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Month: September 2023

With US Federal Shutdown Looming, House Leader Changes Tactics

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U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy dramatically changed tactics Saturday, offering a bill that would fund the government for 45 days, something members of his Republican caucus oppose.

To pass the bill, he will need the help of Democratic members of the House. If McCarthy and the Democrats succeed, they would keep the government from shutting down — although only if the Senate goes along and President Joe Biden signs before midnight.

McCarthy’s maneuver comes after Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a short-term spending measure Friday, increasing the chances of a government shutdown when funding runs out at 12 midnight Saturday.

“We’re going to do our job,” McCarthy said after the morning meeting. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.”

Across the Capitol, the Senate met in a rare weekend session, hoping to advance its own stopgap plan. If each chamber passes its own bill, they will have to be reconciled before the midnight deadline. One of the sticking points between the two bills is funding for Ukraine.

McCarthy said Friday that passing a short-term funding deal was critical to maintaining security at the U.S.- Mexico border and would buy lawmakers crucial time to negotiate spending priorities, but the measure was defeated by the most conservative members of his Republican Party.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, McCarthy later said another spending bill that originated in the Senate has no chance of winning House approval.

A U.S. government shutdown looked more and more inevitable for Sunday as lawmakers remained at odds over the size of the U.S. budget for the next 12 months, continued aid for Ukraine to fight Russia, immigration controls at the U.S.-Mexican border, and social welfare programs to help impoverished Americans.

Asked about the looming shutdown in an interview with the nonprofit news outlet ProPublica, President Joe Biden Friday cast blame on hardline Republicans.

“There is a group of MAGA Republicans who genuinely want to have a fundamental change to the way the system works, and that’s what worries me the most,” Biden said in the excerpt released by ProPublica. The full interview is to be released Sunday.

Earlier Friday, McCarthy put a short-term continuing resolution, known as a CR, up for a House vote, calling it “a stopgap measure that will fund the government and secure the border.”

But the resolution was defeated by a vote of 232-198, with 21 Republicans joining a united Democratic opposition. Even if the measure would have passed the Republican-majority House, it would have faced little chance of passage in the Democratic-majority Senate.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said after Friday’s vote that the Republicans “tried a partisan continuing resolution and they failed.”

“And,” Jeffries said, “there was no way out of their Republican civil war. The only path forward is to partner with House Democrats in a bipartisan way. And we’re prepared to do just that.”

The Senate is working on a seven-week funding plan that would keep the government fully open through mid-November to give lawmakers more time to set spending levels through next September. The bipartisan legislation allocates $6 billion in supplemental aid for the war in Ukraine and for disaster relief in the United States, two sticking points for conservatives in the House.

Government agencies Thursday morning began notifying workers a shutdown could be in the offing.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young told White House reporters Friday a government shutdown could cost the U.S. economy $26 billion.

“The hope is, though, during a shutdown, if that happens, the economy would be able to pick that GDP loss up in the next quarter. So, it may not be a permanent loss, but why risk our economy for a manufactured shutdown? All a problem within one conference in Congress,” she said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned lawmakers earlier this week about the dire effects of shutting down part of the government, especially difficulties in controlling the influx of migrants at the country’s southern border with Mexico.

“Shutting down the government is not like pressing pause,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “It’s not an interlude that lets us pick up where we left off. It’s an actively harmful proposition. And instead of producing any meaningful policy outcomes, it would actually take the important progress being made on a number of key issues and drag it backward.”

If a short-term funding deal cannot be reached, more than 4 million U.S. military service personnel and government workers would not be paid, although essential services, such as air traffic control and official border entry points, would still be staffed. Pensioners might not get their monthly government payments in time to pay bills and buy groceries, and national parks could be closed.

Such shutdowns have occurred four times in the last decade in the U.S., but often have lasted just a day or two until lawmakers reached a compromise to fully restart government operations. However, one shutdown that occurred during the administration of former President Donald Trump lasted 35 days, as he unsuccessfully sought funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“This does look very chaotic, but this is not the first time it’s happened,” Todd Belt, director of the school of political management at George Washington University, told VOA. “There is a price that has to be paid here. But that is the price of democracy. It does seem very messy sometimes. But eventually, usually you get some compromise.”

McCarthy reached a deal in May with Biden on spending levels for fiscal 2024, but a small faction of far-right House Republicans rejected the deal and now is demanding further spending cuts.

The McCarthy-Biden deal called for $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024, but some of the right-wing members of the House Freedom Caucus are demanding another $120 billion in cuts and further border controls.

The cuts would be a relatively small portion of the overall $6.4 trillion U.S. budget and would not affect pension payments or government-provided health insurance for older Americans.

The Senate’s short-term spending plan through mid-November could win passage in the House, but only with a mix of Republican and Democratic votes, jeopardizing McCarthy’s speakership.

“Many of these hard-right Republicans who are opposed to any sort of deal or bipartisanship are likely not going to get what they want, because they keep asking for more,” Belt told VOA.

“Ultimately, I think that McCarthy is going to have to make a deal with House Democrats in order to pass these deals,” he said. “And if he does that — and he did that once to get the spending limit set — when he did these initial negotiations, those Republicans were very angry with him. They’d be angry with him again.”

Biden told a group of donors at a fundraiser in San Francisco on Wednesday, “I think that the speaker is making a choice between [retaining] the speakership and American interests.”

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Factory Activity in China Grows for First Time in 6 Months

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China’s factory activity in September recorded its first expansion in six months, an official survey said Saturday, providing another sign that the world’s second-largest economy is gradually improving after its post-pandemic malaise.

According to the government statistics bureau and an official industry group, the monthly purchasing managers’ index rose to 50.2 this month from 49.7 in August measured on a 100-point scale. Numbers above 50 indicate activity is increasing.

Measures of production, new orders and employment all rose from August, the National Bureau of Statistics and the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said. But the bureau’s senior statistician, Zhao Qinghe, said the manufacturing industry still faces some difficulties in its recovery and development.

Since China lifted its tough COVID-19 restrictions, its leaders have been trying to boost the economy with a series of measures and promising to support entrepreneurs who generate jobs and wealth.

Performances in some sectors have shown improvements, including in factory output and retail sales. But China’s property crisis is still dragging on its economic growth.

Official data says the index measuring nonmanufacturing commercial activities grew to 51.7 from August’s 51. The composite index rose to 52 from 51.3.

Zhao said the improvement indicated by the latest indexes suggests the level of economic activity is rebounding. As government policies take effect, positive economic factors are increasing, he said.

However, China’s economic rebound remained uneven. Real estate developers are struggling to repay heavy debts in a time of slack demand. Last month, investment in real estate fell 8.8% from the year before.

The heavily indebted Chinese property developer China Evergrande Group Investment suspended trading in its shares Thursday in Hong Kong. It said authorities had informed it that its chairman, Hui Ka Yan, was subjected to “mandatory measures in accordance with the law due to suspicion of illegal crimes.”

Observers are watching how other near-term data will play out, including those on consumer spending during the eight-day autumn holiday period that began Friday. The break — which covered the Mid-Autumn Festival Friday and includes National Day on Sunday — is the longest week of public holidays since COVID rules were eased in December.

China State Railway Group Co. recorded a record daily high of 20 million passenger rail trips Friday, official news agency Xinhua reported.

China’s economy grew at a 6.3% annual pace in the second quarter of 2023, much slower than the 7%-plus growth that analysts had forecast based on the anemic pace of activity the year before. Roughly 1 in 5 young workers is unemployed — a record high that adds to pressures on consumer spending.

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«Зв’язки набагато міцніші»: словацький міністр оборони про те, чи вплинуть вибори у Словаччині на військову допомогу Україні

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Зв’язки між Україною та Словаччиною набагато міцніші, ніж просто політичні. Таку думку висловив міністр оборони Словаччини Мартін Скленар під час Міжнародного форуму оборонних індустрій у Києві.

Про це він сказав, відповідаючи на запитання журналістки Радіо Свобода, як парламентські вибори у Словаччині можуть вплинути на військову допомогу Україні.

У суботу, 30 вересня, у Словаччині проходять парламентські вибори і до влади може повернутися Роберт Фіцо, словацький експрем’єр із проросійськими поглядами. Його партія має високий рівень підтримки.

Як раніше повідомляло Радіо Свобода, під час передвиборчої кампанії Фіцо виключив збільшення поставок словацьких озброєнь Україні, відкинув нові санкції ЄС проти Росії, поставив під сумнів можливість вступу України до НАТО і повторив кремлівські наративи про війну, наприклад, про те, що НАТО спровокувало конфлікт і що він почався, коли, як він нещодавно висловився: «українські нацисти і фашисти почали вбивати російських громадян на Донбасі та в Луганську».

Мартін Скленар висловив сподівання, що словаки таки оберуть євроатлантичну орієнтацію Словаччини.

«Подивимося як усе складеться, звичайно. Але я впевнений, що словацький народ віддасть свої голоси на користь євроатлантичної орієнтації Словаччини, як це було в минулі роки, власне, в останні 20, а то й 30 років. Це була наша орієнтація відколи Словаччина стала незалежною. Ми мали мету бути в Європейському Союзі та НАТО та використовувати ті переваги та можливості, які це нам дає. Я впевнений, що люди це розуміють, і за це проголосують», – зазначив словацький міністр оборони.

Щодо підтримки України він заявив – буде продовжуватися. Оскільки з Україною Словаччину пов’язує, зокрема, промислова співпраця.

«У будь-якому випадку та підтримка, яку ми вже надали Україні, тут є конкретна допомога, але є також промислова співпраця, яка буде продовжуватися, тому що зв’язки набагато міцніші, ніж просто політичні», – висловив переконання Мартін Скленар.

Зокрема, у липні на спільній пресконференції з президенткою Словаччини Зюзаною Чапутовою, президент України Володимир Зеленський повідомив, що Україна і Словаччина підписали контракт на постачання 16 САУ Zuzana 2.

Дві самохідні гаубиці Zuzana 2 Словаччина передала Україні у серпні, повідомляло українське посольство у цій країні.

«Ми вже передали перші дві з 16 одиниць Susanna 2, які мають бути доставлені в Україну. Над рештою компанія працює, і в міру виходу з виробництва вони будуть передаватися траншами за контрактом», – пояснив словацький міністр оборони.


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Categories: Новини, Світ

Food Prices Rising Due to Climate Change, El Nino, and Russia’s War

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How do you cook a meal when a staple ingredient is unaffordable? 

This question is playing out in households around the world as they face shortages of essential foods like rice, cooking oil and onions. That is because countries have imposed restrictions on the food they export to protect their own supplies from the combined effect of the war in Ukraine, El Nino’s threat to food production and increasing damage from climate change. 

For Caroline Kyalo, a 28-year-old who works in a salon in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, it was a question of trying to figure out how to cook for her two children without onions. Restrictions on the export of the vegetable by neighboring Tanzania has led prices to triple. 

Kyalo initially tried to use spring onions instead, but those also got too expensive. As did the prices of other necessities, like cooking oil and corn flour. 

“I just decided to be cooking once a day,” she said. 

Despite the East African country’s fertile lands and large workforce, the high cost of growing and transporting produce and the worst drought in decades led to a drop in local production. Plus, people preferred red onions from Tanzania because they were cheaper and lasted longer. By 2014, Kenya was getting half of its onions from its neighbor, according to a U.N. Food Agriculture Organization report. 

At Nairobi’s major food market, Wakulima, the prices for onions from Tanzania were the highest in seven years, seller Timothy Kinyua said. 

Some traders have adjusted by getting produce from Ethiopia, and others have switched to selling other vegetables, but Kinyua is sticking to onions. 

“It’s something we can’t cook without,” he said. 

Tanzania’s onion limits this year are part of the “contagion” of food restrictions from countries spooked by supply shortages and increased demand for their produce, said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. 

Globally, 41 food export restrictions from 19 countries are in effect, ranging from outright bans to taxes, according to the institute. 

India banned shipments of some rice earlier this year, resulting in a shortfall of roughly a fifth of global exports. Neighboring Myanmar, the world’s fifth-biggest rice supplier, responded by stopping some exports of the grain. 

India also restricted shipments of onions after erratic rainfall — fueled by climate change — damaged crops. This sent prices in neighboring Bangladesh soaring, and authorities are scrambling to find new sources for the vegetable. 

Elsewhere, a drought in Spain took its toll on olive oil production. As European buyers turned to Turkey, olive oil prices soared in the Mediterranean country, prompting authorities there to restrict exports. Morocco, also coping with a drought ahead of its recent deadly earthquake, stopped exporting onions, potatoes and tomatoes in February. 

This isn’t the first time food prices have been in a tumult. Prices for staples like rice and wheat more than doubled in 2007-2008, but the world had ample food stocks it could draw on and was able to replenish those in subsequent years. 

But that cushion has shrunk in the past two years, and climate change means food supplies could very quickly run short of demand and spike prices, said Glauber, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“I think increased volatility is certainly the new normal,” he said. 

Food prices worldwide, experts say, will be determined by the interplay of three factors: how El Nino plays out and how long it lasts, whether bad weather damages crops and prompts more export restrictions, and the future of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food, especially to developing nations where food prices have risen and people are going hungry. 

An El Nino is a natural phenomenon that shifts global weather patterns and can result in extreme weather, ranging from drought to flooding. While scientists believe climate change is making this El Nino stronger, its exact impact on food production is impossible to glean until after it’s occurred. 

The early signs are worrying. 

India experienced its driest August in a century, and Thailand is facing a drought that has sparked fears about the world’s sugar supplies. The two are the largest exporters of sugar after Brazil. 

Less rainfall in India also dashed food exporters’ hopes that the new rice harvest in October would end the trade restrictions and stabilize prices. 

“It doesn’t look like [rice] prices will be coming down anytime soon,” said Aman Julka, director of Wesderby India Private Limited. 

Most at risk are nations that rely heavily on food imports. The Philippines, for instance, imports 14% of its food, according to the World Bank, and storm damage to crops could mean further shortfalls. Rice prices surged 8.7% in August from a year earlier, more than doubling from 4.2% in July. 

Food store owners in the capital of Manila are losing money, with prices increasing rapidly since September 1 and customers who used to snap up supplies in bulk buying smaller quantities. 

“We cannot save money anymore. It is like we just work so that we can have food daily,” said Charina Em, 32, who owns a store in the Trabajo market. 

Cynthia Esguerra, 66, has had to choose between food or medicine for her high cholesterol, gallstones and urinary issues. Even then, she can only buy half a kilo of rice at a time — insufficient for her and her husband. 

“I just don’t worry about my sickness. I leave it up to God. I don’t buy medicines anymore, I just put it there to buy food, our loans,” she said. 

The climate risks aren’t limited to rice but apply to anything that needs stable rainfall to thrive, including livestock, said Elyssa Kaur Ludher, a food security researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Vegetables, fruit trees and chickens will all face heat stress, raising the risk that food will spoil, she said. 

This constricts food supplies further, and if grain exports from Ukraine aren’t resolved, there will be additional shortages in feed for livestock and fertilizer, Ludher said. 

Russia’s July withdrawal from a wartime agreement that ensured ships could safely transport Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea was a blow to global food security, largely leaving only expensive and divisive routes through Europe for the war-torn country’s exports. 

The conflict also has hurt Ukraine’s agricultural production, with analysts saying farmers aren’t planting nearly as much corn and wheat. 

“This will affect those who already feel food affordability stresses,” Ludher said. 

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Bangkok’s New Chinatown Offers Mixed Bag of Economic Changes

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At sunset, Bangkok’s Huai Khwang district comes alive with Chinese-speaking pedestrians bustling to their favorite hot pot restaurants among the many lining Pracharat Bamphen Road.

The hungry parade is just one indication of how an influx of Chinese residents is transforming the 15-square-kilometer (5.8-square-mile) neighborhood in the city’s eastern reaches, with new arrivals restoring the pre-pandemic inflow.

With the Chinese Embassy in nearby Din Daeng exerting a magnet-like force for Huai Khwang, local Thais now call the area “New Chinatown.” Some refer to it as a special administration region of China, akin to Hong Kong or Macao, dubbing it the “Taiguo.”

And although Thailand celebrates the new year, or Songkran, on April 13, Huai Khwang district officials held a Lunar New Year celebration on January 19 this year to recognize the changing demographics.

The changes are coming with challenges, analysts say. Rising rents and prices for residential and commercial properties reflect the arrival of Chinese emigrants who are willing, and able, to pay more than local Thais, many of whom now face a housing affordability crunch.

Patcharee Pabua, a 42-year-old employee of a nonprofit organization, has lived and worked in Huai Khwang for more than seven years. She has seen the neighborhood change in real time — before, during and after the pandemic — as the area transformed from a Thai neighborhood to a Chinese enclave.

“When COVID-19 initially hit, many Chinese individuals returned to China, and Chinese-owned businesses closed down,” she said. “However, they returned once the COVID situation improved. Now, it’s difficult to spot Thai restaurants along Pracharat Bamphen street. It’s predominantly Chinese restaurants.”

The arrival of so many Chinese businesses, almost every one of them with a Thai partner to meet restrictions on foreign ownership, has driven up land rental prices.

Unable to compete with deep-pocketed Chinese expats, many Thai business owners who can’t afford the higher rents go out of business. Only local Thais who operate food stalls that don’t require rented land are surviving, according to longtime Huai Khwang residents.

Pabua said that the rising prices are centered on condominium costs. Lower-tier apartments are still relatively affordable for Thais, with monthly rents ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 baht, she said, or about $82 to $273.

This price range suits many Thais, whose average monthly income is around $382, according to the Department of Employment’s statistics. Those prices also attract Chinese nationals, who make up roughly 50% of the residents in her apartment complex, Pabua estimated.

Bangkok condo rents, which decreased during the pandemic, have now surged to new highs. Data from The List, a real estate site, from February 2020, show a median monthly rent in Huai Khwang of $409. As of May 1, 2023, the rental prices for all condominiums in Huai Khwang averaged around $622, according to property aggregator Dotproperty.

Former real estate agent Chitipat Inna, who specializes in representing properties in Huai Khwang and nearby areas, said that most of his rental clients are Chinese, often seeking short-term leases of three to six months.

Chinese buyers appear undeterred by the rising prices.

Pabua, whose apartment in Huai Kwang costs $136 per month, said, “It’s no surprise that most condo renters are Chinese, as they often have a larger accommodation budget. Many Thais simply can’t afford such rents.”

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Kenya’s Rising Cost of Living Leaves Low-Income Earners Struggling

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Low-income Kenyans have been hit hardest by high inflation, a new report says.

Low-income households experienced a challenging 2022 because of the increased cost of living, said Rose Ngugi, director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, or KIPPRA.

“When food inflation is going up, then everybody is affected, and more so the low-income households, who spend about 60% of their income on food,” Ngugi said. “So, anytime food prices go up, then the cost-of-living increases, and the low-income earners are hit or bear a heavy burden.”

KIPPRA recently released the Kenya Economic Report 2023, which said officials tried this year to reduce 2022’s inflation rate of 9.6% to a range of 2.5% to 7.5%, the targeted range of Kenya’s Central Bank.

The report said 77% of workers earned less than the minimum wage, which covers approximately half of living costs.

Kenyan Finance Minister Njuguna Ndung’u blamed companies’ appetite for monopoly and dominance, which reduces market competition.

“The new administration is concerned with the problems that have led many Kenyans to sink into abject poverty,” Ndung’u said. “One of the identified problems is the market capture, so that those at the bottom of the pyramid do not get returns for their sweat and investment.”

After years of borrowing to finance infrastructure projects such as roads and railways, Kenya now struggles to repay the debt. The current government under President William Ruto emphasizes the importance of robust revenue collection to service the country’s debt and economic development.

Samuel Nyandemo, an economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said the government needs to support citizens by reducing taxes on basic commodities.

“The president means well for this country,” Nyandemo said. “He needs to come out of the box and put away this appetite of borrowing with a view of raising revenue, removing subsidies gradually and, more importantly, reducing certain taxes — particularly taxes relating to increasing the cost of living.

“We need to see the gradual removal of subsidies on maize flour, on oil products, cooking oil and, more importantly, on fuel,” he said.

Kenya had record-high fuel prices in September, with gasoline reaching $1.42 per liter. That price heightened concerns among an already financially burdened population.

The government has asked its creditors, particularly China, for more time to restore economic stability after 10 years of borrowing.

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Білий дім каже, що «ще є шанс» уникнути «шатдауну»

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Білий дім заявив, що все ще можливо уникнути припинення роботи уряду, але вихід із глухого кута залежить від законодавців-республіканців.

«Шанс ще є», – сказала журналістам на брифінгу директор Адміністративно-бюджетного управління Шаланда Янг, яку цитує AFP.

«Я все ще залишаюся оптимістом, оскільки у нас є півтора дня, щоб визначити те, що необхідно для укладення угоди», яку Сенат запропонував республіканцям у Палаті представників, додала вона. 

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Categories: Новини, Світ

Понад 50 людей загинули внаслідок вибухів у двох мечетях Пакистану

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Ціллю вибуху в районі Мастунг, приблизно за 60 кілометрів від столиці провінції Кветти, стала процесія, присвячена святкуванню дня народження пророка Магомета

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Categories: Новини, Світ

«Газпром» скоротив видобуток газу на чверть у першому півріччі 2023 року – звіт

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«Зниження на 24,7% повʼязане з ухваленням у низці країн політично вмотивованих рішень, спрямованих на відмову від імпорту російського газу», – стверджується у звіті компанії

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