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Jobless claims surge to highest weekly total since August

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First-time claims for unemployment insurance jumped to 965,000 last week amid signs of a slowdown in hiring due to pandemic restrictions, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The total was worse than Wall Street estimates of 800,000 and above the previous week’s total of 784,000.

Markets reacted little to the number, as the decline in economic activity is expected to be met with more stimulus from Washington. President-elect Joe Biden later Thursday is announcing his hopes for another package likely in excess of $1 trillion.

Futures prices continued to indicate fractional opening gains on Wall Street.

Still, the jobless number for the week ended Jan. 9 was another sign of economic turmoil brought on by restrictions in activity aimed at combating the pandemic. The total was the highest since the week of Aug. 22, when just over 1 million claims were filed.

Continuing claims also were higher, rising 199,000 to 5.27 million. That figure runs a week behind the weekly claims total and increased for the first time since late November.

The total of those receiving government benefits declined sharply despite the rise in the weekly numbers. That level fell to 18.4 million from 19.2 million in the previous week. The data runs two weeks behind the weekly claims total. The decrease came primarily from a slide in those filing for emergency pandemic claims, though it remains well above the 2.18 million receiving benefits a year earlier.

The increase in claims was spread across a handful of states, mostly those with more stringent restrictions on businesses.

Illinois, where Chicago has clamped down on restaurants, saw a jump of 51,280, according to unadjusted data. Other big gainers were California, which doesn’t even allow outdoor dining and saw its claims number rise by 20,587, a 13% increase. New York rose by 15,559.

However, several states with relatively loose restrictions also saw noticeable gains. Florida saw its claims more than double to 50,747, while Texas saw a 14,282 increase.

Signs have been building lately that the job gains that began in May have begun to cool.

In December, nonfarm payrolls declined for the first time during the recovery from Covid-market lows, falling by 140,000 while the unemployment rate held at 6.7%.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that business contacts throughout the central bank’s 12 districts reported reduction in hiring and difficulty in filling positions. Economists generally see the 2021 economy as starting off slow but then gaining momentum as the year progresses and the Covid-19 vaccine spreads.

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Biden plans blitz of executive action in first 10 days

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President-elect Joe Biden plans to take immediate executive action to turn the page on the Trump era after his inauguration speech this week, chief of staff Ron Klain said Sunday after laying out Biden’s plan for his first days office.

Biden is planning a 10-day blitz of executive action on what his administration is calling the “four crises” facing the country — Covid-19, the economic downturn, racial injustice and climate change.

“He’s going to come back to the White House after giving that speech at the Capitol and take some immediate actions to start to move this country forward,” Klain told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Biden is set to officially take office on Wednesday at noon ET. Klain said Biden’s inaugural address would be “a message of moving this country forward, a message of unity, a message of getting things done.”

Klain elaborated on Biden’s plans for his first days in a memorandum issued to incoming White House staff, sent on Saturday, titled “Overview of First Ten Days,” which was provided to NBC News.

“We face four overlapping and compounding crises: the COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis,” Klain wrote in the memo.

“In his first ten days in office, President-elect Biden will take decisive action to address these four crises, prevent other urgent and irreversible harms, and restore America’s place in the world,” Klain added.

The executive actions come in multiple forms, including executive orders, presidential memoranda, and directives to Cabinet agencies.

Among the first actions Biden will take on Wednesday include rejoining the Paris climate change agreement and reversing President Donald Trump‘s travel ban, which applies to several Muslim-majority countries. Biden will also require masks on federal property and interstate travel and take action to extend eviction and foreclosure restrictions.

On Thursday, Biden will sign executive actions related to reopening schools and businesses, and Friday he will “direct his Cabinet agencies to take immediate action to deliver economic relief to working families bearing the brunt of this crisis,” according to the memo.

The following week, according to the memo, Biden will take “significant early actions to advance equity and support communities of color and other underserved communities.”

Biden will also take action to address climate change, expand access to health care, and “restore dignity to our immigration system and our border policies” that week, according to the memo.

The memorandum is sparse on details and notes that Biden is spacing out the executive actions to highlight the activity.

It also notes that while the goals behind the executive actions are “bold,” they are bolstered by “well-founded” legal theory and represent “a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the President.”

Klain wrote in the memo that legislation will be needed for the administration’s more ambitious agenda items, including immigration reform and boosting the federal minimum wage.

Biden unveiled his $1.9 billion Covid-19 relief agenda on Thursday, which calls for measures to help the country combat the public health crisis as well as new injections of cash to help stimulate the economy. The plan would also increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Democrats control the House of Representatives and will soon take control of the Senate, following the defeat of two Republicans in runoff Senate races in Georgia earlier this month. But Klain said on Sunday that given Democrats’ narrow majorities, the Biden team will push to gain GOP support for its plans.

Democrats hold 222 seats in the House compared to the GOP’s 212, and the parties will evenly divide the Senate 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast tie breaking votes.

“We are going to try to work hard with people in both parties,” Klain said on CNN.

“The American people voted in November, and they voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden, no question, but they elected an evenly divided Senate, they elected a closely divided Congress, we are going to have to find ways for Democrats and Republicans to get things done,” he added. 

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How Parler deplatforming shows power of Amazon, cloud providers

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Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services.

CNBC

Getting kicked off Amazon Web Services is rare, but it has enormous consequences.

It happened this week, when Amazon dropped Parler, a social network that gained traction from conservatives after Twitter banned President Donald Trump and housed content that encouraged violence. Parler filed suit against Amazon in federal district court in an attempt to stop Amazon from suspending Parler’s account, and Amazon pushed back, requesting that the court deny Parler’s motion.

The incident demonstrates a type of power that Amazon wields almost uniquely because so many companies rely on it to deliver computing and data storage. Amazon controlled 45% of the cloud infrastructure in 2019, more than any other company, according to estimates from technology research company Gartner. The app survived without being listed in Apple and Google’s app stores, but getting sent away from Amazon’s cloud has left Parler absent from the internet for days.

Parler’s engineering team had built software that drew on computing resources from Amazon Web Services, and the company had been in talks with Amazon about adopting proprietary AWS database and artificial intelligence services, the company said in a district court filing on Wednesday.

It would take time to figure out how to perform similar functions on Parler’s own servers or a cloud other than AWS. And in the case of Parler, time is critical, because it came as the service was gaining attention and new users following Twitter’s Trump ban.

Parler’s engineers could learn to use other computing infrastructure, or the company could hire developers who already have that knowledge. But because no cloud provider is as popular as Amazon, people skilled in, say, Oracle’s cloud aren’t as as easy to find as those who know how to build on AWS.

The warnings were there

The swiftness with which Amazon acted shouldn’t come as a shock. Companies have been disclosing details about their deals with Amazon that warn of these kinds of sudden discontinuations for years.

In 2010, DNA sequencing company Complete Genomics said that “an interruption of services by Amazon Web Services, on whom we rely to deliver finished genomic data to our customers, would result in our customers not receiving their data on time.”

Gaming company Zynga warned about how its AWS foundation could quickly vanish when it filed the prospectus for its initial public offering in 2011. At the time, AWS hosted half of the traffic for Zynga’s games, such as FarmVille and Words with Friends, the company said.

“AWS may terminate the agreement without cause by providing 180 days prior written notice, and may terminate the agreement with 30 days prior written notice for cause, including any material default or breach of the agreement by us that we do not cure within the 30-day period,” Zynga said.

AWS can even terminate or suspend its agreement with a customer immediately under certain circumstances as it did in 2010 with Wikileaks, pointing to violations of AWS’ terms of service.

Parler started using AWS in 2018, long after the Wikileaks incident and the first corporate disclosures about the possibility of cloud interruptions.

When AWS told Parler it planned to suspend Parler’s AWS account, it said Parler had violated the terms repeatedly, including by not owning or controlling the rights to its content.

Over the course of several weeks, AWS alerted Parler to instances of user content that encouraged violence, Amazon said in a court filing. More of that content surfaced after protesters stormed the Capitol building in Washington on Jan. 6, interrupting Congress’ confirmation of the Electoral College results from the 2020 presidential election. AWS conveyed that Parler wasn’t doing enough to speedily remove that sort of information from its social network.

Parler could have protected itself more. Large AWS customers can sign up for more extensive agreements, which allow more customers time to get into compliance if they wind up breaking rules.

Gartner analyst Lydia Leong spelled out this difference in a blog post: “Thirty days is a common timeframe specified as a cure period in contracts (and is the cure period in the AWS standard Enterprise Agreement), but cloud provider click-through agreements (such as the AWS Customer Agreement) do not normally have a cure period, allowing immediate action to be taken at the provider’s discretion,” she wrote.

Other cloud providers have their own terms their customers must follow. AWS now has millions of customers, though, and it holds more of the cloud infrastructure market than any other provider. As a result, many organizations could be exposed to the sort of treatment Parler received, rare as it is, if they don’t behave in accordance with Amazon’s standards.

Parler recognized the drawbacks of being beholden to a cloud provider, but ultimately, the flexibility clouds offer was too appealing to ignore. “I’m personally very anti-cloud and anti-centralization, though AWS has its place for high-burst traffic,” Alexander Blair, Parler’s technology chief, wrote in a post on the service.

Parler and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

WATCH: Apple pulls Parler from App Store amid crackdown on violent posts



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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained at Moscow airport

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Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was detained by Russian police at passport control late on Sunday after flying back to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned last summer, a Reuters witness said.

Russia’s FSIN prison authority confirmed that officers had detained the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, the Interfax news agency reported.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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