By John Ruwitch SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Air pollution levels fell in most cities in China last year, environmental group Greenpeace said on Wednesday, but a humid and windless winter shrouded swaths of the country in choking smog, slowing improvement in the second half. Beijing hoisted its first ever "red alerts" on air pollution in December, when a blanket of humid, still air trapped haze over the capital. The episode followed heavy criticism of the government for inaction during a prior bout of hazardous smog. "Despite Beijing's choking winter of red alerts, data from 2015 clearly shows a continued positive trend in Beijing and across the country," said Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Dong Liansai. "However, air quality across China is still a major health hazard." Annual average levels of PM2.5 - particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can penetrate deep into the lungs - dropped by 10.3 percent last year compared with 2014, Greenpeace said in a report published on Wednesday, citing official data from 189 cities. In the first half of the year, PM2.5 concentrations were down 16 percent from the corresponding 2014 period, the group had reported. Decades of growth-at-all-costs economic development in China has spawned massive problems of air, water and soil pollution that the ruling Communist Party has only in recent years begun to tackle. The challenge is large and the topic sensitive, with thousands of protests sparked every year by concerns about environmental degradation. Uncontrollable environmental factors, such as wind, can also play a role. Beijing's fourth-quarter pollution woes were mirrored elsewhere in northern China, where concentrations of PM2.5 were significantly higher than in 2013 and 2014, Greenpeace said. Even so, Beijing was among roughly 90 percent of the cities Greenpeace analyzed where air pollution improved overall last year. That as a sign the capital's "serious efforts" to curb pollution were paying off, Dong said. China has worked to toughen environmental protection laws in recent years. Amended legislation took effect this month giving authorities more power to punish firms and officials responsible for violations. Some local authorities, including Beijing, have been trying to limit emissions and forcing polluting factories to close or move. Still, 80 percent of the 366 cities whose data Greenpeace analyzed fell short of China's ambient air quality standards last year, it said. The national average concentration of PM2.5 was 50.2 parts per cubic meter, exceeding the World Health Organization's guideline of an annual average of less than 10 micrograms. China's financial hub, Shanghai, was among the cities where air quality worsened in 2015. Its average PM2.5 concentration increased 3.14 percent over the 2014 data, Greenpeace said. "Greenpeace recommends Shanghai to implement a solid coal consumption cap target and aggressive measures to solve the air pollution problem," Dong said.
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Recent history shows the opportunity to pass major bills can disappear quickly. What should Democrats’ top priority be?
- The Telegraph
Police in Portland, Oregon have arrested fifteen suspects after a mob of around 200 alleged Antifa members smashed up the Democrat headquarters and federal immigration offices in the city on Wedensday, while three people were arrested after a crowd in Seattle attacked buildings and burnt a US flag. The two Pacific Northwest cities have been hotspots for protests and violence since the Black Lives Matter demonstrations began last year in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. There were also protests in Denver, Colorado; Columbus, Ohio and Sacramento in California. Portland Police released photographs of eight of the 15 arrested suspects as well as images of confiscated items including knives, batons and bullet-proof vests.
The European Union and Turkey pressed each other on Thursday to take concrete steps to improve relations long strained by disagreements over energy, migration and Ankara's human rights record. Turkey, which remains an official candidate for EU membership despite the tensions, is facing the threat of EU economic sanctions over a hydrocarbons dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, but the mood music between Brussels and Ankara has improved since the new year.
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With Joe Biden sworn in as president, the long wait for Donald Trump’s health care plan is now officially over. If he ever had one, no one ever saw it.
- The Independent
Educator says she wants to keep on teaching when Joe Biden takes office
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Indonesian authorities on Thursday ended the search for remaining victims and debris from a Sriwijaya Air jet that nosedived into the Java Sea, killing all 62 people on board. Transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi said retrieval operations have ended after nearly two weeks, but that a limited search for the missing memory unit from the cockpit voice recorder will continue. The memory unit apparently broke away from other parts of the voice recorder during the crash.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved Avril Haines as the Director of National Intelligence, the nation's top intelligence job, making her the first of President Joe Biden's nominees to be approved. The vote was 84-10, with all the "no" votes coming from Republicans. Both Democrats and leading Republicans issued statements praising the nominee.
Beau Biden, who served in the Guard, is buried at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church cemetery in Greenville, Delaware.
- CBS News
The vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory, where Harris will live, is undergoing repairs.
- Associated Press
A powerful earthquake shook parts of the southern Philippines on Thursday night, but authorities said it was too deep to cause major damage and no tsunami warning was issued. The quake measured magnitude 7.0 and was located 95.8 kilometers (60 miles) below the sea and about 210 kilometers (130 miles) southeast of Pondaguitan in Davao Occidental province, the U.S. Geological Survey said. In Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, some residents ran out of their houses as the ground shook and power cables and business signs swayed, but there were no reports of damage or injuries.
The European Parliament called on EU governments to recognise Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president in a resolution on Thursday, after a downgrade of his status by the bloc earlier this month. The EU's 27 states said on Jan. 6 they can no longer legally recognise Guaido as the country's legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. The European Parliament "calls on ... the member states to unequivocally recognise the constitutional continuation of the legitimate National Assembly of Venezuela elected in 2015 and the legitimate interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaido", it said.
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Counterintelligence official Michael Orlando joins a growing chorus of voices on both sides of the political aisle who point to China as a major national security threat, particularly in terms of technology and cybersecurity.
- CBS News
Vice presidents since Vice President Walter Mondale have been living in the residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
- Associated Press
In a final swipe at China, the Trump administration’s outgoing U.N. ambassador tweeted that it's time for the world to oppose China’s efforts to exclude and isolate Taiwan, drawing sharp criticism from Beijing. To make the point even more graphic, Ambassador Kelly Craft accompanied the tweet with a photo of herself in the U.N. General Assembly Hall where the island is banned.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reacted to Amazon offering President Biden help to distribute the vaccine after President Trump left office.
- 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
The United Arab Emirates has swung open its doors to visitors betting that the blistering pace of its coronavirus vaccine rollout means it can keep infections in check while giving its economy a shot in the arm. The UAE case rate is still well below Britain with 574 per million, one of Europe's worst hit countries and now in lockdown, but far higher than its neighbours Saudi Arabia with 7 per million or Oman with 33 per million, even as the UAE boasts the second highest level of vaccinations to population on the planet. The UAE has avoided imposing a new lockdown, while some countries in Europe and elsewhere are on a second or third wave of tough restrictions.
- The Week
Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request
When President Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrived at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, there was no chief usher to greet them. He had been fired at about 11:30 a.m., half an hour before Biden was sworn in as president, The New York Times reports. Former first lady Melania Trump had hired the chief usher, Timothy Harleth, from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2017, after the previous chief usher, Angella Reid, was dismissed a few months into Donald Trump's term.The White House chief usher is in charge of the first family's residence, overseeing everything from personnel issues to budgets. It is typically an apolitical job, and ushers typically stay through several administrations. Reid, hired in 2011, was only the ninth chief usher since 1885, though she was the first woman hired for the job. The Bidens had communicated to the White House counsel that they intended to bring in their own chief usher, a person familiar with the process told the Times. A Biden White House official told CNN that Harleth "was let go before the Bidens arrived," though CNN reports it was the Bidens who gave him the ax.Harleth was already in hot water with Trump's team, though. He "had found himself in an untenable position" since the election, "trying to begin preparations for a new resident in the White House, even as its occupant refused to concede that he would be leaving the premises," the Times reports. And Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was "unhappy" with Harleth "for trying to send briefing books about the residence to the Biden transition team in November." Harleth "had worked with Jill Biden's staff for weeks to organize the move of household belongings," The Washington Post adds.The absence of a chief usher was one manifestation of the chaotic transition period, but it doesn't entirely explain the curious breach in protocol where nobody opened the doors for the BIdens when they arrived at the White House, the Times notes. The doors, which awkwardly stood closed for about 10 long seconds as the Bidens watched, are typically opened by Marine guards.Once the Bidens passed through the doors into the newly sanitized White House, things got better, the Post reports. "Awaiting Biden in a room adjacent to the Oval Office were two trays stacked with chocolate chip cookies, each one in plastic wrap with a gold presidential seal."More stories from theweek.com 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office Biden has stopped construction on Trump's border wall, but the fate of outstanding contracts is unclear
- The Independent
Michael Flynn’s brother reveals he was involved in Capitol riot response after Army denied it, report says
Apparent U-turn by Pentagon officials could pose questions about police response
- Associated Press
Brazil's government on Friday awaited the arrival of 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from India, but experts warned the shipment will do little to shore up an insufficient supply in South America’s biggest nation. Brazil’s Health Ministry on Thursday announced that the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, was being flown to Rio de Janeiro, where Brazil’s state-run Fiocruz Institute is based.