Wednesday, July 28, 2021

June 17, 2021 GENEVA (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin exchanged cordial words and plotted modest steps on arms control and diplomacy but emerged from their much-anticipated Swiss summit Wednesday largely where they started -- with deep differences on human rights, cyberattacks, election interference and more.

The two leaders reached an important, but a hardly relationship-changing agreement to return their chief diplomats to Moscow and Washington after they were called home as the relationship deteriorated in recent months. And Biden and Putin agreed to start working on a plan to solidify their countries’ last remaining treaty limiting nuclear weapons.

But their three hours of talks on the shores of Lake Geneva left both men standing firmly in the same positions they had started in.

 “I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior,” Biden said at a post-summit news conference when he was asked about what evidence he saw that former KGB agent Putin would adjust his ways and actions. “What will change his behavior is the rest of the world reacts to them, and they diminish their standing in the world. I’m not confident in anything.”

Both the White House and Kremlin had set low expectations going into the summit. They issued a joint statement after the conclusion that said their meeting showed the “practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world.”

But over and over, Biden defaulted to “we’ll find out” when assessing whether their discussions about nuclear power, cybersecurity and other thorny issues will pay off.

Back-to-back news conferences by Biden and Putin after the summit also put in stark relief that getting at the root of tensions between the U.S. and Russia will remain an enormously difficult task — including when the two sides, at least in public comments, sketched dramatically different realities on cyber matters.

Biden came into the summit pushing Putin to clamp down on the surge of Russian-originated cybersecurity and ransomware attacks that have targeted businesses and government agencies in the U.S. and around the globe. But when the summit ended, it wasn’t evident that more than superficial progress had been made.

Biden said he made clear to Putin that if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating,”

Putin, in turn, continued to insist Russia had nothing to do with cyber intrusions despite U.S. intelligence evidence that indicates otherwise.

“Most of the cyberattacks in the world are carried out from the cyber realm of the United States,” said Putin, also adding Canada, two Latin American countries he didn’t name and Britain to the list.

While the U.S., Canada and Britain all engage in cyber espionage, the most damaging cyberattacks on record have come either from state-backed Russian hackers or Russian-speaking ransomware criminals who operate with impunity in Russia and allied nations.

In fact, the worst have been attributed by the United States and the European Union to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, including the NotPetya virus that did more than $10 billion in economic damage in 2017, hitting companies including shipping giant Maersk, the pharmaceutical company Merck and food company Mondolez.

Putin agreed at the summit that Russia will begin consultations with the U.S. on the matter and acknowledged that ransomware and cyberattacks are big problems. Still, he maintained that the two countries “just need to abandon various insinuations.”

Despite the clear differences, Biden insisted that progress had been made, scolding reporters for being too pessimistic during a chat on the tarmac just before he boarded Air Force One to return home.

“There is a value to being realistic and putting on ... an optimistic face, ” the president said.

Biden said the two leaders spent a “great deal of time” discussing cybersecurity and he believed Putin understood the U.S. position.

“I pointed out to him, we have the significant cyber capability,” Biden said. “In fact, (if) they violate basic norms, we will respond.”

A disconnect between the two leaders was apparent on other matters, large and small.

Biden raised human rights issues with Putin, including the fate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin defended Navalny’s prison sentence and deflected repeated questions about the mistreatment of Russian opposition leaders by highlighting U.S. domestic turmoil, including the Black Lives Matter protests and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Biden was having none of it.

MORE ON BIDEN-PUTIN SUMMIT

  • – The Latest: Biden and Putin depart Geneva after the summit
  • – AP FACT CHECK: Putin's errant claims on cyberattacks, Jan. 6
  • – SUMMIT NOTEBOOK: Biden gives Putin custom aviator sunglasses

“My response is kind of what I communicated” to Putin, Biden said. “That’s a ridiculous comparison.”

Putin held forth for nearly an hour before international reporters after the summit. While showing defiance at questions about Biden pressing him on human rights, he also expressed respect for the U.S. president as an experienced political leader.

The Russian noted that Biden repeated wise advice his mother had given him and that the American president also spoke about his family — messaging that Putin said might not have been entirely relevant to their summit but demonstrated Biden’s “moral values.”

Overall, the tone was more businesslike than Putin’s 2018 summit with then-President Donald Trump, who embraced some of Putin’s unlikely statements about election interference but was considered somewhat amateurish and unpredictable by the Russians.

At this faceoff, though Putin raised doubt that the U.S.-Russia relationship could soon return to a measure of equilibrium of years past, he suggested that Biden was someone he could work with.

“The meeting was actually very efficient,” Putin said. “It was substantive, it was specific. It was aimed at achieving results, and one of them was pushing back the frontiers of trust.”

The summit had a somewhat awkward beginning — both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.

It ended sooner than expected. Biden said that was because they had covered all the key areas and then “looked at each other like, OK, what next?”

Then Biden answered his own question

“What is going to happen next is we are going to be able to look back, look ahead in three to six months and say ‘Did the things we agreed to sit down and try to work out, did it work?’”

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Entertainment

July 22, 2021  LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts. Sheriff’s deputies brought the 69-year-old convicted rapist into court in a wheelchair. He was wearing a brown jail jumpsuit and face mask. Attorney Mark Werksman entered the plea for the disgraced movie mogul a day after Weinstein was extradited to California from New York, where he was serving a 23-year prison term. Weinstein spoke only to say “thank you” to Judge Sergio Tapia, who wished him good luck as the hearing ended. He now awaits a second trial on a second coast, and the possibility of another lengthy sentence.

July 21, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — “The View” canceled a planned appearance Wednesday by a woman who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O’Reilly, after the former Fox News Channel personality sought and received a restraining order against her. O’Reilly accused his former producer, Andrea Mackris, of violating a non-disclosure agreement by talking about her experiences with him nearly two decades ago. ABC’s daytime talk show, in a statement, said that after being notified of the restraining order “we decided to postpone her interview pending further developments. We look forward to welcoming her to ‘The View’ at a later date.” Mackris gave an interview to the Daily Beast earlier this month detailing her experiences with O’Reilly. She had accused him of making repeated lewd telephone calls, while he accused Mackris of an extortion attempt before agreeing to a $9 million settlement in 2004.


July 21, 2021  WASHINGTON (AP) — The Kennedy Center Honors will return in December with a class that includes Motown Records creator Berry Gordy, “Saturday Night Live” mastermind Lorne Michaels and actress-singer Bette Midler. Organizers expect to operate at full capacity after last year’s ceremony was delayed for months and later conducted under COVID-19 restrictions. This 44th class of honorees for lifetime achievement in the creative arts is heavy on musical performers. The honorees also include opera singer Justino Diaz and folk music legend Joni Mitchell. All will be honored on Dec. 5 with a trademark program that includes personalized tributes and performances that are kept secret from the honorees. Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said the current plan is to pack the center’s opera house to full capacity and require all attendees to wear masks. But the plans remain fluid and Rutter said they’re ready to adapt to changing circumstances depending on the country’s COVID-19 situation.


July 22, 2021   LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kanye West knows how to make a splash even with a listening event. West is expected to unveil his 10th studio album, “Donda” during a listening event Thursday night at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. His album was named after his mother, Donda West, who died at the age of 58 following plastic surgery complications in 2007.  The sold-out event will be live-streamed on Apple Music. West, 44, is mostly known as being associated with Chicago, but he was born in Atlanta - a Georgia city where there are no restrictions against large gatherings. The rapper-producer gifted 5,000 tickets to faculty, staff and students from some Atlanta HBCUs including Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown and the Interdenominational Theological Center. The 22-time Grammy winner revealed in a commercial, featuring U.S. track star Sha’Carri Richardson, during the NBA Finals on Tuesday that his highly-anticipated album will be released Friday. The commercial, scored and directed by West, featured “No Child Left Behind,” a song from his forthcoming album.

Business News

July 22, 2021  WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is beginning to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her agency on Thursday will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development for years to come. “This is about real help for communities across the country as they rebuild,” Raimondo said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s about longer-term investments to help communities build themselves back from the bottom up in the ways that work best for them.” The grants will be targeted at supporting local infrastructure, job training programs and developing new industries. Recipients will be selected on the basis of the anticipated return on investment to taxpayers. Raimondo was set to appear at Thursday’s White House press briefing to promote the new program.

July 21, 2021   DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — For months, anyone who wandered onto a dealer lot to look for a used car could be forgiven for doing a double-take — and then wandering right off the lot. Prices had rocketed more than 40% from their levels just before the viral pandemic struck, to an average of nearly $25,000. The supply of vehicles had shrunk. And any hope of negotiating on price? Good luck with that. But now, a sliver of hope has emerged. The seemingly endless streak of skyrocketing used-vehicle prices appears to be coming to a close. Not that anyone should expect bargains. Though average wholesale prices that dealers pay are gradually dropping, they’ll likely remain near record levels. So will the retail prices for consumers. Supply remains tight. And while demand has eased a bit, a steady flow of buyers could keep prices unusually high for a couple of years more. “It’s a short-term correction,” suggested Paul Sugars, sales manager for pre-owned vehicles at Jack Demmer Lincoln in Dearborn, Michigan. “Buyers are sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens.”

July 22, 2021  SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric plans to bury 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of its power lines in an effort to prevent its fraying grid from sparking wildfires when electrical equipment collides with millions of trees and other vegetation across drought-stricken California. The daunting project announced Wednesday aims to bury about 10% of PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines at a projected cost of $15 billion to as much as $30 billion, based on how much the process currently costs. The utility believes it will find ways to keep the final bill at the lower end of those estimates. Most of the costs will likely be shouldered by PG&E customers, whose electricity rates are already among the highest in the U.S. PG&E stepped up its safety commitment just days after informing regulators a 70-foot (23-meter) pine tree that toppled on one of its power lines ignited a major fire in Butte County, the same rural area about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco where another fire sparked by its equipment in 2018 killed more than 80 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Fashion News

“Faced With Restrictions, These Are the Designers Who Took Us Somewhere New”—Vogue Editors Weigh In on the Most Innovative Presentations of Spring 2021