China Factory Activity Shrinks for First Time in 2 Years

China’s factory activity shrank in December for the first time in more than two years, an official survey showed Monday, intensifying pressure on Beijing to reverse an economic slowdown as it enters trade talks with the Trump administration.

The purchasing managers’ index of the National Bureau of Statistics and an industry group, the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, fell to 49.4 from November’s 50.0 on a 100-point scale. Any reading below 50 shows that activity is contracting. The December figure was the lowest since February 2016 and the first drop since July 2016.

 

In the quarter that ended in September, China’s economic growth sank to a post-global crisis low of 6.5 percent compared with a year earlier. The slowdown occurred despite government efforts to stem the downturn by ordering banks to lend more and by boosting spending on public works construction.

 

Forecasters expect annual growth of about 6.5 percent, down slightly from 2017’s 6.7 percent. But some industry segments, including auto and real estate sales, have suffered more serious declines.

 

“Downward pressure on the economy is still large,” economist Zhang Liqun said in a statement issued with the PMI.

 

Overall orders and exports both contracted, indicating that Chinese factories are suffering from weak demand at home and abroad. Exports to the United States kept growing at double-digit monthly rates through late 2018 despite President Donald Trump’s punitive tariffs. But growth in exports to the rest of the world fell sharply in November and forecasters expect American demand to weaken in early 2019.

 

That adds to complications for Chinese leaders who are trying to reverse a broad economic slowdown and avert politically dangerous job losses.

 

Chinese and U.S. envoys are due to meet in early January for negotiations that are intended to resolve their economically threatening trade war. Over the weekend, Trump sounded an optimistic note, tweeting that he had spoken with President Xi Jinping by phone.

 

“Deal is moving along very well,” Trump tweeted. “If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!”

 

But economists say the 90-day moratorium on new penalties that was agreed to by Trump and Xi on Dec. 1 is likely too little time to resolve their sprawling dispute.

 

Chinese economic activity already was weakening after Beijing tightened controls on bank lending in late 2017 to cool a debt boom. The downturn was more abrupt than expected, which prompted regulators to shift course and ease credit controls. But they moved gradually to avoid reigniting a rise in debt. Their measures have yet to put a floor under declining growth.

 

Chinese leaders promised at an annual economic planning meeting in mid-December to shore up growth with tax cuts, easier lending for entrepreneurs and other steps.

 

 

Russia Launches Criminal Probe of US Citizen

Russia has detained a American citizen in Moscow on accusations of spying, according to Russian state media.

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officials issued a statement on Monday saying U.S. citizen Paul Whelan had been detained on December 28 “while carrying out an act of espionage,” and that they have opened a criminal probe.

They provided no further details, but Russia’s state-run TASS news agency said that Whelan faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

There was no immediate reaction from U.S. officials.

The arrest coincides with several spy scandals that have exacerbated tensions between Russia and the West, including the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, along with the recent U.S. conviction of Russian citizen Maria Butina for acting as an illegal foreign agent.

News of Whelan’s detention came less than 24 hours a after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a New Year’s greeting to President Donald Trump in which he said Moscow is amenable to a continuing dialogue with Washington on a range of topics.

In 2016, Izvestia, a Kremlin-aligned news outlet, reported that there were 13 U.S. citizens in Russian jails at the time. The Kremlin has not since published any details on other Americans currently in Russian detention.

The Euro Currency Turns 20 Years Old on Tuesday

The euro currency turns 20 years old on January 1, surviving two tumultuous decades and becoming the world’s No. 2 currency.

After 20 years, the euro has become a fixture in financial markets, although it remains behind the dollar, which dominates the world’s market.

The euro has weathered several major challenges, including difficulties at its launch, the 2008 financial crisis, and a eurozone debt crisis that culminated in bailouts of several countries.

Those crises tested the unity of the eurozone, the 19 European Union countries that use the euro. While some analysts say the turmoil and the euro’s resilience has strengthened the currency and made it less susceptible to future troubles, other observers say the euro will remain fragile unless there is more eurozone integration.

Beginnings 

The euro was born on January 1, 1999, existing initially only as a virtual currency used in financial transactions. Europeans began using the currency in their wallets three years later when the first Euro notes and coins were introduced.

At that time, only 11 member states were using the currency and had to qualify by meeting the requirements for limits on debt, deficits and inflation. EU members Britain and Denmark received opt-outs ahead of the currency’s creation.

The currency is now used by over 340 million people in 19 European Union countries, which are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Other EU members are required to join the eurozone when they meet the currency’s monetary requirements.

Popularity

Today, the euro is the most popular than it has ever been over the past two decades, despite the rise of populist movements in several European countries that express skepticism toward the European Union.

In a November survey for the European Central Bank, 64 percent of respondents across the eurozone said the euro was a good thing for their country. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they thought the euro was a good thing for Europe.

In only two countries — Lithuania and Cyprus — did a majority of people think the euro is a bad thing for their nation.

That is a big contrast to 2010, the year that both Greece and Ireland were receiving international bailout packages, when only 51 percent of respondents thought the euro was a good thing for their country.

Challenges

The euro faced immediate challenges at its beginning with predictions that the European Central Bank (ECB) was too rigid in its policy and that the currency would quickly fail. The currency wasn’t immediately loved in European homes and businesses either with many perceiving its arrival as a price hike on common goods.

Less than two years after the euro was launched — valued at $1.1747 to the U.S. dollar — it had lost 30 percent of its value and was worth just $0.8240 to the U.S. dollar. The ECB was able to intervene to successfully stop the euro from plunging further.

The biggest challenge to the block was the 2008 financial crisis, which then triggered a eurozone debt crisis that culminated in bailouts of several countries.

Tens of billions of euros were loaned to Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain, either because those countries ran out of money to save their own banks or because investors no longer wanted to invest in those nations.

The turmoil also highlighted the economic disparity between member states, particularly between the wealthier north and the debt-laden southern nations.

Poorer countries experienced both the advantages and disadvantages to being in the eurozone.

Poorer countries immediately benefited from joining the union, saving trillions of euros due to the lowering borrowing costs the new currency offered.

However, during times of economic downturn, they had fewer options to reverse the turmoil.

Typically in a financial crisis, a country’s currency would plunge, making its goods more competitive and allowing the economy to stabilize. But in the eurozone, the currency in poorer countries cannot devalue because stronger economies like Germany keep it higher.

Experts said the turbulent times of the debt crisis exposed some of the original flaws of the euro project.

However, the euro survived the financial crisis through a combination of steps from the ECB that included negative interest rates, trillions of euros in cheap loans to banks and buying more than 2.6 trillion euros in government and corporate bonds.

Future

ECB chief Mario Draghi was credited with saving the euro in 2012 when he said the bank would do “whatever it takes” to preserve the currency.

Some experts say the flexibility of the bank proves it is able to weather financial challenges and say the turmoil of the past two decades have left the ECB better able to deal with future crises.

However, other observers say that the 19 single currency nations have not done enough to carry out political reforms necessary to better enable the countries to work together on fiscal policy and to prepare for future downturns.

Proposals for greater coordination, including a eurozone banking union as well as a eurozone budget are still in the planning phases.

New Year’s Eve Ball Drop to Honor Journalism

A group of journalists will usher in the New Year Monday in New York City’s Times Square as the time-honored tradition of the annual ball drop recognizes journalism and free speech.

Leading American reporters and editors will be on stage just before midnight to push the button that begins the countdown to the New Year.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 53 journalists were killed on the job in 2018 and another 251 were imprisoned around the world.

In another first, New York police will use a drone to monitor the crowds. The camera-carrying drone will be added to the arsenal of more than 1,200 fixed video cameras that will be deployed by the police.

The security plan also includes road closures, thousands of uniformed and plainclothes officers, sharpshooters on rooftops of surrounding buildings and the sealing of manhole covers.

On Sunday, officials did a test run of the 544-kilogram ball sliding down a pole. This year’s ball will feature 2,688 crystal triangles and is backlit with LED lights capable of producing a number of colors and patterns.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that the city expecting “up to 2 million people in Times Square itself” for the celebration.

 

Putin Tells Trump in New Year’s Letter He’s Open to Meeting

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told U.S. President Donald Trump in a New Year’s letter that the Kremlin is “open to dialogue” on the myriad issues hindering relations between their countries.

The Kremlin published a summary of Putin’s “greeting message” to Trump on Sunday. The summary states the Russian leader wrote: “Russia-U.S. relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security.”

Trump canceled a formal meeting with Putin scheduled for Dec. 1 at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, tweeting “it would be best for all parties” given Russia’s seizure days earlier of three Ukrainian naval vessels.

Since then, the Kremlin has repeatedly said it is open to dialogue.

The message to Trump was among dozens of holiday greetings Putin sent to other world leaders, each tailored to reflect a bilateral theme. The recipients included Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Putin has backed throughout a civil war that started in 2011.

Putin’s message to Assad “stressed that Russia will continue to provide all-around assistance to the government and people of Syria in their fight against terrorism and efforts to protect state sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the Kremlin summary.

Moscow hosted talks with Turkey on Saturday in which the two countries agreed to coordinate actions in northern Syria after Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing U.S. forces from the country.

The main group of Kurdish-led forces fighting against Assad with U.S. support has said the U.S. pullout could lead to the revival of the Islamic State group.

Putin, in his message to Assad, “wished the Syrian people the earliest return to peaceful and prosperous life.”

 

Колишній чільний командувач США в Афганістані застеріг щодо виведення військ

Колишній чільний командувач сил США в Афганістані застеріг щодо можливого масштабного виведення з цієї країни американських військ, яке, за повідомленнями, обмірковують у Білому домі.

Як сказав генерал у відставці Станлі МакКрістал, значне скорочення чисельності військ США в Афганістані зашкодить мирним переговорам афганського уряду і американських посередників із ісламістським рухом «Талібан», похитне довіру Кабула до США і позбавить Вашингтон «найбільшого важеля впливу» в Афганістані.

«Вважаю, що найбільша помилка у плані президента (США Дональда Трампа), про який повідомили, – що саме в той час, коли ми починаємо переговори з «Талібаном», він, по суті, віддає найбільший важіль впливу, який ми маємо. Якщо ми скажемо «Талібанові», що ми повністю виходимо до такої-то дати, … їхнє бажання піти на домовленість різко впаде», – сказав МакКрістал в ефірі передачі “This Week” телеканалу ABC.

За його словами, такий крок також зашкодить відносинам між Вашингтоном і Кабулом у час, коли посадовці США намагаються підштовхнути талібів до мирних переговорів із афганським урядом.

«Звичайно, мене непокоїть питання довіри афганського народу, бо, врешті, саме вона вирішить, хто переможе в Афганістані… І я думаю, що ми, мабуть, похитнули її – ми похитнули віру в нас як у союзників, на яких можна розраховувати», – сказав колишній командувач (2009–2010) Міжнародних сил сприяння безпеці – багатонаціональних військ під проводом НАТО в Афганістані, ветеран Збройних сил США з 34-річним стажем.

Понад тиждень тому засоби інформації у США повідомляли, що президент Дональд Трамп розглядає можливість значного виведення американських військ, які нині перебувають в Афганістані. Нині там цих військ, у допоміжних і навчально-тренувальних ролях, – близько 14 тисяч. Афганські силовики попередили, що таке виведення поставить під загрозу все ще погано навчені і недообладнані урядові війська.

Білий дім не став коментувати ті повідомлення.

Вони з’явилися невдовзі по тому, як Трамп оголосив про виведення всіх військ США з Сирії – той крок викликав різку критику з боку законодавців, і демократів, і республіканців, а також із боку колишніх посадовців США.

В Івано-Франківську стріляли, вбили чоловіка

В Івано-Франківську, в центральній частині міста, вбили чоловіка, завдавши йому вогнепального поранення в шию, повідомила обласна поліція.

За повідомленням, нападники втекли на автомобілі темного кольору. «На місці працюють слідчі. Відкрито кримінальне провадження за ст. 115 Кримінального кодексу України (вбивство). В області введено оперативний план «Сирена» для розшуку і затримання зловмисників», – поінформували в поліції.

Заступник начальника головного управління Національної поліції в області Ігор Максимів додав, що особу загиблого встановлено. Але поліція не стала називати її, лише повідомила, що, «за попередньою інформацією, вбитий – мешканець Франківська 1958 року народження».

Sacked Macron Bodyguard Defends Use of Diplomatic Passports

Emmanuel Macron’s former security aide, who was sacked this summer after his violent conduct fueled a political scandal, acknowledged on Sunday he was still traveling on a diplomatic passport, in an affair that has rattled the French presidency.

After he was fired when a video emerged of his beating a May Day protester, Alexandre Benalla returned to the spotlight in France this week, under scrutiny over his recent consultancy work and unauthorized use of diplomatic passports.

The original Benalla scandal became a major headache for Macron just over a year into his tenure, after the president, whose popularity ratings have since slipped, was criticized for acting too slowly in dealing with a member of his inner circle.

Benalla said in an interview with France’s Journal du Dimanche (JDD) on Sunday that he would return the diplomatic passports in the coming days, and rejected that he was somehow trying to profit from his status as a former insider by using them or in his work as a consultant.

“Maybe I was wrong to use these passports,” Benalla said, in a telephone conversation from overseas according to the JDD. “But I want to make it clear that I only did it for my own ease, to facilitate my passage through airports.”

The French presidency has sought to distance itself from the former bodyguard, and the government said it had formally requested the passports be returned on at least two occasions.

Paris prosecutors on Saturday opened a preliminary inquiry into Benalla’s usage of the passports.

Benalla maintained in the JDD, however, that he had initially returned the two ID documents in August, and that they were returned to him along with other personal items by a member of the president’s staff in October.

Scrutiny over Benalla comes at a sensitive time for Macron, who is grappling with a wave of “yellow vest” street protests by disgruntled voters calling for more measures to help lift household incomes.

Juncker: EU Is Not Trying to Keep Britain In

The European Union is not trying to keep Britain in and wants to start discussing future ties the moment the U.K. parliament approves Brexit, partly to focus on its own unity ahead of May elections, the head of the bloc’s executive said Saturday.

“It is being insinuated that our aim is to keep the United Kingdom in the EU by all possible means. That is not our intention. All we want is clarity about our future relations. And we respect the result of the referendum.” Jean-Claude 

Juncker, the head of the European Commission, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview. 

Juncker said the EU was ready to start negotiating a new deal with Britain right after the British Parliament approves the divorce deal. A vote is now due in the week starting Jan. 14. 

He also said Britain should get its act together. 

“And then tell us what it is you want,” he said. 

“I am working on the assumption that it will leave, because that is what the people of the United Kingdom have decided,” he added, refusing to be drawn into whether Britain would hold a second Brexit vote. “That is for the British to decide.” 

Watching Trump

On other challenges facing Europe, Juncker said he was watching U.S. President Donald Trump closely on trade. 

“I trust him for as long as he keeps his word. And if he no longer keeps it, then I will no longer feel bound by my word, either,” Juncker said of tensions between the EU and Washington around car tariffs. 

He said he felt EU citizens were increasingly growing apart, another problem to tackle ahead of Europe-wide parliamentary elections in May. 

“We have to ensure that these rifts do not become too deep,” Juncker said. “We must not imply that the populists are right. … They are just loud and do not have any specific proposals to offer on solving the challenges of our time.” 

He said Europe had to stand united “in combating the trolls and hacker groups from China or Russia” that could seek to sway the European vote. 

He expressed doubt about EU state Romania, which takes over the bloc’s rotating presidency Jan. 1 but struggles with corruption and bitter divisions. 

“The government in Bucharest has not yet fully understood what it means to take chair over the EU member states. … Romania’s internal situation is such that the country cannot act as a compact unit in Europe,” Juncker said. 

Elections, Films Help Effort to Ban Gay Conversion Therapy 

Activists urging more states to ban gay conversion therapy for minors are expecting major gains in 2019, thanks to midterm election results and the buzz generated by two well-reviewed films. 

 

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have already enacted laws prohibiting licensed therapists from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation. Leaders of a national campaign to ban the practice are hopeful that at least four more states — Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and New York — will join the ranks in the upcoming legislative sessions. 

 

“We’d be disappointed if we don’t get those this year — they’re overdue,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the groups campaigning to impose bans in all 50 states. 

 

The campaign has gained momentum in recent months thanks to the national release of two films dramatizing the experiences of youths who went through conversion therapy — The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the higher-profile Boy Erased starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. 

Joining ‘in droves’

Sam Brinton of the Trevor Project, another of groups leading the ban campaign, said thousands of people have signed up to assist the effort since Boy Erased was released on Nov. 2. 

 

“They’re recognizing this is still a problem and joining our campaigns in droves,” said Brinton, a child of Baptist missionary parents who has written about agonizing conversion therapy sessions experienced as an adolescent in Florida. 

 

Brinton recalls being bound to a table by the therapist for applications of ice, heat and electricity. 

 

Just four days after the Boy Erased release came the midterm elections, which altered the partisan political dynamic at several statehouses and boosted prospects for conversion therapy bans.  

In three of the states now being targeted, previous efforts to enact a ban gained some bipartisan support but were thwarted by powerful Republicans. In Maine, a bill was vetoed last year by GOP Gov. Paul LePage. In New York and Colorado, bills approved in the Democratic-led lower chambers of the legislature died in the Republican-controlled state senates. 

 

In January, however, a Democrat will succeed LePage as Maine’s governor, and Democrats will have control of both legislative chambers in New York and in Colorado, where gay Gov.-elect Jared Polis is believed eager to sign a ban. 

A lead sponsor of the New York ban bill, Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman, predicted passage would be “straightforward” now that his party controls the Senate. 

 

“For a lot of my colleagues, they consider conversion therapy to be child abuse,” he said. 

Outlook in Massachusetts

 

In Massachusetts, both legislative chambers voted last year in support of a ban but were unable to reconcile different versions of the measure before adjournment. Chances of passage in 2019 are considered strong, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who was re-elected, is viewed as likely to sign such a measure given his strong support for LGBT rights. 

 

More Republican governors like Baker are getting behind the bans, reflecting activists’ belief that opposition to conversion therapy is increasingly bipartisan. 

 

Bills proposing bans are pending or anticipated in several GOP-controlled legislatures, including Florida, Ohio and Utah. LGBT activists are particularly intrigued by Utah because of the possibility that the powerful Mormon church, which in the past supported conversion therapy, might endorse a bill to ban the practice for minors. 

 

In Florida, the proposed ban faces long odds in the legislature in 2019, but activists note that about 20 Florida cities and counties have passed local bans — more than in any other state. 

 

In Ohio, supporters of a bill that would ban conversion therapy for minors realize they have an uphill fight in a legislature with GOP supermajorities.  

 

Still, Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat, believes her proposal got “new legs” in November. That’s when the state board overseeing counselors, social workers, and marriage and family therapists warned the 40,000 professionals it regulates that anyone found practicing conversion therapy on LGBT patients could lose his or her license.  

 

“I am glad to see that our state boards are carrying this movement, regardless of the inaction by our General Assembly,” Tavares said.  

 

For now, LGBT activists are not seeking to ban conversion therapy for adults. A gay California legislator, Evan Low, withdrew a bill he introduced earlier this year that would have declared conversion therapy a fraudulent practice and banned commercial use of it for adults and minors. Some opponents had threatened to sue to block the bill, saying it would jeopardize free speech and free exercise of religion. 

​Model for movie

 

Low says he may try again after revising his bill. If so, his arguments could be bolstered by input from John Smid, the real-life model for the Boy Erased character who ran a coercive conversion therapy program. 

 

For years, Smid was director of Tennessee-based Love in Action, a ministry that operated such a program. Smid left the organization in 2008. He subsequently renounced the concept that sexual orientation could be changed and apologized for any harm he had caused. In 2014, he married his same-sex partner, with whom he lives in Texas. 

 

Smid recently cooperated with a law firm as it compiled a report about Love in Action for the Washington-based Mattachine Society, which studies past instances of anti-LGBT persecution. 

 

One of the report’s co-authors, Lisa Linsky, said Smid depicted Love in Action as “a complete and utter failure,” with none of its participants actually changing sexual orientation. 

Земан закликав Чехію офіційно висловити протест проти звеличення «воєнних злочинців» в Україні

Президент Чехії Мілош Земан «публічно закликав, щоб Прага офіційно висловила протест проти звеличення воєнних злочинців Україною», написав у Twitter-і речник президента Їржі Овчачек.

Міністерство закордонних справ Чехії, зокрема, його очільник Томаш Петршічек, «на вшанування бандерівців в Україні боязливо мовчить». «Якщо б це діялось в Росії, будуть видавати тисячі різних заяв. Ганьба!» – зазначено далі у Twitter-і Їржі Овчачка.

Натомість міністр закордонних справ Томаш Петршічек вважає, що Україна має сама впоратись зі своєю історією. «Україна повинна буде сама впоратись з болючими місцями своєї історії. Для цього вона мала б отримати необхідний час. Я про це говоритиму зі своїми колегами під час візиту до України на початку наступного року», – наголосив Петршічек.

Чеський міністр зазначає, що хотів би цю тему обговорити особисто, а не вказувати на щось посередництвом ЗМІ.

«Зі складними сторінками історії кожна країна повинна впоратись сама. Це не справа дипломатії оцінювати чи досліджувати історію, це справа істориків», – вважає чеське МЗС.

Верховна Рада України 6 грудня ухвалила закон, який надає «статус учасника бойових дій особам, які брали участь у всіх формах збройної боротьби за незалежність України у XX столітті у складі Української повстанської армії, Української повстанської армії отамана Тараса Боровця (Бульби) «Поліська січ», Української народної революційної армії (УНРА) і збройних підрозділів Організації українських націоналістів». Міжнародні суди не визнавали цих організацій «воєнними злочинцями», але з такими заявами постійно виступає Москва.

Президент Чехії Мілош Земан відомий своєю прихильністю до позиції Кремля і особисто президента Росії Володимира Путіна. Він не раз виступав із зовнішньополітичними заявами стосовно Росії і України, які суперечать зовнішній політиці Чехії і на які він не мав повноважень – у Чехії, відповідно до Конституції країни, зовнішня політика є виключною прерогативою уряду.

Температура у січні буде вища від середніх багаторічних значень – Гідрометцентр

Січень 2019 року буде теплішим, ніж його середні температурні показники за роки досліджень. Про це повідомили у Гідрометцентрі.

«Середня місячна температура передбачається 0–4 градуси морозу, в Криму до 3 градусів тепла, що на 1,5–2,0 градусів вище від середніх багаторічних значень», – прогнозують синоптики.

Кількість опадів у січні буде межах середніх багаторічних значень – 27–55 міліметрів, на Закарпатті 64–81 міліметрів, в горах Криму до 124 міліметрів.

В останні дні перед Новим роком в Україні стане холодніше, прогнозують українські і західні синоптики.

Trump Says ‘Big Progress’ on Possible China Trade Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Saturday that he had a “long and very good call” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that a possible trade deal between the United States and China was progressing well.

As a partial shutdown of the U.S. government entered its eighth day, with no quick end in sight, the Republican president was in Washington, sending out tweets attacking Democrats and talking up possibly improved relations with China.

The two nations have been in a trade war for much of 2018 that has seen the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods between the world’s two largest economies disrupted by tariffs.

Trump and Xi agreed to a ceasefire in the trade war, agreeing to hold off on imposing more tariffs for 90 days starting Dec. 1 while they negotiate a deal to end the dispute following months of escalating tensions.

“Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China,” Trump wrote. “Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!” Chinese state media also said Xi and Trump spoke on Saturday, and quoted Xi as saying that teams from both countries have been working to implement a consensus reached with Trump.

Chinese media also quoted Xi as saying that he hopes both sides can meet each other half way and reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial as soon as possible.

Having canceled his plans to travel to his estate in Florida for the holidays because of the government shutdown that started on Dec. 22, Trump tweeted, “I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal.”

The Republican-controlled Congress was closed for the weekend and few lawmakers were in the capital.

The shutdown, affecting about one-quarter of the federal government including 800,000 or so workers, began when funding for several agencies expired.

Congress must pass legislation to restore that funding, but has not done so due to a dispute over Trump’s demand that the bill include $5 billion in taxpayer money to help pay for a wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Farmers Risk Loss of Federal Payments, Loans, From Shutdown

The end of 2018 seemed to signal good things to come for America’s farmers. Fresh off the passage of the farm bill, which reauthorized agriculture, conservation and safety net programs, the Agriculture Department last week announced a second round of direct payments to growers hardest hit by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

Then parts of the government shut down.

The USDA in a statement issued last week assured farmers that checks would continue to go out during the first week of the shutdown. But direct payments for farmers who haven’t certified production, as well as farm loans and disaster assistance programs, will be put on hold beginning next week, and won’t start up again until the government reopens.

There is little chance of the government shutdown ending soon. Trump and Congress are no closer to reaching a deal over his demand for border wall money, and both sides say the impasse could drag well into January.

Although certain vital USDA programs will remain operational in the short term, that could change if the shutdown lasts for more than a few weeks.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, helps feed roughly 40 million Americans. According to the USDA, eligible recipients are guaranteed benefits through January. Other feeding programs, including WIC, which provides food aid and nutrition counseling for pregnant women, new mothers and children, and food distribution programs on Indian reservations, will continue on a local level, but additional federal funding won’t be provided. School lunch programs will continue through February.

USDA has earmarked about $9.5 billion in direct payments for growers of soybeans, corn, wheat, sorghum and other commodities most affected by tariffs. The first round of payments went out in September. The deadline to sign up for the second round of payments is January 15.

The impact of the shutdown, which began shortly before most federal workers were scheduled for a holiday break, started coming into focus by midweek.

About 420,000 employees are working without pay, while 380,000 are being forced to stay home. In the past, federal employees have been paid retroactively. But government contractors won’t get paid for hours they’ll lose staying home, causing problems for those who rely on hourly wages.

In anticipation of the financial bind many federal workers and contractors may soon find themselves in, the Office of Personnel Management offered some advice: haggle with landlords, creditors and mortgage companies for lower payments until the shutdown is over.

The shutdown also is affecting national parks, although unevenly: Some remain accessible with bare-bones staffing levels, some are operating with money from states or charitable groups, while others are locked off.