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Member since: Thu May 18, 2017, 12:36 PM
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Argentina: Right-wing congresswoman recorded soliciting kickbacks

Argentine politics were rocked today by audio appearing to show Congresswoman Estela Regidor - a prominent member of the opposition, right-wing "Together for Change" alliance - soliciting kickbacks in exchange for sub-rosa consulting contracts.

"Each of you will collect 40,000 pesos ($405), and I know you have families - well I have a family, and I can't save the way I used to. Other legislators don't help people out by hiring them under the table the way I do," Regidor is heard telling prospective hires at a café in a January 25th recording.

"Your pay stub will say '80,000 pesos' ($810)," she explained. "You keep 40, and the other 40 you'll deposit in my savings account."

Regidor, 51, is the ranking member on the House Senior Citizens Committee - but is perhaps best known for arguing, during a 2018 debate on legalizing abortion (which she opposed), that "when dogs get pregnant, we don't take them to the vet for an abortion."

She announced a leave of absence, though leaders of her "Together for Change" caucus have so far remained moot on forcing her to resign.

The "Change" caucus has in the past campaigned on rescinding parliamentary immunity - but Regidor would be the second member of her caucus to retain her seat despite a corruption conviction: Aída Ayala, 67, was convicted in 2018 for racketeering, and had said conviction upheld on appeals.

Ayala remains in Congress however.

The same caucus succeeded in 2017 in having then-Congressman Julio de Vido (of the rival, center-left Peronist caucus) expelled on embezzlement charges - some of which were later shown to be based on a fabrication.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&u=https://www.pagina12.com.ar/340307-escandalo-denuncian-que-la-diputada-radical-estela-regidor-s

Argentine Congresswoman Estela Regidor arguing against abortion rights in 2018.

Audio released today shows her offering "consulting" contracts under the table - in exchange for half the proceeds.

Her right-wing "Together for Change" caucus has had numerous scandals over the past decade over consulting contracts - in which allies and personal associates collected varying sums (as much as $3 million) for "consulting" services which were either never rendered, or were worth far less.

Italians grapple with the convenience and cultural terror of a pizza vending machine

The Mr. Go Pizza machine is a marvel of modern engineering. After a customer selects one of its varieties, which range in price from €4.50 to €6, the good Signore Pizza kneads, seasons, tops, and cooks a fresh pizza in three minutes.

The whole process is visible through a little window. It’s great.

And yet, despite the miracle this technology represents, Reuters’ interviews with locals show that the development of an automatic pizza maker has prompted the kind of reactions that might be expected from someone suggesting a robot raise their baby.

One man says Mr. Go’s pizza “looks good but it is much smaller than in a restaurant and there [are] less topping[s].” Another customer says “it’s OK but it’s not pizza” while a woman named Gina “rejected the concept outright.”

“Terrible,” Gina said. “Pizza really needs to be eaten hot, immediately. This doesn’t work for me.”

At: https://news.avclub.com/italians-grapple-with-the-convenience-and-cultural-terr-1846844796

Ma che cazzo è questo?: Claudio Zampiga inspects the outcome at Rome's first automatic pizza vending machine - capable of kneading, seasoning and cooking a pizza in three minutes.

It remains to be seen how Italians will react to the device, in a country where customers are accustomed to watching a pizzaiolo prepare pizza in a wood-burning brick oven within sight of your table.

US should help Argentina find 'long-term solution' to IMF talks, says senior US congressman

The United States should do more to find a "long-term solution" for Argentina as it holds debt restructuring talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks.

Argentina - which received $45 billion in credit from a $57 billion IMF program signed in 2018 - is seeking to convert the 4-year Stand-By loan into an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) and to delay repayments for over four more years.

Meeks, 67, said that that the US should ensure that any agreement with the IMF will "not protract the economic challenges also facing the country" during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has cost over 66,000 lives in Argentina.

"While it is vital to maintain confidence," Meeks noted, "it is also paramount that we get all the interested parties together to find a solution and do it as quickly as we can."

Previously, Argentine President Alberto Fernández - who inherited the loan from Mauricio Macri - has said that the debt is "unpayable" under current conditions.

The country faces IMF payments of over $18 billion annually in 2022 and 2023, besides other foreign debt service of over $10 billion annually.

Two weeks ago, Martín Guzmán, Argentina's Economy Minister, said that Argentina is making "progress" in its talks with the IMF.

Guzmán's successful refinance of $66 billion in foreign debt last August (around a third of the total) trimmed the country's foreign debt service by 35% from its 2019 record of $17.4 billion.

At: https://www.lapoliticaonline.com.ar/nota/133848-us-should-help-argentina-find-long-term-solution-to-imf-talks-says-senior-us-congressman/

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks shares a Zoom meeting with Argentine House Speaker Sergio Massa, who thanked the new chairman for his support for Argentina's debt restructuring talks with the IMF.

The country owes $45 billion on a record credit line granted to former President Mauricio Macri in 2018 at the behest of then-President Donald Trump, a longtime Macri friend.

Rep. Liz Cheney: GOP is at a 'turning point'

Number 3 House Republican Liz Cheney called on members of her party to choose allegiance to the Constitution over the "cult of personality" of former President Donald Trump in a scathing editorial published online by the Washington Post on Wednesday.

"The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution," wrote the Wyoming Republican.

"In the immediate wake of the violence of Jan. 6, almost all of us knew the gravity and the cause of what had just happened — we had witnessed it firsthand."

Cheney was among only 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump in January, in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

She has since been harshly criticized by some Republicans, and is expected to lose her leadership position in the House Republican caucus soon.

At: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/05/05/liz-cheney-republican-party-turning-point/

Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY):

"Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality."

Biden backs waiving international patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines

President Joe Biden threw his support behind a World Trade Organization (WTO) proposal on Wednesday to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

This would clear a hurdle for other vaccine-strapped countries to manufacture their own vaccines even though the patents are privately held.

"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," United States trade representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.

"The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines."

The pace of vaccinating against the coronavirus in the U.S. is slowing down. In some places in the U.S., there are more vaccine doses than people who want them.

Meanwhile, India is now the epicenter of the pandemic with nearly half the world's 800,000 average new daily cases - and just 2% of its population is fully vaccinated.

At: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/05/05/993998745/biden-backs-waiving-international-patent-protections-for-covid-19-vaccines

Demonstrators held a rally on May 5th to "Free the Vaccine," calling on the U.S. to commit to a global coronavirus plan that includes sharing formulas with the world to help ensure that every nation has access to a vaccine, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The Biden administration today announced its support for a global waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines - which might let manufacturers in poorer countries make their own - and said it will negotiate the terms at the WTO.

The world's vaccination rate thus far, 13 per 100 people (excluding the U.S.), is about one sixth the U.S. total of 74 per 100 people.

Argentine Supreme Court rules in favor of Buenos Aires' refusal to suspend in-person classes

Argentina's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Buenos Aires city government in its dispute with the national government, confirming that City Hall has the right to decide whether in-person classes at schools in the capital should continue.

Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta - whose right-wing JxC coalition staunchly opposes center-left President Alberto Fernández - challenged the in-person schooling suspension ordered by Fernández for the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA) on April 9th.

The city lost in federal court on April 20th - a decision overturned by today's Supreme Court ruling.

Four of the five Supreme Court justices voted to limit the national government's say over educational matters; Elena Highton de Nolasco chose to abstain, on grounds that the issue was not a matter for the court.

The ruling was condemned the president, as well as by teachers' unions and the medical community.

After the 2021 Argentine school year began on March 1st (two weeks earlier for Buenos Aires), new COVID-19 cases jumped from around 7,000 daily in March, to nearly 30,000 by April 16th.

New cases have slowed to 15,920 on Monday, but daily deaths remained at 540 - over four times the March average (126). Occupancy in intensive care units reached 65% nationwide, and 82% in Buenos Aires.

Some 63% of those surveyed in a recent poll backed the president's abatement measures.

At: https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/argentina/supreme-court-rules-in-favour-of-city-hall-in-education-dispute.phtml

Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Argentine President Alberto Fernández during an April 29th press conference.

Today's Supreme Court ruling upholding the mayor's refusal to suspend in-person schooling was seen as a victory for Larreta's right-wing JxC coalition - still smarting from defeat at the polls in 2019.

But Fernández, as well as educators and the medical community, see it as a threat to public health.

“Suspending in-person schooling is an indispensable measure, and every country that's been in this situation has suspended classes,” Dr. Arnaldo Dubín, head of Intensive Care at Buenos Aires' Otamendi Hospital, noted.

“What we have here is a political use of the health crisis, which we've seen from the beginning - with the lockdown, with the vaccine, and now in this novel way.”

Argentina: Fernandez extends curfew, school closures as Covid-19 cases rise

Argentine President Alberto Fernández on Friday announced a three-week extension of restrictions to tackle the Covid-19 second wave, warning the nation that the “next few weeks may be very hard.”

Fernández confirmed that the existing 8pm-6am nighttime curfew in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area (AMBA) - home to one in three Argentines - and other at-risk regions would remain in place.

The most controversial has been the cancellation of in-person classes at Buenos Aires metro-area schools.

Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta - whose right-wing JxC coalition staunchly opposes Fernández - has challenged the in-person schooling suspension. The city lost in federal court on April 20th and the case has gone to the Supreme Court.

Over 5,300 patients with Covid-19 are hospitalized in intensive care units across the country, with bed occupancy today at 69.1% nationwide and 77.9% in the AMBA region.

At: https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/argentina/fernandez-extends-curfew-school-closures-as-covid-19-cases-rise.phtml

Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta visits a classroom on the first day of the current school year, February 17th.

Since then, new Covid-19 cases have jumped from around 6,000 to 22,420 today - with average daily deaths this week tripling to 384.

President Fernández's order suspending in-person schooling in the metro area has been challenged in court by the mayor.

Brazil registers record 14.4 million unemployed

Pandemic-battered Brazil registered a record 14.4 million unemployed workers in the three-month period to February 2021, up two million from the year before, officials said Friday.

The unemployment rate for the period came in at 14.4%, said the national statistics institute IBGE. That was up from 11.6% the year before, when the coronavirus pandemic was just starting to be felt in Brazil - and the highest since 1999.

Latin America's biggest economy has been hit hard by Covid-19, which has devastated the country since the first case was confirmed in February 2020.

GDP fell last year by 4.1%, to its lowest level since 2010.

"In one year of the pandemic, 7.8 million jobs were lost," IBGE said in a statement.

At: https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/latin-america/brazil-registers-record-144-million-unemployed.phtml

Unemployed Brazilians at a job center in São Paulo.

Unemployment in Latin America's largest economy rose from an already high 11.6% to 14.4% during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Nearly 15 million cases and over 400,000 deaths have been recorded in Brazil thus far.

The economy grew 6.4% in Q1 amid stimulus checks, COVID-19 shots, looser business constraints

A U.S. economy that was supposed to be ailing this past winter instead got a couple of big shots in the arm, kicking off what’s likely to be a historically strong year.

Economic growth accelerated in early 2021 as federal stimulus checks and fast-growing COVID-19 vaccinations left consumers flush with cash and ready to spend it just as more states lifted business constraints.

The developments pushed up a recovery that wasn’t supposed to gather force until midyear.

The nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S., increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.4% in the January-March period, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a 6.9% rise in GDP.

U.S. economic output is now just 1% below its pre-pandemic level and should reclaim that mark in the current quarter, Capital Economics says. After the economy contracted 3.5% in 2020 – its worst performance since just after World War II – GDP is poised for a historic turnabout.

Private spending grew at a 10.7% rate in the 1st quarter - led by a 41.4% annualized boost in durable goods spending.

Gross private domestic investment fell 5% in the quarter due to a $90 billion drawdown in inventories. Fixed investment grew at a 10.1% rate, led by equipment purchases of 16.7%.

Government purchases grew 6.3%, with defense declining at a 3.4% rate - and non-defense jumping by a record 44.8% annualized rate.

At: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/29/business/economy/united-states-gdp.html

Colombians protest tax increase proposal amid pandemic

Tens of thousands of people marched in Colombia Wednesday against a proposed tax reform they say will leave them poorer as the country battles its deadliest phase yet of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Iván Duque's government wants to tax the incomes of those earning more than US$656 a month, lowering the threshold to broaden the tax base.

It also wants to impose a tax on basic services in upper-middle class areas and on funerals.

The measures are meant to raise some US$6.3 billion in 10 years for the country which saw GDP drop 6.8% in 2020 – its worst performance in half a century.

At: https://www.batimes.com.ar/news/latin-america/colombians-protest-tax-reform-proposal-amid-pandemic.phtml

Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Bogotá yesterday against a tax reform bill proposed by Colombian President Iván Duque.
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