|Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Photo: NY Post) |
On brink of shutdown, Congress passes 2-day extension to mull COVID-19 relief
Congress passed a stopgap, two-day spending bill Friday night to avert a partial government shutdown, a measure that will buy time for ongoing negotiations over a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package, NY Post reported.
The House and Senate passed the bill allowing the funding deadline to extend from Friday to the end of Sunday.
The extension came on the brink of a midnight government shutdown, and gives Congress more time to finish a year-end spending agreement and coronavirus aid package.
It is now being rushed to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
After months of fruitless negotiations, optimistic party leaders earlier in the day said they believed they were “very close” to passing the aid bill, which includes a $300 per week federal boost to unemployment and more small business loans.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is shutting down the programs at the end of December, but Toomey’s language goes further, by barring the Fed from restarting the lending next year, and Democrats say the provision would tie Biden’s hands and put the economy at risk.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also blocked an effort from his fellow Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri to deliver $1,200 checks to individuals — a measure both he and socialist Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders have been pushing.
Citing deficit concerns, Johnson said the checks would be “mortgaging our children’s future.”
Lawmakers had been hoping to tack the funding package onto the $1.4 trillion government spending bill before funding lapses at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and McConnell reportedly instructed their staff to come to a final agreement by 5 pm after more than nine months of inaction.
UN Rights Office Calls on Thailand to Amend Royal Insult Law
TheUnited Nations human rights office called on Thailand on Friday to amend its lese majeste law which it said had been used against at least 35 activists, one as young as 16, in recent weeks.
It said Thailand should stop using the law, which bans insulting the monarchy, and other serious criminal charges against protesters, noting that criminalizing such acts violates freedom of expression.
According to Reuters, prosecutions, which had stopped in 2018, restarted after protesters broke longstanding taboos by calling for reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn during months of street demonstrations. Those found guilty under the royal insult law face three to 15 years in prison.
The spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that charges had also been filed against protesters for sedition and computer crimes offenses.
|Security personnel form a human chain during a Thai anti-government mass protest, on the 47th anniversary of the 1973 student uprising, in Bangkok, Thailand October 14, 2020 (Photo: Reuters) |
The office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Thailand to change the lese majeste law to bring it in line with the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
In response, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman said the law was not aimed at curbing freedom of expression and was similar to libel laws.
Youth-led protests began in July to call for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and for the drafting of a new constitution.
They later called for reforms to the monarchy: seeking the king to be more clearly accountable under the constitution and the reversal of changes that gave him control of royal finances and some army units among other demands.
Chilean president handed $3,500 fine for a mask-less selfie with a stranger on the beach
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was slapped with a $3,500 fine on Friday after posing for a selfie on the beach with a bystander without wearing a mask as required during the coronavirus pandemic, health authorities said.
Chile has strict rules on mask wearing in all public places and violations are punishable with sanctions that include fines and even jail terms.
Pinera apologized then turned himself in shortly after the selfie surfaced on social media in early December.
The president explained he had been walking alone along the beach near his home in the posh Chilean seaside town of Cachagua when a woman recognized him and asked for a photo together.
The selfie shows the president and the woman standing very near to one another on a sunny day, neither wearing masks.
|Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (Photo: US News and World Reports) |
The gaffe-prone Pinera was previously photographed at a pizza party on the night protests over inequality broke out in Santiago last year. He was later seen posing for pictures at the square that had been the hub of the demonstrations after the pandemic forced protesters to stay at home, Reuters reported.
Bulgaria expels two Russian diplomats accused of spying
Bulgaria has expelled two Russian diplomats who prosecutors suspect were involved in spying, giving them 72 hours to leave the Balkan country, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
EU and NATO member Bulgaria, which usually maintains good ties with Russia, has kicked out three other Russian diplomats over espionage allegations since last October. It also declined to grant a visa to Russia’s incoming defence attache in December.
“Bulgaria’s foreign ministry has declared two Russian diplomats ‘personae non gratae’ and has informed the Russian embassy with a diplomatic note,” a ministry spokesman said.
The Russian Embassy in Sofia said it had received a verbal note concerning staff at its trade mission, but was not provided with any proof that the two had acted in a way incompatible with their official status.
The embassy said the diplomats would leave Bulgaria within the outlined timeline, but Russia would reserve its right to a response in kind.
|(Photo: Moscow Times) |
Earlier on Wednesday prosecutors said the two diplomats had been seeking classified information on army modernisation plans and the maintenance of military equipment since 2016 and that they aimed to pass it to Russian military intelligence.
In a statement, they said the diplomats had made contact with Bulgarians with access to information related to the country’s military-industrial complex and that in some cases financial benefits had been promised and provided, as reported by Reuters.
Gold price prediction – gold rallies on Dollar weakness
Gold prices continued to rally on Thursday as the dollar continued to head south. The Greenback fell to a 33-month low and continue to lift the commodity complex. Since gold is priced in dollars, a weaker dollar makes gold less expensive in other currencies allowing it to rise. US yields moved lower following weaker than expected jobless claims.
|(Photo: Forbes) |
Gold prices traded higher, pushing above resistance near the 50-day moving average near 1,871 which is now seen as support. Target resistance is now seen near the November highs at 1,960. Short-term momentum has turned positive as the fast stochastic generated a crossover buy signal. Prices are overbought. The current reading on the fast stochastic is 91, above the overbought trigger level of 80, which could foreshadow a correction. Medium-term momentum is positive as the MACD (moving average convergence divergence) histogram prints in the black with an upward sloping trajectory which points to higher prices.
Jobless claims rose by 885,000 in the week ending December 12, the most since September 5. Expectations were for claims to fall to 808,000. Initial claims for the previous week were revised higher by 9,000 to 862,000, according to FX Empire.
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