China Spy Balloon Fallout, Blockbuster Jobs Report, Arrest in California Murders : Up First A Chinese surveillance balloon floating over U.S. airspace leads to diplomatic tensions. And U.S. employers added more than half a million jobs to the market in January, which is great for wages, but bad for fighting inflation. Plus, two suspected gang members are arrested in a California in connection with the murders of 6 people, including an infant.

China Spy Balloon Fallout, Blockbuster Jobs Report, Arrest in California Murders

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The Chinese surveillance balloon over U.S. airspace has the Pentagon on alert...


...And leads the secretary of state to cancel a trip to China.

SIMON: We'll bring you the latest on the diplomatic fallout.

RASCOE: I'm Ayesha Rascoe.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.


PAT RYDER: We know that it's a surveillance balloon. We do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable.

RASCOE: The Pentagon is taking the incident very seriously. So is the State Department. We'll look at the diplomatic fallout.

SIMON: And jobs - lots of jobs, higher wages. Great news unless you're trying to fight inflation. We'll tell you how that works.

RASCOE: Plus, arrests have been made in the horrific murder of a family in California.

SIMON: So please stay with us. We have the news you need to start your weekend.


RASCOE: The Pentagon has been tracking what it says is a Chinese spy balloon that was first seen over Montana and now moving east.

SIMON: China insists it's a civilian vessel just doing meteorological research and that they regret it veered off course.

RASCOE: Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly called off a trip to Beijing and said he'd only go when the time is right.


ANTONY BLINKEN: I'm not going to put a date or time on that because what we're focused right now is on making sure that this ongoing issue is actually resolved. The first step, as I said, is getting the surveillance asset out of our airspace.

SIMON: U.S. officials think it could be up there for another couple of days. NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Sounds like a story out of the Cold War, doesn't it?

KELEMEN: It really does. And that's exactly what this trip was supposed to prevent. Secretary Blinken said he wanted to go to China to prove to the world that the U.S. and China, the two major global economic powers, can manage their competition responsibly. But he said China undermined the trip with these actions this week.


BLINKEN: China's decision to fly a surveillance balloon over the continental United States is both unacceptable and irresponsible. That's what this is about. It's a violation of our sovereignty. It's a violation of international law.

KELEMEN: And he said that's what he told top Chinese official Wang Yi when he called off the trip yesterday.

SIMON: This trip was supposed to happen this weekend, right?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, we were planning to fly out last night. We had our visas in hand and our bags sort of packed. So this was very last minute, though Blinken had been raising concerns with the Chinese about this balloon since Wednesday, when pictures started appearing on social media of this thing way far up in the sky over Montana. Now, the Chinese say it's a civilian research balloon that drifted really far off course. Wang Yi today is blaming the media and U.S. politicians of trying to discredit China. He told Blinken that the U.S. and China need to work together to avoid misjudgments. The secretary says he does plan to reschedule this trip when the conditions are right. But, you know, Scott, that could really take a long time.

SIMON: So how would you judge all this is affecting U.S.-China relations at the moment?

KELEMEN: Well, it makes it politically harder for Secretary Blinken to get any business done with China. It's more fodder for China hawks in Washington, for sure. On the other hand, he could have gone and used this as real leverage with the Chinese. President Xi Jinping is facing, you know, his own problems at home, particularly with the economy and his COVID policies. So he has an interest in improving relations with the Biden administration. And remember, Scott, there is just so much on the agenda. There are tensions over Taiwan, trade and tariffs, the war in Ukraine, China's close relations with Russia. The list is very long and now even longer with these alleged spy balloons.

SIMON: And Michele, let's keep watching the skies. We hear the balloon is moving east, right?

KELEMEN: Yeah. There were some sightings in Kansas yesterday. Pentagon officials say that this balloon doesn't pose any dangers to Americans on the ground. They actually thought about shooting it down earlier in the week but worried that the debris could cause damage. So they're basically just monitoring it now. And by the way, the Pentagon has confirmed reports of another Chinese surveillance balloon over Latin America. But they're not giving any more details about that.

SIMON: NPR's diplomatic correspondent - balloon correspondent, too, suddenly - Michele Kelemen. Thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Scott.


RASCOE: Employers added more than a half a million jobs to the U.S. market last month.

SIMON: January's job gains were the strongest in six months, and the unemployment rate fell to a level not seen since 1969.

RASCOE: The sunny jobs report comes at an otherwise hairy time for the economy. Spending has been falling in recent months, while interest rates are on the rise. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now.

Welcome to the show.


RASCOE: So, you know, the Federal Reserve has been deliberately trying to slow down the economy, raising interest rates to try and curb inflation. But the job market doesn't seem to be listening. Why?

HORSLEY: Yeah. The job market didn't get the memo. Employers just keep hiring and hiring month after month. It looked like they were slowing down a little bit in October and November and December. But then along comes January, and the job market got a second wind and blew past expectations with 517,000 jobs added, almost twice as many as the month before.

RASCOE: And that is a huge number. I mean, pre-pandemic, post-pandemic, that is big. Like, are analysts saying why?

HORSLEY: Well, there are some seasonal factors that may have inflated that number a bit. But, you know, we also got an annual update from the Labor Department yesterday based on more complete information that shows job growth over the last two years was significantly stronger than initially reported. So even if you discount the January number, the job market still has a lot of momentum. At the White House yesterday, President Biden noted that in the 24 months he's been in office, the economy has added more than 12 million jobs.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That's the strongest two years of job growth in history by a long shot. As my dad used to say, a job's about a lot more than the paycheck. It's about your dignity.

HORSLEY: All those extra paychecks could give a lift to the economy. However, there is also a concern that workers' rising wages could make it harder to bring inflation under control.

RASCOE: So what is happening with wages?

HORSLEY: Wages in January were up about 4.5% from a year ago. That's actually the smallest annual increase since the summer of 2021. So wage growth has cooled off a bit, but wages are still climbing faster than the Federal Reserve would like. You know, of course, workers are happy when their wages go up, but the Fed is concerned that rising wages could fuel higher prices, and that would force the central bank to push interest rates even higher as it tries to get a handle on inflation.

RASCOE: So how are financial markets reacting to that?

HORSLEY: You know, it's interesting. Last year, a really strong jobs report like this probably would have caused the stock market to tank because investors would have been worried about those inflationary effects and how the Fed would respond with higher interest rates. But yesterday, the markets pretty much shrugged off this report. Stocks were down a bit for the day, but both the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq ended up for the week. Economist Sarah House of Wells Fargo says maybe investors are thinking a little bit differently now.

SARAH HOUSE: Maybe markets are seeing good news as good news again for a change. And at the end of the day, I think the fact that we're still adding so many jobs, and that's good for consumer demand - maybe it's being viewed as good for just the economy's overall growth prospects.

HORSLEY: Fed Chairman Jerome Powell did warn this week that the battle over inflation is not over. He says there's still work to do to get prices under control. But here's some more good news. For the last few months, wages have been going up faster than prices, and that means those paychecks the president talked about are stretching farther. That's the opposite of what was happening for much of the last year.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

Thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


RASCOE: In California's San Joaquin Valley on Friday, two suspected gang members were arrested in the January killing of six people, including a teen mother and her 10-month-old baby.

SIMON: The shooting happened during a month when California struggled with mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay as well. NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us.

Eric, thanks for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good to be here, Scott.

SIMON: This horrifying crime occurred just before two other mass shootings in California, but it did not get the same amount of attention. Please remind us of what happened.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, Scott, it really didn't get the same level of attention as those other killings. Locally, in Goshen, there were no, you know, candlelight vigils or community gatherings perhaps because it was seen as this, you know, targeted, likely drug-related, killing. And at a press conference Friday, the Tulare County sheriff played some really chilling 911 tape of the night of this massacre of a frightened woman, you know, imploring the police to hurry up, hurry up, that she hears gunshots, that her boyfriend is shot. That caller survived hiding out in a nearby trailer.

And, Scott, in a truly awful piece of video evidence, the police showed security camera footage of a 16-year-old named Alissa Parraz trying to flee the carnage, carrying her baby son, Nycholas. The video then stops, and Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says both were shot in the head, execution-style, in the street a few feet away from that fence.

SIMON: Eric, what do we know about the suspects, who've been arrested, and how this terrible crime came about?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. Two men were taken in, one after a shootout with ATF agents and local police. The suspects are a 35-year-old named Angel Uriarte and a 25-year-old named Noah Beard. Both lived locally. Uriarte was wounded in the shootout with agents, and he's in the hospital. Police say he's expected to recover. The DA in the case, the local DA, has charged both with six counts of murder and other felony charges. Sheriff Boudreaux alleged that two of the victims were members of the Sureno street and prison gang, and he said both suspects were active members of the rival Norteno street and prison gang.

MIKE BOUDREAUX: The suspects and the victims have a long history of gang violence - heavily active in guns, gang violence, gun violence and narcotics dealings. However, having said that, the motive is not exactly clear at this point.

SIMON: Eric, what was the apparent break in the investigation three weeks after the crime?

WESTERVELT: The police say that the ATF and the FBI helped a lot breaking the case in sending DNA evidence from the scene back to Washington to get analyzed. They said that was the big break. The sheriffs then said they were under video surveillance for several weeks.

I went to where the murder happened, Scott. It's this dusty area between a highway and the train tracks. I talked with a woman named Connie Hernandez. She's lived in Goshen for 50 years, was friends with one of the victims. She told me in her view, there's been a sort of breakdown in community there. People don't talk to each other much anymore. And she called the killings tragic, but not really shocking.

CONNIE HERNANDEZ: I believe that it's a wake-up call for everyone because it's not only Goshen; it's everywhere. And it's increasing more and more. And if we don't walk and try to do good to people and get involved in gangs and get involved with the wrong people, that's bound to happen sooner or later.

SIMON: Eric, the sheriff and the district attorney have been outspoken in saying that they believe the killer should face the death penalty, which, of course, at the moment, is not possible in California. Why does this keep coming up?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, I mean, the Central Valley is, generally, Scott, a far more conservative, more Republican part of California. The local DA and the sheriff, you know, Friday, called again for Gov. Gavin Newsom to end the moratorium on capital punishment he imposed in 2019. That's highly unlikely to happen. Newsom's opposition is strong. This is, you know, something that, in his view, disproportionately hurts minorities and the poor and is not a deterrent. But the sheriff comes back and says these alleged gang members killed a 10-month-old. They're the worst of the worst, and we should rethink that opposition.

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt, thanks so much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome, Scott.


RASCOE: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, February 4, 2023. I'm Ayesha Rascoe.

SIMON: And I'm Scott Simon. UP FIRST is back tomorrow with a new season of NPR's White Lies, the story unravelling a long tale of immigration and indefinite detention sparked at a federal prison in Alabama.

RASCOE: And there's more news, interviews, books and music this weekend on the radio. Weekend Edition airs every Saturday and Sunday morning. Find your NPR station at


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