By Karen Lema MANILA (Reuters) - In hundreds of hours of speeches during his nearly two years in office, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has rarely talked about the economy, something he says is best left to the "clever guys" in his cabinet. So he raised a few eyebrows when he told central bank officials last month after the government announced an inflation spike to "remain vigilant in ensuring price and financial stability". Duterte was speaking just days after the government said inflation rose for a fourth successive month in April to hit a five-year high of 4.5 percent, affecting growth in what has for more than six years been one of Asia's fastest expanding economies. What may have been of concern to Duterte was that many people have blamed rising prices on a new tax bill his government has implemented to raise funds for a massive $180 billion infrastructure building plan, a rare disapproval of the administration. "This year is all about the poor's rising cost of living, perceived to be triggered by the TRAIN law," said Victor Manhit, president of private think tank Stratbase ADR Institute. TRAIN is the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law, which took effect in January and saw excise taxes raised on fuels, levies on sweetened beverages and lowered some personal income taxes, among other measures. A survey by Social Weather Stations published last month showed only six percent of Filipinos approved of the government's handling of inflation, a massive 18-point slump from the previous quarter, and its first single-digit rating in any category. While Duterte has been condemned abroad for his indifference to thousands of deaths in his brutal war on drugs, he has so far been enjoying consistently high ratings in opinion polls for fighting crime, illegal drugs, terrorism and graft. But a survey published by pollster Pulse Asia in April showed the most urgent issues for Filipinos were wages, inflation and poverty. "Inflation has never been a direct factor in political popularity. But if public perception is that the government is not doing anything about it, then it becomes a problem, it becomes political," said Ramon Casiple, a well-known political analyst. ANXIETY BUT NO ANGER There have been no signs of public anger about inflation, but some people are getting anxious. "I hope Duterte can fix this. Inflation has eaten into our profit," said Orlando Cristobal, 56, who runs a food delivery business and had just bought a few kilograms of rice and fish at one of Manila's biggest markets. His wife, Elizabeth, worries they'll lose customers if they pass on their costs. "We used to earn 500 pesos ($9.50) a day," she said. "Now we'd be lucky if we'd be left with 200." Inflation has exceeded the government's 2-4 percent target range, and its impacts could be far-reaching. First quarter growth fell short of the 7-8 percent goal after inflation weighed on consumer spending, which makes up about seven-tenths of the economy. The central bank raised interest rates for the first time in more than three years on May 10 to try to head off climbs in inflation and oil prices. Economic planning minister, Ernesto Pernia, said Duterte was aware that prices mattered most to the public. "He is worried", he told Reuters. "He was concerned about inflation, because it affects the poor." Duterte's ambitious economic agenda is geared towards the poor and at the heart of it is the massive plan to overhaul roads, ports, railways and airports - which would create jobs, attract more investment and boost competitiveness and domestic spending. The government calls it "Dutertenomics", and the TRAIN law was intended to at least partially fund the initiative. Now, the big challenge for Duterte's government is ensuring that a plan geared towards helping his political base doesn't end up alienating it. "This is the greatest challenge to the president specifically since Dutertenomics is built around the promise of inclusive growth," said Manhit, from the Stratbase ADR Institute. Some opposition lawmakers have started to call for the law to be repealed, or adjusted if inflation gets too high. Duterte's economic managers have taken turns to defend TRAIN, insisting that while it may have contributed to inflation, a jump in world oil prices, a weak peso currency and a shortage in state-subsidised rice were the main culprits. In a rare comment about TRAIN, Duterte on Wednesday accepted that it was driving inflation, and that he might have to pursue alternative means of financing, and would settle for making a "modest improvement on what we have now". "I need money also to run the country, if you do not give it, fine," he said in a speech. "But with the limited resources of our country, there are many who are willing to help." Graphic on Philippines' key economic indicators' performance since 2000, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2nZqDWx Graphic on Duterte government scorecard, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2L8YxDE (Editing by Martin Petty and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
- Yahoo News
Early data on the rollout of the vaccines for COVID-19 shows that minority populations in the United States already disproportionately affected by the pandemic are not being immunized at the same rate as white Americans.
- The Week
Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies
The new Biden administration has yet not disclosed the secrets of Area 51 or explained what the Air Force really knows about UFOs, but it did clarify, at least, the mystery of the vanished "Diet Coke button" former President Donald Trump would use to summon refreshments in the Oval Office. The usher button, as it is formally known, is not gone, even if it is no longer used to summon Diet Cokes, a White House official tells Politico.The White House official "unfortunately wouldn't say what Biden will use the button for," Politico's Daniel Lippman writes, suggesting Biden might summon Orange Gatorade and not the obvious answer, ice cream — or, let's get real, coffee. What's more, there are evidently two usher buttons in the Oval Office, one at the Resolute Desk and the other next to the chair by the fireplace, a former White House official told Politico, adding that Trump didn't actually use the Diet Coke button all that much because "he would usually just verbally ask the valets, who were around all day, for what he needed."In any case, it is not the placement of the button that matters, of course, but how you use it. And Biden will presumably know better than to order ice cream treats during a top-secret national security briefing.More stories from theweek.com Democrats are getting Chuck Grassleyed MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell permanently banned from Twitter Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
- Associated Press
The Biden administration on Monday suspended some of the terrorism sanctions that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed on Yemen’s Houthi rebels in his waning days in office. The Treasury Department said it would exempt certain transactions involving the Houthis from sanctions resulting from Pompeo's designation of the group as a “foreign terrorist organization” on Jan. 10. The exemption will expire Feb. 26, according to a statement from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control announcing a general license for transactions that involve entities owned by the Iran-backed Houthis.
- The Telegraph
A Texan teenager who tipped off the FBI about his father's alleged involvement in the Capitol riots said he would "do it again", despite claiming his father threatened to shoot him for being a "traitor". Jackson Reffitt, 18, said he felt a moral obligation to report his father to the authorities after watching him participate in the violent riots on live TV. His father, Guy, 48, was arrested at his home in Wylie, Texas on January 16 and faces charges of obstruction of justice and knowingly entering a restricted building. According to court documents, Mr Reffitt had allegedly threatened his wife and children, saying: “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors … traitors get shot”. The younger Mr Reffitt said he was "afraid" of what his father might think of him, but told local station Fox 4 that he had acted according to his "moral compass".
- The Week
In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his caucus won't allow Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to dictate the agenda in the Democratic-led 50-50 Senate or demand an end to the legislative filibuster as a precondition for a power-sharing pact. "We've told McConnell no on the organizing resolution, and that's that. So there's no negotiations on that," Schumer said, suggesting he had a secret plan. "There are ways to deal with him."Maddow included an update when she broadcast the interview Monday night. "While we were airing that right now, and you were watching it, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just put out a statement that he is folding on this" and willl "agree to go forward with what Sen. Schumer told him he must," she said. "Sen. Mitch McConnell has caved and Sen. Schumer has won that fight. That was quick. Let's see what else we can do."> No sooner has the portion of Rachel Maddow's interview with Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aired than Mitch McConnell has put out a statement that he is folding, ending the stand-off. pic.twitter.com/9qR1jpKXkf> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021McConnell said he would allow the Senate to move forward because two Democrats had reiterated their opposition to ending the filibuster, effectively taking that option off the table. Maddow asked Schumer about that, too, and he didn't answer directly."The caucus is united with the belief that I have: We must get big, strong, bold things done," Schumer said. The Democratic caucus is also "totally united" that "we will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do," and "we have tools that we can use," notably the budget reconciliation process," he added. "We will come together as a caucus and figure it out."> "We will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do." Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier in his interview with Rachel Maddow, talking about the filibuster specifically, and getting things done. pic.twitter.com/xOAKWfe2Fu> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021Schumer also suggested he is not interested in playing cat-and-mouse with McConnell's Republicans again. Watch below. > "We will not repeat that mistake." Senate Majority Leader Schumer cites Obama era lessons in prioritizing legislation over bad faith Republican 'bipartisanship.' pic.twitter.com/gpc1kBP45w> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021More stories from theweek.com Democrats are getting Chuck Grassleyed Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell permanently banned from Twitter
Germany's health minister supported European Union proposals to introduce restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday as tensions grew with AstraZeneca and Pfizer over sudden supply cuts just a month after the bloc started vaccinating citizens. The EU has proposed setting up a register of vaccine exports, amid frustration over delays in deliveries of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot and other supply problems.
- Los Angeles Times Opinion
Gov. Newsom needs to do a better job communicating California's statewide COVID restrictions with the public, and with other state officials.
- Associated Press
Five days into her new role, Jill Biden signaled Monday that she'll be a more active first lady, with a trio of virtual appearances before governors' spouses, young Latinos and library officials. Jill Biden's early moves seemed designed to signal that she intends to be more active than her predecessor, Melania Trump. Mrs. Trump often allowed weeks to pass between her public appearances.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
Pirates who seized 15 sailors when they stormed a Turkish-crewed container ship in the Gulf of Guinea two days ago have not yet made contact with authorities, Turkey's foreign minister said on Monday. "We have not yet received word from the pirates," foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara. Turkey was in contact with officials in Gabon, where he said the Liberian-flagged container ship Mozart had docked with its remaining crew, and with authorities in neighbouring countries.
- The Telegraph
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has called on Joe Biden to end America's trade war against Beijing, warning against "a new Cold War". In his first speech since Mr Biden entered the White House five days ago, Mr Xi gave a thinly-veiled message to the new US leader to abandon the bellicose stance of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Mr Xi made his comments at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, in a speech that could set the tone for relations between Washington and Beijing for the next four years. "To build small cliques or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others... will only push the world into division," Mr Xi said. While Mr Xi did not mention either Mr Biden or Mr Trump by name, his comments were clearly addressing the hostile relationship that developed between America and Washington during Trump years. In that time, Mr Trump slapped hefty import tariffs on Chinese goods, claiming that unfair trading practices were to blame for the loss of millions of US manufacturing jobs. While Mr Biden has pledged to end Mr Trump's "isolationist" approach to Beijing, he too has said that the US must remain "tough with China", and has accused Beijing of intellectual property theft and giving unfair subsidies to state-owned exporters. Instead, he wants a more unified diplomatic strategy, roping in European nations to pile pressure on Beijing. He also intends to step up criticism of China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims and its new security laws imposed on Hong Kong. Mr Xi, however, said China would not take kindly to either lecturing or sanctions over its human rights record or trade policies. "We should respect and accommodate differences, avoid meddling in other countries' internal affairs and resolve disagreements through consultation and dialogue," he said. "The misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of cold war, hot war, trade war or tech war, will eventually hurt all countries' interests." Mr Xi expressed confidence that the world would eventually recover from the Covid 19 crisis, which had plunged it into its worst recession since World War II. But in an apparent signal of his view of China's new place in the global order, he stressed: "The world will not go back to the way it was in the past." While he said that Beijing was a supporter of multilateralism - a policy Donald Trump conspicuously abandoned - he envisaged it as a partnership of equals rather than one in which any nation was "superior" to another. Mr Biden is not due to speak at Davos, which is being held as an online summit because of the Covid outbreak. His US climate envoy, John Kerry, is due to address the event instead.
- Associated Press
An Iranian-American has been sentenced to prison on spying charges, Iran's judiciary reported Tuesday, the latest dual national held in the country amid tensions with the West. Iran's judiciary did not name the man sentenced, but said he had been free on bail and re-arrested while trying to flee the country. Many prisoners in Iran have been out on bail amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is being used by the West to try to destabilise Russia, a prominent hardliner and ally of President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, saying he must be held to account for repeatedly breaking the law. Navalny was remanded in custody for 30 days last week after returning from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council, called for Navalny to face the full force of the law in comments that offered a glimpse into the mood inside Russia's security establishment after tens of thousands of Navalny's supporters protested against his jailing on Saturday.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
- FOX News Videos
Biden administration has system in place where reporters will not ask president tough questions: Media critic
Steve Krakauer, editor at Fourth Watch, says 'it shouldn't be contingent' on one reporter to ask Biden tough questions.
- The Telegraph
Why would the European Union threaten to block coronavirus vaccine exports? EU countries have long been waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine – and now, at the last, it has been snatched from their grasp. In August, the European Commission announced that it had secured 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, with an option for a further 100 million. With enough doses for 200 million people, the supply could have vaccinated roughly half of all EU citizens. It brought the European Commission's highly ambitious target of vaccinating 70 percent of all EU citizens by the summer, and even a revival of the tourism trade, into the realms of possibility. The European Medicines Agency is expected to grant market authorisation at the end of the week, meaning doses could be shipped out to the member states. But on Friday, AstraZeneca wrote to the EU executive saying it had supply chain problems and would not be able to fulfil its contractual obligations. The news was a bitter blow to the commission, which has led negotiations in the EU joint vaccine procurement process, but especially for the bloc's member states. National governments are now faced with the unenviable task of explaining to their voters why the promised vaccines are not coming. Many EU countries bet on the AstraZeneca jab, foregoing its more expensive and difficult to store rivals.That made it an attractive proposition for poorer member states, and easier to get to more remote areas than those requiring complicated storage technology. They were waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite growing pressure from their voters. Dissatisfaction with coronavirus restrictions is growing in Europe, with the Dutch rioting against a coronavirus curfew at the weekend.
Venezuela's Juan Guaido is a "privileged interlocutor" but no longer considered interim president, European Union states said in a statement on Monday, sticking by their decision to downgrade his status. The EU's 27 states had said on Jan. 6 they could no longer legally recognise Guaido as after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. Following the disputed re-election of President Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Guaido, as head of parliament, became interim president.
- The Independent
‘I put my emotions behind me to do what I thought was right,’ Jackson Reffitt says
- Associated Press
A priest who livestreamed exorcisms aimed at rooting out what he, former President Donald Trump and some Trump supporters have falsely claimed was widespread voting fraud in the presidential election has left a Roman Catholic diocese in Wisconsin. The Diocese of Madison said it and the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf reached a mutual decision on his departure. Zuhlsdorf will relocate from the diocese ”to pursue other opportunities,” the diocese said in a statement earlier this month.
- The Telegraph
China ramped up its pressure on democratic Taiwan over the weekend, with an unusually large number of fighter jets approaching the island in a "test" for the new administration of US President Joe Biden. On Sunday, 12 Chinese fighter jets entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, along with a reconnaissance aircraft and two anti-submarine aircraft, Taiwan’s defence ministry said. A day earlier, China sent eight bomber planes capable of carrying nuclear weapons and four fighter jets to the same area to the southwest of the island, as well as one reconnaissance aircraft. On both occasions, Taiwan sent up aircraft, issued radio warnings to the Chinese aircraft, and deployed air defence missile systems to monitor their activity. Beijing claims self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory, and has been angered by a show of increased US support for Taiwan during Donald Trump’s administration. In recent months, China has carried out frequent, at times daily, incursions aimed at pressuring President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to accept Beijing’s demand that it recognise Taiwan as part of China. These incursions have usually consisted of just one or two reconnaissance planes in recent weeks, rather than the warplanes seen over the weekend.