The tennis ace was made an honorary citizen of Budva in Montenegro
Hundreds of people flocked to the streets of a small town in Montenegro on Friday to get a glimpse of world tennis number one Novak Djokovic.
The 34-year-old is currently recovering from a visa and vaccine scandal Down Under that saw him deported from Australia and unable to defend his Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
And on the day that Russian rival Daniil Medvedev got through to the final to face Rafael Nadal, who can overtake Djokovic in all-time Grand Slam wins if victorious this weekend, the Serb was mobbed in the small town of Budva on the Adriatic Sea.
In an address, the mayor said: "I am convinced that Novak Djokovic will be our proud Budva citizen and that this title will be as important to him as the ones he won around the world.
"He amazed and won the whole world with his successes. He filled us with pride, happiness and enthusiasm. I will dare to say that Novak won where many fell, [and that] he remained a man, his own man.
January 28, 2022 Budva, Montenegro
The Mayor of Budva: Novak, thank you for your support in the fight to preserve the Serb people & the Serb church in Montenegro. Novak remained a his own dignified man, he never had a distance between him & the people!
"Novak, we really have no words to thank you for your presence here today. With your hard work, you have shown how to fight for your family and your people. You have never put a distance between yourself and your people, that is why we call you with great love and respect: our Nole.
"When some others did not dare and when it was difficult, we will not forget your support when it was most difficult.
"We will never forget your support during the protests in our fight to preserve the Serb people and the Serb Church in Montenegro.
"Thank you for all your victories, and all the joy you have given us! You have shown us how we all need to fight and be dignified," he added.
Military confirms authenticity of video clip showing the moment an F-35C Lightning II stealth plane crash-landed
A video has surfaced online showing one of the most advanced US fighter jets, the F-35C Lightning II, crashing into the deck of an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. The footage, along with a photo showing the wreckage of the aircraft floating in the sea, was confirmed to be authentic by the US Navy in a statement to CNN.
The F-35C fighter jet could be seen approaching the deck of USS ‘Carl Vinson’ from afar in the video, which was recorded on board the carrier. A loud bang could be heard, and a plume of white smoke starts to appear before the clip cuts off.
Someone has now leaked video of the accident for F-35C Lightning II of #USNavy's VFA-147 Argonauts a few days ago. Due to pilot's mistake, the aircraft landed early on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Aircraft Carrier and slipped into sea with severed landing gears! https://t.co/UXPObZR8P3pic.twitter.com/bZhf88Wq50
The wreckage of the plane drifting in the waters of the South China Sea was captured in a photo, which was also leaked online.
Speaking to CNN, the US Navy confirmed the authenticity of the footage.
“The ship has assessed that the video and photo covered by media today were taken onboard USS ‘Carl Vinson’... during the crash,” Cmdr. Hayley Sims told the outlet on Friday.
The spokesperson noted that the investigation into what led to the crash is still underway, along with efforts to recover the wreckage, which is now at the bottom of the South China Sea – a disputed waterway which is claimed almost in its entirety by China.
There have been reports in the US media that Washington is racing to recover the $100 million aircraft, fearing that it would be salvaged and subsequently claimed by Beijing. However, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated on Thursday that Beijing has “no interest in their aircraft,” while urging Washington “to do things that are conducive to regional peace and stability, rather than flex muscles in the region.”
The incident took place on Monday during a military drill involving several carriers. Seven US Navy personnel, including the pilot, who ejected during the crash, were injured. Three sailors were airlifted to receive medical treatment in the Philippines.
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Title: Ambassador warns of ‘tinderbox’ at risk of starting US-China war
Chinese diplomat says steps by US to encourage Taiwan’s independence would likely lead to ‘military conflict’
China’s ambassador to the US has warned that Beijing and Washington are likely destined for war if the latter encourages Taiwan to seek independence, describing Taipei as the “biggest tinderbox” in the relationship between the countries.
“If the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the United States, the two big countries, in a military conflict,” ambassador Qin Gang said in a radio interview with NPR that was broadcast on Friday.
The comments came in Qin’s first one-on-one interview with an American media outlet since he assumed his post in Washington last July. And as state-funded NPR noted, his warning was unusually blunt for Chinese officials, who typically speak of potential flashpoints in the US-China relationship in less direct terms. For instance, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this week told his US counterpart, Antony Blinken, that Washington must “stop playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan.”
“Let me emphasize this,” ambassador Qin told NPR. “The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States.” He said China considers Taiwan its “sacred” territory, and Beijing reserves the option to reunify through force if the Taiwanese government formally declares independence.
Qin insisted that China’s government doesn’t wish to attack Taiwan. “People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese, so we are compatriots. So the last thing we should do is to fight with compatriots, and we will do our utmost in the greatest sincerity to achieve a peaceful reunification.”
Washington’s official stance on the issue is that it remains committed to the “One China” policy, meaning it doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. But as a Pentagon official said in testimony to Congress last year, the US believes China has plans to take Taiwan by force and sees bolstering Taipei’s defenses as an “urgent task.”
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Title: Croatian president calls PM 'Ukrainian agent’
Zoran Milanovic said earlier Croatia would recall all troops from NATO deployments in the region in case of a Russia-Ukraine war
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic likened Prime Minister Andrey Plenkovic to a Ukrainian agent on Friday, two days after the latter apologized to Ukrainians over the president’s comments on NATO deployments.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Milanovic said Zagreb would withhold its troops from Eastern European NATO contingents if the situation on the Ukraine-Russia border spirals into a full-blown conflict.
On Wednesday, Plenkovic dismissed the president’s statement as “nonsense,” claiming that the Croatian contingent stationed in Poland had already returned and apologized to the Ukrainian people.
Milanovic, the commander-in-chief, hit back in an interview with Croatia’s RTL TV, suggesting that Plenkovic’s loyalties appear to be misplaced.
Let him apologize. He acts like a Ukrainian agent, and I act like a Croatian president. That’s a huge difference.
Asked if he feels the need to apologize, Milanovic said, “No way. I think the prime minister is an ordinary poltron who goes where he doesn’t belong... All I’m interested in is the Croatian interest,” he added.
In his statement on Tuesday, the president accused the US of agitating the geopolitical situation in the region amid a Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s border. “This has nothing to do with Ukraine or Russia. It has to do with the dynamics of American domestic politics.”
Milanovic claimed he is trying to steer Croatia clear of a potentially disastrous conflagration involving Russia. The Croatian leader said Ukraine must start solving “the problem” it has with the “separatists” in the country’s east through negotiations, noting that Moscow has not recognized the breakaway republics.
He added that Kiev should “not constantly confront the thermonuclear and hypersonic power, Russia. It is not Serbia. Whoever encourages them to do so is a dangerous charlatan, and there are many in Europe.”
Milanovic’s comments on NATO have earned him a place on Kiev’s “Peacemaker” database for “anti-Ukrainian activity,” and he’s been accused of justifying “Russian aggression.” He told RTL TV that he’s “neither a Ukrainian enemy nor a Russian friend” but is rather focused on the wellbeing of his own country.
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Title: Neil Young reacts to Spotify choosing Joe Rogan over him
Musician blasts sound quality on Spotify after exiting the platform in protest
Legendary singer-songwriter Neil Young has turned to criticizing Spotify’s sound quality after the streaming service chose to remove his songs rather than meet his demand to cancel podcaster Joe Rogan for allegedly spreading “disinformation” about Covid-19 vaccines.
“I have never been in favor of censorship,” the Canadian-born rocker said on Friday on his website. “Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information.”
Young, 76, went on to say, “I sound better everywhere else.” He accused Spotify of cutting digital music files down to 5% of their original content, resulting in a “shi**y, degraded and neutered sound.” He urged fans to switch to one of several competing streaming services that he claimed have higher quality.
If you support Spotify, you are destroying an art form. Business over art. Spotify plays the artist’s music at 5% of its quality and charges you like it was the real thing.
However, Young himself chose to quit Spotify only after accusing the platform of hosting harmful speech. He said in an open letter on Monday that he had asked his agents to notify Spotify that he was “actively canceling” his songs from the service. “They can have Rogan or Young – not both,” he said.
Spotify responded on Wednesday, saying it was removing Young’s music. The company said that since the pandemic began, it has pulled 20,000 podcast episodes under its policy against Covid-19 misinformation. A spokesman added that Spotify must balance “both safety for listeners and freedom for creators.”
Young’s resume includes such major hits as 'Heart of Gold' and 'Rockin’ in the Free World'. He previously removed his songs from streaming services in 2015, citing poor sound quality, and pitched his own music player, Pono. He shut down that venture in 2017, instead selling music on his website, and returned his songs to Spotify and other streaming services.
Rogan’s podcasts reportedly attract about 11 million listeners, dwarfing the audiences of mainstream news outlets.
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Title: Russia moves blood supplies near Ukrainian border – Reuters
Report based on anonymous sources alleged Moscow had moved medical materials needed to “treat casualties” near the border
Citing “three US officials,”Reuters reported that Russia was allegedly moving blood supplies and other medical materials near Ukraine. The officials cited by the agency in its “exclusive” argued that this was one of the “concrete indicators” showing whether Moscow was poised to launch an invasion or not.
“The disclosure of the blood supplies” by unidentified US officials “adds another piece of context to growing US warnings that Russia could be preparing for a new invasion of Ukraine,” Reuters pointed out.
Blood supplies have a short shelf life, typically around 14 days when refrigerated.
Two of the officials cited in the report told Reuters that the blood supplies were shipped “within recent weeks,” but did not provide a specific timeline.
The report came on the same day that top Pentagon official, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair General Mark Milley, warned that the impact of a potential invasion would be “horrific” and lead to heavy casualties, considering the forces that Russia “has arrayed” near Ukraine. He claimed that the alleged Russian military buildup at the border with Ukraine was “larger in scale and scope” than anything seen since the end of the Cold War.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, meanwhile, noted that according to the US assessment, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet made up his mind on whether to invade Ukraine and has “multiple options” available, “including seizure of cities and significant territories but also coerce acts and provocative political acts, like the recognition of breakaway territories.”
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having aggressive intentions but has warned of “military-technical measures” if it’s security concerns – such as the request that NATO does not expand into Ukraine or Georgia – are not addressed.
“If it is up to the Russian Federation, there will be no war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday. However, he added, Russia “will not allow our interests to be brutally attacked or to be ignored, either.”
Ex-National Security Agency analyst-turned whistleblower mocks those who believe Rogan’s podcast is a health hazard
Fugitive whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden took a dig at critics who have accused Joe Rogan of spreading Covid-19 misinformation via his vastly popular show on Spotify, arguing that the idea people would seek medical advice from the podcaster in earnest is nonsensical.
Snowden’s Friday tweet-storm included a post showing the comical logo for Rogan’s podcast, which includes a third eye in the host’s forehead. “I mean, just look at the logo," Snowden said. “Which part of it primes in you an expectation of reliable medical advice?”
I mean, just look at the logo. Which part of this primes in you an expectation of reliable medical advice? pic.twitter.com/ouSK49xrra
He also mocked the idea that Rogan has caused public distrust in government officials, rather than those leaders undermining their own credibility. “But sure, blame the magic, third-eye radio man for the decline of basic trust in institutions,” Snowden said. “Throw him in the volcano and we’ll have world peace by Monday.”
But sure, blame the magic, third-eye radio man for the decline of basic trust in institutions.
Throw him in the volcano and we'll have world peace by Monday.
Snowden argued that many of Rogan’s critics haven’t even listened to his ideas. “Nobody has stronger opinions about Joe Rogan than people who have never listened to Joe Rogan,” he said.
The whistleblower also suggested that much of the criticism isn’t genuine. “The idea that people are, like, emerging from their deep caves, eyes blinking against the harshness of a sun whose touch they have never known, on a quest to seek specific medical advice from the glory of a white-robed Rogan is, perhaps, just the slightest bit forced.”
The idea that people are, like, emerging from their deep caves, eyes blinking against the harshness of a sun whose touch they have never known, on a quest to seek specific medical advice from the glory of a white-robed Rogan is, perhaps, just the slightest bit forced. https://t.co/f6srLgzdNG
Asked by Brazilian reporter Marcos Candido what his point is, Snowden replied, “Don’t take medical advice from anyone with a third eye.”
Rogan has been a frequent target of criticism from media outlets and public officials. Asked about his show in an MSNBC interview on Tuesday, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called for increased censorship by social media platforms to block Covid-19 misinformation. Some of the assertions that were labeled as misinformation earlier in the pandemic, such as the theory that the virus leaked from a lab in China, have later become topics of mainstream discussion and investigation.
This week’s attacks on Rogan also included an ultimatum to Spotify by musician Neil Young, who said the streaming service can have him or the podcaster, but not both. Spotify chose Rogan, whose show reportedly attracts an average of 11 million viewers.
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Title: US general says Ukraine invasion would be ‘horrific’
Top Pentagon general says “significant casualties” would be unavoidable if Russia invades Ukraine
Citing reports of the weaponry Russia has allegedly amassed on the Ukrainian border, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair General Mark Milley argued that if an invasion happens, it would “result in a significant amount of casualties.”
“Given the type of forces that are arrayed, the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces, all of it packaged together. If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant,”Milley said at a Pentagon news conference on Friday.
And you can imagine what it might look like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific, it would be terrible.
Backing up Milley’s nightmare vision was Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin, who declared that while Russian President Vladimir Putin had not set his heart on invading yet, he was capable of doing so, and there were “multiple options available,” such as “the seizure of cities and significant territories” by Moscow.
While Austin told reporters on Friday that President Joe Biden was not planning to deploy US troops to Ukraine for combat operations, he noted that all other options were “on the table.” Later that day, Biden revealed that American troops would be sent to Eastern Europe “in the near term.” Some 8,500 US troops had been put on “heightened alert” with a view to their possible deployment to Eastern Europe earlier this week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, has asked the US to tone down rhetoric that paints a picture of a near-certain invasion of Ukraine by Russia, even as Moscow insists it has no plans to attack its neighbor. Speaking to foreign journalists on Friday, Zelensky stated that “we are not seeing any greater escalation than it has been before.”
“From media coverage, it looks like we are at war already,” the Ukrainian president added, noting that “we don’t need this panic.”
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Title: Portland’s quest to rehire police falls through
Riot-hit city that championed defunding law enforcement is trying to reverse course after homicides rose to all-time high
Faced with surging violent crime, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is trying to rehire former officers. However, the vast majority of departed cops have reportedly shown no interest in coming back so far.
Only two of the 81 recently retired officers who were invited last month to rejoin the force have expressed interest in being rehired, the Oregonian newspaper reported earlier this week. Some not only declined to return but were reportedly offended by the offer.
At Wheeler’s direction, police chief Charles Lovell last month sent a letter to former officers – including many who took early retirement amid budget cuts and disputes over tactics used in dealing with nightly riots – inviting them to “be a part of rebuilding Portland.” He acknowledged that the officers left “at a time of great despair” and said the community is now demanding beefed-up policing.
Nearly 98% of the letter’s recipients were unmoved. Former officer Stephanie Hudson, who retired last May, called the offer “laughable” and said some of the exclusions for rehire eligibility were offensive. For instance, the letter said that any police who cooperated with federal law enforcement agencies to “attack Portland residents” when a US District Courthouse was under siege by rioters are disqualified.
“Your letter indicates that nothing has changed,” Hudson replied. “It simply highlights why those who could leave did leave. I suspect that it will take a decade or more to repair the damage that has been done.”
Wheeler said in October that he hoped to rehire 100 former officers, and Portland City Council later approved a budget for bringing back 25 retired police. However, nearly 100 of the department’s currently budgeted positions are still vacant, and staffing is at its lowest level in almost three decades.
The city saw 90 homicides in 2021, exceeding its previous record by 36%. Portland’s death toll exceeded those of larger cities such as San Francisco and Boston.
It witnessed violent riots in 2020, which broke out after the police killing of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis. Initially peaceful protests quickly spiraled into civil unrest, including looting, arson, vandalism and violence. When the riots had plagued the city for more than three months, Wheeler moved to ban officers from using tear gas – a commonly deployed crowd-control tactic – to quell the unrest.
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Title: Biden says US will send troops to Eastern Europe in ‘near term’ – media
Washington will move a small contingent of troops to the region near Russia as tensions run high over Ukraine
US President Joe Biden has announced that Washington will boost its military presence on Russia’s doorstep by moving more troops to Eastern Europe in the near future. The US leader made the remark while speaking to the media on Friday evening.
Biden provided an update on the situation in Ukraine after he emerged from Air Force One.
Asked if he had decided “how soon” he “would be moving US troops to Eastern Europe,” Biden reportedly said that he would sent a small number of American servicemen to the region “in the near term.”
“I'll be moving US troops to Eastern Europe in (or he possibly says and) the NATO countries in the near term. Not a lot,” CBS News’ Senior White House Correspondent Weijia Jiang reported.
From the WH press pool report—
POTUS: “I’ll be moving US troops to Eastern Europe in (or he possibly says “and”) the NATO countries in the near term. Not a lot.”
On Monday, the Pentagon announced that some 8,500 American troops had been placed on “heightened alert” to deploy to Eastern Europe.
Speaking at a briefing earlier on Friday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that these troops would be used to “reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank,” adding that a hypothetical Russian attack would face a “unified” response from the US-led military bloc. While Ukraine is not a NATO member, Austin warned Moscow about retaliation in case it attacks a member of the alliance, saying: “An attack against one NATO member is an attack against us all.”
However, he appeared to rule out the involvement of US troops in any military action in Ukraine itself. Biden “does not intend to put troops into Ukraine for combat operations," the Pentagon chief said.
Russia has consistently denied that it has been gearing up to invade Ukraine, and has signaled no intention of attacking any member of the military bloc.
While US media and some politicians in the West have been warning of an “imminent” invasion, claiming that Russia has been “amassing” troops on the border with Ukraine to strike any minute, it was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who stepped in to pour cold water on the speculation.
Speaking to foreign media on Friday, Zelensky blasted the media coverage as “slightly imbalanced,” accusing outlets of stirring up panic. “Today we are not seeing any greater escalation than it has been before,” he noted.
Kyle Rittenhouse had previously requested his rifle and other belongings be returned to him
The rifle Kyle Rittenhouse used during the 2020 Kenosha riots will be destroyed and not returned to the teenager, Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled on Friday.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards, had previously filed a motion requesting Rittenhouse have items returned to him from the night he shot and killed two individuals and wounded a third. The shooting was ultimately determined to be self-defense, after a 2021 trial that caused uproar and split much of the country across party lines.
The outcome, however, appears to be the same either way, as Rittenhouse had expressed that he himself wanted to destroy the items from that night so they could not later be used to glorify or profit off of the shooting that took place.
Rittenhouse was charged with fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber during a Black Lives Matter protest that morphed into a destructive riot in 2020. He was also charged with wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, who was also armed that night. The jury ultimately came back with a “not guilty” verdict after a fiery trial, in which prosecutors argued Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha with deadly intentions, something the teenager repeatedly denied.
Rittenhouse was not present for Friday’s hearing. Prosecutor Tom Binger said Rittenhouse’s rifle will be destroyed by the police crime lab by the end of April. According to Binger, the agreement to destroy the rifle had been reached by prosecutors, the defense team, and Dominick Black, the individual who originally purchased the gun.
Richards said on Friday that the outcome was exactly what Rittenhouse wanted, despite his request to have the items returned not panning out.
“It is what we wanted. We did not want [it] released and then sold, not seeking to profit,” he said in a statement released to the media.
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Title: Biden administration meets with big banks over Russia sanctions – reports
Leaders are trying to make sure Wall Street economic warfare won’t disrupt the global money system
The National Security Council and other senior officials from the Biden administration have met with high-ranking executives from the US’ largest banks – including JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Bank of America – regarding what actions to take should the US choose to level sanctions against Russia, according to sources cited in a Bloomberg report on Friday.
The US and EU are considering a number of plans, including potentially targeting Russia’s ability to convert currency or sell its oil and gas to Europe, or even banning Moscow’s access to the SWIFT payment system. These are all possibilities that, while hurting Moscow, risk raining down collateral damage on the US as well.
The banking system is thus wary of such moves, according to sources cited by Bloomberg who occasionally ask whether the SWIFT cutoff in particular is likely.
“We have been very clear that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States is looking at a range of options – with allies and partners – to deliver severe costs to the Russian economy,” a Treasury spokesperson said in a written statement on Friday.
No invasion has occurred, despite a fever of related predictions from both Washington and Kiev – but threats to delist Moscow from SWIFT have persisted regardless.
However, a report from the German media earlier this month indicated western leaders had abandoned the threat to cut Russia off from SWIFT, even as the US National Security Council insisted “no option is off the table.”
The German report instead suggested that Berlin and Washington were considering “targeted” sanctions against Russia’s largest banks as revenge for the long-awaited Russian invasion of Ukraine – a move Moscow insists is not happening, but which the US claims is certain.
Should Russia be cut off from SWIFT, it would cease exporting much-needed oil, gas, metals, and other goods to Europe, the vice speaker of Russia’s upper house of Parliament warned on Tuesday.
This possibility has Germany feeling distinctly uneasy, and the European Central Bank has asked its clients to consider how they might respond to sanctions against Russia, including a possible SWIFT ban.
Citigroup, the US bank with the most exposure to Russia, has taken steps to reduce that exposure, announcing it plans to wind down its retail banking operations in the country and focus solely on institutional clients. It is also the only US bank with operations in Ukraine.
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Title: Trump calls Ukraine situation a ‘European problem’
Russian President Vladimir Putin now sees a “clear path” thanks to the “stupid people” he’s dealing with, Donald Trump says
Former President Donald Trump called Ukraine a “European problem” during a Friday interview with Glenn Beck, insisting he could do a much better job negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin than current US President Joe Biden.
Asked whether the US should be “involved” in what happens between Ukraine and Russia, Trump pushed responsibility toward European nations.
“Europe should be totally involved,” he said, going on to accuse Germany of being owned by Russia due to energy dependence.
“Russia has total control over Germany,” he said, “and they can’t fight them because of what is happening with the energy, but I would really say it is a European problem.”
Should America be involved in the Ukraine/Russia conflict? I asked former President Donald Trump: "Russia OWNS Germany ... This is a European problem." pic.twitter.com/yw25L4lJd9
Trump theorized Putin may only be motivated to advance into Ukraine because “he’s seeing it’s like a clear path because of the stupid people he is dealing with” whereas “two weeks ago,” he had “no intention.”
“I think there are ways to talk him out of it,” he added.
Former President Trump tells me how he would deter Putin from invading Ukraine: "I think 2 weeks ago he had no intention of [invading]. Now, he's seeing a clear path ... I drove the price of oil down, and that really hurt Russia." pic.twitter.com/i5G4DVqoLT
Trump also blasted European nations like Germany for being too energy-dependent on Russia, complicating negotiations.
Germany, the former president added, “sent the white flag of surrender” because “Germany made a deal with Russia with the pipeline. Nord Stream is a disaster.”
The US has warned that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine, saying officials will “work with Germany” to stop the pipeline, which is still awaiting regulatory approval.
President Biden and other White House officials have issued harsh warnings against a potential Russian movement into Ukraine, though Moscow has said recent troop movements have nothing to do with any invasion, and even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said only “panic” is being spread by US media.
“From media coverage, it looks like we are at war already, that troops are already on the road, that there's mobilization, people going somewhere. It's not the case. We don’t need this panic,” he said during a Friday press conference.
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Title: Ukraine won’t get any US combat troops, Pentagon says
US troops won’t partake in “combat operations,” but defense secretary didn’t rule out other roles for American soldiers
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that President Joe Biden “does not intend to put troops into Ukraine for combat operations." However, Austin said that every possible military option short of a direct deployment is on the table.
Though negotiations have stalled, with the US refusing to back down on insisting that Ukraine be allowed to join the NATO alliance, Austin told reporters on Friday that "conflict is not inevitable" with Russia.
Russian troops remain stationed near its own western borders, but amid talk of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, Austin conceded that the US doesn’t know whether Russian President Vladimir Putin “has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine.”
.@SecDef: Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy. The United States-in lockstep with our allies and partners-has offered Russia a path away from crisis and toward greater security. pic.twitter.com/IIdLM0czIl
Despite ruling out “combat operations,” the US is preparing for military action in other ways. Some 8,500 American troops have been placed on alert to deploy to Eastern Europe, and Austin said that these troops could be used to “reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank.” And while Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Austin suggested that “any Russian attack” would be met with “unified” opposition from the alliance.
Austin then warned Moscow that “an attack against one NATO member is an attack against us all,” although Russia has not signaled any intention to attack any members of the NATO alliance. His comments suggest a muddying of the lines between Ukraine and the alliance, and hint that NATO forces will be operating in close proximity to any potential conflict that breaks out.
Austin also boasted of the US’ ongoing efforts to shore up Ukraine’s military with arms shipments, stating that the US has sent $650 million worth of military aid to Kiev in the last year, with President Biden authorizing a package of anti-tank weapons, grenade launchers, artillery, and small arms in December. The latest shipment arrived on Friday, he announced.
Both the US and NATO have formally rejected Russia’s calls for a binding agreement on halting the eastward expansion of the alliance. Opposing NATO’s expansion into the former Warsaw Pact states has been Russian policy since the end of the Cold War, when Western leaders promised their Soviet counterparts the alliance wouldn’t push eastwards. Although that promise was broken in the late 1990s when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, the current US position is that such a promise was never made, and that NATO’s membership books must remain open – even for states bordering Russia.
Speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron earlier on Friday, Putin expressed dissatisfaction with the West’s refusal to accept an end to NATO enlargement.
The Kremlin’s messaging has been just as uncompromising as the West’s in recent days. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that “If it is up to the Russian Federation, there will be no war.” However, he added that Moscow “will not allow our interests to be brutally attacked or to be ignored either.”
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Title: Russia mulling retaliation against German outlets after RT DE ban – media
Potential reciprocal measures reportedly under consideration include taking German channels off the air in Russia and imposing heavy fines on YouTube
After RT's German-language channel was taken off air just hours following its launch, Moscow is drafting a package of retaliatory measures aimed at Berlin, Russian media outlets reported on Friday, citing government sources.
The proposed measures, which could be imposed in response to the blocking of RT DE, are said to range from restricting advertising for German companies in Russian online outlets tolevying “harsh” fines on YouTube if it refuses to reinstate the channel. Also reportedly under consideration is taking the EU nation's state-owned broadcaster DW Deutsch and DW-TV broadcasters off the air in Russia altogether, a senior official told the Kommersant newspaper.
Berlin has denied claims that the authorities influenced YouTube's decision to take the channel down. However, Kommersant's source said that “the arguments from the German side that the government is not involved in the decision to restrict the RT DE activities over the ‘state status’ of the channel are not accepted,” the source said.
“Either some solutions regarding RT DE and its work are found, like it was done with other state-funded outlets, or retaliatory measures will be introduced,” the official stressed, adding that such outlets as “DW, BBC and many others” receive state funding, yet are allowed to operate in Germany freely.
The retaliatory measures may also include some unspecified restrictions imposed on individual German journalists working in Russia, another government source told RIA Novosti, without providing any further detail.
The measures may also apply to German journalists working in Russia.
RT’s new round-the-clock German-language channel was launched on December 16 2021. The outlet went on the air from Moscow and was broadcast in the EU under a valid license through Serbia, obtained under the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT).
The launch of the channel, however, faced multiple obstacles, including German banks abruptly refusing to work with the broadcaster and Luxembourg shooting down its licensing bid. Multiple media reports suggested the small European state was pressed into refusing the license to RT DE by Berlin, with then-Chancellor Angela Merkel officially denying she had had a role in the decision.
The channel’s YouTube page ended up banned on the very same day the satellite broadcasting was launched. The American tech giant claimed the page was created in violation of earlier restrictions, which had been placed on the outlet over allegations it had attempted to circumvent a ban imposed for spreading "medical misinformation."
European satellite TV operator Eutelsat took the channel off the air shortly after, giving in to pressure from German media regulator MABB, which claimed the channel must obtain a license in the country to operate.
RT, however, has denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the German-language channel was broadcast from Moscow and reached EU customers through Serbia, where it has a license that is valid through 2029. While Serbia is not an EU member, it has been a part of the ECTT communications treaty since 2010.
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Title: Court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional
The state is already planning an appeal against the ruling
A Pennsylvania court struck down a law on Friday that allowed anyone in the US state to vote by mail, claiming it violated the commonwealth’s constitution.
A panel of judges, made up of three Republicans and two dissenting Democrats, in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled that Act 77 was unconstitutional. It had been signed into law by Democrat Governor Tom Wolf in 2019. Mail-in voting became a controversial topic during the 2020 presidential election, with many Republicans claiming the move in states toward universal mail-in voting could result in fraudulent ballots.
According to the court ruling, ‘no excuse’ mail-in voting requires a constitutional amendment in the state.
“If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books,’” Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote in the ruling.
The court decision came in response to a lawsuit objecting to universal mail-in voting. Over 2.6 million people voted via mail in Pennsylvania for the previous presidential election.
Trump, who continues to claim the election results were a sham, though no official proof of widespread fraud has been found, joined other Republicans in celebrating the court’s decision.
“Big news out of Pennsylvania, great patriotic spirit is developing at a level that nobody thought possible. Make America Great Again!” he said in a public statement.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, was also quick to react to the ruling, pledging that an appeal would be filed soon and saying the decision was based on “twisted logic” and “faulty reasoning.”
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Title: Russia reveals whether it will compromise on security guarantees
Moscow will not change its position, the foreign minister has said
Russia will not water down its security proposals if the US and NATO similarly refuse to budge on key concerns, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced.
“If they insist that they won’t change their position, then we won’t change ours,” Lavrov told local radio stations on Friday. “It’s just that their position is based on false arguments, on clear distortion of facts, and our position is based on what we all signed. And I don’t see any possibility for compromise here. What is there to agree on, if they openly sabotage and distort the previous decisions? This will be a key test for us."
“I will say once more: they cannot evade the question of why they aren’t following what their presidents signed, agreeing that it is not permitted to strengthen one’s own security at the expense of the security of others.”
The two nations have been holding discussions meant to resolve the ongoing diplomatic standoff over Ukraine. Western leaders have accused Moscow of planning an imminent invasion of its neighbor, and have pointed to reports that over 100,000 Russian soldiers have gathered near its border with Ukraine. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it has any aggressive intentions, but it has threatened unspecified “military-technical measures” if its concerns are not addressed.
Russia sent a written list of security proposals to the US in December, requesting guarantees that NATO will not expand into Ukraine or Georgia, two countries that border Russia. Moscow also demanded that the American-led military bloc limit its activity in Eastern Europe, and the US withdraw nuclear weapons from the continent. Representatives from the two sides met for a series of discussions earlier this month to attempt to de-escalate the situation.
This week, Washington delivered its written response. The document was not made public, but Lavrov stated on Thursday that he was disappointed by the American refusal to make concessions. “The main issue is our clear position on the unacceptability of further NATO expansion to the East and the deployment of highly-destructive weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow’s questions on the case have yet to be answered
The West still has questions to answer over the alleged poisoning of jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed on Friday, suggesting that the current story presented by his associates is not correct.
Speaking in an interview, Lavrov said he is “inclined to believe” that Western nations have no real reason to accuse Moscow of being behind the poisoning of Navalny, claiming that the entire story is cooked up “to provoke” Russia.
In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight to Moscow from Tomsk. After an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk, he was taken to hospital and placed in a coma. Doctors in Russia diagnosed him with an unidentified metabolic disorder. A few days later, after requests from his family and associates, he was flown to Berlin. In Germany, he was treated in the capital’s Charité Clinic, where he stayed until he recovered.
Shortly after his arrival in Berlin, doctors at the German facility announced that he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent. According to Navalny, he was attacked on the orders of the Kremlin, and he directly accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering a hit. The culpability of the Russian authorities was later supported by a joint investigation by Riga-based outlet The Insider, along with CNN, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and the Western-state-funded Bellingcat, which claimed that the FSB had been tailing him for several years and eventually tried to kill him.
Russia’s Justice Ministry later designated The Insider and Bellingcat as foreign agents.
The Kremlin has denied having any knowledge of the plot and has said there is no evidence to support the claim. The Russian authorities have also claimed that they have repeatedly asked for proof that Navalny was poisoned but have received no evidence.
This is despite a report in leading British medical journal The Lancet, which published a detailed case report of Navalny’s symptoms, including a slow heart rate, hypersalivation, hypothermia, and heavy sweating. Doctors in Omsk claim no poisons were found in the opposition figure’s system.
Now, Lavrov has accused the West of inventing the whole incident.
“So far, I am inclined to believe that the West has no grounds to accuse us, and this is all designed to provoke us,” he said in an interview.
According to the foreign minister, Germany has refused to provide information on the case because it was supposedly secret information, and now he says that Berlin won’t hand over the data due to the reluctance of Navalny himself.
Lavrov also suggested that the Navalny poisoning was pre-planned before the day of the incident, and claimed that the plane flown to Omsk to airlift him to Berlin was scheduled in advance, before there was any sign that the opposition figure would fall ill.
This is the first time he has made this claim, and no physical evidence has been presented.
“We still have not received an answer as to why, judging by objective data, that the plane which was used to take him from Omsk… was ordered the day before he became unwell,” he stated. “Why is there no answer to the questions that have been asked in the German parliament purely, specifically, factually?”
In response, Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov called Lavrov’s accusations lies, and claimed to have documents proving that he ordered the plane afterward.
Furthermore, Lavrov suggested that the substances found in Navalny were identified too quickly, meaning they were not legitimate scientific examinations. Tests were also conducted in France and Sweden, despite all countries claiming they do not have access to Novichok.
“You can’t detect this substance in a human body in three days without having the technology,” the top diplomat claimed.
Last year, at his annual end-of-year press conference, Putin claimed that the Russian prosecutor’s office had not received a single document confirming claims that the opposition figure had been poisoned, and therefore the topic should be considered closed.
“There is no need to talk about it. Let’s move on,” the president said.
In January last year, Navalny returned to Russia from Germany, knowing he could be put in prison for breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence handed to him in 2014, when he was found guilty of embezzling 30 million rubles ($415,000) from two companies, including the French cosmetics brand Yves Rocher. A short time later, he was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail.
Earlier this week, Navalny was placed on the country’s official government list of “terrorists and extremists.” Many of his associates, such as Volkov, are also on the list.
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Title: Germany reveals chances of Ukraine joining NATO
Kiev’s accession into the US-led alliance isn’t even a subject for discussion, Berlin says
NATO will not expand to include Ukraine in the near future, and therefore there is no point even discussing it when considering the future of security in Europe, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday.
Speaking to Germany’s Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Berlin’s top diplomat revealed that, during her recent trip to Moscow, she spent a long time arguing over Ukraine with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, and tried to convince him that talking about NATO expansion was a waste of time.
Last month, Russia publicly released two draft treaties it had proposed to the US and NATO. Both documents included a long list of security guarantees aimed at boosting stability in Europe. Among other things, Moscow wants Brussels to agree to abandon NATO expansion and remove troops from the vicinity of the Russian border. In response, both Washington and Brussels revealed that they would be happy to come to an agreement on military and missile placement but ruled out a legally binding promise to end the enlargement of NATO.
“At the moment, there is no eastward expansion of NATO on the agenda at all,” Baerbock told the Essen-based outlet. “In Moscow, I had a long discussion with the Russian foreign minister about this exact thing.”
According to Baerbock, international law and other agreements made by the US-led bloc mean that NATO can not legally agree to ban Ukraine from joining, but the chances of it happening soon are non-existent.
In the German foreign minister’s opinion, it is much more important to establish a constructive dialogue about the situation in eastern Ukraine, rather than to constantly focus on NATO.
“People in Ukraine want to live in peace and security,” she stated. “Many have been separated from their families for years by the conflict in the Donbass. That is what this is all about – not imminent NATO accession.”
Baerbock met with Lavrov in Moscow last week amid increasing tensions on Russia’s border with Ukraine. Moscow stands accused of placing 100,000 troops on the frontier, with some claiming that the Kremlin is planning an attack. This claim has been repeatedly denied.
On top of weapons, America might send money to improve the economy in Kiev, Biden has said
America is considering the possibility of providing Ukraine with macroeconomic support on top of the vast sums of dollars already sent for weapons and other lethal aid, US President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday.
In a readout published after a phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House revealed that it is exploring other ways to boost Ukraine’s economy “amidst pressure resulting from Russia’s military build-up.”
“President Biden noted the United States has provided Ukraine with over half a billion dollars in development and humanitarian assistance in the last year, and is exploring additional macroeconomic support,” the statement said.
The increase in aid comes as Russia stands accused of placing 100,000 troops on the border, with some claiming that the Kremlin is planning an attack. This claim has been repeatedly denied. In response to the perceived threat, many Western nations have ramped up financial and military support of Ukraine, supposedly as a deterrent against any possible invasion.
Since 2014, the US has ploughed money into Ukraine. Last September, the White House revealed this figure had hit $2.5 billion for military equipment alone, with a further $2 billion in “development assistance.” The most recent donation was a shipment of $200 million worth of weapons, which arrived in Kiev this week.
According to a read out published by Ukraine, Zelensky and Biden “discussed concrete steps by the United States to increase financial support for Ukraine, both bilaterally and by involving international financial institutions.”
Other nations have also donated money and weapons to Ukraine, including the UK, which sent 2,000 NLAW anti-tank missiles to Kiev last week
According to the Kremlin, it’s better that US officials joke rather than inflame tensions on the continent
With the process for the approval of the Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 rolling on for several months despite construction on the underwater gas link having already been completed, Moscow should consider exporting hard liquor through the vast pipeline instead, a high-ranking Washington official has joked.
Responding to a question from a journalist who said that the project is ready to pump anything – “gas, olive oil or vodka” – during a press conference on Thursday, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland joked that “vodka would be nice.”
However, she went on to insist that the US will ensure that the venture is stopped if Moscow escalates an increasingly tense standoff with Kiev, with concerns that Moscow could be ready to invade its neighbor dominating news coverage for weeks. “I would like to say frankly: If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” she warned.
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov hit back at Nuland’s words on Friday, telling journalists that “some attempts at jokes are a positive thing in this situation at least.” According to him, it is better that American officials find humor rather than busy themselves with “stirring up tension in Europe.”
The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, once it is given the greenlight by regulators in Berlin, will connect the gas fields of Siberia to consumers in Western Europe via a port in northern Germany. The construction work was completed in September but the line is yet to be given the go-ahead to begin operating. Approval of the project was suspended in mid-November by the German Federal Network Agency over a regulatory issue.
Washington and Kiev have accused the Kremlin of using gas as a political tool rather than a solely economic endeavor, with the US claiming that it threatens Europe’s “energy security.” The American government has imposed sanctions on the pipeline on several occasions.
In November, Yuriy Vitrenko, the head of Ukraine’s state gas firm Naftogaz, argued that the project escalated “the chances of a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine.” According to him, Moscow potentially circumventing its neighbor could make Kiev more vulnerable to an “invasion.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, has previously attempted to squash fears of any manipulation of major gas supply plans. “We should not put anyone in a difficult position, including Ukraine, despite all the complexities related to Russian-Ukrainian relations today,” he said.
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Title: Expletive-laden Jake Paul ‘diss track’ takes aim at UFC boss Dana White & Conor McGregor (VIDEO)
The YouTube prankster also targeted others from the elite MMA promotion such as Conor McGregor and Jorge Masvidal
YouTube prankster-turned-boxer Jake Paul has released a rap diss track that sees him take aim at UFC president Dana White and namedrop several other key figures from the elite MMA banner including Khabib Nurmagomedov and his former lightweight rival Conor McGregor.
The track's three-and-a-half-minute video, which was promised by Paul and released on Friday on his YouTube channel, features a cameo from ex-UFC star Cris Cyborg who is currently the Bellator women's featherweight champion.
At the 'UCF Headquarters', the Brazilian is pressured into penning a deal for just $12,000 per fight with a bald executive meant to be White telling her she can be "as rich as McGregor" while shrugging off her concerns about long-term health care.
Once Cyborg has gone, White and his cronies celebrate locking her up "for life" and the fact the fighters "do all the work" while "we make all the money" until Paul arrives with his crew to break up the party.
WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE
Calling White a "bald b***h", Paul points to 'Dana's to do list' on a whiteboard containing points such as "raise pay per view prices and pay fighters less" before saying it's time to "put an end to this sh*t" and swinging for him with a baseball bat.
As the video cuts to a packed arena, Paul tries to lead a chant and encourage UFC fighters to say "F**k Dana White" before breaking into rap.
"First of all" is Masvidal on his hit list, who Paul claims isn't rich, and that his $5 million for fifty fights in the octagon "isn't s**t".
Making fun of Nate Diaz for having a lisp and speaking "a different language", the Ohio native calls the UFC's combatants "shelf toys" doing the bidding of White, who won't let them "off the leash" to make money in other sports such as boxing while still under contract, as seen with heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
Paul goes on to claim that the UFC hasn't been able to recover since Nurmagomedov retired in 2020, and that a supposedly cocaine-addicted White should have stuck to being a kickboxing instructor.
Then relaxing on a beach as his scantily-clad girlfriend Julia Rose feeds him Lo Mein, Paul moves on to McGregor who he teases for not winning a five in five years and calls a "rich little weirdo" with "ugly a** veneers" ahead of questioning what his partner Dee sees in the liquor drinker often on the wrong side of the law.
Bragging that he is about to make "quarterbacking money" like Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who signed a $503 million contract in 2020, the 5-0 boxing novice finishes on a bit of spoken word.
"Dana, pay your fighters more," he demands. "Give them healthcare, you scumbag. I haven’t met a single person who says anything good about you.
"I passed my drug test and you went silent. I’m keeping my foot on your neck until you tap, b***h. Stop raising your pay-per-view prices on the fans and not paying fighters more. Greedy, old, lonely, bald, b***h," he concludes.
As Paul claims that "all proceeds from this video go to underpaid fighters in the UFC who get paid the $12k minimum", White is yet to respond to the attack which is just the latest chapter in a long-standing feud while Paul plans a switch to MMA.
According to top executives, the rapidly escalating standoff could mean big bucks for investors
Rock bottom relations between Moscow and the West, along with the looming prospect of a conflict in Eastern Europe, bode well for firms cashing in on sending arms overseas, two of America’s largest weapons exporters have admitted.
As Washington spends increasingly large sums of cash on military equipment for Ukraine, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin told investors this week that escalation in the region bodes well for their bottom line, in transcripts released by investment site The Motley Fool.
On a January 25 earnings call, Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes said, “we just have to look to last week where we saw the drone attack in the UAE, which have attacked some of their other facilities. And of course, the tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea, all of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.”
The same day, Jim Taiclet, CEO of Lockheed Martin, also advised investors that the likelihood of further American involvement in Eastern Europe would be good for business. “If you look at the evolving threat level and the approach that some countries are taking, including North Korea, Iran and through some of its proxies in Yemen and elsewhere, and especially Russia today, and China, there’s renewed great power competition that does include national defense and threats to it,” he said.
Taiclet noted that “the history of the United States is, when those environments evolve, we do not sit by and just watch it happen. So I can’t talk to a number, but I do think, and I’m concerned personally that the threat is advancing, and we need to be able to meet it.”
In a January 26 earnings call, Brian West, CFO of aerospace and weapons contractor Boeing, did not reference Ukraine and Russia directly, but acknowledged that strong bipartisan support for military spending in Washington has ensured that the company sees “stable demand.”
According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the arms industry has spent $2.5 billion on government lobbying over the past two decades, employing, on average, more than 700 lobbyists per year. Pentagon spending has exceeded $14 trillion since the start of the war in Afghanistan, and one-third to a half of that money has gone to military contractors.
In the 1990s, arms manufacturers spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying for the expansion of NATO, the US-led military bloc, into Eastern Europe, after the industry shrank following the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War.
The push for NATO expansion started, in the 90s, when Russia had a very US-friendly government, and wasn't threatening anyone. As with most things, it was about $$'s. US arms makers were looking for new customers & lobbied heavily. Here's how @nytimes reported it, at the time. pic.twitter.com/vj6AKjxhwz
Tensions around Ukraine have been high for months, with Western leaders claiming they fear Russia is planning an imminent invasion of its neighbor, and pointing to reports that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers have massed near the shared border. Moscow has denied that it has any aggressive intentions, and has called for security agreements that would prohibit NATO from expanding into Ukraine or Georgia, a deal that Washington has said is off the table.
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Title: Coronavirus is forever, Americans fear – poll
Four out of five people in the US think the pandemic won’t end until it mutates to a ‘mild illness’
An overwhelming majority of Americans surveyed by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research believe they’ll be “stuck with” the novel coronavirus “forever” – or at least for a long time, according to a poll published Thursday. The 83% of respondents who responded along those lines said they will consider the pandemic “over” when the virus has mutated into a “mild illness.”
Individual replies to the survey reflected a sense of resignation, or learned helplessness, with one couple reporting letting their guard down following vaccination only to batten down the hatches again with the arrival of the Delta variant. “I hardly go out at all anymore,” public health researcher Colin Planalp told the AP, adding that his family had “canceled travel plans” and taken his son out of school for over a week with no return date in sight.
“We’re not going to be done with this,” he said, predicting that while the virus would “change over time,” it was impossible to say in which direction. Viruses typically mutate to maximize their own survival, which sometimes – but not always – means becoming less virulent in order not to kill their hosts before they’ve had a chance to reproduce.
Only 15% of poll respondents believe the virus will ultimately be “eliminated like polio.” A growing number said they are more likely to wear masks and avoid crowds compared with last month. Respondents cited reports of increasing numbers of cases and hospitalizations to explain their newfound caution.
Paradoxically, vaccinated individuals are more likely to take precautions like masking and avoiding crowds, with 73% reporting they “frequently wear a mask around others.” Just 37% of the unvaccinated report frequently wearing masks. A growing number of Americans are also avoiding non-essential travel, with three out of five – a 7% increase from last month – reporting an aversion to the practice.
Some 65% of all Americans polled regardless of vaccination status report wearing face coverings around others, while 64% say they avoid large groups of people – both figures reflecting an increase from the 57% who said yes to both questions last month.
While initial scientific reports on the Omicron variant suggested it was precisely the “mild” – or at least milder – mutation Americans were waiting for, governments around the world quickly shifted the narrative to reflect a need for more mandates, more booster shots, and more controls, and overall fear levels have ratcheted up accordingly.
Researchers found that kitties who don’t have to hunt for survival have smaller brains
A study published in the Royal Society Open Science Journal on Wednesday has confirmed scientific suspicion that animals domesticated by humans experience a shrinking in brain size. European and African wildcats both have larger brains than the housebound felines we keep as pets.
Researchers for decades have argued that domestication shrank cat brains, with several studies in the 1960s and 1970s comparing brain sizes between domestic cats and their wild ancestors. However, the latest study compared modern wildcats with modern house cats and came to the same conclusion.
"Our data indicates that domestic cats indeed, have smaller cranial volumes (implying smaller brains) relative to both European wildcats (Felis silvestris) and the wild ancestors of domestic cats, the African wildcats (Felis lybica), verifying older results," the researchers explained in their new paper.
Furthering their argument that domestication was the cause of this change, they described how hybrids of domestic cats and European wildcats “have cranial volumes that cluster between those of the two parent species."
Domestication and its consequences have been a disaster for other animals too, with sheep, dogs, and rabbits all experiencing shrinking brains as we domesticated them. On the other hand, domestication has decreased aggression and the will to wander in these animals, making them more useful to humans, for example as working companions in the case of dogs.
Human brains have also shrunk in the past 3,000 years, although scientists have not conclusively linked this change with our gradual slide to self-domestication and sedentary lifestyles.
Some scientists argue that cats are only “semi-domesticated,” and that their relationship with humans is beneficial only to the cats. However, the researchers refute this claim, pointing to their usefulness in keeping grain harvests safe from rodents, and our tendency to favor docility when breeding them.
There are currently somewhere between 200 and 600 million tame cats in the world, making them the world’s most popular household pet. According to figures from Dalia Research, a German firm, Russians are the most cat-crazy people in the world, with 59% owning a feline companion.
---------- 26 ----------
Title: Pence reveals how long it’s been since he’s spoken to Trump
The January 6 Capitol riot was “difficult” for the two, the former vice president said
During an appearance on Fox News this week, former US Vice President Mike Pence was asked if he and former President Donald Trump are “good” and have spoken recently, to which Pence revealed the Republican pair have not spoken since last summer.
“You know, we talked last summer,” Pence told Jesse Watters, adding that the January 6 Capitol riot was “difficult” for them and a “tragic day in the life of the nation.”
Pence added that he did his “duty” under the Constitution on January 6 and said he and Trump spoke in the following days, choosing in the end to part “amicably” as they left office.
Trump and many of his supporters have criticized Pence over January 6, claiming the former vice president had the power to reject the presidential election vote out of concerns of fraudulence rather than certifying now-President Joe Biden’s victory, as he did. Some who entered the Capitol building that day even chanted “hang Mike Pence,” according to reports at the time.
“Mike should have sent those crooked votes back to the legislatures, and you would have had a different result in the election, in my opinion,” Trump said last December at an event in Florida. He added that his former vice president’s reputation among his supporters has been “mortally wounded” based on the growing negative sentiment toward Pence.
Pence still offered praise for Trump while speaking with Fox, blasting Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for reversing course on Trump’s policies on immigration and other areas.
“The Biden-Harris administration is failing the American people at our southern border, failing on our economy and frankly failing the country at home and abroad,” the former Indiana congressman said.
---------- 27 ----------
Title: Smartphone giant rolls out gender-neutral emojis – media
Apple has reportedly included ‘pregnant man’ and ‘pregnant person’ emojis in a beta release of its upcoming iOS 15.4 software update
Apple has reportedly included pregnant man and gender-neutral pregnant person emojis in a software update for its operating system. The designs are apparently among 37 new emojis bundled with the iOS 15.4 version, which was released for bug testing on Thursday.
The Unicode Consortium, a California-based nonprofit organization that oversees emoji standards, had approved the designs last September. They were included in a variety of skin tones as part of its Emoji 14.0 update. Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft create and apply stylized versions of the emojis for their respective operating systems.
Apple’s designs were revealed by Emojipedia – a reference website and Unicode Consortium member – in a blog post on Thursday. The ‘First Look’ post by the site’s editor-in-chief, Keith Broni, includes a section on ‘gender consistency’.
“Since 2019, vendors have been making considerable efforts to offer all people emojis with three different gender variants – one ‘Man’, one ‘Woman’, and a non-gender-specifying ‘Person’,” Broni wrote, adding that the latest Apple update “continues this trend by adding two new gender neutral people emojis in the form of ‘Person with Crown’ and ‘Pregnant person’, as well as adding a new ‘Pregnant Man’ emoji.”
In addition, the site contains sections on the two emojis, describing them as a pregnant man and person holding his and “their round stomach.” It noted that the emoji may “sometimes [be] used in jest to represent feeling too full after overeating,” referring to such usage as denoting a “food baby.”
These emojis were “approved to make the emoji keyboard more consistent and gender inclusive,” the site notes. Similarly, the section on the androgynous ‘Person with Crown’ emoji – which joins the gendered ‘Princess’ and ‘Prince’ variants – was apparently “created to represent royalty without being overly specific about gender.”
Volodymyr Zelensky has blasted the West for causing panic
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticized the “slightly imbalanced” coverage of the situation surrounding his country exhibited by some Western politicians and media. He was speaking to foreign reporters during a major press conference on Friday.
The former entertainer particularly emphasised his concerns about press coverage, and political statements, concerning an alleged Russian military build up near his country's frontier.
“Today we are not seeing any greater escalation than it has been before. Yes, the number of servicemen has increased, but I spoke about that at the beginning of 2021 when they talked about the military exercises of the Russian Federation,” Zelensky stated.
“From media coverage, it looks like we are at war already, that troops are already on the road, that there's mobilization, people going somewhere. It's not the case. We don’t need this panic.”
Overhyping the tensions around Ukraine has already had a heavy impact on its economy, Zelensky insisted. Billions have been withdrawn from the country, in recent times, he added, without specifying whether he was referring to the domestic Grivna currency, or those of foreign nations.
The president also touched upon phone talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden, which took place earlier in the day. Zelensky dismissed media reports that they didn't go well, insisting that that there were no disagreements with the US president.
“We do not have any misunderstanding with the president of the United States. Simply, I deeply understand what is happening in my country, and he understands well what is going on in the US,” Zelensky explained.
At the same time, the Ukrainian leader admitted that he might have some secrets to keep from Biden.
I think that as the president of an independent country, I can have my own secrets, just like the president of the US.
---------- 29 ----------
Title: Sean Penn comments on ‘feminized’ American men
The actor shared his thoughts on men becoming “wildly feminized” in American culture
Speaking to The Independent, Sean Penn has once again expressed his views on masculinity and the feminization of men in America, saying men have “surrendered their jeans and put on a skirt” due to “cowardly genes.”
Earlier this month Penn told iNewspaper that “I don’t think that being a brute or having insensitivity or disrespect for women has anything to do with masculinity, or ever did. But I don’t think that [in order] to be fair to women, we should become them.”
Asked to follow up on those statements during a sit down with The Independent, Penn said: “I have these very strong women in my life who do not take masculinity as a sign of oppression toward them. There are a lot of, I think, cowardly genes that lead to people surrendering their jeans and putting on a skirt.”
The Independent article mentions that Penn’s daughter Dylan was also present during the joint interview and “went quiet” and “stared into space” during her father’s comments.
The interview comes as Penn is currently promoting his latest action film ‘Flag Day’, which he directed and starred in alongside his children Dylan and Hopper from his ex-wife Robin Wright.
The film is based on the 2004 memoir by Jennifer Vogel ‘Flim-Flam Man’ and tells the story of her struggles in coming to terms with her conman father’s past. The film, however, has so far received mixed reviews from audiences and critics.
---------- 30 ----------
Title: First trial of HIV vaccine using Covid jab tech announced
Moderna launches early-stage clinical trials of an HIV vaccine using the same technology as the pharma giant’s Covid jab
Moderna has announced that, in conjunction with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the biotech firm has started a Phase I trial of its HIV mRNA vaccine at a Washington, DC facility.
The trial – the first doses of which have already been administered at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (GWU) – is focused on producing a vaccine for HIV using the same tech that helped develop Moderna’s Covid-19 inoculation.
“The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging, and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine,” Dr. Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of IAVI, said in a statement about the trial.
While HIV is now manageable with medication, allowing viral loads to be reduced to undetectable and not transmissible levels, no vaccine has been developed for the virus – and several candidates have failed during clinical trials.
The Moderna vaccine seeks to use messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology to teach the recipient’s cells to make proteins that trigger immune responses to fight off potential infection.
Alongside the primary vaccine being trialed by researchers, Moderna is working on a booster jab to deliver an immune response within individuals who receive the jab, protecting recipients from exposure to the virus in the future.
The trial involves 56 people, with 48 receiving one or both doses of the vaccine and 32 also getting the booster. Eight of the trial participants will just be given the booster shot.
Phase I is due to last for six months, allowing researchers to monitor recipients to gauge the efficacy and safety of the vaccine before proceeding with further clinical trials.
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Title: Russian stance on Cuban military bases revealed
Dmitry Medvedev said that building military bases on the Caribbean island is a no-go
Claims that Moscow could soon send troops and hardware to Cuba, barely 100 miles off the US coast, should be ruled out because such a move would destroy the island nation’s hopes of normalizing relations with Washington, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has warned.
Speaking with journalists on Thursday, Medvedev, who held his country’s top job between 2008 and 2012 and is now Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, said that the two Latin American countries are close partners of Moscow, but are also sovereign nations who are “trying to escape from isolation and reestablish normal relations with the US to some extent.”
“We can’t deploy anything there,” he went on. “Even if, as is the case in Cuba, this is only because of their geopolitical position, their own national interests.” The ex-leader argued that there shouldn’t even be discussion of such a plan, because it would “provoke tension in the world.”
In reference to ongoing disputes surrounding Ukraine, where Western leaders have accused Russia of planning an invasion, Medvedev insisted that his country does not want war, and that security negotiations are the only way to de-escalate tensions between Russia and NATO, the US-led military bloc.
Earlier this month, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, in an interview with RTVI, said that he would not rule out the possibility of building military infrastructure in Cuba or Venezuela, and that it would depend on “the actions of our American colleagues.”
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded, noting that Russian military activity in Latin America had not been a point of discussion at recent security talks, but said that the US would act “decisively” if it did happen.
On Wednesday, Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reported that President Vladimir Putin had spoken with the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and had agreed to step up collaboration with them in a range of areas, including military matters.
On Thursday, Lavrov expressed disappointment concerning Washington’s response to Russia’s recent security proposals, saying that the US had refused to make concessions concerning the expansion of NATO in eastern Europe. “The main issue is our clear position on the unacceptability of further NATO expansion to the east and the deployment of highly destructive weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,” the diplomat explained.
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Title: Khabib offers three sheep to meet Michael Jordan
The UFC icon made the offer to comedian Bob Menery if he can arrange a meeting with the NBA legend
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a legend in his own right but is willing to pay an unusual price to meet a man of even bigger sporting stature.
Arriving in Miami for a first US show with his MMA promotion Eagle FC, Khabib was asked on the sidelines of a press event by American comedian Bob Menery what he was willing to offer if a meeting could be arranged with NBA GOAT Michael Jordan.
“How many sheep do I get for Michael Jordan?” Menery was heard asking the Dagestani star in a clip shared with the comedian’s 3 million Instagram followers.
“Three sheep. If you make me and Michael Jordan meet, I’m going to give you three sheep,” Khabib replied.
“Well get your three sheep ready,” Menery responded.
“And we’re going to give him three dogs,” Khabib added, pointing to nearby comedian Kyle Forgeard.
“We made some weird deals on the @fullsendpodcast show today. I gotta now get to Michael Jordan. Who can assist? I want those sheep. @khabib_nurmagomedov I’m coming for your sheep,” wrote Menery.
Boasting his own agricultural business back in Dagestan and a new chain of fast-food restaurants – ‘M-eat by Khabib’ – the Russian MMA legend would be unlikely to have any difficulty getting his hands on the livestock.
Whether Menery can keep his end of the bargain – or if Jordan wants the animals – is another matter entirely.
Meanwhile, Khabib will be in attendance as his promotion holds an inaugural US event – Eagle FC 44 – at the FLXcast Arena in Miami on Friday.
The card will be headlined by Russian heavyweight veteran Sergei Kharitonov taking on Dutch-Surinamese kickboxing phenom Tyrone Spong.
Having called time on his undefeated career in 2020, Khabib is channeling his efforts into Eagle FC and other business ventures as he aims to crack the US market and challenge the likes of his former employers the UFC.
According to the Ukrainian ambassador in Germany, its officials are shying away by refusing to provide armaments
Berlin must be bold and sign off on the transfer of lethal weapons to Kiev in the face of a purported Russian invasion, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany has demanded despite the country’s constant refusal to back down on its decision not to provide the Eastern European nation with arms and ammunition.
Speaking to German news outlet dpa on Wednesday, Andrey Melnik renewed his calls for the German government to send hardware to the Eastern European nation, noting that while a delivery of 5,000 military helmets were welcomed, this is not enough.
According to him, this is a “purely symbolic gesture,” and merely a “drop in the ocean.” Instead, Berlin would do better to hand over weaponry to counter Russian aggression.
“We do not need tactics and maneuvering, but courageous action… which will finally provide Ukraine with German defensive weapons,” Melnik insisted, arguing that this is what the country’s people “need most of all today.”
The envoy also said that Kiev “is waiting for Germany to make a 180-degree turn and a real paradigm shift.”
His remarks come after Berlin’s Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced Germany would not send any weapons to Ukraine, but would be shipping 5,000 protective helmets.
Kiev’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko also poured scorn on the move and accused Lambrecht of not fully grasping that Kiev is “dealing with a perfectly equipped Russian army that can start further invading Ukraine at any time.”
“5,000 helmets are an absolute joke,” he said. “What will Germany send in support next? Pillows?”
Western leaders have sounded the alarm in recent weeks, claiming that Moscow could be planning to launch an invasion of its neighbor. However, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegations and accused NATO of inflaming tensions on the continent.
Earlier in January, Melnik said Berlin had a moral responsibility for Ukraine’s future, and was therefore obliged to sell Kiev arms so the country could defend itself against purported Russian aggression. If not, he warned, there was a risk of “serious consequences for bilateral relations.”
However, Germany has pointed to its stated policy of not supplying weapons to conflict zones, a long-standing decision from previous governments which is also supported by the new coalition formed in December.
“In recent years, the German government has repeatedly decided not to supply lethal weapons. There are reasons for this, which are of course also based on all the developments of recent years and decades,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
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Title: Covid is ‘a money grab,’ conspiracy-loving UFC queen tells Rogan (VIDEO)
'They're trying to kill us' protested women’s UFC bantamweight champion Julianna Pena on Joe Rogan's podcast
UFC bantamweight queen Julianna Pena has suggested that Covid is a 'money grab' and a plot to 'kill us' during an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
The 'Venezuelan Vixen' became the ruler of the 135lbs division at the end of 2021 by submitting former two-weight class ruler Amanda Nunes in one of MMA's greatest upsets.
Currently the flavor of the month, Pena was invited onto Rogan's show this week and revealed that two of his episodes featuring doctors giving anti-mainstream pandemic theories helped form views that were a little out there even for Rogan himself.
"I listened to [your] podcast with the two doctors, back-to-back – Robert Malone and [Peter McCullough]. I mean, that was eye-opening for me," Pena explained to Rogan.
"I’m a massive conspiracy theorist on this whole thing, and I have been since the very beginning. I’m like, ‘This is just a money grab. This is – they’re trying to kill us, and this is ridiculous.'"
"Whoa. I don’t think they’re trying to kill us," Rogan replied.
"I think there’s a lot of confusion as far as what works and what doesn’t work. … Reality is, there’s a lot of people scared and a lot of confusion, and there’s also a lot of people that don’t want people discussing things.
"They only want one narrative, and that’s where it becomes a problem for me," the pundit pointed out.
As Dr. Malone's appearance led to nearly 300 doctors, physicians and scientists signing a letter urging rights-owners Spotify to crack down on Covid misinformation across the streaming platform, cardiologist Dr. McCullough said the pandemic was planned and that Covid vaccines are merely experimental.
McCullough is also an advocate for people to refuse to be vaccinated, and while Pena did not reveal her vaccine status, she contracted Covid in November 2020 and claims to be opposed to mask-wearing mandates.
"To me, I don’t put on a mask unless somebody asks me," she said.
"And then I’m like, ‘That’s over. Come on.’ … This is ridiculous. I’m sick of this. I’m so sick of it," she insisted.
While Pena and Nunes are tipped to become rival coaches on The Ultimate Fighter ahead of a rematch later this year, Pena has suggested that Ronda Rousey could be her next foe if the Brazilian doesn't step up to the plate.
“She really had a tough time getting along with me on The Ultimate Fighter,” Pena said of Rousey on the show she became the first female winner of in 2013.
"She didn’t like me at all because I was friends with Miesha Tate. She wasn’t the nicest. It would be amazing to pull Ronda Rousey back out of retirement. It would be great to have her come back to UFC and fight again."
For Pena, however, Nunes simply can't pull out of a second showdown if she cares about her legacy.
"Well, somebody suggested: ‘Well, what if she doesn’t decide to take the fight with you, and decides to take an easier fight at ’45 [featherweight], and retires off into the sunset?’" Pena said to Rogan.
"Like, she can’t. She can’t do that. She would look like the biggest coward on earth," Pena concluded.
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Title: NATO knows truth about Russia ‘invasion’ plans, source tells media
The number of troops currently deployed is not enough to attack Ukraine, an official told Euractiv
Despite weeks of escalating tensions and claims that Russian troops and tanks could begin streaming over the border into Ukraine at a moment’s notice, Moscow doesn’t actually appear to be masterminding an invasion of its neighbor, a top NATO official has reportedly admitted.
The senior figure, who represents an EU member state in the bloc’s Brussels HQ has told pan-European news outlet Euractiv that they believe Russia is not on the verge of starting a military incursion into Ukraine.
“To invade such a large country with such military forces [like Ukraine], you need military capabilities other than those that have been currently deployed,” the source said.
The unnamed source also added that the US-led bloc is neither legally bound to militarily intervene in Ukraine, nor does it have “the right” to do so, because Ukraine is not a member of NATO. The country is still the bloc’s “partner of increased opportunities,” the source said, which means NATO has “some moral obligations” to sanction Russia in case of an aggression against Kiev.
At the same time, the official argued that it may be a good idea if the West “pulled Ukraine’s ear a bit,” as there are some in Kiev adding fuel to the fire and risking provocations.
“There are also problems in Ukraine; who is in power, who has the upper hand in the army…” the source went on.
Western countries have accused Russia of massing troops and military hardware along the frontier with the intention of attacking its neighbor, claims which Russia has consistently denied. Moscow, in turn, sees Western military infrastructure close to its borders as a threat and wants legal assurances that the NATO will not expand further eastward, effectively barring Kiev from membership. The bloc has rejected this demand, pointing to its stated ‘open-door policy’ and maintaining Kiev should have the right to aspire to membership.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that NATO’s written response to Moscow’s security proposals, in which the bloc is said to have dismissed Russia’s key concerns, was “embarrassing.”
Euractiv’s source nevertheless argued that other steps could be taken to defuse the situation in Eastern Europe, such as mutually agreed restrictions on warplane flybys and military drills along the border.
“There are options to reduce the tension as early as tomorrow,” the source said, noting that Moscow was in favor of a “political hotline” for talks between President Vladimir Putin and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Stoltenberg proposed that NATO and Russia should reopen their missions in Moscow and Brussels respectively, after they were shuttered in a tit-for-tat move in October.
“We should also make full use of our existing military-to-military channels of communications, to promote transparency and reduce risks, and look also into setting up a civilian hotline for emergency use,” the NATO chief said.
A source told the Izvestia newspaper this week, however, that Moscow does not plan to reopen a mission in Brussels, due to disagreements with NATO over the number of personnel who would be credentialed to work there.
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Title: Cancel culture branded ‘replica’ of McCarthyism
Lucille Ball facing accusations of communism in ‘Being the Ricardos’ is reflective of Hollywood today, the actor says
‘Being the Ricardos’ star Javier Bardem’s latest interview promoting the movie included making a connection between McCarthyism and open blacklists in ‘50s Hollywood to the effects of cancel culture today.
“It speaks about something that is happening today in some way, in some weird way,” Bardem told CNN this week about the Amazon Prime film, after a clip was shown of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and husband Desi Arnaz (Bardem) discussing a troubling accusation of Ball being a communist, at a time when such a claim could derail a career.
The film, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, follows a week in the production of the real-life sitcom ‘I Love Lucy’ and the various behind-the-scenes drama that unfolds, including Ball facing the communist accusation.
McCarthyism, named after the late Joseph McCarthy, who led hearings questioning suspected communists in the ‘50s, gives ‘Being the Ricardos’ a “resonance” today, Bardem said, as cancel culture is a “little bit of a replica” of McCarthy’s aggressive public hearings and subsequent shaming and professional backlash.
“People were pointed out for crimes of the past that were not legally proven and they were damned by this. They were destroyed. Lives were destroyed. Careers were destroyed, as we know. And that’s why the movie has resonance today, unfortunately. It’s not about communism or not communism. It’s about the witch hunt,” Bardem, a Spanish actor famous for roles in hit films like ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘Skyfall’, told CNN.
In Javier Bardem’s new film Being the Ricardos, McCarthyism is front and center. “It speaks about something that is happening today,” Bardem tells me, “like the cancellation culture – or whatever the name is – is a little bit of a replica of what happened in the McCarthy times.” pic.twitter.com/Px838rRBSx
Bardem has pushed back against cancel culture situations in the past, even defending his former collaborator Woody Allen, a director who has seen multiple actors express regret over working with him due to sexual assault allegations that have been public for years, but which gained extra attention recently thanks to the #MeToo movement and an HBO documentary. The accusations have been investigated multiple times, with no charges being brought against the filmmaker, and Bardem is not among the growing list of actors who regret working with the Oscar-winning director. The two previously collaborated on 2008’s ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’.
“If the legal situation ever changes, then I’d change my mind. But for now I don’t agree with the public lynching that he’s been receiving, and if Woody Allen called me to work with him again I’d be there tomorrow morning. He’s a genius,” the actor said in 2018.
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Title: Nearly 50 steel execs jailed over emissions
Beijing has punished nearly 50 executives of steel-producing companies for faking pollution data
Authorities in China have punished supervisors from four companies located in the top steelmaking city of Tangshan, the local government announced on Thursday, citing court documents.
Some 47 senior officials working for the companies have been given prison sentences ranging from six to 18 months after they were found guilty of tampering with monitoring devices controlling emissions.
The interference allowed the companies to release large quantities of pollutants back in March 2021, according to the Tangshan municipal government’s statement. Two of the companies caught circumventing the emissions restrictions, Tangshan Songting and Hebei Xinda, were also fined four million yuan to seven million yuan ($628,000 to $1.1 million).
The sentences and heavy fines come amid Beijing’s campaign to make its economy more eco-friendly and achieve carbon goals outlined by the central government. Steel producers appear to be among the prime offenders, repeatedly caught flouting the emissions caps.
Last year, four Tangshan steel making companies were caught failing to comply with production cuts introduced to limit heavy pollution. One of the offending companies, Tangshan Jinma Steel Group, was also involved in the latest scandal.
The Russian leader set out his grievances to Macron about Western responses to security proposals
With tensions running high on the European continent, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have held a high-stakes discussion by telephone, with the two world leaders going head-to-head over Moscow’s requests for security guarantees from the US and NATO
The Kremlin released its version of the talks on Friday, in which the two leaders touched upon numerous critical topics. As per the read-out, “Putin noted that the Russian side will carefully study the written answers to the draft security guarantee agreements from the US and NATO … and then decide on its further actions.”
According to the Russian president’s press service, Putin acknowledged Moscow’s dissatisfaction with the responses that it received earlier this week from the US side following weeks of negotiations.
“American and NATO replies did not take into consideration Russia’s fundamental concerns, such as the prevention of NATO enlargement, the refusal to deploy weapons systems near Russia’s borders and also to return the military potential and infrastructure of the block to the positions of 1997 in Europe when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed,” the statement read.
It was agreed that the two sides would continue dialogue on a range of security issues on the continent. “Macron informed Putin about Paris's approaches on the pan-European track,” the notice read, mentioning France’s position as president of the EU Council for the first half of 2022.
When discussing the situation in the war-torn eastern Ukraine, Putin reiterated the importance of Kiev implementing provisions set out in the Minsk Agreements, which were designed to bring an end to the conflict in the region.
Moscow has previously said that it stands by the protocols, penned in 2014, and has accused Kiev of failing to live up to its side by refusing to negotiate with the leaders of the breakaway regions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that the territories are Russian proxies and insisted he would hold talks directly with Putin instead.
The call between the two heads of state came shortly after Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held a marathon meeting in Paris to discuss de-escalation in the war-torn Donbass region.
Following talks held as part of the Normandy Format, which also includes France and Germany, Moscow’s chief representative said that “despite all the differences in interpretations, we agreed that the cease-fire must be maintained by all the parties in line with the accords.”
Earlier in January, Macron marked the start of his country’s presidency of the EU by calling for a new “European order,” free of threats, coercion, and spheres of influence. This was widely interpreted as a move that France wants to play a more active role in the negotiations rather than delegating discussions on European security to Washington.
“Both for us and for Russia, for the sake of the security of our continent which is indivisible, we need this dialogue,” the French president said, adding that it should be “a frank and demanding dialogue in the face of destabilization, interference and manipulation.”
Dominique Moisi, a French political scientist and co-founder of the Paris-based Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, told the Associated Press that Macron has long attempted to “to reset the relation between France and Russia, and to do it based on a mix of being open and being firm.” However, he cast doubt on its past and future success, calling it a “challenge.”
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Title: Russia's Darkest Hour: How Moscow suffered a humiliating defeat in its first Post-Soviet war
Soon after the end of the USSR, Russia went to a hopeless war with a renegade province. We remember these events as the First Chechen War
In 1996, Russia lost a war against a then breakaway region of its own country. The campaign, that lasted for 20 months, produced a devastating number of casualties on both sides and completely devastated the rebellious republic which surprised everybody by forcing Moscow to capitulate.
Russia’s defeat looked sensational: Chechnya’s population, economy, and military potential were only a fraction of the central state's resources, and yet a coalition of Chechen warlords managed to secure a position that allowed them to dictate their will to a nuclear superpower for years to come. Some even argued that it was the end of Russia’s military and political strength. One of the most detailed books on the Chechen War published in the West at the time had quite a telling title, ‘Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power’.
In the end, no such prophecies came true, but Russia’s weakness came as a shock to everyone even though it was obvious that the newly emerged country was shaken badly by the recent dissolution of the USSR. Nonetheless, if we look closely at how the war progressed, it will become clear why Moscow's defeat was to be expected and almost inevitable.
When power was up for grabs
Even though Chechnya became part of Russia back in the 19th century, it was never a quiet place. Riots and uprisings took place every now and then, mostly on religious grounds, as time went by. In the mid-20th century, during World War II, Stalin tried to solve the problem of the restive mountainous region the way he preferred – by deporting both Chechens and the Ingush people to Central Asia.
The mass exile had catastrophic consequences. Thousands died in transit and upon arrival due to harsh conditions. Only in 1957 were its victims finally allowed to return home, following the Georgian dictator's death. it was a terrible collective trauma the Chechens never quite recovered from.
In the 1980s, Chechnya remained one of the USSR’s less developed republics. For a long time, it had been important as a supplier of oil, but the resources began running low. Nonetheless, it was home to some considerable processing and transportation infrastructure, and the USSR kept financing it as part of its overall industrialization program.
The government mostly invested in Grozny and the northern regions, which is where the majority of Russians working in the industry lived. Chechens, on the other hand, resided mostly in rural areas in the south, impeded by a language barrier and some repressive policies that were still in place in the republic. Thus, by the mid-1980s, Chechnya already had a large number of undereducated and underprivileged young people with no prospects for a better future.
The Soviet Union invested not only in the industrial development of its provinces, but also in education and training programs for the local workforce in science, administration, education, and economics. The idea was to nurture and foster local leadership circles the Soviet state could rely on. This is where the communist ideologists fell into a trap they did not foresee. In the majority of provinces, the local establishment chose to stay loyal to their ethnic roots and was not eager to abandon them for the sake of the joint Soviet project.
One of the paradoxes of the USSR was that it inadvertently empowered those people who brought about its demise by implementing its egalitarian ideas of equal rights and opportunities for all. In reality, this policy only increased the desire and ability in each republic to claim sovereignty when the opportunity presented itself. By the end of the 1980s, all of the Union’s republics were pretty much on a breakaway course. The overall tendency was only fueled by the prolonged economic crisis and dwindling support for the socialist ideology.
Chechnya was no exception. It all had started quite innocently when people united forming historical, ethnographic, cultural, and environmental societies and groups. Politics made its way onto their agenda much later. Such outfits grew and evolved until they were able to organize massive demonstrations.
The movement soon found its leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a second-tier writer nurtured by the Soviet state which had given him a good education and had helped him build a successful career in publishing. Yandarbiyev re-emerged in the 1990s as a visionary of an Islam-flavored independent Chechnya. The situation was spiraling out of control as the central government was losing its grip.
The government-appointed regional head at the time, Doku Zavgayev, did not see clearly what was going on in the republic. He believed that everything on the political scene was defined and decided in Moscow. Meanwhile, Yandarbiyev was riding a wave of popular support – he was a brilliant speaker, and nationalism appealed to the masses. It was his idea to establish a Congress of Chechen nationalists and to declare the republic’s independence.
The All-National Congress of the Chechen People was indeed established and convened for the first time in Grozny in November 1990. Dzhokhar Dudayev, the only Soviet general of Chechen origin, made his first public appearance at that meeting. Like Yandarbiyev, Dudayev was a great speaker with serious leadership skills and a nationalist who wanted to build a sovereign Chechen state.
The Chechen economy was completely depended on Russia, but the radical nationalists didn’t put much thought into what the future would look like. Dudayev’s promises of drinking camel milk from taps of gold were naïve at best, but he believed in his own stories.
In 1991, after the collapse of the USSR, Dudayev secured Yandarbiyev’s support and declared independence. Soon, he won the elections, becoming the first president of Chechnya. The elections were a farce, as Dudayev was the only well-known candidate running for office and his followers totally controlled the voting process. He immediately proceeded to organize his own armed forces. The demoralized Soviet police and KGB put up no resistance, and Dudayev started capturing the huge former Soviet Army arsenals, getting hold of over 40,000 small arms.
Soon, Dudayev destroyed all the government structures that refused to pledge their loyalty to him, from the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Soviet (a lawmaking body) to the police. His power was limited only by the warlords, who were entering the Chechen political stage for the first time. Chechnya had plenty of strong-minded people who began forming their own private armies.
Shamil Basayev was the most notorious of them. In the autumn of 1991, he carried out a terrorist attack, hijacking a Russian civil aircraft. He flew it to Turkey and demanded to have a press conference in lieu of a ransom. Ruslan Gelayev was another ill-famed warlord. Before the collapse of the USSR, both Basayev and Gelayev were nobodies, but the times of change brought them to the forefront of Chechen politics.
Both commanded armed groups several hundred people strong, with weapons they had acquired in various hot spots of the former USSR where, in 1992 to 1993, they fought as soldiers of fortune of a sort. They were the two most well-known leaders. Most others commanded a few dozen people or even fewer – the ‘natives’, as they were called – and committed various crimes for money. Dudayev himself funded his operations through an oil smuggling scheme, bribing Russian officials on a scale Al Capone couldn’t even dream of.
The Russians living in Chechnya were increasingly targeted by robbers, and many were forced to leave. Mainly they were industry specialists who came to Chechnya back in the Soviet days. Wealthy by local standards, they had no clan ties crucial to the Chechen social structure, so they were easy prey for bandits. The scale of violence against Russians bordered on ethnic cleansing: an estimated 2,000 people were killed, and many fled. For a time, bank fraud, forgery, Wild West-style robberies of passing trains and so on, were rampant. In addition, Dudayev and his circle were simply appropriating social welfare payments coming from Moscow.
Still, Dudayev was only the first among equals. He had considerable clout among the warlords, but his authority was not indisputable. If other ‘field commanders’, as they were called in Russia, disagreed with him, they could easily sever ties with their boss. This limited Dudayev’s negotiating capacity during his talks with the Kremlin. In theory, Moscow could strike a deal with him, but that was not the case with the rest: Yandarbiyev was obsessed with independent Chechnya and Islam, while other warlords would ignore any agreement they did not like. In any case, Dudayev’s own ambitions were enough for any talks to break down.
Some Chechens didn’t approve of state-building with the local mafia at the helm. But a mere attempt to organize a big demonstration in Grozny in 1993 ended with Dudayev’s fighters crushing it and razing the Grozny police department to the ground, killing over 50 people in a day.
After that massacre, the anti-Dudayev opposition organized its own militia in northern Chechnya, which had been traditionally more loyal to Russia. The opposition forces, which included the warlords who for various reasons had broken away from Dudayev, were led by Umar Avturkhanov, a former Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs official. Dudayev controlled Grozny and southern mountainous regions, while the opposition controlled the northern villages and towns around the regional centre.
Moscow unofficially supported the opposition and Yeltsin’s administration favored dealing with Dudayev’s fighters, but Russia was sliding into chaos and Chechnya was simply not a priority. That same year, 1993, Yeltsin was fighting his own parliament: with tanks firing in the streets of the capital, Chechnya just didn’t register as that big of a problem. But when Yeltsin consolidated his power, he started thinking about what to do with the mutinous republic.
The most straightforward option was to provide the opposition with support in the form of money, arms, and advisors. But the best Avturkhanov’s fighters could do was maintain the status quo. Dudayev’s troops were promised guns, prestige, and an opportunity to get rich off the criminal schemes. All Avturkhanov could promise was to restore the legal economy when they won, and a potential chance that the retired would get their benefits back and universities would reopen. So the majority of go-getters naturally took Dudayev’s side, while the opposition was comprised of either those with a strong moral code or the field commanders who broke away from Dudayev and couldn’t rejoin him for various reasons.
The talks between Russian officials and the rebel leaders about the future status of Chechnya bore no fruit. Moscow was ready to make major concessions, granting Chechnya as much autonomy as possible, but adamant about keeping it as part of Russia at least nominally. And that was exactly what Dudayev couldn’t agree to under any circumstances. He was too heavily invested in the idea of Chechnya’s happy independent future. He personally believed in it and was surrounded with even more radical supporters.
In autumn 1994, Moscow came up with a plan to conduct a covert op against Dudayev. The FSK – the Federal Counterintelligence Service (ex-KGB, soon-to-be FSB) – recruited 80 Russian army officers to man tanks that were supposed to support the opposition infantry in its push against Grozny.
The operation was carried out on November 26 and ended in a complete failure. With no experience when it came to planning army offensives, the FSK came up with what boiled down to tanks entering the city posing as part of the opposition forces. The intelligence was poor, and there was no coordination training. Soon after the troops entered the city and the fighting started, the opposition infantry ran. Only a few units stayed, only to meet a horrible end.
But the worst part was that the tanks were lost – destroyed with grenade launchers – and some 20 tank crew members got captured. After that, there was no point in pretending to be uninvolved any more. At the Security Council meeting in Moscow that followed, Yeltsin made a hasty and emotional decision to launch a military campaign against Chechnya.
Thunder & fury
The state of the Russian army at the beginning of the war in Chechnya can be safely described as disastrous. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Armed Forces, combat training in many units had essentially come to a standstill. Supplies were extremely scarce and often not sufficient for physical survival. The already miserable wages were sometimes delayed for as long as six months, so the officers had to turn their units into construction or farming crews. Naturally, all of this was detrimental to the actual military training, and though there were still units where officers tried to sustain a high level of combat effectiveness, they did so only through sheer enthusiasm and patriotism. On top of that, most units had to deal with outdated equipment.
Overall, the morale of the troops was extremely low. For the most part, only units renowned for their strong traditions, namely airborne troops and special forces, were still capable of putting up a good fight. Even the KGB's (the FSK at that point) elite units fell on hard times. The counter-terrorist Alpha Group was seen as insufficiently loyal to Yeltsin, while Vimpel, a special forces sabotage unit, was effectively disbanded due to its unwillingness to participate in the brief civil war between the president and the parliament in 1993.
All these problems were exacerbated by inept military planning. Yeltsin sought to end the campaign as quickly as possible, no matter the cost. As a result, the army was given very little time to plan, gather intelligence, and prepare troops for the operation. The offensive in Chechnya was organized haphazardly. The campaign was, in fact, a repeat of the failed November operation, except on a much larger scale. Even the operation's commander was changed after the actual fighting had already commenced. General Anatoly Kvashnin, who ended up leading Russian troops during the Battle of Grozny, was appointed to this position only a few days before the assault.
The operation started on December 11, 1994. From the very beginning, troops encountered fierce resistance from civilians. The soldiers were not prepared to use weapons against them and, as a result, they began to take their first casualties before they even set foot in Chechnya, in the neighboring republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia.
Mobs tried to set vehicles on fire or kidnap soldiers separated from their squads. Technically, the first soldier to die, 19-year-old Vitaly Maslennikov, was killed outside Chechnya, in Ingushetia.
In Chechnya, troops began to engage in increasingly intense fighting, as columns converged in Grozny. That was where the insurgents intended to make a stand as well. Up to 10,000 of Dudayev’s fighters – his personal guard, major warlords’ units, and a whole lot of ‘natives’ – were defending the city. Dudayev’s deputy, Aslan Maskhadov, who was in charge of defense, put together a rather sensible plan that relied on small mobile groups armed with anti-tank grenade launchers. Although he could not have known it at that moment, the Chechen plan proved very effective against the tactics chosen by General Kvashnin.
Russian officers were instructed not to enter backyards and not to open fire unless their lives were in danger. Their goal was just to hold the city center. As a result, the offensive of December 31, 1994 to January 1, 1995 turned into a chaotic bloodbath. After Russian troops entered Grozny, the columns came under fire from Chechen flying squads.
Although the inept initial plan was quickly discarded by almost all tactical commanders, by the time it became clear how grave the situation had become, some units had already advanced deep into Grozny and were encircled. The units that had the worst of it were the 131st Maikop Brigade, which drove almost all the way through Grozny and was ambushed at the railway station, and the 81st Samara Regiment, which was trapped near the ‘Presidential Palace’ – the former Communist Party headquarters, where the Chechen command was located.
January 1 was marked by frantic fighting in the streets in an attempt to rescue the trapped troops. But the Russian army lacked personnel trained for street fighting. Besides, too many mistakes had been made the day before. As a result, the Samara Regiment took heavy losses during the battle, with its commander and chief of staff wounded. As for the Maikop Brigade, they were hit hard and routed at the railway station. Almost all of their vehicles were destroyed, while Brigade Commander Colonel Savin was wounded several times and eventually killed in close combat.
But there was one unit that stood out from the rest – that commanded by General Lev Rokhlin. Although his group was the smallest, Rokhlin ignored the original plan from the get-go and opted for classic assault tactics instead. His troops managed to fight their way deep into the city, gain a foothold there, and avoid getting annihilated. So, after the first attacks failed, Rokhlin was put in charge of most of the troops still fighting in Grozny.
In addition, reinforcements arrived in Grozny – joint units consisting of marines, motorized rifle troops, and a fresh, well-trained and well-armed airborne regiment. With renewed zeal, Russian forces stormed the city, sweeping away the resistance with fire. The problems hadn't been solved, but now commanders could at least improvise, adapting tactics to the battle conditions, and use heavy weaponry.
After two weeks of heavy fighting, the Russians encircled the center of Grozny from three sides and drove the insurgents into the southern part of the city. However, the city was not fully cleared of their presence until the end of February 1995. It was a proverbial Pyrrhic victory: almost 1,500 Russian soldiers had been killed since December, mostly in and around Grozny. The number of casualties among militants and civilians, many of whom had been taken by surprise by fierce street fighting, remains unknown. How many civilians perished during the battle for Grozny remains a matter of speculation, but based on the number of bodies found later, one can put the death toll at around 1,000.
Before the war, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said that the Chechen capital could be captured “in a few hours with a single airborne regiment” – a phrase still used in Russia to illustrate overconfidence and incompetence.
However, the war did not end with the battle for Grozny. In the spring of 1995, the conflict spilled over into the plains and foothills of central Chechnya. Due to lack of equipment and training, Russian troops could not act in a precise and discreet manner. The Chechen militants, on the other hand, were able to blend in with the population and tried to make civilians become targets of Russian attacks: every unintended casualty earned them new recruits.
As a result, the populace suffered enormously: the militants saw them as a tool, while the Russian soldiers suspected treachery from every corner. This kind of paranoia led to a tragic episode that shook the village of Samashki in western Chechnya in the spring of 1995. The Russian troops spent a long time trying to persuade the village elders to surrender their weapons, while the elders insisted there were no separatists hiding in the village.
When they realized the elders would not budge, the troops launched a military operation and stormed the village. After a tank exploded on a mine and twelve Russians were killed, the enraged soldiers combed the village, firing at anything that moved. The operation ended with dozens of civilians and militants killed, and it was often impossible to distinguish one from the other: a common tactic used by the terrorists was to drop their weapons and pose as peaceful farmers caught in the crossfire.
Over the course of that spring, separatist resistance in the Chechen flatlands was quelled, and the fighting shifted to the mountainous areas in the south. Dudayev’s units were on the verge of defeat: they had lost almost all their heavy weapons, suffered severe losses, and retained control over just a handful of areas in the mountains. Out of desperation, they tried to blackmail the Russians with the lives of their prisoners: Ruslan Gelayev executed the soldiers he had captured, but when his ultimatum to stop the bombing was not met, the militants themselves believed that their situation was hopeless.
What came in June, however, changed the course of the war dramatically.
Time of terror
Shamil Basayev, the strongest of the independent field commanders, was the mastermind behind the plan that allowed Dudayev to continue the war. Basayev devised a complex plan that involved taking hostages. He assembled a force of nearly 200 men armed to look like an infantry battalion, loaded them into several trucks disguised as army vehicles, and on June 14 departed for the Stavropol region in Russia’s south.
The theater of operations was very poorly contained. At one of the police checkpoints along the road, Basayev said that the convoy was transporting the bodies of dead Russian soldiers from Chechnya. The convoy was accompanied by a vehicle painted to look like a police car, and the fighter sitting in it had been an actual policeman before the war, so the convoy was allowed through without inspection. Most likely, the terrorists were planning to seize an airport in Mineralnye Vody, a popular tourist resort: in the summer, it was full of people.
However, the convoy was detained near the town of Budyonnovsk – the traffic police officers there were not convinced by the story about the dead soldiers’ bodies. Basayev agreed to go to Budyonnovsk to provide ‘explanations’. There, his men first murdered the overly vigilant policemen and then started a massacre in the city streets. Basayev’s group marched through Budyonnovsk, shooting everyone in sight and taking hostages at random. The local police fought back desperately, but could not stand against two hundred terrorists. The people wounded in the indiscriminate gunfire were taken to the local hospital. Medical personnel from all over town and the relatives of the victims hurried there.
In a tragic turn of events, it was the same hospital that Basayev captured a couple of hours later, taking more than a thousand people hostage. From the hospital, he communicated his demand for journalists to be brought outside the building. When the reporters didn’t arrive, he shot several more people. Following this, Basayev was given the media coverage he wished for, and issued his demands to the Russian government.
The crisis headquarters for the rescue of the hostages consisted of two ministers and the head of the FSK. Not a single anti-terrorism specialist was involved. The officers of the Alpha Group (a special forces unit specializing in counter-terrorism) were given explicit orders to get inside the hospital at any cost. They led the assault and even reached the windows of the first floor of the hospital. However, the corridors and the wards were packed with hostages, whom the terrorists used as human shields. The Alpha commanders had to abort the operation in order to avoid a massacre. That broke the spirit of the people in charge of the crisis and, without even trying to consider alternative ways of rescuing the people, they went from one extreme to the other: now, all of the terrorists’ demands were to be met unconditionally.
Negotiations followed, and they involved Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and a number of human rights activists. As a result, the militants were given safe passage back to Chechnya, along with a number of hostages that volunteered to travel as part of the convoy. Ultimately, Basayev was able to withdraw almost his entire unit (with the exception of two dozen terrorists killed by police officers and Alpha snipers). Most importantly, the Russian authorities agreed to lengthy negotiations with the political leaders of the separatists. Basayev returned to Chechnya triumphant. In total, his men killed about 130 people in Budyonnovsk.
The negotiations were held from the latter half of June to October 1995, with a poorly observed truce in place. Although officials representing the Russian authorities and armed forces (including the commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, General Anatoly Romanov) and representatives of the Chechen militants (especially Aslan Maskhadov, a former Soviet army officer who knew how to talk to the media) were engaged in continuous negotiations, the best they could agree on were prisoner exchanges.
During this period, random skirmishes broke out between the two sides. The Chechens mostly engaged in guerrilla warfare: ambushes, roadside bombings, and surprise attacks on checkpoints and garrisons. There was one simple tactic repeatedly used by the terrorists: a small unit fired at a checkpoint to get the soldiers to call for reinforcements. The convoy sent to help would be the real target: the Russian military used predictable routes to transport equipment, so the Chechens set ambushes. After attacking and damaging the convoy, the militants would retreat from the battlefield. Generally, there were few casualties in any given battle, but such skirmishes were frequent, and sometimes the terrorists delivered crippling blows to the Russian military.
On October 6, a car carrying General Romanov was attacked and blown up in a road tunnel in Grozny. The general survived the attack, but to this day he remains paralyzed, unable to walk and talk. After the attack, hostilities resumed, but the battles were chaotic and unsuccessful. Amongst Russians, the war in Chechnya was highly unpopular. Adding fuel to the fire was Yeltsin’s habit of announcing ceasefires whenever he considered it politically expedient – despite the fact that these ceasefires were rarely observed.
Meanwhile, Chechnya remained in a state of permanent turmoil. The republic tried to rebuild its infrastructure, but the warlords quickly discovered a new business – kidnapping people and selling them as slaves or demanding ransom. For example, Akhmed Zakayev, who now lives in Western Europe, was reported by his comrades-in-arms to have run an entire private concentration camp where he kept kidnapped Russian specialists and ‘leased’ them out for work.
Furthermore, Dudayev’s men were prone to spy mania. People from the DGB (Dudayev’s version of the KGB) once detained a group of social activists from Ukraine. They were never seen again.
An entire kidnapping industry was developing in Chechnya, and anyone could go missing while traveling on forest roads or in the mountains.
In January 1996, another major hostage crisis happened, this time orchestrated by Salman Raduyev. Also a Chechen warlord, Raduyev was jealous of Basayev’s notoriety, but lacked his talents as a tactician. He prepared an assault on a military airfield in the city of Kizlyar, Dagestan, but the attack failed. Refusing to give up that easily, the terrorist seized the city hospital, copying Basayev. The situation was especially traumatic for the pregnant women in the maternity ward: the militants had them taken to the same room as all other hostages – including the women about to give birth. With threats, Raduyev was able to get buses and safe passage to Chechnya.
This time, the Russians organized a pursuit, and Raduyev’s unit was eventually surrounded in the village of Pervomayskoye, near the border with Chechnya. Following a poorly-planned operation, some of the hostages were killed and Raduyev’s unit suffered very heavy losses, but the warlord himself got away.
The losses sustained during the attack on Kizlyar forced the Chechens to give up mass hostage-taking for a while. Another important thing was that this time, Raduyev’s men attacked a town in Dagestan. While the people of Dagestan previously sympathized with the Chechens, the attack disillusioned many residents of the neighboring republic.
A rushed ending
The war was growing more and more chaotic. The Russian Joint Group of Forces was too small to maintain any real control over Chechnya, and the Chechen loyalists were too weak to have the task entrusted to them. As a result, the Russian military and the dissident fighters went in circles: the army cleared one village after another, and later, after they left, the separatists occupied these same villages again.
The troops lived in horrible conditions. “Our everyday reality, described in a few words: nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep and nothing to sleep on,” lamented a sniper of the 245th Motor Rifle Division. Both sides would occasionally deal painful blows to one another: Chechen ambushes and land mines would take the lives of Russian troops, after which artillery fire and infantry raids with armored vehicles would ‘restore the balance’.
In April, the Russians managed to kill Dzhokhar Dudayev with an airstrike – his location was tracked using a telephone call. Dudayev’s death meant little, however: the militants had almost no chain of command (in the sense a European army would), and there were multiple candidates ready to replace him.
That same spring, the Chechen fighters ambushed a convoy of the Russian 245th Motor Rifle Division and led a bloody attack on Grozny. In the meantime, the Russians captured the village of Bamut in western Chechnya, hitherto inaccessible to the military, and defeated a guerrilla unit in the village of Goyskoye, where the militants had been holding a group of kidnapped people sold into slavery.
In a word, the battles were fierce, bloody, and led to little or no progress. The Chechen Republic was rapidly falling apart: villages fought over time and time again ended up in ruins, Soviet industrial behemoths lay in shambles, and even the once mighty system of oil refineries and pipelines had been reduced to naught. Only the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline remained more or less intact: it was too valuable to be sacrificed.
Both sides suffered heavy losses. However, there was a fundamental difference in how society perceived the mass casualties. In Chechnya, advocates for peace could not raise their voices for fear of being executed as traitors – in fact, the terrorists would brag about murdering the ‘collaborators’. In Russia, the war was deeply unpopular, and it hurt the ratings of President Yeltsin, who was planning to seek re-election in 1996.
That is why, in 1996, the Russian government took a series of political steps. In May, Yeltsin had a face-to-face meeting with Dudayev’s successor, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. He was an ultranationalist, more radical than even Dudayev, and a religious fanatic to boot – there was very little hope of reaching an agreement with him. However, Yeltsin was in desperate need of some tangible evidence that the war was ending, while Yandarbiyev wished to appear as the leader of a recognized state.
Hence, the meeting in the Kremlin was nothing but a theatrical performance with zero substance – nobody was expected to observe the ceasefire agreement signed there. In fact, Yeltsin kept the Chechen delegation in Moscow for a couple of days as hostages of sorts, while he flew to Chechnya and met with soldiers to announce the end of the war.
Meanwhile, the Chechens were preparing the final act of this bloody drama.
On August 6, large groups of Chechen fighters entered Grozny, Argun, and Gudermes, clashing with Russian troops.
Some of the worst fighting took place in the regional centre. Russian troops and units of the Interior Ministry were stationed in the city as a network of small garrisons, and now most of them were under siege. The Chechen militants employed their usual tactic: assaulting the outpost with heavy fire, and then ambushing the troops sent to the rescue.
Chechens previously identified as Russia sympathizers were mercilessly executed. Captured policemen were killed in the most brutal ways – paying the ultimate price for their loyalty to Russia. Moscow's soldiers also suffered serious losses. However, the militants quickly got bogged down in the fighting. After recovering from the initial shock, the Russian command went on the counter-offensive, with assault teams marching through Grozny once again. The militants had little chance of winning in direct combat, and the fire of heavy weapons gradually wore them down.
However, the war had a traumatic effect on Russian society. The battle for Grozny was likened to the Tet Offensive, which changed the public perception of the Vietnam War in the US. While the Viet Cong troops that had entered Saigon and other cities were defeated, American society was shocked that, after so many years of conflict, the guerrillas remained as strong as ever and the fighting resulted in so many deaths. A similar thing happened in Grozny in August 1996 – in fact, it was the Russian officers themselves who compared the bloody battle to Vietnam’s massacres. By August 14, Aslan Maskhadov, who commanded the Chechen fighters, announced a shift to defensive tactics and even called for a truce. However, it was no longer the military that determined the course of the war.
On August 15, 1996, one of Russia’s most prominent political leaders, Alexander Lebed, arrived in Chechnya for negotiations. Lebed was popular, he placed third in the first round of the 1996 Russian presidential election and helped Boris Yeltsin beat the leader of the Communists, Gennady Zyuganov, in the runoff election by endorsing him and then taking up the post of secretary of the Security Council in his administration.
Now, Lebed had to broker a peace deal and end the war no matter what it took. The fighting was still underway in Grozny, and Russian troops were still desperately trying to exhaust the enemy, but this course of action wasn’t leading Russia anywhere. On August 31, Lebed and Maskhadov drafted and signed the Khasavyurt Accord in Khasavyurt, Dagestan (a republic in the Caucasus east of Chechnya). The accord signified Russia’s de facto capitulation in this war. Moscow effectively agreed to withdraw the troops from Chechnya and to suspend any decision-making on the status of the republic until 2001.
The problem with the Khasavyurt Accord was that it didn’t solve any of the problems that had caused the war. All it did was put the conflict on hold, giving the conflicting parties a break, nothing more.
However, at the time, Lebed was quite sure that this was what he was supposed to deliver and that it was what the entire country longed for: an end to the prolonged bloody war during an economic crisis so deep it was worse than the Great Depression.
As ethnic groups, Russians and Chechens didn’t feel they had much in common, so most Russians felt at the time they’d rather let the Chechens have it their way and move on. It wasn’t because the Russian Army was defeated in the war – it wasn’t. It did suffer great losses, but they were comparable to the losses of the enemy: about 5,000 troops were killed on each side during the 20 months of action. The loss of life among the civilian population was much higher. There are no reliable records, but most estimates agree on a total number of about twenty to thirty thousand people, both Chechens and Russians. Russian society wished for the unending trauma to finally stop more than anything, with very little exception.
At that time, publicly saying that the right thing to do was to win the war, even if it meant more casualties, would have been effectively equal to committing political suicide.
The mood was very different among the Chechen commanders, who had just scored a major victory. They didn’t have any longing for a peaceful life and were in fact good for nothing except commanding a force that consisted of armed gangs. The republic’s economy was ruined, but that didn’t bother them at all. Prominent field commanders, such as Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev, were quick to issue statements that they were not going to stop and would continue to disrupt peace in other republics of the Caucasus.
The ideology was supplied by radical groups from the Middle East that had been infiltrating the region, including Al-Qaeda, which was yet to reach its peak of notoriety. Jihadi leaders from the Arab world, such as Saudi-born Emir Khattab (Samir Saleh Abdullah Al Suwailim), were quick to take advantage of the situation and use Chechnya as a base to recruit and train terrorists from all over the Caucasus. A series of terrorist attacks on Russian soil was soon to follow. Those field commanders who were less concerned with ideology went on to kidnap people for ransom, trade in illegal drugs, and so on.
One of the gruesome symbols of that war was a train-mounted facility with unidentified remains of the victims of the conflict: mostly civilians and some Russian soldiers. A team of Russian military forensic pathologists was working on the remains until, in July 1999, two junior team members were kidnapped for ransom. The rest of the experts left Chechnya. In 2000, when Russian troops re-entered Grozny, the train was still parked where it had been left, with a total of 154 decomposed bodies.
Much of the narrative about the First Chechen War attempts to explain what happened through the prism of it being the workings of some corrupt politicians making money off the people’s suffering or the stubbornness of some power-hungry Russian political and military leaders who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. The reality, however, was different.
The Russian government simply failed to come up with any coherent strategy for Chechnya. Instead, it kept producing one short-lived plan after another, and none of them lasted longer than a few months. All Yeltsin’s administration attempted to do was to produce a quick solution and move on. Between 1993 and 1996, Moscow tried all sorts of options. It held negotiations, supported local opposition, sanctioned a covert military operation, sent in troops, then engaged in more negotiations and even tried to get Dudayev assassinated. After all these measures failed, it ended the matter by putting it on hold in the hope that down the road some new administration might think of a more consistent and viable plan and even stick to it.
There were plenty of people who were wise enough to see, in 1996, that the Khasavyurt Accord was no peace deal but rather a ceasefire agreement. As one GRU officer put it back then, “instead of a wildfire situation, we got ourselves a peatland fire situation.” The Khasavyurt Accord didn’t contain any solutions to the problems that had triggered the war. Chechnya remained a devastated republic run by warlords. For three more years to come, the conflict stayed on the back burner and simmered until a new war broke out in 1999.
“I like the goth element. I am a goth,” says Cage ahead of playing Dracula
Nicolas Cage, who is set to play the lead role of Dracula in Chris McKay’s upcoming horror movie ‘Renfield’, has revealed he is a big fan of the “goth element” and even owns a black crow as a pet.
In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Cage spoke about the role as well as his life offscreen. The 58-year-old actor revealed that he owns a crow named Hoogan who occasionally insults him.
“He has taken to calling me names… it’s comical, at least, it is to me. When I leave the room, he’ll say, ‘Bye,’ and then go, ‘Ass.’ Crows are very intelligent. And I like their appearance, the Edgar Allan Poe aspect,” said the actor. “I like the goth element. I am a goth.”
The reveal, however, might not be that shocking to most of Cage’s fans, considering he is notorious for his rather flamboyant and eccentric roles in films such as 1989’s ‘Vampire’s Kiss’, where he plays a man convinced he is a vampire, sparking quite a few memes.
Speaking of his role as Dracula, Cage said he was inspired by other horror films, such as last year’s ‘Malignant’, Bela Lugosi’s 1931 ‘Dracula’, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula.’
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Title: Bridge collapses ahead of Biden infrastructure visit, 10 hurt
A Pittsburgh commuter bridge has buckled amid heavy snow, resulting in injuries
On Friday morning, a snow-covered bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania collapsed just hours before President Joe Biden was due in the city to discuss his infrastructure plan for the US.
Ten people suffered non-critical injuries when the bridge fell, with three being transferred to local hospitals. Authorities noted that three or four vehicles, including a bus, were on the bridge, which spans a creek in Frick Park, when it caved in.
Images from the scene appear to show a bus teetering on the edge of the fallen bridge. Officials said only two people were onboard the bus at the time.
#BREAKING — Bridge collapse near Pittsburgh. You can see several cars down below. No injuries reported, public safety crews reporting a strong gas smell in the area. via Jeremy Habowski / @KDKApic.twitter.com/lOdRPq0XC6
Stefanos Tsitsipas has claimed Daniil Medvedev is ‘not the most mature person’ after the pair’s tempestuous match in Melbourne
Daniil Medvedev was labeled immature by rival Stefanos Tsitsipas after the Russian star unleashed a furious rant at the umpire during the pair’s Australian Open semifinal, in a row over the Greek receiving coaching from the sidelines.
Medvedev exploded at chair official Jaume Campistol at the end of the second set at Rod Laver Arena on Friday, accusing the umpire of turning a blind eye to Tsitsipas receiving coaching from his father, Apostolos, who was sitting in the player’s box.
The Russian demanded that Tsitsipas be given a code violation for the infringement as players are not allowed to be coached during matches.
After Campistol refused, a furious Medvedev called him “a small cat” in an outburst which was soon shared widely on social media.
That came as Medvedev regained his composure to win in four sets, 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 6-1, setting up a final with Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
After the contentious scenes between Medvedev and his Greek rival – who already have a famously frosty relationship after previous on-court clashes, including an explosive bust-up in Miami in 2018 – Tsitsipas claimed that the Russian had some growing up to do.
“It’s for sure funny,” said the Greek when asked about the outburst.
“I don’t pay attention to this stuff. I know players like to do this stuff to throw you off mentally, it could be a tactic. He’s not the most mature person anyways.”
The 23-year-old staunchly denied that he had received coaching, claiming he could not even make out what his father was saying amid the noise from the Melbourne crowd.
“I wasn’t [receiving coaching]. I mean, I can’t hear anything when I’m playing, it’s impossible, having the crowd being so loud at every point,” said the fourth seed.
“You have to have super hearing to be able to hear what your coach says.”
Tsitsipas added he felt “targeted” by umpires, saying that he had been a “victim” of on-court coaching accusations “for a long time now.”
The Greek ace admitted however that he had spoken to his father about it.
“I've talked to him about it. I've tried, spent countless hours trying to figure it out with him, but it's part of him,” said Tsitsipas after he missed out on the chance of a second Grand Slam final appearance.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep receiving coaching violations, even though I will never listen to any single thing he says.
“But it’s fine, they can do that if they want, if they believe it’s right.
“That was also one of the reasons last year I went out publicly on one of my social media platforms and said that I think coaching should be allowed, simply because coaches do it anyways.”
Speaking to the media in his own post-match press conference, Medvedev attempted to play down the row.
“I don’t consider coaching as cheating, but it should be a code violation. And then the second one would be a bit tricky,” said the Russian.
“I don’t want to get too much into this. I feel like I didn’t talk about him, I just talked about the rule. I don’t know what his father is saying.
“Maybe he’s saying just like ‘come on’, which is completely allowed… It was only about this, nothing about Stefanos.”
Medvedev is into a fourth Grand Slam final of his career and will be aiming to add to the US Open title he won September.
The world number two lost last year’s Melbourne final to nine-time champion Novak Djokovic, who was deported prior to this year’s tournament in an ugly visa and vaccination row with the Australian government.
Nadal will be bidding for a second Australian Open title to add to the one he claimed in 2009, and could win an outright record of 21 Grand Slam titles – moving him one ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time list.
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Title: Greek ace caught in ‘sting operation’ after Russian rival Medvedev’s cheat claims (VIDEO)
Australian Open officials busted the Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas and his father in the act against Daniil Medvedev
Australian Open officials have been praised after launching a 'sting operation' to catch Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas 'red handed' during his Australian Open semifinal against Daniil Medvedev.
Much to the outrage of his Russian foe, Tsitsipas appeared to receive advice from his father Apostolos, who was watching the match from the player's box at Melbourne Park.
Such was the apparent frequency of the act that Medvedev urged umpire Jaume Campistol to give Tsitsipas a code violation after Tsitispas tied the score at a set each, and said he would be a "small cat" for not doing so.
"Are you mad? Can his father talk every point? Are you stupid? Oh my God, you are so bad," Medvedev raged in a meltdown.
"How can you be so bad in the semi-final of a grand slam? Look at me! I’m talking to you!"
MEDVEDEV BLOWS UP! 😡😡
The Russian has sensationally accused Tsitsipas of being coached and has GIVEN IT to the umpire over it too! 🤯🤯#AusOpen - live on Channel 9, 9Now and Stan Sport. pic.twitter.com/8Xa3qOjvnf
In one video filmed around the time Tsitsipas was finally punished, Asderaki-Moore emerges and gives a signal to Campistol before going back into hiding, which confuses Stefanos and prompts him to perform a mock search for the spy.
"Ok, thank you, Eva. Thumbs up if the same [happens] again," Campistol says in a separate clip during the fourth and final set, as Tsitispas was trailing by two sets to one in what proved to be the last set before Medvedev eventually advanced to the final to face Rafael Nadal on Sunday.
"I can't recall seeing this before. Greek official Eva Asderaki-Moore standing in the tunnel below the Tsitsipas box to listen out for illegal coaching, and signals towards the match umpire when she hears it. Nicely executed officiating here," wrote tennis journalist Stuart Fraser.
On social media, fans likewise reacted to the sting.
"Nothing beats a bit of espionage to go with your tennis for your Friday night entertainment. Very well played Australian Open," beamed one.
"The ultimate CheatiPas finally gets caught! When will he and daddy ever learn?" it was asked.
Nothing beats a bit of espionage to go with your tennis for your Friday night entertainment!!
Earlier in the tournament, concerns over such coaching were raised as Tsitsipas saw off Taylor Fritz and again received a violation for it.
"At some point, his father needs to get out of there. Let Stefanos figure things out himself,"suggested seven-time Grand Slam king Mats Wilander on punditry duties for Eurosport.
"You can have a proper go through the match beforehand and afterward, but Stefanos can solve the problems."
Ex-British number one Tim Henman agreed with this and said that "it will make Stefanos a better player if he works it out for himself", adding: "If he always has his dad in his ear saying ‘serve here, run there’ I don’t think he develops".
Some fans on Twitter didn't think it was problem, with one stating: "Who cares if the players get coached. Tennis is so precious…. In a bad way".
In line with this, Medvedev admitted: "I don’t consider coaching as cheating, but it should be a code violation. And then the second one would be a bit tricky."
Who cares if the players get coached. Tennis is so precious…. In a bad way.
Reflecting on his loss, Tsitsipas confessed that he has spent "countless hours" trying to figure out the coaching issue with his father.
"But it's part of him," Tsitsipas went on. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep receiving coaching violations, even though I will never listen to any single thing he says. But it's fine, they can do that if they want, if they believe it's right.
"That was also one of the reasons last year I went out publicly on one of my social media platforms and said that I think coaching should be allowed, simply because coaches do it anyways," he concluded.
The European Ombudsman has criticized the executive body for failing to publish texts sent between its president, Ursula von der Leyen, and Pfizer’s CEO
The European Commission has been accused of “maladministration” by an EU watchdog after refusing to publish text messages that its president, Ursula von der Leyen, sent to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla last year during negotiations to clinch a Covid-19 vaccine deal.
An inquiry by European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly on Friday criticized the EU executive body for failing to ask von der Leyen’s office to search for the texts. The discussions are thought to have helped secure some 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the bloc.
Last April, von der Leyen disclosed that she had exchanged texts and calls with Bourla for a month during the negotiation. However, the commission later responded to a journalist’s public access request for the messages by claiming that it did not keep a record of the texts and possessed only an email, a letter, and a press release on the subject.
During the inquiry, it emerged that the commission had asked the president’s office to look for “documents” that fulfill its internal criteria for record – texts do not come under this definition. The body had argued that its “record-keeping policy would in principle exclude instant messaging.” It told the inquiry that “to date, it has not recorded any text messages in its document management system.”
“The narrow way in which this public access request was treated meant that no attempt was made to identify if any text messages existed,” O’Reilly said in a statement. “This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the Commission.”
Noting that this “amounted to maladministration,” the ombudsman asked the European Commission to check once more for the relevant messages and to reply to the recommendation by April 26. She said it was “not credible to claim” text messages do not fall under EU transparency laws, adding that if “text messages concern EU policies and decisions, they should be treated as EU documents.”
A spokesman for the commission said the body had “taken note” of the recommendation and would reply to the ombudsman by the deadline.
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Title: Soros stocks his war chest for Democrats ahead of midterms
The liberal financier has set aside $125 million to influence the upcoming midterm elections
Liberal megadonor George Soros has funnelled $125 million into Democracy PAC, a political action committee aimed at supporting Democrats this November. Soros’ spending on this PAC already dwarves the millions he donated in 2020.
Soros announced his investment in a statement on Friday, first reported by Politico. The money will be used to support “causes and candidates, regardless of political party” who are invested in “strengthening the infrastructure of American democracy: voting rights and civic participation, civil rights and liberties, and the rule of law," the billionaire liberal stated.
Although Soros pledged cash to candidates “regardless of political party,” the lion’s share will likely go to Democrats, based on Soros’ political views and past donations.
The donation means that Soros has already given Democracy PAC considerably more money than he did during the 2020 election cycle, which is unsurprising considering that polling shows Democrats will have to fight tooth and nail to preserve their control of Congress in November. During 2020, Soros gave Democracy PAC $80 million, which the PAC then disbursed to a myriad of causes and candidates.
Soros’ son Alexander serves as Democracy PAC’s president, and he told Politico how the family views this investment as a long term one, made necessary by the supposed “generational threat” posed to “our democracy” by the right.
Democracy PAC will publish its spending figures next week, after filling with the Federal Elections Commission. According to Politico, however, it has already sent $2.5 million to Senate Majority PAC and $1 million to House Majority PAC, aimed at preserving the Democratic hold on the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. Another $1 million has been sent to the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, highlighting Soros’ interest in down-ballot races.
Secretaries of state oversee elections, and their role was made apparent in 2020 when it came time to certify an election that former President Donald Trump insisted was “rigged” against him.
Soros has also taken an interest in district attorney and sheriff races, pouring $17 million into these contests between 2015 and 2019 in support of far-left candidates. Some of these Soros-funded candidates now oversee prosecution in America’s major cities. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner, San Francisco Attorney General Chesa Boudin and Philadelphia AG Larry Krasner all had their campaigns funded by Soros too, and have been blamed by Republicans for the crime waves their cities have experienced since.
On the other side of the aisle, Trump’s Save America PAC has already raised nearly as much cash as Soros’ Democracy PAC did in 2020, and currently has around $60 million on hand. This cash, combined with Trump’s endorsement of conservative candidates, will be a powerful counterbalance against Soros’ near-unlimited resources as the 2022 spending war heats up.
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Title: Netflix will have to face lawsuit over ‘Queen’s Gambit’
Judge refuses to dismiss defamation lawsuit filed by Georgian chess master against Netflix
A judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against Netflix by Georgian chess master Nona Gaprindashvili, who claims she was defamed in an episode of ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ series.
In the lawsuit, which was initially filed in September last year, Gaprindashvili – a prominent chess player in the Soviet Union in the 1960s – claims that a line in the series falsely states that she had “never faced men.” The chess player argues that the statement is “grossly sexist and belittling” as she had actually faced 59 male opponents by 1968 – the year in which the series takes place.
In response to the lawsuit, according to an article published by Variety, Netflix claimed that it could not be held accountable, since the show is a work of fiction and that the First Amendment gives the creators artistic license to say whatever they want.
But a ruling by US District Judge Virginia A. Phillips found Gaprindashvili’s argument to be plausible, saying works of fiction can still be held accountable for defaming real people.
“Netflix does not cite, and the Court is not aware, of any cases precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works,” Phillips wrote. “The fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present.”
The line in question comes from the final episode of Netflix’s ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ series, which follows Elizabeth Harmon – a fictional American chess player. In the episode, a chess announcer dismissively explains the reason for Harmon’s victory over her male opponent, saying: “Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
Netflix argues that the show creators never meant to offend Gaprindashvili and were actually trying to recognize her efforts. “The Series’ reference to Plaintiff [Gaprindashvili] was intended to recognize her, not disparage her,” Netflix’s lawyers claimed.
While acknowledging the show’s theme of breaking gender barriers, Judge Phillips noted that the narrative could also be seen as building up the achievements of a fictional character at the expense of the accomplishments of a real person.
“An average viewer easily could interpret the Line, as Plaintiff contends, as ‘disparaging the accomplishments of Plaintiff’ and ‘carr[ying] the stigma that women bear a badge of inferiority’ that fictional American woman Harmon, but not Plaintiff, could overcome,” the judge wrote. “At the very least, the line is dismissive of the accomplishments central to Plaintiff’s reputation.”
The judge also argued that the line cannot be dismissed as a dramatization, since the show presents the notion that Gaprindashvili never faced male opponents as a factual claim.
“Netflix ‘creat[ed] the impression that [it] was asserting objective facts,’” Phillips wrote. “Plaintiff sufficiently pleads falsity because the Line is ‘reasonably susceptible of an interpretation which implies a provably false assertion of fact.’”
Netflix also claimed that ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ featured a standard disclaimer, stating that “the characters and events depicted in this program are fictitious.” However, the judge ruled that the disclaimer was not enough to dispel the notion that the show’s claims were presented as factual statements.
Pope Francis said on Friday that “baseless” misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines is a violation of human rights
Speaking in an address to catholicfactchecking.com on Friday, Pope Francis pointed at the level of “baseless” information about the pandemic and inoculation campaigns, while reaffirming his view that healthcare is a moral obligation for all people of faith.
“To be properly informed, to be helped to understand situations based on scientific data and not fake news, is a human right,” the pontiff declared, warning of a growing “infodemic.”
The Pope feared that fake or misleading news and falsified “scientific information” risks exploiting those who are “the weakest” and the “most vulnerable” in society.
Catholicfactchecking.com describes itself as an international media consortium on Covid vaccines, seeking to “clarify fake news and misleading information” about the pandemic, as many questions have been raised within the global religious community.
“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” Pope Francis said.
The address from the Pope comes after several Catholic outlets were censored by social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, for allegedly pushing ‘Covid disinformation’.
In 2021, religious outlet LifeSiteNews had its social media platforms shut down for breaching policies regarding Covid-19, in a move it blasted as “Big Tech silencing free speech.”
It marks the latest intervention from the Pope into the debate about Covid vaccines and the pandemic, having given his strongest support yet for the jab earlier in January.
In a speech on January 10 to representatives from 183 countries accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis claimed the Covid vaccine presents “the most reasonable solution for the prevention of the disease.”
Previously, he described getting the vaccine as “an act of love,” while insisting it is safe and effective to do so. The position has been supported by the Vatican’s Covid advisory board, which called receiving the shot a “moral responsibility” for all Catholics.
Amid fears of a Russian invasion, London has allocated Kiev a loan to beef up its naval infrastructure
The Ukrainian parliament has ratified an agreement with Britain to secure more than $2 billion in funds for the construction of missile boats and the modernization of its current fleet amid tensions with neighboring Russia.
The Verkhovna Rada approved the contract on Thursday, with 275 parliamentarians voting for the move – above the required threshold of 226 for a simple majority.
“The agreement provides official support to Ukraine in the form of loans not exceeding £1.7 billion pounds, or the equivalent in US dollars [almost $2.3 billion] or euros,” according to a handout from the parliamentary Information Department.
Speaking in parliament, Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Polishchuk said that “the provisions of the framework agreement provide for the implementation of investment projects on the purchase and joint production of two minehunters, including their delivery and maintenance.”
He also noted that the deal will allow for “the joint construction of eight missile boats and frigates, the delivery and modernization of weapons on existing ships, consulting and technical support for the construction of naval infrastructure.”
London and Kiev signed the treaty in November. In a statement, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his counterpart Aleksey Reznikov said the two governments “have no desire to be adversarial, or seek in any way to strategically encircle or undermine the Russian Federation."
Ukrainian and Western officials have sounded the alarm several times in recent months of an imminent offensive, pointing to Moscow’s troop movements near its border with Ukraine, where they estimate 100,000 Russian soldiers are stationed.
However, the Kremlin has repeatedly rejected accusations that the country’s armed forces are planning to strike its neighbor, with its Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov calling such claims “groundless.”
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Title: ‘Djokovic will be watching,’ says Medvedev as he aims to derail Nadal history bid
Daniil Medvedev says he expects Novak Djokovic to be tuning in on Sunday when the Russian plays Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final
Daniil Medvedev will attempt to prevent Rafael Nadal from winning a record 21st Grand Slam title when the pair clash in the Australian Open final on Sunday – and the Russian says he expects the absent Novak Djokovic to be watching closely.
Medvedev saw off Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a tempestuous match in Melbourne to set up a final against Nadal, who had overcome Matteo Berrettini in his semifinal earlier on Friday.
Sunday’s showdown will see Nadal aiming for a record 21st Grand Slam title – which would move him one ahead of great rivals Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time rankings.
Medvedev, meanwhile, will be playing a fourth Grand Slam final of his career.
The Russian is the reigning US Open champion after beating Djokovic in last year’s New York final.
But Medvedev has lost his two other previous finals at Majors – first against Nadal in a five-set epic at the US Open in 2019, and then in straight sets against Djokovic in Melbourne last year.
This time round Down Under, Nadal and Medvedev can take advantage of the absence of Djokovic, whose deportation from Australia in a visa and vaccine row overshadowed the start of the tournament.
After beating Tsitsipas, Medvedev suggested Djokovic would be glued to the TV screen to watch Sunday’s final, where Nadal could surpass the Serbian great in Grand Slam crowns.
“I’m going to play again one of the greatest, and what’s funny is I’m going to play again someone going for the 21st Slam,” said Medvedev, who prevented Djokovic from reaching the landmark with his win over the Serb in New York last September.
“So I guess last time Rafa was watching near the TV [when I played Djokovic], I don’t know who he was cheering for, and I think Novak will be watching this one in two days also.
“Grand Slam finals are special, and of course I remember the match with Rafa at the US Open, it was my first one, we played five hours or something close to it,” added the Russian second seed.
Daniil Medvedev says he WILL watch Ash Barty's final - but only after Jim Courier twisted his arm! 🤣🤣#AusOpen - live on Channel 9 and 9Now. Ad-Free Live & On Demand on Stan Sport pic.twitter.com/hEmjIzS2eN
Despite his remarkable career record, Nadal is something of surprise finalist in Melbourne this time round, having missed the last five months of last season with a foot injury and suffering a Covid infection in December which cast doubt on his participation in Australia.
But the 35-year-old has found form and fitness at the right time, remaining unbeaten in nine matches so far in 2022 and easing past seventh seed Berrettini with some sensational tennis on Friday.
Nadal is a now a six-time finalist in Melbourne, but has only won one of his previous five appearances in the showpiece, back in 2009.
Medvedev, meanwhile, cited Djokovic’s fighting spirit as inspiration in his epic five-set victory over Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliasimme in the quarterfinal earlier in the week in Melbourne.
The Russian world number two’s semifinal win against Tsitsipas was not without incident as he clashed with umpire Jaume Campistol, accusing the official of allowing the Greek to receive coaching from his father on the sidelines.
After ranting that Campistol was “a small cat,” Medvedev regained his composure to win the match in four sets.
If he defeats Nadal on Sunday, the 25-year-old Medvedev would become the first man to follow a maiden Grand Slam title with victory in his next appearance at a Major.
He can also become the first Russian since Marat Safat in 2005 to win the men's crown in Melbourne.
“I’m ready, I know that Rafa is a very strong player and I’ll need to show my best,” said Medvedev as he looked ahead to the match with Nadal.
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Title: Apple trials new feature amid Covid – media
The tech giant appears to be testing a feature that will let users use Face ID to unlock the iPhone even when wearing a mask
Apple has reportedly started trialing a feature that lets users unlock their phones with Face ID while wearing a mask in a bid to protect from Covid-19. The recognition software apparently focuses on features around the eyes.
This feature appears to be limited to newer models of the iPhone and iPad, according to the 9to5Mac website . Although the tech giant has not published any details relating to its availability, the feature appears to only work on the iPhone 12 and more recent models.
The “Use Face ID with a Mask” feature is available on the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, according to the 9to5Mac website.
Photos suggest that the option to turn on Face ID when you're wearing a mask comes with a warning.
Apple says that “iPhone can recognize the unique features around the eye area to authenticate” but notes that it is more accurate if the phone is set up to work without a mask, based on photos from tech blogger Brandon Butch on Twitter and MacRumors.
Reports suggest that this will also require more processing capability than a traditional Face ID scan.
Amid widespread mask mandates, there has been some demand for a feature which would allow people to unlock their phones without momentarily removing their face covering.
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Title: Fans read between lines after Medvedev’s brutal ‘small cat’ jibe at umpire (VIDEO)
The Russian tennis ace urged the umpire to give Stefanos Tsitsipas a coaching warning during their Australian Open semifinal
Daniil Medvedev has amused tennis fans after suggesting that umpire Jaume Campistol is a "small cat" for not dishing out a warning to rival Stefanos Tsitsipas during their heated Australian Open semifinal.
Medvedev exploded at match official Campistol during the second set of his match in Melbourne, accusing the umpire of turning a blind eye to Tsitsipas receiving coaching from his father Apostolos on the sidelines, which is prohibited.
“Oh my God, how can you be so bad in the semifinal of a Grand Slam?” Medvedev raged as he demanded a code violation for his opponent.
After going on to lose the set, and clearly still irked, the Russian approached Campistol as he made his way from the court for a change of clothing, barking at the official: "You understand, right? If you don't [give him a coaching warning], you are – how can I call it – a small cat."
Even still, Medvedev found support from those tired of the father-son Tsitsipas duo, who said things like "Stefanos Cheatsipas strikes again"
"Apostolos is coaching his son in every match. It's time to end this unsportsmanlike behavior," it was demanded, following similar complaints after a win over Taylor Fritz earlier in the competition where the pair received a code violation.
"We [have] all had ENOUGH of Apostolos Tsitsipas to be honest," came a reply to this. "He should be banned from every single tennis court. Daniil lost [his head] and it may [have been] too much, but I am so fed up with Stefanos’ dad – I do not think it helps his game."
Apostolos is coaching his son in every match. It's time to end this unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Tsitsipas was eventually slapped with a code violation for receiving coaching later in the game, but such illegal help did little good in the end as Medvedev took the next two sets to win 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 6-1 overall.
A post-match handshake between the semi-final foes was thrown in a list of the "world's quickest things", and some said they couldn't wait to see the clash in a Netflix dramatization one day as Medvedev confessed he lost his head.
"To be honest, I don’t think bad emotions help me too much," he said. "Many times I lose the match because of this, because you lose concentration and you lose energy.
"As soon as I’ve done it, I was like, ‘that was a big mistake’, but I’m happy that I managed to re-concentrate. I lost some energy but I had to refocus, I tried my best and I’m happy it worked," he finished.
Now through to his fourth career Grand Slam final, Medvedev will meet Rafael Nadal on Sunday with the Spaniard aiming for a record 21st Major title.
Fast food giant reports an annual increase of 13.8%
Fast-food giant McDonald’s on Thursday reported its largest annual increase in US sales since 1993. Sales at its American restaurants open for at least 13 months soared 13.8%.
The fourth quarter alone saw US sales jump 7.5%, partly due to price increases on some items on its menu.
In October last year, the company’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, said menu prices were about 6% higher in 2021 compared to 2020, which didn’t turn off customers and “has been pretty well received” by them.
The fast-food chain was forced to raise prices to tackle wage inflation and cover the increased costs of food and paper, CFO Kevin Ozan said during an analyst call this week, as cited by CNN. He noted that costs may keep growing in 2022, as Covid-19-induced supply chain issues are expected to persist. McDonald’s also saw a significant boost in its digital sales and the growing popularity of certain menu items like the Crispy Chicken Sandwich and McRib.
Overall, the company said its 2021 sales “benefited from fewer restaurant closures and reduced Covid-related government restrictions compared with the prior year.”
The company reported a total of $6 billion in revenue for the past year. However, this fell short of analyst expectations, as did international sales. The chain’s shares shed some 2% following the sales report.
US environmentalists prevailed in stopping the controversial oil and gas extraction deal
The Biden administration has been ordered not to execute leases for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico which were auctioned off in November.
The government had offered 80 million acres of federal waters, of which 1.7 million acres were sold, netting over $190 million from oil giants like Chevron, Shell, and Exxon Mobil. A federal judge sided with a group of environmentalists, who argued that the auction had been given the green light under a flawed justification.
Rudolph Contreras, a US District Court judge for the District of Columbia, acknowledged that the environmental impact assessment by the Department of the Interior had used outdated computer modeling. The analysis failed to account for foreign consumption in its calculations of the greenhouse emissions that would be generated due to the lease sale, the judge said.
The analysis was done under the Trump administration, and it concluded that the negative impact on the global climate would be worse if the US didn’t drill more in the Gulf of Mexico and instead met its energy needs through imports.
The Biden administration attempted to put a pause on the pending auction, under the provisions of a February 2021 executive order aimed at tackling the climate change crisis. However, in June, a group of red states led by Louisiana challenged the moratorium in court, successfully obtaining an injunction.
The federal government decided to move forward with the auction, even as it acknowledged that doing so would undermine the president’s environmental credentials. During the court proceedings in Louisiana, the administration argued that the judge couldn’t compel it to sell the leases, only to overturn the way the pause was ordered in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, the environmental group Earthjustice noted that the Biden administration should not have allowed the auction to happen, when it sued it over the decision in late August on behalf of several other eco-organizations. The White House “caved under political pressure and a well-funded Oil and Gas lobby to make this decision,” the group’s senior attorney Brettny Hardy said at the time.
In his ruling on Thursday, Justice Contreras agreed with the group’s argument, ordering the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) not to execute the lease agreements and instead to conduct a new environmental impact assessment.
“I think this hopefully marks the end of business as usual when it comes to leasing,” Hardy told CNN after winning the case. “Maybe it creates a sea change in the administration and gets them to start really grappling with these climate issues in a significant, practical way.”
Their opponents from the oil and gas industry, as well as government officials, said they were studying details of the ruling.
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Title: Trans swimmer’s teammates ‘feel uncomfortable’ in locker room
An anonymous University of Pennsylvania swimmer says complaints to coaches have gone nowhere
One of Lia Thomas' UPenn teammates has anonymously complained that she and others feel uncomfortable changing in the locker rooms with the trans swimmer.
Previously known as Will, Thomas has smashed a number of records this season while controversially competing in women's events.
And while parents have complained about Thomas' participation to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, who have passed the buck to individual national sporting bodies as part of a policy update, a teammate has also spoken about the discomfort she and others reportedly feel with having Thomas in the locker room.
"It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women," the swimmer explained to the Daily Mail regarding Thomas, who has allegedly told her colleagues she dates females.
"Multiple swimmers have raised it [with coaches], multiple different times," the anonymous party claimed.
"But we were basically told that we could not ostracize Lia by not having her in the locker room and that there’s nothing we can do about it, that we basically have to roll over and accept it, or we cannot use our own locker room.”
"It’s really upsetting because Lia doesn’t seem to care how it makes anyone else feel," the swimmer continued.
"The 35 of us are just supposed to accept being uncomfortable in our own space and locker room for, like, the feelings of one."
"The school was so focused on making sure Lia was okay, and doing everything they possibly could do for her, that they didn’t even think about the rest of us."
According to the swimmer, Thomas "seems like she enjoys" the attention she is receiving for the ongoing controversy which has "affected all of us way more than it’s affected her".
But most of the team are scared to speak out due to a fear of being dubbed transphobic, which has also seen them refrain from protesting at swim meets.
"If this gets a little bit bigger, I might go on the record, but I’m definitely a little afraid," the swimmer admitted.
"What I’m afraid of is that potential employers will Google my name and see commentary about things I said and think: 'Oh, this person’s transphobic'."
As per the NCAA's new policy, though, the anonymous source is happy that the organization is passing on responsibility to USA Swimming, which will soon determine whether transgender athletes can compete against biologically male or female rivals.
"USA Swimming is more conservative and they have stakes in the game," she pointed out. "These are people who swam their whole lives, who have kids and daughters who swim, and they see what this is doing to the swim community."
The swimmer hopes that the organization's decision is made before March's NCAA swimming and diving championships where Thomas is scheduled to take part in the women's 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard events.
"It’s definitely important that we don’t set this precedent," she insisted. "I think it’s important that women and also little girls aren’t looking up and saying, 'Well, I don’t actually have a chance to win.'”
To resolve the issue, the swimmer suggested an "open category" where Thomas can face off against male swimmers but not compete in men's races.
Elsewhere, Thomas has received support from Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Brooke Forde who said she "will not have a problem" with Thomas competing against her in NCAA competition this year.
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Title: Netanyahu threatened to set ‘army of bots’ on me, Israeli PM says
Naftali Bennett claims the former prime minister warned about his ‘propaganda machine’ as Bennett tried to oust him
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Haaretz that his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, threatened to unleash his propaganda “machine” against him. The alleged threat came when it became clear that Bennett would be forming a rival coalition government that would push the longtime leader from power.
The incident apparently occurred during a meeting last May, a month before the current government came to power. Describing the period as the “mother of all battles,” Bennett told the newspaper that Netanyahu issued the threats when he “realized that I didn’t intend to let him drag Israel into a fifth election.”
“If I understand correctly what you’re going to do, you should know that I am going to turn my whole machine on you, the army,” Bennett quoted Netanyahu as warning him. He added that the former PM “demonstrated” how he would “send the drones” at him by making an aircraft bomb dive motion with his arm.
He was talking about his army of bots, the [online] groups, his people on the radio, television and the social media networks.
The PM elaborated during interviews with other Israeli media outlets, telling news site Walla that Netanyahu had “built one of the most effective propaganda machines ever” that “invents stories at an insane pace.” He offered as an example how he apparently “found out my mom is Catholic” through one such story.
“There is a machine here that produces poison and hatred… with a radio station and television station, thousands of bots and groups that invent completely fake [news] and push it on social media,” Bennett told news outlet Ynet, adding that “everything is in the service of one man.”
His contentious meeting with Netanyahu was the determining factor for Bennett’s decision to defect to the rival camp, Haaretz reported. Bennett told the paper that it made him “[realize] that everything was resting on my shoulders” and spoke about not knowing “how the country would come out” of the cycle of elections and failed governments “if I didn’t take the decision.”
Bennett also accused Netanyahu of “spreading chaos, hysteria and a lack of faith” in the government, The Times of Israel reported, adding that the PM also claimed to have saved the nation from “falling into the abyss.”
In response to the revelations, Netanyahu’s Likud party has released a statement accusing Bennett of “panicking” after having “failed on the coronavirus, economy and security.”
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Title: EU & UK planning massive sanctions against Russia – media
The measures would come into effect if Russia invades Ukraine
Sweeping sanctions are reportedly being developed which would hit the Russian energy sector if Moscow orders an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, with the EU and the UK said to be drawing up plans for punitive measures with the support of Washington.
On Thursday, The Financial Times reported that sources involved in the discussions had revealed plans that would restrict financing and technology transfers for future gas projects. Targeting new development is seen as a way to punish Russia while potentially sparing European nations the rising prices and energy shortages they would face if current gas deliveries were cut off.
“Europe looking to hit long-term Russian gas production capacity would likely be a step up from anything we’ve seen before,” James Waddell, of London consulting firm Energy Aspects, told the FT. “It would hurt Russia by going after a sector they really care about, but it wouldn’t be cutting off your nose to spite your face in the way trying to restrict exports would be in the short term.”
According to Eurostat, the official statistical office of the European Commission, the EU imports 41.1% of its gas from Russia. The UK is much less reliant on Russian gas, but officials have warned that curtailing shipments to Europe would likely drive up prices everywhere, even in places that do not buy much from Russia.
US and European leaders have not published a list of potential sanctions. However, officials have warned that measures could also go after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a controversial project meant to bring gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. Washington and Kiev have long opposed the project, which was completed in September but has yet to begin operation.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has previously called for the pipeline to be left out of negotiations concerning Ukraine, and not used as political leverage against Russia. On Wednesday, however, Annalena Baerbock, Berlin’s foreign minister, said that the underwater energy link was on the table as a possible target for restrictive measures. “We have a whole spectrum of responses, including Nord Stream 2,” she stated. “Yes, we are always attempting dialogue, but in the light of today’s situation, we must be hard.”
American and Ukrainian leaders have been warning for months that they fear Russia could be planning an imminent invasion of its neighbor, and have pointed to reports of troop movements near its border with Ukraine. Moscow has denied that it has any aggressive intentions, saying it is simply positioning soldiers within its own territory, and has called for written guarantees that NATO will not expand into Ukraine, a deal American negotiators have said is off the table.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed disappointment concerning Washington’s response to Moscow’s recent security proposals, saying that it had refused to make concessions concerning the expansion of the US-led military bloc in eastern Europe. “The main issue is our clear position on the unacceptability of further NATO expansion to the east and the deployment of highly destructive weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,” the diplomat explained.
China Unicom has been forbidden from providing services in the US
US telecom regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Thursday that it had voted unanimously to revoke authorization for China Unicom’s American unit to operate in the United States. The firm must now stop providing telecommunications services in the country within 60 days, the FCC said.
“Today we take another critical step to protect our communications networks from foreign national security threats,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “There has been mounting evidence – and with it, a growing concern – that Chinese state-owned carriers pose a real threat to the security of our telecommunications networks,” she added.
China Unicom said, as quoted by CNN, that it has complied with “relevant US laws and regulations” in the past two decades, and that the FCC has acted “without any justifiable grounds and without affording required due process.”
The telecom firm added that it would “act proactively to protect the rights and interests of the company and its customers.”
The US regulator’s move is the latest to target Chinese technology and telecoms firms over national security concerns.
In October, Washington barred China Telecom from operating in the country. Earlier in 2019, another Chinese state-owned telecommunications carrier, China Mobile, also had its US license revoked.
In recent years, Congress has instructed the FCC to embark on a program to “rip and replace” networking equipment that experts worry could allow foreign telecom firms to monitor sensitive US communications. The FCC has also sanctioned firms such as Huawei and ZTE, among others, so that their equipment cannot be used in US telecoms networks.
According to President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, staffers who refuse to take a Covid-19 vaccine are being “ostracized” at work
With Russia facing a record spike in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus, advisers working for President Vladimir Putin who choose not to sign up for a vaccine face being shunned by their colleagues, a top Kremlin official has declared.
Asked by journalists on Friday whether any of Putin's team are anti-vaxxers, press secretary Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that some colleagues are still reluctant to receive Covid-19 shots. This, he said, makes Moscow's corridors of power “just like everywhere in our society.”
Peskov revealed that the Kremlin has reached an “irreconcilable stance” with such employees, who are now being “ostracized.”
The official went on to say that there were high numbers of daily infections within the administration, with the Omicron strain having proven its “explosive infectious potential.” The majority of those who have contracted the virus “continue working from home,” though, he explained.
Peskov also argued out that while the administration is “doing everything necessary,” there is, however, “no panacea in this respect.” Yet, according to him, vaccination still offers protection from serious health complications from the virus.
In November last year, Putin revealed that he had received a booster dose of the Sputnik Light vaccine. It came several months after he was administered a second dose of Sputnik V in mid-April 2021. He has also taken part in trials of a domestically-made nasal vaccine.
As for Peskov, he, too, opted for Sputnik Light despite already having significant antibodies from a previous infection with Covid.
Along with many other European nations, Russia has announced record-breaking Covid-19 cases over the past few weeks, with 88,105 positive tests in the previous 24 hours, and infections largely concentrated around Moscow and St. Petersburg. As of January 28, the Omicron strain has been identified in 74 out of Russia’s 85 administrative regions.
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Title: Niece of presidential candidate to back rival
Marion Marechal, a former MP and niece of Marine Le Pen, hinted at backing Eric Zemmour for president
Speaking to Le Parisien on Thursday evening, Marion Marechal, a former MP for the far-right National Rally (‘Rassemblement national’) party, said she would not be backing her aunt, Marine Le Pen, as she runs for president in April.
Marechal, a darling of the far right who became the country’s youngest MP at the age of 22 back in 2012, suggested that polemicist-cum-politician Éric Zemmour may receive her backing.
Supporting Zemmour, she said, “it would not just be a question of passing by and saying hello. It would mean returning to politics.” Marechal has not been an MP since 2018.
“It is a true life choice to make, a decision that weighs heavily,” she added, noting that she would make a decision on pledging her support within a month.
Speaking on Friday, Marechal said she would be returning to politics. “I was very happy to stop five years ago, but now I want to return to politics,” she told Le Figaro.
Le Pen, candidate of the National Rally party, said she was disappointed and confused by her niece’s move.
“I have a special story with Marion because I raised her with my sister during the first years of her life, so obviously it’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s difficult for me,” she said on Friday morning.
“She [Maréchal] had indicated that she would support whoever is best placed. Unquestionably, I am much better placed today than Eric Zemmour since I am given in the second round,” she stated, referencing poll data.
Le Pen, who faced off with President Emmanuel Macron in the second round of voting in 2017, is facing stiff competition from other right-wing candidates, including Zemmour.
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Title: Scientist makes ‘once in a lifetime’ insect discovery
The discovery in the Ugandan rainforest is a rare find, as the last recorded sighting of a leafhopper from a related genus was in 1969
A new species of leafhopper, named Phlogis kibalensis, has been discovered in Uganda in what the scientist who found the insect called a “once-in-a-lifetime achievement.”
The newly-found species was reported in the Zootaxa journal on Friday by Dr. Alvin Helden of Anglia Ruskin University, who discovered the insect while conducting field work in Kibale National Park in 2018.
The insect, with a distinctive metallic sheen, pitted body and leaf-shaped reproductive organs, is a close relative of cicadas, but is a little smaller at just 6.5mm long.
Helden realized he had discovered a new insect when examining the leafhopper, as he saw the reproductive organs looked like “little leaves” that were “towards the tip of the structure.”
“To find this new species is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, particularly as its closest relative was last found in a different country over 50 years ago. I knew it was something very special as soon as I spotted it,” Helden stated.
Leafhoppers are “rarely found,” according to Helden, with the last reported sighting of a member of the genus back in 1969. The difficulty of finding them has meant that “their biology remains almost completely unknown” to researchers.
Highlighting the impact of deforestation on species, Helden claimed that, while wildlife are able to thrive in places like Kibale National Park, they are struggling outside the national park as rainforest is cleared. “Rare species could be living anywhere, but deforestation means it is inevitable that we will be losing species before we have discovered them,” Helden said.
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Title: Apple in hot water for ‘stifling competition’
Dozens of US states slam iPhone maker’s restrictive practices
Over 30 US states on Thursday stood by Fortnite video game producer Epic Games as they appealed a ruling in its lawsuit against Apple over restrictive policies on the iPhone maker’s in-app payment system.
“Apple’s conduct has harmed and is harming mobile app-developers and millions of citizens,” the plaintiffs said, according to court papers seen by Reuters.
“Meanwhile, Apple continues to monopolize app distribution and in-app payment solutions for iPhones, stifle competition, and amass supracompetitive profits within the almost trillion-dollar-a-year smartphone industry,” they claimed.
The appeal, filed by the attorneys general for 34 US states and the District of Columbia, follows a 2020 lawsuit accusing Apple of violating antitrust laws by charging Epic Games (and other developers) commissions of 15% to 30% to use its in-app payment system and restricting external payment methods.
A US district judge in Oakland, California ruled in favor of Epic Games in September 2021. Apple was ordered to open up the payment system in its App Store app so developers could offer other payment methods and not have to pay Apple extra fees. However, the judge also ruled that Apple is not an antitrust monopolist in mobile gaming transactions, largely leaving the company to do what it pleases with its developers. Epic Games challenged the ruling in the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals last week.
In their appeal in support of Epic Games, the attorneys general said the Oakland court failed to adequately assess the case, noting how it appeared to overlook the non-negotiable contracts that Apple requires game developers to sign, which they see as a clear sign of monopolistic policy.
“Paradoxically, firms with enough market power to unilaterally impose contracts would be protected from antitrust scrutiny – precisely the firms whose activities give the most cause for antitrust concern,” they said.
This is the first time that US state attorneys general have filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple. Several similar cases have been filed against other tech giants, including Meta Platforms and Google.
Apple’s reply to the appeals is expected in March, and the company said on Thursday it was optimistic that it would be able to overturn them.
Daniil Medvedev won a bad-tempered semifinal in Melbourne to set up a showdown with Rafael Nadal
Daniil Medvedev will face Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final after the Russian beat Greek rival Stefanos Tsitsipas in four sets in a drama-packed encounter in Melbourne.
Second seed Medvedev was imperious as he dominated Tsitsipas on his serve in a match which featured an explosive rant from the Russian at the umpire as Medvedev claimed the Greek was breaking the rules by receiving coaching from his father on the sidelines.
But after dropping the second set Medvedev kept his cool to win in four sets, 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 6-1, moving on to his fourth Grand Slam final.
US Open champion Medvedev, 25, will play Nadal in Sunday’s showpiece after the Spanish sixth seed overcame Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in four sets earlier in the day.
Nadal is aiming for an outright record 21st Grand Slam title, while Medvedev is looking to become the first man to follow up a maiden Major title with victory at his next Grand Slam appearance.
After calling Campistol “a small cat,” Medvedev stormed off court for a change of clothes between sets but did not allow the rant to affect him as he recaptured his cool to dominate sets three and four, after what had been a tight opening in Melbourne in which both men largely denied each other opportunities on their serve.
In the end it was Medvedev whose big-serving game asserted itself as he ruthlessly shut down the threat from the 23-year-old Greek, who was eventually handed a code violation for receiving coaching in something of a moment of vindication for his Russian opponent.
Tsitsipas had been aiming for a second Grand Slam final appearance to match his run at Roland-Garros last season, but instead it is Medvedev who is into a fourth Major showpiece as the Russian has the chance to go one better than last year in Melbourne, when he was beaten by Novak Djokovic in the final.
Can Medvedev derail Nadal's bid for history?
Medvedev and the 35-year-old Nadal have met in a Grand Slam final before, with the Spaniard winning a five-set epic in New York in 2019.
This time round in Melbourne the duo have set up a showdown in the absence of nine-time champion Novak Djokovic, whose ugly deportation saga overshadowed the start of the tournament.
After Djokovic’s run of three successive Australian Open titles, Nadal will aim to carve his name onto the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the second time on Sunday in what will be his sixth final Down Under.
Despite his remarkable career, Nadal is seen as a surprise finalist this year in Melbourne after only just returning from a layoff due to a foot injury which kept him out for the second half of last year.
For world number two Medvedev, Sunday’s final offers the chance for a first Melbourne title after he fell to Djokovic in straight sets last year.
“I’m ready, I know that Rafa is a very strong player and I’ll need to show my best,” said Medvedev in his post-match comments.
The Liverpool ace put in one of football's all-time craziest goalkeeping performances
Football fans have reacted after Liverpool and Brazil goalkeeper Alisson was twice sent off and twice allowed to continue playing for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Ecuador.
Record five-time winners Brazil have had their tickets booked for Qatar 2022 later this year quite some time now, but their first-ever Yashin Trophy recipient between the sticks had no intentions of playing it safe in Quito.
After Casemiro put the Selecao 1-0 up from close range, Alisson's opposite number Alexander Dominguez was red-carded for a reckless challenge and Tottenham Hotspur's right back Emerson Royal was also sent for an early bath after picking up two yellows.
Alisson Becker was given two red cards and sent off twice playing for Brazil against Ecuador tonight.
All this happened inside 20 minutes, and on the half hour mark, Alisson came close to joining them in the locker room when catching Enner Valencia in the head with a high foot. After consulting VAR, however, the referee downgraded his red card to a yellow, and a similar incident occurred near the death as VAR decided that Alisson had played the ball before punching an Ecuador man and should not have been dismissed for picking up a second yellow card.
This also ruled out a penalty shout, and as the points were shared due to a Felix Torres equalizer 15 minutes from time, football fans reacted to the "madness" of the clash and Alisson's crazy evening.
Focusing on the referee, one onlooker said that the amount of mistakes he made "is enough to put him in prison".
"We joke about how awful English Premier League refs are, because they are, but man the South American and African referees are shambolic," began someone else.
"They officiate off emotion, it’s wild. A player just has to throw a tantrum after a foul and they throw around cards like candy."
As some went into conspiracy mode and slammed organizers Conmebol for doing all they could to maintain Brazil's unbeaten record in the South American qualifying group, a separate party said Alisson had caught "AFCON fever" in relation to similar controversies the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations has thrown up in Cameroon.
We joke about how awful EPL refs are, because they are, but man the South American & African referees are shambolic. They referee off emotion lmao it’s wild. Player just has to throw a tantrum after a foul and they throw around cards like candy
Chinese social media users call for a boycott of the actor’s films because of a Tibet benefit concert
Following the revelation that Keanu Reeves will be appearing and performing at an upcoming benefit concert in support of protecting Tibetan culture, nationalist Chinese social media users have called for a boycott of the actor’s films, including his latest, ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’.
Reeves is expected to be one of the main performers at the 35th Annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert on March 3. The event also acts as a fundraiser in support of a cultural embassy founded at the request of the Dalai Lama, who was exiled from China in 1959 following the annexation of Tibet in 1950.
Following the announcement that Keanu Reeves would appear at the concert, many users on Chinese social media platform Weibo have called for a boycott of Reeves’ films in protest over his support of the Tibetan cause.
One user wrote: “I used to be a fan of Reeves not only because he’s a great actor, but also because he has Chinese heritage. But apparently we hold different views on Tibetan issues and it’s a no-brainer for me to stop liking him because of that.”
I was not surprised to hear that Keanu Reeves had joined Tibet House, an anti-China political campaign. I believe Keanu Reeves has become a victim of the anti-China propaganda campaign that has long been inherent in western governments. https://t.co/2K0Wz0YeI9pic.twitter.com/f4tDrbd2qo
While the boycott of the latest ‘Matrix’ film is unlikely to have a significant effect, as the movie has already drastically underperformed throughout the world and has pulled in just $12.4 million in China, the real danger for Keanu lies in the possibility the boycott could extend to his future films, including the upcoming ‘John Wick 4’. If Reeves becomes persona non grata in the Chinese entertainment industry, it could also jeopardize his future employment opportunities in Hollywood, as has been the case with many other actors who have expressed support for Tibet.
Brad Pitt, for example, was banned from appearing on Chinese screens for nearly two decades after his performance in the 1997 film ‘Seven Years in Tibet’. Richard Gere has also been unwelcome in Chinese cinemas after he expressed his support for Tibet – a decision which has reportedly cost him several movie deals with studios that aimed to capitalize on the growing Chinese market. And Lady Gaga has been barred from performing in China ever since she met with the Dalai Lama in 2016.
As for Reeves, it remains to be seen if he will manage to bounce back from this controversy, as he still seems to have a lot of fans in China, given his Chinese ancestry. He also earned support in the country for filming his directorial debut, ‘Man of Tai Chi’, there with the support of a state-backed film group.
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Title: Covid unjabbed should pay for treatment – hospitals chief
Fierce debate has been triggered in France after a healthcare boss suggested the unvaccinated could be charged for their treatment
Speaking live on French television on Wednesday, Paris AP-HP hospitals system chief Martin Hirsch questioned whether people who have refused the Covid-19 vaccine should be given free treatment.
“When free and efficient drugs are available, should people be able to renounce it without consequences... while we struggle to take care of other patients?” Hirsch stated.
In France, like most of Europe, all citizens have a right to universal healthcare. However, Covid-19 patients who end up in intensive care cost on average €3,000 ($3,340) per day. Typically, a patient will remain in an intensive care unit for seven to 10 days.
The hospital boss said he was raising the issue because of the exploding cost of healthcare and claimed that the irresponsible behavior of some should not put others at risk of not receiving vital treatments.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo – who chairs the AP-HP board and is a socialist presidential candidate – was among those who disagreed with Hirsch. Others, including La France Insoumise (LFI) MP Danièle Obono, called for him to be sacked.
Olga Givernet, a lawmaker for President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party, told BFMTV on Thursday that “the issue as raised by the medical community could not be ignored.”
Health Minister Olivier Veran is yet to comment.
There are currently more than 30,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 in France, and some 3,694 in intensive care, down from last week.
The pressure is impacting the normal functioning of the French healthcare system.
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Title: Medvedev explodes at umpire in Australian Open semifinal row (VIDEO)
Daniil Medvedev raged at the chair umpire during his Australian Open semifinal with Stefanos Tsitsipas
Daniil Medvedev went on the rampage at the Australian Open as the Russian second seed unleashed a verbal volley at the chair umpire over claims that Greek rival Stefanos Tsitsipas was breaking the rules by receiving mid-match coaching.
After taking the first set of their semifinal in Melbourne, Medvedev was on course to drop the second after being broken twice by Tsitsipas – a rival with whom he has a tense history after previous on-court clashes.
That track record of animosity took a new turn on Friday at Rod Laver Arena as Medvedev exploded at match umpire Jaume Campistol after he had been issued with a code violation for what the official deemed was an inappropriate gesture in his direction.
Medvedev responded by furiously claiming that Tsitsipas should be the one getting a violation because he had been receiving coaching from his father in the stands – which is against the rules.
“For what? And his father can talk every point. Are you stupid?” Medvedev screamed at Campistol.
“His father can talk every point. Answer my question. Can his father talk every point?
“Oh my God, how can you be so bad in the semifinal of a Grand Slam?” Medvedev raged.
“Look at me! I’m talking to you!”
“What do you want?” Campistol replied.
“To give him coaching [violation] because his father is talking every point,” Medvedev yelled.
Medvedev gets a 'visible obscenity' code violation & flips the f out.
SCREAMING at the umpire. "His father can talk every point?! Are you stupid? His father can talk every point?! Oh my god! Oh my god you are so bad, man! How can you be so bad in semifinals of Grand Slam?" pic.twitter.com/ubFYy4tUHq
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slams the bloc’s reply as ideological
NATO’s reply to Moscow’s proposals for a European security treaty is entirely ideological and has too much of a focus on the bloc’s so-called “special purpose” and “exceptionalism,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.
Speaking to news outlets as part of a broadcast interview on Friday, the chief Russian diplomat described the response produced by Brussels as “embarrassing” for the people who wrote the text.
Last month, Russia publicly released two treaties it had proposed to the US and NATO. The draft documents included a long list of security guarantees aimed at boosting stability in Europe, such as restrictions on the placement of missiles near the Russian border and the withdrawal of alliance forces in Eastern Europe to their 1997 positions.
While Washington and Brussels called some of the proposals “non-starters,” others were given consideration. On Wednesday, US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan personally delivered detailed feedback from both Washington and Brussels, with a view to eventually coming to an agreement and signing a legally-binding treaty.
However, according to Lavrov, NATO’s response wasn’t up to snuff.
“Compared to the paper that was sent to us from NATO, the American answer is almost a model of diplomatic decency,” the Russian foreign minister said. “The response from NATO is so ideological, it has such a sense of exceptionalism of the North Atlantic Alliance, its special mission, its special purpose, that I even felt a little embarrassed for those who wrote it.”
Despite Lavrov’s pessimistic reaction, he also noted that negotiations with both the US and NATO would still continue, as the reply contains some rational responses to a handful of Russia’s proposals.
“I can’t say that the negotiations are over,” Lavrov said. “The Americans and NATO, as you know, have been studying our extremely simple proposals for more than a month… but there are grains of rationality there.”
He did note, however, that the positive progression in the negotiations only came on “secondary” issues, highlighting the fact that the reply from Washington and Brussels ignored Moscow’s desire to receive a legally binding commitment that NATO would stop its eastward expansion. In particular, Russia wants a promise that Ukraine will not be admitted to the US-led military bloc.
Earlier this week, US State Department spokesman Ned Price called “certain elements” in the Russian proposals “absolutely non-starters,” including the idea that NATO would end its ‘open door policy’.
“But there are other areas that – where dialogue and diplomacy could help improve our collective security, transatlantic security,” Price said. “The key point in that is that any steps that we would take would not be concessions. They would need to be on a reciprocal basis, meaning that the Russians would also have to do something that would help improve our security – our security posture.”
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Title: Russia is dividing Europe – but not in the way you’d think
Western disunity over NATO is both an opportunity and a danger for Moscow
A number of Washington’s normally steadfast European allies have begun distancing themselves from the US’s increasingly confrontational approach to the standoff over Ukraine. However, despite the White House’s appeals for unity, the cracks in its foreign policy partnerships are beginning to show.
A West that agrees on less is one where Russia’s efforts to get concessions on security arrangements are more likely to succeed, but also one where America must crack the whip against it to keep its bloc in line.
A growing split?
After the Cold War, NATO changed its mission from collective defence to collective hegemony. NATO could monopolise on security during the unipolar era and ignore Russian security concerns. As a multipolar order has slowly returned, the West is under growing pressure to accept a compromise. Russia has made its economy somewhat sanctions-proof by reducing economic dependence on the West, and the military has been modernised to uphold red lines against further NATO expansionism.
Stuck in its old hegemonic mindset, American tools for resolving the current crisis are seemingly limited to using economic and military pressure rather than recognising legitimate Russian security concerns. However, European countries such as Germany, France, and Italy are becoming increasingly wary about being on the US frontline against Russia. Further sanctions on Russia will likely hurt the European economies more, and further military posturing can embolden Kiev to invade Donbass and thus spark a major war with Russia.
The divisions within the West are, at first glance, a positive development for Russia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had hoped to be able to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with credible threats of military and economic consequences by a united West. Instead, Blinken had to tone down the confrontational rhetoric and promise Lavrov a written response to the security guarantees that Russia demands. Washington has asked Moscow to keep the US response on security guarantees a secret, which is an indication that some form of compromise may be forthcoming.
Restoring bloc discipline
However, the divisions in the West will also have negative consequences for Russia, as unity must be restored with anti-Russian propaganda. A key purpose of propaganda is to elevate the perceived threat of the out-group (Russia) and to instill solidarity within the in-group (NATO). The main lesson from the years of the Russiagate hoax should be that attempts to challenge alliance solidarity by reaching out to Russia is met with a cascade of anti-Russian propaganda.
Bloc discipline is also upheld in Germany, as the head of the German navy, Kay-Achim Schönbach, was forced to resign over what were deemed to be unacceptable comments. The vice admiral pushed against the propaganda from Washington, as he suggested the accusation of Russia planning to invade Ukraine was nonsense, and argued that Putin deserved respect and that it was unrealistic to expect that Russia would return Crimea.
British Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace recently cautioned his European allies against accepting the Kremlin’s “bogus allegations” against NATO. In an extraordinary article, Wallace suggests that NATO cannot be considered a threat, as it is “a truly defensive alliance,” and it is NATO’s values that threaten Putin. The top minister continued with astonishing disinformation, such as claiming Putin is an ethno-nationalist who threatens to awaken the “destructive forces of ancient hatred.”
None of these stories to “win back the narrative” make any sense. Staging a provocation has little purpose, as Kiev frequently shells Donbass and refuses to implement the Minsk Agreement, which gives Russia justification to intervene. The intelligence report on Russia preparing to stage a coup collapsed immediately, as Russia’s alleged presidential pick was Evgeny Muraev, who is under Russian sanctions. The former spokesperson described the British allegations of a plot as “ridiculous.” It is noteworthy that it is the states seeking a confrontation approach to Russia and deploring the lack of solidarity towards this end that are evacuating their embassies.
Yet, despite not making any sense, these reports have the effect of shaming European dissent against the US as giving Russia a green light for invading Ukraine. Discussion about security agreements that recognise legitimate Russian security concerns are silenced and replaced with Washington’s language of deterrence and threats. As always, when the propaganda stories against Russia fail to materialise, the US and UK will get to claim that Russia was successfully deterred. The conclusion will therefore be that pan-European security should not be based on security with Russia, but rather that it should continue to be based on security against Russia.
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Title: Met police want ‘minimal reference’ to probe in Partygate report
Authorities have said they don’t want the Sue Gray report to compromise the investigation
On Friday morning, London’s Met Police force said it had made stipulations on the Partygate report being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray, requesting “minimal reference” to events probed in their own investigation.
Her report investigates whether any lockdown rules were broken by PM Boris Johnson and his colleagues during a number of events held at 10 Downing Street. The Metropolitan Police is also probing the Partygate events to see if any laws were broken.
“For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report,” a spokesman for the Met said in a statement cited in the media.
“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation,” it added.
Gray’s report was expected this week, but government ministers have repeatedly denied that the paper has been delivered to Downing Street.
The outcome of Gray’s probe is considered to be an important moment in Johnson’s premiership.
Technology minister Chris Philp suggested the report had not been delivered on Friday morning.
Allegations have been made that Johnson flaunted his own lockdown rules on several occasions. He was pictured sitting in his garden with colleagues on May 10, 2020, while he was also briefly present at a larger gathering ten days later.
Johnson has apologized but insisted he thought he was attending work events.
It is also alleged that he received a birthday cake and was granted a short celebration.
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Title: North Korea confirms latest launch of cruise missiles
On Thursday morning, the South Korean military reported it had detected rockets flying over the Sea of Japan
North Korea has confirmed it test-fired two long-range cruise missiles as well as surface-to-surface tactical guided missiles over a span of three days, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The outlet said long-range cruise missiles flew over the Sea of Japan on Tuesday, hitting the “target island 1,800km away,” which, they said, goes a long way towards “boosting the war deterrence of the country.”
On Thursday, Pyongyang’s military test-fired surface-to-surface tactical guided missiles, which succeeded in proving that the “explosive power of the conventional warhead complied with the design requirements,” KCNA said. The missile can be launched from launcher trucks and trains, and is said to boast enhanced maneuverability.
The total number of weapon tests since the start of 2022 is now six.
Unlike the test-firing of a hypersonic missile in mid-January, the launches on Tuesday and Thursday were apparently not observed by Kim Jong-un personally. However, the same media outlet published an article featuring photos of the supreme leader during a visit to a munitions factory that manufactures a “major weapon system.” According to the article, Kim “highly appreciated the factory effecting collective innovation and leaping progress in producing major weapons.”
Last week, Pyongyang warned that it might resume “all temporarily suspended activities” in response to new US sanctions and continued military drills with South Korea.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the US State Department condemned the latest launches by North Korea as a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and a threat to North Korea’s neighbors and the international community.
Seoul described the launches as “very regrettable,” and convened an emergency meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council.
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Title: Khabib fires warning to UFC as his promotion lands in America
Khabib Nurmagomedov is preparing to host a first US event with his Eagle FC promotion on Friday
Khabib Nurmagomedov had a warning for his former employers at the UFC as the Russian icon rolled into Miami for a first America event with his Eagle FC promotion.
Previously known as Gorilla Fighting Championship, Khabib has rebranded the Russia-based MMA organization under his own ‘Eagle’ fighting moniker after purchasing it at the end of 2020.
After a series of successful shows in Russia and Central Asia, the promotion has now landed Stateside with an opening show – Eagle FC 44 – at The FLXcast Arena in Miami on Friday.
Top of the bill is a meeting between Russian heavyweight veteran Sergei Kharitonov and Dutch-Surinamese former kickboxing phenom Tyrone Spong.
Elsewhere, Khabib has snapped up the likes of former UFC stars Rashad Evans, Kevin Lee and Ray Borg as he aims to make inroads in the US market.
Khabib’s arrival comes at a time when UFC boss Dana White is facing increasing calls to improve pay and conditions for his stable of fighters.
When asked at a Thursday press conference how active he would be in pursuing free agents who have finished their time with the UFC and Bellator, Khabib had a warning for rival promotions.
“For big organizations like UFC, Bellator, they have to be careful with their fighters because Eagle FC is here,” said the former UFC lightweight champion.
“Of course, we are trying to sign good athletes, great athletes with good names. At the same time, we are working with the young generation, too. We have two goals. I just want to say be careful. If they don’t treat good fighters, Eagle FC is here.”
Unsurprisingly, Khabib has been front and center of much of Eagle FC’s promotional work but has shrewdly enlisted the likes of fan favorite Chael Sonnen as an analyst.
He has also called on the likes of UFC welterweight ruler Kamaru Usman and former two-weight UFC king Henry Cejudo – who like Khabib have links to MMA manager Ali Abdelaziz – for Eagle FC promotional work this week.
Khabib has promised novelties in his organization which will help it stand out in a crowded market, creating a special “super lightweight” 165-pound division to sit between lightweight and welterweight.
Khabib cited knowledge and experience from his own undefeated career as being a factor in his promotional work.
“I understand this game inside,” Khabib said.
“I was a professional fighter the last 12 years. I hear from a lot of fighters that they really want weight classes at 155, 65, 75, and 85 [lbs]. When I opened this Eagle FC, like, why can’t I do this? Let’s build some new history.”
Khabib maintained a good relationship with UFC boss White during his time with the organization, but White has claimed that the 33-year-old Dagestani will “learn the hard way” just how difficult life is as an MMA promoter – adding he was willing to offer advice if need be.
Lavrov’s comments come amid a growing diplomatic stand-off with NATO
With tensions running high between Russia and the US, Moscow’s top diplomat has insisted that his country does not want a full-blown conflict to break out, but also warned it will not stand aside and watch well-flagged security concerns be ignored.
Speaking to news outlets as part of a broadcast interview on Friday morning, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was asked whether fighting could break out after talks over guarantees that NATO will not expand ended in deadlock.
“If it is up to the Russian Federation, there will be no war,” he declared.“We do not want wars,” he went on, stressing, however, that officials “will not allow our interests to be brutally attacked or to be ignored either.”
According to Lavrov, Washington’s response to Moscow's proposals is “almost a model of diplomatic decency.” However, he said that NATO’s answer to the two Russian draft documents “is so ideologized, it breathes the exclusivity of the Alliance, its special mission, its special purpose."
Lavrov went on to add that if the US is not willing to reconsider its stance on security matters, then Moscow is equally not prepared to make any compromises on its demands. “If they insist that they won't change their position, we won't change our position either,” he declared.
The comments come shortly after Moscow received long-awaited answers to its requests for security guarantees, including a pledge that Ukraine will not be admitted to the bloc.
On Thursday, Lavrov said that “there has been no positive response” to Moscow’s core concerns in the document provided by the American side following weeks of talks with their counterparts.
“The main issue is our clear position on the unacceptability of further NATO expansion to the East and the deployment of highly destructive weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov explained.
The Kremlin also poured scorn on the response, arguing that the requests from Moscow’s officials had not been fully taken into account by Washington and the US-led military bloc.
At the same time though, according to Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, “there are and should always be prospects… for further dialogue.”
"But as for the substantive dialogue on the draft documents, there are issues of a different nature, but I will not get ahead of myself,” he said.
Last month, Russia handed over two draft treaties, one addressed to Washington and the other to NATO, which it says are aimed at reducing the risk of conflict on the European continent.
Moscow requested that the bloc refrains from any military activity on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact states that joined after 1997, following the fall of the Soviet Union. The US-led military bloc's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said it would unacceptable to create a "two tier" system that prevents it from engaging in activity with some member states.
A separate clause also demanded that Kiev’s ambitions to join the US-led bloc should not be granted. Ruling out NATO expansion closer to Russia’s borders has been a key demand from the country’s officials, with Peskov arguing that it is a question of “life or death.”
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Title: Major crypto exchange mulls Russia expansion despite looming ban
The world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Binance, wants to expand to Russia despite a proposed crypto ban in the country.
According to Binance Eastern European Director Gleb Kostarev, expansion to Russia is strategically important for the growth of the crypto exchange.
“Our goal is to obtain a license and conduct legal business where the regulation allows,” Kostarev told Reuters, noting that Binance is expecting to see a progressive regulatory approach from Russia that could also set a precedent for similar regulations in neighboring states.
Russia has been eager to regulate its growing crypto market. According to the central bank, the country’s annual volume of cryptocurrency transactions is near $5 billion.
The regulator, which has been increasingly critical of cryptocurrencies for the past several years, recently proposed a complete ban on crypto trading and mining in the country.
The proposal, however, has been met with opposition from both the public and other government ministries, who called for a more moderate approach, and regulation instead of prohibition. The Ministry of Finance said this week that regulations of this kind are already in the works, noting that crypto technologies “should get a chance to develop.”
Kostarev called the ban proposal “harsh,” but noted that “for now, we consider this as an invitation to dialogue with the regulator.” He also said that the course Russia takes in regulating crypto may impact its neighbors.
“In Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan they are more loyal to cryptocurrencies and are taking steps towards liberalization, rather than restriction. But local regulators are taking these steps with an eye on Russia.”
Cryptocurrencies are for now largely allowed in Russia and can be used for financial transactions, but their use for purchasing goods or services is prohibited.
The Sino-Russian relationship is acting as a balance of power against the EU & the US, the former president said
The close relationship between China and Russia has been noticed by politicians in the US and the European Union and is therefore helping to balance power in the sphere of international diplomacy, the former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, has claimed.
Speaking to news agency TASS, in comments published on Thursday, the former head of state said that Moscow’s close relations with Beijing are positive for the world as a whole. Medvedev currently serves as deputy chairman of the Security Council.
“We have no military alliance with the People’s Republic of China, and no one is striving for that. But at the same time, it is constantly being talked about, and our relations are being monitored all the time,” Medvedev said. In his opinion, this is proof that the close ties between Moscow and Beijing have “already had an impact as a balancing factor on the international balance of power.”
In particular, Medvedev noted that Russia’s “friends across the ocean and in Europe” are constantly talking about the tight relationship between Moscow and Beijing, suggesting that this in itself shows that it is acting as a counterbalance against the transatlantic powers.
America has repeatedly expressed concern that China and Russia want to change the so-called rules-based international order, and Washington chose to exclude both nations from the US-hosted Summit for Democracy, held last year.
On Wednesday, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the relationship with China “a good example of what relations between countries should be like in the 21st century,” suggesting that the West has responded badly to the improving Sino-Russian relationship, and has chosen to punish both nations with “sanctions” and “media demonization campaigns.”
In response, on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the partnership “a new model of relations between major powers.”
“There are no limits to mutual trust and strategic cooperation between China and Russia,” Zhao said.
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Title: Poland ready to make deal with Russia – media
Warsaw is willing to let Russia inspect US air defense facilities if Polish inspectors are allowed to enter Kaliningrad
With Moscow looking to come to an agreement with NATO over security guarantees in Europe, bloc member Poland has expressed willingness to allow Russian inspectors into its country to check US air defense facilities, it was reported on Wednesday.
According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed Polish officials, Warsaw would be willing to come to a reciprocal deal with Moscow. In return, Poland wants its inspectors to be allowed to check missile locations in Kaliningrad.
The idea to let Russians into American sites in Poland was initially proposed by Moscow, according to US officials. The Kremlin has repeatedly opposed the placement of foreign missiles on European territory and has suggested that air defense facilities could be used to fire ballistics at Russian territory.
“Polish officials said the government is open to missile-defense inspections on the condition that Russia allows inspection of Russian missile activities in Kaliningrad, a heavily militarized Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that borders Poland and Lithuania,” the Wall Street Journal report says.
At the end of last year, Russia published drafts of proposed treaties it had sent to NATO and the US. The documents include a long list of security guarantees sought by the Kremlin, including a demand that America moves its missiles and troops away from the Russian border. On Wednesday, US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan delivered a counter-proposal to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“We’re not releasing the document publicly because we think that diplomacy has the best chance to succeed if we provide space for confidential talks. We hope and expect that Russia will have the same view and will take our proposals seriously,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if Russia were to approach this seriously and in a spirit of reciprocity, with the determination to enhance collective security for all of us, there are very positive things in this document that should be pursued.”
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Title: GOP & pundits demand to #ReleaseTheTranscript after Biden-Zelensky call
CNN’s report on phone conversation between the presidents of US and Ukraine triggers throwback to Trump impeachment
Political opponents of the sitting US president are demanding the White House release a full transcript of his call with Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelensky, which reportedly didn’t go as smoothly as the two nations stated. It’s time for Joe Biden to face what Donald Trump faces in September 2019, conservative pundits say.
The hashtag #ReleaseTheTranscript trended on Twitter in the US as opponents of President Biden reacted to a controversy surrounding his Thursday conversation with Zelensky. CNN’s source in Ukraine claimed that the talks didn’t go well, and that Biden had a hard time convincing his counterpart that a Russian invasion of his country was imminent.
Russia, the US president allegedly warned Zelensky, could “sack” Ukrainian capital Kiev next month, so his nation had better “prepare for impact.” The Ukrainian leader didn’t see the Russian threat as imminent, the source said.
Ukrainian official describes Biden-Zelensky phone call to @mchancecnn NOTE: Since this report, WH & Zelensky spokesman have disputed official’s claims (see thread) pic.twitter.com/B2WV4ACL28
The report was disputed by the White House and the Ukrainian government. US National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said CNN’s sources were “‘leaking’ falsehoods” to the network.
The confusion was welcomed as manna from heaven by opponents of the embattled Democratic president. There are obvious parallels between the current situation and what happened in September 2019, they point out.
Over two years ago, then-President Donald Trump was bombarded with accusations that his earlier call with Zelensky involved some serious transgressions, so his many critics demanded to see the full text of the conversation.
Months later he was impeached for abuse of power, in the form of allegedly trying to get dirt on Biden in exchange for military aid, but the Senate voted against convicting him. Trump supporters called the entire case shaky at best and obviously politically motivated.
Considering the current composition of the US Congress, it’s highly unlikely that Biden would face consequences as dramatic as Trump did for his contact with the Ukrainian president. Nevertheless, the GOP’s side of the House Judiciary Committee leaned in, asking the White House to show what was said between the two presidents.
Meanwhile, conservative commentators found joy in turning the table on Biden to some degree, saying it was his turn to have his feet held to the fire and wondering if some brave whistleblower could leak the supposedly coveted transcripts.
Biden talked to Zelensky for some 80 minutes to discuss a possibility of a military invasion by Russia. The US and some other NATO allies pumped additional weapons into Ukraine, saying Kiev will need them to defend itself, but refused to deploy their own troops. Germany notably opposed the rearmament drive, even denying its airspace to arms shipments to Ukraine.
Russia says it has no intention to attack its neighbor. The very thought that the two may go to war is unacceptable to Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, adding that it was the Western nations who were apparently working to make the tensions spiral out of control.
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Title: Nadal wins Melbourne semifinal to set up chance of record Grand Slam
Rafael Nadal booked a place in the Australian Open final with victory over Matteo Berrettini
Rafael Nadal is one win away from a record 21st Grand Slam title after the Spaniard beat Matteo Berrettini in four sets in their Australian Open semifinal.
Nadal eased past the disappointing Italian 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 to move into a sixth Melbourne final of his career.
The 35-year-old has lost on four of those past five occasions – including twice to Novak Djokovic – but will hope to end that hoodoo and can clinch what would be a second Australian Open title to add to the one he picked up in 2009.
Should he do so, Nadal will one move ahead of great rivals Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time Grand Slam standings – something which had seemed implausible at the turn of the year as the Spanish icon made a comeback from a longstanding foot injury and also saw his preparations disrupted by a Covid infection.
But seeded sixth, Nadal has found form and fitness when it counts in Australia, battling past Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov in a five-set quarterfinal and making lighter work of the 25-year-old Berrettini at Rod Laver Arena on Friday.
Nadal will now wait to see who he faces in Sunday’s final as Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev plays fourth-seeded Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in their last-four meeting later on Friday.
Just one of Nadal’s 20 Grand Slam crowns has come Down Under, with Melbourne Park being a far happier stomping ground for nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic down the years.
But the Serb’s absence this year following his unsavory deportation saga has handed Nadal the chance of what many considered an unlikely title.
A Covid infection after playing an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi in December – his first action in five months after a lingering foot injury – had complicated his hopes of playing in Australia.
But Nadal arrived Down Under and remains unbeaten in 2022, winning the Melbourne Summer Set title on his competitive return earlier in January, and now winning six times to earn a place in the Australian Open final.
All eyes will now turn to Friday’s second semifinal, where US Open champion and last year’s beaten Melbourne finalist Daniil Medvedev meets Greek star Tsitsipas, who looked impressive in his quarterfinal win against Jannik Sinner.
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Title: New York City mayor allowed to hire brother, but with a caveat
Mayor Eric Adams can go ahead with the appointment of his brother to a security post, but the job won’t pay well
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has received the green light to hire his brother, Bernard Adams, to serve as an adviser for mayoral security for just $1, after his previous plan for $210,000 yearly pay caused massive controversy and conflict of interest accusations.
In a ruling released on Thursday through a Freedom of Information request, the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board advised Adams to appoint his brother as an “uncompensated senior adviser for mayoral security,” who “would have no subordinates and no command authority over any member of the New York Police Department (NYPD).” The panel said that Bernard Adams would have to receive the “nominal amount of $1 per year” to become a city employee.
The terms of Bernard Adams’s future employment – as advised by the panel – is a far cry from the original plan by the mayor to make his brother a deputy police commissioner earning around $240,000 a year. Facing pushback over granting his younger sibling, a former police officer who most recently worked as a parking operations manager in Virginia, one of the key posts in the city, the mayor abandoned the idea and sought to have his brother lead mayoral security for a $210,000 annual salary instead. However, the mayor was forced to seek guidance from the conflicts of interest board amid mounting accusations of nepotism.
The younger Adams is expected to live off his $64,000 city pension if appointed to the adviser role, according to the New York Times.
In a statement on Thursday, the mayor’s spokesman, Maxwell Young, claimed that Bernard Adams himself “offered to serve for the nominal salary of 1$” to “avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” The mayor is “grateful to Bernard for being willing to serve the city for no salary,” the spokesman said, adding that the mayor’s brother is “uniquely qualified for this job.”
The conflicts of interest board confirmed that it granted a “requested waiver” for the mayor to move forward with the appointment, while noting that Bernard Adams’s new role, though unpaid, is still considered “one of power and prestige.”
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Title: European country opts against Covid jabs for children
Sweden says benefit from the Covid-19 shots to those under 12 is “currently small”
The Sweden Public Health Agency on Thursday announced that it had opted against following some western countries in endorsing vaccination against Covid-19 for children 5-11 years old.
Administering shots in that age group wouldn’t have a major effect on the spread of Covid-19 and would offer little medical benefit to the individual children receiving them, the agency said in its guidance for the upcoming spring term.
“With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don't see any clear benefit with vaccinating them,” agency official Britta Bjorkholm told reporters. The decision may be revisited if new information becomes available or a new variant of the virus changes the risk-reward analysis for vaccinating children.
Sweden’s decision is contrary to a trend toward countries approving vaccination of younger and younger children, especially with Covid-19’s Omicron variant spreading rapidly. Such counties as Germany, France, Italy and Spain have approved jabs for children as young as 5. In the US, chief White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters on Wednesday that he expects three-dose regimens to eventually be approved for children as young as 6 months old.
Proponents of vaccinating children have argued that even though risks of serious illness or death from Covid-19 are relatively low in young people, they can spread the virus to more vulnerable segments of the population. Swedish health officials, however, argue that vaccinating small kids would entails no great benefit – either to them or to the people around them.
“A general vaccination from the age of 5 is also not expected to have any major effect on the spread of infection at present, neither in the group of children aged 5–11 nor among other groups in the population,” the Public Health Agency said.
Sweden was one of the few countries that opted against a full-scale lockdown at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Title: White House calls CNN report on Russian invasion ‘completely false’
The White House denies a report that Biden told Zelensky to “prepare for impact” and that Kiev could be “sacked”
The White House has pushed back on a CNN report about Thursday’s phone call between US President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, calling it “completely false.”
“President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February. He has previously said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months. Reports of anything more or different than that are completely false,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, tweeted on Thursday evening.
She was responding to a tweet by CNN’s senior national security correspondent, Alexander Marquardt, who was quoting his colleague in Kiev, Matthew Chance.
“A Russian invasion is now virtually certain once the ground freezes, Biden said to Zelensky, a senior Ukrainian official told [Chance]. Kyiv could be ‘sacked,’ Russian forces may attempt to occupy it, ‘prepare for impact’, Biden said, according to this official,” Marquardt tweeted.
CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper had Chance cite “the Ukrainian official” live on air.
“The capital, Kiev, this city here, could be ‘sacked.’ That’s the word he [Biden] apparently used, according to this Ukrainian official. [It could be] sacked by Russian forces,” Chance told Tapper.
Chance went on to quote what he called a “quite impactful line” from the Biden-Zelensky call as narrated to him by the anonymous Ukrainian official. “President Biden [was] telling his Ukrainian counterpart that Ukraine should prepare for impact. Quite a stark warning there from the US leader.”
The segment, however, was subsequently removed from The Lead’s Twitter account.
BREAKING: We have recovered the Ukraine call report that @JakeTapper and CNN just deleted
The quote was quickly picked up by other outlets, such as The Independent, The Express, and the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, CNN anchor Jim Sciutto quoted Horne as saying that “anonymous sources are ‘leaking’ falsehoods” about the call.
Zelensky’s spokesman, Sergey Nykyforov, likewise dismissed reports citing the alleged “senior Ukrainian official” as “completely false.”
“Correct information can only be found in official releases from the Ukrainian and American sides,” he stated.
Officially, the Biden-Zelensky call on Thursday afternoon went well, with the two presidents discussing the ongoing US military and financial aid to Ukraine. Biden reiterated US support for Ukraine and told Zelensky the US and its allies were ready to “respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” according to the official White House readout.
Biden also told his Ukrainian colleague that the US embassy in Kiev “remains open and fully operational” even though some family members of diplomats and staff were evacuated this week.
The two presidents noted the success of Wednesday’s talks in Paris, where Russia and Ukraine agreed on the matter of maintaining the ceasefire in the disputed region of Donbass and scheduled another meeting in Berlin in two weeks.
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Title: Marvel star admits to joining protest against Covid-19 mandates
The actress has faced calls for her firing after she made public her opposition to compulsory Covid-19 vaccination
Actress Evangeline Lilly is facing major backlash, including calls for her to be sacked by Marvel Studios, after she voiced her opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
The blowback began after Lilly, a star of Marvel’s ‘Ant-Man’ movies, said on Thursday that she had participated in a protest last weekend in Washington, DC to support “bodily sovereignty.” She argued in an Instagram post that “nobody should ever be forced to inject their body with anything, against their will.”
“This is not the way. This is not safe. This is not healthy. This is not love. I understand the world is in fear, but I don’t believe that answering fear with force will fix our problems,” Lilly said. “I was pro-choice before Covid, and I am still pro-choice today.”
Critics called for Lilly to be canceled from the Marvel franchise of superhero films, known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Richard Newby, a contributor to the Hollywood Reporter, said Lilly and another actress, Letitia Wright, are about to get themselves cast out of the MCU.
“Oh dear God, Wasp recast incoming,” one Twitter user said. Another observer called for removing her not only from the ‘Wasp’ franchise, but also from the ‘Lost’ television series. Lost ended more than a decade ago, and filming for ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ has reportedly wrapped up.
Wright was accused of sharing anti-vaccine views on the set of Marvel’s ‘Black Panther 2’ movie. Lilly, who’s starring in the upcoming Marvel film ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’, previously caused outrage by comparing Covid-19 lockdowns to martial law in early 2020. She apologized that time, however.
Marvel is owned by Walt Disney Co., a unit of which fired anti-vaccine actress Gina Carano last year after she spoke out against mask-wearing and likened the current climate of political intolerance to Nazi Germany.
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Title: Musk unloads on ‘puppet’ Biden in Twitter rant
The Tesla CEO lashed out after the US president praised electric vehicle programs by competitors GM & Ford
Tesla tycoon Elon Musk referred to Joe Biden as a “damp sock puppet in human form” on Thursday, in response to the US president’s photo-op with General Motors chair Mary Barra. In the video, which was posted on Biden’s official Twitter account on Wednesday evening, the president praised GM’s investment in electric vehicle manufacturing as a blow to climate change.
Responding to the message, Musk argued that electric vehicle manufacturing in the US “Starts with a T / Ends with an A / ESL in the middle.” He then took a dig at the president, completing his tweet with a “sock” emoji.
Musk also claimed that Biden was "treating the American public like fools” while responding to another Twitter user, who argued that Biden was “trying to cancel a great American company and rewrite EV history” by endorsing GM and Ford.
Amateur fact-checkers pounced on the thread to back up Musk, posting data that shows Tesla’s Model Y and Model 3 were by far the top-selling electric vehicles in the US – and both made domestically.
GM’s Bolt came in at a distant fourth place in 2021, with Ford’s Mustang Mach-E beating it out for third place, according to Car & Driver.
In a video with Barra, Biden wrote that “companies like GM and Ford are building more electric vehicles here at home than ever before,” while Barra announced a $7 billion investment in Michigan along with a battery cell plant to be opened in the US.
At least some of Ford’s electric vehicles are manufactured in Mexico, not the US. Last year, the United Auto Workers union said Ford “put corporate greed and more potential profits over American jobs” with a plan to build a new electric model in Mexico, rather than in Ohio.
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Title: Zelensky explains Ukraine’s concerns to Biden
In a “long” phone call, the two presidents spoke about the recent Normandy talks with Russia, among other topics
US President Joe Biden has received a report on the recent talks with Russia in Paris from his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky. The two leaders agreed on joint action and discussed further US military and financial support for Ukraine, according to Kiev.
The White House told reporters on Thursday that the call was scheduled for 2pm American Eastern time.
Shortly before 4pm, Zelensky tweeted about a “long” conversation with Biden, saying they discussed “recent diplomatic efforts on de-escalation and agreed on joint actions for the future.” Zelensky thanked Biden for “the ongoing military assistance” and also discussed “possibilities for financial support to Ukraine.”
Ahead of the call, CNN reported that Zelensky was going to ask the US to be “more cautious in its messaging surrounding a potential Russian attack,” as Kiev is facing panic and negative economic consequences. Ukraine’s dollar bonds had their best day in almost two years on Thursday, following the news that the Normandy Format talks with Russia in Paris were somewhat successful.
The White House readout, released after 5pm, said that Biden “reaffirmed the readiness of the US along with its allies and partners to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” and that the US Embassy in Kiev “remains open and fully operational” despite the departure of family members of diplomats.
Biden also expressed support for the Normandy Format talks, “expressing his hope that the sides’ recommitment on January 26 to the terms of the July 2020 ceasefire will help decrease tensions and advance the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.”
The talks, hosted by France on Wednesday, ended with envoys for Moscow and Kiev agreeing to “support unconditional respect for the cease-fire and full adherence to the cease-fire strengthening measures” from 2020 “regardless of differences on other issues relating to the implementation of the Minsk agreements,” according to the Élysée Palace. The diplomats also agreed to meet in Berlin in two weeks’ time.
US media has claimed since late October that Russia was about to invade Ukraine, citing an assessment by American intelligence. Russia has dismissed the accusation as “fake news.”
When US, UK, and Canadian embassies in Kiev began evacuating some staff on Monday, Ukrainian officials – starting with Zelensky himself – started downplaying the threat of the alleged invasion, saying they were seeing no sign of it in the near future.
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Title: Cancer patients sue company behind Fukushima radiation
Plaintiffs claim they have developed thyroid cancer due to radiation that seeped from the Japanese power plant after the 2011 disaster
Six people were children living near the Fukushima nuclear power plant at the time of the 2011 disaster, when the facility was heavily damaged in an earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
The plaintiffs have since developed thyroid cancer, blaming radiation that seeped from the power plant for their condition.
“Some plaintiffs have had difficulties advancing to higher education and finding jobs, and have even given up on their dreams for their future,” the group’s chief lawyer, Kenichi Ido, told AFP.
The plaintiffs, now aged between 17 and 27, are seeking compensation from the Fukushima operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO). They demand the company pay a total of 616 million yen ($5.4 million). The plaintiffs have experienced prejudice against thyroid cancer patients, with the illness heavily affecting their lives, one of the group members – identified only as a woman in her 20s – has said.
“I decided to come forward and tell the truth in hopes of improving the situation for nearly 300 other people also suffering like us,” she stated.
The lawsuit has become the first class-action against TEPCO over health problems allegedly linked to the Fukushima disaster. Establishing a solid link between thyroid cancer and the meltdown is likely to become a focal point of the case, since no relationship between cancer cases and the disaster was recognized by an expert team previously established by the regional government. At the same time, radiation exposure is a well-proven risk factor for developing such type of cancer.
Over 290 people who lived in the area at the time of the meltdown have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer. Some 266 of them were found during a provincial health survey of people aged 18 and younger at the time of the disaster, which affected some 380,000 residents.
The plaintiff’s legal team argues that such rates – 77 per 100,000 – are significantly higher than the usual one to two cases per one million people. Regional authorities and experts, however, have blamed the unusual rates on excessive screening and over-diagnosing.
The Fukushima power plant got crippled following the 2011 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake and a subsequent devastating tsunami. The plant suffered a major meltdown, which became the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl incident. The catastrophe prompted an evacuation order for nearby towns and villages, which has been gradually lifted over the past few years. The last deserted settlement – the town of Futaba located in an immediate vicinity of the damaged plant – is expected to welcome residents willing to return later this year.
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Title: Most ‘Covid patients’ in England are in hospital for other reasons
The incidental case rate, showing the share of hospital patients who didn’t even know they had Covid, is at its highest level
About 52% of people counted as Covid-19 patients in England aren’t actually in the hospital because of the virus. Rather, they were admitted for treatment of other medical conditions and only tested positive during routine screening.
The latest government figures show that, as of Tuesday, 6,767 of the 13,023 patients reported as having Covid-19 were being treated principally for unrelated health issues. The incidental case rate, reflecting hospital patients who didn’t even know they had the virus, is at its highest level since such breakdowns were made available last June and has doubled since the beginning of December.
Public health officials in many jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts in the US and Canada’s Ontario province, have begun delineating patients who are hospitalized with the virus – not because of it – to provide a clearer picture of Covid-19’s virulence amid concerns that lumping in incidental infections can misrepresent the pandemic’s health impact.
Separating incidental infections from legitimate Covid-19 hospitalizations has been made more relevant by the rapidly spreading Omicron strain, which is considered more contagious than previous variants, but is also relatively mild.
The UK was averaging about 145,000 new Covid-19 cases daily and set an all-time high in the first week of January, up more than fourfold from before Omicron emerged in late November. However, deaths from the virus have averaged just 230 per day in the past week, down 80% from the peak level seen in January 2021.
UK’s former Brexit chief urges ‘significant’ personnel changes at Number 10
Without a “total reset” at 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson’s future as prime minister is in serious jeopardy, Lord David Frost tweeted on Thursday. The Tory peer and former UK chief Brexit negotiator was quoting a Telegraph article that called for a comprehensive political house-cleaning with “all the neo-socialists, green fanatics and pro-woke crowd exiting immediately.”
2. In policies - so we start delivering the huge changes needed to make sure we can create wealth & enhance freedom
In systems & people - so the levers of government work, and, as Allister says,"with all the neo-socialists, green fanatics and pro-woke crowd exiting immediately".
The Telegraph piece shared by Frost argued that “without drastic, urgent action, the [Conservative] party will be sucked into the kind of death spiral that sunk John Major’s government in the mid 1990s” and replaced it with a left-wing coalition led by Labour. “Such an outcome,” writer Allister Heath warned, “would be calamitous, and result in a vicious class and cultural war from which the country would never recover.”
Heath laid out some potential routes out of such doom for Johnson, including him staying in office while trying to address the “immediate damage caused by Partygate” before delegating “huge amounts of power to a David Frost-like CEO in No. 10.” Accompanying such a delegation would be the wholesale “clear-out” of the woke crew, a “total reset.” Failing that, the PM would have to step down, the article suggested.
Johnson’s political future hangs in the balance amid civil and police inquiries into allegations several lockdown-violating parties were held at government buildings, including Downing Street.
Conservative MPs are reportedly awaiting the findings of the inquiry being run by top civil servant Sue Gray before moving on any possible no-confidence actions against Johnson. Gray’s report is expected to be delivered to Downing Street in the coming days.
Johnson this week rejected opposition calls to resign, and has insisted he did not break the lockdown rules. Some 54 votes of no-confidence from Conservative MPs would be sufficient to initiate a potential leadership change.
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Title: Poll reveals German attitudes to Ukraine arms ban
So far, Germany has only offered to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, as part of an offer dismissed in Kiev as a ‘joke’
Around 59% of Germans are backing their government in its refusal to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, a new poll by YouGov has revealed, with 20% saying they do want Berlin to support Kiev with arms shipments. The survey, which was released on Thursday, also found that 21% of Germans were undecided on the issue.
Broken down by party, as many as 71% of those who support the left-wing Die Linke supporters and 67% of far-right AfD fans were averse to weapons shipments. Meanwhile, 61% of those who voted for the largest governing party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and 56% of CDU/CSU supporters held the same opinion. The sentiments were shared by more than 50% of both Green Party and Free Democratic Party voters.
Amid growing tension on the Ukrainian border and warnings from Western powers of a Russian invasion, Germany has pledged to ship 5,000 helmets to Ukraine – something Kiev views as a “purely symbolic gesture.” Moscow has denied it has any plans to launch an incursion.
Ukraine’s ambassador in Berlin, Andrey Melnik, described the promised equipment as a “drop in the ocean,” while Kiev’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, went so far as to dismiss the move as an “absolute joke.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far ruled out the possibility of shipping lethal weapons, saying on Tuesday this is due to “the developments of recent years and decades.”
Other Western nations have taken a markedly different approach to the issue.
Last week, Ben Wallace, Britain’s secretary of state for defense, announced the shipment of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. London could also send hundreds of troops to eastern Europe, according to unconfirmed media reports.
In the US, Democrats in the House of Representatives are reportedly trying to fast-track a bill that would give $500 million in military aid to Ukraine.
The YouGov poll also found that around 52% of Germans want their government to assume a more active role in resolving the Ukraine crisis, while 61% want to see Chancellor Scholz travel to Moscow as soon as possible to help thrash out a solution.
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Title: Joe Rogan, Elon Musk react to Canadian trucker convoy
‘Freedom convoy’ derided by PM Justin Trudeau finds major attention south of the border
Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk and podcaster Joe Rogan have spoken about the Canadian truckers driving across the country to protest the government’s Covid-19 mandates, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced them as a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.”
“Canadian truckers rule,” Musk tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
The ‘Freedom Convoy’ that set out from British Columbia and is expected to reach the Canadian capital of Ottawa sometime this weekend was ignored by the major media outlets at first. As it approached Ontario, however, the convoy became a political football.
Trudeau denounced the truckers and said they “do not represent the views of Canadians” in a televised speech on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, he announced he had been “exposed” to Covid-19 and would quarantine for five days – thereby missing the convoy’s arrival in Ottawa – even though he has already had the virus and been vaccinated and boosted.
Jagmeet Singh, whose New Democrats are propping up Trudeau’s minority government, also condemned the truckers and accused them of spreading “false information” via “inflammatory, divisive and hateful comments.” He also criticized his brother-in-law for donating to the protest. Canadian media reported that Jodhveer Singh Dhaliwal had asked for his donation back after being told of “the true nature” of the convoy.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre accused the media of cherry-picking individuals to tar the entire protest with the same brush.
“That doesn't mean we disparage the thousands of hard-working, law-abiding and peaceful truckers, who quite frankly have kept all of you alive for the last two years by filling your grocery shelves with the food that you eat and filling your homes with the products you rely upon,” he said on Thursday.
Benjamin Dichter, one of the organizers of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and the group’s official spokesman, said they are peaceful and law-abiding. He told the Toronto Sun that the convoy is a protest over Trudeau’s government forcing drivers to wear masks even when alone inside their trucks, a vaccine mandate, and a requirement to get the jab before crossing the US-Canada border.
Dichter also denied reports that GoFundMe has frozen some Can$5 million in donations for the convoy, calling them “fake news.”
Joe Rogan, who hosts the immensely popular podcast on Spotify, also shone a spotlight on the convoy during his show on Wednesday. Speaking to a guest from Montreal, he showed footage of the truckers and described it as Canada being “in revolt” over the government’s mandates.
“It’s a giant convoy of trucks,” Rogan said. “That’s apparently some insane amount of people. Fifty thousand trucks are headed to Ottawa to protest the vaccine mandates by Trudeau.”
Some estimates do have the number of trucks as that high, and Dichter claims the convoy is over 70 kilometers (43 miles) long – almost ten times the size of the 2020 Egyptian truck protest that currently holds the Guinness World Record.
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Title: US reveals whether it will impose sanctions on Putin – media
Targeting the Russian president would come up against “technical difficulties,” sources told CBS
Washington has decided that it is not yet ready to make good on its threat to impose sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin, CBS has reported, citing sources who say that it would cause problems in ongoing negotiations over security in Eastern Europe.
On Wednesday, the New York-based network reported that anonymous sources inside President Joe Biden’s administration had said that the White House was still open to the idea of sanctioning the Russian leader in the future, but that for now, it had decided not to. According to the sources, officials had decided that it would cause “technical difficulties.”
The correspondent noted that sanctions make it difficult for the target to travel and coordinate with partners, which could hinder future negotiations between Russia and the US.
Previously, Biden had said that he would not rule out the possibility of personal sanctions against Putin in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. At a press conference on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the administration believes that the threat of massive economic sanctions is the most effective tool in deterring Russia from attacking Ukraine.
American and Ukrainian leaders have been warning for months that they fear Russia could be planning an imminent invasion of its neighbor, and have pointed to reports of Russian troop movements near its border with Ukraine. Moscow has denied that it has any aggressive intentions, saying that it is simply moving soldiers within its own territory, and has called for written guarantees that NATO, the US-led military bloc, will not expand into Ukraine – a deal American negotiators have said is off the table.
Recent research by the Moscow-based Levada Center pollster, registered as a foreign agent by Russia’s Ministry of Justice because of links to overseas funding, found that 66% of the 1,640 Russians surveyed were not at all worried or not very worried about Western sanctions, and 32% were very worried or somewhat worried. Forty-one percent of respondents said that they think sanctions will only affect the small group of people responsible for Russian policy in Ukraine.
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Title: National Guard commander resigns after mass shooting
The resignation of Ukrainian National Guard chief General Mykola Balan was triggered by a massacre in Dnepr, Ukraine
One of Ukraine's top military officers has announced that he will step down in the wake of a mass shooting that saw a guardsman turn his gun on five people at a rocket factory in the Eastern European nation.
Lieutenant General Mykola Balan said that he had submitted his resignation as commander of the National Guard of Ukraine on Thursday after five people were killed and another five wounded during a shooting spree at a factory complex in Dnepr the same day.
“Given that the commanding officer is responsible for any actions, good or bad, this morning I wrote a report to the Minister of Internal Affairs and a request to the president to accept my resignation,” Balan told reporters at a briefing on Thursday afternoon.
Balan also suspended the commander of the National Guard regiment stationed at the Yuzhmash factory, so he would not interfere with the investigation into the shooting.
Interior Minister Denis Monastirsky praised Balan’s gesture as “the act of a true officer” and said that Lieutenant General Yuri Lebed will take over as commander. Monastirsky also said he would order a study of the conditions of service for National Guard conscripts.
The move comes after the massacre at the Yuzhmash rocket factory earlier on Thursday, where a National Guard unit was garrisoned as security. In the early hours of the morning, a conscript took a rifle and ammunition from the unit’s armory and began shooting at his colleagues. Five people were killed, and five more wounded in the rampage.
The assailant was identified as Artemiy Ryabchuk, from the southwestern city of Odessa. He was arrested outside the factory and charged with premeditated murder and desertion with weapons. He faces a sentence that ranges from 15 years to life in prison, if found guilty.
No motive has been given by the authorities for Ryabchuk’s actions, but Monastirsky’s decision to order a review of service conditions indicates the possibility that hazing or bullying may have played a role in the shooting.
Ukraine has been ramping up conscription in recent weeks, amid US claims of a supposed impending “Russian invasion.” Moscow denies that it has plans to launch an incursion despite reports that up to 100,000 troops have been stationed on the shared border, and insists that NATO is inflaming tensions.
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Title: Former Soviet Republics exchange fire on the border
Several people were reportedly injured as the militaries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan engaged in cross-border skirmishes
Violence broke out at the Tajik-Kyrgyz border late on Thursday, featuring clashes at a poorly-demarcated part of the frontier, where the territories of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan meet.
The hostilities reportedly began when a Tajik vehicle was pelted with stones from the Kyrgyz side of the border. The incident triggered a response from the border guard of both nations, with servicemen first firing warning shots before engaging in a firefight against each other, Sputnik Tajikistan reported.
According to Kyrgyz border guard, the confrontation first began when a group of Tajik civilians blocked the road between the Kyrgyz towns of Batken and Isfana, part of which is located on Tajik territory.
The incident was said to have been resolved when the border guards of the two nations arrived at the scene, but the Tajik military allegedly opened fire at another part of the border, using “mortars and grenade launchers,” according to their counterparts on the Kyrgyz side.
Tajik officials have confirmed the death of one civilian. Two more civilians have reportedly been wounded, and 11 border guards have been injured as a result of the violence. The skirmishes also triggered the evacuation of multiple villages located along the intertwined border.
The incident is the latest confrontation to occur on the complex and poorly-demarcated border between the two nations, which saw seperate states declare their own frontiers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Previous major border incidents flared up between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last April, when a dispute over a water distribution facility resulted in clashes that left at least 30 people dead and more injured.
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Title: Biden’s approval rating plunges in key swing state
Support for President Biden has crumbled in Georgia, a state that could wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in this year’s elections
A new poll out of Georgia shows troubling signs for Democrats heading into this year’s midterm elections, as voters have soured on President Joe Biden and see America heading in the wrong direction under his party’s leadership.
The poll, which was done by the University of Georgia and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), showed that only one in three voters approve of Biden’s performance as president. That result marked a collapse in support since last May, when 51% of Georgians gave the president a thumbs-up and 46% disapproved.
Less than 13% of voters now “strongly approve” of Biden’s handling of the presidency, down from 28% in May. Moreover, 71% of Georgia voters see America as heading on the “wrong track,” while only 16.5% said the country is heading in the “right direction.”
The dramatic shift in Georgia’s political mood could be a harbinger of trouble for Biden’s party, as the state was key in helping him win the presidency in 2020 and gave Democrats control of the Senate in a special election last January. One of the Georgia Democrats who came to power last year, Raphael Warnock, is up for re-election in 2022, and he likely needs to win for his party to have a chance of retaining control of the Senate.
The poll found that less than 32% of Georgians see themselves as better off financially than a year ago, and most voters blame current government policies for their economic woes, including the highest US inflation rate in 40 years.
The dominant Republican candidate for Warnock’s Senate seat, Georgia football legend Herschel Walker, is currently polling ahead of the incumbent Democrat. Asked in the University of Georgia-AJC poll about a head-to-head matchup between the two candidates, voters gave Walker the advantage at 47.1% to 43.6%. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday showed Walker with a 49-48 edge over Warnock.
In the 2020 presidential election, Biden beat Trump by a razor-thin margin of 0.2% in Georgia. Respondents to the University of Georgia-AJC poll favored Biden by a full percentage point in 2020, so if anything, the survey group may be less negative about the president than Georgians as a whole.
Whistleblowers at the health body’s Manila HQ allege that the regional director made “derogatory comments” based on the nationality of staffers
World Health Organization (WHO) staffers have reportedly accused the agency’s top director in the Western Pacific of undermining the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic by creating a “toxic atmosphere” rife with racist language and “systemic bullying” at its Manila headquarters.
In an internal email reportedly sent to senior WHO leadership last week, employees alleged that the director, Takeshi Kasai, had allowed a “culture of systemic bullying and public ridiculing” to develop at the office. The Associated Press reported that the mail included “recorded snippets of meetings” where Kasai is “heard making derogatory comments about staff based on nationality.”
In one instance, described in the complaint, Kasai is alleged to have “aggressively questioned” an employee on whether she was “incapable of delivering good presentations because she was Filipina.” Staff also alleged that Kasai attributed the rise in Covid cases in some Pacific nations to a “lack of capacity due to their inferior culture, race, and socioeconomic level.”
Kasai has denied the allegations, telling the AP that he asks “a lot of myself, and our staff … but it should not result in people feeling disrespected.” While accepting that he had been “hard” on employees, he rejected having “targeted staff of any particular nationality.”
He also reportedly expressed his commitment to “a positive work environment.”
An unnamed WHO scientist told the AP that Kasai had helped Japan decide how to donate vaccines to its neighbors – and score a political advantage. The scientist reportedly added that Kasai had also pressured WHO staff to prioritize donated vaccines from his home country over the UN-backed COVAX initiative. Kasai has rejected both allegations.
Although the staffers claimed they had “exhaustively” filed complaints through various UN oversight mechanisms, they said that to their knowledge no inquiry had begun. The WHO told the AP that it was “taking all appropriate steps to follow up on the matter.” Kasai has promised to “cooperate fully” with any inquiry into the staff's concerns.
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Title: Olympic bosses to meet Chinese tennis star Peng in Beijing
The International Olympic Committee also said it spoke to the Chinese tennis star last week
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has revealed that it plans to meet Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai in Beijing next month and says it spoke to her last week.
The 36-year-old disappeared from the public eye in late 2021 after appearing to accuse former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.
And amid a still-ongoing "Where is Peng Shuai?" campaign which stole headlines at the Australian Open when T-shirts with the slogan were confiscated before a policy reversal, the IOC has claimed it will touch base with the 2013 Wimbledon ladies' doubles champion.
"Since the first call that the IOC held with Peng Shuai on 21 November 2021, the IOC team has kept in touch with her and had a number of conversations with her, the last one just the past week,"said a spokesperson from the organization to the Washington Post.
"In this way, we got to know each other better.
"For instance, she told us that she is looking forward to the upcoming Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 and intends to follow the competitions and her fellow Chinese Olympians closely," the spokesperson continued.
"She also mentioned again that she is looking forward to a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach and Emma Terho, the chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, to which we had invited her in the first conversation. This meeting will happen during the Games.
"In arranging the different conversations, the Chinese Olympic Committee has always been very supportive and will also ensure that the meeting can happen even under very strict Covid-19 countermeasures and in the closed-loop that is in place during the Games," the statement concluded.
The Beijing Winter Olympics kick off on February 4 amid a US diplomatic boycott supported by countries such as Australia and the UK.
Since her original comments on Weibo, Peng said in December that she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, and that her post had been misunderstood.
"First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point," Peng claimed as part of a video interview published by Singapore news outlet Lianhe Zaobao.
This reversal came on the same weekend that Peng was pictured at a cross country skiing event with basketball icon Yao Ming, and Peng could also appear at the Olympics before they conclude on February 20.
Brooke Forde has 'great respect' for transgender University of Pennsylvania women's swim team member Lia Thomas
Olympian Brooke Forde has defended transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, claiming Thomas has the right to swim against her in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) events this year.
Previously known as Will before the pandemic, Thomas has competed on UPenn's women's swim team this season while breaking a number of records.
Thomas' presence in female competition has caused controversy, with the NCAA updating its policy to determine that individual sporting bodies must decide their own rules on transgender athlete participation amid pressure from a group of UPenn parents to amend regulations.
But while the likes of Caitlyn Jenner have blasted Thomas, the youngster has found support in potential rival and Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Forde.
In a statement which was read out by her father and sportswriter Pat on Yahoo Sports' College Football Enquirer podcast, Forde started by saying: "I have great respect for Lia.
"Social change is always a slow and difficult process, and we rarely get it correct right away," continued Forde, who finished second with the US' preliminary 4x200-meter freestyle relay team at the Games.
"Being among the first to lead such a social change requires an enormous amount of courage and I admire Lia for her leadership that will undoubtedly benefit many trans athletes in the future.
"In 2020 I, along with most swimmers, experienced what it was like to have my chance to achieve my swimming goals taken away after years of hard work [due to COVID-19]," claimed Forde, who is studying for a master's degree in epidemiology at Stanford.
"I would not wish this experience on anyone, especially Lia who has followed the rules required of her. I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record will ever be, which is why I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCAAs this year," she finished.
Aside from each sport's national governing body determining transgender athlete participation, new NCAA regulations will require trans athletes to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.
In an interview in December, Thomas stated that she began hormone replacement treatment in May 2019 before going on to compete in the 2019-2020 swim season on UPenn's men's team.
Cori Bush (D-Missouri) was not in the car when it was struck by bullets in St. Louis
Congresswoman Cori Bush of St. Louis has confirmed that a vehicle belonging to her was hit by gunfire. She was not inside the car at the time and was not injured, her office told local media.
“Like far too many of us in St. Louis, experiencing gun violence is all too familiar,” Bush said in a statement to KDSK-TV, which first reported on the incident on Thursday. “Thankfully no one was harmed. But any act of gun violence shakes your soul.”
The shooting itself happened last Saturday, KDSK reported citing an anonymous source described as close to the congresswoman. The same source said someone had tampered with the door handles of other cars, but that there was no evidence Bush was specifically targeted.
“No one should have to fear for their safety here in St. Louis and that is exactly why our movement is working every day to invest in our communities, eradicate the root causes of gun violence, and keep every neighborhood safe,” the congresswoman’s statement said.
Word of the incident with Bush’s vehicle comes a day after two St. Louis police officers were shot in nearby Ferguson. One of them is in critical condition, local media reported. The shooting happened as they approached a car they believed was connected to a nearby homicide. Four suspects who were inside that vehicle have been arrested.
Bush is an outspoken Black Lives Matter activist who first became involved in politics during the 2014 Ferguson riots following the police shooting of African-American teen Michael Brown. In the 2020 primary campaign, with the backing of progressive Democrats, she defeated the incumbent Representative William Lacy Clay Jr., ending the Clay family’s 52-year run at representing the heavily Democrat district.
Upon arriving in Congress, Bush joined the progressive ‘Squad’ and began to champion a radical social justice agenda, including defunding the police.
“You would rather me die?” she asked reporters in August 2021, when confronted about spending taxpayer money on private security. “I get to be here to do the work, so suck it up – and defunding the police has to happen. We need to defund the police.”
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Title: Conservative pundit rips Disney over Minnie Mouse makeover
Candace Owens sees destructive social engineering behind Disney’s decision to ditch character’s polka dot dress in favor of a pantsuit
Conservative commentator Candace Owens has accused Walt Disney Co. of putting its Minnie Mouse character in pants – rather than her iconic polka dot dress – to undermine societal values and distract Americans from failures by President Joe Biden’s administration.
“This is why people don’t take these people seriously,” Owens said on Wednesday in an interview with Fox News host Jesse Watters. “They’re taking all of these things that nobody was offended by and feel like they have to get rid of them and destroy them because they’re bored, they’re absolutely bored. They are trying to destroy the fabrics of our society pretending that there are issues.”
Much of the goal, Owens said, is to divert attention from crises facing the country, such as the highest inflation in 40 years. “Look at Minnie Mouse. The world is going forward because we’ve got her in a pantsuit,” she said. “Never mind that you can’t get anything at the grocery store and you can’t buy a piece of bacon unless you’ve got $30 in your pocket. At least we’re addressing the real problem, which is Minnie Mouse.”
“They’re taking all of these things that nobody was offended by and feel like they have to get rid of them and destroy them because they’re bored.” - @realcandaceo on Disney changing Minnie Mouse’s outfit pic.twitter.com/1CoVw8Eiyc
The rant came in response to a new Minnie Mouse costume that Disney created to mark the 30th anniversary of Disneyland Paris and to be worn only during Women’s History Month, which is March. A blue pantsuit with black polka dots and black shoes will replace Minnie’s signature red dress with white dots.
Disneyland Paris shared a sneak peek of the new costume on Tuesday. Designer Stella McCartney said she was “delighted” to be involved in putting Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend in trousers. “This new take on her signature polka dots makes Minnie Mouse a symbol of progress for a new generation. She will wear it in honor of Women’s History Month,” she said.
The latest branding controversy comes just one week after Mars Inc. stirred backlash by redesigning its animated M&M's mascots. The revisions included putting the female character in less feminine shoes, which Mars called a modern makeover for a “more dynamic, progressive world.”
Owens said sarcastically that girls have been traumatized by seeing Minnie portrayed as a female while they were growing up. “It goes back to what they did with the M&M’s, and now they are making her more masculine. I’m glad they are seeing that this needed to be addressed.”
Students at the University of Chester were warned the book’s contents may spark some ‘difficult’ conversations
The University of Chester has placed a content warning label on J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, advising students reading the novel for a literature module that it could prompt “difficult conversations about gender, race, sexuality, class, and identity.”
The university’s English Department issued the warning to first-year students attempting the mandatory ‘Approaches to Literature’ module last autumn. The reading list for the course features Young Adult works like ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ alongside ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Northern Lights’.
The short warning, seen by the Daily Mail, says that the topics raised by the book “will be treated objectively, critically, and most crucially, with respect.” It advises students to raise concerns with the module convenor if they have “any issues” with the content.
The paper also noted that the warning is not included on any other reading lists it accessed. An unnamed university spokesperson claimed that the “example paragraph” was “generic – rather than specific to the three texts,” but did not elaborate on why it did not feature on other lists.
Rowling, one of the most successful contemporary authors, has been accused of transphobia from some quarters for her views on gender identity discourse and trans rights. The condemnation stemmed largely from her objection to a June 2020 article that used the phrase “people who menstruate” to refer to “women.”
The ensuing backlash has seen celebrities, including the main cast of the Harry Potter film franchise, and schools distance themselves from her. While the University of Chester did not specify its reasons for the warning, its spokesperson told the Daily Mail that the institution “promote(s) rather than avoid(s) discussion” on the “issues, challenges and complexity of humankind.”
However, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told the paper that universities were seeking to “rob [students] of [their] resilience with ridiculous trigger warnings.” In a later tweet, he accused universities of “creating [a dystopian world] for our students.”
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Title: China cautions US over standoff with Russia
Regional security cannot be ensured by expanding military blocs, according to Beijing’s top diplomat
Russia’s concerns about safety on the European continent cannot be pushed aside by the US and warrant genuine consideration, China has warned, amid a tense stand-off between Washington and Moscow.
In a telephone call on Thursday, Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi offered US Secretary of State Antony Blinken advice on how to calm growing tensions in the region.
“Today, in the 21st century, all parties must completely abandon the Cold War mentality and form a balanced, effective and sustainable negotiated European security mechanism,” he told Blinken, according to the ministry’s official website.
Wang added that “Russia’s legitimate security concerns must be taken seriously and addressed.” According to him, regional security cannot be ensured by strengthening and expanding military blocs.
“The security of one country cannot be achieved at the expense of another,” he said. The foreign minister also reiterated China’s calls for all sides to refrain from actions that could further inflame tensions.
The remarks come shortly after Washington responded to Moscow’s proposals. Speaking on Wednesday, the head of the US-led military bloc, Jens Stoltenberg, said NATO “will not compromise” on potential expansion into Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics, as this clashes with its “core principles.”
Last month, Russia handed over two draft documents, one addressed to Washington and the other to NATO, which it says are aimed at reducing the risk of conflict on the European continent. Moscow requested that the bloc refrain from any military activity on the territory of former Warsaw Pact states that joined after 1997, following the fall of the Soviet Union.
Earlier in December, the aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yuri Ushakov, said Chinese leader Xi Jinping is fully supportive of Moscow’s attempt to gain assurances from NATO, a notable revelation given that Beijing has previously sought to distance itself from its neighbor’s problems in dealing with other European states.
“Since the chairman [Xi] specifically stated that he supports Russia’s demands for guarantees, he is naturally well aware of and understands the main issue: the concerns Russia has on its western borders,” Ushakov said following talks via video-link between the two sides. “We will keep our Chinese counterparts informed of how negotiations and contacts on this matter will unfold with our American and NATO partners.”
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Title: Feminist claims police arrested her for anti-trans posters
The British women’s rights activist has reportedly been accused of a hate crime, and had a feminist book seized by police
Women’s rights campaigner Jennifer Swayne was arrested for an alleged hate crime over the weekend, and had stickers and an academic book seized by police, after she plastered her home town with posters critical of the transgender movement.
Swayne told the Times that she was was detained for more than 12 hours by police in the Welsh county of Gwent after she put up homemade posters in the town of Newport with slogans such as “Woman = Adult Human Female,”“humans never change sex,” and “no men in women’s prisons.” The last slogan is apparently a reference to a controversial High Court ruling last year that cleared the way for transgender women – who are biologically male – to be housed alongside female inmates in UK prisons. The ruling even applies to those convicted of sexual offenses.
Swayne accused the police of acting “like the Stasi,” after they raided her house and seized more stickers and posters with similar anti-trans slogans. They also confiscated a book of essays critical of the transgender movement edited by feminist academic Dr. Heather Brunskell-Evans.
Gwent police said they received six complaints regarding her poster campaign, and described the messages on the posters as “offensive.” Swayne said that one of the arresting officers described one sticker in particular – which read “cervix – it’s a woman thang” – as “very hurtful.” She was arrested on suspicion of both vandalism and “displaying threatening or abusive writing likely to cause harassment.”
Swayne said she wasn’t told why her book was seized, and added that none of her posters even contained the word “trans.” She said that in her opinion, the police demonstrated a “very narrow, partisan view of what it is legitimate to have on your bookshelf. That is dangerous for liberal democracy.”
Her arrest comes amid a national debate in Britain over the boundaries between free speech and hate crimes. Last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel told the College of Policing to advise forces across the country to stop recording “non-crime hate incidents” as crimes, arguing that doing so has “a chilling effect on free speech and potentially stop people expressing views legally and legitimately,” according to a government source.
Patel’s letter was celebrated by Fair Cop, an organization that campaigns against the criminalization of speech. “This is a step in the right direction,” Fair Cop co-founder Harry Miller said at the time. “But the government should ditch the recording of non-hate crime incidents as they are fundamentally wrong and remove the presumption of innocence.”
Fair Cop has also publicized Swayne’s story, claiming that the behavior of Gwent police in her case amounts to “unlawful police interference” under the law.