Iran’s top leader strikes defiant tone amid month of turmoil

TEHRAN, Iran —
Iran’s supreme leader lashed out at Western countries as he led Friday prayers in Tehran for the first time in eight years, dismissing “American clowns” who he said pretend to support the Iranian nation but want to stick their “poisoned dagger” into its back.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his rare appearance at the weekly prayers to deliver a fiery address in which he insisted Iran would not bow to U.S. pressure after months of crushing sanctions and a series of recent crises — from the American killing of a top Iranian general to Iran’s accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Khamenei said the mass funerals for Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this month, show that the Iranian people support the Islamic Republic despite its recent trials. He said the “cowardly” hit on Soleimani had taken out the most effective commander in the battle against the Islamic State group.

In response to Soleimani’s killing, Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles targeting U.S. troops in Iraq, without causing serious injuries. Khamenei said the strike dealt a “blow to America’s image” as a superpower. In the part of his sermon delivered in Arabic, he said the “real punishment” would be in forcing the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East.

U.S. President Donald Trump later tweeted a sharp response to Khamenei: “The so-called ‘Supreme Leader’ of Iran, who has not been so Supreme lately, had some nasty things to say about the United States and Europe. Their economy is crashing, and their people are suffering. He should be very careful with his words!”

After the missile strike on Soleimani, as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard braced for an American counterattack that never came, it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian jetliner shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s international airport, killing all 176 passengers on board, mostly Iranians.

Authorities concealed their role in the tragedy for three days, initially blaming the crash on a technical problem. When it came, their admission of responsibility triggered days of street protests, which security forces dispersed with live ammunition and tear gas.

Khamenei called the shootdown of the plane a “bitter accident” that he said had saddened Iran as much as it made its enemies happy. He said Iran’s enemies had seized on the crash to question the Islamic Republic, the Revolutionary Guard and the armed forces.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said Friday that his country wants Iran to issue a formal document admitting its guilt. Ukraine, Canada and other nations whose citizens died in the crash have demanded Iran pay compensation to the victims’ families.

The German airline Lufthansa, meanwhile, said its flights would continue to avoid Iranian airspace through March 28, citing the “continued unclear security situation.”

Khamenei also lashed out at Britain, France and Germany after they triggered a dispute mechanism to try and bring Iran back into compliance with the unraveling 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran began openly breaching certain limits under the agreement last summer, more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal and began imposing sanctions. After the killing of Soleimani, Iran said it was no longer bound by the nuclear deal.

“These contemptible governments are waiting to bring the Iranian nation to its knees,” Khamenei said. “America, who is your elder, your leader and your master, was not able to bring the Iranian nation to its knees. You are too small to bring the Iranian nation to its knees.”

Khamenei has held the country’s top office since 1989 and has the final say on all major decisions. The 80-year-old leader openly wept at the funeral of Soleimani and vowed “harsh retaliation” against the United States.

Thousands of people attended the Friday prayers, occasionally interrupting his speech by chanting “God is greatest!” and “Death to America!”

Tensions between Iran and the United States have steadily escalated since Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, which had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

The U.S. has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests. Trump has openly encouraged the protesters — even tweeting in Farsi — hoping that the protests and the sanctions will bring about fundamental change in a longtime adversary.

Khamenei mocked those efforts, dismissing “these American clowns who falsely and despicably say that they are standing with the Iranian people.” He did not refer to Trump by name, but was clearly referring to him and his administration.

“You are lying,” he said. “If you do stand with the Iranian people it is because you want to stick your poisoned dagger into the back of the Iranian nation. Of course you haven’t been able to do that so far, and you won’t be able to do a damn thing.”

Khamenei was always skeptical of the nuclear agreement, arguing that the United States could not be trusted. But he allowed President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, to conclude the agreement with President Barack Obama. Since Trump’s withdrawal, he has repeatedly said there can be no negotiations with the United States.

Khamenei last delivered a Friday sermon in February 2012, when he called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and vowed to support anyone confronting it. He also warned against any U.S. strikes on Iran over its nuclear program, saying the U.S. would be damaged “10 times over.”

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Krauss reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.

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Netflix, Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Goop Lab’ is delightfully wonderful, wacky

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Prepare to be thrown for a Goop.

Netflix’s “The Goop Lab” (out Jan. 24) shows the staff of the lifestyle brand – including founder and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow – exploring a wellness topic in each of its six episodes. .It is, at times, as eccentric as the docu-series’ poster, which seemingly depicts Paltrow inside a vagina, which caused a stir on Twitter.

Episodes explore psychedelic psychotherapy, Wim Hof’s mind over matter method, female pleasure, aging, energy fields and mediumship. Speaking to Goop’s mission, Paltrow recently told USA TODAY: “We help people get closer to themselves (and) open minds to ways (they) might get closer to themselves.”

In the series, Paltrow offers nuggets from her personal life, where the mom who honestly spoke about what jerks teenagers Apple and Moses can be really shines. For example, did you know Paltrow had a “very, very emotional” experience while trying MDMA in Mexico? Or that her cleanses are not kid-approved? “My kids are gonna bum out,” she says, examining a new diet plan. “Every time I do a cleanse they’re like, ‘Oh no!’ You get all grumpy.”

She apparently started Goop because she felt her calling to be “something else, besides, you know, making out with Matt Damon onscreen, or whatever.”

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Gwyneth Paltrow stars in and serves as executive producer for "The Goop Lab."

Gwyneth Paltrow stars in and serves as executive producer for “The Goop Lab.” (Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix)

Early in each episode, onscreen text warns the content should be viewed as entertainment. 

“The following series is designed to entertain and inform – not provide medical advice,” it reads. “You should always consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health, or before you start any treatment.” (Paltrow’s brand isn’t free from controversy. In 2018, the company paid $145,000 to settle a consumer protection case brought by California state officials over unsubstantiated health claims for a trio of products.)

The show is entertaining and engaging and thought-provoking. At times, it can also be puzzling and head-scratching. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from the brand (save for the disappointingly mundane “Sex Issue” book released in 2018). 

Let’s give a woo-hoo for the woo-woo! 

Among the series’ many Goop-y moments:

Chief content officer Elise Loehnen goes pescatarian for 21 days, in an effort to lower her biological age. While trying to figure out dinner, Loehnen says salmon and brown rice may be on the menu – which sounds a little skimpy, like it could be missing a vegetable, until the camera pans to the cost of the fish: $41.99 a pound. (We wouldn’t spend a dollar more on this dinner, either!)

Loehnen acknowledges the cost of her salmon – $48.71 – is “crazy.”

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Goop's chief content officer Elise Loehnen at the goop Health Summit San Francisco on Nov. 16, 2019.

Goop’s chief content officer Elise Loehnen at the goop Health Summit San Francisco on Nov. 16, 2019. (Photo: Ian Tuttle/Getty Images for goop)

In an effort to normalize the appearance of female genitalia, closeup shots seem shocking.

“You’d have to show more than one,” sex educator Betty Dodson advises in the episode. “Because if you only showed one, that would become the one. We’d all imitate it.” Cue a sequence of eight photographs. (A woman is also shown having an orgasm in this episode.)

While I couldn’t bring myself to watch a Goop staffer have tiny cones and thread inserted into her face in a quest to achieve a more youthful appearance, I couldn’t look away from the work of John Amaral, identified as a “body worker and chiropractor.” According to his website, he can “help people amplify their energy, expand their consciousness and upgrade their performance so they can experience mind-blowing levels of clarity and freedom.”

 Amaral admits his sessions can look strange. 

What exactly is he doing? “When I’m moving my hands in the air and I’m snapping my fingers, and I’m making sounds with my hands, I am putting energy into the field around somebody’s body, and I’m changing their energy system just by the way I interact with it.”

What it looks like is very interesting, to say the least.

Loehnen began making noises as her body lifted from the table she was lying on during her treatment. “I had an exorcism,” she joked. 

After Loehnen gave her account of her session, Paltrow had some fun: “Could you like get any Goopier?” she asked. “She’s Goopier than I am!”

Contributing: Morgan Hines and Mike Snider

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Nancy Pelosi slams Facebook for ‘shameful,’ ‘irresponsible’ behavior

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Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to like Facebook very much.

The House Speaker slammed Facebook on Thursday for engaging in “shameful” and “irresponsible” behavior, ratcheting up tensions between the Democratic leadership and the social media giant.

“I think what they have said very blatantly, very clearly is that they intend to be accomplices for misleading the American people with money from God knows where,” Pelosi said.

The not so friendly remarks were made Thursday during Pelosi’s weekly press conference on Capitol Hill and came in response to a question about the power held by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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Pelosi also suggested that Facebook puts profits above all else. 

“I think they have been very abusive of the great opportunity that technology has given them,” she said. “All they want is their tax cuts and no antitrust action against them. They schmooze this administration in that regard because so far that is what they’ve received.”

Facebook declined to comment for this story. Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have made recent overtures to patch up their relationship with President Donald Trump and Washington lawmakers. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presides over Articles of Impeachment in Washington, DC, on Dec. 18, 2019.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi presides over Articles of Impeachment in Washington, DC, on Dec. 18, 2019. (Photo: SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images)

These are the latest fireworks for Facebook in the increasingly tense relationship with Washington lawmakers. 

Pelosi ripped Facebook last year after the company refused to take down a video that was doctored to make it sound like she was slurring her words.

“We have said all along, poor Facebook, they were unwittingly exploited by the Russians. I think wittingly because right now they are putting up something that they know is false. I think it’s wrong,” she said in an interview with California radio station KQED in May.

The House speaker went on to say that she “can take it” but adds that Facebook is “lying to the public.”

“I think they have proven – by not taking down something they know is false – that they were willing enablers of the Russian interference in our election,” she continued.

Another major bone of contention is Facebook’s refusal to fact check ads run by politicians.

“I think their behavior is shameful,” Pelosi said.

During an interview with “CBS This Morning” earlier this month, Zuckerberg reiterated the company’s belief they should not censor politicians.

“What I believe is that in a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their open judgments,” Zuckerberg said.

That argument has not persuaded some. “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill said Sunday that he deleted his Facebook account because it has given itself over to the dark side, putting profits before “truthfulness.”

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Australia firefighters save world’s only rare dinosaur trees

Firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from Australia’s wildfires

CANBERRA, Australia —
Specialist firefighters have saved the world’s last remaining wild stand of a prehistoric tree from wildfires that razed forests west of Sydney, officials said Thursday.

Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildlife bore down, National Parks and Wildlife Service Director David Crust said.

The firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for more than two month edged closer.

Firefighting planes strategically bombed the fire front with fire retardant to slow its progress.

“That helped just to slow the intensity of the fire as it approached the site,” Crust told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“The Wollemi Pine is a particularly important species and the fact that this is the only place in the world where they exist and they exist in such small numbers is really significant,” he added.

New South Wales state Environment Minister Matt Kean said the operation had saved the stand, although some plants had been singed.

“These pines outlived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching we realized we had to do everything we could to save them,” Kean said.

The Wollemi Pine had only been seen in its fossilized form and was thought long extinct before the stand was found in 1994.

The fire that threatened it was brought under control this week after razing more than 510,000 hectares (1.26 million acres). The fire also destroyed 90% of the 5,000-hectare (12,400-acre) Wollemi National Park, where the rare trees grow, Crust said.

The exact location of the stand remains a closely guarded secret to help authorities protect the trees.

The Wollemi’s survival is one of the few positive stories to emerge from the unprecedented wildlife crisis in southeast Australia.

The fires have claimed at least 28 lives since September, destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres), mostly in New South Wales state. The area burned is larger than the U.S. state of Indiana.

But the fire danger has been diminished by rain this week in several areas. The first green buds of regrowth have already emerged in some blacked forests following rain.

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