FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
March 19, 2014

In December 2012, the Federal Reserve announced the advent of the Evans Rule — that the Fed will keep the federal funds rate low either until unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, or inflation rises above 2.5 percent.

Today, Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the rest of the Federal Open Market Committee ditched that rule, announcing that the central bank will continue to keep rates low, even though unemployment is now at 6.7 percent, just 0.2 percentage points away from the target.

That's a great idea. Why? The Evans Rule was never really fit for the purpose; 6.5 percent is a totally arbitrary level. The Fed's mandate calls for "maximum employment and 2 percent inflation." The current employment rate is not — as I have argued — "maximum employment." The natural rate of unemployment is variable, and with growth still relatively weak, there is considerable room for more jobs growth. And with inflation remaining almost a full percentage point below the 2 percent target, there really is no need to tighten right now. More stimulus — and lower unemployment — is merited.

The other decision Yellen announced today — reducing the quantitative easing bond-buying programs by another $10 billion to $50 billion per month — was entirely to be expected given February's strong employment growth. Tapering is a gradual process. If unemployment fails to fall further, further tapering can be delayed or reversed. Or, if inflation picks up, tapering can be accelerated.

All in all, a good start for Janet Yellen. John Aziz

7:40 p.m. ET

Four people were injured when the Anthem of the Seas encountered a severe storm off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Sunday. The mega ship was sailing to Port Canaveral, Florida, when it hit rough waters, and on Monday, Royal Caribbean announced the ship would be returning to Cape Liberty Cruise Port in New Jersey.

The Anthem of the Seas suffered damage to some public areas and cabins, but "remains seaworthy," Royal Caribbean announced, and the injuries sustained are not serious. On Sunday afternoon, passengers were told to stay in their rooms, and they were given updates every hour by the captain or the cruise director. Off the Carolina coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded a 76 mph gust of wind and waves of 30 feet high, CNN reports. Passengers said on Twitter their stateroom televisions reported winds clocking in at 120 to 150 mph.

The Anthem of the Seas was scheduled to go on a seven-day voyage to the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean announced passengers will receive a full refund, plus half off the fare of a future cruise. Catherine Garcia

6:58 p.m. ET
Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images

A new U.N. report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that the Syrian government is executing civilian detainees on a massive scale, in addition to killing and torturing Islamic State and Nusra Front prisoners.

The commission is calling on the Security Council to impose "targeted sanctions" against high-ranking civilian and military officials, Reuters reports. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention" covers March 10, 2011, to Nov. 30, 2015, with interviews from 621 witnesses and survivors. Thousands of people, mostly civilian men, have been killed, tortured, starved, and denied medical treatment, and chairman Paulo Pinheiro said "prison officials, their superiors throughout the hierarchy, high-ranking officials in military hospitals, and the military police corps as well as government were aware that deaths on a massive scale were occurring. Thus we concluded there were reasonable grounds…to believe that the conduct described amounts to extermination as a crime against humanity."

Investigators repeatedly asked for access to detention facilities, but were denied. The high-ranking officers are "individually criminally liable," investigators said, and a list of suspected war criminals from all sides and units is kept in a U.N. safe in Geneva. Raneem Matouq, the daughter of a prominent attorney who went missing in 2012, says she was held in a Damascus facility after peacefully protesting as a student. She described the conditions there as deplorable: There was hardly any food, the prison was infested with insects, detainees could only use an outdoor toilet three times a day, and there were dead bodies in different areas. Catherine Garcia

5:01 p.m. ET
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GettyImages

For months, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been promoting a very specific and outlandish strategy to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S. As president, he says often, he'd simply build a wall along the entire Mexican-American border. It would be funded by the Mexican government, Trump claims.

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón doesn't think his country would be down with that plan, CNBC reports.

"Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall," he said. "And it's going to be completely useless."

Calderón suggested a wall wouldn't help the U.S., serving instead to hinder the country's trading. It's an idea, he said, that came from a "not very well-informed man." Julie Kliegman

4:11 p.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

After reports surfaced in January that Michael Bloomberg was considering an independent presidential run, the former New York City mayor confirmed the possibility himself to the Financial Times on Monday.

"I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," Bloomberg said, adding that the public deserves "a lot better."

Bloomberg, who The New York Times reported would sink up to $1 billion of his own money into a campaign, told FT he'd need to start getting his name on ballots in March.

"I'm listening to what candidates are saying and what the primary voters appear to be doing," he said. Julie Kliegman

3:51 p.m. ET
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

There is trouble in Hillaryland: According to anonymous sources who spoke with Politico, Hillary Clinton is frustrated with her campaign staff — and vice versa. With the too-close-for-comfort win over Bernie Sanders in Iowa and a New Hampshire victory for the Vermont senator on the horizon, Clinton is reportedly looking to reassess the staff at her Brooklyn headquarters sooner rather than later.

One source who is close with both Hillary and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said, "The Clintons are not happy, and have been letting all of us know that. The idea is that we need a more forward-looking message, for the primary — but also for the general election too… There's no sense of panic, but there is an urgency to fix these problems right now."

There is dissatisfaction among Clinton's staffers, too:

Over the summer while her campaign was bogged down in the email controversy, Clinton was deeply frustrated with her own staff, and vice versa. The candidate blamed her team for not getting her out of the mess quickly, and her team blamed Clinton for being stubbornly unwilling to take the advice of campaign chairman John Podesta and others to apologize, turn over her server, and move on. The entire experience made her a deeply vulnerable frontrunner out of the gate, and underscored a lack of trust between Clinton and her operatives, many of whom were former Obama staffers that she didn't consider part of her inner circle of trust.

Her advisers were also frustrated by having to play roles they hadn't been hired for and were ill-suited for. From the beginning, [the campaign's top pollster and strategist Joel] Benenson was frustrated that he was forced to split his time between defending his boss on emails and defining a path for her candidacy. Clinton, meanwhile, longed for a chief strategist in the Mark Penn mold who could take on a more expansive role than playing pollster. [Politico]

Read the full story in Politico. Jeva Lange

3:47 p.m. ET
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Canada will stop its airstrikes on the Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq by Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday.

"As I said many times throughout the campaign in my commitment to Canadians, this is a non-combat mission," he said.

Trudeau, who took office in November, added that airstrikes don't help local communities attain long-term stability. Instead, he'll up military personnel in the region and train more local forces, The Washington Post reports.

The Pentagon has said it respects Trudeau's decision to halt strikes, but did not invite Canada's defense minister to recent meetings the U.S.-led coalition held in Paris. Julie Kliegman

3:25 p.m. ET

During a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush showed off his throwing arm by lobbing a snowball at NBC reporter Jordan J. Frasier. Only, there wasn't much to show off.

"You can't do anything about it!" Bush taunted the reporter, whose hands were full managing the camera. Bush seemed to think about it for a second and added, "That's not fair, actually." Frasier, laughing, didn't seem to mind — and he caught the whole thing on film. Watch below. Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads