The Russian ruble has just collapsed to its lowest ever level. It dropped 4% to 82 rubles per U.S. dollar on Wednesday, passing a previous low hit in late 2014 and piling on the pain for an economy already deep in recession.
The latest slump was triggered by another steep drop in oil prices — crude sank below $27 a barrel to its lowest level since September 2003. The ruble often mirrors movements in oil prices because the Russian economy is extremely dependent on energy.
Earnings from oil and gas exports make up roughly half of government revenues. The oil price crash from over $100 per barrel just 18 months ago has been disastrous for Russia. To balance its budget, the country needs to be able to sell oil for $82 per barrel.
Ordinary Russians are paying the price. New lows for the ruble could put more pressure on Russian prices. Inflation reached 12.5% in 2015 while real wages kept dropping, leaving many people much worse off. Official statistics show that over 20 million Russians, roughly 14% of the population, are now living in poverty. That compares with 16 million in 2014. CNN
2015 was by far the hottest year in all of recorded history, scientists announced on Wednesday; it has previously been reported that it was the second-hottest year in the continental United States.
Meteorologists suspected a global temperature record was possible months ago as part of one of the largest El Niños of the century, although scientists also pinned blame on climate change caused by emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists first began keeping global temperature records in 1880; it is possible that 2016 will also a global record. The New York Times via The Week
Sen. John McCain declined on Wednesday to criticize Sarah Palin, his former running mate, for endorsing Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. “I respect her view,” McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters in the Senate on Wednesday, a day after Palin endorsed the man with whom he has had a bitter feud.
McCain had previously endorsed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of his closest legislative allies. Graham’s campaign never managed to attract sizable support, forcing him to abandon the bid in December.
Trump has criticized McCain’s time as a prisoner of war, saying that he “like[s] people who weren’t captured.” McCain has fired back with harsh rebukes of his own, claiming that the business mogul’s extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric will come back to haunt the United States, and mocking him for receiving praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Hill
A major winter storm that could bring historic amounts of snowfall to certain regions is expected to hit the East Coast of the United States this weekend, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service. The storm could impact East Coast regions as far south as northern North Carolina and as far north as Boston.
The weather service warns that travel will be limited if not impossible in the areas where blizzard conditions are forecast. The strongest winds — and potentially life-threatening conditions — are expected Friday night through Saturday night.
In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 15 northern counties as the storm approached. VOA News
A British judge said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” a plan to poison ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko died nearly 10 years ago after drinking a cup of tea that judge Robert Owen said was laced with the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210. From his death bed, Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering his assassination.
After the report’s release Thursday, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Lugovoi as calling the British inquiry nonsense and saying it was politically motivated.
Litvinenko had become an outspoken critic of Putin before fleeing Russia in 2000 and eventually settling in London. His widow, Marina Litvinenko, said she was pleased with the outcome of the report. She called for sanctions against Putin. VOA News
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