Week in Review
The Labor Department announced on Friday that real unemployment last month stood at 13.1 percent. The disappointing economic news came as support shriveled among Senate Republicans for a bill to restore expired benefits for the long-term jobless. Sen. Bernie Sanders is a cosponsor of the bill. Responding to reporters about a letter from Sanders, the National Security Agency on Saturday did not rule out spying on members of Congress. The response fueled mounting concerns among privacy advocates about the dragnet surveillance of telephone, email and Internet records. And Washington on Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty.
Unemployment at 13.1% Employers added a meager 74,000 jobs in December, the worst month in three years. The official unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent last month from 7 percent in November, but one reason for the dip was that more Americans gave up looking for work. Counting those frustrated job hunters and those forced to settle for part-time work, the real unemployment figure for December was unchanged at 13.1 percent. Sanders has championed a federal jobs program that would put people to work rebuilding our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges and other infrastructure projects. And because so many of the new jobs that are being added are in low-paid positions, Sanders also supports raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour.
Jobless Benefits The Senate push to resurrect benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans cleared a hurdle on Tuesday with no votes to spare. But later in the week some of the six Republicans who helped advance the bill signaled that they are unlikely to support the proposal because of a squabble over how to pay for the benefits. The federal law that provides benefits to the long-time unemployed expired on Dec. 28. Cutting off benefits takes millions of dollars out of the economy resulting in even more unemployment. “It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face,” Sanders said.
NSA Spying President Obama is expected to rein in spying on foreign leaders and may restrict National Security Agency access to Americans' phone records, according to published reports on a White House review of the government's surveillance programs. The NSA equivocated when Sanders asked if it was using its massive trove of telephone, email and Internet records to spy on members of Congress. “Are we a quote unquote free society, which we claim to be, if the United States government knows every phone call you've made, knows where you are, has the capability of intercepting your emails and knows the websites that you've visited? Is that what a free society is about?” Sanders asked in a television interview. The senator also came out on Monday in favor of a plea bargain or clemency for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now living in Russia to avoid criminal prosecution in the United States for leaking classified NSA documents to journalists. Sanders said Snowden rmanent exile from the country whose freedoms he cared enough about to risk his own freedom.” Watch CNN, Watch WPTZ-TV
Global Warming Sanders will join a global warming task force to being organized by Sens. Barbara Boxer and Sheldon Whitehouse. Boxer chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Along with Sanders, she introduced a bill to tax carbon dioxide and methane emissions. “Climate change is the single greatest threat to our country and our planet, and future generations will look back to this moment and judge us by the decisions we make today. “The scientific community, those responsible for protecting our national security, the American public and corporations increasingly are recognizing that climate change is happening now and that carbon pricing is likely to be part of the solution. It is time for Congress to act,” Sanders and Boxer wrote in a column published on Thursday in The San Francisco Chronicle. Read the column
The War on Poverty Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the State of the Union address when President Lyndon Johnson declared an all-out War on Poverty. There has been progress in the past half century. Seniors have benefited from Medicare and Meals on Wheels. Families with young children have been helped by Head Start. And poverty rates in the United States have declined. But the fact remains that today, as Sanders put it, “we have more people living in poverty than ever in the history of the United States and our childhood unemployment rate is the highest in the industrial world.” Read more in US News & World Report
Pope Francis At a meeting of Senate Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid raised the issue of income inequality. “You know,” declared Sanders, “we have a strong ally on our side in this issue — and that is the pope.” The New York Times recounted that exchange in an article published on Monday about how some senators see “a rare opportunity to use the pope’s moral force to advance issues like extending unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage.” Read the article