By Michel Rose PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday told Donald Trump that France was the United States' ally and not a vassal state after the U.S. president attacked him in a series of tweets that demonstrated how much their relationship had soured. In five posts sent on Tuesday after a visit to Paris to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, Trump reminded France of its near-defeat by Germany in two wars, took a swipe at its wine industry, and mentioned Macron's falling approval ratings. Trump had earlier criticized Macron's suggestion that a European army was needed, in part, to reduce reliance on the U.S. military. Asked in an interview on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier whether he was offended by Trump's tweets, Macron talked at length about the long military alliance between the two countries, from America's War of Independence onwards. "At every moment of our history, we were allies, so between allies, respect is due," Macron told TF1 television. "I don't think the French expect me to respond to tweets but to continue this important history," he added. When pressed, Macron dismissed Trump's comments as an attempt to play to a domestic audience, in the wake of Trump's losses in mid-terms elections. "I think he's playing politics, and I let him play American politics." But asked whether there was a deeper misunderstanding between the two countries after Macron's comments about a European army infuriated Trump, Macron said being a U.S. ally did not mean being subservient. "The United States are our historic ally and will continue to be. It's the ally with which we take all the risks, with which we carry out the most complicated operations. But being an ally doesn't mean being a vassal state," Macron said. The public dispute was in sharp contrast with the friendly tone that had been a hallmark of the relationship between the ex-banker and the former real estate developer since Macron was elected in 2017. After being invited to Paris to attend the Bastille Day military parade in July last year and receiving Macron and his wife for a state visit in Washington in January, Trump had praised Macron as a "great guy" and "a friend of mine". Macron had struggled to convert the 'bonhomie' into influence. Trump and Macron disagreed on many international issues, including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal or Trump's decision to slap tariffs on European metals exports. But the personal rhetoric between the two men had always been friendly, in contrast with previous Franco-American disputes when French-bashing was sometimes on full display, such as during the war in Iraq that France opposed. Although Macron's response was restrained on Wednesday, his government spokesman showed Trump's criticism had struck a chord. When asked earlier about Trump's tweets, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said they were posted on the day France was mourning the anniversary of militant attacks in Paris. "Yesterday was November 13, we were marking the murder of 130 of our people," Griveaux said. "So I'll reply in English: 'common decency' would have been appropriate." (Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by John Irish and Marie-Louise Gumuchian)
- The Independent
Conservative youth activist Charlie Kirk promoted buses in now-deleted tweet two days before storming of Congress
- The Independent
‘Everything is made in China,’ said a business partner behind the six foot replica
- USA TODAY
TV personality Dr. Oz helped administer CPR, along with Port Authority Officer Jeffrey Croissant, to a 60-year-old heart attack victim.
- The Daily Beast
Sergei Ilnitsky/APHe’s sent Wagner mercenaries to Ukraine, Syria, and Libya; faced U.S. indictments for assigning his “troll farm” to interfere in the 2016 presidential election; and even dispatched white supremacists and neo-Nazis to sow anti-Western sentiment in African nations. Now Yevgeny Prigozhin, the catering magnate commonly referred to as “Putin’s chef,” has trained his attention a little closer to Russia’s doorstep: Europe and the Baltic States.A joint investigation by The Daily Beast, the Dossier Center, German broadcaster ARD, Delfi.ee in Estonia, and Siena.lt in Lithuania reveals that operatives closely associated with the Russian oligarch’s previously exposed influence operations organized a two-day conference in Berlin from Jan. 14-15 pegged to economic and environmental issues affecting Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany.The Baltic Sea Region Strategic Dialogue was the first of what is meant to be a series of so-called “foresight sessions” to “create a new vision of the post-pandemic future” for the aforementioned countries, with an ostensible focus on COVID-19, Brexit, environmental sustainability, e-governance, and digital technology. Participants included Rihards Kols, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Latvia’s parliament, as well as several members of the German Bundestag including Stefan Keuter, a member of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.The event was organized by two organizations, both of them closely connected to the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation, or AFRIC.As The Daily Beast reported, AFRIC is run by Prigozhin’s St. Petersburg-based organization. According to internal documents obtained by the Dossier Center, AFRIC was conceived as a “network of agents of influence” meant to provide “expert evaluations and opinions beneficial to Russia” in Africa. Founded in 2018, AFRIC sent “election observers”—many of them well-known white supremacists and neo-Nazis from Europe—to try to sway democratic races in Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa, in races in which other arms of Prigozhin’s vast empire often supported one or more of the candidates.Russia Is Using Undercover Racists to Exploit Africa’s Anti-Racist Political RevoltLast week, the FBI announced that Prigozhin had been added to its Most Wanted list for his alleged “conspiracy to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the United States Department of Justice, and the United States Department of State” from 2014 to 2018. A $250,000 award was posted for any information leading to his arrest.As with most of Prigozhin’s foreign influence operations, this one consists of a series of nesting doll structures registered outside of Russian Federation territory and helmed, at least on paper, by non-Russians. The same cast of characters recurs, both at the hierarchical level of these operations and among the Western political figures they aim to cultivate.For instance, one of the organizers of the conference was ADMIS Consultancy, a company founded and operated by Vaiva Adomaityte, a Lithuanian national who is also a member of AFRIC’s administration. An occupational psychologist and self-described “global change expert,” Adomaityte has participated in at least one of AFRIC’s three conferences in Berlin, co-authored its “Africa Vision” report, and has been an AFRIC representative at the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019. She is also a confidante and associate of Yulia Afanasyeva, the Prigozhin operative who established AFRIC in 2018 out of the oligarch’s “back office” in St. Petersburg, as leaked documents obtained by the Dossier Center demonstrate.Adomaityte previously edited a questionnaire written by Afanasyeva for AFRIC’s similarly named “foresight session” in Berlin in 2019. She also wrote to the Hilton Hotel complaining about substandard accommodations and to settle AFRIC’s billing dispute with the management. Adomaityte even updated her résumé to account for her work on behalf of AFRIC. In one awkwardly worded letter dated March 3, 2020, she wrote to Afanasyeva in English, “Shall I start calling you my God Mother I wonder... sounds much ore badass then God Father.”AFRIC-related events, in fact, appear to be the only ones with which Adomaityte’s ADMIS Consultancy has ever worked. Afanasyeva even hired and paid for a Russian social media expert to work on ADMIS Consultancy’s social media pages, as per the correspondence obtained by the Dossier Center. The Baltic Sea event in January took place in the same Hilton Hotel in Berlin as previous AFRIC conferences. One of the earlier events was presided over by Aleksandr Malkevich, a top Prigozhin operative who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018 for running a subsidiary company working on behalf of the oligarch’s Project Lakhta, a global political and election interference operation. Malkevich, according to the Treasury Department, ran a company called USA Really, which “engaged in efforts to post content focused on divisive political issues but is generally ridden with inaccuracies. In June 2018, USA Really attempted to hold a political rally in the United States, though its efforts were unsuccessful.”Still another co-organizer of the Baltic Sea conference was the Federal Association for Economic Development and Foreign Trade in Germany, better known by its acronym BWA. BWA and ADMIS consultancy co-hosted AFRIC’s last event in Berlin, an online conference on global consequences of COVID-19 in June 2020.BWA is headed by Michael Schumann, a German business consultant specializing in China. Under Schumann’s leadership, BWA has developed partnerships with a series of Russian outfits in Germany including the Association of Russian Businesses and the Dialogue of Civilizations think tank, which was founded in 2016 by Vladimir Yakunin, a former KGB officer and close confidant of Vladimir Putin. Yakunin was the vice president of Russia’s state rail monopoly until 2015, a year after he was sanctioned by the United States for his alleged involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So far he has evaded EU sanctions.Two other BWA members, Volker Tschapke and Urs Unkauf, acted as AFRIC election observers in Madagascar, DRC, Zimbabwe and South Africa in the past few years. Tschapke and Unkauf were also present at AFRIC’s second and third conferences in Berlin, in July 2019 and January 2020, respectively. Yulia Afanasyeva, Prigozhin’s St. Petersburg-based operative, is also a member of BWA. Misha Japaridze/AP Afanasyeva did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on this story.Adomaityte said in a Zoom interview that she had no information about Afanasyeva’s involvement in the Baltic Sea conference and that she “felt uncomfortable” talking about AFRIC. She claimed that she was directly hired by BWA in Germany. “We did [earlier] work together with BWA with the AFRIC institution,” she said. “So that was the direct link. However, I was directly requested by the BWA to conduct the research study for the Baltic Sea region.”This account, however, is contradicted by documents obtained by the Dossier Center indicating that not only was Afanasyeva actively involved in organizing the Baltic Sea event, which she attended virtually, but she was in constant communication with Adomaityte about it. Afanasyeva was included in a back-and-forth exchange setting up the venue in the Berlin Hilton; Adomaityte further kept the Russian abreast of how everything had gone.“When we look at the backgrounds [of the people involved], the connection to Prigozhin is clearly visible,” said Indrek Kannik, the former head of analysis of Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence and now the director of the International Centre for Defence and Security in Tallinn. He said the Baltic intelligence services likely follow such influence operations closely.According to a person with direct knowledge of how the Baltic Sea conference was organized, Afanasyeva gave a direct order not to touch on matters of international security and instead focus on economics and ecology. That, too, Kannik said, is textbook tradecraft for the early stages of any successful influence operation.“It is noteworthy that they started with politically uncontroversial topics such as the green deal,” Kannik told The Daily Beast. “They start ‘soft’ and only when they gain some public trustworthiness and a moderately positive image, they take on more relevant topics for the Kremlin such as security, criticism of the Baltic states, Russia’s talking points about dialogue between Europe and Russia, not to mention everything else to do with Crimea and Ukraine.”Another classic tradecraft technique employed by the conferences was employing unwitting foreigners to make the events appear legitimate, in this case by producing ancillary literature. A “strategy recommendation” report, released subsequent to the Berlin conference and branded as an ADMIS Consultancy product, was written by unsuspecting freelancers hired over the internet, The Daily Beast has confirmed. In September, U.S. news outlets reported that Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency, or “troll farm,” had set up two fake news websites—one catering to the far right, the other to the far left—which hired unwitting American writers to contribute. Even the avatars of the putative editors of these sites were bogus, their faces generated with AI software. The goal was clearly to launder disinformation and propaganda through native participants, whose worldviews intersect with Kremlin interests.The danger with bricks-and-mortar operations like the conferences is that they’re liable to snare respectable and credible participants who are fixtures at similarly themed events. And the participants don’t necessarily have to be influenced or persuaded by Russia propaganda; their mere presence is itself an operational success. Having, say, a government minister from an EU or NATO country photographed alongside a Prigozhin operative is a great way to signal back to Moscow that these exercises pay off.In October 2014, months after Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, the psychological warfare of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, orchestrated an entire security conference in Athens using cut-outs and front groups including a local Greek think tank and a Russian institute purportedly devoted to Russian diaspora issues. According to Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, an officer from GRU Unit 54777 even participated in a panel discussion next to Panos Kammenos, a Moscow-friendly Greek politician who subsequently became Greece’s defense minister.One of the people invited to give a presentation at the Baltic Sea event was Mihkel Krusberg, an Estonian official from the Ministry of Environment. He received a personal invitation from Adomaityte a little over two weeks ahead of the conference. Because Krusberg is frequently asked to attend such forums and the other publicly named guests appeared legitimate, Krusberg told The Daily Beast he didn’t see any red flags in the offer. “Had I known about the background of the organizers, I would have politely turned down their invitation,” he said.The Baltic Sea Region Strategic Dialogue was not envisaged as a one-off affair. The same group of organizers is already planning a follow-up conference to focus on the relationship between the Baltic and Nordic countries. According to Adomaityte, it’s scheduled to take place online in late March. “However we are really hoping to have a physical conference in the summer,” she said.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- Associated Press
Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said Wednesday he was accountable for the mining giant destroying sacred Indigenous sites in Australia to access iron ore and he will not seek reelection as a board director next year. Thompson’s announcement came after former chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques announced his resignation last September over the destruction in May of two rock shelters in Juukan Gorge in Western Australia state that had been inhabited for 46,000 years. The company’s successes in 2020 were “overshadowed by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge shelters ... and, as chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event,” Thompson said in a statement.
- LA Times
In the wake of J.K. Rowling's transphobic remarks, an upcoming "Harry Potter"-themed video game will allow users to play as trans witches and wizards.
- The Independent
5,000 National Guard troops remain in DC amid QAnon frenzy that Trump will be inaugurated again this week
QAnon followers believe that on 4 March, which was once the inauguration date of US presidents, Donald Trump will become president again
- Associated Press
It was Mursal Wahidi’s dream job, landed right after finishing her studies in journalism — working at a local TV station in her home city in eastern Afghanistan. The coordinated killings of the three women were the latest in a bloody campaign against journalists in Afghanistan, a country that was already considered one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. In just the last six months, 15 journalists and media workers have been killed in a series of targeted killings.
- USA TODAY
There is no evidence to support a Facebook claim that says House Speaker Pelosi caused the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building.
- USA TODAY
Andrew Cuomo accused of sexual harassment. Texas, Mississippi end statewide mask mandate. It's Tuesday's news.
- Associated Press
A national panel of vaccine experts in Canada recommended Wednesday that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to four months to quickly inoculate more people amid a shortage of doses in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed optimism that vaccination timelines could be sped up. The current protocol is an interval of three to four weeks between doses for the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
During a recent interview on Good Morning America with host Robin Roberts, former First Lady Michelle Obama opened up about how she and her husband, former President Barack Obama, have open communications with their two young-adult daughters. “I always have wanted them to start practicing the power of their voices very early on,” Mrs. Obama shared of Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22.
- Business Insider
Biden cuts 16 million people off from stimulus checks after striking deal with moderate Senate Democrats, study says
Biden approved phasing out direct payments entirely for individuals making above $80,000 a year and married couples earning more than $160,000.
- The Telegraph
The Duchess of Sussex wore earrings given to her by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, against advice from palace aides, The Telegraph understands. The Duchess, 39, had been given the Butani earrings as an official wedding present from the Saudi Royal Family. When she wore them to a formal dinner in Fiji in October 2018, during a royal tour, the media were told that they were “borrowed” but unusually, declined to offer further information or guidance. The dinner took place three weeks after Mr Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Duchess’s lawyers insisted that at the time of the dinner, she was unaware of speculation that the crown prince was involved in the murder of the journalist. However, a royal source claimed that palace staff had advised the Duchess not to wear the jewellery. “Members of Royal Household staff sometimes advise people on their options,” one said. “But what they choose to do with that advice is a very different matter.”
- NBC News
All federal government agencies have until noon Friday to download the latest software update to block the perpetrator.
- Associated Press
The Department of Defense inspector general released a scathing report Wednesday on the conduct of Ronny Jackson, now a congressman from Texas, when he worked as a top White House physician. The internal investigation concluded that Jackson made “sexual and denigrating” comments about a female subordinate, violated the policy on drinking alcohol on a presidential trip and took prescription-strength sleeping medication that prompted worries from his colleagues about his ability to provide proper medical care. The years-long investigation into Jackson, who was elected to the House in November, examined allegations into his conduct during his time serving the administrations of both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
- The Week
During the campaign for the two Georgia Senate races, Joe Biden repeatedly promised to pass $2,000 stimulus checks if the Democrats won. After they did, the administration argued that $2,000 really meant $1,400 in addition to the $600 that had already gone out in the December rescue package. Whether that is true or not, now Biden is inarguably breaking his promise. Under pressure from moderate Senate Democrats, he has reportedly agreed to cut down the formula under which the checks will be sent out. In the previous packages, the amount started phasing out at $75,000 in income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers, and vanished entirely at $100,000 and $200,000 respectively (as of 2019). Now the phase-out will start start in the same place but end at $80,000 for singles and $160,000 for couples. The $1,400 promise clearly implied at least that the checks would go out according to the previous formula used under Trump. But now singles making between $80,000-100,000 and couples making between $160,000-200,000 will get nothing. The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reports that roughly 17 million people who previously got checks now will not. The supposed justification here is that moderates want the aid to be more "targeted." In fact this formula is horribly inaccurate, because the income data the IRS uses is from the year before the pandemic (unless people have already filed their taxes — and by the way, if your income decreased in 2020, you should do that immediately). This formula is therefore doubly wrong — there are no doubt millions of people who have lost jobs and should qualify but won't, and a smaller number that have gotten raises and shouldn't qualify but will. And this change will only save a pitiful $12 billion. The survival checks are one of the most popular government programs in American history. Polls have them at something like 4-1 approval. "Moderation," for Senate Democrats, apparently means breaking their party's promises in the service of unpopular, pointless actions that make their president seem less generous than Donald Trump. More stories from theweek.com7 scathingly funny cartoons about Trump's CPAC appearanceA free food forest has transformed this Atlanta neighborhoodThe lost art of being reasonable
- The Daily Beast
Seth Wenig/GettyAt his first press conference since three women accused him of unwanted sexual advances, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized while insisting he didn’t know his alleged actions—grabbing a woman’s face, bringing up an aide’s sexual assault, giving an aide a kiss on the cheek—made people uncomfortable.“I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable. And if I did, I apologize for it. But let’s let the attorney general’s office decide the facts,” he said Wednesday, adding that he has no plans to resign.Cuomo discussed the most recent allegation, from former Biden campaign worker Anna Ruch, who said that the governor had grabbed her face and asked to kiss her shortly after they met at a 2019 wedding. She provided a picture and texts to corroborate her story.My Cuomo ‘Crush’ Turned Out to Be Stockholm SyndromeHe said the face-grabbing and kissing-on-the-cheek was a greeting habit he picked up from his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who served from 1983 to 1994.“You can find hundreds of pictures of me making this gesture,” Gov. Cuomo says. “It was my father’s way of greeting people. You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable.”“But it doesn’t matter,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter my intent. What matters is whether anybody was offended by it. I could intend no offense but if they were offended by it it was wrong."Beyond that, however, the governor was short on specifics. When asked by a reporter whom specifically he was apologizing to, Cuomo did not provide a name.“I am apologizing to the young woman who worked here who said I made her feel uncomfortable in the workplace,” Cuomo said. “I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration.”Two aides, Lindsay Boylan and Charlotte Bennett, both came forward in February describing repeated propositions from the governor. Boylan wrote in a Medium post that she resigned after Cuomo gave her an unwanted kiss on the lips; Bennett told The New York Times that Cuomo repeatedly brought up a past sexual assault of hers.Following news of Bennett and Ruch’s allegations, some Democratic lawmakers have called on Cuomo to resign, including one member of Congress, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY). Cuomo, however, said Wednesday he didn’t plan on resigning, with no mention of whether or not he would run for a fourth term in 2022, as he has previously said he would do. In a statement following Wednesday’s news conference, Bennett’s lawyer Debra Katz—who also represented Dr. Christine Blasey Ford after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—wrote that Cuomo lied.“My client... reported his sexually harassing behavior immediately to his Chief of Staff and Chief Counsel. We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint,” Katz wrote. “We fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms. Bennett’s serious allegations.”She pointed to reporting from Politico on Wednesday, detailing how two Cuomo aides—senior adviser Gareth Rhodes and deputy press secretary Will Burns—had resigned in the wake of the scandal. “As reports are emerging of other staff resigning from the Governor’s office in the wake of his scandals, the people charged with helping him execute the duties of his office are once again bearing the consequences of his actions,” Katz wrote. “If they know anything or have experienced this themselves, we call on them to come forward and report this misconduct.”Boylan also expressed her frustration with Cuomo on Twitter, shortly after the conference. “How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” she wrote. Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
- The Telegraph
UK's death toll fuelled by its obesity problem, say experts Economy 'will bounce back faster thanks to success of vaccinations' Rishi Sunak's five-year tax raid after Covid crisis Fears of 'mask apartheid' as schools threaten to segregate pupils Subscribe to The Telegraph for a month-long free trial Germany will authorise the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people over the age of 65, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said. The country had previously approved it for under-65s only, citing insufficient data of its effects on older people. Now, in a significant U-turn, Mrs Merkel said recent studies had now provided enough evidence to approve it for all ages. She added: "The (German) vaccine commission, whose recommendations we are happy to follow, will authorise AstraZeneca for older age groups." The change will see Germany follow the UK’s example and space out the first and second jabs of the vaccine by a maximum of 12 weeks, in order to quickly give more people initial protection against the virus. The German government had been criticised in recent weeks for its comments about the jab, leading to a public perception that the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine was less effective than those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. It even led to some of the Germans first in line for a Covid-19 vaccine spurning AstraZeneca shots, leaving the country with hundreds of thousands of unopened doses. Belgium, who had a similar stance, has now also authorised its rollout to people over 65s. It comes after the French government said older people with pre-existing conditions can now get AstraZeneca vaccine, revising its stance on the issue. Follow the latest updates below.
- Business Insider
The Trumps are trying to sell a Florida home for $49 million after buying it from the former president's sister for $18 million in 2018
Eric Trump tweeted a listing for a home that the family is trying to sell through a limited liability company for more than twice its 2018 value.