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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad walk inside Aleppo's historic citadel, during a media tour on December 13, 2016. Photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters.

    Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad walk inside Aleppo’s historic citadel, during a media tour on December 13, 2016. Photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON — Aleppo’s fall to Syrian government forces is shaping up as the first major test of President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to cooperate with Russia, whose military support has proven pivotal in Syria’s civil war. The death and destruction in the city is only renewing Democratic and Republican concern with Trump’s possible new path.

    Though Trump has been vague about his plans to address this next phase in the nearly six-year-old conflict, he’s suggested closer alignment between U.S. and Russian goals could be in order. His selection Tuesday of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has extensive business dealings with Russia and ties to President Vladimir Putin, fueled further speculation that Trump will pursue a rapprochement with Moscow.

    Indeed, Trump was already trying to portray Tillerson’s connections with Russia as a plus. In talking points circulated on Capitol Hill and obtained by The Associated Press, Trump’s transition team said Tillerson would “work closely” with Russia on “defeating radical Islam” but would “easily challenge Russia and other countries when necessary.”

    “President Putin knows Mr. Tillerson means what he says,” the talking points say.

    A warmer relationship could alter U.S. policy on nuclear weapons, sanctions, Ukraine and innumerable other issues — but none so clearly or quickly as Syria, where President Bashar Assad’s defeat of U.S.-backed rebels in Aleppo is poised to be a turning point. Assad and Russia are expected seize the moment to try to persuade the U.S. to abandon its flailing strategy of trying to prop up the rebels in their battle to oust Assad.

    That decision will fall to Trump.

    The president-elect has not commented or tweeted about the crisis in Aleppo and widespread fears of humanitarian disaster. Yet his previous comments on the broader conflict suggest he’s more than open to a policy shift.

    During the campaign, Trump asserted that defeating the Islamic State group in Syria, not Assad, must be the top priority, a position that mirrors Russia’s.

    “I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved,” Trump said in October, using an acronym for the extremist group.

    Prioritizing the fight against IS could put the U.S. in closer alignment with Russia’s public position, in a Middle Eastern take on the adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s a point Trump appeared to make during the second presidential debate when he noted that he didn’t like Assad, but added, “Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS.”

    And in his first days as the president-elect Trump suggested he might withdraw U.S. support for the various rebel groups that make up Assad’s opposition, telling a newspaper that “we have no idea who these people are.”

    Trump’s posture doesn’t just buck President Barack Obama’s policy, it conflicts with his party’s stance, as well.

    Both Democratic and Republican critics say Trump’s brushstroke analysis of Syria’s internal conflicts paints a far rosier picture of Russia’s aims than reality — and even endorses some of the propaganda Assad has used to delegitimize his opponents. Trump’s running mate, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, argued during the campaign that the U.S. should strike Assad’s forces if needed to prevent devastation in Aleppo. Trump took the remarkable step of contradicting him. “I disagree,” Trump said, and Pence quickly backed off the threat of military action.

    Both Democratic and Republican critics say Trump’s brushstroke analysis of Syria’s internal conflicts paints a far rosier picture of Russia’s aims than reality — and even endorses some of the propaganda Assad has used to delegitimize his opponents.

    “Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said after word emerged that Trump was picking Tillerson as his chief diplomat.

    While Moscow has attacked IS at times, the U.S. and its allies say most Russian airstrikes have targeted rebel-dominated areas where IS isn’t active. American officials accuse Assad of a soft approach toward IS, and even of colluding with the group in hopes of marginalizing U.S.-backed rebels.

    Though the U.S. under Obama has tried to work diplomatically with Russia, Syria cease-fire deals have repeatedly collapsed, with the U.S. accusing Moscow of failing to use its influence to prevent Assad from violating them. Meanwhile, Russia’s military intervention has been successful in helping Assad reclaim the upper hand, making Putin a key player in Syria’s future.

    So closely aligned are Russia and Syria that it was Russia that negotiated a cease-fire to evacuate the last civilians and opposition fighters from eastern Aleppo, rebels said. The rebels had been squeezed for months into smaller and smaller areas of Aleppo. The city’s status as Syria’s commercial hub makes its capture a key victory for Assad.

    As world leaders debate what to do next, all eyes are on Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20. Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria and a Middle East Institute scholar, said the horrifying images of suffering emanating from Syria would force Trump to outline a more detailed response.

    “While the Trump administration may want to avoid getting into the business of regime change, it’s still going to have to address what it does about grotesque violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes,” said Ford. “Just saying ‘we’re not interested in regime change’ is not a response.”

    Aligning with Russia would make it harder for the U.S. to corral the rebels’ more strident supporters into supporting peace mediation. Assad foes like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia might become more inclined to give extremists advanced weaponry despite U.S. protestations.

    Concerns that Trump may soften U.S. policy toward Russia, currently under tough U.S. sanctions over its actions in Ukraine, burgeoned during the campaign amid signs of Russian hacking of political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies now say the hacking was intended to help Trump win.

    Those concerns grew louder still Tuesday when Trump tapped Tillerson for secretary of state despite his history of arguing against sanctions on Russia, which could affect Exxon’s joint ventures with Russia’s state oil company. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship in honor of his efforts to improve U.S.-Russia ties.

    The post Fall of Aleppo poses first major test of Trump’s Russia posture appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop a damaged tank near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2UUAQ

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The years-long battle for control of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, is over. A punishing bombardment by Syrian and Russian jets and deadly ground operations brought an end to the siege of the last rebel areas of the city.

    It’s a major turning point in the brutal half-decade war.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

    MARGARET WARNER: After four years of fighting, the end is at hand in Eastern Aleppo. Word came late today of agreement on a cease-fire and evacuation from the shattered city.

    BRITA HAGI HASAN, President, East Aleppo Local Council (through translator): The agreement includes the groups of fighters and the civilians, but my heart is full of pain, full of emotion for having to ask for a complete evacuation of all civilians.

    MARGARET WARNER: In addition, Russian officials announced joint military operations with the Syrians against rebel-held Eastern Aleppo have also ended.

    Anne Barnard, who has been covering the Syrian conflict for The New York Times in Syria and from Beirut, said the cease-fire assures rebels and civilians they will be evacuated to a safe place.

    READ MORE: Fall of Aleppo poses first major test of Trump’s Russia posture

    ANNE BARNARD, The New York Times: The plan is for them to go to other rebel-held areas, which had been a demand of the civilians and rebels there because they were afraid that if they went to the government side, as tens of thousands of people have done, they would be arrested or face other reprisals.

    Inside the government-held districts of the city, life was going on more or less as normal, but there was the constant danger of shelling from the rebel side.

    MARGARET WARNER: In government-held West Aleppo, there was jubilation.

    But in the East, thousands of civilians are already fleeing, and there are reports are mass killings by government forces and their allies pouring into the city. U.N. officials say more than 80 people were executed in a single neighborhood, many of them women and children. Other reports told of dozens of children trapped in a building under attack.

    Overnight, activists in the city posted grim goodbyes on social media.

    WOMAN: We are here exposed to a genocide in the besieged city of Aleppo. This may be my last video.

    MAN: We were a free people. We wanted freedom. We didn’t want anything else but freedom.

    MARGARET WARNER: The fall of Eastern Aleppo marks a watershed in the five-year Syrian civil war. Opposition forces first took part of the city in 2012.

    They prevailed for years, until October 2015, when Russia stepped in to bolster the Syrian military with punishing air assaults. When cease-fire talks brokered by the United States collapsed last month, the onslaught intensified.

    At the U.N. today, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power put the onus on Russia and Syria.

    SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?

    MARGARET WARNER: Even the fall of Aleppo will not mean an end to the Syrian war. President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to crush the resistance to his rule throughout the entire country. Rebel forces still operating in Northern Syria are bracing for an assault by government troops.

    The chief Syrian opposition coordinator insists the loss of Aleppo will not make them give up.

    RIAD HIJAB, Chief Syrian Opposition Coordinator (through translator): If Assad and his allies think that a military advance in certain quarters of Aleppo signifies that we will make concessions on the goals of the revolution, that will not happen.

    MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, Islamic State fighters took advantage of the government’s focus on Aleppo this week to recapture the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today, a group of scholars and Middle East experts met at Rice University’s James Baker Institute of Public Policy in Houston to discuss options for the new Trump administration of a region once again transformed by the fall of Aleppo.

    Two of those experts join me now, Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute, and Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma.

    Randa, let me start with you. What does this mean now that military operations are over in Eastern Aleppo?

    RANDA SLIM, Middle East Institute: Well, it means this phase of the conflict is over, but, as the Syrian officials have themselves declared, the war is far from over.

    What also this win — and it is a win for the regime, political and military win — means is, it spells the end of the negotiation process. Until now, Assad has paid lip service to the idea of negotiations and political process to end the civil war in Syria.

    And I think now he’s going to be definitely dead set against it, because he will look at this as, you know, winning, winning this war, and that there’s no need for him to make the necessary concessions to make the political negotiation successful, including, you know, transitioning out of power, which is one of the premise of the political negotiations started in Geneva.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joshua Landis, what’s the impact of the end of this battle vs. the end of the war?

    JOSHUA LANDIS, University of Oklahoma: Well, the center of gravity for opposition now shifts to Idlib province and Idlib city.

    That city is dominated by the al-Qaida wing of the opposition and other Salafist forces. The United States and the West cannot support those Salafists and al-Qaida. It means that the rebels are going to have a very hard time getting significant amounts of support.

    And it also means on a larger scale that a new security architecture is being laid down in the Northern Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, in which pro-Iranian governments are consolidating their grip on the territory and they’re backed by Russia, to a large degree. And this has caused great grief and consternation in Saudi Arabia and amongst many of the United States’ allies, Israel, the Gulf countries, Turkey, because they see this new architecture of security and Iranian influence and Russian influence as something that’s very bad for them.

    And the United States’ course is being pulled in to try to counter that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Randa Slim, as Josh just mentioned, there are so many different actors here. Let’s take them kind of one at a time. What happens to the rebels now after this military setback?

    RANDA SLIM: I think they have — they are in for some serious evaluation of their tactics and of, you know, what they have achieved and why they have failed until now, I mean, given the odds they were facing.

    Part of them definitely will buy into this idea that, you know, extremism is the way to go. And so the win in Aleppo will fuel the narrative of groups like al-Qaida. And you will see more people maybe being attracted to this idea.

    But, also, I think there will be a group of the rebels that need to focus on shifting strategy away from holding territory, and because they cannot do that, you know, when faced with the — with the aggression from the Syrian regime and from the Russian forces, and shift that would — becoming an insurgency, and employing tactics to defeat these forces in a way that make them viable in this battle.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joshua Landis, what about ISIS and al-Qaida that almost seem forgotten in this giant proxy war? What happens? Is ISIS taking advantage of this opportunity, as Margaret Warner reported?


    We saw that, as Syrian troops went to Aleppo, ISIS took Palmyra. But ISIS’ days are numbered. The Trump administration has said that they’re going to concentrate on ISIS and they’re going to work with Russia. Now, we don’t know whether they really will work with Russia or not, but it’s clear that ISIS is going to be pounded.

    Who is going to benefit from that? It’s quite clear the Syrian regime in Syria, as the Iraqi regime in Iraq is benefiting from America’s effort to destroy those opposition forces in both countries. And there aren’t any other rebel forces that one can foresee on the horizon that will be able to take Eastern Syria that’s now occupied by ISIS.

    But the Syrian government will be there. It’s weak today, but it’s been gathering strength. And I think it’s likely that, in the next few years, you will see the Syrian government retake much of Syria. Now, this is disputed amongst experts. There are a lot of people here today at our conference who think that that’s not likely to happen, that there may be enclaves and so forth.

    But I think the Assad regime is on a roll. I think it’s got the backing of Russia and Iran and Hezbollah. And it’s hard to see who is going to stand in their way in this steady fight against the insurgents.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Randa Slim, what happens to U.S. support, considering that there is this shift in momentum militarily? What happens to the aid that we’re giving to these rebels?

    RANDA SLIM: Look, I mean, we have now a new administration that’s going to take power in January.

    And we already have heard from Mr. Trump during the campaign that the priority of his administration will be focusing on fighting ISIS, and that he’s against nation-building, against regime change.

    So, I’m going — I would expect us to move into some kind of a security dialogue with the Russians about what to do in Syria. However, the Russians have the baggage. And that’s Iranian baggage they’re going to bring with them with any kind of dialogue with Americans.

    And you have already this contradiction between an American administration that wants to engage with the Russians, but also an American administration that sees Iran as a great threat. And so the question is how you’re going to square these two contradictory, in a way, positions and attitudes as you enter into a security dialogue with the Russians.

    But when it comes to the support of our allies — and, primarily, the main ally has been the Kurds — I see the possibility, as a result of this American-Russian security dialogue, I see the possibility of the Kurds — of a deal, in a way, being struck, at the expense of the Kurds in Northern Syria.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joshua Landis, are the Kurds the ones that get squeezed out in this process, where they have to have the support of the U.S. to continue on, but, at the same time, Turkey wants nothing to do in any close independence of theirs?

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, I do believe that the Kurds are in a difficult situation. They do have some American support. How consistent that will be is unclear.

    But they have built up a strong military, and they have begun to build the institutions of an autonomous life in Northern Syria. Turkey’s enmity towards the Kurds and their desire to make sure there is no independent Kurdish state or even really autonomous enclave is going to push the Kurds into Assad’s hands over time.

    They’re going to have to strike a bargain with Assad that will keep them in the Syrian state and under some kind of Syrian authority, so that they can have the protection of international legitimacy and the Syrian army against the Turks.

    How much — how they can bargain with Assad is unclear. What kind of negotiations they can come to, unclear. We will see whether they get something like the Kurds in Iraq, which is a large measure of autonomy, or something less than that. That will be one of the big negotiations to come out of this process.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Joshua Landis, Randa Slim, thank you both.

    JOSHUA LANDIS: Pleasure.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We have more online. Before Aleppo was devastated by war, the city was a thriving hub with a proud history dating back millennia. Find images from before and after the destruction at PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post The fall of Aleppo is a turning point. What’s next for Syria’s war? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FILE PHOTO -  Chairman and chief executive officer Rex W. Tillerson speaks at a news conference following the Exxon Mobil Corporation Shareholders Meeting in Dallas, Texas, May 28, 2008.  REUTERS/Mike Stone/File Photo - RTX2UQYG

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a post first officially held by Thomas Jefferson. The secretary of state is America’s top diplomat.

    Today, President-elect Trump tapped the CEO of the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company for the job.

    So, who is Rex Tillerson, and what does the pick tell us about the Trump agenda?

    We’re joined now by John Hamre. He is the president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a thank tank in Washington, D.C., where Tillerson is a member of the board of trustees. Hamre served as deputy secretary of defense during the Clinton administration. Nicholas Burns was a career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He’s now a professor at Harvard University. And Steve Coll is the author “Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power.” He’s also a staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine and the dean of the School of Journalism at Columbia University.

    Welcome, all three of you, back to the program.

    Steve Coll, to you first. You wrote in The New Yorker this weekend that Mr. Tillerson’s life, you said, has been shaped by to institutions, the Boy Scouts and Exxon Mobil, a company you describe as ruthless and unusually aggressive.

    Is that a contradiction?

    STEVE COLL, Author, “Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power”: No.

    I think he comes from the standard oil tradition of ruthless business competition rooted in strong, strong values and a kind of adherence to the rule of law, modeled by John D. Rockefeller, the original founder of Standard Oil.

    I think the most important part of his career is that it’s all been at one place, 40 years at Exxon Mobil. Now that he’s been nominated for secretary of state, we really don’t have any record of his views about America’s place in the world. We only have a record of his views about Exxon Mobil’s place in the world, which is different, I hope.

    And so there’s a whole series of questions now in front of us. What does he think about promoting human rights? What does he think about promoting democracy? These are not — is he worried about Russia’s influence in Europe? These are not questions that he’s had to address, and that makes him a very unusual nominee for secretary.

    Typically, even nominees who have come and gone from industry have built up a record of views about these fundamental questions of foreign policy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Hamre, as we said, you know Rex Tillerson, having served on your board at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    What is your understanding of his view of the United States’ role in the world?

    JOHN HAMRE, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, I have known Rex well. I have known him for 11 years. He’s been a very active member of our board.

    He’s always engaged substantively in our discussions about foreign policy. He’s remarkably insightful. He has more experience as a CEO than most political figures in Washington. He’s able to lead conversations in front of some of the most impressive people of our history in foreign policy, people like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

    He fits squarely in the tradition of American realism, a pragmatic, centrist realism. He sees the leadership of America as shaping a better world. He actively believes strongly in American values, due process, rule of law. But he’s also very pragmatic. He wants to know what other people think. He listens carefully.

    That’s one of the most important qualities, he listens so well. So you’re going to find a very fine secretary in Rex Tillerson.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Nicholas Burns, based on what you know of Rex Tillerson, what do you know and what are your concerns?

    NICHOLAS BURNS, Harvard University: Well, he’s an impressive man, by all accounts.

    And he’s run our largest corporations. He has had significant managerial and international experience as a negotiator. That is going to stand him in good stead. He was endorsed today publicly, very strongly, by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Former Secretary of State Condi Rice. I admire both of those people. Those are serious recommendations.

    But, Judy, I think there is going to be a real challenge to his nomination, and that’s his closeness to the Russian regime and what he’s been saying about Russian policy. And I think the backdrop here to his Senate confirmation will be the extraordinary statements made by Donald Trump about Russia during the campaign.

    I don’t think we have had in 70 years a presidential candidate, and now a president-elect, so accommodating to Russia. No criticism by Donald Trump about Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. No criticism about Russia’s division of the Donbass of Ukraine. No criticism of Russia’s harassment of our NATO allies, Poland and the Baltic states. And no criticism of this barbaric Russian bombing of the civilian population of Aleppo.

    A lot of people feel we should be containing Putin, and there’s a great concern that Donald Trump and General Flynn, the new national security adviser, and perhaps Mr. Tillerson — we don’t know yet — he has a right to speak on behalf of his own views — that this administration will be too tilted to make excuses for Putin. We might have a weak policy.

    That’s where I think the senators are going to focus in January.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s hard to know what Donald Trump believes, but, Steve Coll, based on your reporting of Rex Tillerson and Exxon Mobil, what do you see as his attitude towards Russia? We know he’s grown close to Vladimir Putin. He’s received an award from him.

    STEVE COLL: Well, he’s been an effective negotiator on behalf of the shareholders of Exxon Mobil, but now he’s being asked to think about Russia it in an entirely different way.

    And I agree completely with Ambassador Burns’ critique. This is a very dangerous moment in Europe. And part of the reason is because Putin has been pushing the boundaries of Western tolerance.

    Also, Trump’s election is part of a wave of populism and the strengthening of authoritarian regimes around the world that is really going to challenge the United States and its values. I worry about Russia. I also worry about the global human rights movement.

    You know, right around the world today, there are human rights activists, democracy activists, civil society activists that have traditionally relied on the secretary of state’s voice speaking up for them when they’re under pressure. And the State Department pushes a lot of funding, including into authoritarian regimes, to support this kind of activity, human rights research and democracy organizations.

    So, where is Mr. Tillerson on these issues? I have no idea. He has spent 40 years managing Exxon Mobil’s place in the world, and it will be very important to hear him speak forthrightly, because he’s now, after the president, going to be the most important voice on behalf of American values in the world.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Hamre, you described Rex Tillerson as a centrist.

    What do you know about him that would assuage some of these concerns, first about Russia?

    JOHN HAMRE: Well, I will agree with what both Nick and Steve have said that we face a very challenging time with Russia.

    Boy, that’s why I’m so glad that Rex is there, because he knows them so well. I mean, knowing someone and agreeing with someone are two completely different things. Rex does know Russia very well. He knows President Putin very well. He knows the dynamics within Russia very well. Of course he’s going to have to lay out his thinking during his nomination hearing.

    I’m not at all worried that Rex is going to stand up for America or American values.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Nicholas Burns, I want to ask you to respond to that, but also move on to Iran, because there have been questions raised about what Rex Tillerson would do with regard to U.S. posture toward Iran, and the nuclear — the nuclear deal.

    NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, I do agree with John that Rex Tillerson’s track record is very encouraging as a centrist, as a pragmatic person, and as a real leader of a big, complex organization.

    I think those are all in good stead. My questions aren’t about him. They’re about the president-elect and his extraordinary statements. And, Judy, on Iran, Donald Trump has been saying that — this is the nuclear deal that President Obama negotiated is the worst deal in the history of the world.

    It’s going to be very difficult for a Trump administration to disengage the United States from the nuclear deal, because, if we do that, I’m convinced that Germany, France, and Britain will not walk out with us. They want to see this deal through.

    And if we walk out, then, of course, Iran would already have received sanctions relief, but Iran then could walk away on its own and go back to resuming its nuclear program. I think that’s a very bad outcome.

    And I think a smart decision — and you will have pragmatic people like General Mattis at Defense and Rex Tillerson at State to tell the president-elect that a smart decision is going to be to stay with the nuclear deal, but try to limit Iranian behavior in the Sunni world, and support those countries that are victims of Iranian aggression.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Steve Coll, quickly, is there something you can shed — that would shed light on Rex Tillerson and his posture toward Iran from your reporting?

    STEVE COLL: Well, he has been realistic in seeking stability in the Middle East. He has advocated for a world that is managed, rather than disrupted.

    He is skeptical about sanctions, though his allies have clarified in the last few days that he’s more worried about enforcing them than imposing them, but they are a very important instrument of American foreign policy that he has often advocated against.

    Now, in his public role, he may have to clarify his views about that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, quickly, again, John Hamre, and just finally, if we look to Russ Tillerson — I’m sorry — to Rex Tillerson in terms of U.S. policy towards Iran, toward Russia overall, what should Americans think? Is this a man who is going to do exactly what Donald Trump wants, or will he speak up to Donald Trump when he disagrees with him?

    JOHN HAMRE: Well, I have no doubt that Rex Tillerson will give his private counsel to the president, president-elect, in a very direct manner.

    I think he will be quite influential, frankly, with the president-elect. He’s not a man who is shy of sharing his views once he has reached them. We really don’t need to worry about Rex Tillerson. I promise you. This is a man of great character.

    And he is going to have a challenging environment in this administration. He will do well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: John Hamre, Nicholas Burns, Steve Coll, we thank you all.

    NICHOLAS BURNS: Thank you.

    The post Tillerson for State: What we know and why some are concerned about his ties to Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Montana state Senator Ryan Zinke addresses a pro-gun activist rally at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, in 2013. Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    Montana state Senator Ryan Zinke addresses a pro-gun activist rally at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, in 2013. Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump has offered Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke the job of interior secretary, though it’s unclear whether the congressman has accepted, two people with knowledge of the offer said Tuesday.

    Zinke, 55, is a retired Navy SEAL who was awarded two Bronze Stars for combat missions in Iraq. He was an early supporter of Trump and met with the president-elect Monday at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

    He just won re-election to a second term as Montana’s only House member, and Republicans had mentioned him as a possible challenger to two-term Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018.

    Trump was also said to be considering Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for the job. She wrote on Facebook Tuesday that it was an “honor” to be invited to meet with Trump.

    The people with knowledge of the offer to Zinke insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the transition process publicly.

    Zinke, who serves on House Natural Resources and Armed Services committees, describes himself as “a steadfast advocate for Montana veterans and military personnel and families.” He advocates greater use of public lands for energy production such as oil and natural gas.

    Zinke has prioritized development of oil, gas and other resources on public lands and has advocated for state control of energy development on federal lands, a stance that some environmental groups say threatens national parks. Zinke has voted against efforts to designate new national parks that would diversify the National Park System.

    Zinke attracted attention in the 2014 campaign for calling Hillary Clinton “the antichrist.”

    “Do I really believe that she is the antichrist? That answer would be ‘no,'” Zinke said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I do get a little emotional about Benghazi, and I like the rest of America want answers.”

    In September 2012, when Clinton was secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in the eastern city of Benghazi when militants stormed a U.S. diplomatic post and, hours later, fired on a CIA compound nearby. Some Republicans argue the U.S. military held back assets that could have saved lives and believe President Barack Obama and Clinton lied to the public about the nature of the attack.

    Before being elected to Congress, Zinke served in the Montana State Senate, where he chaired the Education Committee and focused on advancing technology in the classroom, rural access to education and local control over schools.

    Zinke graduated from the University of Oregon, where he played football and earned a degree in geology. He has master’s degrees in business finance and global leadership from the University of San Diego.

    Interior manages the nation’s public lands and minerals and is the steward of 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands. The department also supplies and manages water in the 17 Western states and upholds federal trust responsibilities to 566 federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

    Zinke has raised doubts about climate change as “unsettled science.” Yet he’s also said in interviews that “something’s going on” with the climate and promoted an energy strategy that includes renewable sources such as wind and solar would be prudent.

    His home state boasts the largest coal reserves in the nation, although it trails far behind neighboring Wyoming in mining productivity. Zinke was one of many Western Republicans who criticized the Obama administration’s imposition of a January moratorium on new coal sales from public lands.

    During his re-election campaign, Democrats attempted to label Zinke as a radical conservative who would sell off federal lands to private interests or transfer them to state control. Zinke adamantly denied the charge, which was based on a pledge Democrats alleged he had signed in 2012 stating that Montana’s lands were sovereign and not subject to federal control.

    Zinke has said he doesn’t remember signing the pledge.

    He has instead cast himself as a protector of the public’s right to access public lands and made a priority in Congress of trying to fix problems with the management of the nation’s forests.

    During his re-election campaign, he focused largely on national security issues and the need to more thoroughly vet refugees, arguing that terrorism was threatening the homeland and that his more than two decades as a SEAL gave him an advantage on the issue.

    The post AP Sources: Trump offers Montana’s Zinke interior secretary appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People protest against fracking and neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTSEBLP

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the day’s other news: The Environmental Protection Agency released a long-awaited report on the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on drinking water. It found the oil and gas drilling technique can contaminate underground water in some cases.

    It also said there is not evidence to estimate the severity of the risk. The report dropped an earlier finding that fracking has not caused widespread systemic harm to water supplies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich has vetoed a closely watched anti-abortion bill. He rejected a measure today that banned abortion once the first fetal heartbeat is detected. He said federal courts have already struck down similar laws elsewhere. Kasich, however, did sign a separate bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Seventeen states already have similar laws.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama today signed a sweeping law, including new spending on cancer research and drug abuse. The 21st Century Cures Act provides more than $6 billion. It also streamlines the process for approving drugs and medical devices. Mr. Obama spoke before signing the bill at a White House ceremony with lawmakers and Vice President Biden.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are bringing to reality the possibility of new breakthroughs to some of the greatest health challenges of our time. I’m confident that it will lead to better years and better lives for millions of Americans, the work that you have done. That’s what we got sent here for.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The new law also includes funding for mental health. We will explore that later in the program.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Russia, opposition political leader Alexei Navalny announced that he will run for president in 2018. The anti-corruption activist aims to challenge President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to seek a fourth term. Navalny is currently on trial for fraud in a case that he says is politically motivated. If he is convicted, he would be barred from running.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A railway strike across Southern England today caused the worst railway disruption there in 20 years. It is part of a longstanding dispute over whether train drivers or on-board guards should close train doors. The drivers went on strike today for 48 hours, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded or delayed and angry, but union officials defended their stance.

    MICK WHELAN, General Secretary, ASLEF Union: It’s a safety issue. The reality for us is that the increasing level of trains, the increasing amount of footfall in the 21st century, we don’t believe that the technology or the make do and mend on our important infrastructure lends itself to a one-man operation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The government blamed the unions for the impasse. The railway owner announced new talks for tomorrow.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Another day, another rally on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 114 points to close at a record 19911. The Nasdaq rose 51, and the S&P 500 added 14.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And the oldest person in America is another year older, but don’t tell her that. Adele Dunlap of Pittstown, New Jersey, turned 114 yesterday. She said she is 105, but her family said she always shaves about a decade off her age. Either way, people at her nursing home gave her balloons and sang happy birthday.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And I think she should have the right to say whatever age it is.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Another big seat is filled in the Trump Cabinet-to-be, and it sets up a potential confirmation fight.

    The president-elect’s transition team confirmed this morning that a top oil executive is the choice for secretary of state.

    After days of speculation, official word of the Rex Tillerson pick came before sunrise, followed by praise from the vice president-elect.

    MIKE PENCE (R), Vice President-Elect: We just could not be more grateful that someone of Rex Tillerson’s proven leadership and accomplishments has been willing to step forward to serve our nation as our next secretary of state.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tillerson, a native Texan, is currently CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil, among the world’s largest publicly traded companies. He rose through the ranks over four decades, and, as chief executive, he’s expanded Exxon Mobil’s business overseas, including its operations in Russia.

    In a 2013 interview with Charlie rose for CBS News, Tillerson made clear his company will go wherever there’s oil.

    REX TILLERSON, CEO, Exxon Mobil: My philosophy is to make money. And so if I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do. But it really is — for us, it’s about making quality investments for our shareholders.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To that end, Exxon Mobil began working closely with the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft. That, in turn, brought Tillerson into close contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Since then, he’s received the Russian Order of Friendship, and he’s said he opposes U.S. and European sanctions against Russia over its intervention in Ukraine.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today highlighted Tillerson’s experience, and said he looks forward to supporting his nomination. But the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, said he is deeply troubled by Tillerson’s vocal opposition to sanctions on Russia, and Republican Senator Marco Rubio voiced serious concerns about the planned nomination.

    There’s also word that another Texan, former Governor Rick Perry, could be tapped to be energy secretary. But the transition at Energy could be rocky. The department said today that it will not provide the names of employees who’ve worked on climate change, as the Trump transition team requested.

    There are also reports that Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke could be tapped for interior secretary.

    Meanwhile, President Obama criticized Mr. Trump’s lack of interest in receiving a daily intelligence briefing. He spoke last night on “The Daily Show.”

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible. And if you’re not getting their perspective, their detailed perspective, then you are flying blind.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back at Trump Tower today, the president-elect met with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

    BILL GATES: We had a good conversation about innovation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Others he met with, pro football greats Jim Brown and Ray Lewis and entertainer Kanye West.

    Tonight, Mr. Trump is making the latest stop on what he’s calling his thank you tour, this time in Wisconsin.

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    In classrooms across the country, students work on laptops and other devices connected to the internet, which leads to more exposure to fake news stories. Photo by Flickr user Jeff Peterson

    Media literacy is suddenly a front-burner issue for schools, thanks to the recent presidential election, a spate of reports on “fake news” and new research demonstrating just how ill-equipped young people are to critically evaluate information they encounter online and via social media.

    “We worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish.” — Stanford University researchers

    As a result, educators find themselves behind the eight ball, expected to help students negotiate everything from internet hoaxes, to partisan policy advocacy disguised as unbiased news, to a President-elect who has used Twitter to spread baseless claims originating in unfounded conspiracy theories. The stakes are high, contend the Stanford University researchers behind a widely cited recent study, “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning.

    “We worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish,” the group wrote.

    Such concerns aren’t entirely new. For years, researchers have documented students’ widespread inability to gauge the reliability and trustworthiness of online information. In 2006, for example, University of Connecticut researcher Donald Leu conducted a study in which middle schoolers unanimously fell for an internet hoax about a made-up endangered species — an octopus that lives in trees.

    Last year, Leu’s New Literacies Research Lab found that fewer than 4 percent of 7th graders could correctly identify the author of online science information, evaluate that author’s expertise and point of view, and make informed judgments about the overall reliability of the site they were reading.

    Educators and advocacy groups have responded by promoting the notion of “media literacy.” The term generally refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create information using multiple forms of communication, with the larger goal of creating informed and responsible citizens. A coalition of nonprofit organizations announced last month a campaign to lobby states to pass new legislation that would promote such instruction in schools.

    Ultimately, experts say, the best antidote to the free-for-all of online information is a culture of critical thinking. They also want to spread specific strategies for helping students spot fake news, consider the sources of online content, weigh the evidence behind claims and compare competing points of view.

    But the “decimation” of school libraries, an over-emphasis on standardized test preparation, and slow-to-evolve teacher-preparation efforts have left the K-12 sector struggling to keep pace with the communications technologies that dominate their students’ lives, said Leu.

    “We’re not even close to preparing citizens who can continually evaluate online information to make informed decisions about their lives,” he said.

    ‘Misleads and Blinds Us’

    In recent weeks, stories about “fake news” have garnered considerable national attention.

    Prior to the presidential election, for example, BuzzFeed News identified more than 100 such sites (all supporting then-candidate Donald J. Trump) being run from a single town in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

    “On every policy issue that has an impact on the daily life of ordinary citizens, there are private interests working to sway public opinion by pretending to be something they’re not.” — Sam Wineburg, Stanford professor

    Two weeks later, BuzzFeed reported that 20 top-performing election-related stories from “hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs” generated more engagement on Facebook during the critical months of the presidential campaign than the 20 best-performing election stories from such major news outlets such as the New York Times and NBC News.

    And last week, a gunman entered a Washington pizza shop aiming to “self-investigate” an unfounded internet conspiracy theory that had been shared on Twitter by the son and chief of staff of Gen. Michael Flynn, nominated by President-elect Trump to be the country’s National Security Advisor. (Trump later dropped the younger Flynn from his transition team, and Gen. Flynn has drawn fresh criticism for sharing other false information via social media.)

    Still, fake news isn’t the most pressing challenge confronting schools, said Sam Wineburg, a Stanford education professor who helped lead the university’s recent study.
    Far more worrisome, Wineburg said, is the prevalence of private groups pushing their own agendas under the guise of unbiased news.

    As part of the Stanford study, for example, the researchers presented middle schoolers with a screenshot of the homepage for the website Slate.com. Included on the page was a “native advertisement”—an ad designed to look like a news story, but labeled with the words “sponsored content.” More than 80 percent of the students in the study believed the ad was a real news story.

    High schoolers, meanwhile, were asked to compare the headlines and graphics associated with two pieces of science-related content on the website of news outlet The Atlantic. Both dealt with climate change. The first was a traditional news story, and the second was sponsored by Shell Oil Company. Nearly 70 percent of the students in the study argued that the Shell advertisement was the more reliable source of information.
    “On every policy issue that has an impact on the daily life of ordinary citizens, there are private interests working to sway public opinion by pretending to be something they’re not,” Wineburg said. “It misleads and blinds us.”

    Asking Key Questions

    For schools, media literacy is an “enduring issue” that predates social media and the internet, said Lawrence Paska, the executive director for the National Council for the Social Studies, a membership association that supports social studies education in K-12 and higher education.

    Whether reading a printed book, a newspaper article or a Facebook post, it’s important that students be able to “ask key questions, compare competing claims, assess credibility, and reflect on one’s own process of reasoning,” according to the group’s position statement.

    A first step, Paska said, is making sure that both students and teachers have an effective framework for evaluating the credibility of information they encounter. He pointed to a set of questions developed by the National Center for Media Literacy Education: Who paid for this? When was this made? Who might benefit? What is left out of this message that might be important to know? How was this shared with the public?
    NCSS also believes that students learn to become critical consumers of information by researching, planning, and making their own media messages.

    That kind of “constructivist” approach is also embraced by Claire Beach, a veteran teacher, filmmaker and media-literacy advocate who was a driving force behind a recently enacted law in Washington state requiring the office of the state superintendent of public instruction to lead an effort to devise and share with schools best practices around media literacy and digital citizenship.

    “Once you start giving students the tools to understand when they’re being manipulated, you’re blown away with the changes you see,” Beach said.

    The same principles can be applied to magazine ads, reality television shows and viral social media posts. But trying to keep up with the sheer volume of media, information, technology and platforms now available can leave even the most committed teachers exhausted, she said.

    “It’s like going from sitting down to running marathons,” Beach said.

    To help keep up, Stanford’s Wineburg and the University of Connecticut’s Leu advised that students need to learn and practice new skills that are specific to reading new digital media.

    One example: Leu suggested that when preparing reference lists that include online information, students should be expected to include a short written description of why a source was selected and how they determined it to be credible.

    Students should be taught to distinguish between “verified” and “unverified” accounts on social media, a technique that can be used to help identify legitimate sources of information. (The Stanford study found that high school students appeared to be largely unaware of such conventions.)

    The Bigger Challenge

    But the bigger challenge for schools, the researchers agreed, is keeping pace with the rapid— and often troubling —shifts in the broader news and media landscape.

    Two weeks after winning the presidential election, for example, President-elect Trump sent a message to his 16 million-plus Twitter followers. It said that he had “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”— a baseless claim, originally made on websites that promote unfounded conspiracy theories, that was quickly debunked by numerous news organizations.

    Of course, politicians and celebrities from across the political spectrum have long been guilty of spin, misinformation and outright lying.

    But the example of Trump’s tweet (and others like it) helps show how the current landscape is different, Leu and Wineburg pointed out. The internet and social media have made it far easier for powerful entities to directly and quickly spread false or misleading information far and wide. When such entities also suggest that factual accuracy of public information and statements matters less than the emotions they inspire, democracy itself can be threatened, the two researchers contend.

    The good news, the researchers said, is that the internet is also the best fact-checking tool ever invented.

    “We have a bounty of information before us,” Wineburg said. “Whether it makes us more thoughtful or more stupid is a matter of our educational response to this challenge.”

    This story was produced by Education Week, a nonprofit, independent news organization with comprehensive pre-K-12 news and analysis. Read the original post here.

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    Montana state Senator Ryan Zinke addresses a pro-gun activist rally at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, in 2013. Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    Ryan Zinke speaking at a pro-gun rally in Utah in 2013. A Montana state senator at the time, Zinke was elected to Congress in 2014. Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters

    President-elect Donald Trump has offered the position of Interior secretary to freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), a retired Navy Seal with a mixed record on conservation and energy policy. Zinke has reportedly accepted the position.

    If confirmed by the Senate, Zinke would be tasked with managing the federal government’s 500 million acres of public land. The Interior Department oversees the national park system and energy development on federal lands and offshore. The agency is also in charge of protecting archaeological sites and sacred native lands.

    Zinke, 55, has said he supports an “all of the above” energy policy that includes a mix of renewable and fossil fuel development. But he has notably split with his party on the issue of who controls public lands.

    He withdrew from the Republican nominating committee earlier this year because the GOP platform called for the transfer of public land from the federal government to the states. Critics have long argued the transfer would make the areas more vulnerable to privatization and development.

    Since joining Congress last year, Zinke, who holds Montana’s sole congressional seat, has voted multiple times to prevent such measures. He is also a proponent of fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program to conserve land and boost outdoor recreation.

    “We use our land for hunting, fishing, hiking, and to create jobs,” Zinke said in a statement last year in response to efforts to put public land in the hands of the state. “Our outdoor economy is a billion dollar economic engine for the state that creates jobs. The federal government needs to do a much better job of managing our resources, but the sale or transfer of our land is an extreme proposal, and I won’t tolerate it.”

    READ MORE: Trump picks loyal supporter with deep ties to China as U.S. ambassador

    While calling for the conservation of public lands, Zinke has also advocated for fossil fuel development, including the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, as a way to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

    The pipeline, which was backed by the oil industry and most congressional Republicans but rejected by President Obama, has become a flash point in the national debate over energy and climate policy in recent years.

    Zinke’s stance on Keystone has earned him sharp criticism from environmental groups.

    “The need to keep dirty fuels in the ground is urgent, especially on public lands,” the Sierra Club said in a statement on Tuesday in response to Zinke’s likely nomination. “We cannot afford to have someone in charge who traffics in climate denial and acts accordingly.”

    “We cannot afford to have someone in charge who traffics in climate denial and acts accordingly.”

    The National Parks Conservation Association issued a more measured response, noting Zinke’s mixed record.

    “It is critical that, if confirmed, Mr. Zinke address the needs of our national parks, with recognition of their immense benefits to our nation’s natural resources and cultural history,” Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.

    Ryan is a fifth-generation Montanan, and would follow in the tradition of past Interior secretaries, most of whom came from Western states. He graduated with a degree in geology from the University of Oregon before joining the military. Zinke spent 23 years as a Navy Seal, retiring in 2008. Zinke was elected to the Montana State Senate the same year, and served until 2011.

    In 2012, Zinke ran for lieutenant governor of Montana but his ticket lost in the Republican primaries.

    He entered Congress in 2015, defeating a Democrat and Libertarian for the open congressional seat vacated by Steve Daines, who won a seat in the Senate in the 2014 midterm elections. Zinke was also an early supporter of Donald Trump.

    Zinke’s appointment came as a surprise to some. News outlets reported last week that Trump was expected to tap Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Republican Conference, for the position.

    McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-highest ranking House Republican, posted a message on Facebook late Tuesday saying it was an honor to spend time with the president-elect.

    “I’m energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress as we think big, reimagine this government, and put people back at the center of it,” Rodgers wrote.

    The post Who is Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Defense Intelligence Agency director U.S. Army Lt. General Michael Flynn testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on "Worldwide Threats" in Washington, D.C. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    Defense Intelligence Agency director U.S. Army Lt. General Michael Flynn testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on “Worldwide Threats” in Washington, D.C. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The retired Army general chosen by Donald Trump to be national security adviser was investigated for inappropriately sharing classified information with foreign military officers while he was serving as an intelligence commander in Afghanistan.

    Army documents that were made public Wednesday by the Washington Post and obtained by The Associated Press concluded that while some intelligence was wrongly shared by Michael Flynn, it was “not done knowingly.”

    No action was taken against Flynn, who was a major general serving as the deputy chief of staff for intelligence in the Afghanistan war when the investigation was done in 2009-2010.

    The investigation, which had been classified as secret, found no evidence of misconduct or damage to national security. Instead, the commander of U.S. Central Command at the time concluded that there were efforts to “properly cleanse” the information provided to foreign officers, suggesting there was “keen attention to mission accomplishment in a coalition, combat environment.”

    The documents do not detail what information Flynn shared, or with whom. But they underscore the complexities involved when dealing with classified intelligence. And they come in the wake of a heated election campaign during which Flynn and Trump blasted Democrat Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state, saying she created a national security risk.

    The FBI concluded that Clinton passed on three email chains with information that had classified markings in the body of the emails; the State Department contended two of those chains held unclassified material. Clinton has argued that she didn’t understand that material marked with a “c” that passed through her personal communications system meant it was confidential.

    Flynn routinely lashed out at Clinton in public comments during the campaign, at one point saying she “should not have a security clearance,” because of her use of the private server. “She doesn’t take any accountability for herself, and she put our country at risk,” he said.

    Flynn has extensive experience with classified information, including his stint as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, from 2012 to 2014.

    He served as director of intelligence for the Joint Task Force in Afghanistan until July 2002, commanded the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade from June 2002 to June 2004, and was director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command from July 2004 to June 2007. He then served as director of intelligence at U.S. Central Command until July 2008.

    The Post and others had previously reported about the investigation.

    WATCH: Trump’s secretary of state choice sets up possible confirmation fight

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    Ncuti Gatwa (Adi) and Nandi Bhebhe (Harry) in "946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips" at Berkeley Rep.

    Ncuti Gatwa (Adi) and Nandi Bhebhe (Harry) in “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” at Berkeley Rep.

    Singing, prancing and chasing an errant cat is an odd way to remember an American tragedy that happened just prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. But somehow the imported play “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” manages to tell a long-secret, 72-year-old tale with verve, music, humor and some pathos.

    Originally produced by Kneehigh and Birmingham Repertory Theatre in England, the production premiered in the U.S. recently at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, before it heads to Los Angeles and New York. The play unlocks a chapter in World War II that casts an ambiguous look at war and its consequences — a chapter full of life and intrigue.

    In the spring of 1944, American troops set up camp in the west of England, along the Channel Coast, with a landscape similar to the beaches of Normandy where the invasion was imminent. Under the command of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the troops began a rehearsal for D-Day, called Exercise Tiger: boarding landing craft, loading tanks and putting out to sea. The exercise was to be as realistic as possible, with live ammunition, and coordination among the various elements.

    But one of the destroyers slated to guard the rehearsal was in for repairs, and patrolling German torpedo boats caught sight of the unprotected American fleet in the channel; they attacked. Meanwhile, the American communication system had broken down and the soldiers were unable to stop the Nazis. When it was over, 946 American servicemen had lost their lives, drowned or blown up. (Hence the 946 of the play’s title.) The U.S. hushed up the incident for 40 years, until one of the tanks was discovered on the Channel floor.

    The story came to light in the 1980s, and the town where Exercise Tiger was centered, Slapton Sands in South Devon, erected a granite memorial on the beach that says the exercise resulted “in the saving of many hundreds of lives”. It does not mention the American causalities.

    But that is only part of the story of the play. “The amazing story” mostly is the tale of the people in Slapton Sands and how they adapt to the war and to the orders to evacuate their town so Exercise Tiger can take place. In an almost English-music-hall atmosphere, the inhabitants welcome black American soldiers, who hadn’t been welcomed at home and served in segregated Army units. Using audacious and clever theatrical tricks, Birmingham Rep turns what could have been an historical drama into a poignant romp.

    And then there’s the story of the cat. Adolphus Tips, who belongs to a 12-year-old English girl and is constantly being lost, makes a plot point the show could do without. But the other characters — and the band that accompanies them — provide an ironic counterpoint to the war and to the loss of life. A young boy from Europe, whose father was killed, comes to the town, as does a French teacher whose husband died in the war. They quickly become part of the town’s sturdy fabric.

    Despite the real and the impending tragedy, the inhabitants of Slapton Sands carry on, and we watch bemused and entertained as they debate, with British humor, the need to move away from the town. Their reactions to the Americans (welcoming and bemused) and to their own officious leaders like Lord Something-Or-Other (cynical) cast a warm light on the townspeople and on the English in general.

    At a time when the Islamic State militant group is murdering innocent civilians and Syria’s military is attacking its own people, the ability to see war as more than simply death and starvation is a welcome twist.

    It’s still a tragedy, of course – 946 American lives lost is evidence of that – but the lens that authors Michael Morpurgo and Emma Rice employ to examine that tragedy takes some of the edge off the horror, and replaces it with a tale of the humanity of those most affected.

    “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” runs through Jan. 15, 2017, at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in Berkeley, California. Then it moves to the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles from Feb. 9 to March 5, and to St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York from March 16 to April 9.

    The post Column: A once-secret story of humanity in the face of war comes to life on stage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Social Security supporters attend a rally in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Social Security supporters attend a rally in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller, who writes widely on aging and retirement, is here to provide the answers you need. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil. And check out his recommended reading section with links to notable stories and reports at the end of today’s post.

    Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who is chairman of the Social Security subcommittee on the Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill to “fix” Social Security last week shortly before Congress decamped for the holidays. It was for show, as there was no way Congress would act on the measure this year, and the bill would need to be reintroduced next year in a new Congressional session.

    Still, Johnson’s move evoked the standard responses — support from conservatives and alarm from program supporters. And it certainly completes the place setting for possible changes in 2017 to all of the nation’s major safety-net programs — the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare and now Social Security. Even food stamps are on the GOP agenda.

    There is ample room for disagreement over how to reform Social Security. There should be no disagreement over adequately funding the agency to do its appointed job.

    The Social Security bill would raise the retirement age, reduce cost-of-living benefits and help out wealthier beneficiaries by reducing their tax bills. It would provide some added help to lower-income beneficiaries. But it largely would restore financial balance to the program through benefit cuts and does not propose any increase in payroll taxes or larger contributions from wealthier wage earners.

    Frankly, I doubt it will go very far. It’s more of an initial salvo to begin defining new outlines of unpalatable cutbacks that Democrats in their weakened political position could be forced to stomach. There will be much more to come on this topic.

    Meanwhile, two other reports on the performance of the Social Security Administration also were released last week by the program’s watchdog arm, the Office of Inspector General. They received less attention. One was about the serious decline in customer service at the agency’s more than 1,200 field offices; the other documented alarming backlogs in how the agency is processing applications and disputes.

    Here are the highlights or, rather, lowlights from these two reports. These are direct quotes from the two reports:

    In 2011, SSA [Social Security Administration] began reducing field offices’ operating hours. In August 2011, SSA began closing field offices nationwide 30 minutes earlier each day. In November 2012, SSA extended these early closures to 1 hour. In January 2013, SSA further reduced field office hours by closing every Wednesday at noon. However, in March 2015, SSA expanded the field office openings by 1 hour on each weekday but Wednesday. Field offices still close at noon on Wednesdays. As a result, as of the date of our review, field offices were open to the public 4 hours less per week than before SSA made these changes … The number of field office employees declined about 5 percent from 29,114 in FY 2010 to 27,667 in FY 2015.

    The annual number of visitors to all SSA field offices decreased from 45.4 million in FY 2010 to 40.7 million in FY 2015.  Even as the number of visitors to SSA field offices has declined each year since FY 2010, customer wait times have increased in all 10 SSA regions. For all regions, the average wait time increased from 19 minutes in FY 2010 to 26 minutes in FY 2015 … The number of field office visitors who waited longer than 1 hour for service increased from 2.3 million in FY 2010 to 4.5 million in FY 2015.

    SSA continues to face significant service delivery challenges due to the aging of the baby boomer population, and the expectation that many of its most experienced staff members will retire soon. While SSA estimates that retirement and disability beneficiaries will increase from 61 million in 2016 to 86.7 million in 2025, it projects that more than one-third of its workforce will retire by 2022.

    Regarding oversight of Social Security Disability Income, the Office of Inspector General’s assessment was gloomy:

    While the level of pending initial disability claims decreased, the Agency still faces challenges with pending hearings and appeals. Continued focus on decisional quality is essential to ensure the integrity of the process. SSA ended FY 2016 with almost 568,000 initial disability claims pending. SSA has had a backlog of full medical Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) since FY2002. While the CDR backlog decreased recently, it remained at more than 726,000 at the end of FY2015. SSA has increased the number of full medical CDRs completed in recent years. The Agency expects to eliminate the backlog by the end of FY 2019.

    Another part of the disability program, the hearings and appeals process, has experienced worsening timeliness and growing backlogs. For instance, the average processing time for a hearing increased 24 percent from 426 days at the end of FY2010 to 530 days in June 2016. Moreover, during the same period, the pending hearing backlog grew 59 percent, from about 700,000 cases at the end of FY2010 to more than 1.1 million cases at the end of June 2016.

    Lastly, here is the Office of Inspector General’s take on the Social Security Administration program to encourage people on disability to go back to work:

    As far as returning to work, a recent review of the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program found that few Ticket-eligible beneficiaries used their Tickets to receive vocational or employment services. In addition, an independent evaluation failed to provide strong evidence of the Ticket Program’s effect on employment and concluded that many successful Program participants might have been equally successful without SSA-financed services or with services provided by state vocational rehabilitation agencies under the payment system that predated the Ticket Program.

    Congress has regularly failed to adequately fund the Social Security Administration so it can carry out its duties and properly support the 60 million retired and disabled people who receive benefits, not to mention family members who depend on them. There are multiple reasons for this failure, including conservative Republican opposition to the program and the continuing impact of budget sequestration and spending controls.

    But this lack of action makes no sense to me. Social Security benefits now total some $900 billion a year. Better oversight of how these funds are spent would save money while better fulfilling the promises made to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

    There is ample room for disagreement over how to reform Social Security. There should be no disagreement over adequately funding the agency to do its appointed job.

    And now, I will step off my very high soapbox and get back to answering your questions.

    READ MORE: How plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act could affect Medicare

    Johanna – Calif.: I am a full-time employee turning 65. I was told by Medicare that I need to sign up. Social Security said I do not. A co-worker told me I need to sign up for Part A even though I am employed. Please help me. I do not want to be penalized. So far, Social Security appeared to be more helpful. Medicare was not helpful at all.

    Phil Moeller: Based on what you’ve told me, you do not need to sign up for Medicare, and you will not face any future penalties for not signing up when you turn 65.

    If your employer has more than 20 employees, you do not need to sign up for Medicare when you turn 65 as long as you continue to be covered by the employer’s plan. And by law, your employer must offer you group coverage if you’re an active employee.

    Further, you have the right — but not the requirement — to sign up for Part A when you turn 65. Part A charges no premiums to people who qualify for Social Security benefits and can come in handy as a secondary payer for hospital expenses not covered by your employer plan. However, if you have a high-deductible health plan, you cannot have Part A and continue contributing to this plan. Also, if you have filed for Social Security benefits, you must get Part A.

    Helen: I have purchased your book, and I want to make sure I do the right process in filing. I have turned 66, and my husband already is 70. I have not applied for anything as of yet.

    Phil Moeller: You want to file what’s called a “restricted application” for just your spousal benefit, while deferring your own retirement benefit until as late as your 70th birthday, when it will reach its maximum amount.

    Your ability to do this is guaranteed to you by a provision of the new Social Security laws that grandfathered the right to file a restricted application (for just their spousal or ex-spousal benefit) for anyone who turned 62 on or before Jan. 2 of this year and who waits until their full retirement age to file this application.

    Jerry Lutz is a retired Social Security claims representative who helps me understand how these things work. Here is his guidance about how you should file a restricted application:

    To file a restricted application, I tell people to make sure that the remarks on the application contain a statement such as: “I wish to exclude retirement benefits on my own record from the scope of this application.” If they file online, they need to enter this themselves. If they file by phone or in person, they need to review their copy of the application to make sure that the SSA rep included the remark.

    Ann – Ga.: My husband and I are 60. He gets SSDI [Social Security Disability Income], and they take $106 out per month for Medicare Part B. I am on Obamacare and pay $68 per month. In trying to save money, would it be possible to stop him paying the $106 and getting him on a cheaper plan on Obamacare?

    Phil Moeller: Disabled people on Medicare who are younger than 65 have the option of being covered instead on a state insurance exchange. You should check the available exchange policies and what they cover and compare them to his Medicare coverage. Make sure he’s not losing anything by leaving Medicare. Also, make sure he won’t be penalized later when he signs up again for Medicare. A free counselor with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program should be able to help you with this transition.

    Samuel: I just finished reading your book on Medicare. I wish I had known some of the stuff in the book earlier! I have a question. My wife turns 65 this month and will go on Part A and Part B. I am not 65 until next year. Our Modified AGI [adjusted gross income] in 2014 (we file jointly) was an all-time high due to some once-in-a-lifetime events. So the premium for my wife’s Part B will be quite high in December due to extra premiums for high-income earners. Our Modified AGI for 2015, however, was under $170,000. Will the premium for my wife’s Part B go down for January 2017 and rest of 2017? If not, when does her premium start to be based on our 2015 income tax return instead of the 2014 return?

    READ MORE: Column: Under a President Trump, Medicare reforms are a matter of when, not if

    Phil Moeller: Your 2014 MAGI would determine all of your 2016 premiums, and your 2015 MAGI would determine all of your 2017 premiums and so on. I would confirm this with Social Security, which administers this program for Medicare. If they have not yet seen your 2015 MAGI, you would qualify for repayment of any surcharges once the agency does get the numbers.

    Evelyn: I am a 77-year-old female and now have a Medicare Advantage plan. Because my plan is not being offered for 2017, I am able to change to regular Medicare with a Medigap policy and also a Part D drug plan. If I take out a Medigap policy with one company, will I later be able to change my Medigap to another company and retain my guaranteed issue rights so that the new insurer must cover me and can’t charge me higher rates because of my health? From what I read in your Medicare book, it seems as though this would not be possible.

    Phil Moeller: As you note, you do lose your guaranteed issue rights under the situation you describe. There are special circumstances under which someone can retain these rights. For example, someone on Medigap who goes back to work and gets employer health insurance can later get another Medigap policy with guaranteed issue rights. I always recommend that people also call Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE) or a free counselor with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program to get a second opinion.

    Ted: In June of 2016, I was automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A due to receiving SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance]. I declined Part B at the time, since I am covered through my wife’s employer policy. While it is a decent policy, my deductibles for my cancer treatments cost me thousands of dollars out of pocket. After doing some calculations, it seems I would come out ahead by paying Part B premiums and the annual deductible in 2017. So I think I should apply for Part B to start in January as secondary coverage on my wife’s policy. While this seems like a good approach now, I’m not sure how things will play out as far as my future treatments. I know that I can’t discontinue Part B and then pick it up again without being penalized. What I’m wondering is if I do get Part B for 2017, will I be included under the “hold harmless” clause going forward in the future?

    READ MORE: The surprising news about 2017 Medicare premiums and deductibles you may have missed

    Phil Moeller: To be held harmless for 2017, you need to begin having your Medicare premiums deducted from your Social Security payments in 2016. There is a one-month lag here, so you would have had to apply for Part B in November in order for your first premium to be deducted from your December Social Security payment. While being held harmless might help you next year, it’s not clear how long this will be of much value. As future COLAs rise, Part B premiums for all enrollees would be adjusted so that, over time, everyone would once again pay the same Part B premium (except for those who pay higher-income surcharges).

    Sherry: I have read (and re-read) your book on Social Security and just received my Medicare book last week. First of all, thank you for these books! I just got off the phone from an hour-and-20-minute wait to speak with someone at the Social Security Administration, but I did not feel the answer I received was satisfactory. I will be 64 in January. I was married 18 years, divorced for 20 years and never remarried. I want to work until I am 70, and have been given a fantastic opportunity, but it is only a part-time job. My ex-husband had a six-figure income when he retired several years ago. Is it possible for me to draw a spousal benefit on his earnings, continue to work and allow my own Social Security benefit to grow until I am 70? Social Security told me if I filed now that I would get 40.6 percent of his full retirement benefit. Social Security told me I cannot draw his until I am 66 and that if I did, I would have to file and draw my own first. Your book made so much sense, but I can’t quite dig this answer out of it.

    Phil Moeller: The Social Security Administration representative is correct. If you file for any benefit before reaching what’s called your full retirement age (66 for you), Social Security rules require the agency to consider that you are filing for all eligible benefits. You wouldn’t get both benefits but only an amount roughly equal to the greater of the two. Doing this would, unfortunately, prevent you from letting your own retirement benefit increase until age 70. If you can wait until 66, you are grandfathered in under last year’s major Social Security changes. You could file what’s called a restricted application just for your ex-spousal benefit, while letting your own retirement benefit grow until as late as age 70, when it will max out, and you can claim it.

    The post Column: Social Security needs to be reformed, not have its funding cut appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A protester holds a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a sit-in, in solidarity with the people of Aleppo and against Russia's support of the Syrian regime, in front of the Russian embassy in Amman, Jordan. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

    A protester holds a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a sit-in, in solidarity with the people of Aleppo and against Russia’s support of the Syrian regime, in front of the Russian embassy in Amman, Jordan. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

    LONDON — It’s not quite Cold War II, but the collapse of U.S. military relations with Russia could prove to be one of the most consequential aspects of President Barack Obama’s national security legacy while presenting an early test of Donald Trump’s hope for friendly ties to Moscow.

    Beyond the prospect of the two militaries accidentally brushing against each other in Europe or the Middle East, there is concern that a near-complete absence of military-to-military communication could enable a miscalculation or escalation leading to a nuclear confrontation. The United States and Russia possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Some are continuously on high alert.

    While Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, kept up frequent contact with their Russian counterpart on Syria, Iran and other issues, the Pentagon and the Kremlin went largely silent on topics like nuclear risk reduction. The Pentagon cut off most military-to-military contacts with Moscow in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its incursions into eastern Ukraine, and the Russians ended longstanding cooperation with the U.S. on nuclear security. That left the relationship at a low ebb that worries some experts.

    Former Sen. Sam Nunn, who heads a non-partisan group that advocates for measures to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict, warns that Washington and Moscow are in a “race between cooperation and catastrophe.” Cooperation, he says, is losing.

    “The dangers are growing,” he said in a telephone interview. “Distrust between the U.S. and Russia, between NATO and Russia, is in a downward spiral.”

    The slide has quickened, and the repair perhaps made more difficult, by allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and the Pentagon’s sharp criticism of the Russian military’s role in Syria. Trump has held out hope of improving relations with his future counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, whom he has praised. But it’s unclear what that portends for military ties.

    Some of Trump’s top administration picks, including Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, are seen as friendly toward Russia. But the president-elect’s choice for defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, has expressed worry about Russia’s intentions. In remarks to the Heritage Foundation in 2015, he said Russia wants to “break NATO apart.”

    Mattis may face some urgency in setting a new course for military ties with Russia, but some voices in the new administration may press for other early priorities, such as advancing the anti-Islamic State fight in Iraq.

    The man Mattis would replace, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, is wrapping up a world tour this week, but did not visit Moscow. In fact, he has not been there during his nearly two years in office. His two immediate predecessors, Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, never made it to Moscow, either. The last defense secretary to visit Moscow was Obama’s first, Robert Gates, in 2011.

    During the Gates period, the biggest sticking point in relations with Russia was Moscow’s unbending opposition to U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe, which the Russians view as provocative and a potential military threat. Since then, contention has grown in multiple directions, including Russian military moves in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and its military support for the Bashar Assad government in Syria.

    The U.S. also asserts that Moscow is violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty by developing a ground-launched cruise missile – a charge the Russians deny while making their own claims of American treaty violations. Carter has accused Russia of engaging in “nuclear saber-rattling” that he says calls into question their respect for norms against nuclear use.

    In a report released this week by Nunn’s group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the stakes are described in stark terms.

    “Russia and the West are at a dangerous crossroads,” the report says. “During the past several years, we have been in a state of escalating tension, trapped in a downward spiral of antagonism and distrust.”

    The report recommends steps to reduce the likelihood of accident or miscalculation leading to a nuclear exchange, which it says is “now higher than any period since the end of the Cold War” in 1991. Even during the darkest periods of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow pursued negotiations aimed at controlling nuclear risk. Today there are no active U.S.-Russia arms control talks and none are on the horizon.

    The report says this “national security malpractice” must change.

    The report is based on the group’s consultations with defense and security experts from the U.S., Russia and Europe, including Andrew Futter, a nuclear weapons and missile defense expert at Britain’s University of Leicester, and Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow think tank. Among the recommendations:

    • Require all Russian and NATO military aircraft to fly with their transponders turned on to make it easier to identify aircraft flying over sensitive areas like the Baltic Sea and the Nordic region.
    • Restore U.S. and NATO military-to-military communication, suspended in 2014.
    • Exclude nuclear-capable forces from military exercises.
    • Issue presidential declarations in Moscow and Washington reaffirming that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” a phrase used by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

    WATCH: In debate on Russian interference and disinformation, there’s a lot we still don’t know

    The post In collapse of US-Russian military ties, some experts see nuclear risk appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Federal Reserve decided today to raise its benchmark interest rate .25 percent, a move widely expected by investors and economists. But why?

    The answer is that interest rates have remained near zero ever since the Great Recession, when the Federal Reserve decided to slash spending and unfreeze the economy, an economy that has been steadily improving from then to now. November saw the 74th month of consecutive job growth, and the unemployment rate has hovered around 5 percent for over a year — dropping, in fact, to 4.6 percent in November (although not for entirely good reasons). The stock market has tripled from its Great Crash low, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average speeding toward 20,000 this week.

    “Economic growth has picked up since the middle of the year,” said Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, predictably enough. “We expect the economy will continue to perform well.”

    Last year, the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in over 10 years, inching up the so-called federal funds rate, the rate at which the Fed lends money to banks. Today, almost a year ago to the day of the last increase, the Fed decided to raise the federal funds rate from a range of .25 to .5 percent to a range of .5 to .75 percent.

    So what does it mean for you?

    Not much, said University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers, who will appear on our Making Sen$e broadcast story tomorrow evening.

    Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s chief financial analyst agreed, but noted that if rates continue to rise, borrowers could begin to feel it. “This single quarter-point move in interest rates will go largely unnoticed at the household level, but coupled with last year’s hike, the cumulative effect could mount quickly if the Fed quickens the pace of rate hikes in 2017,” he said in a statement.

    Right now, the Fed is only signaling three interest rate hikes in 2017, as per economist Mohamed A. El-Erian:

    At the Fed’s annual Jackson Hole conference in August, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen had announced her desire to raise interest rates — a lot, suggesting that, as the economy recovers, the Fed would like to have interest rates higher, so that in the future, the Fed could combat a possible recession by again cutting them. A federal funds rate of 3 percent would seem to be the target. That would require roughly a dozen quarter point raises.

    Economist Terry Burnham certainly thinks there are plenty of interest rate hikes to come in 2017. Others, like Jared Bernstein, see the Fed’s move as a “hedge against Trump-induced fiscal pressure that may or may not appear.” (By “fiscal pressure,” Bernstein means more government spending.)

    Our own economics correspondent Paul Solman has a somewhat different view: that with short term interest rates already rising dramatically in the bond market, presumably influenced by expectations of Trumpian stimulus and perhaps, as a result, inflation, the Fed is simply following an economic trend, instead of operating independently.

    The post Federal Reserve raises key interest rate and signals more to come in 2017 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A Yahoo logo is pictured in front of a building in Rolle, east of Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    A Yahoo logo is pictured in front of a building in Rolle, east of Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    Hackers stole user data from more than one billion Yahoo accounts, the company confirmed Wednesday.

    Yahoo said an “unauthorized third party” hacked these accounts in August 2013 and is “likely distinct” from the hack the company disclosed back in September that affected 500 million accounts. That said, Yahoo believes the two separate hacks could have perpetrated by the same actor.

    “The company has connected some of this activity to the same state-sponsored actor believed to be responsible for the data theft the company disclosed on September 22, 2016,” Yahoo spokesperson Suzanne Philion said in a statement announcing the hack.

    Yahoo said the security breach may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, possibly, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.

    The company added that it didn’t believe bank account information or payment card data were compromised in the hack. Yahoo said it was also notifying affected users to better secure their accounts by changing their passwords.

    WATCH: Hacking researchers kill a car engine on the highway to send a message to automakers

    The post Hackers stole data from 1 billion Yahoo accounts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    USA - HAWAII STATE - BIG ISLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: The Mauna Kea Observatory is a set of independent telescopes, placed on the summit of Mauna Kea volcano on the island of Hawaii. The altitude in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and isolation make the Mauna Kea absolutely one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation.(Photo by Andrea Franceschini/Corbis News via Getty Images)

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally tonight, a most unusual battle between scientists and native Hawaiians over the construction of a massive observatory.

    And it is all about a plan to build the largest telescope on Earth on a shield volcano. Astronomers say it can offer unique sights to view the cosmos, but it would be created on what is also considered sacred ground.

    Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has our report for our weekly look at the Leading Edge of science and technology.

    MILES O’BRIEN: For astronomers, it may be the ultimate focal point this side of outer space.

    The 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii is home to 13 observatories that have rewritten the textbooks.

    Astronomer Andrea Ghez is a frequent visitor, here to learn more about the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

    ANDREA GHEZ, Astronomer, UCLA: I feel like a kid in a candy shop. We have got lots to do, lots — a lot of interesting problems that we’re working on that’s been enabled with advanced technology. And further advances are just going to make that all the better.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Ghez uses the most powerful observatory here, the Keck, which has two 10-meter-wide mirrors.

    But plans to shed more light on her star quest are stuck in a black hole of resentment and anger. It turns out what’s precious to the scientists is sacred to the native Hawaiian culture.

    PUA CASE, Activist: There’s no word for how I feel about that mountain in English. There’s no word that would be deep enough to say how I feel about that mountain.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Pua Case is one of the most vocal opponents of the $1.4 billion 30-meter telescope, the TMT. It is the next big observatory on the horizon, and astronomers believe the summit of Mauna Kea is the ideal place to build it.

    PUA CASE: This mountain peaks into the realm of the Sky Father to Wakea. It’s where I go when I need to say my prayers, when I want to be heard, because I know my voice is closest to the heavens when I am there.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Their protests emerged at the groundbreaking on October 7, 2014. Opponents successfully argued the approval process was illegally circumvented, and so the Hawaiian Supreme Court revoked the building permit, forcing the project to start the long process over.

    GARY SANDERS, Project Manager, TMT: So, there’s going to be 492 glass mirrors this size.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Gary Sanders is project manager of the TMT. It is a multinational partnership involving science enterprises in the U.S., Canada, India, Japan, and China.

    GARY SANDERS: Scientists, we love what we do. We adore it. OK? We just don’t understand sometimes that those around us, while they might be pleased with it, even excited by it, may not adore it the way we do. That’s a blind spot.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Observatories started appearing on the summit of Mauna Kea about 60 years ago. There was always opposition, but it blossomed in the late 1990s, when NASA proposed four smaller telescopes be placed beside the big Keck mirrors to enhance their resolution.

    But the idea was scuttled amid local opposition. TMT managers say they tried to learn from that experience.

    GARY SANDERS: We tried as best we could to meet the concerns and actually to become part of the community, rather than mere visitors of the community.

    So, when the opposition emerged, the additional opposition emerged as we began the groundbreaking and the construction, frankly, we were surprised.

    WOMAN: You let Mount Fuji stand. Mount Fuji is sacred. Our Mauna Kea is just as sacred as Mount Fuji. Please hear us.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The TMT project took shape while native Hawaiians were rediscovering their cultural heritage.

    Peter Apo is a singer, songwriter and trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency that aims to improve the lives of Hawaiians.

    PETER APO, Office of Hawaiian Affairs: The TMT issue is largely under the umbrella of what Hawaiians refer to as nationhood. That is a strong feeling that the way Hawaii became the 50th state of the nation, beginning with annexation, was illegal.

    So, the TMT and other issues like it really spring from this unresolved and unreconciled question of self-determination.

    ANDREA GHEZ: There’s certainly an element of native rights issues, which is far bigger than astronomy. So, astronomy, I think, right now, is certainly a lightning post for these bigger issues.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Andrea Ghez is focused on one of the big issues in astronomy at the very heart of the galaxy. She and her team have proven the existence of a black hole there by tracking how stars orbit around it. But, in science, the answers often spark new questions.

    ANDREA GHEZ: Almost everything we see there is inconsistent with our models, so it’s making us scratch our heads. But I keep reminding myself that we are only seeing the brightest things, and it would be like trying to understand the financial market if you could only see the biggest transactions.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In astronomy, the solution is to build bigger and better telescopes. And a mirror 30 meters in diameter would be a hundred times more powerful than Keck’s, but it would be one of the largest moving structures ever constructed. The building will be 18-stories tall.

    PUA CASE: The construction, the destruction, and the desecration to a sacred place, to any mountain anywhere, you can never change that. You can never go back.

    We know how grateful we are to be in this circle on this Mauna today. And you lead us, great mountain, and you tell us what to do. And we align with you in the heart.

    I don’t even pay that telescope no mind, because I know it won’t be built. They know it won’t be built. Ancestors will not allow it.

    MILES O’BRIEN: So, while the TMT project pursues a new permit, it is also hedging its bets, choosing an alternate site in the Canary Islands. Astronomers say that would be a huge loss for Hawaii.

    ANDREA GHEZ: It’s a treasure to have something that’s so valuable to our knowledge that we can achieve. It can be best done here.

    PETER APO: One of the challenges that we have is that, when you use the word sacred, it means no discussion. So, they won’t come to the table to discuss anything, because there will be no compromise. The TMT will not be built. So that makes it a little bit difficult to talk about anything.

    MILES O’BRIEN: If the TMT moves on from Hawaii, Mauna Kea will still remain a powerful perch to study the cosmos for decades, but it could be the beginning of the end of an era of leading edge scientific discovery here.

    And it may be symbolic turning point in an uphill battle for a culture that feels forgotten and unappreciated.

    Miles O’Brien, the “PBS NewsHour,” on Mauna Kea.

    The post This sacred mountain is the focal point of a fight over a giant telescope appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks after meeting European Union Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos (unseen) at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels June 17, 2014. A planned EU/U.S. trade deal needs to sweep away "non-scientific barriers" that prevent U.S. farmers from selling many genetically modified crops and some chemically treated meats in Europe, Vilsack said on Tuesday.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (BELGIUM  - Tags: AGRICULTURE POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR3U9T5

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our continuing series of conversations with outgoing members of the Obama administration.

    Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is the last original member of the Obama Cabinet. He is also the former governor of Iowa. We began the conversation by looking ahead to his yet-to-be-named successor in the Trump administration.

    TOM VILSACK, Secretary of Agriculture: I would say that, from an agricultural perspective, I have a little bit of concern, because some of the folks I don’t know are particularly supportive of the renewable fuel industry and the renewable fuel standard, which is a big part of certainly Midwestern agriculture.

    And I’m hopeful that, when we see his ultimate selection for ag secretary, that we will see someone who is a strong advocate for renewable fuels, and what that means to Midwestern producers. And, for that matter, now, all over the country, we’re seeing more and more of the biofuels being produced from a variety of sources.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, renewable fuels. Any other signals that you have seen him give as it affects agriculture policy, food stamp policy, a big part of what the department does?

    TOM VILSACK: Well, on a positive side, his designee to be ambassador to China, former — or current Gov. Terry Branstad from Iowa, who I think is actually a good selection because of his relationship with President Xi in China and his longstanding relationship with the president, and the fact that Governor Branstad is a tireless advocate for agriculture.

    So, there’s sort of a good news opportunity there, I think, especially with our number one trading partner.

    Still yet to be determined about the impact on some of the poverty programs like SNAP. This is a very effective poverty-reducing program. We’re seeing reduced rolls in SNAP. So, it will be interesting.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is food stamps.

    TOM VILSACK: Food stamps, yes.

    It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is proposed. I think a lot of people don’t understand the makeup of the SNAP population, of the food stamp population, 80 percent senior citizens, people with disabilities, children, and those who are actually in the work force working.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And it’s interesting you should say that, because some congressional Republicans are talking about overhauling it. We have yet to hear, I think, from Mr. Trump himself on that.

    TOM VILSACK: Yes, I think that there’s a misunderstanding.

    The folks who are not — who are able-bodied, who are adults, who don’t have dependents, there’s a desire to make sure that they get to work and that they aren’t basically gaming the system.

    But the reality is, they have a responsibility to either be involved in work or education, or they’re limited in terms of their benefits. So, I think it’s going to be a little bit more difficult than they might assume to overhaul that program. It’s a working program.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The election, Donald Trump did much better with and among rural vote voters than did the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton.

    Why do you think that is? What was it about — that he said and his appeal that wasn’t there on her part?

    TOM VILSACK: Well, I think, actually, it goes far beyond one election cycle.

    I think the Democrats have — we really have failed to be in rural America, in the sense of having our leaders spending time talking to folks in rural America. The president has been there, but other than the president and vice president, we have had not a whole lot of conversation in rural America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Including by Hillary Clinton?

    TOM VILSACK: Well, Hillary Clinton was there during the Iowa caucuses, but I think the nature of a campaign makes it more difficult once you become the candidate.

    But there’s a messaging opportunity here throughout, not just in the election season, but before the election, the opportunity to underscore what government is doing in a positive way in partnership with rural folks. I think it’s a messaging issue.

    It’s being there physically, talking to folks, listening to people, respecting and admiring what they do, and then making sure that they understand precisely what the partnership is. I will give you an example.

    Very few people know that my department is responsible for 1.2 million home loans since I have been secretary. That’s 1.2 million families that are living in homes in rural America that would never have homeownership, but for the United States Department of Agriculture’s programs.

    We have to do more of educating people about the partnership that does exist between rural America and their government.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying it’s principally a messaging issue, that the policies are right? Because when you talk to voters in some of these areas, they’re saying they just think Washington, as it is today, just doesn’t even care who they are.

    TOM VILSACK: Five — over 5,000 water projects have been financed by my department.

    We have invested billions of dollars in economic opportunity. We have supported over 100,000 businesses, supporting nearly half-a-million jobs in rural America. The unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half. The poverty rate has come down faster than it has in 25 years.

    The food insecurity rate among children is its lowest in history. Yes, I think it is a messaging issue, Judy. I think we have not done a good job of explaining to people in rural America what is actually happening, number one.

    And, number two, we’re not expressing appreciation and acknowledging the contribution that rural America makes. Where does your food come from? Where does the water come from? Where does the energy feedstock come from? It all comes from rural areas.

    Where does your military come from? Nearly 35 to 40 percent of the military is from 15 percent of America’s population living in rural America. It makes a tremendous contribution to this country. It just isn’t recognized.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do Democrats turn that around?

    TOM VILSACK: Well, I think, first and foremost, showing up, making sure that we focus not just on elections, not just on presidential elections, but we begin the process of rebuilding the infrastructure of the party at the grassroots.

    We begin going out to all those rural counties and begin having a conversation with rural voters and making sure that we hear their concerns, hear their complaints, and also educate them about what we are doing, making sure that we focus on state legislative races, not just congressional, Senate, governor, and presidential races.

    I think it’s incredibly important that we have a greater investment in infrastructure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Two final questions.

    As you prepare to leave the Department of Agriculture, what do you think you have done that’s made the most difference?

    TOM VILSACK: Well, the rural economy is significantly better. Children in this country will be healthier in the long run because of the changes we have made in school lunch and school snack programs.

    Our natural resources, particularly our working lands, are more resilient. And more money is being invested in soil conservation and water preservation. Our forests will be in better shape if Congress does what it needs to do to fix the fire-suppression budget.

    But I think we’re leaving the department, we’re leaving rural America, we’re leaving the country, and particularly the youngsters of this country in better shape than when we found them in 2009.

    That seems to me to be the threshold question: Are things better or worse than they were in 2009?

    I think people have to remember where we were in 2009. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We had an unemployment rate in double digits. We had poverty rates soaring. We had kids who were food insecure.

    Today, we have a lot less unemployment, a lot less poverty, and a lot fewer kids who are food insecure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And in just a few words, what is the part of President Obama’s legacy that you think is most likely it to endure, given that we’re about to turn the executive branch over to someone who has very different political views?

    TOM VILSACK: Well, I think President Obama is going to be treated very, very well by history in terms of his ability to save the economy.

    And that’s certainly true in rural areas. Again, the unemployment rate is substantially reduced, the poverty rate is down, and in large part because of the investments that were made during the Recovery Act and thereafter, historic investments.

    Record amounts of investment has been made in the infrastructure in rural areas. There’s still work to be done, no question. But we’re in much better shape than we were before, number one.

    And, number two, I think, certainly, he has created an opportunity for America to understand that diversity is a blessing, diversity is a strength. It isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about. And I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to learn that this country operates best when it celebrates and surrounds itself and appreciates diversity, and doesn’t shun it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, thank you for talking with us in your final month or two of being in that position. Thank you.

    TOM VILSACK: You bet. Thank you.

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    Federal Reserve  Chair Janet Yellen holds a news conference following day two of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting in Washington, U.S., December 14, 2016.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron  - RTX2V2E6

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today’s interest rate hike by the Fed marks just the second time it has raised rates since the 2008 financial crisis and the major recession that followed.

    So, when Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen announces a move like that, even one that’s widely expected, it is still a big deal.

    Jeffrey Brown continues.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Over the last year, the Fed had signaled several times that a rate hike was imminent, only to back away as economic growth stayed sluggish.

    Today, though, the move by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors was unanimous, restarting a move upward from historically low interest rates.

    Why now, and what is the Fed seeing?

    We turn once again to Diane Swonk, an economist with her own consulting firm in Chicago.

    Diane, welcome back.

    Start there. Why now? What is the Fed seeing?

    DIANE SWONK, Diane Swonk Economics: Well, we are seeing some inflation.

    And the economy — the Fed is sort of looking at things getting stronger, and it’s an acknowledgment that the U.S. economy is stronger. It’s actually raised rates. I think they could have done it in September. There was this postponement to December. It’s more than time for the Fed to raise rates.

    And, in fact, I think Janet Yellen also signaled very clearly that this is a turning point for the Fed. They not only — not are we just seeing a forecast of rate hikes next year. I think we’re going to see much more than one.

    Now, it only takes two to get more than one. I think we will get the three that the Fed is expecting.

    JEFFREY BROWN: They’re seeing an economy that is growing, perhaps even too fast, enough that they want to raise rates. That’s after an election in which many Americans saw an economy that wasn’t growing fast enough for them.

    DIANE SWONK: It actually isn’t an acknowledgment that the economy is growing too fast.

    The monetary policy is still very, very easy. To think of this, you kind of think of it as the Fed is not taking the punch away from the party. They’re just not spiking it anymore. They’re worried about some people getting a little tipsy on the side, some real estate bubbles they’re very concerned about in the commercial real estate market.

    And although they didn’t state it explicitly, the run-up in the stock market that we have seen since the election has a lot of attributes of a bubble. And there is certainly going to be some concern about that within the circle for the Fed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and, of course, the big question is to what extent does the election of Donald Trump changes the game, right, and changes the economic outlook, and, therefore, the outlook for interest rates, with tax hikes or stimulus.

    What did Janet Yellen say about that today?

    DIANE SWONK: Well, clearly, there are some within the Fed — there are participants at the meeting that actually did put that into their forecasts. And most of them didn’t.

    And I think she was very cautious to say the cloud of uncertainty regarding policy, because the Fed is in the situation that they have got to react to actual policy, not promises of policy changes. And the spectrum of what could happen are both bad and good, depending on whether they’re protectionist policies that might raise inflation without boosting growth or whether they’re pro-stimulus, pro-growth policies that will raise inflation by actually raising growth.

    The spectrum is very vague. And we don’t have any policies yet to react to. So, I think that’s very important. The other issue that’s very clear, Chair Yellen made a real attempt to assert the Fed’s independence without provoking the new president-elect, because she was really sort of walking on eggshells in an effort to, this is what is expected, this is what we’re doing, but didn’t want to provoke President-elect Trump, because he did criticize her very much on the campaign trail.

    The people they’re talking about replacing — putting into two seats in the Federal Reserve that are currently are going to be very hostile to Chair Yellen. And she asserted that, listen, she’s not going anywhere. Her term goes until next year.

    And she even intimated that she might stick around longer and fulfill her term. We have only had one Fed chair ever that, once they were done with their term as Fed chair, stayed on as governor.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He was, indeed, very critical of her. And, as you say, she just has one year.

    So, you’re thinking there is the possibility here of some kind of coming dispute, open dispute?

    DIANE SWONK: I think there’s going to be a lot of open dispute.

    The two Fed chairs that are going to be filled are going to be filled by people who don’t like what this Federal Reserve has done, and they’re going to be critical of it, and they’re going to be, in fact, confirmed by being critical.

    Now, there may be buyer’s remorse later on if they raise rates a lot, and these are people who end up taking over the Fed, because they’re going to replace not only two Fed seats. They’re also going to have the attempt to replace the chair and replace the vice chair within about a year-and-a-half.

    So, President-elect Trump is going to have a lot of impact on the Fed at the same time that Congress is looking to have oversight to be able to make the Fed sort of acquiesce to political cycles, instead of economic cycles.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Diane Swonk, thank you very much.

    DIANE SWONK: Thank you.

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    Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute arrives on campus to speak at an event not sanctioned by the school, at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, U.S. December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Spencer Selvidge - RTSV02H

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: White nationalist groups say that Donald Trump’s electoral victory was also a win for their brand of white identity politics.

    A man named Richard Spencer has helped to shape this racist ideology. He has gained notoriety in recent weeks for statements that most find abhorrent, but that have increased his following.

    The “NewsHour”‘s P.J. Tobia has the story.

    P.J. TOBIA: Richard Spencer wants to redefine what it means to be American. He’s credited with coining the phrase “alt-right,” adding an intellectual veneer to a racist movement based on a mix of white nationalism, neo-Nazi beliefs and hard-edged populism.

    RICHARD SPENCER, National Policy Institute: This country does belong to white people, culturally, politically, socially, everything. We define what America is.

    P.J. TOBIA: Last week, he spoke at Texas A&M University.

    RICHARD SPENCER: Look at the history of multiracial nations. It’s a history of conflict. It’s a history of distrust.

    P.J. TOBIA: Tempers quickly flared inside the auditorium, while, outside, protesters denounced his message of white identity politics and confronted his supporters. The demonstrators tried to storm the meeting room, but were pushed back by police.

    During the presidential campaign, Spencer and his followers were a small, but vocal pillar of support for Donald Trump, mostly active online, targeting those critical of the Republican nominee with ugly, sometimes anti-Semitic attacks.

    Media profiles of Spencer followed, focusing on his privileged upbringing, education at elite institutions and sartorial choices. Then came this event in November celebrating Donald Trump’s election victory in downtown Washington, D.C.

    RICHARD SPENCER: America was, until this past generation, a white country.

    P.J. TOBIA: It was a forum for the National Policy Institute, a kind of white nationalist think tank Spencer runs. His keynote address ended with Nazi salutes.

    RICHARD SPENCER: Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.


    P.J. TOBIA: The Holocaust Museum, Anti-Defamation League and others denounced the speech as an anti-Semitic attack. Spencer says his racist provocations are purposeful.

    RICHARD SPENCER: The alt-right has come a long way. Donald Trump as a — you know, as a first step toward identity politics has a come a long way. It was a time to be a little outlandish, and so that’s why I did that applause line, which was a bit naughty.

    P.J. TOBIA: A bit naughty? I mean, we’re talking about — people are “sieg heiling.” We’re talking about an ideology that hundreds of thousands of Americans died to extinguish. And it’s a bit of fun?


    Whenever anyone says that I care about my people, I care about my identity, I want to expand and deepen my identity, the first thing you always hear — and it’s become a joke — is, ah, Adolf Hitler, ah, the Ku Klux Klan, ah, the Southern Confederacy.

    It’s these boogeymen that are thrown at any legitimate and genuine movement for identity. And I think at some level people want to throw them back in the face of their attackers.

    P.J. TOBIA: When a journalist writes something that your guys don’t like, you know, it’s a picture of her superimposed in an oven. I mean, you could see the concern there.

    RICHARD SPENCER: It’s pixels and words.

    P.J. TOBIA: And a swastika is just an image. But it’s not just an image, man. I think you know that. I’m positive that you know that. I think you’re just trolling.


    RICHARD SPENCER: I’m not a very good troll. No, look, I — there is a line to be crossed, and to a point where I won’t defend anyone, and that is any kind of imminent, real, physical threat of violence.

    P.J. TOBIA: Despite Spencer’s privileged upbringing and lifestyle, his are a politics of victimhood.

    RICHARD SPENCER: If you were born in 1978, like I was, or 1988 or to ’98, you have experienced being a minority. You have experienced, let’s say, undergraduate life, where you have gone through some white guilt indoctrination.

    You have experienced trying to get a job at a major corporation, where you know that their hiring is geared almost totally towards not hiring you.

    P.J. TOBIA: Those who know white nationalism best say that Spencer’s message, newly packaged for millennials in sharp suits and clever memes, are in fact a very old product.

    FRANK MEEINK, Author, “Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead”: At the heart and at the core of the alt-right, no matter what they say, it’s all about race.

    P.J. TOBIA: Frank Meeink is former neo-Nazi from South Philly. As a youth, he hosted a cable access show called “The Reich.” By age 18, he was doing hard time for kidnapping and torture, but left the movement shortly after getting out of prison.

    FRANK MEEINK: Every bit of it is about race. It all comes from that. And if you look deeper, it comes from fear, fear that the white race is losing this country, fear that — the Mexicans coming in. It’s all about fear. They’re losing something.

    P.J. TOBIA: He says this sense of loss has always been a part of the radical right.

    FRANK MEEINK: I always hear the same arguments: Well, they have BET. Why can’t we have white entertainment television?

    Well, all of television is white entertainment television. So it’s like this — they’re getting something that I’m not, and everything’s being taken away from me.

    P.J. TOBIA: Meeink now coaches youth hockey to steer kids in the right direction. He says, if Spencer does have influence in a Trump administration, he’d use it to roll back affirmative action and diversity programs. And Meeink doesn’t believe that Spencer’s Nazi arm salutes are merely ironic.

    FRANK MEEINK: It’s not a joke when there’s people whose family members were killed in the Holocaust because of people doing that arm salute, because of people mindlessly just following their hatred and their bigotry and knowing that it doesn’t piss off liberals. What it does is, it scares human beings who care about humanity.

    P.J. TOBIA: And despite all his high-minded talk of theory and history, sometimes, when challenged, Richard Spencer resorts to basic insults.

    RICHARD SPENCER: She’s dancing. Perhaps she will lose some weight.

    P.J. TOBIA: Spencer’s dream is an all-white nation. In the near term, he wants to set up an office for his National Policy Institute, currently run from his home. The institute was established in 2005 with funds from William Regnery II and others.

    They hold press conferences, publish studies, a journal and white nationalist blog posts. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the institute and others like it academic racist organizations.

    RICHARD SPENCER: Now we have a place at the table. So, that is a major achievement. A lot of that has to do with Trump, obviously.

    And what I want to do is to start to influence culture more directly, start to influence policy more directly, start to influence society more directly. That’s going to involve professionalization. That is building real institutions here in the real world.

    P.J. TOBIA: The Trump campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story. Nonetheless, Spencer thinks America is ready for his message.

    RICHARD SPENCER: The alt-right has gone from a movement that wasn’t connected to the mainstream to a movement that’s now really connected to the mainstream.

    P.J. TOBIA: Richard Spencer has energized a tiny group of passionate followers.

    MAN: It’s about reawakening people of America, and get white people to stand up for their roots and to quit being put down by things like Black Lives Matter.

    P.J. TOBIA: With the election of Donald Trump, racist groups of all stripes are hoping their message will be more widely accepted, but the protests that greeted Spencer and his followers at Texas A&M are proof that mainstream may be a bridge too far for white nationalism.

    For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m P.J. Tobia in College Station, Texas.

    The post How a white nationalist leader wants to go mainstream with his racist movement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The recent reports that the U.S. intelligence community believes Russia sought to help Donald Trump win the election through the hacking of Democratic political organizations has rocked the country.

    As we just heard, President-elect Trump dismisses the idea that Russia was responsible or that it wanted him to win the White House.

    Today’s New York Times featured an extensive timeline of the hacking, and what it may have wrought.

    I’m joined now by one of the reporters who wrote the story, Eric Lipton, and by Dmitri Alperovitch. He is the co-founder of CrowdStrike, the cyber-intelligence firm that investigated the hacking of the DNC.

    Eric Lipton, I want to start with you.

    Your reporting shows a really large gap between when the FBI reached out to the DNC and when President Obama or the U.S. government attributed that these hacks were by the Russians. What caused this?

    ERIC LIPTON, The New York Times: That’s right.

    I mean, it was September of 2015 that the FBI first reached out to the DNC to alert an I.T. contractor who worked there that there appeared to be someone operating within their system, and that operator was perhaps linked to Russian hackers.

    And it wasn’t until October of 2016, so more than a year later, that the administration and the intelligence agencies formally issued a statement attributing that cyber-attack to the Russian actors. And so that’s quite a long time. And it was — many, many months passed between when the FBI first essentially called the DNC and the time in which the DNC in fact confirmed that the hackers were present. That didn’t take place until late April.

    So there was quite a delay. And that delay occurred at a time when the presidential election was playing out. And then the hacked e-mails then became public and had an influence on that process.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dmitri Alperovitch, within days of your company getting the contract with the DNC, you figured out who was behind this. How did you do it?

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, CrowdStrike: Well, the DNC Called us in, in May of 2016, in May of this year.

    They wanted us to check out these anomalous activities that they were starting to see on the network. And we deployed our technology called Falcon on every machine within the company, within the corporation. And basically it allowed to us essentially see everything that was happening on every server and laptop and desktop at the Democratic National Committee.

    And what we found is that there were two actors independently operating within that network. And the tradecraft that they were using, the tools that they were using and other digital forensics, sort of digital fingerprints, if you will, indicators that we picked up, matched to the indicators that we had previously associated with these two groups.

    They are called Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, and that we affiliated with Russian intelligence agencies.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Eric, as Dmitri’s software pointed out, this wasn’t the first time that Russians had done this. It just seems to be an escalation.

    ERIC LIPTON: That’s right.

    Certainly, during the Obama and McCain race, there was hacking that occurred there. And there has been quite a number of federal agencies that have been attacked and infiltrated by some of the same players that went into the DNC.

    So, and, in fact, the director of national intelligence gave a warning in 2015, saying there was already evidence that there was — folks were targeting the presidential candidates for this year’s elections. So there was lot of reasons to be on the guard for a possible cyber-attack.

    And so you have to wonder why — that said, the Russians, if in fact it was the Russians — and everything suggests that it was — are quite, you know, quite skilled at infiltrating systems. But you do sort of wonder why there wasn’t a higher state of alert at the DNC to detect and stop an incursion.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dmitri, is the standard operating procedure for the FBI and how they warn companies? It seemed, in Eric’s report, at the beginning, they were dealing with a low-level I.T. guy who was a subcontractor, and that person didn’t even believe that it was actually an FBI call.

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: Well, I think you have to appreciate that the FBI does literally hundreds of notifications like this on a weekly basis.

    There’s a lot of intrusions that are happening in our country from a variety of different nation-state adversaries that the FBI picks up in the course of their investigations. So most of the time, they just don’t have the resources to do more than try to call and notify a corporation.

    I think in this case, however, given the high-profile target, given that this was an election season, I think more should have been done. Given the proximity of the DNC to the FBI headquarters, just about a mile away, someone could have gone to the DNC and notified them in person.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, Eric, one of the stories — you had a separate piece about this, but one of the things that got buried in this while we were all focused on the DNC hack and perhaps the Podesta e-mails were how some of this information actually made it down into very key House races, the hack into the DCCC, the congressional campaign committee.

    ERIC LIPTON: That’s right.

    So, at the same time as the hackers got into the DNC, they share a building and actually have a connection between the computer system of the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And so they were able to take tens of thousands of pages of documents from the DCCC, which oversees the House races by Democrats.

    They took these documents and then they distributed them to bloggers and reporters in individual states at key moments, like right before specific debates, before primaries, to try to damage the standing of the Democratic candidates.

    And all the documents that went out were related to, you know, opposition research other collections of documents from the Democrats. Those document dumps, you know, had real consequences on some Democrats.

    So, while the Trump folks suggest that this had no impact on the election, I think, if you look at some of the House races, in particular in Florida, there was a particular House race where the party wanted one woman who was running, Annette Taddeo, to be their candidate, and she lost after the document dump embarrassed her, and it became a subject of debates and news coverage.

    And that was — that was consequential. And it didn’t get much attention from the media, because we were so focused on other things.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dmitri, we just have a few seconds.

    Are there enough measures in place in preventing this from happening again?

    DMITRI ALPEROVITCH: I think every organization needs to assume that they are compromised.

    We see so much of these intrusions from nation-states and criminal groups that it’s a daily occurrence for organizations, companies, and nonprofits and government agencies alike. So everyone needs to be focused on doing compromise assessments to make sure that their networks are truly clean.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Dmitri Alperovitch from CrowdStrike, Eric Lipton from The New York Times, thank you both.

    ERIC LIPTON: Thank you.


    The post Reconstructing the Russian hacks leading up to the election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President-elect Trump has now named nearly all of his picks to serve in his Cabinet, but some are not without their controversies.

    Here to discuss some of those choices, and more, is Sean Spicer. He’s the chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee. He’s also an adviser to Mr. Trump.

    Sean Spicer, welcome back to the program.

    Let me start by…

    SEAN SPICER, Chief Strategist, Republican National Committee: Thanks, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

    Let me start by asking about the announcement today about Governor Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, as the secretary of energy. This is someone who we know has had close ties to the oil industry, is not considered an expert in nuclear energy, which is a major focus of that statement, and who during a primary debate forgot the name of the Energy Department when he was asked about federal departments he said he had wanted to eliminate.

    Why Rick Perry?

    SEAN SPICER: Well, you look at his record in Texas.

    He’s the largest — longest-serving governor in Texas, created almost 2.2 million jobs, largely from finding resources in Texas that he could harness to make sure that people got employed. You look at the number of jobs, and not just that, but the number of the wages that went up.

    I think when Donald Trump looks at the energy sector, he sees that as a place to really create wealth for this country and for individuals, to put Americans back to work with good-paying jobs that have benefits.

    So, he looks to Governor Perry as someone with a proven track record of getting that done and as someone who was elected multiple times as Texas governor, showed a tremendous amount of support from the people of Texas.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does the president-elect still believe, as he said on the campaign trail, that the science behind climate change is still not settled, in other words, something that most climate scientists say is absolutely correct?

    SEAN SPICER: Well, I think you just said it yourself, most. And I think that’s where his head is at.

    He understands that there’s elements of man, mankind that affect climate, but the exact impact of it and what has to be done to change that is something there is some dispute about within the community, not just science, but within the industry.

    I think, look, the bottom line is this. He believes in clean air, clean water. He understands the need to preserve areas of this country to make sure that we maintain the splendor and the environment, but he wants to do so in a way that ensures that we don’t hamper economic growth and job creation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about another one of president-elect’s choices, and that’s Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. We have heard, yes, a number of Republican senators are on board, but several say they have concerns. Marco Rubio says his concerns are serious.

    John McCain said — quote — he has concerns about what kind of business we do “with a butcher, a murderer, and a thug,” which is how he describes Vladimir Putin.

    How do you respond to this?

    SEAN SPICER: Well, with all due respect, Judy, that’s two. That’s not several.

    And I think that we’re going to continue to work with them, and not just Republicans, but Democrats. Look, I have spent some time talking to Rex Tillerson. He’s an amazing human being. He’s an American success story, not just in his business life. He’s a rags-to-riches success story.

    He stated working at 8, lived in a one-bedroom house until the time he went to college and grew to become the CEO of one of the world’s largest companies. He truly is the embodiment of the American dream.

    On a personal level, he is just an amazing person. And I think when you look at his track record it in business, a world-class businessman that has relationships with over 200 countries spanning four decades, he’s tough by all accounts. He gets the job done and largely is unbelievably successful.

    That’s what we need, to bring his business experience and acumen and understanding of the geopolitical world that we are in today to fight for America and put America’s interests first.

    There’s no question, I think, as more and more people get to know Rex Tillerson, they’re going to be really proud of the choice that Donald Trump made as our next secretary of state.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, another Russia story that certainly we’re all following this week, that is the report out of the intelligence community, in particular by the CIA, that the Russian — that Russian officials were behind the attempt, the cyber-attack against the Democratic National Committee and other prominent Democrats, and that in fact it appears it was done in order to tilt the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

    How do you — we now have several senators, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, saying there needs to be a serious and thorough investigation. Is the president-elect prepared to cooperate with this investigation wherever it leads?

    SEAN SPICER: Well, it’s not a question of cooperate.

    If they want to have a hearing — or excuse me — hearing or investigation, they should.

    But I think that like, with all — I would like to sort of de-pack that for a second. You know, there’s evidence that suggests that Russian entities were behind probing different sites and databases. There is zero evidence that they had any impact on the outcome of this election.

    Donald Trump won with 306 electoral votes, 2,300 counties and 62 million Americans voted for him. So there’s a big difference between Russia or other entities trying to hack a system or probe a system, as is the case in a lot of — but there was zero evidence that they had any impact on the outcome.

    In fact, prior to the election, it was the U.S. government, the Department of Homeland Security in particular, that was reassuring Americans that because our voting system is so disparate, and we use different voting machines in so many different precincts, that there is no way that anyone could have an impact on the election.

    So, I really find it somewhat reprehensible that so many entities on the left, and, frankly, some in the media are now trying to undermine the legitimacy of this election. The fact is, prior to the election, it was made very clear, by all of them, that our electoral system and our voting systems were ironclad and that they couldn’t be hacked or interrupted, particularly because of how we vote as a country in terms of various precincts and counties throughout the country that use different systems that are never actually attached to it.

    So, to now turn back and attempt to delegitimize this election is frankly sad and pathetic.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, with all due respect — and I do want to ask you another question in addition — it is not just the media that is reporting what the CIA…

    SEAN SPICER: No, it’s the left.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the media and, again, Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell, who are saying there needs to be an investigation.

    But, Sean Spicer, I want to ask you one another thing. A man you know very well, Reince Priebus, who has been the chairman of the Republican Party, now named to be the chief of staff under President-elect Trump, said in an interview today that he thinks there are going to be fewer press briefings.

    In other words…


    SEAN SPICER: No, that’s not what he said.

    Actually, no, no, no. With all due respect, Judy, not to keep using the phrase over and over again, but he didn’t say that.

    He was asked by a radio talk show host if all of the traditions and business as usual were going to be kept, and he threw out a bunch of suggestions and said, we need to rethink everything. And he threw out a bunch of different ideas and said, you know, we should rethink some of these. Do we need to do everything every day? Does it need to be on camera, some of the stuff that, frankly, your own colleagues and different academic institutions have questioned as well.

    So, please, don’t turn that on us. We only cited several things that would be under consideration. And, frankly, a lot of them, the press has even been very supportive of.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Then final question. When will Mr. Trump hold a full news conference, so that reporters who cover him can ask questions?

    SEAN SPICER: Well, he’s made himself available multiple times to the media.

    He sat down with The New York Times, 30 or 40 reporters, for an hour-and-a-half the other day. He’s been down in front of the pool cameras several times this week.

    But I think you should expect full press conference probably right after the holidays.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sean Spicer, adviser to President-elect Trump, thank you very much.

    SEAN SPICER: Thank you very much, Judy.

    The post RNC strategist Spicer: ‘Zero evidence’ Russian hacks had any impact on the election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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