Steel Dragons Series Books 1-5 - Kevin McLaughlin, Michael Anderle


Steel Dragons Series Books 1-5 - Kevin McLaughlin, Michael Anderle
Narrator: Emily Beresford
Genre: Fantasy
Audio format: MP3

Dragons rule the world. Their claws are into every aspect of human life, from government to industry. But Kristen Hall is about to throw a wrench into all of that.

Because she's a dragon, too. She just doesn't know it...yet!

A dragon raised by humans, in the human world.

After graduating from the police academy, she's dropped right into the ranks of Detroit's elite SWAT team. A rookie, in SWAT? Unheard of. But what the dragons want, they get.

Supreme Court justices deny ‘false’ story on supposed mask in-fighting

Judges say there’s no truth to NPR report saying Gorsuch refused to wear a mask, forcing diabetic colleague to participate in meetings remotely

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch have taken the rare step of issuing a joint statement in defense of cordial relations on the US Supreme Court, refuting media reports of a Covid-19 mask argument at the Marble Palace.

The controversy began on Tuesday, when US state-funded media outlet NPR said that Gorsuch had refused an order by Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask. The order reportedly stemmed from the health concerns of Sotomayor, who is diabetic and therefore at high risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19. As a result, the story alleged, Sotomayor had to participate in hearings and weekly conferences remotely when the high court took the bench earlier this month for the first time since the Omicron variant caused a surge in new Covid-19 infections.

Other media outlets, such as Newsweek and CNN, piled on, posting articles citing NPR and alleging that Gorsuch refused to comply with a mask order. Rolling Stone sharpened the tone of the narrative, saying that the conservative judge Gorsuch was standing up for his right to “endanger” his left-wing colleague Sotomayor and that he “didn’t care” about her health concerns.

The problem is, according to the justices involved, the articles weren’t actually true. “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us,” the judges said on Wednesday. “It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.”

Prior to Sotomayor and Gorsuch issuing their joint statement, Fox News reported that Roberts hadn’t told justices to wear masks and that Gorsuch hadn’t refused any order. Nor did Sotomayor ask Gorsuch to wear a mask.

Read more

Michelle Wu speaks to reporters in Boston, Massachusetts, November 2, 2021 © Reuters / Brian Snyder
NPR deletes ‘race obsessed’ tweet over Asian mayor's victory

NPR’s assertions were attributed to anonymous “court sources.” Without citing anyone – not even unidentified sources – the outlet added that Gorsuch “has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.”

NPR has reportedly struggled to meet a target set in 2018 for reducing the number of corrections needed. Last April, it corrected a story after a senior editor falsely claimed that US intelligence agencies had “discredited” bombshell reporting on the contents of a laptop that President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, left at a Delaware repair shop. Earlier this month, the outlet corrected an article that falsely stated police officers died from injuries suffered in last year’s US Capitol riot.

As of Wednesday afternoon, NPR hadn’t corrected its article on mask-wearing at the Supreme Court.


Moldova declares state of emergency

The decision comes after Gazprom warned it could cut off shipments

The government of Moldova has declared a new 60-day state of emergency, following a warning from Russian energy firm Gazprom that it could halt gas deliveries to the country due to unpaid bills.

Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița announced the news at a cabinet session on Wednesday, saying, “the decision has been approved. It must now be confirmed by parliament. After that, an emergency commission will take full measures to ensure that consumers have uninterrupted access to gas.”

Gavrilița reported that Gazprom had sent the government of Moldova an official notice that if it failed to pay its outstanding debts to the company in January, the Russian state energy giant would shut off gas shipments. Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu also said that Moldova would request to pay off its debts in stages.

“[State energy company] Moldovagaz will pay Gazprom an advance of $38 million by January 20,” Spinu announced. “That leaves another $25 million in January, and Moldovagaz requested that this payment be delayed, but it could not come to terms with Gazprom, which didn’t want to help its daughter company.” He added that Moldovagaz is counting on receiving credit in order to pay down this debt.

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© Getty Images / kodda
Moldova won't be cut off from Russian gas after Gazprom grants last-minute extension on unpaid bills

Vadim Cheban, the head of Moldovagaz, had previously announced that the company would not be able to pay back Gazprom in January, saying that tariffs had not kept up with the rising cost of gas, and that the company was in such financial straits that it could not get credit from banks.

Moldova had previously declared a state of emergency in October to combat its energy crisis, after which Moldovagaz and Gazprom signed a five-year contract, agreeing to monthly payments. Moldova was forced to request an extension on its November payment, when Gazprom also threatened to shut off shipments, but Moldovagaz was eventually able to pay the $75 million bill. In his address on Wednesday, Spinu insisted that this situation will not happen again once the current crisis has been resolved.


Florida official placed on leave over backing vaccines at work

The state’s Department of Health placed the official on leave after he called his employees’ low vaccination rate “pathetic” and urged them to get the jab.

The Florida Department of Health has suspended one of its top officials over an email in which he criticized his employees for their vaccine hesitancy. The department is probing whether his email amounted to “coercion.”

Orange County Medical Director Dr. Raul Pino wrote an email to more than 500 employees of the Florida Department of Health earlier this month, calling them out on their reluctance to get vaccinated against Covid-19. In the email, Pino called the department’s low uptake rate  – less than 40% had gotten two jabs and only 13% had received boosters – “irresponsible” and “pathetic.”

“I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated,” he wrote, according to local media. “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it.”

Read more

Two Americas: CRT and vax mandates out in VA, vax passports in for DC

However, Florida passed legislation last year forbidding all employers, public and private, from mandating vaccines. To the department, Pino’s email could constitute an attempt to force the jab on employees.

“As the decision to get vaccinated is a personal medical choice that should be made free from coercion and mandates from employers, the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave, and the Florida Department of Health is conducting an inquiry to determine if any laws were broken in this case,” a department spokesperson said in a statement to several media outlets.

An epidemiologist, Pino joined the department in 2019 and, over the last two years, coordinated the response to Covid-19 in central Florida’s Orange County. 

After imposing a brief lockdown in early 2020, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has taken a hands-off approach to managing the Covid-19 pandemic. Under DeSantis, Florida prioritized seniors for vaccination and made monoclonal antibody treatment available to those seriously affected by the virus. Florida has seen the third-highest caseload per 100,000 residents, but ranks 17th in terms of deaths per 100,000. 

However, the state has the third highest overall Covid-19 death toll behind New York and California, a fact that Democrats have used to hammer DeSantis’ anti-mandate policies.


Ukrainian parliament leader blasts Western media

The threat of a Russian invasion is no worse than it was last year, according to one of Kiev’s high-ranking politicians

Western media outlets are driving rumors that Russian troops are planning to wage an offensive across the border into Ukraine, a close political ally of President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed, as tensions remain high on the shared border. 

Speaking on Wednesday to the Ukrainian outlet Focus, David Arakhamia, the head of the “Servant of the People” faction in parliament, said that such claims of an invasion are not a recent phenomenon. The party was founded by Zelensky in 2017 ahead of his bid to become president, and is named after the popular comedy show he starred in before embarking on his political career.

“There is always a threat from the outside. But! Remember the escalation last spring? Today’s situation is no worse than that – it's roughly in the same range,” said the official, who also is a member of the Verkhovna Rada’s National Security, Defense and Intelligence Committee. 

“Why is the Western media making such a big deal out of it? It's hard to say,” Arakhamia remarked. “Any surprises can be expected from [Moscow], we must be ready for anything, but not amplify panic.” 

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The building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on Smolenskaya Square in Moscow. © Sputnik / Maria Devakhina
Russia responds to US media report about Ukraine embassy 'evacuation'

He said that while Russian troops may not order an offensive, Kiev’s economy will feel the repercussions of fear mongering by the media outlets. “When they start throwing in fakes that the Russian embassy is withdrawing families [from Ukraine], we can already see how this is affecting the economic situation,” he explained.

Arakhamia’s remarks come amid a flurry of reports in Western media in recent months that Moscow is beefing up its troops and hardware on the Ukrainian border ahead of launching an invasion. On Monday, the New York Times claimed that Moscow had started to repatriate a number of diplomats and their families from Ukraine.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry hit back at the report, stating that Moscow’s embassy in Kiev “is working normally,” but did not deny any downsizing. Diplomatic spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the foreign media of spinning reality. 

“They are doing this despite attacks on Russian foreign service workers by Ukrainian radicals, and the provocations of local security forces. But the American media have not and will not cover this.” 

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken © Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
'Russia could invade any moment' – Blinken

The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected accusations that it is planning to invade, with its press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, describing them as “groundless” and manifestations of “hysteria” circulating in the press. 

The official also previously said that the movement of the country’s armed forces on its own territory is an internal matter and of no concern to anyone else. 

The latest claims that Moscow is planning an incursion into Ukraine come just months after similar alarms were sounded last April. Such calls have been an annual occurrence for some years now. 


Russian troop movement into Belarus shows Moscow could launch attack on Ukraine ‘at any point’ – State Department

Troops from Russia and Belarus to hold joint exercises next month

The upcoming Russian-Belarusian military exercises could be linked to Moscow’s “plans for a possible invasion” of Ukraine and are a show of force designed to provoke a crisis for a potential attack, the US State Department said on Tuesday.

“We are very alert to everything that Russia is doing. The fact that we’re seeing this movement of forces into Belarus clearly gives the Russians another approach should they decide to take further military action against Ukraine,” the unnamed official said. “We are concerned across several dimensions about Russia creating a pretext for a possible invasion.”

The statement comes as tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain at an all-time high. In recent months, Western media outlets and politicians have accused Moscow of concentrating troops and military equipment on the border with Ukraine, allegedly with a view to launching an offensive in the near future.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky © Stefanie Loos-Pool / Getty Images
Ukraine explains possible reason for Russian invasion

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the claims, stating that Russia is simply moving its armed forces within its territory and that reports of an attack are groundless. However, according to the Americans, an invasion could be imminent.

“President Putin created this crisis by amassing 100,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders. This includes moving Russian forces into Belarus over the weekend. This is neither an exercise nor normal troop movement. It is a show of strength designed to cause or give false pretext for a crisis as Russia plans for a possible invasion,” the official said. “And let’s be clear: This is extremely dangerous. We are now at a stage where Russia could, at any point, launch an attack on Ukraine.”

Russia and Belarus are to hold Union Resolve 2022 drills from February 10 to 20, as part of an inspection of the two nations’ ability for a joint response. Before that, the two militaries “will practice redeploying troops and creating task forces within a short period of time in dangerous directions,” according to the head of the Belarusian Defense Ministry’s International Military Cooperation Department, Oleg Voinov. During the exercises, they will practice “reinforcing the state border.”


Russian club causes fury after promising new Turkish signing ‘lots of Natashas’

CSKA Moscow triggered anger in a social media post announcing a signing

Russian Premier League giants CSKA Moscow have caused outrage online through a derogatory post which announced new Turkish signing Yusuf Yazici. 

Currently fourth in the table and eight points behind leaders Zenit, the Moscow club has signed Yazici on loan from French club Lille with an option to buy the attacking midfielder permanently if all goes well.

Through no fault of his own, however, life in Russia has gotten off to a rocky start for the Turkey international. 

When announcing his capture, the CSKA social media account posted a mock set of private messages between the player and his new employers. 

A number of them go unanswered by the 24-year-old, who is greeted and asked questions such as "where are you?" then told "we are ready to sign the contract"

Once CSKA writes: "Yusuf, this is Russia, we have a lot of Natashas here," though, the Turk is shown as responding: "Five minutes, I'm on my way!"

CSKA deleted the post from social media.

Deleted not long after, the post caused outrage for appearing to cheapen local women.

The Russian Football News Twitter account called it "one of the crassest and [most] terrible transfer announcements you'll ever see.

"We criticize foreign media a lot for their portrayals of Russia, but when local clubs act like this, it's even worse," it added.

CSKA's TV editor-in-chief Katerina Kirilcheva released a statement that offered her "sincere apologies for the presentation video that was published by our media group."

"Initially we had another script for the video, but in the player's absence it was impossible to shoot the footage we needed," she claimed.

"Given the time constraints, I came up with another script that was unfortunate and inappropriate, and for many, also offensive. Once again, I apologize to our fans, especially ladies, and to Yusuf personally," Kirilcheva signed off. 

Amid calls for heads to roll, CSKA PR chief Sergey Aksenov told Sport-Express "such things should not appear on official sites.

"This is unacceptable. The people responsible for this incident have been suspended from work," he confirmed.

Earlier this season CSKA caused similar anger among fans when Russian TikTok sensation 'Bad Barbie' filmed herself gyrating on the team's pitch after being invited for a promotional shoot at their home stadium.

READ MORE: ‘You’ve disgraced the club’: Fan fury after ‘Bad Barbie’ Tiktok sensation films herself thrusting against pitch at stadium (VIDEO)

With Yazici set to join their squad, CSKA will look to put the latest debacle behind them when they take on Luxembourg team Dudelange in a friendly on Monday. 

The match is part of preparations for the re-start of the Russian Premier League, which returns from its winter break at the end of February. 


WATCH Haircut protest staged in museums

Beauty services were offered in Dutch museums and concert halls, in line with existing Covid rules

Dozens of museums, theaters and concert halls in the Netherlands have staged an unusual protest against current Covid-19 restrictions by opening their venues for hairdressing, manicures and gym sessions.

Some businesses, such as hair and nail salons, gyms and non-essential stores were recently allowed to reopen after full lockdown, while museums, theaters, restaurants and cinemas remained closed. Many in the cultural sector have questioned the logic of the arrangement and on Wednesday, staged a protest to demonstrate what they feel is an absurd situation. They used the hashtag #OpenCultuur (Open Culture) to draw attention to the demonstrations on social media.

A major Amsterdam concert hall, Concertgebouw, posted photos and videos of hairdressers taking center stage and being entertained by musicians as they cut hair.

The only way to listen to classical music in Amsterdam (and the most epic way to have your hair cut),” reads the venue’s tweet.

Those who took part in the protest underlined that their actions has nothing to do with an anti-vaccination stance or Covid-19 denial – and the institutions were following the pandemic rules with regard to QR-codes, mask-wearing and social distancing.

The Museum of Limburg in Venlo chose to become a gym on Wednesday, saying that its own staff “left their workplace for an active Zumba session.

Meanwhile, their colleagues in the world-famous Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, along with some members of the public, could enjoy manicures surrounded by the artist’s paintings.

Though some of the institutions, including one offering yoga classes, received warnings from authorities, the day of protest was ultimately branded a success.

We look back on a successful day of action! Young and old have played sports in many museums, drawing attention to the reopening of the cultural sector. Unfortunately, a number of museums were forced to close early,” the Dutch Museums Association said on Twitter.

The Dutch government pledged to reconsider further easing of restrictions on January 25.


The CIA’s high-stakes game in Ukraine

Purported plans for guerrilla war could see the country brought to the brink

With fears of a conflict breaking out between Russia and Ukraine, there has been no end of speculation about how the standoff could spiral into all-out fighting. Some of the theories and purported plans come with evidence, others don’t – but in their own way, they’re all intriguing.

Not surprising, but still revealing, are reports that the CIA have trained special forces in Ukraine to defend the country against a possible invasion. In all likelihood, the scheme would have included far-right fighters. Through well-timed leaks and statements by anonymous “persons familiar” and conveniently retired US officers, these trainees are now presented as the potential backbone of a guerrilla-style resistance force. 

The purpose of advertising this fact now is clear: to deter Russia from launching that large-scale attack on Ukraine that Washington alleges is coming, Moscow denies planning but won’t rule out either, and Kiev cannot really make up its mind аbout: If you, Russia, occupy substantial parts of Ukrainian territory, so goes the American message, we’ll turn this into a bloody quagmire for you. In essence, what the late US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was always proud of having done in – and to – Afghanistan during the Soviet intervention there in the 1980s.

The training program was started under Obama and extended under Trump (another nail in the coffin of claims he was a Russian agent) and then Biden. It inhabits a twilight world of ambiguous terminology and not very plausible deniability. Somehow it’s all very defensive, allegedly, but then again, in reality it is, of course, not – and no one is actually supposed to buy the cover story because then it would have little deterrence value. The “tactical skills” taught in such programs are, of course, at least as useful for attack and sabotage as for “mere” intelligence gathering and defense. 

Never mind that there is a “good chance that the CIA is training actual, literal Nazis,” as Jacobin has put it, entirely realistically: If you have any idea at all about the virulence and the modus operandi of the Ukrainian far right, then you know that this is exactly the opportunity its cadres crave. And if you have any realism left about what the CIA does, then you know that it does not mind training fanatics. Never did, from Latin America via Afghanistan to Syria and Ukraine. In fact, if anything the Agency has a massive bias for them. 

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© Military TV UA / Youtube
Ukraine gets British anti-tank missiles (VIDEO)

Moreover, we have had reliable information about this phenomenon before. In fact, it is even larger. Last September, a detailed and solidly researched report for the Illiberalism Studies Program at George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies found that members of Ukrainian far-right organizations such as Centuria and the Azov Battalion both systematically infiltrate the country’s military and receive plenty of training by Western countries, including at elite institutions such as Britain’s Sandhurst and Germany’s Offizierschule des Heeres. 

Put differently, Ukraine’s far right deliberately uses the leverage it gains by Western training, connections, and de facto approval or, at least, benevolent toleration to increase its already substantial influence in the country’s politics and armed forces. Meanwhile, American right-wing extremists have shown an ever greater interest in Ukraine. 

The potential upshot is predictable: If a short-sighted strategy of making nationalist and far-right fighters the spearhead of systematic guerrilla resistance should ever be implemented, the long-term effects would be devastating, and could quite possibly include a nasty blowback into US society itself. None of this information, it is worth underlining, originates with Russian media. All of it comes from the West. None of this is hyperbole, “information war,” or whatever lazy label commonly used to dismiss inconvenient news about the West and Ukraine. If you want to ignore these risks, go ahead. But in that case, just own your neo-Cold War bias and ignorance, please. And don’t be surprised when things go terribly wrong, again, on a proxy battlefield of West-Russia conflict.

Against this background, a recent article in the British Times also begins to make – sort of – sense. Despite a cursory nod to the well-known human rights abuses committed by far-right Ukrainian formations, its main point is that their fighters have their national role to play when it comes to defending the country against separatists or Russia. And, indeed, with Ukraine’s president bestowing highest military honors on them, how dare we doubt? 

Expect more of this in the future: Our media will now not only ignore or downplay the reality of the Ukrainian far right – as always by dismissing any discussion of it as “Russian disinformation” – but make us learn to love it as long as it’s “our” far right, fighting on “our” side of the “new Cold War,” or hot one, as the case may be.

None of this is surprising. In fact, to use a cliché commonly applied to Russia, this is all from the classic Cold War playbook of the West, in particular the USA: a ruthless logic of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and an equally ruthless readiness to “destroy the village to save it.” 

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken © Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP
'Russia could invade any moment' – Blinken

Because, of course, supporting a regular army, in Ukraine or elsewhere, is one thing. Supporting a guerrilla-style insurgency is a very different one: It necessarily would come with cruel consequences for Ukraine’s civilians. Russia would qualify partisan-style attacks as terror – as every state, including of course the USA and, for instance, Israel routinely does now – and respond massively. You can be certain that there are cynics in the West who would welcome the resulting reports of “Russian atrocities” as information-war ammunition. Too realistic a picture for you? Too ugly? Don’t shoot the messenger.

Organizing partisan resistance would also have the capacity to split Ukraine. For, whatever you may have been told, there really are important regional differences in the country. While many Ukrainians may well generally support resisting an invasion, the call to engage in partisan warfare against an occupation may divide them much more. 

And then? A guerrilla war waged by western Ukrainians in occupied eastern Ukraine, with the local population caught between enraged occupation troops and national partisans demanding loyalty at gunpoint? If you think that that’s a strange scenario, then you have no idea about how insurgencies operate in general. You also must have missed that even in western Ukraine the anti-Soviet insurgents of the post-World War Two years killed at least as many fellow Ukrainians as Soviets. Guess why. 

In sum, to openly speculate about or call for guerrilla war is not a sign of support. Don’t be naïve: it’s a sign that Washington would be ready to turn Ukraine into hell on Earth if only it can embarrass Russia. If you like seeing Ukrainians reduced to pawns coldly sacrificed for this sort of geopolitics, just be honest and don’t sell it as an act of friendship.   

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.



Is an all-out Russia-Ukraine war about to break out?

The world is bracing for a potential armed showdown over Ukraine, which all sides say they don’t want to happen

Russia and its CSTO ally Belarus have announced joint military exercises in February, which Western pundits claim are part of preparations for an invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kiev has been receiving new weapons from the UK, this week, with the shipments touted as boosting its ‘self-defense’.

At the same time, EU members are debating what exactly would trigger anti-Russian sanctions that they have pledged to impose in response to an attack. Moscow continues to insist it has no intention to use force against Kiev.


Pop star sparks protests over insult to Islam

Criminal complaints have been filed against Turkish singer Sezen Aksu for allegedly insulting Adam and Eve in a 2017 song

Iconic Turkish singer Sezen Aksu has come under fire from government and religious officials who accuse her of insulting Adam and Eve in lyrics to her 2017 song ‘Sahane Bir Sey Yasamak’ (which roughly translates to ‘Living is a wonderful thing’).

The controversy erupted after the pop diva shared the song on her official YouTube account to mark the New Year, according to the Daily Sabah. Although the lyrics apparently did not receive much attention when the song was released, the news outlet reported that Aksu is being criticized for insulting the couple, who are considered sacred figures in Islam and referred to with religious honorific titles.

The song contains a verse that translates to “Give my regards to that ignorant Eve and Adam.” The lyrics were cited as the reason for a criminal complaint brought against Aksu recently in Ankara for “insulting religious values,” Deutsche Welle Turkish reported on Monday.

“This situation aroused justified anger among those who believe in the religion of Islam. As a matter of fact, there was anger against the suspect by many people on the suspect's YouTube channel, Facebook page and website,” Mikail Yilmaz, an attorney for the complainants, said. He added that Aksu used “derogatory expressions” about Adam and Eve “in a way that could cause public outrage.”

Protesters also staged a rally outside her home in Istanbul while the hashtag #SezenAksuHaddiniBil (Sezen Aksu, know your place) went viral on Twitter, Daily Sabah reported, adding that more criminal complaints had been filed alleging insult to religious values. The violation reportedly carries a prison sentence of up to a year.

The Presidency of Religious Affairs (DIB) also issued a statement on Monday, warning “those speaking about exemplary personalities honored by Islam to be more careful.” Noting that Adam and Eve were mankind’s ancestors, the government body stated that “any careless attitude toward such religious figures is disrespect in the slightest sense.”

READ MORE: K-pop star condemned for failing to kneel in South Korea

Meanwhile, Mustafa Acikgoz, a lawmaker with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), slammed Aksu on Twitter for attacking Turkey’s values “under the guise of arts and music,” while prominent cleric Ahmet Mahmut Unlu reportedly called her “an ignorant person who doesn’t know about God’s word.”

Aksu has not commented on the issue yet, but other artists have defended her. Popular singer Mustafa Sandal called her one of the country’s “most important poets.”


Poll reveals how many Americans think country on ‘wrong track’

40% of respondents gave Biden’s performance an ‘F’ grade

More than two-thirds of voting Americans agree President Joe Biden has taken the US down the wrong track, a new poll conducted a year into his presidency has revealed.

The results showed some 68% of respondents thought the country was going in the wrong direction, while 32% suggested it was headed the right way. Conducted over the weekend by Morning Consult and Politico, the poll surveyed 2,005 registered voters.

More than half of respondents (56%) disapprove of the job Biden is doing in the White House, with 40% disapproving strongly. 

While 40% in total approve of his performance, only 16% “strongly” approve, while 4% lack an opinion on the matter.

Read more

One year of Biden: Are we better off?

Asked what grade they would give Biden, 40% said he got an ‘F’, while only 6% gave him an ‘A’ and 14% gave him a ‘B’. 

When questioned about their primary concerns, 42% pointed to the economy as their chief issue, with security issues coming in second at 14%. Inflation has driven up prices for everything from food staples to fuel and building materials in recent months – and 59% of respondents indicated that Biden’s policies were either “very responsible” or “somewhat responsible.

Healthcare and aging-related issues like Medicare and Social Security both drew the attention of 11% of voters, while energy and education trailed at 5% each.

A majority (47%) also suggested they would trust Republicans in Congress more than Democrats (34%), while 19% had no opinion. Democrats have a slim majority in the House and a single-vote lead (cast by Vice President Kamala Harris) in the Senate, meaning losing just one seat could upend the current balance of power.

When judged on his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden received low marks from voters, with 44% ranking his performance as “poor.” Both Congress and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci were rated “poor” by 32% of respondents.

Biden’s approval ratings cratered last year as he failed to deliver on his chief campaign promise of “shutting down” the Covid-19 epidemic. The number of coronavirus deaths has soared in recent months as the Omicron variant has swept across the nation despite the availability of vaccines.


US warns about nukes in Belarus

Proposed constitutional reforms could pave the way to more atomic weapons on the continent, Washington claims

Russia could station nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus under the terms of Minsk’s new draft constitution, a high-ranking US State Department official has claimed, as Washington and Moscow seek to do a deal on European security guarantees.

Speaking at a special closed-door briefing on Tuesday, the unnamed American official voiced concern that the changes put forward may “indicate Belarus’ plans to allow both conventional and nuclear Russian forces to be deployed on its territory.”

According to the high-ranking representative, such a move would pose a challenge to European security and may require a response from Western officials.

The official also said that “reports of Russian troop movements towards Belarus, which these movements are supposedly under the auspices of regularly scheduled joint military exercises, are concerning. ” On Monday, embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko announced that his country and Russia will hold joint military exercises near NATO’s eastern borders and Ukraine in February.

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FILE PHOTO. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a parade in Minsk in honor of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. © RIA / Victor Tolochko
Belarus could host nuclear weapons

“What is noteworthy is that when exactly this happens, it certainly raises concerns that Russia may intend to deploy forces to Belarus under the guise of drills to potentially attack Ukraine from the north,” the State Department deputy alleged. “For Belarusians to be involved in such an attack would be completely unacceptable.”

However, Vladimir Dzhabarov, Moscow’s first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on international relations, said on Wednesday that there were no plans at present for atomic weapons to be deployed on Belarusian territory.

“Lukashenko has already suggested that, if necessary, Russian nuclear forces be deployed on the territory of Belarus. But as far as I know, this has not advanced past conversations, there are no negotiations,” he said.

The concern from Washington comes after Belarus announced its proposed amendments to the country’s fundamental laws last month. A passage in the current constitution, which stipulates that Belarus “aims at making its territory a nuclear-free zone, and the state – neutral,” appears to have been removed. However, in the latest draft the section has been replaced by a clause that “rules out military aggression from its territory against other states,” opening up speculation that Minsk could allow atomic warheads to be stationed in the country.

In late November, Belarus’ strongman said Russia should deploy atomic warheads on his country’s territory if NATO’s nuclear weapons are advanced eastward through Europe.


NASA warns that Russia module may be isolated from rest of space station

Officials warned that the section could cause problems for the whole of the ISS

A Russian International Space Station (ISS) module has been experiencing air leaks and may need to be permanently isolated from the rest of the facility, NASA has announced.

Robyn Gatens, the space agency official in charge of American participation in the ISS program, shared the news at a meeting on Tuesday. She warned that the Russian module Zvezda (“Star”), launched in 2000 and built on a frame dating from the 1980s, has been leaking air, and said that if the problem is not fixed, the module may have to be permanently isolated from the rest of the space station.

Read more

Employees of the mission control Center during the operation for launching into orbit, rendezvous and docking of the Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft with the ISS.
Russia’s space agency chief Rogozin hits out at ‘stupid’ US sanctions that even target ISS mission control center

“In the worst case scenario we can permanently isolate this module. The leakage is so slight, it’s difficult for detectors and ultrasonic equipment to find,” she explained, adding that Russian and American specialists are currently searching for the places where the leaks are occurring.

In response to Gatens’ comments, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said that the leaks had all been identified and that there was no cause for concern. “The Russian cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov found the last possible air leak in December,” a representative of the agency told journalists. He said that they have a plan to repair the issue, adding, “our partners’ worry is unfounded and surprising.”

Zvezda is one of the oldest components of the ISS and is the structural and functional center of the Russian Orbital Segment, the part of the space station constructed and operated by Russia. Its basic parts were first constructed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and then later repurposed to serve as the ISS module, which was launched in 2000.

In December, the US introduced new sanctions on Russian companies that cooperate with the military, which include firms integral to Russia’s space program. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, criticized the measures, saying that they would impede cooperation on the ISS.


Djokovic has 80% share in biotech firm developing Covid treatment – report

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic and his wife have an 80% stake in Danish biotech company QuantBioRes, its chief executive says

Novak Djokovic and his wife hold a majority stake in a Danish biotech company which is aiming to develop a medical treatment to combat coronavirus, the firm’s chief executive has said.

QuantBioRes CEO Ivan Loncarevic revealed the news to Reuters on Wednesday. The Serbian star and his wife, Jelena, have a combined 80% share, with 40.8% owned by the tennis ace and 39.2% held by his spouse.   

Loncarevic said the tennis world number one – who has amassed over $150 million in career prize money – made the investment in June 2020, but did not disclose the amount.

Copenhagen-based QuantBioRes is aiming to develop a ‘peptide’ treatment against Covid-19 which would inhibit the virus from infecting human cells.

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Novak Djokovic is back in Serbia after being deported from Australia. © Getty Images
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It expects to launch clinical trials in the UK later this year, and has around a dozen researchers working in Denmark, Australia, and Slovenia, Loncarevic explained.

The CEO stressed that it was a treatment against the illness, rather than a vaccine.  

The news comes after Djokovic was deported from Australia in a row centered on his Covid vaccine status.

The 34-year-old star is not vaccinated against the illness but arrived in Australia with a medical exemption based on recovery from a prior infection in December.

However, that was deemed insufficient by the federal authorities.

After an ordeal lasting almost two weeks, Djokovic was eventually deported following the intervention of Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who argued that the Serb’s continued presence in the country would incite anti-vaccine sentiments among the local population.

READ MORE: Will Novak Djokovic be barred from other Grand Slams?


Court rules on two-decade legal battle over loud flushing toilet

Italy’s Supreme Court has ruled that a loud flushing toilet violated the human rights of a couple living in a neighboring flat

A couple has won a drawn-out legal fight over a loud flushing toilet after Italy’s Supreme Court found that their human rights were violated. The battle kicked off in 2003 after four brothers who lived near Italy’s La Spezia city built a new toilet in their flat. Their next-door neighbors swiftly complained that the flushing sound during the night was so loud that it woke them up.

Their bed was right up against the wall connecting to the apartment where the toilet had been installed.

The initial complaint, seeking the resolution of the noise problem and damages, was dismissed by a judge. Genoa’s appeals court overturned that dismissal and stated after an investigation that the flush sound was “a large excess of three decibels over the threshold required.” 

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The four brothers were ordered to modify the flush and pay around €500 ($567.40) for every year since the toilet was installed. They took the case to Italy’s highest appeals court, which also backed the couple, agreeing the flush had a negative effect on their life. Specifically, the court stated that the flush violated the constitutionally given right to “respect one’s own private and family life” that the couple was entitled to under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The defeat in Italy’s highest court marked the end of a nearly 20-year legal battle for the neighbors. As such, the ruling from the Genoa appeals court stands, and the brothers have to pay the fee that was outlined, as well as move the water tank that makes the noise.

Italian newspaper Il Giornale, mocking the slow pace of the country’s judicial system, joked that the toilet dispute had taken longer than it did for Albert Einstein to write his theory of relativity.


Russia’s Medvedev must brace for Australian Open ‘zoo’ against Kyrgios

Daniil Medvedev should expect hostile conditions when he confronts home hero Nick Kyrgios in Melbourne

Daniil Medvedev will have to contend with a febrile Melbourne crowd when the Russian meets home hero Nick Kyrgios in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday.

As if Melbourne wasn’t sweltering enough from the summer heat and simmering tensions surrounding the deportation of Novak Djokovic, throwing the ever-entertaining Kyrgios into the mix was always going to be combustible.

Kyrgios was at his crowd-pleasing best on Tuesday. © Getty Images

The Aussie firebrand’s appearance had been in doubt after his positive Covid test on the eve of the tournament, but Kyrgios and his following will already be glad he didn’t miss out.

Indeed, it took Kyrgios all of two games of his first-round meeting with Liam Broady to break into his box of tricks at John Cain Arena on Tuesday, pulling off an audacious underarm ‘tweener’ serve which befuddled his British opponent and beguiled the home crowd.

More antics followed from the 26-year-old Aussie entertainer in a performance which showcased his spellbinding set of trickshots but also the more serious threat he poses when he gets his big-serving game together.

By the time the contest was done, Kyrgios was a straight-sets winner and the crowd was in raptures – so much so that Kyrgios himself even had to implore the match umpire to try and keep a lid on it for Broady’s sake.

The Brit had been a good sport but gave an insight afterwards into what it is like playing the mercurial Kyrgios on his home turf.

“It was pretty crazy out there,” said Broady.

“Everyone was telling me, like ‘Oh you’ll really enjoy it, it’s going to be amazing’. But I thought it was absolutely awful…

Kyrgios is one of tennis' biggest entertainers. © Getty Images

“You get sledged from the sides like you can’t believe.

“It was a very, very difficult atmosphere to try and handle and, like I said, he’s incredible at getting them behind him and he plays better for it,” added the 28-year-old.

Kyrgios is undeniably a master at whipping up the home crowd into a frenzy.

After using his post-match interview to tell the Melbourne support they were a “zoo,” Kyrgios ended his appearance on Tuesday by sipping beer from a fan’s cup courtside.

It was a case of ‘cheers’ all round.

This the inferno into which Russian second seed Medvedev is likely to step when he plays Kyrgios at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, in a match scheduled to start around 19:00 local time.

Ironically, Kyrgios had implored Tennis Australia bosses to put the clash on the smaller John Cain Arena, which he sees as something of a lucky charm, but the atmosphere nonetheless promises to be fiercely partisan at Melbourne Park’s main court. 

Firmly installed as the tournament favorite now that top seed Djokovic has been forced to pack his bags, Medvedev knows he faces a major early test of his mettle.

“He’s definitely a character and you know, I think probably like almost everybody in the world, there are some things I adore in what he does and some things I don’t like,” Medvedev said of Kyrgios, after the Russian earned a routine first-round win of his own against Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen.

“He’s kind of going to extreme all the time when he’s on court, that’s why people love to watch him.

“Even if they hate him, they love to watch and that’s his strengths.”

Adding to the fervent home support, Kyrgios can perhaps draw upon a psychological edge from knowing he has beaten Medvedev in both of their previous meetings – the last of which came in the final of the Citi Open in Washington in 2019.

For his part, Medvedev has come a long way since that match – and now has the honor of calling himself a Grand Slam champion after his maiden major crown at the US Open in September.

Medvedev has famously deployed crowd tactics of his own in recent years, engaging in a running battle with New York audience on his way to the final at Flushing Meadows in 2019.

That was used as fuel to fire him up, even though he’s equally been prone to on-court meltdowns on more than one occasion.

Medvedev eased through his first-round match. © Getty Images

But at 25 years of age and with considerable Grand Slam experience now under his belt, Medvedev is inarguably much better equipped to deal with a potential blast furnace come Thursday.

That will be just as well if Kyrgios does find his groove – and gets the crowd pumped up in the process – as Medvedev will need all his nous and playing qualities to emerge from a tricky first-week assignment Down Under.

By Liam Tyler


Prince Andrew deletes social media accounts

The Duke of York has greatly reduced his online profile

Prince Andrew has deleted his Twitter and YouTube accounts after being stripped of his royal title. 

On Wednesday, the prince’s staff purged his social media profiles. People searching for the Duke of York's official Twitter page, @thedukeofyork, were given the message “this account doesn't exist - try searching for another.” 

Those searching for Andrew’s YouTube account, @thedukeofyork, were greeted with the message: “This page isn’t available. Sorry about that. Try searching for something else.”

The prince’s Facebook and Instagram accounts both remain live, although his Instagram page is now private.

A source told the Mail Online that none of his social media accounts were live but that some of them remained online while the tech firms processed the closure request.  

READ MORE: One of the most expensive homes ever for sale finds no bidder

The social media purge comes after Buckingham Palace announced that Andrew’s “military affiliations and Royal patronages” were returned to Queen Elizabeth last week. He will now face a lawsuit in the US, linked to late convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, as a private citizen. 

The embattled prince was also the focus of an ITV documentary on Tuesday evening in which his ex-girlfriend Lady Victoria Hervey claimed that Epstein and former US President Bill Clinton “were like brothers” and loved being around Andrew. 

Hervey also said deceased sex offender Epstein had his ‘madam’ Ghislaine Maxwell “sort of go fishing” for girls for his former royal highness.


Kazakh ex-president resurfaces in bid to quell coup fears

The former president denied that a power struggle was underway

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former president of Kazakhstan, has published a video statement, speaking for the first time about the mass unrest that shook the country earlier this month and denying claims that there has been a power struggle among the nation’s elite.

The 81-year-old released the clip on Tuesday. He rejected rumors that he had fled the country, saying he continues to reside in the capital.

“There is no conflict or confrontation within the elite,” the former president said, seated alone at a desk in front of Kazakh flags. “Rumors to this effect are absolutely groundless.”

Nazarbayev emphasized that he had handed over power to the current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, when he left office in 2019, and said he had been living as a “pensioner” since then.

However, Tokayev is generally considered to be Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor. Many analysts have speculated that he retained a grip on power even after leaving the presidency, through his position as chairman of the Security Council of Kazakhstan, a post he held until earlier this month.

The video address will likely do little to quash claims that some kind of power struggle has been taking place in Kazakhstan. Observers have pointed to the dismissal of several important officials loyal to Nazarbayev, including Karim Masimov. He was head of the nation’s security service, the KNB, until Tokayev fired him without explanation in the early days of the protests. Three days later, Masimov was arrested on charges of treason.

On January 17, Tokayev ordered the dismissal of Samat Abish, Nazarbayev’s nephew, from his position as first deputy head of the KNB. Rumors had been circulating that Abish had taken part in instigating the protests this month, which led to the deaths of hundreds of people, although the government denied that this was the case.

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Mukhtar Ablyazov © Sputnik / Serikzhan Kovlanbayev
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The exact connection between the unrest, which involved thousands of people across multiple cities, and the apparent political purge is unclear. The protests began at the start of January after the government removed price controls on liquefied petroleum gas, which many people use to power their cars, leading to sharp price increases for consumers. 

Demonstrators across the country took to the streets, speaking out not only against the higher fuel prices, but also against widespread income inequality. Some marched to the slogan “Old man out,” referring to Nazarbayev, who was president for nearly 30 years before his resignation and still retains the official title Elbasy, meaning “Leader of the Nation.”

The protests quickly turned violent in a number of locations, prompting Tokayev to request assistance from peacekeeping forces from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The military alliance reported last week that violence had been halted and troops were beginning their withdrawal. Kazakh authorities announced that the official death toll of the protests was 225, and that more than 4,500 people had been injured.

Tokayev has promised a raft of political reforms to come later this year, including the creation of a new “national fund” that will be used for social services, with contributions from wealthy businesses. At the same time, he has cleared Nazarbayev allies out of important positions, replaced his predecessor as chairman of the Security Council, and, according to the ex-president’s recent statement, will soon take his place as chairman of the ruling Nur Otan party.

Within Kazakhstan’s opaque political arena, the exact nature of this changing of the guard, and its consequences for the nation’s people, remains to be seen.