Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to once again do the unexpected when he announced that he was not going to retaliate in response to President Obama’s move to expel 35 Russian diplomats from the United States. It seemed he only had to wait a mere three weeks or so for the bruhaha to die down when Donald Trump is sworn in as the next US president.
Now, however, there are reports that Russia is taking some steps to punish the US for its actions. Last week CNN reported that Russian authorities ordered the closing of the Anglo-American School in Moscow, siting an unnamed source who said he knew personally about the development. The school is for the children of Western embassy personnel from Britain, Canada and the USA.
The Russian foreign ministry denied the allegation.
CNN also reported that Russia ordered the closing of a vacation home used by US embassy personnel, about 16 kilometers west of Moscow.
In contradiction to earlier reports that there would be no reprisal against US diplomats in Russia, Russian spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova said that a Russian response to Obama’s actions would be similar which would “immediately backfire at US diplomats in Russia.”
“The outgoing US administration has not given up on its hope of dealing one last blow to relations with Russia, which it has already destroyed,” her statement said.
The Kremlin had previously stated that the US would “receive an answer” if it did anything to punish Russia. Obama sought to impose sanctions on Russia for its role in tampering with the recent US elections via hacking of email accounts associated with people in the Democratic Party. Several US intelligence agencies have stated the Russian actions were deliberately designed to interfere with the US elections, specifically, to help Donald Trump with the election.
In what will be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first official visit to the US as president, plans are now underway to invite him for a state visit later this year. It is expected that President Xi will push for a “new model of major-country relations,” an idea Xi first introduced during his 2012 visit to Washington.
The visit is also being planned during a time of a strong American Asia-Pacific military presence whose goal is to contain he military power of the communist country. The visit is being planned with the help of China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai.
No date for the visit has yet been determined, but discussions are now underway, according to Cui, who also pointed out that high-level meetings have been going on successfully in recent years, despite the many differences in each country’s outlooks.
“We are also very willing to see such interactions continuing this year, and we may even have a greater success,” Cui said.
The future meeting will not be the first meeting between Xi and President Obama. They leaders met after the informal summit in California in June 2013. They also met informally at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Beijing this past November.
Although no date has been fixed, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the US had officially invited President Xi for a state visit to be held later this year.
Washington lawmakers have until Tuesday to come to an agreement which will cancel the across-the-board spending cuts and automatic tax increases. If not Americans can expect the economy to tumble off what has been so famously dubbed “the fiscal cliff.”
Falling over this cliff, economists affirm, will adversely affect financial markets around the world and send the US economy into a nose dive back into recession. Therefore Republicans and Democrats are working overtime, including holding a rare Sunday session, to come to an agreement whereby taxes are maintained at today’s levels for the nation’s middle class, while entitlement and other programs are cut according to the desires and needs of legislators.
“Now I think that over the next 48 hours, my hope is that people recognize that, regardless of partisan differences, our top priority has to be to make sure that taxes on middle-class families do not go up. That would hurt our economy badly,” Obama said in an interview.
“Democrats and Republicans both say they don’t want taxes to go up on middle-class families. That’s something we all agree on. If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the ‘fiscal cliff.’ It avoids the worst outcomes.”
Obama has a plan even if the worst case scenario transpires and no agreement is reached.
“And if all else fails, if Republicans do in fact decide to block it, so that taxes on middle class families do in fact go up on January 1st, then we’ll come back with a new Congress on January 4th and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle class families,” he said.
In an attempt to help boost the sluggish economy’s growth President Obama announced a proposal which will allow all homeowners to refinance their mortgages at more attractive rates, even if what they owe on their mortgages is actually more than the worth of the house. This is a crucial issue in many states which are pivotal to Obama’s re-election.
Obama wanted to outline more specific details of the proposal he only outlined in his State of the Union Address concerning finding a way for homeowners to cash in on the nation’s record low mortgage rates. It is estimated that the average homeowner could save about $3,000 a year by re-financing.
Will Congress Agree?
The proposal, however, will need to pass through Congress, which is not necessarily in favor of such a plan if it would allow homeowners to refinance even if they own more to the bank than the actual value of the house, a situation which many homeowners find themselves in today due to the housing slump.
Not As Popular as Predicted
The plan is an enlargement of an already existing program, the Home Affordable Refinance Program. This plan lets borrowers who have government affiliated mortgages from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance at more affordable rates. A disappointing one million people have use the plan, much fewer than the 4 to 5 million the Obama administration was predicting. The new plan also expands to include “underwater” borrowers; those that own more than the value of their homes.
Economists in the private sector believe that if the plan is expanded to all borrowers, then about 10 million homeowners would be qualified to refinance, giving the economy a jumpstart not to be underestimated. The Federal Reserve has been more conservative in their assessment of the plan’s impact, saying closer to 2.5 million additional Americans would be eligible to refinance under the terms of the expanded program.
CoreLogic, a real estate data firm, notes that about 11 million Americans are “underwater,” about 1 out of 4 homeowners who have a mortgage.