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Vatican calls on Nicolas Maduro's government to suspend constitutional assembly

The Vatican has urged Venezuela’s president not to proceed with a controversial new assembly that his critics say would give him unprecedented power.

In a statement issued on the day Mr Maduro was set to install the new assembly - a vote for which last week was boycotted by the opposition parties and denounced as “rigged - the Vatican called on “all political actors, and in particular the government, to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the existing constitution”.

“The Holy See appeals firmly to all of society to avoid all forms of violence and invites, in particular, the security forces to refrain from excessive and disproportionate use of force,” it said.

The statement also it urged the government of Mr Maduro “to prevent or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly which, instead of fostering reconciliation and peace, foment a climate of tension”.


Venezuela: New assembly leader warns 'justice will come'

Venezuela's controversial, newly elected legislative assembly had a fiery message as the body took office Friday: Supporters of leftist President Nicolás Maduro are in control, with a vengeance.

More than 530 members of the National Constituent Assembly, the new legislative panel with powers to rewrite the Venezuela Constitution after an election Sunday at Maduro's behest, took oaths of office Friday afternoon.

It was a moment that Maduro opponents hoped to derail -- they boycotted Sunday's election and demonstrated against it for weeks, saying the President orchestrated it to get around the existing National Assembly, which the opposition has controlled since 2015.

But the new assembly's leader, former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, warned the opposition that their reckoning is coming, blaming it for deaths that accompanied the protests and for waging "economic war" against the people.


Mr. Maduro's Drive to Dictatorship

Following a contentious vote on Sunday that effectively set Venezuela on the path to outright dictatorship, the United States has imposed personal sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro, putting him in the rarefied company of sitting leaders like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, whose rapacious greed for power has brought their countries to ruin. There is no longer any question that this is where Mr. Maduro belongs.

No nation should have to suffer such a leader. And Venezuela, with possibly the world’s largest oil reserves, had the chance to be one of South America’s leading democracies. But overdependence on oil has led to political and economic turbulence, which became disastrous when Mr. Maduro sought to emulate his left-wing predecessor, Hugo Chávez, with lavish public spending that falling oil prices and chronic mismanagement rendered unsustainable.

Today Venezuela is a basket case. The estimated inflation rate for 2017 is 720 percent; 80 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty, suffering from malnutrition, illness and outright hunger, while corrupt politicians and their military allies shamelessly enrich themselves. Mr. Maduro’s response has been to assail spreading street protests with an iron fist and to erode the power of the National Assembly, in which his opponents have a majority.

More than 120 people have died in several months of protests. The deadliest day was Sunday, when Mr. Maduro brought to a vote his transparently power-grabbing plan to elect a tame Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution that would tighten the government’s hold on power, and in the meantime allow the president to dismiss any branch of government deemed disloyal. The opposition boycotted the vote, allowing Mr. Maduro to claim victory despite what appeared to be a small turnout. Early on Tuesday, two opposition leaders already under house arrest were seized by state security agents.


Venezuela's New Leaders Begin Their March Toward Total Control

Source: New York Times

Members of President Nicolás Maduro’s governing party marched triumphantly into Venezuela’s Capitol building on Friday, calling to order a 545-member body with plans to rewrite the Constitution and consolidate their power over the nation.

The constituent assembly, as the group is called, took a symbolic jab at their political rivals, parading through the gates of the legislative chamber holding portraits of former President Hugo Chávez, which were taken down just last year after opposition parties won control of the National Assembly.

“This assembly didn’t emerge from nothing,” said Delcy Rodríguez, a former foreign minister close to Mr. Maduro who will lead the body. “It has dodged the obstacles thrown in its way by those who resist democracy.”

The convening of the assembly was the culmination of an ambitious plan by the president to secure political control over Venezuela. In a contentious election on Sunday, Mr. Maduro instructed Venezuelans to choose delegates from a list of allies in the governing party. Voters were not given the option of rejecting the plan.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/world/americas/venezuela-constituent-assembly-maduro.html

Trump weighs slashing one of the most popular tax deductions

The Trump administration is trying to figure out how to pay for tax cuts, and one of the ways it’s considering is getting rid of the mortgage-interest deduction for homeowners, Politico reports.

Unlike rent payments, the interest for a mortgage payment can be deducted from taxable income. It’s a major benefit of owning a home, and critics have pointed to it as a huge driver in American inequality.

At a White House roundtable, led by National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, featuring people in the real estate industry, the topic came up. One attendee told Politico that the tax break was “on the table,” as the administration works on taxes, something Cohn had told Congress before.

As Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” wrote in May, it’s actually one of the main entitlement programs in the United States. “But by any fair standard,” Desmond wrote in the New York Times, “the holy trinity of United States social policy should also include the mortgage-interest deduction — an enormous benefit that has also become politically untouchable.”


I say go for it, Donnie. What have ya got to lose?

A Dinosaur So Well Preserved It Looks Like a Statue

In March 2011, a construction worker named Shawn Funk visited an impressive dinosaur collection at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta. As he walked through halls full of ancient bones, he had no idea that a week later, he’d add to their ranks by finding one of the most spectacular dinosaur fossils of all time. It’s an animal so well preserved that its skeleton can’t be seen for the skin and soft tissues that still cover it.

When we look at dinosaurs in museums, it takes imagination to plaster flesh and skin on top of the bones. But for the dinosaur that Funk unearthed—a 110-million-year-old creature named Borealopelta—imagination isn’t necessary. It looks like a sculpture. And based on pigments that still lurk within the skin, scientists think they know what colors the animal had. “If someone wants to come face to face with a dinosaur, and see what it actually looked like, this is the one for that,” says Caleb Brown from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, who has studied the animal.

Borealopelta was one of the ankylosaurs—a group of heavy-set, low-slung, tank-like dinosaurs. It lacked the shin-thwacking tail clubs that some of its relatives wielded, but its back was covered in heavy, armored scales, and a pair of 20-inch-long spikes jutted from its shoulders. It weighed 1.5 tons and was 20 feet from foot to tail. And it probably couldn’t swim very well.

Somehow, this particular individual ended up at sea. Perhaps it got careless on a shoreline. Perhaps it drowned in a flood and was washed out to sea. Either way, gases started building up in its body, causing it to float belly-up. As those gases released, the dead dinosaur sank, and hit the ocean floor hard enough to leave a small crater. Before sharks had a chance to nibble it, or worms had a chance to bury into its bones, it was quickly smothered by fine sediment and sealed off from the outside world. There it remained for millions of years, until March 11, 2011, when an excavator bit into it.


Congress takes aim at the Clean Air Act, putting the limits of California's power to the test

California is confronting the limits of its power to save federal environmental protections as Congress and the Trump administration take aim at a landmark law the state has relied on for decades to clean the air of noxious smog.

A push by Republicans to roll back parts of the Clean Air Act would affect California more than any other state, rattling its lawmakers and regulators. And their legal authority to pick up the fight against California’s smog on their own is constrained.

The House last month passed a bill fiercely opposed by doctors and public health groups, including the American Lung Assn. and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that would delay for years new anti-pollution standards aimed at ultimately preventing 160,000 childhood asthma attacks and as many as 220 premature deaths in California each year.

The Trump administration had already tried using regulatory authority to put the standards on hold for a year, but walked back that action Wednesday after California and 14 other states filed suit against the delay.


Venezuela cuts oil supply to Citgo as Russia's Rosneft gets more

Venezuela's state-run PDVSA has reduced crude sales to its U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum while increasing supply to Russia's Rosneft, following a plan signed in May to catch up on overdue deliveries, according to PDVSA documents, sources from the company and its joint ventures.

Venezuela's oil output has declined since 2012 with the fall accelerating this year amid a lack of investment and payment delays to suppliers. Almost all of Petróleos de Venezuela's customers are receiving reduced volumes. That includes the United States, which has received less Venezuelan crude oil this year.

PDVSA agreed in the catch-up plan to compensate Rosneft for the delayed cargoes, since the oil is being sent in lieu of payment for loans.

Venezuela's Oil Minister Nelson Martinez at a forum in St Petersburg in June said Rosneft would receive some 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) as payment for a $1.5 billion loan extended to PDVSA in 2016. He did not disclose the reason for the supply agreement.


Ecuador's president strips VP of all functions

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno on Thursday stripped his vice president, Jorge Glas, of all his functions after his deputy delivered a stinging critique of the new leftist leader.

Moreno, who came to office on May 24, issued a decree removing his running mate from all his functions as vice president, but stopped short of sacking him.

Glas, who has served as vice-president since 2013, has been buffeted by a wave of corruption accusations from the opposition, including allegations of links to the scandal surrounding the Brazilian oil giant Odebrecht, which has sent shockwaves across the region.

The decree came a day after the vice president, who held the same position under Moreno's feisty predecessor Rafael Correa, published a long list of criticisms of the president, including charges that he had handed control of state media to "representatives of the private media" and had "a perverse way of dealing with economic data."


Looks like another LatAm political crisis is a'brewing.

Venezuela's attorney general seeks to halt installation of newly elected national assembly

Venezuela’s attorney general on Thursday sought a court order to halt the installation of a new National Assembly because of the suspected commission of crimes during last weekend’s vote to elect delegates.

Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz, a critic of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, said she had opened an investigation into alleged voter fraud in connection with the controversial balloting. Ortega, who had filed complaints with the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of a new assembly, filed Thursday’s request in a lower court.

The election came amid a rising toll of deaths and arrests tied to four months of violent clashes between antigovernment protesters and authorities. The new assembly is expected to rewrite the nation’s constitution, which leaders of the opposition-controlled National Assembly say is a way for Maduro to skirt the democratic process.

Maduro, who met with delegates Wednesday night, said the newly elected assembly would hold its first meeting Friday instead of Thursday.

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