By Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has reached a deal with its main financier China to improve the conditions of an oil-for-loans deal, giving the OPEC member's crisis-hit economy "oxygen" ahead of heavy debt payments, its top economic official said on Monday. Venezuelan Economy Vice-President Miguel Perez told Reuters that all conditions, including loan time frames, investment amounts and non-financial aspects, had been improved. China has lent some $50 billion to Venezuela in that arrangement over the last decade, and markets are watching to see if Beijing will help President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government as it struggles with recession, shortages and reduced oil revenue. "Today we can say that we've agreed to new commercial conditions that are adapted to the country's reality," Perez said in an interview in his office at the Industry Ministry, which he also heads. He declined to elaborate. Better terms with China would be hugely useful for Venezuela, given that low oil prices means the South American country would be required to send more barrels to meet its obligations. Oil is trading at nearly $50, about half the levels in mid-2014, although prices have risen almost 80 percent this year. "This will give the country important oxygen to go forward," added Perez, a former industry association leader who became economy czar in February, replacing a hard-line socialist who lasted only a month. Beijing officials could not immediately be reached for comment. When asked earlier on Monday about possible aid to Caracas, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said Venezuela's economic crisis was a domestic matter. Perez said the improved China deal, as well as a steep cut to imports and a new, weaker foreign exchange rate, would help Venezuela crawl out of a "very complicated" semester. The economy is likely to remain in recession until the end of 2017, he added. Venezuela's struggling state-led economic model and the fall in oil prices have triggered severe shortages of food and medicine, triple-digit annual inflation, and a slowdown in local business activity.[L2N18A0SS] Maduro blames an "economic war" launched by right-wing businessmen and opposition politicians seeking to sabotage him. POSSIBLE PDVSA REFINANCING The dire economic situation has led to market speculation that Venezuela, with the world's biggest oil reserves, or its state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] could default. Perez reiterated that all debt commitments would be honored and that any refinancing of PDVSA debt would be good for bondholders. The company's president has said PDVSA, which must pay around $4 billion this year to service debt, was in talks with international banks over refinancing debt. Perez said Venezuela could offer assets to guarantee bonds issued under a potential refinancing. Prioritizing its debt payments, Venezuela has slashed shipments in the last two years, with 2016 imports set to fall to $16 billion, the official said. That compares with $28 billion in the first three quarters of 2015, according to official data. Some 75 percent of 2016 imports will be financed at the most favorable exchange rate, currently at 10 bolivars to the dollar, Perez added. Venezuela has two official exchange rates, with the bolivar having weakened past 400 per dollar on the new second system. "We're searching for exchange rate equilibrium," Perez said of that system known as DICOM. The greenback is worth nearly 1,100 bolivars on the black market. Some $4 billion to $5 billion in mining investment is expected from companies by year-end, Perez added, a slower time frame than forecast early this year. Venezuela has already secured a roughly $400 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, he said. "There is nothing we're not exploring," Perez said. Venezuela is not considering refinancing its sovereign bonds, though it is not closed to the possibility, he added. SHORTAGES, UNREST Perez is seen as more inclined toward reform than other factions of the ruling Socialist Party. But many economists express doubt he could turn around Venezuela given the severity of its crisis. Inflation hit 180.9 percent and the economy contracted 5.7 percent last year, according to central bank figures, and unofficial estimates for this year paint an even gloomier picture. The opposition is working toward a recall referendum against Maduro, whom they say is pushing Venezuela toward a humanitarian disaster. As protests, looting and anti-government sentiment increase, U.S. intelligence officials said last week Maduro might not finish his term. The president responded on Friday night by declaring a state of emergency, citing alleged plots from Venezuela and the United States to subvert him. [L2N18B014] Over the weekend Maduro added the government would take over idled factories, stoking rumors that Polar, the country's largest food and beverage maker, might be targeted. The company had recently shut down several factories due to a lack of raw materials. But Perez said the measure was "preventive and dissuasive" and so far, the government had not found factories halting production without a valid explanation. An increase in costs for price-fixed goods would stimulate output and ease shortages in the next month, he added. "We've gone through the most difficult period," he said, defying many forecasts of even worse times ahead. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Richard Chang)
- The Independent
‘There was a protocol breach when the front doors were not held open’
- National Review
Biden Admonishes Reporter for Questioning Whether Vaccine Goal Is Ambitious Enough: ‘Give Me a Break’
President Biden pushed back on a reporter at a press briefing on Thursday, who questioned whether the new administration’s coronavirus vaccine goal is ambitious enough. Biden has set a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans during his first 100 days in office. During the press conference, Biden called the Trump administration’s distribution of coronavirus vaccines a “dismal failure so far,” warning that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.” However, the seven-day rolling average for coronavirus vaccine doses administered to Americans currently sits at 912,000, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. (On Wednesday alone, 1.6 million doses were administered.) This indicates that the Biden administration is not far from its goal of vaccinating one million Americans per day. On Thursday, Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller asked Biden if the vaccination goal was “high enough,” since “that’s basically where the U.S. is right now.” “When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man,” Biden responded. “It’s a good start, a hundred million.” Internal projections from the Trump administration showed that the U.S. could administer at least 170 million doses by the end of April, two Trump administration officials told Bloomberg. During the press conference, Biden also announced that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to “accelerate the making of everything that’s needed to protect, test, and vaccinate and the care of our people.” Biden warned that the death toll from coronavirus infections would hit 500,000 in February. Over 408,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of Thursday.
- The Telegraph
A Republican congresswoman is facing calls to resign over reports that she helped to spread falsehoods about the Parkland school shooting. Marjorie Taylor Greene reportedly agreed with a conspiracy theory about the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed. Facebook screenshots showed a discussion about why a police officer had not rushed into the building, and someone claimed that the mass shooting was a "false flag planned shooting." Greene replied: “Exactly!" The social media giant later removed the posts after they were reported to them. Cameron Kasky, a former Parkland pupil who co-founded the group Never Again MSD, said: "She should resign. She can apologise. I don’t think anybody will accept it.” The congresswoman was elected in Georgia in November, backed Donald Trump's claims of election fraud, and has previously expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. Fred Guttenberg, who's 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the Parkland shooting, said: "Your feelings on gun laws are irrelevant to your claim that Parkland never happened. You are a fraud who must resign. Be prepared to meet me directly in person to explain your conspiracy theory, and soon." The comments by the politician were first reported by Media Matters for America. In a statement Ms Greene accused Media Matters for America of being "communists' and "fake news". Meanwhile, US Capitol Police were investigating an incident in which a Republican congressman was found carrying a concealed gun while trying to enter the floor of the House of Representatives. Andy Harris, a staunch gun-rights advocate, set off a metal detector going through security on his way to the House floor . Metal detectors were installed outside the chamber to beef up security in the aftermath of the Capitol riots on Jan 6.
America may not have won World War II and landed on the moon later if not for the contributions of a brilliant Chinese scientist named Qian Xuesen. Fearing communist presence after the war, the U.S., however, deported Qian to China, clueless that he would eventually spearhead programs that would target American troops and eventually propel China into space. Born to well-educated parents in 1911, it was evident from an early age that Qian had superior intellect.
- Yahoo News Video
A woman facing charges that she helped steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be released from jail, a federal judge decided Thursday.
- Associated Press
The master tenant of a San Francisco Bay Area warehouse where 36 people perished when a fire ignited during a 2016 dance party pleaded guilty Friday to the deaths, avoiding a second trial after the first ended in a hung jury. Derick Almena, 50, pleaded guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year sentence. Already free on bail, Almena likely won't return to jail because of the nearly three years he already spent behind bars and credit for good behavior.
- The Independent
Sean Hannity denounces Biden’s first week as ‘disastrous’ before the president completed a full day of work
‘The Biden administration is off to a very rocky start,’ Fox News host says
"He said: 'Choose, either I kill you or rape you'," the 25-year-old told Reuters at the Hamdayet refugee camp in Sudan where she had fled from conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region. The doctor who treated her when she arrived at the camp in December, Tewadrous Tefera Limeuh, confirmed to Reuters that he provided pills to stop pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, and guided her to a psychotherapist. "The soldier ... forced a gun on her and raped her," Limeuh, who was volunteering with the Sudanese Red Crescent, said the woman told him.
- National Review
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) vowed that any Congressman found to have aided rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 would be prosecuted, in remarks to reporters on Thursday. Pelosi’s comments came several days after Representative Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) implied that Representative Lauren Boebert (R., Fla.) may have aided rioters, saying he saw her giving a tour of the Capitol about two days prior to the event. Boebert has received criticism for her support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, however no evidence has emerged that she aided rioters. Speaker Pelosi on House lawmaker involvement in the 1/6 Capitol insurrection: "Everything has to be based on evidence … There will be prosecution, if they aided and abetted an insurrection in which people died." pic.twitter.com/OxtZLBAomy — The Recount (@therecount) January 21, 2021 “Everything has to be based on evidence, and that remains to be seen,” Pelosi said on Thursday. “If people did aid and abet [the riots], there will be more than just comments from their colleagues here: there will be prosecution, if they aided and abetted an insurrection in which people died.” However, Pelosi added, “that is something you have to collect evidence for as you proceed.” Rioters managed to overrun Capitol police and forced lawmakers to evacuate the building or shelter in place, interrupting the certification of the Electoral College results. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) blamed former President Trump for provoking the riots in a floor speech on Tuesday. “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government that they did not like,” McConnell said. However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that he does not think Trump incited the riot. “I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally,” McCarthy said. The comments appear to contradict remarks made by McCarthy last week, in which he said Trump “bears responsibility” for the riots.
- The Telegraph
Families who lost relatives during Wuhan's initial outbreak of coronavirus are being blocked in their legal efforts to hold the Chinese authorities responsible for the deaths, one year after lockdown first went in place at ground zero of the pandemic. Five families accuse the municipal and provincial governments for covering up the outbreak, neglecting to notify the public, and failing to act swiftly, causing infections to explode. More than two million people globally have died from coronavirus. The Telegraph has interviewed four of the five trying to bring unprecedented lawsuits, most of whom are seeking 2 million yuan (£226,000) each in reparations. They told this newspaper of a campaign of harassment and denial of justice. Chinese courts have rejected all lawsuits they have tried to file, though they continue to persist by attempting to sue at higher courts, defying government threats that have scared dozens of others into giving up. Pursuing their cases poses immense risks as they’re challenging China’s official narrative, which claims authorities acted swiftly and with transparency to contain Covid-19, glossing over missteps and the silencing of whistleblowers.
- NBC News
A woman has been arrested and charged with murder after the dismembered remains of her missing roommate, Talina Galloway, were found in a freezer in the woods of Polk County, Arkansas last week. Talina, 53, was reported missing by her roommate, Kore Bommeli on April 17, 2020. Talina’s remains were found in the freezer on January 14, 2021. Bommeli, who has been a person of interest throughout the investigation, was located in Wisconsin and faces charges of murder and desecration of a corpse. Th
With the dawn of the Biden administration comes Cholleti Vinay Reddy, the country’s first Indian American presidential speechwriter. Reddy’s roots originate from Pothireddypeta, a rural village in the Indian state of Telangana, whose residents have been celebrating his latest milestone: Biden’s inaugural address. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Reddy is believed to have acquired his political acumen from his grandfather, Tirupathi, who served as the village sarpanch (head) for 30 years.
Donald Trump issued a list of pardons during his final hours as U.S. president but did not include himself, his children, or personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, even though advisers said he had privately debated the extraordinary step of a self-pardon. What may have guided Trump's decision not to pardon himself and members of his inner circle? Presidential pardons can only accomplish so much.
- The Telegraph
Spain will be “more ready” to welcome holidaymakers once 70 per cent of the country are vaccinated at the end of the summer, the PM has said, casting doubt on travel plans this year. Pime Minister Pedro Sánchez echoed other government ministers in saying that this threshold would probably not be reached until the end of August. “The government is working to vaccinate at the highest possible rate […] to reach the end of the summer with 70 per cent, which will leave Spain progressively more ready to receive international tourists”, Mr Sánchez said at a World Tourism Organization event in Madrid this week. “The tourism recovery begins with vaccination. And full recovery, with full vaccination,” the Spanish leader stated, leaving the door open for some easing of restrictions before the 70 per cent safety level is reached. But Spain’s tourism and industry minister, Reyes Maroto, stepped in on Friday to reassure the sector that plans were afoot to save at least part of the summer season. “We hope that at the end of spring and especially during the summer, international travel will resume and travellers will choose Spain as their destination,” Ms Maroto said. Mr Sánchez said Spain’s Covid vaccination campaign was going well and was “one of the best in Europe”, but a considerable acceleration will be required to protect 70 per cent of the population in time to restart the country’s stalled tourism sector this year. After nearly four weeks since the start of the vaccination campaign, Spain has delivered 1.1 million jabs, equalling just over two per cent of the population, with very few having had their second injection. Before the Covid pandemic, tourism represented 12 per cent of the Spanish economy, with close to 84 million international arrivals in 2019. Spain is one of several European Union countries supporting the introduction of a system of Covid vaccine passports to allow people who have been inoculated to travel. “This would be a shared and reliable framework to help avoid indiscriminate measures such as quarantines and travel bans,” Ms Maroto said. It came as Belgium’s consultation committee banned non-essential travel to and from the country from January 27 to March 1 on Friday. Alexander De Croo, the prime minister, had said he wanted to impose the ban at Thursday’s video summit of EU leaders. Belgian media reported his mind was made up after 160,000 travelled abroad for the Christmas holidays despite warnings not to do so. All travellers from the UK, South Africa and South America will have to go into quarantine for 10 days and be tested on the first and seventh day. Non-residents will have to be tested on departure and arrival “Let this be clear: we are not building a wall around our country,” said Mr De Croo. “Coming and going is still possible, but there will have to be a good reason.” Meanwhile France is to make PCR tests compulsory for all travellers into the country, including from fellow EU countries, starting Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron's office confirmed yesterday/FRI The rule, which is already in place for people travelling between the UK and France, applies to all but cross-border workers and land transportation. The new restrictions come as a top French epidemiologist and government adviser warned that the country will have to resort to a strict lockdown like those in Ireland and Britain if it fails to rein in the more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
- The Independent
Judge denies release for 26-year-old accused of taking part in the deadly Capitol attacks then returning to Washington on Inauguration Day
- Architectural Digest
800 feet up in the sky, the Dreamy 6,000 square foot space offers panoramic views from the East River to the HudsonOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- National Review
President Joe Biden is planning to run for a second term in 2024, according to Senator Chris Coons (D., Del.), a close ally to Biden. “He is planning to run again,” Coons told Politico’s Transition Playbook last weekend. “He knows that we are at the middle of an absolute turning point, a pivot point in American history. And he’s up for the challenge.” Whether Biden will seek a second term has been the subject of much speculation as the Democrat, at 78 years old, became the oldest candidate ever elected to the presidency. Biden’s decision to run for a second term will be of great consequence to those in his party who may look to run after his time in office has ended, including Vice President Kamala Harris. According to Politico, some outside advisers have encouraged the president to declare or file for reelection immediately to silence any lame-duck talk, as former President Donald Trump did on Inauguration Day in 2017. Biden’s team has instead insisted that Biden should focus on COVID-19 and economic recovery efforts rather than 2024. Biden reportedly signaled to aides in December 2019 that he was considering serving just one term or making a one-term pledge, according to Ryan Lizza. Though Biden pushed back against those reports saying, “I don’t have any plans on one term.” After his primary win, he told donors that he views himself as a “transition candidate,” acting as a bridge to a younger generation of leadership. However, aides to Biden say he has been emboldened by his election win, according to Politico. Every newly elected president has run for reelection since Grover Cleveland in 1988 — Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman did not run a second time but served partial terms after the deaths of their predecessors, before winning election.
- The Week
Majority of House GOP reportedly supports removing Liz Cheney from leadership after impeachment vote
House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney is facing an internal resistance after splitting from her party on former President Donald Trump's impeachment.Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, was one of only a handful of Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting the Capitol riot. More than a majority of GOP House members have since indicated they'd support ousting Cheney from her leadership spot, while at least two other Republicans have lined up to replace her, Politico reports.At least 107 House members — more than half the caucus — privately support removing Cheney from power, multiple GOP sources involved in the effort told Politico. Meanwhile New York Reps. Elise Stefanik and Lee Zeldin, who defended Trump during both of his impeachments, are reportedly looking to replace her.House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have said they don't intend to remove Cheney. But McCarthy also echoed Republicans' reported anger that Cheney voiced her support of impeachment the day before the House vote, giving Democrats time to use her views in their own arguments. "Questions need to be answered," such as the "style in which things were delivered," McCarthy told reporters Thursday.Many other Republicans, including some who voted against impeachment, meanwhile don't want Cheney removed just for "vot[ing] her conscience," as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) put it. Others argue removing Cheney would fly in the face of the party's unification message in the post-Trump era — something Cheney herself is trying to counter by making "making calls to all corners of the conference to hear lawmakers out," Politico reports.More stories from theweek.com McConnell is already moving to strangle the Biden presidency 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Nearly 200 National Guard members have reportedly gotten COVID-19 since the Capitol riot
- Associated Press
The three National Guard members killed when a helicopter crashed in an upstate New York field this week were experienced pilots with past deployments to Afghanistan, officials said Friday. Killed in the crash were Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, 54, of Rochester, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, 39, of Honeoye Falls, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial, 30 of Rochester, according to the National Guard.
- The Telegraph
The South African Covid variant could make current vaccines 50 per cent less effective, Matt Hancock has claimed. In video footage of a webinar with travel agents, the Health Secretary warned that the importation of the variant could ruin Britain's vaccination drive and send the country "back to square one" without tough travel restrictions. Mr Hancock is among a number of ministers pushing for tougher travel restrictions modelled on Australia and New Zealand, which have closed their borders to non-residents and require all returning nationals to quarantine in Government-approved hotels. Speaking ahead of a Cabinet Covid-O Cabinet meeting at which ministers will consider similar UK border closures and quarantine hotels, Mr Hancock admitted that the data showing the South African variant reduced vaccine efficacy by 50 per cent was not certain "so I wouldn’t say this in public". He added: "Nevertheless, if you vaccinate the entire population and then you get in a new variant that evaded the vaccine, then you'd be back to square one. And so tougher international restrictions are the price that, for instance, Australia has paid for stronger domestic protection, as in more life getting back to normal domestically."