A Tough Act to Follow—Venezuela Edition

Given the depth and longevity of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis, President Nicolas Maduro, the salsa-loving successor to strongman Hugo Chavez, has clung to power with remarkable tenacity. He may hang on a while longer, but new evidence emerged this week that makes clear why he can’t survive indefinitely.


One — new data from OPEC and the International Energy Agency show the decline in Venezuela’s all-important oil production is gathering speed. This problem will have an increasingly dramatic effect on the government’s cash-flow, especially since a considerable amount of the country’s oil is needed at home. Otherwise, it goes toward paying off loans from other countries, or is sold at a deep discount to its ally Cuba.

Two — after purging Rafael Ramirez, former head of state-run oil firm PDVSA, and others a few months ago, Maduro ordered the arrest last week of former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a former spy chief under Chavez and potential political rival for Maduro. Several military officers have also been arrested. Is Maduro in imminent danger from the ruling elite or the military? From the outside, it’s impossible to know. But purges can sometime create enemies, even where none existed before.

In short, the cash cow is wasting away, and the risk of dissent within the elite is on the rise.

On the latest episode of Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Ken Burns explores the opportunity to come out of this moment as better versions of ourselves — and reveals whether a film about this year is in the cards.

Listen to the new episode here.

The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Former Spanish King Juan Carlos I's decision to leave the country after being investigated for corruption has reignited the debate over the future of the monarchy in Spain. Opinions are divided between mostly older Spaniards who defend the institution's role as a symbol of national unity, and the younger generations and nationalist regions who want Spain to become a republic. More than three quarters of the world's countries are now republics, but 44 still have a king or queen as their head of state — among them the 16 Commonwealth countries officially ruled by British Queen Elizabeth II and 5 countries where the sovereign is all-powerful. We take a look at which countries remain monarchies today, and those that sent their royals packing in the post-World War II waves of decolonization and republicanism.

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.

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280 million: Democratic candidate Joe Biden plans to spend $280 million on campaign ads in his battle against US President Donald Trump. Although Trump trails the former vice president by 7 points in an average of national polls, the incumbent has set aside less than half that amount for ads of his own.

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