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

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    Former Illinois Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) stops to speak to the media after a meeting at Trump Tower with President-elect Donald Trump in New York. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Former Illinois Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) stops to speak to the media after a meeting at Trump Tower with President-elect Donald Trump in New York. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Former Sen. Dan Coats, in line to be national intelligence director, has swung back and forth between government service and lobbying, the type of Washington career that President-elect Donald Trump has mocked.

    The Indiana Republican, 73, has made four spins through the capital’s revolving door and become wealthy. Since the early 1980s, Coats either has served in government or earned money as a lobbyist and board director. His most recently available Senate financial disclosure, from 2014, shows he had a net worth of more than $12 million.

    In and out of government, Coats dealt with intelligence, which he would oversee for the Trump administration if confirmed by the Senate. Announcing his selection on Saturday, Trump cited Coats’ “deep subject matter expertise and sound judgment” and government service but did not mention his lobbying.

    READ NEXT: Trump names former Sen. Dan Coats intelligence chief

    When Coats first left the Senate in 1999, he abided by the legally required yearlong cooling off period before joining a firm that lobbied his former colleagues on behalf of foreign clients.

    He resumed government service in 2001 as ambassador to Germany under President George W. Bush. In 2005, Coats returned to the United States — and to the influence industry, as a lobbyist on behalf of some of the country’s biggest companies, including defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. Five years later, he successfully ran for his old Senate seat.

    “This is exactly how people outside of Washington think Washington works,” said Meredith McGehee, a chief at the government watchdog group Issue One. “It’s the internecine nature of policymakers getting rich off the people they once regulated. And then to come back into the government — it can be a tough task for any person to basically now bite the hand that fed you.”

    Trump aides stressed that Trump’s lobbying policies are foward-looking. Spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was hiring the most qualified people for his administration.

    Coats “recognizes the opportunity to serve outweighs any possibility of personal gain,” Spicer said.

    If confirmed, Coats would head an agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks to improve coordination among U.S. spy and law enforcement agencies.

    Coats isn’t the only one in Trump’s still-forming administration to work on both sides of the government power structure.

    Robert Lighthizer, picked to be U.S. trade representative, spent years as a registered lobbyist, representing steel companies, among others, as recently as 2012. He joined the law firm Skadden in 1998, after having been at the trade office for two years during the Reagan administration.

    Rick Perry, Trump’s choice as energy secretary, registered in Texas as a lobbyist for the country’s largest private dental insurance company a little over a year after leaving office as the state’s longtime governor.

    When Trump talked on the campaign trail about “draining the swamp” of Washington — a catchphrase that remains popular at his rallies — he specifically denounced the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street, the hub of lobbying that attracts many ex-lawmakers.

    “They’re making a fortune,” Trump said at an Oct. 20 campaign rally in Delaware, Ohio. “Not going to happen. That’s why they make all these sweetheart deals.”

    Coats, for example, earned more than $600,000 in his final year at the Washington law and government relations firm King & Spaulding, where he worked until his second Senate run.

    Trump has banned all top administration and transition officials from registering as lobbyists for five years after serving under him. In his “drain the swamp” agenda, released a few weeks before Election Day, he called on Congress to restrict itself in the same way.

    Trump’s “swamp” prohibitions would have cost Coats two rounds of lobbying jobs.

    Coats’ lobbying became a theme of his second Senate bid campaign. By then his history included some 40 clients and a circa-2000 stint with Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, a firm that did foreign agent work for authoritarian governments in Yemen, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

    Coats said he personally did no foreign agent work for those countries while he was at Verner. He said his involvement on behalf of foreign governments was limited to India.

    He defended his overall lobbying work in a 2010 interview with the Indianapolis Star: “CEOs or big companies love to come in, and they don’t want to sit down with a 26-year-old staffer. They want to sit down with George Mitchell or Dan Coats or Connie Mack,” Coats said, citing two other former senators. “The firm wants them to know these people are with us and they want our judgment.”

    Coats, while with King & Spalding in 2008, worked for Sprint during the Bush administration’s effort to revamp the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

    Backed by Bush, Sprint and other major telecom companies mounted an aggressive campaign to grant them immunity for partnering with the National Security Agency in sweeping surveillance on Americans without warrants from the FISA court. Civil rights groups had threatened to sue the firms over their work with the government.

    King & Spalding’s disclosures show that Coats talked with Congress members and federal officials about the measure, which the firm said “would affect providers of communications services in connection with electronic surveillance.”

    The disclosure also said Coats’ and the others’ lobbying also dealt with national security bills in the Senate and House aimed at revamping provisions of the surveillance law.

    While the disclosures say little about the aim of the lobbying effort, the phone companies worked with the Bush administration at the time to erect legal backing for their secret dealings with the NSA.

    When Coats returned to lawmaking in 2011, joining the Senate Intelligence Committee, he was a dependable conservative voice in support of the NSA — and the communications industry.

    The post Trump’s pick for intelligence chief spent years lobbying appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    hack

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  One day after top U.S. intelligence officials showed him the classified evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hacking campaign to influence the election in his favor, President-elect Trump said Russia could become an ally during his administration.  In a series of tweets this morning, Mr. Trump said in part, quote, “When I am president, Russia will respect us far more than they do now,  and both countries will perhaps work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the world.”

    The agencies also released a declassified version of their key findings for public consumption.

    For more on the intelligence report and what it means going forward, I’m joined from Washington by “Wall Street Journal” reporter, Shane Harris.

    Shane, so, what happens now?  We’ve had the classified version in both party’s hands so to speak, both administrations — the incoming one and the existing one.  What happens for Congress?

    SHANE HARRIS, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Well, the most immediate next step will be that on Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to hold a hearing about this report that’s been released publicly, and, of course, some of its members have already seen the classified version, which is about 50 pages, we’re told.  It’s a little bit longer than what the public has seen.

    There will be witnesses there.  It will be a public hearing.  They’ll get to question intelligence leaders about these findings, and I imagine that they’ll go into more detail about why they reached these conclusions.  I don’t think we should expect to be revealing anything about their classified sources.

    But that will be yet another opportunity for this to get aired publicly and for lawmakers to ask more direct questions about these findings that the Russian government intervened in the election and tried to help Donald Trump get elected.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  You know, in the classified version, there’s no smoking gun so to speak.  But you sort of expect that because of the sources and methods on how they got the information that’s in the classified report.  Is that what the intelligence agencies are telling you?

    SHANE HARRIS:   Exactly.  That there is — this is not an opportunity for them so much to show their work, as too much to show their conclusions.  And so, I think that people who were already skeptical about these findings are probably not going to be persuaded by this particular document that was released.

    Although it is definitive in a lot of its judgments, it doesn’t actually tell you, we got this information from, for instance, this person in Russia, or this series of communications that we intercepted.  That’s been left out, as have a number of other pieces of the puzzle, if you will, that the intelligence agencies feel would be too revealing about how they collect information and they don’t want to burn those channels going forward.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  You know, there’s one quote that I’m looking at.  It says, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”  That’s from the report.  And then, I’m looking at President-elect Trump’s tweet, “Intelligence stated very strongly, there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.”

    So, I mean, can both of those exist in sort of parallel universes here?

    SHANE HARRIS:  Well, I think they do.  I mean, clearly, the intelligence agencies did not try to make that assessment of whether or not this Russian intervention, what they think was trying to help Mr. Trump get elected, whether it actually succeeded.  And I think in his statement, he’s characterizing a bit too far what the intelligence agencies actually said.

    Now, what they did say in this report is that there is no evidence that Russian hackers or anyone else actually manipulated vote counts, or got into voting machines or equipment and literally change the outcome that way.  But this question of whether this so-called influence campaign changed the outcome of the election, they did not assess that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  That the voting machines were not hacked, it was something even the Obama administration mentioned.  The other thing is that this report seems to be a guidepost for elections to come around the world.

    SHANE HARRIS:  That’s right.  And the intelligence report and officials publicly have said that they want to make clear, this is not activity by Russia that they imagine will be limited only to this campaign, only this election.  They’re already seeing this — similar activities in England, in Germany.  They have seen them before in Eastern Europe.

    And they really wanted people to understand, this is now a full spectrum of operations that the Russian government is using and I think now has some evidence that it can be very effective, and that the intelligence officials just don’t expect that they’re going to stop.  This is a kind of a new reality, a new weapon frankly that they think that the Russians are going to be using.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  You know, what about the concerns that people have and say, listen, we are pointing at Russia, that — but the United States and other Western countries probably have similar operations under way around the world?

    SHANE HARRIS:  It’s a very interesting question.  Sort of, you know, aren’t we doing the same thing overseas, perhaps that they’re doing to us?  And James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, testified this week and was sort of asked about this point, and he really drew a line by saying, look, intelligence agencies all around the world, including ours, collect information all the time, including about their political adversaries.  The distinction that he was making though that Russia did here was to disclose this information and some lawmakers have said to weaponize it.  It’s that disclosure, the giving of the emails to WikiLeaks and other groups, that they feel cross the line.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Shane Harris, senior national security reporter at “The Wall Street Journal” — thanks so much.

    SHANE HARRIS:  Pleasure.  Thanks.

    The post Russia’s election intervention is ‘new reality, new weapon’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Downtown Youngstown, Ohio can be seen from a closed business November 22, 2009.  Youngstown has 4,500 vacant structures in a city of about 75,000 people, and about 22,000 vacant parcels of land.     REUTERS/Brian Snyder    (UNITED STATES BUSINESS) - RTXR10O

    Downtown Youngstown, Ohio can be seen from a closed business November 22, 2009. Youngstown has thousands of vacant structures and parcels of land. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Many cities are finding that something as simple as installing a split rail fence around a cleared and mowed vacant lot not only fights urban blight, it can help fight crime.

    Inspired by a program in Philadelphia, cities such as Cincinnati, Houston and New Orleans are using heavy equipment to clear, grade and seed thousands of vacant lots, believing that empty properties with head-high weeds, scrubby trees, trash and debris are excellent hiding places for guns, drugs and criminal activity. After the initial cleanup, cities partner with neighborhood groups and nonprofits to care for the lots, or in some instances sell them to people who agree to maintain or develop them.

    Installing a fence around a vacant lot can make a huge difference by signaling that although a lot is vacant, it isn’t abandoned. The theory, akin to the “broken windows” philosophy of policing, is that minor crimes, such as littering and vandalism, are signs of social disorder that often invite more serious crime.

    “Without it, it’s as if the property has no ownership and it’s open to any sort of activity,” said Debora Flora, executive director of the Mahoning County Land Bank in Youngstown, Ohio, where 23,000 parcels of land are vacant.

    The cleanup effort has been spurred by an explosion of vacant property, especially in Rust Belt cities like Youngstown, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, where populations have declined or the 2008 foreclosure crisis swelled the number of vacancies. Detroit has more than 6,000 vacant lots it offers for urban agriculture or as solutions to urban runoff. Chicago has nearly 13,500 lots that are city-owned and is selling them for $1.

    [Watch Video]
    In New Orleans, the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made the cleanup of vacant property a huge, ongoing undertaking. There, the city has a program called Lot Maintenance Plus, part of its NOLA For Life murder reduction strategy. Lot cleanups not only remove potential crime locations, they provide employment to at-risk youth.

    In Philadelphia — where the LandCare program maintains 12,000 lots, or more than a quarter of the city’s vacant lots that have been graded, seeded and fenced since 2004 — cleaning up and caring for empty property has proven to decrease crime and save the public money.

    A 2016 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Health Lab showed that fixing up vacant lots reduced nearby gun violence by 5 percent, and putting functioning windows and doors in abandoned houses, instead of boarding them up, cut nearby gun violence by 39 percent. The study also found that every dollar Philadelphia spends on fixing up vacant lots saves taxpayers $26 in reduced costs from gun violence.

    Clearing vacant lots may have other positive effects. Research indicates that adding green space to crowded urban settings improves mental and physical health. And cities realize vacant property can be a lingering problem if not dealt with because in many areas real estate markets will not rebound any time soon.

    “I think that’s the driving factor: the recognition that this is going to be a long-term problem and they’ve got to do something more than what they’re doing,” said Alan Mallach, senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that studies vacant land revitalization. “We can’t assume that in a matter of a year or two somebody’s going to put up a new townhouse or a new office building.”

    The Philadelphia Model

    Philadelphia’s LandCare program is considered a model. The city runs the $2.9 million program through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which in turn hires contractors or neighborhood groups to maintain the lots. It found that some fences make for better neighbors and better results than others.

    When LandCare launched, it put chain link fences around the cleared lots. But it soon discovered that the barriers kept neighbors from using the land for anything other than a place to toss trash. By switching to split rail fences, the space could be used by kids to play near their homes. That led residents to start asking for other lots to be remediated.

    “They call into City Council and they say, ‘We want the fence.’ Before City Council understood what it was or what the program was, they were just hearing about the fence,” said Keith Green, LandCare director. “It was like magic: you get this fence in there and it’s going to be maintained.”

    Youngstown also puts up accessible fences on cleared lots. “We love fences,” says Liberty Merrill of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, which works on vacant land improvement. “Dumping is a huge problem here. You have to keep cars off the lots or it will wreck a lot of work you’ve just paid for.”

    The city of Houston modeled its vacant lot maintenance program on Philadelphia’s. Mow Down began as a pilot program in 2013 and now covers 261 lots with the goal of doubling that number annually, said Reggie Harris, deputy assistant director of Houston’s Department of Neighborhoods.

    Houston contracts with the nonprofit Keep Houston Beautiful, which in turn works with neighborhood groups who mow vacant lots for $50 a cut. The local groups don’t have to go through the red tape of qualifying as city contractors and the city — which would have to pay a contractor at least $300 for the same service — saves money.

    Harris says he sees the difference already on streets where gangs used to congregate on untended property. “They’re not there anymore, because there’s a clear path to see them,” he said. “They don’t sit at the end of that street like they used to. Somebody can see them a whole block away.”

    Cincinnati’s Approach

    Cincinnati last year stepped up its Private Lot Abatement Program, clearing more than 1,200 properties in the most recent fiscal year that ended July 1. City manager Harry Black said the city also raised fines for overgrown grass and building code violations and began using its power to take over problem properties through a “chronic nuisance” ordinance, backed by data collection and analysis.

    And in February, the city launched a police initiative that focuses not just on arrests. It focuses also on removing blight in violence-plagued locations as a way to prevent crime from recurring, said Cincinnati Police Lt. Matt Hammer, who leads the initiative.

    In the city’s East Westwood neighborhood, at an intersection where shootings were frequent, a wildly overgrown lot concealed a back stairway to a vacant house, making a “comfort space” for a thriving drug market, Hammer said. Police found guns hidden in the tall grass.

    Arresting the drug traffickers was one step, Hammer said, but the second was to clear the vacant lot so a new dealer wouldn’t set up shop in the same place and to force the property owner to bring the vacant house up to code. Since the lot has been cleared, shootings in the area have fallen from 14 in 2015 to five in 2016.

    A trash-strewn lot is the archetype of the broken windows philosophy: a small amount of disorder that leads to bigger problems. But since the broken windows approach has become associated in many cities with aggressive policing of minor crimes that disproportionately affects minorities, some city officials who are tackling blight to prevent crime don’t call it that.

    “Broken windows approaches are extremely reactionary in nature,” said Black, the city manager. “We are being more strategic and intentional about what we target, how we target, how we address resources. Broken windows is old-school incremental.”

    Cincinnati has begun using its data analysis capabilities not only to identify blighted target areas, but to predict what properties may soon become blighted, creating an algorithm that includes building and health inspections, citations, police calls and property values.

    “We’re not descending on that area like an invading army and writing up everybody that’s got a blade of grass an inch over” the limit, said Mark Manning, the city attorney who heads enforcement of the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance, under which Cincinnati can require a property owner who gets too many citations to come up with a remediation plan or lose ownership.

    “We’re not telling everybody to fix everything in sight,” Manning said. “These are truly things we think are contributing to violence.”

    Charles Branas, the University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist who studied vacant lot cleanup and violence, said fixing blighted property is an uncontroversial route to fighting crime at a time when gun control legislation, for instance, is difficult to enact and police tactics such as stop-and-frisk have been harshly criticized.

    “In the world of gun violence prevention for cities, there aren’t a lot of options out there,” Branas said. “This is an apolitical option. The gun lobby has no opposition to this stuff. It’s not in any way changing legal possession of firearms.”

    Cost-Effectiveness
    Saving public money can help sell cleanup programs, Philadelphia’s Green said. “Having a number like ‘For every dollar you invest $26 comes back to taxpayers’ is a lot clearer for people,” he said.

    Taxpayers do front the money: vacant land improvement programs use public money to clean up not just city-owned lots, but private property that bad owners have neglected. And that can be “a really tough call,” said Mallach of the Center for Community Progress.

    “On the one hand, philosophically you don’t want to reward bad guys for being bad guys,” Mallach said. “On the other hand, every time you have a bad guy who’s not maintaining the property, it’s affecting the neighbors. You do it because you want to avoid harm to the neighbors.”

    To recoup costs, Philadelphia bills property owners for the cost of the cleanup. In Houston, the Mow Down program files a lien on the property to cover the cost of maintaining it. Those involved with vacant lot cleanup say the expectation is low of collecting reimbursement on a vacant property without much resale value. “It’s really hard to collect on these bills, regardless,” says Amber Knee of the LandCare program.

    This story was produced by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

    The post Building simple fences around vacant lots could help reduce crime appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Republican President-elect Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. On Saturday, he tweeted a New Year's message critical of his "enemies."  Photo By Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    U.S. Republican President-elect Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. Photo By Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    NEW YORK — U.S. intelligence officials are convinced that Russia meddled in the presidential race. But that hasn’t changed President-elect Donald Trump’s call for warmer relations with Moscow.

    Trump declared in a series of tweets on Saturday that “only ‘stupid’ people or fools” would come to a different conclusion.

    “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he stated from Trump Tower, adding: “We have enough problems without yet another one.”

    American intelligence officials on Friday briefed the president-elect on their conclusions that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election in order to help him win the White House. An unclassified version of the report explicitly tied Russian President Vladimir Putin to election meddling and said that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton.

    Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay the allegations, alarming some who see a pattern of skepticism directed at U.S. intelligence agencies and a willingness to embrace Putin.

    There has been no official comment from Moscow on the report, which was released as Russia observed Orthodox Christmas.

    But Alexei Pushkov, an influential member of the upper house of parliament, said on Twitter that “all the accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and suppositions. The USA in the same way was confident about (Iraqi leader Saddam) Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.”

    Margarita Simonyan, the editor of government-funded satellite TV channel RT who is frequently mentioned in the U.S. report, said in a blog post: “Dear CIA: what you have written here is a complete fail.”

    During the election, Trump praised the Russian strongman as a decisive leader, and argued that the two countries would benefit from a better working relationship — though attempts by the Obama administration at a “Russian reset” have proved unsuccessful.

    At the same time, intelligence officials believe that Russia isn’t done intruding in U.S. politics and policymaking.

    Immediately after the Nov. 8 election, Russia began a “spear-phishing” campaign to try to trick people into revealing their email passwords, targeting U.S. government employees and think tanks that specialize in national security, defense and foreign policy, the unclassified version of the report said.

    The report said Russian government provided hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The website’s founder, Julian Assange, has denied that it got the emails it released from the Russian government. The report noted that the emails could have been passed through middlemen.

    Russia also used state-funded propaganda and paid “trolls” to make nasty comments on social media services, the report said. Moreover, intelligence officials believe that Moscow will apply lessons learned from its activities in the election to put its thumbprint on future elections in the United States and allied nations.

    The public report was minus classified details that intelligence officials shared with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

    In an interview with The Associated Press after the briefing, Trump said he “learned a lot” from his discussions with intelligence officials, but he declined to say whether he accepted their assertion that Russia had intruded in the election on his behalf.

    Trump released a one-page statement that did not address whether Russia sought to meddle. Instead, he said, “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” and that there “was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

    Intelligence officials have never made that claim. And the report stated that the Department of Homeland Security did not think that the systems that were targeted or compromised by Russian actors were “involved in vote tallying.”

    READ NEXT: Trump says he ‘learned a lot’ from intel meeting

    Trump has said he will appoint a team within three months of taking office to develop a plan to “aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks.”

    On Saturday, he said he wanted retired Sen. Dan Coats to be national intelligence director, describing the former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee as the right person to lead the new administration’s “ceaseless vigilance against those who seek to do us harm.”

    Coats, in a statement released by Trump’s transition team, said: “There is no higher priority than keeping America safe, and I will utilize every tool at my disposal to make that happen.”

    Jim Heintz contributed to this report from Moscow.

    The post Trump defends Russia outreach amid U.S. intel criticism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Husband of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, arrives outside offices of Republican president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, New York, U.S. November 14,  2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2TO40

    Husband of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, arrives outside offices of Republican president-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, New York, on Nov. 14, 2016. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    NEW YORK — Jared Kushner, President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, is taking steps to distance himself from his sprawling New York real estate business in what is the clearest sign yet he is planning to take a position in the new administration.

    Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, must clear a series of hurdles before he takes any post in Washington. He will need to argue that a federal anti-nepotism law that bar officials from appointing relatives to government positions does not apply to him as well as eliminate potential conflicts of interest between his family’s multi-billion dollar real estate empire and his government duties.

    Kushner, who often has the last word with the president-elect before a major decision is made, has explored stepping away from his role as CEO of the real estate business and has consulted with federal officials about resolving potential conflicts, according to his lawyer.

    “Mr. Kushner is committed to complying with federal ethics laws and we have been consulting with the Office of Government Ethics regarding the steps he would take,” said Jamie Gorelick, a partner at the law firm of WilmerHale, in a statement. “Although plans are not finalized, Mr. Kushner would resign from his position at Kushner Companies and divest substantial assets in accordance with federal guidelines.”

    Gorelick said that Kushner “would recuse from particular matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on his remaining financial interests. He would also abide by federal rules requiring impartiality in particular matters involving specific parties.”

    READ NEXT: Trump’s cabinet is mostly white and male. What will that mean for policy?

    Kushner’s challenges highlight a notable pattern of the incoming administration. While some government officials will be forced to divest and rearrange their financial portfolios to comply with federal ethics laws, their boss will not be required to do the same. As president, Trump is exempt from laws aimed at ensuring federal employees’ personal financial interests do not influence their decisions. The president-elect has said he intends to distance himself from his own international real estate business, but he has suggested he intends to break from precedent by retaining a stake in the company.

    Trump is expected to announce some plans for his business during a Wednesday news conference.

    The Kushner Companies is a major real estate investor in New York and elsewhere and participated in roughly $7 billion in acquisitions in the last decade. If Kushner joined the administration, he would divest some of business interests, including his stake in a major Fifth Avenue skyscraper, according to his spokeswoman Risa Heller. Kushner has spent months negotiating a redevelopment of that building with Anbang Insurance Group, a real estate giant with close ties to the Chinese government, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

    [Watch Video]

    In addition to working through that nest of potential conflicts, Kushner has also been consulting lawyers about a federal anti-nepotism law that bars officials from appointing relatives to government positions. The 1967 law, which was seen as a response to President John Kennedy selecting his brother Robert Kennedy as attorney general, would also be a potential obstacle for Ivanka Trump, who is also expected to have a role in her father’s White House.

    Some Trump advisers have argued that the law does not apply to the White House, only Cabinet agencies.

    “The anti-nepotism law apparently has an exception if you want to work in the West Wing, because the president is able to appoint his own staff,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said in December. “The president does have discretion to choose a staff of his liking.”

    As precedent, some Trump backers have pointed to the woman the president-elect defeated in last year’s bitter White House race: Hillary Clinton. President Bill Clinton’s decision to put his wife in charge of his health care reform efforts was challenged in court, but two federal appeals judges said the anti-nepotism law did not appear to cover White House staff appointments.

    But if Trump finds White House roles for his daughter and son-in-law, he’s walking an ethical tightrope that could set a precedent for future presidents, said Norm Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s chief ethics counselor.

    For example, if the first lady’s office essentially becomes the first family’s office, “it will be like institutionalizing nepotism,” he said. “And I think it could be politically perilous.” At the least, Eisen said, Trump should ensure the couple is categorized as regular government employees who must routinely publicly file disclosures about their business ties and investments.

    In the campaign’s stretch, Kushner was a constant presence at his father-in-law’s side. He has acted as a gatekeeper to Trump in the transition and has sat in on scores of high-level meetings, including Cabinet interviews.

    If he takes a government post, his presence in the West Wing would add another power center in a White House that is shaping up to be top heavy. Incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Steve Bannon were announced as “equals.” Conway, who will serve as counselor to the president, is also likely to have autonomy and direct access to Trump.

    Ivanka Trump has taken steps to leave her role at the Trump Organization, which the president-elect said would be run by company executives and his two adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric.

    In a brief interview Friday with The Associated Press, Trump said he has a “very simple solution” for addressing his business ties, but would not detail the plans. He also suggested the matter was not important to Americans.

    “When I won, everybody knew that I had a very big business and a very successful business,” he said. “The voters knew that.”

    Pace reported from Washington. Julie Bykowicz contributed reporting from Washington.

    The post Trump son-in-law moves to distance self from business ties appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sen. Lindsey Graham is expected to announce his 2016 bid for the White House today. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Sen. Lindsey Graham urged President-elect Donald Trump to “push back” against Russia for its interference in the presidential election, which U.S. intelligence agencies allege. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A top Senate Republican is urging President-elect Donald Trump to defend democracy in the United States and around the world by punishing Russia for trying to interfere in the American presidential election as U.S. intelligence agencies allege.

    “He’s going to be the defender of the free world here pretty soon,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump critic, said in remarks broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”All I’m asking him is to acknowledge that Russia interfered, and push back. It could be Iran next time. It could be China.”

    Trump has consistently refused to blame Russia in the hacks that American intelligence agencies say were directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. intelligence officials on Friday briefed the president-elect on their conclusions that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election in order to help him win the White House.

    An unclassified version of the report directly tied Putin to election meddling and said that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton. Trump and his allies have bristled at any implication that the meddling helped him win the election. He won the Electoral College vote with 306 votes, topping the 270 votes required to become president.

    The pushback from Graham comes between the release of the intelligence committee’s conclusion about Russian meddling and a consequential week for Trump, who will become the nation’s 45th president on Jan. 20.

    On Wednesday alone, more information about the incoming administration could blast into the public sphere as if from a fire hose, not all of it under Trump’s control. He’s expected to hold a long-delayed press conference on how he’s organizing his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest while he’s president. He has taken sporadic questions and done interviews, but it’ll be his first full-fledged news conference since July 27.

    [Watch Video]

    On Capitol Hill, the Senate is holding at least nine hearings on Trump’s Cabinet and other nominees, a pace set by the Republican majority that Democrats have complained is too fast. The government ethics office says several of Trump’s Cabinet choices have not completed a full review to avoid conflicts of interest.

    Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay the allegations, alarming some who see a pattern of skepticism directed at U.S. intelligence agencies and a willingness to embrace the Russian leader. On Friday after receiving a classified briefing on the matter, Trump tried to change the subject to allegations that hadn’t been raised by U.S. intelligence. “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!”

    He then declared in a series of tweets on Saturday that having a good relationship with Russia is “a good thing, not a bad thing.” Trump added, “only ‘stupid’ people or fools” would come to a different conclusion.

    Trump had earlier urged Americans to get on with their lives. Graham retorted in the broadcast Sunday:

    “Our lives are built around the idea that we’re free people. That we go to the ballot box. That we, you know, have political contests outside of foreign interference.”

    There has been no official comment from Moscow on the report, which was released as Russia observed Orthodox Christmas.

    But Alexei Pushkov, an influential member of the upper house of parliament, said on Twitter that “all the accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and suppositions. The USA in the same way was confident about (Iraqi leader Saddam) Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.”

    Margarita Simonyan, the editor of government-funded satellite TV channel RT who is frequently mentioned in the U.S. report, said in a blog post: “Dear CIA: what you have written here is a complete fail.”

    During the election, Trump praised the Russian strongman as a decisive leader, and argued that the two countries would benefit from a better working relationship — though attempts by the Obama administration at a “Russian reset” have proved unsuccessful.

    At the same time, intelligence officials believe that Russia isn’t done intruding in U.S. politics and policymaking.

    Immediately after the Nov. 8 election, Russia began a “spear-phishing” campaign to try to trick people into revealing their email passwords, targeting U.S. government employees and think tanks that specialize in national security, defense and foreign policy, the unclassified version of the report said.

    The report said Russian government provided hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. The website’s founder, Julian Assange, has denied that it got the emails it released from the Russian government. The report noted that the emails could have been passed through middlemen.

    Russia also used state-funded propaganda and paid “trolls” to make nasty comments on social media services, the report said. Intelligence officials say Moscow will apply lessons learned from its activities in the election to put its thumbprint on future elections in the United States and allied nations.

    The public report was minus classified details that intelligence officials shared with President Barack Obama on Thursday.

    In an interview with The Associated Press after the briefing, Trump said he “learned a lot” from his discussions with intelligence officials, but he declined to say whether he accepted their assertion that Russia had intruded in the election on his behalf.

    Trump has said he will appoint a team within three months of taking office to develop a plan to “aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks.”

    Jim Heintz contributed to this report from Moscow. Jill Colvin reported from New York.

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    Photo by Flickr user Tom Hoyle

    Medical professionals have long advised that people refrain from sticking foreign objects into their ears. Photo by Flickr user Tom Hoyle

    Earwax is useful stuff. Some ancient physicians smeared it onto wounds as a soothing salve. Others thought its taste should be used as a diagnostic tool: a hint of sweetness, one doctor wrote, was a sign of impending death. Even today, doctors say it’s the most natural of soaps, carrying dead skin cells and debris out of hearing’s way.

    But the near-magical properties of earwax — or cerumen, as scientists call it — don’t stop people from going to extraordinary lengths to get rid of it. No tool seems too pointy for people to want to stick into their ears.

    “You name it: bobby pins, pencils, pens,” said Dr. David Jung, an otolaryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, when asked how his patients attempt earwax removal. “I’ve had some construction workers say, ‘Gently, with nails.’ I’ve seen and heard it all.”

    In case you were thinking of cleaning inside your ears — gently or otherwise — a revised set of guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology has some advice: Don’t. Not even with Q-tips, no matter how innocuous they look.

    This recommendation is nothing new. Back in 1901, the monthly Medical Brief advised that “in the removal of impacted cerumen, as little instrumentation as possible should be indulged in. Much harm often follows the use of probes, forceps, and hooks in untrained hands.”

    Few pieces of medical advice have been so consistent for so long, and by now, people know they’re not supposed to put foreign bodies in their ears — as evidenced by the sheepishness with which Jung’s patients admit to their wax-scraping tricks.

    The problem is, they do it anyway. The new guidelines cite one study — titled “What health professionals at the Jos University Teaching Hospital insert in their ears”— in which over 90 percent of the participating staff at a medical center were found to clean their ear canals with objects such as Q-tips or matchsticks.

    “When you put it on the inside of your ear and move it around, it feels nice, it becomes a sensual thing. You become like a drug addict, a cigarette smoker,” said Dr. Vito Forte, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Toronto, who runs the company OtoSim, which makes ear-exam simulators.

    READ NEXT: All the weird things kids have swallowed, in one hospital’s collection

    Your ear canal is a tube closed off at one end by your eardrum. When you chew and talk, that helps move wax out towards the opening so it doesn’t impede hearing. Inserting a Q-tip or a screwdriver actually reverses that motion, pushing wax back where you don’t want it to be, sometimes creating hardened balls of wax. Then it becomes a job for an otolaryngologist, who might use a tiny suction-tip or beak-like forceps to pull it out.

    The tools involved might be minuscule, but the impact isn’t: In 2012, the Medicare program paid nearly $47 million for over a million removals of earwax balls. Not all of those blockages were caused by rogue ear-cleaners — but their picking and scratching is certainly part of the problem.

    Sticking things into your ears is not only ineffective — it’s dangerous. “Even though cotton swabs are fairly soft, the skin within the canal is very delicate, and easy to scratch and abrade,” said Dr. Seth Schwartz, an otolaryngologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and the first author of the revised guidelines. “It can be quite painful but can also lead to infection. And you could actually traumatize the eardrum.”

    In that case, he said, sometimes the only option is surgery, in which the eardrum is taken out and patched up with bits of the patient’s own tissue.

    The new guidelines were written expressly to be more accessible to non-scientists, in the hope of finally getting across medical advice that has been ignored for centuries.

    Yet ear canal cleaning is a hard habit to kick. It may be as innate as tool use itself. Forte was once called to the Toronto Zoo to treat an orangutan that seemed to be having ear trouble — and found out that the ape was known to pick up secondhand wads of chewing gum, check them for stickiness, and then use them to extract whatever might have been buried in its ears.

    If only the ape had read the latest guidelines.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Jan. 6, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Doctors admonish us to leave earwax alone. Why won’t anyone listen? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    North Korea leader Kim Jong Un smiles as he visits Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 9, 2016. KCNA via Reuters

    North Korea leader Kim Jong Un smiles as he visits Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 9, 2016. KCNA via Reuters

    North Korea now has the capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from anywhere in the country, according to a statement released by a Foreign Ministry spokesman on Sunday.

    “The ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere determined by the supreme headquarters of the DPRK,” the statement read, referencing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name.

    The statement, reported by Reuters and posted to the state-controlled media site Korean Central News Agency, also cast blame on the U.S. for an escalation in the country’s arms development, and comes a week after the country’s leader Kim Jong Un said North Korea had “reached the final stage” of preparing a test launch of an ICBM.

    “The political and military position of socialism should be further cemented as an invincible fortress,” Kim reportedly said during a Jan. 1 address. “We should resolutely smash the enemies’ despicable and vicious moves to dampen the pure and ardent desire of the people for the party and estrange the people from it.”

    A fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force is pictured in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 6, 2016. Photo By KCNA via Reuters

    A fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force is pictured in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 6, 2016. Photo By KCNA via Reuters

    With an uptick in nuclear tests in 2016, U.S. officials said Thursday that North Korea has advanced its ballistic missile capacity but does not have the ability to use nuclear warheads on them. Some experts believe the missiles will not be fully functional this year, though the country may eventually develop the capacity that would allow them to reach the U.S. mainland.

    The post North Korea says it can launch a nuclear missile ‘anytime and anywhere’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Free Alabama Movement is planning its next move after last year's prison strike. Photo via Getty Images

    The Free Alabama Movement is planning its next move after last year’s prison strike. Photo via Getty Images

    The people who organized the country’s biggest prison strike against what they call modern-day slavery have planned their next target: corporate food service giant Aramark.

    The $8.65 billion company is one of the country’s largest employers and serves hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and other food to more than 100 million people a year at hospitals, sports stadiums, amphitheaters, schools and other facilities. It also provides meals for more than 500 correctional facilities across the country and has been the subject of complaints about maggots and rocks, sexual harassment, drug trafficking and other employee misconduct.

    While Aramark says these allegations are inaccurate, on Jan. 14, leaders of the Free Alabama Movement, which led a national prison labor strike that began on Sept. 9, will bus from Alabama to Washington, D.C., to join a civil rights march and protest the company.

    “They are the biggest benefactors of prisoners,” said the movement’s spokesman Pastor Kenneth Glasgow. “And they have a history of neglecting prisoners, serving bad food, not enough food, or undernourished food … this is why we have chosen to boycott.”

    Siddique Abdullah Hasan, an inmate on death row at Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio, for his role in the state’s worst-ever prison riot in 1993, has gone on hunger strikes because he said Aramark food was cold and the quantities were half the appropriate serving. Prison authorities agreed to address the issues after a month of starvation, he said. Now he is pushing for halal meals.

    “They have no accountability,” he said. “This is part of the increasing privatization of prisons and ancillary services that we’ve seen over the past few decades.” — David Fathi, ACLU

    Glasgow said inmates across the nation are also planning to stand in solidarity with the movement’s march on Jan. 14, by refusing to work — again.

    Last year, in the lead-up to the anniversary of the historic uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York that killed 43 people in 1971, Glasgow and his allies called on inmates to stop the prison labor system, which they say amounts to slavery.

    While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, it did not apply to people who committed crimes – an exception that enabled plantation owners to replace slaves with prison workers and still exists today.

    And in recent decades, the incarcerated population has grown to more than 2.2 million, the majority of them black or Latino, all of whom can be required to work for a lucrative industry that often pays them cents to the hour.

    Businesses such as Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Revlon, AT&T, Target and many more, as well as governments, which use inmate labor for daily operations such as laundry and janitorial services, have used the cheap or free labor. And private companies such as Aramark and Trinity Services Group, another major food vendor for prisons, are paid millions of dollars to take over government operations.

    “It used to be that prison food was prepared and served by [government] employees, sometimes with prison workers assisting,” said David Fathi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “This is part of the increasing privatization of prisons and ancillary services that we’ve seen over the past few decades.”

    Drawn by Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, frequent contributor to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.

    Illustration by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, frequent contributor to the San Francisco Bay View newspaper who is incarcerated at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas.

    The shift toward privatization has been called a “prison-industrial complex” by the Free Alabama Movement and justice reform advocates, who add that it has created an economic incentive to keep inmates in jail.

    And on Sept. 9, the anniversary of the Attica takeover, thousands of inmates across dozens of state prisons went on strike to rail against it.

    There were reports of pepper spray, teargas and zip ties at Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan before hundreds of people believed to be involved were transferred to other facilities. Inmates across the country were also censored, prevented from receiving newspapers and put in isolation.

    “That was the first wave,” Glasgow said. “This is the second wave.”

    In 2015, the state of Michigan canceled a controversial, $145 million, three-year contract with the company. In addition to complaints about the quality of food, more than 100 Aramark employees were banned from prison grounds for inappropriate behavior, according to state officials. That year, a judge also found an Aramark supervisor guilty of trying to arrange an assault on an inmate.

    Aramark spokesperson Karen Cutler said in an email that rumors about the quality of food were planted by opponents of outsourcing and inmates.

    “There were three confirmed cases of sabotage caused by inmates using maggots in Ohio, and one in Michigan,” Cutler said.

    Saying her remark was a “blatant lie,” Hasan said he knew a prisoner who brought maggots to the attention of correctional officers.

    Cutler also said, without referencing the case about the Aramark supervisor, that employee misconduct occurs regularly in most positions at every correctional facility in the country.

    “Aramark has been a valued partner to the corrections industry for nearly 40 years, helping 500 facilities around the country maintain safe, stable environments for millions of offenders, officers and staff every day,” she said. “Our dedication to quality and service have made us a leader in our industry for more than 75 years.”

    Fathi said he did not think Aramark was any better or worse than other prison food companies, nor does the ACLU have a stance on a prospective campaign against it. But he said that the Free Alabama Movement’s complaints illustrate the core problems of privatizing prison services.

    “It’s a monopoly and the consumers have ultimately zero choice,” he said. “In the outside world, a company that provides bad service, whose employees commit misdeeds, will eventually go out of business.”

    Regardless, he said he will be paying attention on Jan. 14.

    “I think many of us were surprised by the magnitude of and coordination exhibited by the prison strike last year, so it would not surprise me if this turned out to be quite widespread,” he said. “Time will tell.”

    The post Prison strike organizers to protest food giant Aramark appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks briefly to reporters between meetings at the Mar-a-lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump continues to control hundreds of companies making up his business empire, less than two weeks before he becomes president. December 28, 2016. Photo By Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks briefly to reporters between meetings at the Mar-a-lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump continues to control hundreds of companies making up his business empire, less than two weeks before he becomes president. December 28, 2016. Photo By Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump pledged to step away from his family-owned international real estate development, property management and licensing business before taking office Jan. 20. With less than two weeks until his inauguration, he hasn’t stepped very far.

    Trump has canceled a handful of international deals and dissolved a few shell companies created for prospective investments. Still, he continues to own or control some 500 companies that make up the Trump Organization, creating a tangle of potential conflicts of interest without precedent in modern U.S. history.

    The president-elect is expected to give an update on his effort to distance himself from his business at a Wednesday news conference. He told The Associated Press on Friday that he would be announcing a “very simple solution.”

    Ethics experts have called for Trump to sell off his assets and place his investments in a blind trust, which means something his family would not control. That’s what previous presidents have done.

    Trump has given no indication he will go that far. He has said he will not be involved in day-to-day company operations and will leave that duty to his adult sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. The president-elect has not addressed the ethical minefield of whether he would retain a financial interest in his Trump Organization.

    A look at what’s known about what Trump has and hasn’t tried to resolve his business entanglement before his swearing-in:

    Foreign investments

    Trump has abandoned planned business ventures in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India and Argentina. The Associated Press found he has dissolved shell companies tied to a possible business venture in Saudi Arabia.

    It’s unclear whether those moves are signs that Trump is dismantling the web of companies that make up his business. Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten has insisted none of the closures is related to Trump’s election. He calls them “normal housecleaning.”

    The Trump Organization still has an expanding reach across the globe: The Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is set to open next month.

    Trump has said there will be “no new deals” while he’s in office. But Eric Trump, an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, told Argentinian newspapers last week that the company was open to another business venture in the country.

    “We would like to find something,” Eric Trump told Clarin, as he toured a Trump building construction site. “We’ll find a project.”

    The younger Trump did rule out expansion in Russia, at least any time soon.

    “Is there a possibility sometime in the next 20, 30 years we end up in Russia? Absolutely. Is it right for us right now? Probably not,” Eric Trump said, in a video interview with La Nacion posted on the newspaper’s website.

    Asked about the potential for conflicts of interest if the business continues to operate, Eric Trump compared the separation between the Trump-led government and Trump-led company to the separation between church and state. “These two things will be unfailingly separate,” he said, adding, “we will not share functions.”

    Domestic businesses

    Of Trump’s U.S. portfolio, no venture has become more emblematic of the potential conflicts of interest facing Trump than his hotel at the Old Post Office in the nation’s capital. The federal government, which he soon will oversee, holds the lease on the building he turned into a sparkling luxury hotel that opened shortly before Election Day.

    The terms of Trump’s contract with the government expressly prohibit elected officials from having a financial interest in the property. Democratic senators said the General Services Administration told them that the moment Trump takes office, he would violate the terms of his contract

    Neither GSA nor Trump transition officials responded to inquiries about what steps, if any, Trump has taken with regard to that contract provision.

    Trump is still listed as a producer for the reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.” He has said he will not spend time working on the show. Financial disclosures he filed during the campaign show his company, Trump Productions, earned about $5.9 million from “The Apprentice” shows in 2015.

    Trump has a considerable amount of business debt that could put creditors in the position of having leverage over an enterprise with close ties to the U.S. president and his family. Last May, Trump reported on his financial disclosure that he had at least $315 million in debt related to his companies. The disclosed debt, mostly mortgages for his properties, is held by banks, including Deutsche Bank and investors who bought chunks of the debt from the original creditors.

    Charities

    Last month, Trump announced that he would shutter his charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, to avoid conflicts of interest.

    The decision came after the foundation admitted in a tax filing that in 2015 and an unspecified number of previous years it violated IRS prohibitions against self-dealing, broadly defined as using charity money or assets to benefit Trump, his family, his companies or substantial contributors to the foundation.

    The New York attorney general’s office has said the foundation cannot dissolve until it completes its investigation into whether Trump used the foundation for personal gain. The attorney general’s office has not said whether the investigation will be wrapped up by Trump inauguration.

    Eric Trump has decided to shut down his charity, which primarily raised money for St. Jude’s children’s hospital, to pre-empt conflicts of interest. That move came after the younger Trump was found to be offering in a charity auction a coffee date with his sister, Ivanka Trump, who is expected to take a position in the White House.

    READ NEXT: Trump son-in-law moves to distance self from business ties

    Family

    Questions remain about how Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner, who is planning to advise the president, will separate from their own businesses.

    On Saturday, representatives for Kushner told the AP that he has been talking with the Office of Government Ethics and is exploring taking steps to disentangle himself from his business, The Kushner Companies, in preparation for taking a White House role.

    Under those plans, Kushner representatives say he would resign as CEO of the real-estate development business, which has been involved in some $7 billion in acquisitions in the past 10 years.

    Kushner would divest “substantial” assets including his stake in a New York City skyscraper that has been the subject of months of negotiations between Kushner and Anbang Insurance Group, a real estate giant with close ties to the Chinese government. Kushner’s negotiations with the company were first reported by The New York Times.

    Ivanka Trump, in addition to serving as an executive at her father’s company, has developed a lifestyle brand selling shoes, jewelry and other products. She caught heat after her fine jewelry company marketed the $10,800 bracelet she wore during a postelection “60 Minutes” interview with her father.

    Representatives for Ivanka Trump and her companies did not respond to requests for comment about her business plans. In order to take posts in the administration, both Kushner and Ivanka Trump would need to argue that a federal anti-nepotism law that bar officials from appointing relatives to government positions does not apply to them.

    Lawsuits

    Trump also is set to take office while battling a number of lawsuits. The president-elect sat for a videotaped deposition on Thursday involving a dispute with a celebrity chef who pulled out of a deal to open a restaurant at his new hotel in the Old Post Office building. When Jose Andres scuttled his plans for the restaurant citing Trump’s campaign comments about some Mexican immigrants being rapists and criminals, The Trump Organization sued him for breach of contract.

    Trump also sued another celebrity chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, for similar reasons.

    Trump did act to close out one of the highest-profile disputes, over his now-defunct Trump University real estate school. After his election in November, he agreed to pay $25 million to settle two class-action suits and one by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that alleged the school misled and defrauded students. Trump admitted no wrongdoing and has yet to pay the fine, according to court records.

    AP Business Writer Bernard Condon and Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in New York, and AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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    **ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND MONDAY MAY 31st**- Juvenile inmates watch a movie at the Cheltenham Youth Faciity in Cheltenham, Md., May 26, 2004. The facility has been under recent critism amid alleged prisoner on prisoner abuse and staff on prisoner abuse.   (AP Photo/ Matt Houston)

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    By Ivette Feliciano and Zachary Green

    IVETTE FELICIANO: 22-year-old Asad Giles feels lucky to have his job as an administrative assistant in this Midtown Manhattan hotel. He says life could be drastically different right now. Five years ago, at 17, the NYPD arrested Giles for allegedly shooting a female classmate after they’d both left a school fundraiser. His name and address were all over local news reports. And then, he was incarcerated in New York City’s main jail for pre-trial suspects on Rikers Island.

    ASAD GILES: I couldn’t believe it was happening. It was my senior year in high school. I was about to go to college in Atlanta. It was like a bad dream.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Giles denied the charges, but his working class family in Jamaica, Queens, could not afford his bail, set at $100,000. He spent his 18th and 19th birthdays — what would have been his first two years of college — behind bars. He says on his first day inside, he witnessed a teen getting beat up.

    ASAD GILES: It’s pretty vicious in there. You got rapists, murderers. You got all type of people in there. You never know what can happen. You could be asleep, somebody beating on you.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Finally….after 28 months on Rikers, Giles, seen here with his nephew, got his day in court, and a judge acquitted him of all charges. To this day, no one has been convicted in that shooting. Giles says he’s still traumatized.

    ASAD GILES: If I walk into a store and there’s a group of cops in there, I would leave the store. Just because I got incarcerated for something I didn’t do. So it’s like, are they going to do it again?

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Giles says his residual fears stem from the fact that at 17-years-old, he was held at an adult jail, rather than a juvenile detention center.

    North Carolina and New York are the only states that, automatically detain, prosecute, and incarcerate all 16 and 17 year olds as adults… regardless of the crime.

    In New York, more than 27-thousand 16 and 17-year-olds were arrested in 2015, More than 2 thousand of them were convicted and spent time incarcerated. On any given day, some 700 16 and 17 year olds in New York are locked up in adult jails awaiting the outcome of their cases…about 200 of them, mostly Black and Latino, are at Rikers.

    Upon Asad Giles’ release, the organization “Friends of Island Academy,” helped him enroll in college and find his hotel job.

    ASAD GILES: They definitely put me on my feet. A good jump. A good transition.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: For almost three decades, the organization has provided post-incarceration services to juveniles not offered by New York State.

    MESSIAH RAMKISSOON: I’ve watched people grow up in the prison system.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Messiah Ramkissoon works with the group as a Program Director and believes a successful transition back into society is essential in reducing recidivism.

    He also points to studies showing that the human brain is highly malleable up until your mid-twenties. and that, until that age, the parts of our brains responsible for decision-making and impulse control aren’t fully developed.

    MESSIAH RAMKISSOON: That 16, 17-year-old age bracket, 18, sometimes older, the brain is still developing. So what this environment does is shapes the nature of the being. So you have young people who come out and they tell you, “I’m not afraid to go right back,” because part of their psyche and the way they think and development of the brain has been composed behind these bars.

    MESSIAH RAMKISSOON: He’s been through a lot during the 16 months he’s been incarcerated

    IVETTE FELICIANO: On a recent Tuesday morning at the group’s headquarters in Harlem, the staff meet to discuss other cases as part of their new “youth reentry network,” funded by a 3-million dollar a year grant from the New York City Department of Corrections.

    MESSIAH RAMKISSOON: He’s not in contact with anyone in terms of family.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: As part of this new program launched in November, these youth advocates act as the point person for every 16 and 17 year old incarcerated at Rikers offering them support by helping their lawyers expedite their cases, or re-connecting them to family members and keeping tabs on teens if they get released.

    CHRIS PAHIGIAN: Any time a child is arrested, cuffed and held, whatever system you’re in, it’s traumatizing.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Chris Pahigian is executive director of Friends of Island Academy.

    CHRIS PAHIGIAN: The role of the reentry network or any system of aftercare support is that we know coming out of the box where it is you’re going to go home to. And// to have a plan in place and to help navigate and implement that plan once they get home.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: There’s also emotional and mental health counseling. On a typical night here, formerly incarcerated people meet to discuss their experience being locked up as an adolescent.

    CHRIS PAHIGIAN: For decades we have been criminalizing young people, locking young people up in masses So now, we have generations of people who carry the stigma and who carry the trauma of that process.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: That stigma and trauma has been on the rise since the 1970s, when the federal government and states began adopting harsher sentencing laws for drug crimes, including for juveniles. In the 1990s, the advent of mandatory minimum sentences and the expansion of juvenile transfer laws increasingly shifted control of juvenile cases from family courts to regular criminal courts.

    That decade, the number of juveniles incarcerated in adult jails quadrupled. But since 2000, spurred by the research on the social and economic costs of incarcerating youth, like increased suicide rates and recidivism, state legislatures changed their laws and, by 2014, those numbers decreased by more than half.

    CHRIS PAHIGIAN: The fundamental difference is that in the family court, that child who is charged with a crime is viewed as somebody who is a child, for whom elements of rehabilitation and support must be put in place because they’re still a kid. But the difference of a few months puts that same kid for the same crime in the adult system.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Three-quarters of 16 and 17 year olds who are arrested in New York State face misdemeanor charges for offenses like possession of marijuana or vandalism. But one quarter are prosecuted as adults for more serious felony charges like robbery and drug trafficking.

    Arguments for “raising the age” of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 have fallen flat in the New York State legislature each time proposals have come up for a vote in the past three years.

    PATRICK GALLIVAN: What I’m suggesting is that we just don’t change an entire system until we know more.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Patrick Gallivan chairs the Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee in the New York State Senate. He’s also the former Sheriff of Erie County, which includes Buffalo. He’s voted against raising the age.

    PATRICK GALLIVAN: People are saying that, jeez, our young people shouldn’t be incarcerated. Our young people deserve a chance. Children should be treated different than adults. Who can say no to that, just on the premise. Anybody who raises questions can be looked at as a big bad ogre when they’re raising questions but that isn’t the case at all.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Gallivan argues that incarcerated 16 and 17 year olds are often treated differently than adults in that their criminal records can be sealed.

    And due to the Prison Rape Elimination Act passed by Congress, all federal and state prisons must separately house juveniles under 18 from adults.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The argument that I’ve heard from raise the age advocates is that just touching the adult criminal system can have a long-lasting impact. Being housed at a place like Rikers for 18, 19 months while you’re waiting for your trial to start.

    PATRICK GALLIVAN: The bullet has the same impact. Recently— in this Erie County area, an individual was convicted of crimes that were committed when he was over 16 but under 18 years old. He killed two people. Shot six others. Well, my gosh, should an individual like that be subjected or get a lesser sentence?

    MICHAEL FLAHERTY: Some of our most violent offenders are teenagers.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Michael Flaherty, who just stepped down as the acting District Attorney for Erie County, says requiring all juvenile cases to be heard in family court would strip away a prosecutor’s tools to adequately try teens in criminal court when needed.

    MICHAEL FLAHERTY: Under the current system I have a voice, I have a say, I get to use my professional judgment. What we don’t need is a uniform policy which presumes that the best interests of the offender trump public safety, or trump the justice system. we dismiss charges all the time, just on reviewing the papers, and the facts. I have no control over what happens in family court.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: With no forthcoming changes in State law, and as part of reforms in response to a federal investigation documenting widespread abuse at juveniles at Rikers, New York City Mayor De Blasio announced last year that 16 and 17-year-olds would be moved off Rikers by 2020, and he ended solitary confinement for anyone younger than 21.

    The New York City Department of Corrections is subjecting Rikers guards to more rigorous training, in addition to the jail’s partnership with Friends of Island Academy, it recently increased educational programming for juveniles.

    Friends of Island Academy plans to push this year for the State to raise the age of adult criminality to 18.

    For now, the organization will continue supporting youth transitioning out of incarceration with adults, like Asad Giles, something he believes helped keep him from ever being arrested again.

    ASAD GILES: I could have gotten out with a jail mindset like F everything. I don’t want to go back to school I just want to stay in the streets…But I didn’t want that for myself, so I contacted Friends and just got ready to make my life better.

    The post Should juveniles be incarcerated with adults? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a new conference following party policy lunch meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX2U0JH

    Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a new conference following party policy lunch meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16, 2016. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Top Republicans said Sunday they’ll move quickly to enact a new health care law, but they won’t say how long that might take or what might replace President Barack Obama’s version.

    Questions surrounding the future GOP plan have unnerved key parts of the health care industry, including hospitals and insurers that have warned Congress against uncertainty.

    “We will be replacing it rapidly after repealing it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He declined to provide a more specific timeline.

    The 2010 health law, which passed without Republican votes, became a lightning rod in U.S. politics. President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to repeal it. Congressional Republicans are in agreement it should be replaced. But they’re at odds over how to do it, particularly over how to pay for popular provisions, including coverage for pre-existing conditions and the ability for parents to keep children on their plans until age 26.

    A key GOP focus has been to do away with the individual mandate requirement that all Americans have insurance or pay a fine. But absent that requirement, insurers have warned it’s not financially viable to force them to accept people with existing medical problems.

    Another concern for some GOP lawmakers is scrapping a law that’s covered 20 million people without offering them an alternative.

    [Watch Video]

    GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tweeted late Friday that he spoke with Trump and that the president-elect “fully supports” a repeal only when there’s a viable substitute.

    McConnell said the first step will come this week, when the Senate will vote to repeal the law. With GOP majorities in both the House and Senate after the November election, the repeal bill is expected to pass both chambers before reaching Trump, who takes office Jan. 20.

    Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said he doesn’t want to get into specifics other than to say the goal is to act quickly.

    “I will tell you that it would be ideal if we could do it all in one big action,” Priebus said. “But look, it may take time to get all the elements of the replace in place.”

    When asked about Paul’s tweet, Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said: “I can confirm that he is committed to replacing Obamacare with something that actually is affordable and accessible and allows you to buy health insurance over state lines and allows people to have health savings accounts,” she said.

    McConnell and Priebus were on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Conway spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    The post GOP lawmakers vow quick action to enact new health care law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Liberty Bell, with Independence Hall in the background, is seen in Philadelphia on February 12, 2015. Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters

    The Liberty Bell, with Independence Hall in the background, is seen in Philadelphia on Feb. 12, 2015. Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters

    PHILADELPHIA — A longtime congressman set to start a 10-year prison term this month has petitioned a U.S. appeals court to let him remain free while he appeals his racketeering conviction.

    Former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat, said he expects to win a new trial over errors during his five-defendant trial this year, including the dismissal of a holdout juror.

    Fattah also argues his case could be overturned in keeping with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the legal definition of bribery in overturning the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. The court said there was no evidence McDonnell did anything more than meet with a businessman who had given him gifts.

    However, the trial judge in Fattah’s case noted that Fattah had sought an ambassadorship for a friend who gave him money and put his girlfriend on the payroll in a “low-show” job. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle, in denying Fattah’s request to remain free pending appeal, also noted that 13 other counts don’t involve bribery.

    Fattah, 60, was convicted in June of using more than $600,000 in government grants and nonprofit funds on personal and campaign expenses. Four friends or former aides were convicted of related charges.

    Bartle dismissed the holdout juror after his clerk, on the first day of deliberations, heard the man say that he would cause a deadlock “no matter what.” Other jurors then told the judge he was refusing to deliberate.

    “While district courts possess a great deal of discretion in managing the conduct of a trial and in addressing legitimate juror misconduct, the record here establishes a substantial question regarding the court’s action,” Fattah’s lawyers wrote in a Dec. 30 motion.

    A juror’s refusal to deliberate, bias toward one side, or intent to ignore the law are all grounds for dismissal, courts have found. The newly constituted panel in Fattah’s case convicted him days later on all counts, and all four co-defendants on at least some counts.

    Fattah’s 11 terms in Congress include a stint on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

    He ran into financial problems when he ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2007 just as the city passed strict new campaign finance limits. As he struggled amid a strong primary field, he took an illegal $1 million loan from a friend. He then used federal grants and funds from nonprofit groups run by his former aides to pay some of it back, the jury found.

    Fattah resigned after the June conviction. His son, Chaka Fattah Jr., is serving a five-year term in an overlapping bank fraud case at a federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

    Federal prosecutors oppose his motion to remain free.

    The post Former congressman seeks to delay prison term amid appeal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower in May 2016. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Watch Video

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the confirmation process, I’m joined from Washington by NewsHour political director, Lisa Desjardins.

    Lisa, why is this back and forth happening this time? I mean, is the order traditionally different in how this process moves forward?

    LISA DESJARDINS, NEWSHOUR POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. There are some things happening this time around that have not happened before.

    Let’s start with the logistics. The director of the Office of Government Ethics wrote a letter and said the problem from his point of view is that the Trump transition team did not submit any of these names before they made them public. He says that’s what usually happens. They clear these nominees before a president to be actually announces them. In this case, the ethics office said they got these names late and in some cases, the ethics office says, they still don’t have any initial paperwork for nominees whose hearings are coming up within days.

    Then, the politics is less complicated to explain. Both sides have a lot in this fight. The Republicans want to build up Donald Trump. The Democrats want to start out with a rocky step for him.

    SREENIVASAN: What can the Democrats do? We heard Senator Chuck Schumer say today, “Let’s be deliberate and slow about this process.” But when it comes to either blocking a nominee or changing the schedule?

    DESJARDINS: Right, when a senator says, “Let’s be deliberate”, that often means let’s use all of our powers to lengthen the time it takes to get something done. That’s really the only thing they can do, Hari. Republicans have the votes to get through all of these nominees. They just need a majority vote. They have got 52 in the Senate.

    But what Democrats can do is try and use the bully pulpit to get across questions they have about the Trump transition and they can try and slow things down.

    SREENIVASAN: And while we’re talking a lot about this, and thinking about this, this isn’t happening in a vacuum. There are other things that are also simultaneously happening on Capitol Hill this week.

    DESJARDINS: That’s right. This is going to be another week where we are watching progress or not of the Affordable Care Act repeal. The Senate is going to go through something called voto-rama that I think that name really says enough, which will be the first push getting toward ACA repeal. It’s a several step process but that’s something that will be important to watch.

    But honestly, it may get lost in all these flurry of confirmation hearings. We’ve got 10 nominees coming up on the Hill this week, that’s no accident. Republicans want to get them out as quickly as possible. Even if we don’t have all the information, we usually would for these nominees and hearings, Republicans want to get it done.

    SREENIVASAN: What are examples of conflict of interest that have come up in the past or what are you looking at now, were you reporting this out yesterday.

    DESJARDINS: Well, I think there’s a lot of things to look at here. Let’s take the example of a nominee like Rex Tillerson. His ethics package has been posted. We know he’s the CEO, or the — he’s now left ExxonMobil. He’s involved with many boards and he has sort of — he has clearly a large financial stakes in many companies including ExxonMobil that might have influence on him as secretary of state.

    So, in his ethics letter, he goes through how he is divesting from that, how he is severing his ties, very significant financial ties, from many companies. That’s what’s important here. And we know that four nominees coming up this next week, so far, haven’t given that ethics package in yet. That includes another billionaire, Betsy DeVos, who hopes to be a secretary of education, Wilbur Ross who hopes to be the secretary of commerce — people with extensive ties financial and also to foundations.

    And there’s a lot of questions that I think Americans and certainly Democratic senators would like to raise, but they don’t even have a starting basis to know the framework for these folks financials going into these hearings.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. NewsHour political director Lisa Desjardins, joining us from Washington tonight — thanks so much.

    DESJARDINS: My pleasure

    The post Amid ethics concerns, Senate confirmation process set to begin appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch Meryl Streep’s address at the Golden Globes on Jan. 8.

    While accepting a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes in California Sunday night, actress Meryl Streep praised Hollywood’s diversity and criticized President-elect Donald Trump for mocking a disabled reporter. You can read her full speech below:

    “Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me, I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year so I have to read.

    “Thank you Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said, you and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood any way? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola (Davis) was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy and Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates?

    “And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia raised in Lon–no in Ireland I do believe and she’s here nominated for playing a small town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian, and Dev Patel was born in Kenya (Editor’s Note: Patel was born in London to Indian parents who were born in Kenya), raised in London and is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if we kick ‘em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

    “They gave me three seconds to say this so… an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that – breathtaking compassionate work, but there was one performance this year that stunned me.

    “It sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good. There was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life ‘cause it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

    “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. OK, go up with that thing. Okay, this brings me to the press. We need the principle press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution so I only ask the famously well-healed Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists ‘cause we’re going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

    “One more thing: Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever Tommy Lee Jones said to me, ‘Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?’ Yeah it is and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’ Thank you Foreign Press.”

    Donald Trump responded in a series of tweets:

    The post Read actress Meryl Streep’s full Golden Globes speech appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo of President-elect Donald Trump by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    Photo of President-elect Donald Trump by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    NEW YORK — Donald Trump and his Cabinet picks are preparing to face public questioning over their business conflicts, their approach to Russia and other issues during a critical week of confirmation hearings and the president-elect’s first news conference in nearly six months.

    Trump plunged Monday into another fight with a high-profile critic, this time in a three-part tweet responding to actress Meryl Streep’s denunciation of him from the stage of the Golden Globe awards.

    Trump called the Academy Award winner who had supported Democrat Hillary Clinton “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood” and “a Hillary flunky who lost big.”

    Bigger issues await the president-elect and at least nine of his Cabinet and other nominees this week. He becomes the nation’s 45th president on Jan. 20.

    His nominees to be the nation’s top diplomat, lead law enforcement officer and head of homeland security are among at least nine picks set to parade before Senate committees beginning Tuesday. A day later, Trump faces reporters about how he’ll disentangle his global empire from his administration, and more. Trump has pledged to step away from the Trump Organization during his time in office, but has yet to say specifically how he will do that.

    Perhaps the most pressing issue is how Trump responds to the U.S. intelligence community’s briefing Friday on its conclusion that Russia meddled in the election to help him become president.

    Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday that Trump indeed has accepted that Russia was responsible for the hacking, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and a top aide to former rival Hillary Clinton.

    “He’s not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular campaign,” Priebus said in an appearance on a Sunday television news show.

    Intelligence officials allege that Moscow directed a series of hacks in order to help Trump win the White House in the race against Clinton. Trump has expressed skepticism about Russia’s role and declined to say whether he agrees that the meddling was done on his behalf. He’s also said improving relations with Russia would be a good thing and that only “stupid” people would disagree.

    “My suspicion is these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “The Russians are clearly a big adversary. And they demonstrated it by trying to mess around in our election.”

    An unclassified version of a report presented to Trump last week directly tied Russian President Vladimir Putin to election meddling and said that Moscow had a “clear preference” for Trump over Clinton. Trump and his allies have bristled at any implication that the meddling helped him win the election. He won the Electoral College vote with 306 votes, well over the 270 votes required to become president.

    The comments come ahead of a consequential week for Trump and his Cabinet picks.

    Democrats complain the schedule is rushed. The government ethics office says it hasn’t received even draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees set to appear before Congress this week. Many are wealthy businessmen who have never held public office.

    Trump’s nominees, meanwhile, have been going through extensive preparation in the days leading up to the hearings. Transition officials said Sunday they’ve spent more than 70 hours participating in full-blown mock hearings, with volunteers playing the role of senators asking questions.

    ___

    Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Vivian Salama in Washington contributed to this report.

    The post Trump battles Streep as Cabinet picks prepare for grilling appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Pacific Ocean in 2009 provided by the U.S. Navy. Handout via Reuters

    File photo of a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Pacific Ocean in 2009 provided by the U.S. Navy. Handout via Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A U.S. Navy destroyer fired multiple warning shots at Iranian patrol boats as they sped toward the destroyer at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, two U.S. defense officials said.

    The crew of the USS Mahan fired the warning shots after attempting to establish contact with the Iranians and after dropping smoke flares, the officials said. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly as so spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The U.S. Navy occasionally has confrontations with Iranian naval forces in the Persian Gulf but they do not usually reach the point of prompting warning shots by the U.S.

    The U.S. officials said the Mahan was transiting the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday when the Iranian boats sped toward it and failed to halt despite U.S. cautionary moves. There were conflicting initial reports on whether the Americans and Iranians had established radio communication before the warning shots were fired.

    One official said the main concern aboard the Mahan was the speed with which the Iranian boats were approaching, rather than their proximity. This official said the boats were an estimated 900 yards away when the warning shots were fired.

    The Iranian boats broke away after the warning shots were fired, and then made radio contact with the Mahan by asking its course and speed.

    Further details were not immediately available.

    U.S. relations with Iran are among the tougher foreign policy issues that President-elect Donald Trump will inherit next week when he succeeds President Barack Obama.

    The post U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots at Iranian boats appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by FatCamera via Getty Images

    Photo by FatCamera via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Expecting a baby? Congratulations! Better put plenty of money in your savings account.

    The Department of Agriculture says the estimated cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610, or as much as almost $14,000 annually. That’s the average for a middle-income couple with two children. It’s a bit more expensive in urban parts of the country, and less so in rural areas.

    The estimate released Monday is based on 2015 numbers, so a baby born this year is likely to cost even more. It’s a 3 percent increase from the prior year, a hike higher than inflation.

    Since 1960, USDA has compiled the annual report to inform — and probably terrify — budget-preparing parents. State governments and courts also use the information to write child support and foster care guidelines. The main costs include housing, food, transportation, health care, education, clothing and other miscellaneous expenses.

    Things to know about how much it costs to raise a child:

    HOUSING IS EXPENSIVE

    Up to a third of the total cost is housing, accounting for 26 to 33 percent of the total expense of raising a child. USDA comes up with those numbers by calculating the average cost of an additional bedroom — an approach the department says is probably conservative, because it doesn’t account for those families who pay more to live in communities that have better schools or other amenities for children.

    ___

    URBAN VS. RURAL DIFFERENCES

    The cost of raising a child varies in different regions of the country. Overall, middle-income, married-couple families in the urban Northeast spent the most ($253,770), followed by those in the urban West ($235,140) and urban South ($221,730). Those in the urban Midwest spent less ($217,020), along with those in rural areas ($193,020).

    USDA estimates the annual housing cost per child in urban areas is $3,900, while it’s $2,400 in rural areas.

    There were also differences depending on income. Lower-income families are expected to spend around $174,690 per child from birth through 17; higher-income families will spend a whopping $372,210.

    The average middle-income family earns between $59,200 and $107,400 before taxes.

    ___

    CHILD CARE COSTS HAVE RISEN

    After housing, child care, education and food are the highest costs for families. For a middle-income couple with two children, food costs make up about 18 percent of the cost of raising a child. Child care and education costs make up 16 percent.

    Education costs have sharply risen since 1960, when USDA estimated that those expenses were around 2 percent of child-rearing expenses. The report says this growth is likely due to the increased number of women in the workforce, prompting the need for more child care.

    The numbers don’t even include the annual cost of college, which the government estimates is $45,370 for a private college and $20,090 for a public college.

    ___

    OLDER KIDS ARE MORE EXPENSIVE

    New parents may flinch at the costs of diapers and baby gear, but it’s going to get worse. While a child costs around $12,680 when he or she is between 0 and 2, a teenager between 15 and 17 costs around $13,900 annually.

    USDA says food, transportation, clothing and health care expenses all grow as a child ages. Transportation costs are highest for the oldest children, perhaps because they start driving, and child care and education costs are highest for six and under.

    ___

    MORE KIDS, LOWER COSTS

    There is some good news for big families. Families with three or more children spend an average of 24 percent less per child. USDA says that’s because children often share bedrooms in bigger families, clothing and toys are handed down and food can be purchased in larger and more economical packages. Also, private schools and child care providers may offer sibling discounts.

    In contrast, one-child households spend an average of 27 percent more on the single child.

    The post Parents, save up: Cost of raising a child is more than $233K appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    File photo of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Rep. Tom Price, the physician and Georgia Republican tapped for the nation’s leading health care job, has long criticized federal spending as excessive. Yet during his years in Congress, he’s worked hard to keep federal dollars flowing to his most generous campaign donors.

    Price has been a go-to congressman, a review of his records show, for medical special interests hotly sparring with regulators or facing budget cuts. Over the past decade, he has waded into issues related to specific drugs and medical devices, making 38 inquiries with the federal Food and Drug Administration, according to federal records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. He questioned the FDA on his constituents’ behalf about matters as minute as a device for fertility treatment and an ingredient in pain creams.

    In other cases, he has gone to bat for companies whose executives and employees have generously contributed to his campaigns and political action committees.

    “It looks like he’s somebody who could throw the store open to a lot of niche special interests,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University who specializes in Congress. “These are things that fly under the radar. If you take a meat ax to Medicare, for example, everybody would know about it. But this kind of stuff is done in the dark of night.”

    Just a few weeks before Trump tapped Price to lead the Department of Health & Human Services in November, the congressman took the stage at an Atlanta conference for vendors who sell canes, hospital beds and power wheelchairs. Price was the star of the show — a conference with 5,000 attendees. He spoke to the gathered crowd about the Medicare cuts plaguing the industry and pledged to fight them. The leaders of the Medtrade conference honored Price with an award for his stalwart advocacy and convened a $100-per-person fundraiser in his honor.

    Price, 62, a tea party Republican and orthopedic surgeon from the northern Atlanta suburbs, was elected to Congress in 2004 after four terms in the Georgia state Legislature.  A third-generation physician, he has said he entered politics on a quest to limit government meddling in health care. He has won significant campaign support over the years from drug firms and physician groups.

    Records obtained through a public records request show that Price has taken an interest in his constituents’ struggles with the FDA (view the records here and here). He hand-signed a letter of concern over the availability of heart valves used in pediatric surgeries in 2005. Four years later, he urged review of a local company’s sperm-analysis device. He dubbed the company a “pillar of the community” and said it should be exempted from a clinical trial that would be “impossible to pass.” Earlier this year, his staffer pressed the FDA on behalf of a constituent trying to get capsaicin palmitate, a hot-pepper ingredient similar to one available over the counter — on a list of approved products for specialized pain creams.

    A staunch opponent to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which he says destroys “the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” Price has offered several plans, including the Empowering Patients First Act, to repeal and replace the president’s health reforms. He favors instead offering patients health savings accounts which they may tap to pay for coverage and care, and tax credits to help people buy health insurance on their own.

    Price’s office did not respond to interview requests or to detailed written questions about his relationships with contributors or his legislative record. His confirmation hearing could come before President-elect Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said Price is among the top targets for Democrats — and whose nomination they are trying to derail. The Office of Government Ethics will review Price’s financial disclosure report, which contains information about his assets, income and other personal financial information and then advise the Senate Finance Committee on whether Price needs to take steps to avoid conflicts of interest.

    In recent weeks, Price has come under criticism for his stock trading in drug companies, including an Australian firm that plans to seek U.S. approval for a promising drug.

    Phil Blando, a Trump transition spokesman, said Price has complied with the law and ethics rules. Blando said that Price “takes his obligation to uphold the public trust very seriously” and, if confirmed by the Senate, will work with ethics officials to “ensure his continued compliance and transparency.”

    Champion of medical equipment

    When thousands gathered at the Medtrade meeting to learn about the latest home medical equipment in the fall, Price pledged to help them.

    The industry has battled widespread changes in government payment mandated by Congress in 2003 and implemented by the Obama administration. The reforms came after a decade of Justice Department prosecutions that targeted fraudsters who bought wheelchairs at wholesale prices, allegedly gave them to seniors who didn’t need or want them and billed Medicare at a premium.

    The most recent reforms have included budget cuts and a competitive bidding program meant to limit medical supply profitability, including the wheelchairs. Providers of home medical equipment have ranked as key Price backers, contributing $52,600 to his campaign since 2013, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of federal contributions.

    Despite his longtime stance as a budget hawk, Price has sided with industry leaders who say the cuts harm rural medical suppliers who face higher costs delivering equipment. Price said in a press release that the cuts jeopardize seniors’ access to life-saving medical equipment, including scooters and oxygen tanks. “Georgia’s seniors ought to have access to quality health care,” Price said in a statement in May.

    Price introduced a bill that month to delay cuts in Medicare spending for durable medical equipment, like hospital beds and motorized wheelchairs. The bill passed the House in July but died in the Senate.

    Medical equipment industry leaders credit Price with helping reverse or delay some cuts through the recently signed 21st Century Cures Act, according to the blog of the Iowa-based VGM Group, which describes itself as “the nation’s premier purchasing organization” and a “silent partner” to thousands of independent providers of home medical equipment. The company and its executives have contributed more than $17,000 to Price. One leader aired his gratitude to the congressman in another blog post calling the delay of the cuts a “red letter day” for durable medical equipment suppliers.

    Price has also helped protect companies that provide home health aides and nursing care to homebound seniors — a lucrative industry that prosecutors have identified as prone to fraud. Alarmed by a Medicare plan to review such claims prior to payment, industry leaders turned to Price and another congressman for help, according to the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare, which lauded both men for listening to their concerns.

    Home health companies also contributed more than $24,000 to Price from 2013 to earlier this year.

    Criticizing the cost-saving plan as overly broad and impeding patients’ access to care, in September, Price introduced a bill that would delay the claim-review project a year. The bill, cosponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., stalled in a subcommittee in October.

    Support for traveling doctors

    In Congress, Price has been a vocal critic of America’s medical malpractice system — a bugaboo for many surgeons but also for a company based in his district that has provided reliable campaign donations. That firm, Jackson Healthcare, staffs hospitals and practices with temporary doctors, called locum tenens.

    One of Price’s largest PAC contributors is Richard L. Jackson, the company’s chairman and CEO. The two spoke together in 2009 at a forum aimed at limiting malpractice lawsuits. Both men have asserted doctors’ attempts to avoid such lawsuits have led to costly and excessive medical care. In a 2010 interview, Jackson mentioned that he had discussed “defensive medicine” with Price, and other Congress members. Price, for his part, has referenced Jackson Healthcare’s study on the high cost of such health care.

    The malpractice issue has had particular relevance to the locum tenens industry and to Jackson’s company in particular. It has faced multiple lawsuits over the alleged misdeeds of temporary doctors, including care of patients in Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Service hospitals.

    Price has repeatedly introduced legislation to curtail malpractice cases and, on another front, to protect the tax status of traveling doctor companies. In September he introduced the House version of a bill that would help change the IRS code to classify travelling doctors as contractors, not employees, so that the company providing them wouldn’t be legally vulnerable for taxes in distant states. A Senate version was introduced earlier by Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. The bills died in committee last year.

    Jackson and his son, Shane, the company’s president, have supported Price with donations to his campaign and joint fundraising committee, which contributes to Republican campaigns. Since 2011, Jackson and his son, have contributed at least $43,000 to Price’s campaign or a joint fundraising committee with $35,000 arriving last January.

    A spokeswoman for Jackson said Price’s bill would not have affected his company since, in practice, it already regarded its doctors as contractors, as did the government.

    But Sean Ebner, president of another major traveling doctor company, said the measure would have eliminated the possibility of a surprise tax bill.

    “The designation of who’s an independent contractor can change state by state,” Ebner, who heads Staff Care, said in an interview.  “[The bill] removes ambiguity, which would be positive.”

    Influence with the FDA

    If confirmed as HHS secretary, Price would oversee many of the rules and regulations and bottlenecks that regularly draw howls from the medical industry. He would also have authority over the FDA, which regulates pharmaceuticals. The agency may soon have purview over a company that Price has personally invested in.

    The Australian firm Innate Immunotherapeutics reported in an annual report that it plans to bring its key Multiple Sclerosis drug to the FDA for approval. Several months ago, Price purchased between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of stock in the company, according to a routine financial disclosure required of Congress members.

    The FDA is also currently mulling another regulatory issue that could make or break the company of a top contributor. Parker H. “Pete” Petit, along with his family has contributed $35,900 to Price’s campaign and leadership PAC since 2010. Petit also was finance chair for Trump in Georgia and, with his family, contributed $125,000 to the president-elect’s PAC.

    Petit is the CEO of MiMedx, a Georgia biotech firm in Price’s district, which has contested a decision from the FDA on some products to aid wound healing.

    In August 2013, the FDA concluded in a letter that the products, which consist of discarded placentas and amniotic fluid, should be regulated since their manufacturing constituted manipulating human tissue. The FDA letter sent MiMedx stock tumbling and spurred a securities lawsuit filed in federal court in Georgia. The case accused MiMedx of misleading investors by downplaying the gravity of the FDA’s scrutiny. A nearly $3 million settlement was reached in April.

    Petit has acknowledged seeking congressional help on the issue, without being specific. The FDA said it couldn’t comment on the matter. MiMedx did not return calls.

    Elizabeth Lucas contributed to this report. This report is a cross-post from the Kaiser Health News website.

    The post Health secretary nominee kept federal dollars flowing to campaign donors appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama tours a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base, Utah on April 3, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Barack Obama tours a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base, Utah on April 3, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama cast the adoption of clean energy in the U.S. as “irreversible,” putting pressure Monday on President-elect Donald Trump not to back away from a core strategy to fight climate change.

    Obama, penning an opinion article in the journal Science, sought to frame the argument in a way that might appeal to the president-elect: in economic terms. He said the fact that the cost and polluting power of energy have dropped at the same time proves that fighting climate change and spurring economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive.

    “Despite the policy uncertainty that we face, I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the economic benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States,” Obama wrote.

    He peppered his article with subtle references to Trump, noting that the debate about future climate policy was “very much on display during the current presidential transition.”

    As he prepares to transfer power to Trump, Obama has turned to an unusual format to make his case to Trump to preserve his policies: academic journals. In the last week, Obama also published articles under his name in the Harvard Law Review about his efforts on criminal justice reform and in the New England Journal of Medicine defending his health care law, which Republicans are poised to repeal.

    The articles reflect an effort by Obama to pre-empt the arguments Trump or Republicans are likely to employ as they work to roll back Obama’s key accomplishments in the coming years. Yet it’s unclear whether Trump or the GOP could be swayed by scholarly arguments in relatively obscure publications.

    Secretary of State John Kerry, one of Obama’s top allies on climate change, echoed the president in a speech Monday at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kerry said the answers to climate change are relatively straightforward and depend on the U.S. relying on cleaner sources like solar, wind, biomass and nuclear energy, but added that he didn’t know what policies Trump and the next secretary of state would pursue.

    “In the time I’ve spent in public life, one of the things I’ve learned is that some issues look a lot different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail,” Kerry said. “The truth is that climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It’s an issue that all of us should care about, regardless of political affiliation.”

    During the campaign, Trump vowed to reinvigorate the U.S. coal industry and dismantle Obama regulations targeting coal-fired power plants. More recently, he’s suggested he’s keeping an open mind about climate change and about whether he’ll pull the U.S. out of the global emissions-cutting deal struck in Paris in 2015 that Obama helped broker.

    In Science, Obama argued that as the cost of clean energy sources drop, businesses are independently coming to the conclusion that it makes financial sense to wean themselves off of coal and other dirtier fuels. He also said that if Trump pulls out of the Paris agreement, the U.S. would “lose its seat at the table” on global climate policy.

    Obama said a key advantage of the U.S. political system is that each president determines his or her own policies.

    “President-elect Donald Trump will have the opportunity to do so,” Obama wrote. “The latest science and economics provide a helpful guide for what the future may bring.”

    ___

    AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

    The post Obama presses Trump not to back away from clean energy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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