobless workers on top of often less generous state benefits.

The jobless claims total has fallen steadily but unevenly since topping 900,000 in early January. Filings for unemployment compensation have often been seen as a current reading of the country’s economic health, but other statistics are also relevant barometers.

Even as the U.S. said last month that its world-leading economy grew by an annualized rate of 6.6% in the April-to-June period, in August it only added a disappointing 235,000 jobs, a figure economists said was partly reflective of the surging delta variant of the coronavirus inhibiting job growth. The September jobs figure is due out in a week.

The August total was down sharply from the more than 2 million combined figure added in June and July. The unemployment rate dipped to 5.2%, which is still nearly two percentage points higher than before the pandemic started in March 2020.

About 8.7 million workers remain unemployed in the U.S. There are nearly 11 million available jobs in the country, but the skills of the available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live.

The size of the U.S. economy – nearly $23 trillion – now exceeds its pre-pandemic level as it recovers faster than many economists had predicted during the worst of the business closings more than a year ago. Policy makers at the Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, have signaled that in November they could start reversing the bank’s pandemic stimulus programs and next year could begin to increase its benchmark interest rate.

How fast the U.S. economic growth continues is unclear, with the delta variant of the coronavirus posing a threat to the recovery. In recent weeks, about 120,000 or more new cases have been identified each day in the U.S. and on some days more than 2,000 people have been dying from COVID-19.  

Political disputes have erupted in numerous states between conservative Republican governors who have resisted imposing mandatory face mask and vaccination rules in their states at schools and businesses, although some education and municipal leaders are advocating tougher rules to try to prevent the spread of the delta variant.

U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered workers at companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for the coronavirus. In addition, he is requiring 2.5 million national government workers and contractors who work for the government to get vaccinated if they haven’t already been inoculated.

Many companies imposed their own vaccination mandates before Biden acted and are now starting to fire workers who have balked at getting vaccinated.

Nearly 67% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and overall, 55.5% of the U.S. population of 332 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 


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New Holographic Technology Provides Transportive Experience

A company in suburban Washington, D.C., is using cutting-edge technology to create lifelike video avatars to drop into music and training videos, games and other immersive environments. It’s an entry point to the so-called metaverse, as VOA’s Arzouma Kompaoré discovered while touring Avatar Dimension’s new studio.


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5 Ways US Debt Default Would Echo Through Global Economy

U.S. lawmakers have less than three weeks to avert a default on the country’s sovereign debt by raising the limit on the amount of money the Treasury Department can borrow. Failure to do so would result in the United States purposely defaulting on its debts for the first time in history. 

By now, the extent of the damage that economists predict the U.S. economy would suffer in the event of default triggered by bitter conflict between Congressional Democrats and Republicans has been widely reported.

An estimate from Moody’s Analytics earlier this month predicted that in a prolonged default scenario, the U.S. would slide into recession, with the Gross Domestic Product falling by almost 4%. Some six million jobs would be lost, driving the unemployment rate up to 9%. The resulting stock market sell-off would erase $15 trillion in household wealth. In the short term, interest rates would spike, and in the long term, they would never fall back to pre-default lows. 

But the damage from a U.S. default would not be contained to the United States itself. Securities issued by the U.S. have been so trustworthy for so long that they are treated as essentially risk-free in financial markets, and are used to underpin a vast number of financial contracts worldwide. 

“The U.S. Treasury market is the world’s anchor asset,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “If it turns out that that asset is not actually risk free, but that it can actually default, that would basically detonate a bomb in the middle of the global financial system. And that will be extremely messy.” 

Immediate fallout 

In the event of a default, it is generally assumed that there would be a broad sell-off of Treasury securities, known as Treasuries. This would happen for multiple reasons — from individual investors being spooked by the default, to companies that had collateralized loans with Treasuries being forced to replace them with something the lender sees as more secure. 

The sell-off would make it more expensive for the U.S. to borrow in the future, driving up interest rates in the United States and driving down the value of the dollar against other world currencies. 

Here are five ways those effects would echo through the global economy. 

Reduced global trade 

If a default drove the U.S. into recession, U.S. consumers and businesses would reduce the amount of goods and services they purchase from outside the country. 

While this would impact virtually all countries to some extent, emerging market countries that rely on exports to the United States for much of their income would be particularly hard-hit. 

The expected devaluation of the dollar would have a similar impact — making it more expensive for U.S firms to purchase supplies overseas, resulting in trade being reduced even further. 

Dollarized economies would suffer 

The U.S. dollar is a common currency in much of the world. Some countries have adopted it as the official currency, while in others it exists side-by-side with a local currency that is often “pegged” to the dollar to keep its value stable. 

In the event that a default drove down the value of the dollar, countries with highly dollarized economies would see the buying power of existing currency stock diminished.

“Emerging markets would suffer greatly from this, because they wouldn’t have a domestic currency that’s very credible,” said Kirkegaard. 

Business contracts affected 

Around the world, many cross-border transactions carry requirements that they be settled in U.S. dollars. In ordinary times, this is seen as a practical way to be sure that sudden swings in the value of a local currency don’t dramatically disadvantage one party in a transaction that is to be settled in the future. 

A sudden and sharp decline in the value of the dollar would mean that individuals and companies anticipating payment on existing contracts in dollars would effectively be receiving less than they had expected for their goods and services. 

More sophisticated trade contracts may contain anti-default clauses that require agreements to be renegotiated in the event of a default that drives down the value of a reserve currency. While this would keep both parties to a contract whole, it would also complicate and likely slow down many transactions. 

Capital flows away from the U.S. 

One of the economic advantages the United States has long enjoyed is that it is a magnet for global capital. When the global economy is strong, investors seeking growth funnel money to U.S. firms. When times are bad, investors seek shelter in U.S. Treasuries. Either way, global markets are directing capital into the U.S. 

But when interest rates go up for the wrong reason — because investors don’t trust the U.S. government to pay its debts — that system is broken. 

The result is that to some degree, investors seeking shelter would be more cautious about assuming that Treasury securities are the go-to investment to protect the value of their assets. The logical move would be for them to begin directing at least some of their investments to securities issued by other governments and denominated in different currencies. 

New reserve currency 

A side effect of those new capital flows could be a challenge to the dollar as the world’s “reserve currency.” 

A reserve currency is money held by a country’s central bank and large financial institutions in order to facilitate global trade for domestic companies, to meet international debt obligations, and to influence domestic currency exchange rates, among other reasons. 

The stability of the dollar has made it the dominant global reserve currency since the end of World War II. This has generated constant global demand for dollars, making it possible for the U.S. government to borrow at lower interest rates than other large nations.

The United States’ global competitors, including China and Russia — but even allies, like the European Union — have for years suggested that it would be better if the dollar’s dominance were not as complete as it is. 

There has been little movement to unseat the dollar in recent decades, but a shock like a default on U.S. debts could persuade some countries to hedge their bets by taking on other currencies, like the euro or renminbi, as additions to their reserve holdings. 

“If you are China or, for that matter, the euro area, you have been wanting to replace or supplant the dollar’s dominant role in the global economy with either the renminbi or the euro,” said Kirkegaard. “You couldn’t ask for a better thing.” 

 


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Democratic-Controlled Congress Poised to Approve Stopgap Funding to Keep US Government Open

The U.S. Senate is set to vote Thursday on a stopgap funding measure to avert a partial federal government shutdown. 

Approval in the Senate would send the matter to the House of Representatives for a vote there as lawmakers work to beat a midnight deadline. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation would maintain current funding levels across government agencies through December 3. It would also include $6.3 billion to help relocate Afghan refugees moving to the United States after Washington ended its two-decade war in Afghanistan last month, and $28.6 billion to help eastern and southern states recover from devastating hurricanes and western states from raging wildfires.  

“With so many critical issues to address, the last thing the American people need right now is a government shutdown,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This proposal will prevent one from happening.” 

Senate Republicans earlier this week blocked passage of another measure to avert the shutdown because it also included a provision to suspend the country’s long-term debt limit, which they are trying to force Democrats to adopt on their own without Republican support. 

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would support a “clean” funding package to keep the government open into the new fiscal year starting October 1, such as the legislation proposed by Schumer. 

Previous shutdowns

By law, U.S. government agencies must have congressionally authorized funding in order to operate. Shutdowns have usually occurred when Congress and the White House cannot agree on funding levels for specific operations or whether the programs in question deserve to be funded at all.  

Without funding during the shutdowns, many government operations have been halted, such as pension payments to older Americans, the processing of income tax refunds and accessibility to national parks. However, national security operations have been deemed essential and workers have stayed on the job, even as their paychecks might be delayed.    

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democratic colleagues the chamber would vote soon on suspending the national government’s debt limit.  

Even if the House passes the legislation, though, its fate in the politically divided Senate, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, is uncertain.    

Senate Republicans already twice this week have rejected efforts to suspend the debt limit, saying it is an effort by opposition Democrats to clear the path for a massive new spending plan to expand social safety net programs the most since the 1960s.  

Republicans uniformly oppose the Democratic proposals championed by President Joe Biden.  

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told congressional leaders on Tuesday that the government is likely to run out of money to pay its bills by October 18 if Congress does not suspend the debt limit or raise it substantially beyond its current $28.4 trillion total. 


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US Trade Officials Delay Decision on New Solar Tariffs

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday asked a group of anonymous domestic solar manufacturers for additional information before it would consider a request to impose duties on panels produced in three Southeast Asian countries.

The move delays the department’s decision, which had been expected this week. The case is the latest dispute between the U.S. solar project builders that rely on cheap imports for most of their supplies and the tiny domestic manufacturing sector that says it can’t compete effectively with the flood of low-priced imports from Asia.

U.S. solar project developers have lobbied forcefully against any Commerce investigation into new tariffs, saying the probe alone would spook the foreign solar producers they rely on and cripple a sector that is critical to meeting the nation’s climate change goals.

The anonymous group seeking the tariffs last month asked the Commerce Department to investigate whether imports from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam were unfair. It accuses Chinese producers of shifting manufacturing to those nations to avoid U.S. duties on solar cells and panels made in China.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department sent the group’s attorney, Timothy Brightbill, a letter that set an Oct. 6 deadline for the so-called American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention to respond to a series of questions.

One question asks members of the group to identify themselves. The group said in filings with Commerce that its members wished to remain anonymous because they feared retribution in the marketplace, a claim the department has also asked it to explain.

The department said it would issue a decision within 45 days of receiving a response.

Brightbill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association, the trade group that opposes the tariff request, said that it was disappointed the department did not dismiss the group’s petition outright, but that the additional information would show that the petitioners “have no case.” 

 


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YouTube Will Ban All Content Containing What it Calls Vaccine Misinformation

YouTube will ban any video that claims vaccines are ineffective or dangerous, including those that question vaccines for measles and chickenpox, the company announced Wednesday.  

“Specifically, content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines will be removed,” the Google-owned company said in a blog post announcing the new enforcement measures.

The company said “vaccines in particular have been a source of fierce debate over the years, despite consistent guidance from health authorities about their effectiveness.”  

“Today, we’re expanding our medical misinformation policies on YouTube with new guidelines on currently administered vaccines that are approved and confirmed to be safe and effective by local health authorities and the WHO.”

The company said it “will continue to allow content about vaccine policies, new vaccine trials and historical vaccine successes or failures.”  

YouTube’s COVID-19 vaccine policy has met with some backlash for being overly aggressive.

On Tuesday, the company removed Russian state-backed broadcaster RT’s German-language channels, saying they violated the company’s COVID-19 policy.

On Wednesday, Russia threatened to block YouTube, calling the channel removals “unprecedented information aggression.”

YouTube said it has removed over 130,000 videos over the past year for violating its COVID-19 policies.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters.

 


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South Korean Fisherman Allege Chinese Fleet Sweeps Up Marine Life

China is the world’s largest seafood consumer, and its fleet often fishes waters claimed by South Korea. When South Korean authorities try to enforce international regulations, they often meet fierce resistance. Seung Hyuk Park filed this report with information provided by Hyungjin Kim in Seoul.


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Malawi Court Hands Lengthy Prison Term to Chinese Wildlife Trafficker

A Malawi Magistrate’s Court in the capital, Lilongwe, has sentenced a Chinese national, described by some as one of the biggest African wildlife trafficking kingpins, to 32 years in prison after convicting him on three wildlife crimes. The court, however, said the sentences will run concurrently for 14 years and then there is a plan to deport him. But the convict is looking to appeal the sentence.

Judge Justice Violet Chipao on Tuesday sentenced Lin Yunhua to 14 years in prison for trading in rhino horn, 14 years for possession of rhino horn and an additional six years for money laundering. Justice Chipao however said the sentences will run concurrently, meaning that Lin will serve a total of 14 years. 

Lin, a Chinese national and the leader of wildlife trafficking syndicate Lin-Zhang gang — named after the husband-and-wife leaders — has been operating out of Malawi for at least a decade. Malawi’s authorities arrested him in August 2019 following a three-month manhunt. 

Prosecution lawyer, Andy Kaonga says Lin would face another punishment after completing the sentence. 

“Once he serves the sentence, our colleagues at the DPP [Director of Public Prosecution] office will probably take it to the minister of homeland security and then start the process of his deportation because the court has recommended that he should be deported from the country,” he said.  

The sentencing of Lin brings the number of wildlife trafficking syndicate members sent to prison to 14. These include four Malawian and 10 Chinese nationals, including Lin’s wife currently serving an 11-year prison term. Lin’s daughter was also arrested in December 2020 for alleged money laundering offences. Her trial is ongoing. 

Brighton Kumchedwa, Malawi’s director of the Department of National Parks & Wildlife, warned that the crackdown on members of the Lin-Zhang gang should send a message to other wildlife trafficking syndicates. 

“We are now starting to deal with the sponsors, the king pins. My message to these syndicates is ‘they should watch out; Malawi is not a playing ground. We eventually will get to them. So, they better stop,” he said.

Kumchedwa says the crackdown is a result of new strategies the government put in place toward combating wildlife crimes. 

“From 2015 thereabout we changed completely the game of handling wildlife crimes. So, we used [our] own intelligence combined with police intelligence. We also used sniffer dogs in the process. So, it’s different strategies that have seen us going this far,” he said. 

Mary Rice is the executive director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an organization campaigning against environmental crimes and abuse. Speaking to VOA via a messaging app from London, Rice says the crackdown shows Malawi’s commitment to bring high-level wildlife criminals to justice,

“It was not an easy road. But the tenacity and resilience of the investigators, the lawyers and the judge who made some very, very interesting comments in the sentencing, they are all to be applauded for their work. We know there have been many, many obstacles along the way. So, I think it’s a great result,” she said.

Defense lawyer Chrispine Ndalama told VOA Tuesday his client is considering appealing against the sentence. 

“Of course, over the phone, the client indicated that he would want to appeal but I will have to look at the judgment first, to see and understand the reasoning of the court so that I can advise my client properly as to whether we need to appeal or not,” he said.

Ndalama says he expected the court to give Lin a lesser sentence because he pleaded guilty to charges of possession of wildlife products. 

The court has given the defense 30 days to appeal the sentence. 


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New Technologies Aim to Reduce Carbon in Atmosphere

A bunch of new technologies are popping up that could help bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net-zero by 2050, and all need investment. Governments worldwide are having to decide which one suits their geography and how much they can spend on a given technology. More with VOA’s Mariama Diallo.

Produced by: Kimberlyn Weeks    


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Australia Divided Over Future of Mighty Coal Industry

Australia is under growing international pressure to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the policy is fiercely dividing its center-right government.

Australia is one of the world’s major exporters of coal and gas. Coal is mined in every state. Most exports go to countries in Asia, including China, Japan and South Korea. 

In 2020, exports were worth about $39 billion. Trade has almost doubled in the past decade. But China’s informal import restrictions on Australian coal saw the value of exports fall sharply, although prices have started to recover. Coal also generates about 70% of Australia’s electricity. Coal-fired power makes it the most carbon polluting nation per capita in the world. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is planning to eventually shift his country’s reliance on coal and gas in favor of clean energy technologies, a shift from his time as a treasurer in 2017. In support of the mining industry, then-treasurer Morrison brought a piece of coal to Parliament to argue the need to continue producing coal in a famous scene. 

“This is coal,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. It’s coal that has delivered prosperity to Australian businesses and has ensured that Australian industry has been able to remain competitive on a global market.” 

Clean energy is still an issue that deeply divides his center-right governing coalition. 

Some members of the National Party — the junior alliance partner — are adamant that Australia’s coal industry is too valuable to lose and insist it will thrive for decades. Many regional communities depend on it. There is also disagreement about committing to a target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The prime minister said he wants to achieve net zero emissions “as soon as possible” but has not outlined any measures to do so. 

But government lawmaker Trent Zimmerman said Australia must join the global push to reduce emissions.

“We need both the target and the plan that matches it,” Zimmerman said. “It is very hard to divorce the two and obviously much of the international community has moved in that direction. In fact, eighty percent of global emissions or thereabouts are covered by pledges that relate to reaching net-zero. So, it is important for Australia that we are part of that because it is the right thing to do.”

Morrison has said he is yet to decide whether he will attend the Glasgow Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, in November. He told a newspaper that he wanted to oversee Australia’s eventual emergence from COVID-19 lockdowns. His critics insist he is “too embarrassed” by his government’s climate change policies to attend the summit in the Scottish capital. 

Opinion polls by the Australia Institute, an independent public policy think tank based in Canberra, have shown that most Australians want stronger measures to curb emissions. A United Nations climate change report recently warned that global warming will inflict more severe and frequent droughts, storms, heatwaves and bushfires in Australia.

However, those surveys reported by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper also revealed support for the coal industry. Less than half of Australians believe that coal power should be phased out within a decade. Australia’s addiction to fossil fuels might be hard to give up, according to the survey. 


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World Bank Forecasts Slow Economic Growth for East Asia and Pacific Region Due to COVID-19

The World Bank is predicting slower economic growth for developing nations in the East Asia and Pacific regions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report issued by the bank Tuesday said while China’s economy is expected to grow by 8.5% in 2021, the rest of the region will only expand by 2.5%, down from its April forecast of 4.4%. 

Manuela Ferro, the World Bank’s vice president for East Asia and Pacific, says the region’s economic recovery from the pandemic “faces a reversal of fortune.” 

The report says the persistence of COVD-19 will likely hurt growth and increase inequality throughout the region.

The bank is urging governments to enhance testing and tracing to contain the spread of the virus, increase regional production of vaccines and strengthen their health systems. 

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank issued a separate report last week predicting the region’s developing economies will likely grow at a slower-than-expected pace in 2021 due to lingering COVID-19 outbreaks and the slow pace of vaccination efforts. 

The ADB also predicted that economies in Southeast Asia would grow by just 3.1% this year. It also had predicted 4.4% growth back in its economic outlook back in April. 


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Facebook Puts Instagram Kids Project on Hold

Facebook is putting its Instagram Kids project on hold amid growing concerns about potential harmful effects on young people, including anxiety and depression.

The idea is to provide youngsters with the Instagram social media experience but with no ads, more parental control and age-appropriate content.

U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Facebook to scrap the plan entirely for safety concerns.

“Today is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children’s wellbeing should come before Big Tech’s profits,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, an advocacy group focused on children.

“We commend Facebook for listening to the many voices who have loudly and consistently told them that Instagram Youth will result in significant harms to children.”

Golin vowed to continue fighting against Instagram Kids “until they permanently pull the plug.”

While Instagram Kids would require parental permission to join, the company said it was putting the idea on pause to “continue to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens,” the company said in a blog post.

“We’ll continue our work to allow parents to oversee their children’s accounts by expanding these tools to teen accounts (aged 13 and over) on Instagram.” 

The company said the reality is that kids are online and that a product like Instagram Kids would be “better for parents.”

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported internal Facebook documents showed the company knows Instagram can have harmful effects on teens, particularly girls. According to the Journal, Facebook has done little to address the issue.

Facebook called the report inaccurate.

(Some information in this report comes from Reuters.) 


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Botswana’s Alcohol Industry Cautious as Night Spots Prepare to Open

Botswana is set to emerge this week from an 18-month state of emergency that will remove the president’s emergency powers and end pandemic restrictions on trade and gatherings. While many shops, bars, and restaurants want to get back to normal, some in Botswana’s alcohol industry say it’s too soon to lift restrictions on night spots.

The minister of trade and industry, Kgafela Mmusi, says the end of the edict, set for this Thursday, means businesses can revert to normal trading hours. This includes the reopening of nightspots. 

That should be welcome news to Botswana’s alcohol industry, which employs around 50,000 people, including those who work at bars, breweries and distributors. 

But Botswana Beverages Association president Peter Noke warns some establishments might not be ready to reopen. 

Those that do will likely have restrictions, including a ban on dancing.

He said they have requested that dance floors be converted into seating areas.

“There should be sufficient spacing between the tables and there will be no dancing,” he said. “If one wishes to dance, they can only do so while seated.”

Music promoter Zain Aftermath says the decision to eliminate the dance floor is ill-advised. 

“How are you going to open clubs and then say people should not dance? It doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t leave my house to go to a nightclub, pay and buy alcohol so that I can sit on a chair. It is going to affect attendance in a huge way,” he said.

Workers’ union leader Johannes Tshukudu welcomes the reopening as entertainment industry workers have been mostly out of work since March of last year. But he too, urges caution. 

“We don’t expect full capacity at the beginning, we may decide to have half capacity at the venues so that at least so that we use that as an observation element. We don’t want to see this thing [opening of night clubs] as a trap by the government to justify reintroducing the state of emergency,” he said.

Minister Kgafela says the government will keep an eye on nightspots to ensure compliance with the rules. 


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Indian Farmers Give Renewed Push to Demand for Scrapping Farm Laws

Thousands of farmers in India blocked highways and rail tracks on Monday to give renewed momentum to their months-long demand for scrapping agricultural laws that have triggered the country’s longest farm protest and presented a political challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The nationwide protest, or “bharat bandh,” was held on the first anniversary of the passage of the laws that the government says will modernize the agricultural sector, but which farmers fear will spell an existential threat to their livelihoods.

The legislation allows farmers to do business outside government-run wholesale markets where they have sold their crops for decades at guaranteed prices.

But farmers fear that opening up sales of farm produce to the corporate sector will end an era of assured prices for crops like rice and wheat. They say farmers in states such as Bihar where the system has been scrapped are already in distress and get a lower price for their crop. 

Defiant farmers have camped on highways on the outskirts of New Delhi since November amid the persisting stalemate — the government has often said it is open to a dialogue but will not repeal the laws.

On Monday, thousands of farmers waving flags converged outside key roads leading to the Indian capital choking traffic. A farmer from Haryana, Sunil Kumar, who was among the protestors, said the stir demonstrated the farmers’ determination to continue their struggle has not ended.

Life was also disrupted in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, lush rice and wheat growing states, that have been at the forefront of the protest.

The farmers stir also reverberated in the south of the country — they held protests in the southern cities of Chennai and Bengaluru and Kerala state. In some places they squatted on rail tracks.

Ahead of Monday’s protest, Rakesh Tikait, one of the farm leaders spearheading the stir, said that they are ready to protest for ten years, but will not allow the “black legislation” to be passed.

Several opposition parties including the Congress Party have supported the farmers’ demands. In a tweet, senior leader Rahul Gandhi called the government “exploitative” and extended support to farmers using hashtag #Istandwithfarmers. 

The government maintains the laws will improve farm incomes and agricultural productivity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called them a “watershed moment” for Indian agriculture when they were passed last year.

India’s agriculture has not kept pace with its economy shrinking to just 15% of gross domestic product over the decades. But nearly two thirds of the country, or some 800 million people, depend on agriculture for their livelihood as the country has not been able to generate enough non-farm-based jobs. 

“The protest is a reflection of the compound anger they carry at the neglect of agriculture, especially farmers’ incomes which have become so low over the decades,” says agriculture economist Devinder Sharma. “The government believes that facilitating corporate entry would pull agriculture out of the crisis but that will not help because a majority of the farmers are small.”

The bulk of Indian farmers own plots of less than one hectare and fear that the laws will make them vulnerable to corporates that will drive down prices and force them to sell their land.

With the stalemate showing no signs of a resolution, the political impact of the farmers stir will be tested early next year when elections in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, are held.

Farmers from the state that adjoins New Delhi are among those who have been at the forefront of the ten-month old agitation. They held a mammoth rally earlier this month and say they will step up protests across the state ahead of the polls to show that the government is pursuing what they call anti-farmer policies. 


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Panic Buying Leaves Fuel Pumps Dry in Major British Cities 

Up to 90% of British fuel stations ran dry across major English cities on Monday after panic buying deepened a supply chain crisis triggered by a shortage of truckers that retailers are warning could batter the world’s fifth-largest economy. 

A dire post-Brexit shortage of truck drivers emerging after the COVID-19 pandemic has sown chaos through British supply chains in everything from food to fuel, raising the specter of disruptions and price rises in the run up to Christmas. 

Just days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government spent millions of pounds to avert a food shortage due to a spike in prices for natural gas, the biggest cost in fertilizer production, ministers asked people to refrain from panic buying. 

But lines of dozens of cars snaked back from gasoline stations across the country on Sunday, swallowing up supplies and forcing many gas stations to simply close. Pumps across British cities were either closed or had signs saying fuel was unavailable on Monday, Reuters reporters said. 

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents independent fuel retailers which now account for 65% of all UK forecourts, said members had reported that 50% to 90% of pumps were dry in some areas. 

“We are unfortunately seeing panic buying of fuel in many areas of the country,” Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA, who worked for BP for 30 years, told Reuters. 

“We need some calm,” Balmer said. “Please don’t panic buy: if people drain the network then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” 

Britain is considering calling in the army to ensure fuel supplies reach consumers, according to The Times and Financial Times. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice said there was no shortage of fuel and urged people to refrain from panic buying. 

Haulers, gas stations and retailers warned that there were no quick fixes, however, as the shortfall of truck drivers – estimated to be around 100,000 – was so acute, and because transporting fuel demands additional training and licensing. 

Supply chain crunch 

Britain’s retail industry warned the government on Friday that unless it moves to alleviate an acute shortage of truckers in the next 10 days significant disruption was inevitable in the run-up to Christmas.

For months, supermarkets, processors and farmers have warned that a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers was straining supply chains to breaking point – making it harder to get goods onto shelves.

Aldi UK CEO Giles Hurley said that while his discount supermarket chain was in a good position, nobody could guarantee there would not be inflation in the market around Christmas. 

BP said on Sunday that nearly a third of its British petrol stations had run out of the two main grades of fuel as panic buying forced the government to suspend competition laws and allow firms to work together to ease shortages. 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the suspension would allow firms to share information and coordinate their response. 

“This step will allow government to work constructively with fuel producers, suppliers, haulers and retailers to ensure that disruption is minimized as far as possible,” the business department said in a statement. 

The government on Sunday announced a plan to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers. Around 25,000 truckers returned to Europe before Brexit and Britain was unable to test 40,000 drivers during COVID-19 lockdowns.


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House Panel OKs Democrats’ $3.5T Budget Bill 

Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee on Saturday, but one Democrat opposed the measure in an illustration of the challenges party leaders face in winning the near unanimity they’ll need to carry the sprawling package through Congress. 

The Democratic-dominated panel, meeting virtually, approved the measure on a near party-line vote, 20-17. Passage marked a necessary but minor step for Democrats by edging the bill closer to debate by the full House. Under budget rules, the committee wasn’t allowed to significantly amend the 2,465-page measure, the product of 13 other House committees. 

The more important work has been happening in an opaque procession of mostly unannounced phone calls, meetings and other bargaining sessions among party leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers. President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon. 

Pelosi told fellow Democrats in a letter Saturday that they must pass the social and environment bill this week, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. 

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” she wrote.

Political vulnerability

Moderate Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., joined all 16 Republicans on the Budget Committee in opposing the legislation. His objections included one that troubles many Democrats: a reluctance to support a bill with provisions that would later be dropped by the Senate.

Many Democrats don’t want to become politically vulnerable by backing language that might be controversial back home, only to see it not become law. That preference for voting only on a social and environment bill that’s already a House-Senate compromise could complicate Pelosi’s effort for a House vote this week. 

Peters was among three Democrats who earlier this month voted against a plan favored by most in his party to lower pharmaceutical costs by letting Medicare negotiate for the prescription drugs it buys.

Party leaders have tried for weeks to resolve differences among Democrats over the package’s final price tag, which seems sure to shrink. There are also disputes over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy, and higher levies on the rich and corporations. 

Democrats’ wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate mean compromise is mandatory. Before the measure the Budget panel approved Saturday even reaches the House floor, it is expected to be changed to reflect whatever House-Senate accords have been reached, and additional revisions are likely. 

‘Decades of disinvestment’

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals. Budget panel Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., cited “decades of disinvestment” on needs like health care, education, child care and the environment as the rationale for the legislation. 

“The futures of millions of Americans and their families are at stake. We can no longer afford the costs of neglect and inaction. The time to act is now,” Yarmuth said. 

Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said. 

“This bill is a disaster for working-class families,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican. “It’s a big giveaway to the wealthy, it’s a laundry list of agenda items pulled right out of the Bernie Sanders socialist playbook.”

The unusual weekend session occurred as top Democrats amp up efforts to end increasingly bitter disputes between the party’s centrist and progressive wings that threaten to undermine Biden’s agenda.

 A collapse of the measure at his own party’s hands would be a wounding preview to the coming election year, in which House and Senate control are at stake.

Infrastructure bill

To nail down moderates’ support for an earlier budget blueprint, Pelosi promised to begin House consideration by Monday of another pillar of Biden’s domestic plans: a $1 trillion collection of roadway and other infrastructure projects. Pelosi reaffirmed this week that the infrastructure debate would begin Monday.

But many moderates who consider the infrastructure bill their top goal also want to cut the $3.5 trillion social and environment package and trim or reshape some of its programs. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have been among the most visible centrists demanding a smaller price tag. 

In response, progressives — their top priority is the $3.5 trillion measure — are threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes up for a vote first. Their opposition seems likely to be enough to scuttle it, and Pelosi hasn’t definitively said when a vote on final passage of the infrastructure measure will occur.

With each portion of the party threatening to upend the other’s most cherished goal — a political disaster in the making for Democrats — top Democrats are using the moment to accelerate talks on the massive social and climate legislation. Compromise is a requirement, because the party can lose no votes in the Senate and a maximum of three in the House to succeed in the narrowly split Congress.


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