Biden announces sanctions against Russia, Kremlin still weighing how to respond


Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

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UPDATED 3:40 PM PT – Friday, April 16, 2021

The Biden administration said it’s expelling a number of Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions on several companies in response to actions it says the Kremlin made against the U.S.

According to reports, the sanctions were meant as punitive action against Moscow after Russia allegedly interfered in the 2020 presidential election. It also came in response to the massive SolarWinds hack blamed on Russian intelligence agencies.

“Today, I have approved several steps, including expulsion of several Russian officials as a consequence of their actions,” Joe Biden said. “I’ve also signed an executive order authorizing new measures, including sanctions, to address specific harmful actions that Russia has taken against U.S. interests.”

According to Joe Biden, the U.S. is not looking to escalate tensions with Russia, however, if Russia seeks to “violate the U.S., it will respond.”

“The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden added. “We want a stable, predictable relationship and if Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further action to respond.”

The sanctions expelled 10 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and targeted six Russian companies that supported cyber efforts in the SolarWinds hack. Thirty-two additional individuals and entities were also named and accused of trying to influence the election and spreading disinformation.

There is no evidence, however, that Russia or any other influence changed votes or manipulated the outcome of the election.

The White House did emphasize the sanctions were not in response to a report that claimed Russia had paid the Taliban to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In response, the Kremlin condemned the sanctions, saying President Vladimir Putin had not yet decided what action he would take.

“Our approach regarding the sanctions can not change,” Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said. “We condemn any such aspirations of sanctions. We consider them illegal, and in any case, the principle of reciprocity is still in place — reciprocity in such a way that we can best ensure our own interests.”

Officials said they were upset the White House announced the sanctions just two days after Biden spoke with Putin. They emphasized the need for a summit and a desire to normalize relations.

Both Biden and the Kremlin said they were warned, however, that measures were coming.

Russian citizens said the relationship between the two countries is getting worse and added, dialogue between the two leaders is needed to find the roots of the conflict.

“We need to approach this issue diplomatically, to initiate meetings between the two heads of our states,” Moscow resident Evgeniy Chirkov said. “I’ve heard that Putin and Biden will be meeting on the neutral territory. So yes, to meet and to find compromises in the relationship between our countries.”

According to experts, Putin will consider the impact of the sanctions, but the action is not likely to cause him to make a 180 degree pivot in behavior.

MORE NEWS: Russia Announces Expulsion Of 10 U.S. Diplomats



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Fox Footy weighing up trial of camera angle sweeping international sport


It’s a goal celebration, but perhaps like you’ve never seen it before.

Footy-starved fans who tune in to watch this week’s pre-season community series matches might be treated to a very different look at the game.

It can be revealed that Fox Footy is considering sending a cameraman and a “spotter” on to the field of play after goals to get closer than ever to the stars of the show.

Under a “potential trial”, the broadcaster would use a Steadicam – a large camera stabiliser mount that isolates the camera from the operator’s movement to allow for a smooth shot.

In a document seen by SEN.com.au, the AFL has informed clubs that the broadcaster could be entering the players’ space after a goal is kicked.

The league states that a “spotter (would) run out with camera operator to ensure safety” and “always keep a safe and respectable distance between players/officials.”

The AFL also points out that the “crew will wear masks at all times on the field of play.”

Steadicam has been a raging success in the NFL, English Premier League and rugby codes, while also playing a key role in how talent shows like Dancing with the Stars is brought to the screen.

It has been used in the AFL, but never inside the boundary line while a game is being played.

Carlton and St Kilda kick off the AFL’s AAMI Community Series on Thursday night at Marvel Stadium.





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Weighing in on chronic kidney disease


Previous studies have reported correlations between adiposity and chronic kidney disease, but it is not clear whether this is an independent association or if there is a causal relationship. To address this question systematically, Zhu et al. analyzed prospectively collected data from almost 300,000 participants in the UK Biobank. By taking advantage of Mendelian randomization, the authors showed that diabetes and high blood pressure, which are known kidney disease risk factors, played an even larger role than expected. However, adiposity itself was also an independent causative factor for the development of chronic kidney disease.

J. Am. Soc. Nephrol. 10.1681/ASN.2020050679 (2020).



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Ampol weighing all options as Australia’s oil refinery crisis persists


Ampol’s review of its Lytton refinery, scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of next year, comes as British oil major BP prepares to cease operations at its Kwinana plant in Perth, leaving Australia with just three refineries remaining and a greater reliance on imported transport fuels.

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“An announcement like that reinforces the challenge,” Mr Halliday said. “It’s reinforced how challenging the environment is and is likely to remain.”

Australian oil refineries – which process crude oil into petrol, diesel and jet fuel – have been under pressure even before coronavirus as the local sector has struggled to compete against the cheaper, mega-refineries of south-east Asia. Three refineries have closed their doors in the past decade.

In the hope of retaining local refining “wherever commercially possible”, the federal government has been in talks with Ampol, Geelong refinery operator Viva Energy and Altona refinery operator ExxonMobil to develop a rescue package including a 1.15¢-a-litre payment for locally made fuel. The federal budget also contained measures to buffer Australia against potential supply shocks caused by global events such as wars or pandemics, including a $200 million-plus investment in a competitive grants program to develop new onshore diesel storage and increase stocks by 40 per cent.

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor said he anticipated the production payment would be rolled out early in the new year. “We know how challenging a time it is for the refineries,” he said. “We understand the urgency.”

Months of government-imposed travel restrictions to combat coronavirus have had a heavy impact on fuel sales and oil refineries’ profit margins. Mr Halliday said jet fuel demand had collapsed by 55 per cent in the year to date, while petrol had fallen 19 per cent and diesel 11 per cent. While some borders have begun reopening, the outlook for Ampol’s fuel sales remained uncertain, particularly for aviation travel.

Shares in the ASX-listed Ampol rose more than 6 per cent on Monday to $29.75, after the company announced a $300 million off-market share buyback. The buyback comes after Ampol completed the sale of a 49 per cent stake in its freehold retail convenience sites to Charter Hall and Singapore’s GIC for a higher-than-expected price of $635 million.

The buyback, which would begin on December 7 and close on January 22, equated to about $1.20 per share on issue, Ampol told investors.

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Blues weighing up move for “much-loved” Saint


St Kilda midfielder Luke Dunstan could be on the move this trade period.

Dunstan is contracted to the Saints for another year but found opportunities hard to come by in 2020, making just one senior appearance.

Matthew Lloyd understands that Carlton is weighing up a move for Dunstan to add more physicality to their midfield group.

“My St Kilda man has also spoken about how this deal (Brad Crouch) will force out a favourite son and a much-loved player at the Saints in Luke Dunstan, who is very, very close to a lot of key players at the club,” Lloyd told AFL Trade Radio’s The Early Trade.

“The Blues are looking at Luke Dunstan as an inside midfielder to assist Patrick Cripps.

“He might be a bargain pick up for Carlton to try and help Cripps with some of the physicality through the midfield.”

Kane Cornes is surprised Adelaide hasn’t shown more interest in Dunstan given they’ve lost the likes of Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Hugh Greenwood.

Dunstan hails form South Australia and plied his trade for SANFL club Woodville West Torrens before he was drafted to the Saints.

“I was a little bit surprised that Dunstan didn’t draw more interest from Adelaide,” Cornes said.

“With the bodies they’ve lost through the midfield in recent years with (Cam) Ellis-Yolmen, (Hugh) Greenwood and now (Brad) Crouch, I would have thought they needed some help for the youngster in there.”

Dunstan has played 104 games across seven seasons for the Saints.







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Why Docker Jesse Hogan is the big fish weighing on Fremantle


Barely two years has passed since the Dockers lured their own prized marlin back to Perth on a lucrative three-year deal, after intense negotiations. Now the club has fished the 25-year-old on the market, along with burly midfielder Connor Blakely, whose contract expires at the end of 2022.

The Dockers have not publicly declared the duo up for trade but rival AFL clubs confirmed on Tuesday that Fremantle had indicated the pair were available and interested in other opportunities.

The Hogan trade is dividing Freo fans: some are unwilling to part with the huge talent, believing he owes something in return for early draft picks the club gave up for him; other supporters prefer he be traded out for a second or third-round pick and both parties move on.

The former Demon was spoken of by his peers as a generational forward capable of kicking 100 goals a season after a dominant debut year at Melbourne in 2015 but is now out of favour at Fremantle.

In 2018, he averaged 18 disposals, six marks, two tackles and 2.4 goals in his final season and was considered among the competition’s best players before a navicular injury in round 21 cruelled a first finals appearance with the Demons.

After 152 goals in 71 games for Melbourne, the Dockers relinquished picks six and 23 in the 2018 national draft to bring Hogan home, where his football suffered and he made lapses in judgement.

His two years at Fremantle have reaped statistical career lows, while rival Dockers forward Matt Taberner conversely enjoyed a stellar 2020, booting 29.13 to make his first All-Australian squad.

While his currency has dipped sharply, also challenging Hogan is his body. Just 25, the 195cm Claremont product is regularly sidelined with injury, a curse that started in 2014, when he could not debut all year for the Dees due to a lower-back injury initially assessed as a four-to six week setback.

Adding spice in 2020 is the throng of key forwards up for trade, such as Geelong-bound Jeremy Cameron (GWS), Ben Brown (Kangaroos) Joe Daniher (Essendon) and Tom McDonald (Melbourne).

There’s also a suite of AFL clubs desperate for a full-forward, including Sydney, Essendon, Gold Coast, Collingwood, Melbourne and the Kangaroos.

It is perhaps this uncanny scenario that forced Fremantle’s hand to take due diligence and gauge Hogan’s true market value against his contemporaries before his current contract ends next year.

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The premiership window is not quite open at the Dockers and they stand to lose much more than they would gain by keeping Hogan on their list.

Coach Justin Longmuir has one shot at setting the right culture at Fremantle and if he doesn’t believe Hogan is on board, as it appeared at times this season, then club and player should find a suitable trade next month to save another year of headline speculation.

After growing up on the Scarborough coastline and dreaming of an AFL career, perhaps Hogan should try salvage his on the east coast at Sydney, whose strong culture and brilliant leadership would help him thrive and survive in the rugby-mad state.

The AFL trade period runs November 4-12 and free agency period runs October 30 to November 6.

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What Rugby Australia is weighing up in broadcast talks


Industry sources familiar with the discussions previously said Nine, owners of this masthead, is offering $30 million in cash and free advertising to broadcast one Super Rugby match a week on free-to-air television as well as Wallabies Tests and the Rugby Championship. All other Super Rugby games would be broadcast live behind a paywall on subscription streaming service Stan.

Foxtel also bid for Super Rugby, Wallabies Tests and the Rugby Championship. Industry sources familiar with the talks said Foxtel had offered between $35 million-$40 million but some Foxtel sources have since indicated they offered less than $35 million.

Former Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle, who was eager to get more free-to-air coverage for the sport to grow its audience, said in January that any deal was not just about price.

“The number is obviously crucial and that’s how all sports survive in the professional era,” Castle said at the time. “The second thing is access, so how can we expose Super Rugby more readily to more people more often. Thirdly … the commercial support across the whole sport that the broadcasters are prepared to engage in.”

RA has struggled to grow the game due to a lack of exposure and poor recent performances by the Wallabies. All Super Rugby games are broadcast on Foxtel and subscription streaming service Kayo, making it difficult for the governing body to reach new fans.

Global Media and Sports boss Colin Smith said rugby union risks eroding its audiences if it cannot get more people attending matches through a new broadcast deal.

‘The only problem with more of the same [is it’s] going to continue the downward trajectory.’

Global Media and Sports boss Colin Smith

“The only problem with more of the same [is it’s] going to continue the downward trajectory,” Smith said. “Back in 2004, the average audience for Super Rugby was probably six or seven times greater than it is today. You can’t just bank your dollars because if you bank your dollars and don’t make major changes, then it could continue to erode. Rugby has to recreate itself and build a long-term position.”

Bould said one concern for the RA Board to change partners could be the ramifications of walking away from Foxtel. Foxtel’s major shareholder, News Corp Australia, owns mastheads such as The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun. Bould said sports have historically been reluctant to walk from Foxtel because it risks walking away from coverage that appears in the mastheads.

“There’s a very powerful channel to market that News Corp offers,” he said. However, he argued reach would also help RA increase its revenue in the long term.

“Having the content in front of as many people as possible is going to become even more important,” he said. “They’re going to need to maximise sponsorship dollars and they’re going to need to maximise what the fans are paying whether that be for memberships or whether they buy shirts.”

But any deal won’t just have implications for rugby union. The potential introduction of Nine’s sports streaming service Stan to live sports broadcasting could have long-term implications for future rights negotiations. Traditionally, Foxtel was the only major pay-TV operator that could offer a subscription-focused model for sport. Optus has since entered the sports broadcasting space and the inclusion of Stan would increase competition.

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“It adds more competitive tension because, all of a sudden, it’s saying that subscription doesn’t doesn’t necessarily have to be driven by the telcos or by Foxtel,” Smith said. “It’s a really material change for Stan and frankly for Nine that, all of a sudden, changes the competitive dynamics of Australian sport and frankly international sport.”

Media analyst Brian Han said any content that can differentiate Stan, subject to the amount paid for it, would increase its value. “A niche sports content such as rugby would fit that bill, not to mention the cross-promotional benefits and AB-demo exposure Stan would get, if key matches are also broadcast on Nine free-to-air,” he said.

“As for what it means for future sports rights negotiations, it’s unlikely any free-to-air network would ever consider paying for any sports rights if the digital/streaming rights are not included.”

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Posthaste: While the S&P500 keeps hitting new highs, these Canadian blue chips are weighing down the TSX index


Good morning!

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq indices have been hitting a series of record highs recently, but the TSX index continues to languish more than 1,300 points lower than its all-time high reached earlier this year just before the pandemic sent the bulls stampeding out of the market.

The domestic market index stands at just over 16,617 points this year, still shy of the 17,944 all-time record seen in February.

The main TSX index is now nearly 3 per cent shy of erasing its losses for the year, after falling 34 per cent by the late March. In contrast, the S&P 500 is now up 11 per cent for the year, after falling 27.67 per cent for the year by late March, according to data gleaned from Yahoo Finance.

While the S&P/TSX Composite Index has grown 6.33 per cent in the current quarter, it has been an uneven recovery for the most part this year, with Shopify Inc. (up 157 per cent) and Barrick Gold Corp. (+57 per cent) doing the heavy lifting and adding about 800 points to the index, according to Bank of Montreal research.

The performance of the various sectors mirrors the real-life performance of these industries: The S&P Capped Information Technology Index has expanded more than 42 per cent year-to-date, with the S&P TSX Capped Energy index at other end of the spectrum, down almost exactly more than 42 per cent. The S&P/TSX Capped Materials Index surged around 22 per cent year-to-date, with S&P/TSX Global Gold Index up nearly 38 per cent.

But there are plenty of laggards: The S&P/TSX Capped REIT Index is down 21 per cent, S&P/TSX Capped Health Care Index has fallen 32 per cent, S&P/TSX Capped Real Estate Index is 19 per cent in the red, and the S&P/TSX Capped Financial Index is 13 per cent lower.

In reality, a number of TSX blue-chips are weighing down the index. These include Bombardier Inc. (-76 per cent), Cineplex Inc. (-73 per cent), Air Canada (-66 per cent), Suncor Energy Inc. (-48 per cent), RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust (-39 per cent), Teck Resources Ltd. (-35 per cent), Gildan Activewear Inc. (-30 per cent), Blackberry Inc. (-24 per cent), Canopy Growth Corp. (-21 per cent), Manulife Financial Corp. (-21 per cent), The Bank of Nova Scotia (-20 per cent), Nutrien Ltd. (-17 per cent), Enbridge Inc. (-13 per cent), Rogers Corp. (-12 per cent), BMO research shows.

To be clear, the S&P 500’s new record also masks weaknesses in the stock performance of a number of major American household names.

“It’s well-known that the comeback has been narrowly based, led especially by just a few high-flying tech stocks. But, just as an illustration of the extent to which much of the rest of the market is lagging, consider these… household names below which are all still down by at least double-digits so far this year. Note the diversity of names,” Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO, wrote in a note this week.

Some of the biggest American brands deep in negative territory include American Airlines (down 58 per cent), Boeing (-49 per cent), General Electric (-44 per cent), Exxon Mobil Corp. (-41 per cent) and Bank of America (-29 per cent).



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George the giraffe, a bronze statue weighing 120kg stolen from outside Brisbane vet



The search for a much-loved mascot — George the giraffe — is underway after the bronze statue was stolen from outside a Brisbane veterinary clinic.

Before now, the 2.5-metre-tall bronze statue could be spotted standing proudly outside the Wilston Vet Clinic on Newmarket Road, beside his long-legged companion Henrietta.

Wilston Vet manager Donna Pearce said clinic staff felt they had lost “part of the family” when they discovered George was missing on Tuesday morning.

“All we want is him back,” Ms Pearce told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“He’s been with us for at least the past 10 years.”

Ms Pearce said with the statues chained to the the building, taking a hefty giraffe would have been no easy task.

“I think they would have actually had to plan it,” she said.

Police are investigating the theft of the statue, which was purchased from an art gallery in San Francisco.

But it is not the first time thieves have targeted the bronze statues with George’s companion, Henrietta the giraffe, swiped a few years back.

“We’ve been very unlucky,” Ms Pearce said.

“They happened to find her, which was really lucky, and we had her back again, but now it’s George’s turn.”

Henrietta went through quite the ordeal and was found cut up into pieces in a scrap yard at Murarrie.

“We put out the call for everyone to see if they could find her and luckily enough someone saw her head out of one of the rubbish bins,” Ms Pearce said.

“We found the rest of her body everywhere else at the scarp yard.”

A community volunteer donated his time to put Henrietta back together.

“She’s still here with us on Newmarket Road, but she’s missing George a lot.”



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CSL weighing production of multiple COVID-19 vaccines


“There are a number of technical issues to work through and discussions are ongoing.”

The Oxford candidate is considered a frontrunner in the global race for a vaccine, which includes more than 160 candidates. Australia has already been involved in the development of the Oxford vaccine, with CSIRO helping to complete pre-clinical testing in March.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday that production capacity would not be an issue for delivering a successful vaccine in Australia because of CSL’s manufacturing capabilities. “We’re very fortunate because we have that reserve national capacity in terms of the CSL production facilities within Victoria, particularly in Melbourne,” he said.

The $130 billion CSL is one of the largest flu vaccine producers in the world and has the only large-scale flu vaccine manufacturing facility in Australia at its Melbourne Parkville site. The company has supplied about 9 million flu vaccines this season. Mr Hunt has previously said the government believes CSL will have the capacity to produce enough vaccine locally for the entire population.

CSL has previously confirmed it was keeping the door open for discussions with a range of vaccine manufacturers on how it could be involved in production.

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AstraZeneca declined to comment on the timeline for any licensing deal and whether Australia would have to wait until other countries that have already inked agreements for the Oxford vaccine had their orders filled before local access is secured.

CSL says despite these licensing conversations, the major focus is on the production of the University of Queensland’s vaccine if it is successful.

The UQ vaccine would use a proprietary CSL adjuvant, an ingredient designed to increase the immune response of the product. Over the past few months CSL has been preparing to produce the initial runs of that vaccine if successful.

CSL will unveil its financial results for 2020 on Wednesday. News of the company’s involvement in vaccine production has rocketed it into global headlines in recent months, but analysts and investors are not focused on the vaccine when considering the company’s numbers.

“We have not included any COVID product-specific revenue in our future forecasts,” Morningstar analyst Nicolette Quinn said.

Those that watch the stock are more interested in the impact that COVID-19 shutdowns have had on collections of plasma, the liquid gold that powers CSL’s innovative treatments and key revenue.

“In the near-term, [we are looking at] how plasma collections levels in the US are trending as shortfalls will have implications for product availability and sales in fiscal 2021.”

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