By Alexei Anishchuk MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday making the denial of Nazi crimes and distortion of the Soviet Union's role in the World War Two a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail. The law, described by critics as an attempt to curb freedom of expression to appease conservative Russians, the ex-KGB spy's main support base, also criminalizes the public desecration of war memorials. The Kremlin has used World War Two as a pillar to unite a society that Putin has said lost its moral bearings following the 1991 Soviet collapse. It has become increasingly risky for Russians to dispute an official line that glorifies the wartime achievements of the Soviet leadership and plays down its errors. The new law would ban "wittingly spreading false information about the activity of the USSR during the years of World War Two". Russian officials and media have raised the specter of Nazi Germany repeatedly during Moscow's confrontation with the West over Ukraine, calling the overthrow of a Russian-allied president in February a coup carried out in part by "neo-Nazi" forces. Independent channel Dozhd (TV Rain) was taken off the air earlier this year after asking viewers whether Leningrad, now St Petersburg, should have been given to German troops to save lives during its 872-day siege during World War Two. Viktor Shenderovich, a blogger critical of the authorities, came under fire from Kremlin supporters in February after comparing the Sochi Olympics to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, used by Adolf Hitler to burnish the image of the Nazi Germany. In a comment posted when the legislation was first introduced, veteran TV host Vladimir Posner said he believed its aim was "to shut the mouths of journalists, historians and writers". He said he feared it would "practically ban criticism of Stalin" for "grave mistakes that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our soldiers". It was unclear whether the wording of the bill had been changed since its introduction and Posner could not immediately be reached for comment. Kremlin critics say Putin, in power since 2000, has used legislation, court cases and other levers to tighten control during his current term, which he won despite large opposition protests in 2011-2012. Putin denies the accusations. Separately on Monday, Putin signed a law imposing fines for the use of expletives on television, radio and in films shown in theatres. Music and movies containing foul language will have to have a warning on the label, state-run RIA news agency said. Putin also signed a law imposing stricter rules on bloggers, which opponents say is aimed at suppressing criticism on the Internet. (Editing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Andrew Roche)
Singapore received its first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine made by China's Sinovac Biotech on Tuesday, its health ministry said, although the shot is still awaiting approval for use in the city-state. Sinovac has started submitting initial data but the Health Sciences Authority is currently awaiting all the necessary information to carry out a thorough assessment, the ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday. Singapore is the only wealthy country considering the use of Sinovac's vaccine, which has been found to have an efficacy rate ranging from about 50% to 90% in studies.
The first big real-world study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing COVID-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies. Up until now, most data on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines has come under controlled conditions in clinical trials, leaving an element of uncertainty over how results would translate into the real world with its unpredictable variables. The research in Israel - two months into one of the world's fastest rollouts, providing a rich source of data - showed two doses of the Pfizer shot cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases by 94% across all age groups, and severe illnesses by nearly as much.
- Yahoo News
Mitch McConnell: Nancy Pelosi's plan for investigating the Capitol attack is a 'bizarre partisan concept'
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s concerned Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to establish a commission to probe the assault on the U.S. Capitol would be overly “partisan.”
- Associated Press
Twenty20 specialist Mohammad Hafeez has declined a central contract offer from the Pakistan Cricket Board. The allrounder “politely turned down” a contract offer in category C for 2020-21, the cricket board said Wednesday. “While I am disappointed, I fully respect his decision,” PCB chief executive Wasim Khan said in a statement.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden's pick to be the top U.S. trade envoy is promising to work with America's allies to combat China's aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration's go-it-alone approach. Fluent in Mandarin, Tai served several years as head of China enforcement at the trade representative's office.
- The Daily Beast
Jim Watson./GettyLouis DeJoy had a defiant message on Wednesday for those craving to see him ousted as U.S. Postmaster General: “Get used to me.”The comment came after Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) asked the embattled U.S. Postal Service chief how long he would remain as Postmaster General—“long time,” DeJoy spat back—during a Wednesday hearing in the House Oversight Committee.That exchange was indicative of the entire proceeding, which was frequently chippy, combative, and fueled by Democratic lawmakers’ outrage over DeJoy’s handling of the USPS at a time of worsening mail delays and difficult questions about the service’s long-term viability.DeJoy’s crack to Cooper made Democrats’ blood boil even more. But he may have a point, at least for now: because the postmaster general is installed by the service’s board of governors—and not by the president—it means that President Joe Biden, or Congress, cannot fire DeJoy even if they wanted to.His removal would only be possible when Biden fills Democratic vacancies on the USPS Board of Governors, which has the authority to hire and fire postmasters general. Confirming those spots in the Senate will take time, though the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Biden has identified three nominees to move forward.In the meantime, though, Democratic lawmakers are working with DeJoy on urgent legislation to reform the agency’s finances and employee pension burden, even while many publicly call for his resignation.To many Democrats, DeJoy’s performance on Wednesday on Capitol Hill may make that balancing act harder: they found much to dislike not only in what the postmaster general said, but how he said it.“I gotta say—I just don’t think the postmaster gets it,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), a member of the Oversight Committee who questioned DeJoy on Wednesday about the agency’s delivery standards. “I think it’s time for him to go.”“I thought he approached a lot of our questions with that exact same attitude, which was one of sneering condescension,” Krishnamoorthi told The Daily Beast after the hearing, invoking DeJoy’s response to Cooper. “That’s not gonna fly, man. Not gonna fly.”Wednesday’s hearing was the second time in DeJoy’s short tenure that he has been subjected to a high-profile grilling in the House Oversight Committee. Shortly after taking the USPS’ top job in June 2020, delays and irregularities quickly began to mount—a particularly alarming development for lawmakers on the eve of an election in which more voters than ever planned to vote by mail.Biden to Nominate 3 New USPS Board Members, Opening Path to Oust DeJoyIn a contentious August 2020 hearing, Democrats interrogated the former logistics executive and GOP mega-donor on everything from cuts in overtime hours to the price of a stamp. Questioning from Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) produced a memorable DeJoy response: “I will submit that I know very little about postage and stamps.”By the time House Democrats called DeJoy back to Capitol Hill this week, their worst fears about the USPS delays’ impact on the voting system had failed to materialize. But they still had plenty of questions about DeJoy’s stewardship of the USPS: in October, the USPS inspector general issued a report finding that the changes DeJoy made to delivery schedules and protocol led to the worsening delays. Already battered by the pandemic, the USPS limped into a busy holiday season, and is now providing the poorest service that many longtime observers of the agency have ever seen.Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), a member of the Oversight panel, was a 29-year veteran of the USPS before she came to Congress. She told The Daily Beast after the hearing that she has never seen the service in such dire straits as it is now: “I don’t think we’ve ever confronted this,” she said.The unprecedented delays are happening around the country. In Washington, D.C., just 40 percent of all first-class mail arrived on time by the end of December 2020—compared to nearly 90 percent the same time the year before. Chicago residents are receiving holiday packages a month-and-a-half late. Lawmakers are inundated with calls and emails from frustrated constituents looking for answers; this week, 33 senators signed a letter to DeJoy asking him to explain the recent delays.DeJoy apologized for those delays at the top of Wednesday’s hearing. “We must acknowledge that during this peak season we fell far short of meeting our service goals,” he said. “I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays"But Lawrence expressed concern about DeJoy’s forthcoming “strategic plan” to get the USPS through this difficult stretch. Though the postmaster general has not revealed specifics, he testified on Wednesday that he will propose cuts to delivery standards, including the standard that local mail be delivered within two days. Democrats believe that would be a disastrous move at a time when the USPS is struggling to compete with private-sector competitors, particularly if it is coupled with consumer cost increases, which DeJoy has suggested.“To say that’s what’s bold and needed… that’s not leadership,” said Lawrence. “He has to prove himself. He heard us loud and clear, that he needs to prove himself.”The Michigan Democrat stopped short of saying that DeJoy deserved removal, and told The Daily Beast that she and other Democrats are working with the USPS on postal reform legislation. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) was supportive of working with DeJoy to pass reforms.In the wake of the new political reality in Washington, the postmaster general has begun to attempt outreach to Democratic lawmakers. Lawrence said that during the last administration, DeJoy did not take her calls or respond to her—but after the 2020 election, they had a “cordial” call.Other Democrats see any charm offensive as too little, too late. Krishnamoorthi said he is supportive of working with whatever USPS leadership is in office in order to pass reforms, but argued that DeJoy should go as soon as is possible.Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a senior member of the Oversight Committee, issued a statement after DeJoy’s hearing hailing Biden’s nomination of three appointees to the USPS Board of Governors—and explicitly stated his hope they would remove DeJoy. “These nominations are an important first step toward reforming the Postal Service,” said Connolly. “My hope is the newly constituted Board will do the right thing and bring in a new, qualified Postmaster General.”A majority of the nine-member board would be required to support DeJoy’s removal. Currently, there are four Republican appointees, and two Democratic appointees. If all Biden’s choices are confirmed, Democrats would hold a majority on the board.The Republicans on the Oversight Committee had questions for DeJoy about mail delays, but largely cast him as a victim in an anti-Trump Democratic crusade. Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the top Republican on the panel, compared the party’s concerns about USPS delays—and Trump’s potential role in those delays—to the Trump impeachment investigation he said was predicated on “baseless conspiracies.”Far-right Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), meanwhile, suggested that the root cause of USPS delays was actually the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer, and read articles from fringe outlets like the Gateway Pundit to prove his point. And Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) raised the unfounded belief in widespread conspiracies about election fraud while saying it was not time to get into “specifics.”At one point, tempers flared when Connolly said that Republicans who voted to object to the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6 had “no right to lecture” anyone on the dangers of partisanship.Democrats left more concerned about the fate of the USPS, however, than the state of things in Congress. “It’s not some theoretical concept,” said Krishnamoorthi. “It’s not some abstract issue, it’s real for every single one of us… I’ve gotta tell you, people are starting to work around the mail, which is a scary concept.”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.
Kaley Cuoco thought she was meeting with her 'Big Bang Theory' costars to discuss a 13th season - instead she found out the show was ending
The actress said she was "in a state of shock" when Jim Parsons said he wanted to leave the series, which ended the popular CBS sitcom.
- Associated Press
Venezuela’s government on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of the chief European Union diplomat in the South American nation following the bloc’s decision to impose sanctions on several Venezuelan officials accused of undermining democracy or violating human rights. Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa was given 72 hours to leave the troubled country. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said Brilhante Pedrosa was declared persona non grata by decision of President Nicolás Maduro.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex say they will continue to support their royal patronages despite not being allowed to do so as royals.
Marvel Studios president hints 'we probably could' see characters like Jessica Jones again 'someday' in the MCU
"I'm not exactly sure...but perhaps someday," Kevin Feige said of the possibility that Netflix or ABC characters would enter the MCU.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will throw his support behind Congresswoman Deb Haaland to lead the Biden administration's Interior Department, he said in a statement on Wednesday, likely securing her confirmation to become the first Native American in a cabinet position. Manchin's "yes" vote is seen as crucial to Haaland's confirmation because he is a supporter of fossil fuel development who wields significant power in a U.S. Congress split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans, meaning every Democratic backer counts.
- Business Insider
A judge dismissed claims by a Capitol riot suspect that he shouldn't be held responsible because Trump put him up to it
Lawyers for William Chrestman, a Proud Boys member, argued that the group believed it had Trump's "official endorsement."
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally revoked a series of presidential orders and memorandum signed by Donald Trump, including one that sought to cut funding from several cities the 45th president deemed “anarchist” havens and another mandating that federal buildings should be designed in a classical aesthetic. Since taking office last month, Biden has revoked dozens of Trump orders and issued dozens more of his own as he’s sought to target foundational aspects of Trump's legacy and promote aspect of his own agenda without going through Congress. The latest slate of revocations targeted a grab-bag of issues, including a few that Trump signed in his last months in office.
- Associated Press Videos
The White House says it continues to stand by Neera Tanden, President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, despite the opposition of a growing number of Senators, throwing her nomination increasingly into doubt. (Feb. 23)
- Business Insider
A preliminary study from Israel suggests people vaccinated against COVID-19 have lower viral loads, which are linked to less spread of the virus.
- Business Insider
Donald Trump has fought hard to keep his personal tax returns, and the Trump Organization's a secret. The Supreme Court just let prosecutors get them.
- Reuters Videos
"I invite you now to if you would like to close your eyes and just imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars and listening to to the surroundings.”NASA scientists on Monday released the first sights and sounds ever recorded on Mars, a light gust of wind on the planet's surface.Vivid footage showed the rover, Perseverance, deploying its red-and-white supersonic parachute by way of a rocket-powered hovercraft and lowering its wheels to the ground in a plume of dust and smoke.The project’s lead engineer described watching the most advanced rover ever developed take its place on Mars, "It gives me goosebumps every time I see it, just, it's just amazing.”The footage was captured last Thursday from cameras mounted at different angles of the Perseverance landing craft as it passed through the planet’s thin atmosphere to gently touchdown inside a basin called the Jezero Crater.The six-wheeled vehicle sailed through space for almost seven months, over nearly 300 miles.The video montage of its landing was presented to reporters four days after the historic landing.The chief imaging scientist behind the project explains what’s presented, "This is it. This is Mars. We're here in our place that we're going to be exploring over the next months and coming years.”Scientists hope to extract samples from Martian rock for future analysis back on Earth - the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from another planet.
- USA TODAY
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will support Merrick Garland's nomination. He maintains a block of Garland for the high court wasn't personal.
- Associated Press
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underwent a “successful surgery” to remove his appendix Wednesday, the royal court said, and he left the hospital soon after the operation. The 35-year-old prince had surgery for appendicitis at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in the morning, according to the royal court. Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman, has amassed immense powers in the kingdom since being appointed heir to the throne in 2017.
The White House has 132 rooms and its own restaurant. Here's what it's like inside Joe Biden's new home.
The most famous home in America also comes with a movie theater, bowling alley, and underground bunkers.