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- 01/12/17--15:40: _In Senate hearings,...
- 01/12/17--15:45: _What kind of threat...
- 01/12/17--15:50: _News Wrap: Kremlin ...
- 01/13/17--10:46: _Tom Price, Trump’s ...
- 01/13/17--11:58: _Obama ends U.S. eco...
- 01/13/17--12:33: _Do organizations ra...
- 01/13/17--12:37: _Stanford invention ...
- 01/13/17--12:49: _Congress takes firs...
- 01/13/17--13:11: _House Republican su...
- 01/13/17--13:25: _Inaugural concert t...
- 01/13/17--13:35: _Once a superpower, ...
- 01/13/17--14:45: _Bush sisters pen le...
- 01/13/17--15:25: _How a veteran at re...
- 01/13/17--15:30: _Shields and Brooks ...
- 01/13/17--15:35: _Obama leaves compli...
- 01/13/17--15:40: _What we still don’t...
- 01/13/17--15:45: _Hearings reveal Cab...
- 01/13/17--15:50: _News Wrap: Justice ...
- 01/14/17--04:46: _California begins t...
- 01/14/17--06:34: _Trump’s CEO meeting...
- 01/12/17--15:40: In Senate hearings, Mattis and Pompeo differ over Iran nuclear deal
- 01/12/17--15:45: What kind of threat does Russia pose to the U.S.?
- 01/12/17--15:50: News Wrap: Kremlin wants to tear apart NATO, Mattis warns
- 01/13/17--11:58: Obama ends U.S. economic embargo on Sudan
- 01/13/17--12:37: Stanford invention stops a cell phone battery from exploding
- 01/13/17--12:49: Congress takes first step toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act
- 01/13/17--13:11: House Republican summons ethics chief over his criticism of Trump
- 01/13/17--13:35: Once a superpower, how strong is Russia now?
- CIA World Factbook has basic information about Russia
- Council on Foreign Relations has a primer on Russia
- World Bank has more on Russia’s economic situation
- 01/13/17--14:45: Bush sisters pen letter to Obama girls before White House exit
- 01/13/17--15:25: How a veteran at retelling true stories took on ‘Patriots Day’
- 01/13/17--15:35: Obama leaves complicated legacy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria
- 01/13/17--15:40: What we still don’t know after a week dominated by Russia questions
- 01/13/17--15:45: Hearings reveal Cabinet nominees’ views at odds with Trump
- 01/14/17--04:46: California begins to emerge from its five-year drought
- 01/14/17--06:34: Trump’s CEO meetings raise concerns among ethics lawyers
JUDY WOODRUFF: Moving away from Russia, Mr. Trump’s picks to lead the CIA and the Department of Defense shed light on where the new administration stands on a number of other fronts.
Margaret Warner has the story.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, Chair, Armed Services Committee: I for one, could not be happier.
MARGARET WARNER: Retired General Mattis was clearly in friendly territory before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But the conversation turned deadly serious on the many non-Russia threats to the U.S.
Committee Chairman John McCain on China:
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: We see a new assertiveness in China to confront U.S. allies and partners, make vast territorial claims with no basis in international law, carve out spheres of influence.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), Secretary of Defense Nominee: And I would just say that what we have got to do is maintain a very strong military, so our diplomats are always engaging from a position of strength when we deal with a rising power.
MARGARET WARNER: On Syria and efforts to retake the Islamic State stronghold there:
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Do you believe that we have a strategy that will allow us to regain control of Raqqa?
GEN. JAMES MATTIS: I believe we do, sir. However, I believe that strategy needs to be reviewed and perhaps energized on a more aggressive timeline.
MARGARET WARNER: And on a long-contentious topic, Mattis’ opposition post-retirement to letting women serve in combat roles, as they do today.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.): Do you plan to oppose women serving in these combat roles?
GEN. JAMES MATTIS: I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military.
MARGARET WARNER: The panel’s top Democrat, Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, noted Mattis has publicly supported sticking with the Iran nuclear deal that President-elect Donald Trump has derided.
SEN. JACK REED (D-R.I.): We have to essentially stay the course. Is that still your view?
GEN. JAMES MATTIS: I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It’s not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it.
MARGARET WARNER: The Iran deal also came up in the Intelligence Committee’s hearing for Congressman Mike Pompeo as CIA chief.
Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico:
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D-N.M.): I know that the day before you were nominated to be the director, you said that you looked forward to — quote — “rolling back the Iran deal.”
REP. MIKE POMPEO (R-Kan.): It was my view that the JCPOA was a mistake for American national security. And now, if I’m confirmed, I will continue to do that in my role as director of the CIA. I will endeavor to provide straight information to you all about the progress that the JCPOA has made.
MARGARET WARNER: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein brought up the CIA’s brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists, now outlawed by Congress.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-Calif.): If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual, would you comply?
REP. MIKE POMPEO: Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect.
MARGARET WARNER: The committee will vote recommending Pompeo’s confirmation to the full Senate.
On Mattis, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for a waiver to allow him to serve as secretary of defense less than seven years after retiring from the military.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.
The post In Senate hearings, Mattis and Pompeo differ over Iran nuclear deal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
STEVE INSKEEP: Now, President-elect Trump has said he would like to improve relations with Russia. His choice for defense secretary views Russia as America’s number one threat.
Let’s listen to Gen. James Mattis at his hearing today.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), Secretary of Defense-Designate: I would consider the principal threats to start with Russia. And it would certainly include any nations that are looking to intimidate nations around their periphery, regional nations nearby them, whether it be with weapons of mass destruction or I would call it unusual, unorthodox means of intimidating them.
STEVE INSKEEP: Well, let’s talk about this with Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia for the United States from 2012 to 2014. He is now a political science professor at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
We’re also joined by Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia from 2012 to 2015. She’s now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which is a Washington security think tank.
And welcome to you both.
And, Evelyn, let’s start with you.
Is Mattis right, Russia is the number one threat? It’s not China, it’s not North Carolina, it’s not ISIS?
EVELYN FARKAS, Former Defense Department Official: Nope, it’s not the others.
Actually, what is interesting is, he mentioned Russia by name. He didn’t mention the others by name. The second category he gave, of course, could have included Russia.
STEVE INSKEEP: Countries threatening their neighbors.
EVELYN FARKAS: Country threatening using unorthodox means, like cyber-attacks, cyber-operations, strategic communications, fake news, et cetera.
But it also could have included and probably does include North Korea, as well as China and other actors, so other actors that decide to emulate, to copy Russia. But Russia is the biggest one, because they’re really trying to rewrite the rules of the international order far more than China, although China is pushing the envelope as well.
STEVE INSKEEP: I want the bring Ambassador McFaul into the conversation, but first let’s hear a contrary view here, what sounds like a contrary view.
We know that the president-elect seems to want Russia as a friend. President Obama arguably has not wanted to say that Russia is that great of a threat. He doesn’t seem all that worried about them. And let’s listen a little bit of the president in December.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate. But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are.
STEVE INSKEEP: Ambassador McFaul, that’s your former boss. Is Russia really that dangerous?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia: Well, I think Russia is dangerous, not a superpower. I know what the president is trying to say. I worked for him for five years, not just two.
He doesn’t want us to overreact. He doesn’t want to go back to the Cold War and some superpower competition. But my own view, and I think General Mattis stated something similar today, is that Russia is a challenge for the United States. It is a threat to some of our allies.
And what means they have, they’re prepared to use them. That’s the big difference. Take cyber-capabilities. We have way more cyber-capability than they do. We could intervene in their elections easily. We choose not to do so because we’re a different country. That’s what Obama was trying to say.
The means that Mr. Putin has, he’s not afraid to use them.
STEVE INSKEEP: I’m remembering the word asymmetric, which we all had to learn after 9/11, when we heard about asymmetric threats, that al-Qaida wasn’t that large, not conventionally powerful, didn’t control territory, but they found new ways to project power that were extraordinarily dangerous.
Is this an asymmetric situation with Russia, where they are a relatively weak country in many ways, but they have found new ways to strike out at their neighbors and at the United States?
MICHAEL MCFAUL: I believe so, I think in a couple of instances.
Number one, I just mentioned cyber. They have kinds of capabilities. They use those capabilities in different ways, political ways, than we’re prepared to do so. With respect to their military, of course they don’t have the military means at all compared to the United States of America.
But they were prepared to use their military to annex territory on their neighbor and then intervene in Eastern Ukraine. We’re not prepared to do that. And then, number three, I think something that’s really understudied and misunderstood is their use of information.
They are very bold in the world of information, propagating their ideas, using companies like R.T. and Sputnik to do that. And, again, they don’t play by the same rules. What we call news, fact vs. fiction, they’re a lot more loose in terms of those definitions. And that has a greater effect, therefore, because they play by different rules.
STEVE INSKEEP: Evelyn Farkas, the Republican critique here is that Russia is in a weak situation, but has been emboldened by a weak response from the United States, that in Ukraine, that in other places, the United States has not stepped forward.
Is there some justice in that view?
EVELYN FARKAS: I regretfully say there is some justice in the view, because the only thing that the Kremlin, this cadre of people supporting Vladimir Putin, and Vladimir Putin himself understand is strength, is resolve.
And they will not stop until they are given the sense that the costs will be too high and they will have gone too far. The other part of this is that Putin himself is a bit of a risk taker, so the invading Ukraine, in the east in particular — Crimea was risky, but then the east was risky. And actually then he didn’t pull it off completely.
And then Syria was very risky. Both these operations, as Mike pointed out, were using their military, but they actually didn’t use their whole military either. They were pretty much economies of force.
But I think, yes, of course we need to be stronger. We need to deter the Russians. We need to show resolve, which is why cooperating with them on the other hand can be more difficult.
STEVE INSKEEP: Well, let’s talk explicitly about Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Trump.
President-elect Trump talked about Putin at his news conference yesterday. Let’s listen to a little bit of that.
DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS, which, by the way, is, number one, tricky.
STEVE INSKEEP: And I want to add one other thing, Ambassador McFaul, because Donald Trump sent out a tweet the other day. I’m sure you noticed it.
He said: “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only stupid people or fools would think it was bad.”
MICHAEL MCFAUL: Felt that was directed at me.
STEVE INSKEEP: You think it was directed at you?
What’s wrong with having a good relationship with Russia?
MICHAEL MCFAUL: Well, first, two things. I want to be clear that when you mention the Republican critique of President Obama, that is not President-elect Trump’s critique, right? So you have a real clash within the Republican Party, and I think within the Trump administration, about how to develop policy toward Russia.
But here’s what I would say to that tweet: It should never be the goal of U.S. foreign policy towards any country to have a — quote, unquote — “good relation.” Then what? What do we get out of that? We get — Trump is helping the approval ratings amongst Russians. How does that advance American national security interests?
I think you have got to flip it around. He has got to define what he seeks to achieve with Russia, and then use diplomacy and sometimes coercion to achieve those ends. Right now, aside from this fight with ISIS, which I would just underscore, you know, the Obama administration has been trying to fight ISIS with Russia for several years now.
There’s no disagreement there. They just have not been useful, because the Russians don’t want the fight ISIS in Syria. They want to leave that to us. Aside from that, I don’t know what are the objectives that Mr. Trump seeks in having a good relationship with Mr. Putin.
STEVE INSKEEP: Well, that leads to one more point, Evelyn Farkas, because in the Senate hearing today, Senator John McCain said Russia is not going to be our friend. In fact, he said Russia wants and needs to be our enemy.
EVELYN FARKAS: Right.
STEVE INSKEEP: And they’re not going to cooperate even on ISIS.
So, what can the United States achieve, then?
EVELYN FARKAS: I mean, we can try to get them to cooperate on ISIS, but, as Mike pointed out, we spent months in the administration trying to get them to cooperate on terrorism, actually starting with the Sochi Olympics, where it was on their territory. You would have thought they would have wanted to cooperate.
And I think you pointed to a very important point we need to bear in mind, which is the Russian domestic situation. In 2018, Vladimir Putin will be up for reelection, and he has shifted his whole political strategy inside of Russia from one where he promised the Russians pretty much a chicken in every pot, a better economic way of life.
He’s now nationalist. And what he does is, he tells the Russian people, OK, you may have a little less chicken in your pot, but I’m making Russia great again. Look what we’re doing all other the world. Everyone is paying attention to us. And Russia is a great power, on par with the United States and others.
And he — and the anti-Americanism is rampant in Russia right now. He can tone it back. He’s going to have to tone it back if he wants a good relationship with Donald Trump, but he’s going to have to probably shift back to that again, because the Russian people are not going to be interested in having a guy give them a raw economic deal for another term.
STEVE INSKEEP: Ambassador McFaul, is there just one thing you can name that the United States could deal with Russia on?
MICHAEL MCFAUL: Well, of course we can deal with them on counterterrorism. We have and I think we are right now. That’s easy.
I think in other economic and trade issues, under the right conditions. And, again, I guess I want to really emphasize this point. Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he wants from this relationship. In return for good relations, he wants lifting of sanctions, ratification, approval of his wars in Ukraine and Syria, and his dream of dreams, an acknowledgment of his sphere of influence in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union.
That, to me, is a bad deal. Once he understands that we’re not going to take that deal, then we can move on to these other things, but, first and foremost, he wants to test that proposition. And he’s waiting to see what President Trump will do when given that deal on offer.
STEVE INSKEEP: Michael McFaul is a former U.S. ambassador to Russia. Evelyn Farkas is a former Pentagon official here in our studios.
Thanks to you both.
EVELYN FARKAS: Thank you very much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tough talk on Russia today from the Trump nominees to run the Pentagon and the CIA. At their Senate confirmation hearings, both men took a harder line than the president-elect has on dealing with the Kremlin.
The defense secretary-designate, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, minced no words.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), Secretary of Defense-Designate: We have a long list of times that we have tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard. And I think right now, the most important thing is that recognize the reality of what we deal with Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At a separate hearing, the CIA nominee, Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, accused the Russians of aggressive action in meddling in the U.S. presidential election. We will take a deeper look at today’s statements by both of these key Trump advisers right after the news summary.
In the day’s other news, the first of 3,500 U.S. troops arrived in southwestern Poland in a NATO buildup to deter Russia. The Armored Brigade Combat Team was met with fanfare from the Polish military and public. The U.S. now plans to keep troops in Poland on an ongoing basis. Russia charged that the U.S. move threatens its own security.
STEVE INSKEEP: FBI Director James Comey will face an investigation of his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. The Justice Department’s inspector general says he will examine what the bureau did and what it said before the election. That includes Comey’s disclosure in late October that agents were reviewing e-mails again. Nothing came of that review, but Clinton says it hurt her chances.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The nominee for U.S. housing secretary defended his qualifications for the job today at his confirmation hearing. Dr. Ben Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon, said after growing up poor in inner-city Detroit, he’s committed to affordable housing for the poor.
But Democrat Elizabeth Warren pressed Carson to guarantee that federal housing funds won’t go to help the Trump family’s real estate business.
DR. BEN CARSON, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development-Designate: It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any — any American.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.): I understand that
DR. BEN CARSON: It’s for all Americans, everything that we do.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: But do I take that to mean that you may manage programs that will significantly benefit the president-elect?
DR. BEN CARSON: You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people. That is going to be the goal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, the president-elect tapped Rudy Giuliani to advise his administration on cyber-security. The former New York City mayor is a long Trump friend who campaigned for him. He currently heads a cyber-security consulting firm. Giuliani was considered for several Cabinet jobs, but ultimately pulled himself out of the running for those.
There is also word this evening that President Obama will scrap a policy allowing any Cubans who get to U.S. soil to stay. The White House announcement follows months of negotiation, and it means that Cubans trying to flee the communist island could be sent back. The existing policy had been in effect since 1995.
STEVE INSKEEP: Baltimore has committed to changing the way its police do business. The city reached agreement today with the U.S. Justice Department. They were responding to the case of Freddie Gray, who died after being taken into police custody. Baltimore cops will have to work the streets differently. They have to change the way they stop suspects. And an independent monitor will check on their process.
The agreement is one of the final acts for Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General: This consent decree is going to empower the community and it will also strengthen the police force in their pure crime-fighting role, as well as the role that engages the community in that. And with that, we hope that we will have a reduction in crime in Baltimore, but more importantly an increase in the participation of the community in this entire process.
STEVE INSKEEP: The agreement comes after the Justice Department found Baltimore police commonly stopped poor or black residents without good cause.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Environmental Protection Agency accused Fiat Chrysler today of cheating on emissions testing. It involves software that lets some Ram pickups and Jeep Grand Cherokees emit more pollution than federal law allows. Just yesterday, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to emissions cheating.
STEVE INSKEEP: Americans who really want Obamacare repealed started to get what they want this morning. The Republican-led Senate passed a budget rule that amounts to a first step. Americans who want to know what replaces Obamacare still don’t know. Republicans don’t agree what to do with millions who gained insurance under the law. To finish the job, Republicans need Democrats and also president-elect Trump, who’s said he wants replacement nearly simultaneously with repeal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The storms that brought a deluge to parts of California are moving on, and leaving some good news in their wake. Federal officials announced today that 42 percent of the state has now emerged from a five-year drought, thanks to all that rain.
Still, some Northern California communities remain paralyzed by flooding. In towns like Hollister, the surge took people by surprise.
RICHARD SANCHEZ, Hollister, California Resident: House is OK, but all around me, my cars, we’re stranded in, unless I get like carried out or driven out. My yard is just an ocean, but I don’t really do agriculture or nothing. So, it’s just kind of a — until it flows out, man, I just got a big lake in my backyard for now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Forecasters expect the rainfall in Northern California to taper off after today.
STEVE INSKEEP: Amazon says it plans to hire 100,000 full-time workers over the next year-and-a-half. The company intends to open pop-up retail stores, largely in Texas and California. Amazon will grow, as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Macy’s are cutting thousands of jobs.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And on Wall Street, a drop in bond yields sent bank stocks into a slump, and pushed down the broader market. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 63 points to close at 19891. The Nasdaq fell 16 points, and the S&P 500 slipped almost five.
The post News Wrap: Kremlin wants to tear apart NATO, Mattis warns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
When tiny Australian biotech firm Innate Immunotherapeutics needed to raise money last summer, it didn’t issue stock on the open market. Instead, it offered a sweetheart deal to “sophisticated U.S. investors,” company documents show.
It sold nearly $1 million in discounted shares to two American congressmen sitting on House committees with the potential power to advance the company’s interests, according to company records and congressional filings. They paid 18 cents a share for a stake in a company that was rapidly escalating in value, rising to more than 90 cents as the company promoted an aggressive plan to sell to a major pharmaceutical company. Analysts said the stock price could go to $2.
One of the beneficiaries was Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican poised to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which regulates pharmaceuticals. Price told HHS ethics officials Thursday that if appointed, he will divest himself of the Australian stock as well as stock in about 40 other companies that could pose conflicts. He said he would sell within 90 days of appointment and abstain from any decision-making about companies in which he or his family has had an interest.
He has already seen about a 400 percent paper gain in his investment in Innate Immuno, stock trading records show.
The other and more substantial August investor was Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from upstate New York, who along with family members owns about 20 percent of the foreign company. A key supporter of the president-elect, Collins sits on a key health subcommittee.
The outlines of the stock deal, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, resurrected concerns about powerful public officials gaining investment opportunities unavailable to the public, including from companies whose profits might be influenced by political decisions.
A review of corporate documents raises a more unusual aspect of the deal. Innate Immuno is a foreign company which, in documents and presentations, is explicit about a business strategy targeting the U.S. market, where the amount that can be charged for a new drug is generally far higher than in other countries.
Innate Immuno has hinged its strategy on winning a preliminary green light for a new multiple sclerosis drug, known as MIS416, from the HHS’s Food and Drug Administration. It says in its private placement offering documents that money raised in the U.S. will help it finance the FDA approval process, which can take years. Innate Immuno CEO Simon Wilkinson could not be reached for comment.
Price’s financial disclosures show that he acquired his first small stake in Innate Immuno in January 2015, investing about $5,000. He made two more small purchases in the company that year, declaring a small loss on the stock in his 2015 financial disclosure.
His largest purchase was on Aug. 31, 2016, valued at between $50,000 and $100,000, his disclosures show.
Government ethics experts said this week that Price’s stake in Innate Immuno as it tries to develop a blockbuster drug would clash with his public duties, making divestiture mandatory.
While ethics rules for Congress are relatively relaxed, “the minute you go to the executive branch, it’s a lot stricter,” said Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who was President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer.
“Dr. Price takes his obligation to uphold the public trust very seriously,” said Phil Blando, a spokesman for the Trump transition. He has “complied fully with all applicable laws and ethics rules governing his personal finances.”
Innate Immuno told investors it would seek “investigational new drug” status from the FDA, which could shorten the approval process. The FDA would not confirm this week whether the company has filed an application.
The drug is in a small clinical trial in New Zealand due to end in April. MS drugs are especially expensive for patients, costing $5,000 a month or more.
Positive trial results could set the stage for Innate Immuno’s stock to reach $2, said Australian stock analysts. In that scenario, Price’s investment of between $50,000 and $100,000 would be worth between $555,000 and $1.1 million. House financial disclosures require reporting of ranges of value but not specific amounts.
“You could easily picture a drug that is in the billions of dollars in revenues, but that’s assuming the [trial] data is there,” said David Blake, an analyst at Bioshares, a newsletter covering Australian life sciences stocks. “It’s really got to deliver.”
A physician who chairs the House Budget Committee, Price also sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Congressional Health Care Caucus. He has a history of contacting the FDA on behalf of industry campaign donors.
His ownership of Innate Immuno while serving in the House creates its own appearance of a conflict of interest, ethics authorities said.
“There is an appearance problem … to have members of Congress buying and selling stocks that are affected by the work of the committees they sit on,” Painter said. “It could be perfectly legal, but it looks terrible and shows lack of judgment.”
Price’s Innate Immuno stake is one of more than 40 companies he identifies as potential conflicts with the HHS job, including stock in Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Bristol Myers Squibb.
Collins, who sits on Innate Immuno’s board, has been a major shareholder in the company since 2011 and has gradually increased his family’s holdings to about 20 percent, corporate documents show. His investment in the private placement last summer was worth $720,000, according to regulatory documents.
“Congressman Collins has followed all ethical guidelines related to his personal finances during his time in the House and will continue to do so,” said spokesman Michael McAdams.
All told, including Price, Collins and other U.S. investors, the sale raised $1.8 million. In addition to funding the FDA approval process, the company said it would use the money to finance the clinical trial and develop potential manufacturing for the drug.
All U.S. investors in the August deal received a 12 percent discount to the stock’s market price at the time, which is not unusual in private placements, said Stuart Glazebrook, a biotech analyst for Gordon Capital Research, a securities research company in Melbourne, Australia.
For small companies, private issues can be more efficient than selling new public shares, he said. Selling at less than the market price raises odds of attracting investors, he said.
“It’s an incentive,” he said. “It’s like Amazon offering 20 percent off today only if you commit today.”
Ethics rules for FDA officials are especially strict, said Joshua Sharfstein, a former agency deputy commissioner.
“For the agency’s leaders, even holding onto a single share of stock in a regulated company is prohibited,” he said.
A decade ago FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford resigned and pleaded guilty to two criminal misdemeanors after being charged with concealing stock ownership in food and drug companies the agency regulated.
Innate Immuno executives have talked openly about selling the company to one of a number of pharmaceutical company suitors if its clinical trial is successful. Many small pharmaceutical companies with hot drugs go that route, reaping shareholders millions in quick profits.
The larger company would have the deep pockets to invest in more clinical trials that might be needed to obtain regulatory approval, analysts said.
Christina Jewett contributed reporting. This story was published by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.
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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced Friday the end of a U.S. economic embargo on Sudan, lifting trade and financial sanctions in an eleventh-hour push to expand ties with the long-estranged African government and build on positive signs of counterterrorism cooperation.
A week before leaving office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to permanently revoke a broad range of sanctions after a six-month waiting period, designed to ensure that Sudan doesn’t backslide on improved efforts to counter Islamic extremism. In the meantime, the Treasury Department authorized Americans to do business in Sudan and export products there, effective immediately. It also unfroze Sudan’s assets in the U.S.
Washington has maintained sanctions on Sudan since the 1990s. But Obama told Congress in a letter that the situation had changed over the last six months and Sudan had taken “positive actions.” Sudan’s economy has plummeted since its oil revenues crashed with South Sudan’s secession in 2011, which may explain Khartoum’s desire for closer cooperation with the West.
Human rights groups howled with disgust, reflecting the Sudanese government’s long record of atrocities and the International Criminal Court’s indictment of the country’s president. But the Obama administration cast it as a carrot-and-stick strategy, offering Sudan incentives to improve while retaining leverage by preserving the ability to take the incentives away.
The announcement followed more than a year of U.S.-Sudanese talks to boost cooperation in five areas of U.S. concern: counterterrorism, access for aid groups, ending Darfur’s conflict, eliminating safe havens for South Sudanese rebels and fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army.
It will be up to Donald Trump’s administration to decide whether to continue the outreach or re-impose sanctions. Obama’s order would lift the economic penalties on July 12. Trump also could act sooner.
The president-elect, who takes office Jan. 20, hasn’t commented publicly about Sudan sanctions. During the campaign, Walid Phares, a Trump adviser on national security, suggested Trump was opposed to lifting the sanctions.
The policy shift authorizes all U.S.-Sudan trade previously blocked by sanctions to resume immediately. It also unfreezes property and other assets that had been locked up in U.S. banks. Business with oil and gas industries in Sudan, such as pipelines and oilfield services, is now permitted. Americans can facilitate financial transactions between Sudan and other countries.
Senior U.S. officials said they expected the eased sanctions to give way to increased trade of agricultural products and machinery, medical supplies and transportation and computer equipment.
The administration briefed Trump’s team on the plan, officials said, but added they couldn’t predict whether Trump would reverse the policy. The officials weren’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.
Some U.S. sanctions tied to Sudan’s “state sponsor of terrorism” designation remain in place, including a ban on weapons sales and restrictions on U.S. aid. Sanctions related to Darfur also remain in effect.
Human Rights Watch called the decision “inexplicable,” accusing Sudan of ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The Obama administration is sending the worst possible message to Sudan and other repressive governments: If you cooperate on counterterrorism, then all abuses — including by your president — will be ignored,” said the group’s Africa director, Leslie Lefkow.
But U.S. officials said the new approach signals an admission that isolating Sudan for so many years hadn’t worked and that engagement might prove more effective. Such an acknowledgement fits with a general pattern under Obama of rapprochement with rogue or antagonistic states, including Cuba, Iran and Myanmar.
Last fall, the State Department issued an out-of-the-blue statement welcoming Sudan’s cooperation in fighting Islamic extremist groups, even as it expressed grave concerns about Sudan’s handling of unrest in the western Darfur region. It surprisingly described normalized relations as a possibility.
The department first labeled Sudan a terrorism sponsor in 1993. Among those Sudan harbored was Osama bin Laden, prompting President Bill Clinton to launch airstrikes in 1998.
Sudan’s changes have largely occurred beneath the radar. But the U.S. credits the country with limiting travel of Islamic State militants and shifting toward greater alignment with Saudi Arabia, and less with Iran. Israel also has pressed the U.S. to adopt a friendlier relationship with Sudan after it cracked down on shipments of suspected Iranian weapons to groups hostile to the Jewish state.
Still, Washington’s outreach will be limited. It’s unlikely that the U.S. would commit to any engagement directly with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide charges.
Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.
Each month, the NBER Digest summarizes several recent NBER working papers. These papers have not been peer-reviewed, but are circulated by their authors for comment and discussion. With the NBER’s blessing, Making Sen$e is pleased to feature these summaries regularly on our page.
The following summary was written by the NBER and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Making Sen$e.
How do potential donors respond to receiving gifts from organizations that appeal to them for support? That’s the central question in “It’s Not the Thought That Counts: A Field Experiment on Gift Exchange and Giving at a Public University.”
Researchers Catherine C. Eckel, David H. Herberich and Jonathan Meer investigate whether gifts to donors raise giving by more than they cost. Their findings indicate that gifting, at least on a relatively small scale, does not pay off.
Previous experiments suggested that gifts are more appealing to donors if they can be used to indicate an affiliation with a prestigious or significant organization. With that in mind, the researchers partnered with an alumni association, the Association of Former Students, or AFS, at Texas A&M University and used luggage tags branded with the association’s logo as rewards.
In a direct mail appeal, the researchers contacted 140,642 Texas A&M alumni who had not donated the prior year or had recently graduated. Seven different treatments were used in the mailings to measure responses to requests for donations. Some solicitations included what the study terms an “unconditional” gift and came with the request for a donation and required no response. Some unconditional gift recipients received a leather luggage tag and some a plastic one to enable researchers to evaluate the impact of a gift’s quality on potential donors. Other treatments offered a “conditional” gift of a plastic tag and would be sent if a donation was made. As a control, some mailings neither contained nor offered gifts. Noting that a significant number of subjects in previous studies had claimed they wished charities would save money on overhead by not offering gifts, the researchers offered opt-in and opt-out choices in some of the conditional mailings. In addition, some envelopes had the text “special offer” displayed on the front.
The most surprising finding was that nearly two-thirds of those who donated to the appeal and were offered a gift opted to accept it. “This provides evidence that donors are not motivated by the desire to maximize the impact of their donation, which could be thought of as a more altruistic motivation,” the researchers conclude. “Rather, the motivation appears to be, at least in part, a desire for the item itself, whether for its direct value or the signaling value of an AFS-branded tag.”
Most significantly, for organizations planning donor appeals, the researchers found that there was no difference in donation size between the control group and the group that was offered a luggage tag if they sent in a donation. Donations were higher when the luggage tag was included in the initial mailing as an unconditional gift. The quality of the gift also had an impact on donations; the leather unconditional gifts were associated with a higher likelihood of donations being made than the plastic unconditional gifts.
Those results notwithstanding, the expense of shipping the item to all prospective donors exceeded the larger donations gained from the recipients of unconditional gifts. Solicitations including the unconditional leather gift produced a net loss of almost $3 per solicitation. Solicitations that included the unconditional gift of a plastic tag lost 70 cents. Solicitations that did not offer a gift registered a net gain of 26 cents.
— Jen Deaderick, National Bureau of Economic Research
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Stanford University researchers have developed a fire extinguisher that prevents lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery fires before they start. If adopted widely, this failsafe could lead to more efficient power sources for smartphones and laptops without increasing their likelihood for detonation.
Li-ion batteries — a standard feature in most new, rechargeable technology — occasionally ignite when they charge or discharge too fast. If the ions within the battery move too fast, then the lithium plates build up heat. That heat can ignite the battery’s electrolyte. Boom!
The new invention is a capsule of the flame retardant triphenyl phosphate (TPP), surrounded by a plastic-like shell. Manufacturers would add these capsules to battery packs, and the shell would melts if things get too hot, releasing the flame retardant fluid. A description of the innovation was published today in Science Advances.
“I have been always interested in trying to solve the battery safety problem,” nanomaterials engineer and study leader Yi Cui said. “You look at the recent instance of the Samsung smartphone particularly. Battery safety is always a concern.”
Battery explosions, needless to say, can be dangerous. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered Boeing to ground a fleet of planes that posed a risk of battery fires in 2013. The Department of Transportation has banned Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on airplanes, after the device’s battery showed a tendency toward combustion in 2016. Also last year, a family sued Amazon on the allegation that a hoverboard exploded and burned down their house.
Still, electronics manufacturers love Li-ion batteries. Lithium is soft, highly reactive and lightweight — making it ideal for a rechargeable power source in small devices.
Jun Liu, a battery fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, notes that there are billions of Li-ion batteries on the market that do their job without issue.
“Lithium batteries are no less safe than other technologies,” said Liu, who was not involved in the study. “Batteries are energetic devices. If you don’t handle them properly, they will give you problems.”
For instance, if a manufacturer warps a battery, or if a user overheats it, then it becomes more prone to incendiary reactions.
These developments are particularly important considering the rise in popularity of electric cars. If someone damaged their car battery, it would be much more dangerous than a small device like a cellphone.
Cui and his team aren’t the only ones trying to prevent battery fires. Some have tested putting flame retardant directly into the batteries, for example.
“Right now there is a huge effort made in the community to improve the safety of Li-ion batteries,” Liu said.
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WASHINGTON — Ascendant Republicans drove a budget through Congress on Friday that gives them an early but critical victory in their crusade to scrap President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
The vote trains the spotlight on whether they and Donald Trump can deliver on repeated pledges to not just erase that statute but replace it.
Demonstrating the GOP’s willingness to plunge into a defining but risky battle, the House used a near party-line 227-198 roll call to approve a measure that prevents Senate Democrats from derailing a future bill, thus far unwritten, annulling and reshaping Obama’s landmark 2010 law. The budget, which won Senate approval early Thursday, does not need the president’s signature.
“The ‘Unaffordable’ Care Act will soon be history!” Trump tweeted Friday in a dig at the statute’s name, the Affordable Care Act. Trump takes the presidential oath next Friday.
The real work looms in coming months as the new administration and congressional Republicans write legislation to erase much of the health care law and replace it with a GOP version. Republicans have internal divisions over what that would look like, though past GOP proposals have cut much of the existing law’s federal spending and eased coverage requirements while relying more on tax benefits and letting states make decisions.
Friday’s vote was preceded by debate that saw hyperbole on both sides and underscored how the two parties have alternate-universe views of Obama’s overhaul. Democrats praised it for extending coverage to tens of millions of Americans, helping families afford policies and seniors buy prescriptions, while Republicans focused on the rising premiums and deductibles and limited access to doctors and insurers that have plagued many.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the health care law was “so arrogant and so contrary to our founding principles” and had not delivered on Obama’s promises to lower costs and provide more choice.
“We have to step in before things get worse. This is nothing short of a rescue mission,” Ryan said.
“Our experimentation in Soviet-style central planning of our health care system has been an abject failure,” said freshman Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Ryan was peddling “mythology” and said the GOP was moving toward worsening health care for consumers.
“They want to cut benefits and run. They want to cut access and run,” she said of Republicans.
“This is a sad day in the history of this country as Republicans begin the process of destroying health care in America,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., arguing that the GOP has no replacement in hand. “All you have is smoke and mirrors, and the American people are getting ready to get screwed.”
Nine Republicans joined all voting Democrats in opposing the budget.
The budget’s approval means Senate Democrats won’t be allowed to filibuster the future repeal-and-replace bill — a pivotal advantage for Republicans. They control the Senate 52-48, but it takes 60 votes to end filibusters, or endless procedural delays that can scuttle legislation.
Republicans have made annulling Obama’s law and replacing it a top goal for the past seven years. GOP rifts and an Obama veto prevented them from achieving anything other than holding scores of votes that served as political messaging.
Trump, too, made targeting Obama’s overhaul a primary target during his campaign. At his news conference Wednesday, Trump — who’s supplied few details of what he wants — said his emerging plan will be “far less expensive and far better” than the statute.
Despite their conceptual unity, plenty of Republicans have shown skittishness in recent days about the political repercussions of charging into a battle that, with Trump in the White House, puts enacting new laws within reach.
Many expressed opposition to leaders’ initial emphasis on first passing a repeal bill and then focusing on a replacement — a process that could produce a gap of months or longer. Trump has also pushed Congress to act fast.
Numerous Republicans have insisted on learning how their party will re-craft the nation’s $3 trillion-a-year health care system before voting to void existing programs. Twenty million Americans are covered by Obama’s expansion of Medicaid or by policies sold on exchanges, and millions of others have benefited from the coverage requirements it has imposed on insurers.
There are internal GOP chasms over leaders’ plans to use their bill to halt federal payments to Planned Parenthood and pare Medicaid coverage. There are also disagreements over how to pay for the GOP replacement, with many Republicans leery of Ryan’s proposal to tax part of the value of some health insurance provided by employers.
Even with their disputes, the GOP’s rallying behind their budget spotlighted the political imperative facing Republicans to deliver on a battle cry that has sustained them for years.
Moving ahead on the budget was “a bottom-line, party survival vote,” said Thomas P. Miller, a health care authority at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The post Congress takes first step toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — House Republicans have shown no inclination to challenge President-elect Donald Trump on ethics matters. Instead, they are going after federal ethics official who questioned Trump’s potential conflicts of interest.
Democrats slammed the move, saying GOP lawmakers are trying to intimidate an independent watchdog for having the temerity to challenge Trump’s business arrangements.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has summoned Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, to answer questions about his public comments on Trump.
This week, Shaub issued a scathing review of Trump’s plan to turn over control of his business to his sons. Shaub said in a speech Wednesday that the only way Trump could avoid a conflict of interest as president would be to divest from his business and have his assets placed in a blind trust. “Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective,” Shaub said of Trump.
Chaffetz sent Shaub a sternly worded letter late Thursday requesting that he sit for a transcribed interview. He said the interview would “help the committee understand how you perceive OGE’s role, among other things.”
“Your agency’s mission is to provide clear ethics guidance, not engage in public relations,” Chaffetz wrote.
In an interview, Chaffetz said Shaub is offering opinions on conflicts of interest without fully researching the circumstances. “What he’s doing is highly unethical,” Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz said his own letter was drafted before Shaub’s speech. Chaffetz said he has been trying to meet with Shaub since the fall but that Shaub has declined his invitations. “All I wanted to do is try to get him to come in and talk to us,” Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz’ letter cited a series of tweets by Shaub in November. In the tweets, Shaub congratulated Trump for agreeing to divest from his business — an agreement that Trump never made.
The congressman’s letter did not mention Shaub’s speech.
In the speech, Shaub noted that members of Trump’s Cabinet — some of them very wealthy, like Trump — are required to place their assets in a blind trust. Shaub said the president should be held to the same standard. “The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met,” Shaub said.
Shaub’s criticism of Trump has been echoed by several government watchdog groups and both Republican and Democratic government ethics experts. They include Norman Eisen, a former chief ethics counselor for President Barack Obama, and Richard Painter, who served in the same role for President George W. Bush.
Congressional Democrats sharply criticized Chaffetz for summoning Shaub.
“The Oversight Committee has not held one hearing, conducted one interview, or obtained one document about President-elect Donald Trump’s massive global entanglements, yet it is now apparently rushing to launch an investigation of the key government official for warning against the risks caused by President-elect Donald Trump’s current plans,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, then top Democrat on the committee.
Some Democrats see a coordinated effort by Republicans to undermine the office responsible for ethics reviews of Cabinet nominees and ensuring they will avoid conflicts of interests.
“Instead of honoring his committee’s responsibility to hold the administration accountable, Chairman Chaffetz has appointed himself President-elect Trump’s chief strongman and enforcer,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
A week ago, Shaub complained that Senate Republicans were moving ahead with confirmation hearings before Trump’s choices had reached ethics agreements.
This week, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., circulated an online petition that says, “It’s time for the bureaucrats at the Office of Government Ethics to pick up the pace on vetting President-elect Trump’s nominees for the cabinet.”
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WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s inaugural welcome concert next week will feature country star Toby Keith, singer Jennifer Holliday and actor Jon Voight, organizers announced Friday.
The names add some celebrity flavor to an inaugural lineup that so far has been noticeably short on star power, with organizers insisting that Trump himself is the celebrity in chief for this inaugural.
Also performing at Thursday’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration:” southern rockers 3 Doors Down, The Piano Guys, Lee Greenwood, DJ RaviDrums and The Frontmen of Country, featuring Tim Rushlow, Larry Stewart and Richie McDonald.
“We’re going to do something incredible,” Trump said in a tweeted video promoting the concert. “That’s going to be really fantastic.”
Trump himself also will speak at the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, which organizers said “will serve as a tribute to one of our greatest attributes, the peaceful transition of partisan power.”
The celebrity wattage for Trump’s inaugural festivities doesn’t rival that of Barack Obama’s inaugurations, which attracted A-listers including Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Hudson, among others. But Trump has insisted that’s how he wants it, saying the swearing-in festivities should be about the people not the elites.
Holliday is best known for her Tony-winning role in “Dreamgirls” on Broadway. Greenwood, whose signature song is “God Bless the U.S.A.,” has performed for past GOP presidential inaugurals. Voight has been a vocal Trump supporter.
Several prominent entertainers have declined invitations to perform at the Trump inaugural.
Those set to perform at Trump’s Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony include singer Jackie Evancho, the Radio City Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Evancho, who has caught some criticism for agreeing to perform at the inaugural, said she hoped her performance will “bring people together.”
“I hope to just kind of make everyone forget about rivals and politics for a second and just think about America and the pretty song that I’m singing,” Evancho said in an interview to air Sunday on “CBS This Morning.”
The 16-year-old singer rejected the idea she was tacitly accepting Trump’s agenda or intolerance for LGBT rights by agreeing to perform. Her sister, Juliet Evancho, was born Jacob and is transgender.
Juliet Evancho told CBS that her sister was “singing for our country and it’s an honor for her to be singing in front of so many people.”
“I feel that’s really where I look at it,” Juliet said. “And that’s where I’m going to leave it right now.”
Singer Paul Anka, meanwhile, told TMZ he’d been in talks with the Trump team about singing “My Way” for the new president at an inaugural ball, with lyrics tailored to Trump, but that he had to scrap the plan because of family commitments. Anka, 75, said “My Way” was Trump’s favorite song.
Thursday’s “welcome celebration” is a free concert that also will feature fireworks and military bands. It will be available for live broadcast.
Prior to that concert, a separate “Voices of the People” program at the Lincoln Memorial will feature groups from around the country that applied to take part in the inauguration, such as high school bands, Cub Scouts, local choirs and pipe and drum groups.
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Not since the end of the Cold War has Russia dominated U.S. headlines to the degree we’ve seen during this election. According to U.S. intelligence services, Russian President Vladimir Putin is waging a silent, global war against liberal democracy. President Barack Obama recently derided Russia as a “smaller,” “weaker” nation. But according to President-elect Donald Trump and some of his Cabinet designees, friendlier relations with Moscow could benefit the U.S.
Is Russia a growing threat to be feared, or a valuable potential partner to embrace? We look at how Russia stacks up against the U.S. and another rival economic power, China.
Life in Russia
When Putin came to power in 1999, he promised to end the chaos under Boris Yeltsin’s leadership — which critics said was marked by corruption and political upheaval — and help improve the quality of people’s lives. In return, Putin said he expected Russians to let him do as he pleased in politics.
For the past 20 years, life for most Russians did improve. “People were able to take vacations abroad in Turkey or Egypt or the Czech Republic. They were able to send their children to university, sometimes even outside the country. They could remodel their kitchens and put in modern European appliances,” said Hannah Thoburn, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.
The improvement is most notable in larger cities compared to the countryside, where poverty is still a major problem in some regions, said Thoburn. “Some of the villages look like they’re from 200 years ago, while in Moscow you feel as though the world is spinning around you, and there are huge skyscrapers and fancy cars.”
“What Russians are getting in exchange for that lower life expectancy is a Russia that’s far more assertive on the international stage. It might seem a little strange to Americans, but a lot of Russians really regret the fall of the Soviet Union” and the glory it once had, said Thoburn. “This is something else that Putin is giving them, and I think it doesn’t necessarily matter to them that they lose a few hundred rubles out of their pocket every month. They’re willing to make those sacrifices for the good of Russia.”
Life expectancy, which was woefully low, started to go up in the years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, though it still ranks far lower than most Western countries, she said.
LIFE EXPECTANCY | Before the Soviet Union fell in December 1991, the average Soviet citizen could expect to live to age 69. Just two years later and minus Soviet bloc countries, Russia’s life expectancy dropped to 64.5 years, according to data analysis from the World Bank. By 2014, Russians live longer on average — 70 years — but that was nearly a decade shorter than the average American’s 2014 life expectancy — 79 years.
Russia’s economic struggles
Russia’s economy is roughly the size of Italy or Canada, and is dependent on oil revenues to stay afloat, said Thoburn. Western countries, including the United States, placed sanctions on Russia when it annexed Crimea, and intervened in Ukraine and Syria. At about the same time, Russia — one of the world’s top two oil producers — saw oil prices plummet from a high of $100 per barrel to about $40 per barrel. Despite a slight improvement in oil prices these days, Russia’s economy took a beating and it is still working to climb out of a recession.
Russia’s economy is expected to improve starting in early 2017, said Yale University’s Christopher Miller, who wrote “The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR”. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank are estimating that Russia’s GDP will grow by 1 or 2 percent over 2017 thanks to a turnaround in the domestic economy and in energy prices, and increasing oil production, he said.
How about the entrepreneurial climate? During Soviet times, Russia was known for its science prowess, and it still has many creative technologists and computer engineers today, said Thoburn. But the demands placed on entrepreneurs by the government tend to suppress new businesses, she said.
Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte or “InContact” — the Russian version of Facebook — experienced it firsthand, said Thoburn. During the protests, some people were using the social media website to arrange meetings and talk about the opposition. The government asked Durov for information about the users, but he refused and ended up selling the company. Western firms are reluctant to invest in Russian technology startups, because they’re not sure if the companies can maintain control of their own data, she said.
Government control sometimes dissuades not only foreign investors, but wealthy Russians as well, who see it as risky to create new businesses, said Miller. “They’re afraid that whatever they build or whatever they own is going to be taken by the government under trumped-up pretenses.”
GDP RANK | The United States ranked first in the world for gross domestic product, according to 2015 estimates from the World Bank. China ranked second with Russia in 13th place.
INFLATION | Russian consumers enjoy far better prices today than they did after the fall of the Soviet Union, when price inflation skyrocketed nearly 900 percent. Since then, inflation in Russia improved greatly but remains higher than what’s found in the United States and China, according to International Monetary Fund data.
JOBLESS | Russia’s story of economic recovery reveals gains in getting the nation’s workforce to work, according to World Bank analysis of data from the International Labor Organization. Unemployment last spiked at 13.3 percent in 1998, but has since tapered. By 2014, Russia’s jobless rate was better than what Americans reported that same year.
PETROLEUM PRODUCTION | A cornerstone of Russia’s economy is fossil fuel production. But according to recent estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States edged Russian barrel-per-day production of petroleum and other fossil fuel liquids.
ECONOMIC COMPLEXITY | Russia’s economy is less diverse than the United States, according to an economic complexity index produced by the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a part of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.
Militarily a mixed bag
In terms of military prowess, Russia is trying to rebuild itself. After the five-day war with Georgia in 2008, the weaknesses in the Russian military were exposed, said Thoburn. Since then, the Russian military has undergone an overhaul to make its army more professional and modern, and replace its old equipment that languished after its Soviet days.
Russia is first in the world in the number of nuclear weapons and it has advanced missile systems. But in broader terms, its military “is a shadow of what it was during the 1960s,” Thoburn said. Its one aircraft carrier was recently deployed to Syria, which drew more attention for its belching smoke than its military might.
Russia’s military is important for foreign policy, but not when looking at the economy as a whole, said Miller. “Military spending is only a couple percent of GDP, so it’s economically not that significant. … And the factors that drive Russia’s economy are not all that different than the factors that drive America’s economy.”
NUCLEAR WARHEADS | Together, Russia and the United States hold 93 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads. Earlier this week, the Federation of American Scientists released these estimates that tallied retired, stockpiled and deployed nuclear warhead inventories around the globe. By comparison, the nation with the third-largest inventory — France — represents a fraction of U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenal.
Russia’s intelligence services are one of the few things that did not undergo serious degradation after the Soviet Union, though it did undergo a major restructuring, said Thoburn. Many people left the secret services, including Putin, when the Soviet Union fell, but they have maintained their contacts and tradecraft. The agencies’ advocates in the Kremlin know what can be achieved with intelligence, and they continue to use it similar to the ‘70s and ‘80s, she said.
Literacy and literature
When Russia’s well-known writers, including Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Pushkin and Anton Chekhov, crafted their masterpieces during the 19th century, most Russians couldn’t read them. After the Bolsheviks seized power in the 1917 revolution, and brought Communist rule, they insisted on a literacy campaign so people could read in the newspapers what the politburo was doing for them, said Thoburn.
Now, in terms of literacy, Russia ranks slightly higher than the United States, according to the CIA World Factbook. And Russians continue to revere their writers, naming metro stations after the literary greats and allowing riders to access a virtual library of works as they make their daily commute.
Looking ahead to relations with the U.S.
U.S.-Russian relations got chilly under the Obama administration, but President-elect Donald Trump has made some positive overtures. Putin and Trump are similar, personality-wise, which could help starting out, but hurt down the line, said Thoburn. “It seems possible that after a period of hugs and kisses and love all around, that one or the other will feel he’s been disrespected by the other and relations will suddenly go downhill.”
One of the questions surrounding a Trump presidency is how he will handle sanctions on Russia. “It will be interesting to see if he chooses to unilaterally remove them or keep them in his pocket as a bargaining chip,” she said.
More resources about Russia:
As they did eight years ago when their father left the presidency, the daughters of George W. Bush penned a letter to President Obama’s daughters.
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“In eight years, you have done so much. Seen so much,” Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush wrote in a letter to Sasha and Malia Obama. The Bush daughters referred to several experiences, including the Obama family’s 2013 visit to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, trips to Liberia and Morocco and the yearly Thanksgiving turkey pardon.
“We have watched you grow from girls to impressive young women with grace and ease,” the Bush daughters wrote in the letter, published by Time magazine. “And through it all you had each other. Just like we did.”
Now, the Obama girls will be part of a group of former “First Children” — “a position you didn’t seek and one with no guidelines,” the Bush girls said. But the Bushes encouraged the Obamas to remember the people who work at the White House, noting that they keep in touch with their former Secret Service detailers.
The Bushes are not the only first children to notably and publicly reach out to the Obama children. Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald Reagan, wrote a blog post to Sasha and Malia in 2014 after a Republican congressional staffer criticized the Obamas for their appearance during the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon.
In 2009, on the cusp of George W. Bush’s exit from the presidency and the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term, Jenna and Barbara offered advice to Sasha and Malia on how to live in the White House.
“Surround yourself with loyal friends,” they wrote then. “They’ll protect and calm you and join in on some of the fun, and appreciate the history.”
The Bushes echoed that advice to the Obamas in their post-White House lives.
“Continue to surround yourself with loyal friends who know you, adore you and will fiercely protect you,” the Bush daughters wrote. “Those who judge you don’t love you, and their voices shouldn’t hold weight. Rather, it’s your own hearts that matter.”
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STEVE INSKEEP: Finally tonight, a new movie navigates tricky terrain, revisiting recent, and painful, history.
Here’s Jeffrey Brown.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a moment still painfully fresh for many Americans, April 2013, the Boston Marathon, with some 30,000 runners taking to the streets for the 26.2-mile race, when, suddenly, everything changed, an explosion at the finish line on Boylston Street, 12 seconds later, another. Three people were dead and more than 260 wounded.
And so began a panicked search for the perpetrators that shut down the city.
ACTOR: Every inch of this city is getting searched.
JEFFREY BROWN: That drama unfolds in the new film “Patriots Day,” starring Mark Wahlberg in a role stitched together from multiple Boston police officers’ experiences.
The film was written and directed by Peter Berg.
PETER BERG, Director, “Patriots Day”: To me, the Boston Marathon is a pretty profound moment in American history. And the lessons that can be learned from the way that community came together, from the way the police and the FBI worked together so effectively to solve that crime is something, I think, worth examining.
JEFFREY BROWN: Other characters are based on real individuals, such as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, played by John Goodman, who wants investigators to release photos to the public of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the prime suspects.
KEVIN BACON, Actor: I understand Boston, but I can’t just snap my fingers. This decision goes all the way up to the attorney general.
JOHN GOODMAN, Actor: Then give me his number. I’ll call him right now. This is my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) city, Rick!
JEFFREY BROWN: Davis retired later in 2013.
ED DAVIS, Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department: It’s been very interesting to watch the process. And I have to keep telling myself, it’s not a documentary, it’s a movie.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, you mean at moments where you wonder what?
ED DAVIS: Sure. You can put words in one person’s mouth that was spoken by someone else, and you want to say, no, no, it didn’t happen exactly like that.
But when you take a step back and you realize that it’s a story being told for the public about the complexity of this investigation and really about the victims, about the city, and about the police officers that heroically responded to it, they did a great job in really catching the essence of what happened.
JEFFREY BROWN: How concerned were you, though, about getting it right, you know, on weighing the needs of the Hollywood drama, right, vs. the news, the actual facts?
PETER BERG: I felt that, if we got it right, if we just told the truth, we wouldn’t have to worry about Hollywood drama, or we wouldn’t have to worry about action or tension or plot twists or heroism, or any of the things that I guess you look for in a traditional Hollywood story.
We felt, from the research we did, that there was plenty of inspiration and drama to be told.
JEFFREY BROWN: For Peter Berg, “Patriots Day” is the third nonfiction, ripped-from-the-headlines project he’s worked on with Wahlberg, following 2013’s “Lone Survivor,” which follows a Navy SEAL team on a mission in Afghanistan and 2016’s “Deepwater Horizon,” which recounts the explosion on the BP drilling platform in 2010 that killed 11 men and spilled nearly 3.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Before, those Berg directed the film “Friday Night Lights” based on the nonfiction book nonfiction book by Buzz Bissinger, and served as executive producer on the popular TV drama of the same name.
How do you decide what to tackle?
PETER BERG: I get attracted to something for a variety of reasons. I’m obviously attracted to nonfiction. I’m attracted to tales of men and women doing their jobs under duress. I find that interesting. I don’t know why. I just do.
And when I start to hone in on a story, I generally see how hard it sticks and how easy it is to dismiss.
JEFFREY BROWN: “Patriots Day” has received generally positive reviews. But like Berg’s other recent films, its proximity to actual events raises an old question.
Do you think it’s too soon to be telling the story?
ED DAVIS: I think that’s a decision that’s made individually by people. I talked to a couple that went to see it, and the husband, who was at the finish line, said it was a cathartic experience for him and he was very happy that the film was done. And the wife was upset by it and couldn’t stay for the whole thing. So, I think it goes person by person.
PETER BERG: I don’t think it’s too early to examine it.
I think, if we waited much longer, it would unfortunately start to be almost an irrelevant story, because the news cycle moves so quickly. Already, since we have filmed the movie, there have been at least six major attacks, and it’s certainly no stop in sight.
JEFFREY BROWN: You are, in a sense, defining some history for many people who might see the story now through your eyes. So, do you feel some personal responsibility to get it right, to think about how it might inflame passions, or help people think about…
PETER BERG: Yes. Yes, of course. I do.
And I think, if I feel a personal responsibility in terms of presenting a thesis or something I want an audience to take away, it’s certainly not that we need to get rid of every Muslim in this country.
It’s certainly not a commentary on law enforcement, although I think we’re pretty clear in our support of law enforcement, particularly in the way they handled themselves during that period of time.
It’s a responsibility for making sure that we understand that these acts of terrorism don’t achieve what the terrorists think they’re going to achieve. They don’t destroy us. They don’t break us apart. We see the very best of human beings rise to the surface.
JEFFREY BROWN: “Patriots Day” opens today in theaters across the country.
From New York, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
And welcome to you both. There is so much to talk about, but let’s start with talking about the president-elect and Russia.
We had the news today — on top of all the confirmation that the Russians interfered in the U.S. election, today, we learned — and we talked about earlier it on the show — David, that General Michael Flynn had phone conversations with the Russian ambassador in December, several of them.
Tonight, we’re learning that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to expand what was already an investigation into the Russian interference into in election to look at any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians and the Clinton campaign, although the main focus is Donald Trump.
What do we make of all this?
DAVID BROOKS: I was first struck by David Ignatius’ comment earlier in the program that they just could be trying to be destabilize the United States across the board. And that’s a — I hadn’t heard that thought before and it’s a live possibility.
Putin is someone who has been undermining the norms of what we consider the world order since he got into power and in increasing success. What’s interesting about the Trump administration is how bitterly divided they are in their attitudes towards Putin.
Steve Bannon and General Flynn have warm feelings. Putin has been — and with a lot of the groups, the conservative groups, the more extreme conservative groups that underlie Trump, he’s a bit of a hero because he speaks for traditional values, he’s against the global institutions.
They see him as someone who has been on the defensive from an aggressive E.U., an aggressive NATO. And there is a lot of sympathy there, actually.
And then, if you look at the more establishment Republicans, they see him as what I just described, subversive of the world order. And so to me the question will be, will Trump and Bannon control policy toward the foreign policy, or will everyone else basically?
And my money is on everyone else, because I think Trump’s attention span is super low. I don’t think he has the expertise to actually run a foreign policy. And at the end of the day — and I think this is a major story of the Trump administration — he’s going to want the affirmation of the establishment, as he always has.
The reason he had Clintons at his wedding because he wants that affirmation. When he gets the chance to have it, I think he will bend gradually in that direction.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How are you looking at all this?
MARK SHIELDS: Donald Trump is to traditional values what I am to marathon running.
MARK SHIELDS: It just doesn’t — it doesn’t fit.
I have to say, Judy, I am perplexed, and I think an increasing number of Republicans are perplexed and actually nervous about Donald Trump and Russia, nervous in the sense that he is gratuitously giving Democrats the national security advantage, that they’re standing up for the country.
We have testimony of General Mattis, the nominee for secretary of defense, asserting that the objective, the stated objective and the mission of Vladimir Putin’s Russia is to destabilize the North Atlantic Alliance, and he, who believes in NATO and believes it’s been one of the great alliances in modern history, that Putin represents a threat to this, that Russia today is nothing but a propaganda arm, that General Flynn went to celebrate its anniversary, sitting at Putin’s table for money, paid to show up.
So, I mean, these questions, essentially, they have just given it to the Democrats to stand up and say, wait a minute, where do you believe in this country, plus the suspicions, and real, about in fact the involvement of Russia in this election.
The question, the real moment of truth is going to arrive very shortly, a couple of weeks, when sanctions arrive on Donald Trump’s — President Donald Trump’s desk passed by a Republican Congress. Is he going to oppose those sanctions? What’s he going to do?
I just think it’s inexplicable and irrational, his policy on Russia.
DAVID BROOKS: I would say it’s a theory. He has got a theory of it, which is the theory of UKIP in the United Kingdom, the theory of Le Pen in France, which is that the global establishment has basically failed people, and that, all around the world — it’s a little like Marxism in reverse — global movement is arising that’s against these institutions which have failed people.
And Putin is part of that movement. And that’s the theory of the case. I don’t think it’s true, but they do have a theory of what is happening. And I don’t know if they will be able to enact it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But David’s argument a moment ago, Mark, is that the establishment is going to win out because Donald Trump, he said, just can’t organize a foreign policy.
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know.
That, of course — you know, the White House, as Warren Harding said, and I think accurately, is an alchemist. We find out the strengths, the weaknesses and the smarts and the dumbs of whoever those occupants are under the pressure of the presidency.
I don’t see — I was encouraged as a citizen by the selection of General Mattis, by the nomination of him, by the command of subject matter he displayed, and his independence, independence of thought. And so…
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we saw that from several of the…
MARK SHIELDS: We did. We did.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … choices.
MARK SHIELDS: Less convincing from some others. Mike Pompeo, who had been an advocate of waterboarding as a House member, has backed off and said, oh, Donald Trump would never — if he ever heard Donald Trump on the stump, Donald Trump was a champion of water-boarding and more, as he put it.
But, nevertheless, he did establish that rule of law.
JUDY WOODRUFF: David, just quickly, you did see a number of these Cabinet choices, and you’re referring to that, put some distance between themselves.
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
And I think it was — I agree with Mark. It was a good week, I think, for the country and, frankly, for the Trump administration. A lot of us expected a lot of extremely confrontational hearings this week. And that really didn’t happen. They sailed through, by and large.
And that’s because they did distance themselves. They behaved like responsible — even Tillerson, who was probably the weakest, because he just doesn’t know that much about foreign policy.
But he apparently in the private meetings with the senators has made a good impression on people. He’s a professional. He’s obviously a very intelligent, polished man. And so the other — I hate to praise Trump so much, but I have always wanted administrations to admit, yes, we have differences.
There’s always been this locked uniformity, oh, we all think alike and that, if we disagree, it’s somehow a scandal. But, yes, people have differences. And Donald Trump didn’t emerge from the orthodoxy of the Republican Party. And so there’s going to be bigger differences than normal.
And if they can have those differences out in the open, I actually think it would be kind of a good thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re right. He tweeted today, this morning, early, that he thought it was a good thing if they spoke for themselves.
But back on Russia, quickly, Mark, the civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis of Georgia in an interview today with Chuck Todd at NBC said that Donald Trump is not — he doesn’t view Donald Trump as a legitimate president, he said, because the Russians interfered with the U.S. election. He said the results don’t represent legitimacy.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s a legitimate argument, that Russia’s involvement in our election, it’s open to question whether, in fact, it was influential, determinate.
The fact that they tried and were involved and tried to influence and subvert our democratic processes is indisputable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying it’s not settled?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t — no, but I do think that there is a certain irony and perhaps a little payback in the fact that John Lewis, a certified icon of the civil rights movement, questions the legitimacy of the man who questioned the legitimacy and led the fight, falsely, unfairly, and repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of Barack Obama as president.
There is perhaps a little sense of getting even here.
DAVID BROOKS: Whatever happened to when we — they go low, we go high?
No, I think if you’re going to question the legitimacy of somebody, you better have some evidence. And John Lewis is obviously a hero. But the bias that, when we have an election result, has to be that the election results is legitimate.
And whatever the Russians did, it didn’t probably affect the outcome. If we actually have some evidence to counter that, then you can say it’s a legitimate — but the bias has always got to be to respect the process, to respect the voters and to assume, if they make a call, that some deference has to be paid, unless there is evidence.
And as I understand it, John Lewis, none of us know whether the Russian activity, which was malevolent, had any huge significant determining effect.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Two more major things I want to ask both of you about.
The first one is what Donald Trump said, Mark, this week about his business interests. He said he’s basically turning everything over to his sons, that it will be a kind of a blind trust. Did he go far enough?
MARK SHIELDS: Of course he didn’t, Judy.
He said after eight years, he will grade his sons, and if they didn’t perform well, they’re fired, sort of an offhand line, but showing that he did have a continuing interest.
There’s never been a sense of public service about this man. And I don’t think there is in this alleged arrangement. It’s anything but a blind trust. It’s a seeing-eye trust.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
It’s a blind trust. I’m giving it to my closest relatives.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: It’s not really serious.
JUDY WOODRUFF: He said he’s not going to talk to them about it.
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, right.
DAVID BROOKS: He has a different model.
I mean, most — the way the laws are envisioned, they are for people who work in the government — or work in a private sector, and then they cut it offer and they go to public service. And that’s how you’re supposed to do it.
But he has a pre-modern monarchic family structure. His business is a monarchy with family members all around. His administration is a monarchy with family members all around. So the laws are just not going to apply to him. And he will wind up with some corruption problems, probably.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question is about the man who Donald Trump is succeeding as president, Mark, and that’s President Obama. He gave a farewell address in his hometown of Chicago this week. It was a call to citizens to pick up their, I think, clipboards, he said, and get involved.
MARK SHIELDS: And get out of their bubbles. I thought that was one of the more — that, in fact, we have become bubbles, whether, as David has pointed out in the past, sorting ourselves into neighborhoods, or places of worship, or campuses, or occupations.
And the venue just amazed me, why he would do a speech of this seriousness and importance in a crowd of 18,000. I understand it was Chicago and all the rest of it.
But it is a reminder that the difference today from eight years ago, the sense of hope and pride in the nation, an unrealistic hope, and perhaps unrealistic self-congratulations on his election. But he leaves at close to 60 percent approval, at a time when confidence in public institutions is at its lowest, in private institutions.
So he is a major figure going forward. And he’s 15 years younger than the man who succeeds him, and he promises to be engaged, far more than going to write his book or just go into a paint lesson.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What did he leave you with?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think we saw in the speech an outstanding man.
And he leaves this presidency with the respect of almost everybody as a human being. I think he will get very high marks, as he mentioned in the speech, for the handling of the financial crisis, the auto bailout, all that stuff. We’re in much better shape than we were. I think his foreign policy will be regarded more failure than success, in part because of reasons we heard earlier.
And I think, from a progressive point of view, to have a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House, and to have spent the time on Obamacare, which had real benefits, 20 million insured, but not on inequality, was a major cost to the Democratic Party, costing them their majorities, but also a bit of a cost to the country, because it didn’t address the fundamental issues that led to Donald Trump and that led to a lot of unhappiness, just the continued widening inequality.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And inequality, you’re referring to?
DAVID BROOKS: Income inequality, social inequality, all the things that really have shaped this whole election year. It is a fact that these problems, this sense of fragmentation and segmentation happened and were exacerbated, got worse under President Obama’s…
JUDY WOODRUFF: He has seven more days in office.
And we thank both of you, David Brooks, Mark Shields.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Looking at President Obama, he came into office with a desire to wind down America’s wars overseas and step up the focus at home, but events had a way of intervening, especially in the Middle East.
Tonight, we take stock of the president’s record in that volatile region.
Margaret Warner begins our look.
MARGARET WARNER: Shortly after taking office, President Obama traveled to Egypt to address the Islamic world.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
MARGARET WARNER: Yet, eight years later, the broader Middle East is a far more volatile place than it was.
Scholar Vali Nasr joined the administration to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan. He’s now dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
VALI NASR, Dean, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: I think President Obama came to office with quite fundamental understandings in his mind about what’s possible and what’s not possible in the Middle East. The first, I would say, revolutionary breakthrough that he introduced is that the Middle East doesn’t matter to American geostrategy as much as we think.
MARGARET WARNER: That view colored the president’s approach to making good on two of his campaign promises: ending the U.S. war in Iraq, and investing more military resources to Afghanistan, where the Taliban was regaining ground.
In Afghanistan, the military reportedly wanted up to 80,000 more troops, on top of the tens of thousands already there, to mount an Iraq-like counterinsurgency campaign. The president ordered a review of the entire approach.
Michele Flournoy was the undersecretary for policy at the Defense Department.
MICHELE FLOURNOY, CEO, Center for a New American Security: There was a tug-of-war between people who had very ambitious, transformational goals in Afghanistan, and those who argued for what was sort of a good enough solution for Afghanistan and for achieving our limited objectives.
MARGARET WARNER: And did the president come to that, as it was known, Afghan good-enough objective?
MICHELE FLOURNOY: Yes, I think he did.
MARGARET WARNER: In December 2009, Mr. Obama announced 30,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan and pledged that, in 18 months, they would start coming home.
Nasr believes Afghanistan marked a pivot point for him.
VALI NASR: President Obama started by accepting the military’s counterinsurgency, but came out of Afghanistan having decided that counterinsurgency actually doesn’t work.
MARGARET WARNER: Instead, the U.S. turned to counterterrorism, relying more on drones and special forces to target terrorists.
In May 2011, that strategy produced a fateful raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida.
MARGARET WARNER: To fulfill a second campaign promise, the president moved briskly to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, ending the U.S. combat mission in 2010. Negotiations to leave even a residual force foundered in a dispute with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
MICHELE FLOURNOY: When we removed our forces, we lost our ability to reassure Maliki, to influence Maliki, and, absent that reassurance, he took a very hard turn towards sectarianism.
MARGARET WARNER: In early 2011, the Arab spring exploded. One of the first targets was a longtime U.S. ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. After failing to persuade Mubarak to plan his own exit, Mr. Obama spoke.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
MARGARET WARNER: Derek Chollet was a top official in both the State and Defense Departments under President Obama.
DEREK CHOLLET, German Marshall Fund of the United States: The calculation was, if Mubarak’s going to go anyway, what position are we going to put ourselves in to be able to take advantage or have any influence in a post-Mubarak Egypt?
MARGARET WARNER: In Syria, peaceful protests in early 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad exploded into a full-blown civil war. In August, Mr. Obama said it was time for Assad to step aside. But he resisted giving mainstream rebels the weapons they needed.
Derek Chollet said the chaos that followed the limited U.S. intervention in Libya’s uprising affected the president’s approach to Syria.
DEREK CHOLLET: The initial questions were about, who was the Syrian opposition, how can we be sure that the capabilities we provide them don’t end up in the wrong hands?
MARGARET WARNER: That gave the upper hand to Assad’s forces and Islamist fighters. In 2012, asked what could prompt U.S. action in Syria, the president issued a now infamous warning.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: A red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.
MARGARET WARNER: One year later, Assad’s forces killed 1,400 people in a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb. Plans were set for the U.S. and French to strike. But, suddenly, President Obama announced he would seek congressional approval first.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course.
MARGARET WARNER: With no action by Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry, working with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, pressured Assad to surrender the chemical weapons stockpile.
Michele Flournoy said the move shook U.S. credibility in the minds of some allies.
MICHELE FLOURNOY: I personally had allies from Asia on my doorstep the next day, asking what Syria and the red line meant for our guarantees to them.
MARGARET WARNER: This week, Kerry heatedly defended the choice.
JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: Would it have been better to bomb them for two days and not get all the weapons out, and today those weapons would be in the hands of ISIL?
MARGARET WARNER: Kerry spent two years with Lavrov trying to get Assad and the rebels to a political settlement. Then, 16 months ago, Russia launched heavy airstrikes in Syria to shore up Assad. And last month, with up to half-a-million dead, and a refugee crisis swamping Europe, the U.S. was on the sidelines as Russia and Turkey negotiated a fragile cease-fire.
All this conflict also generated a new threat, the Islamic State. In 2013, remnants of the once-defeated al-Qaida in Iraq moved into ungoverned territory in Syria. They declared the Syrian city of Raqqa as their capital, then swept back into Iraq, capturing swathes of Sunni territory.
In January 2014, President Obama dismissed is as a J.V. basketball team. But after ISIS took Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and threatened Iraqi Kurdistan, the U.S. began airstrikes. The bombing campaign soon expanded into Syria.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.
MARGARET WARNER: He would later add U.S. special forces, trainers and some troops in Iraq and Syria, where they remain today.
One goal President Obama fulfilled was to sideline Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. Two years of negotiations among Iran, the U.S. and other world powers produced a deal in 2015. Mr. Obama struck the deal over strong objections from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding to tensions between the two over other issues.
Brookings institution scholar Shadi Hamid credits Mr. Obama for the Iran deal, but says:
SHADI HAMID, The Brookings Institution: I don’t remember ever hearing a real, live Arab say that Iran’s nuclear program was their number one concern or priority.
MARGARET WARNER: He also believes the apparent trade-off, making the U.S. reluctant to enter the fray in Syria, where Iran was helping Assad, wasn’t worth it.
SHADI HAMID: In the Middle East, we have learned everything is interconnected, and if we do one thing in one area, it can come at the cost of something else.
MARGARET WARNER: One week from today, dealing with that web of conflicts will fall to a new commander in chief.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on this part of the president’s foreign policy legacy, we turn to three guests with deep experience managing national security policy and, in some cases, fighting the United States’ wars.
Retired General David Petraeus commanded American forces in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and for the entire Middle East. He also served as President Obama’s director of the CIA, a post he resigned in 2012. Ambassador Eric Edelman, he served in a variety of senior positions at the Departments of State and Defense, as well as the White House, and was a national security aide for Vice President Dick Cheney. And Philip Gordon, he served in the State Department under President Clinton and President Obama, and he served as the senior-most official responsible for the Middle East on Mr. Obama’s National Security Council staff from 2013 to 2015.
Gentlemen, we welcome all three of you to the program.
It’s a complicated region. There’s a lot to cover, but let’s focus on three countries.
General Petraeus, to you first.
Iraq, how do you size up the legacy of this president, President Obama, in Iraq?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), Former Commander, Multi-National Force Iraq: I think it’s mixed.
Certainly, the developments of the last couple of years, when we have responded to the actions by the Islamic State, has gathered a considerable amount of momentum and actually taken back from the Islamic State all but one of the major cities, which is likely to fall in the weeks and months ahead.
But, prior to that, of course, there was a pulling out of our forces, various explanations for that and whether that would have, if we had been able to keep them, could have given us the influence to prevent the ruinous course that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued that became highly sectarian and created the fertile fields for the planting of the seeds of extremism that the Islamic State exploited, before drifting into Syria and gaining lots of power in that civil war.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Edelman, how do you see the president’s legacy in Iraq?
ERIC EDELMAN, Former State and Defense Department Official: I see it largely as a lost opportunity.
When General Petraeus and our mutual colleague Ambassador Ryan Crocker negotiated the agreement in 2008, I think all of us anticipated there would be a residual U.S. force staying after December 31, 2011. And I think we would have had more influence, we would have been better able to help prevent the rise of ISIS had we kept a residual force there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And was that a mistake?
PHILIP GORDON, Former Assistant Secretary of State: Well, I think you have to remember the situation at the time.
On balance, would it have been nice to have a residual force? I think the answer is yes. It also happens to be the case that the Iraqis very much wanted us to leave. The Bush administration had agreed that we would leave by 2011, U.S. forces shall leave the country.
And so Obama was presented with a situation where you have the Iraqis asking us to leave, the U.S. public not wanting to say, the Iraqi parliament refusing to give the immunities we would need for our forces to stay.
So, while it would have been nice to have, you can’t pretend that the president, that President Obama could have just somehow come in and said, all right, we’re staying whether you like it or not. In that sense, one, it’s kind of a moot point whether it would have been nice, because it wasn’t possible.
But, two, I doubt, even though I would have rather seen some forces, that even a residual U.S. force, 5,000, 10,000, would have been enough to stop the very powerful trends that were going on in Iraq in terms of sectarianism, the rise of ISIS which was emerging from Syria, and all sorts of other things. So, yes, it would have been nice, but we should remember the context in which the president…
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see…
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: One of the paradoxes now is that we now have nearly 6,000 troops on the ground. And we do not have a parliament…
JUDY WOODRUFF: In Iraq.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: We do not a parliamentary-agreed status of forces agreement.
Again, it’s just one of the ironies, the terrible ironies of a country that has suffered so much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You want to button this up before we turn to another country?
ERIC EDELMAN: Well, General Petraeus made the point I was going to make.
I think we could have made a more serious effort with the Iraqis. I think they detected what Philip was talking about, which is that the president really didn’t have his heart in it and that the American people were tired of a long and difficult war.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn to Afghanistan, Phil Gordon. How do you size up what the president — you were in the middle of all this. How do you size up what the president did, has done in Afghanistan?
PHILIP GORDON: On Iraq, General Petraeus said mixed. I think mixed would probably be our answer for a lot of these questions
And I think, in Afghanistan, that is probably the right assessment there as well. It can’t be better than mixed because Afghanistan is hugely dysfunctional. The Taliban are still there. I think, when the president decided early on to surge, he wanted to surge, he just wanted to deal with that threat and frankly get out and get out completely.
Well, the government is still dysfunctional and fractured, the Taliban is there, and we’re not able to get out completely. So, it’s not positive for all of those reasons, but it’s also not terrible, because we have achieved the minimal, which is keeping the government in Kabul in place and fending off, if you will, the Taliban.
JUDY WOODRUFF: General Petraeus.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: And if you remember, the reason we went to Afghanistan and the reason we have stayed is to ensure that Afghanistan is not once again a sanctuary for al-Qaida or other transnational extremists, the way it was when the 9/11 attacks were planned there and the initial training of the attackers was conducted there.
We have accomplished that mission to date. Yes, we have had to keep forces on the ground somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 or so. That wasn’t the president’s plan. I think we should give him credit for backing off the plan of pulling them all out, which would have unhinged the country, and give some credit to the Afghans as well that they are very much shouldering the burden of fighting and in many cases dying for their country.
But it is a very challenged, troubled, difficult country, and has been throughout its history.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Edelman, Afghanistan?
ERIC EDELMAN: I largely agree with what both Philip and General Petraeus have said.
I would say that I think the president’s decision to set a timeline at the outset of the surge in Afghanistan…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Publicly.
ERIC EDELMAN: Publicly — created difficulties that made it, I think, a harder row to hoe for General Petraeus and General Allen and others who succeeded them.
I — like General Petraeus, I give the president enormous credit for reversing himself and not insisting on a complete withdrawal during his time in office. But I do think the new administration is going to be facing a very tough situation.
And I agree with General Petraeus. We need to keep in mind that the reason we went there to begin with is not to allow it to be a kind of petri dish for Islamic extremism that seeks to attack the United States.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: And my hope would be that there could be a sustained commitment at, again, a modest level that is a sustainable strategy in terms of…
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean in the next administration?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes. Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: General Petraeus, you told us that Syria, the last place I want to ask you all about, is a place in which history is going to judge this administration most harshly. Why?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, I think what’s happened in Syria is that we have had rhetoric that has not, in the end, been backed up by resources and commitment, Bashar must go, a red line discussion of what a humanitarian catastrophe it was.
And, at the end of the day, we haven’t made the very, very difficult — and, again, there are no easy choices about Syria. I was at the table. There were never guarantees. But we didn’t take the very tough decisions that could have given us a chance in some of these cases, and where you’re pretty certain that if there wasn’t a decision or not sufficient resources, that it wasn’t going to succeed, in the way that we defined success at the time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Phil Gordon, why was President Obama right not to retaliate, do something in a military nature after President Assad crossed that red line?
PHILIP GORDON: Well, I actually think he should have done something of a military nature after he crossed that red line. That was about chemical weapons. And he said, if they used chemical weapons, he would respond.
But I don’t think we should confuse that with the broader question of using military force to achieve our broader goals in Syria, like getting rid of the Assad regime. And there, if your question is why was he right, I think people should be very careful not to assume there was some modest use of military force that would have achieved the objective of getting rid of the regime and putting moderates in charge of a stable Syria.
In that sense, I think General Petraeus is right that there was a gap between the rhetoric, the ends and the means. But the critique that somehow, if only the president had given more arms to the opposition or set up a no-fly zone, that gap would have been closed, I disagree with.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Edelman?
ERIC EDELMAN: Well, the administration’s argument for inaction in Syria was that doing some of the things that Philip just suggested would lead to greater violence, greater extremism, more radicalization, and in general a worse humanitarian situation in Syria.
However, there are consequences to inaction as well. And the inaction that we saw, I think, has led to a catastrophic situation, half-a-million people killed, 11 million people displaced, a migration crisis that is overwhelming the institutions of Europe, our closest allies.
And I do think — I agree with General Petraeus. I think, in retrospect, when people judge this administration historically, it will be seen as the biggest stain on this administration’s record.
PHILIP GORDON: I think that summary of the consequences of inaction is fair and accurate. No one who was involved with this policy would disagree that the consequences of the road traveled were poor.
But, again, we have to be careful not to assume that the alternative course of action, using military force, for example, would have had led to a better set of circumstances. It would be different circumstances.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: I do think we have to be a little careful not to say that it was either this or either that, that it was either all-out military action to get rid of Bashar or it was nothing.
I do think there were alternatives, as have been discussed by the participants. Again, no guarantee that they would have succeeded, but it’s hard to imagine the situation could be worse than it is right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know we’re going to be debating all three of these places we have talked about just now and the rest of that part of the world for a long time to come.
For now, we thank all of you for being here, General David Petraeus, Ambassador Eric Edelman, Philip Gordon.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Pleasure.
PHILIP GORDON: Good to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.
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STEVE INSKEEP: Now, as we heard, Russia has loomed over this week of hearings.
Columnist David Ignatius has been compiling unanswered questions about each of the players. He is at The Washington Post.
And, David, first the president-elect. What’s the question on your mind about Trump?
DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post: Well, we had a week in which Trump, not surprisingly, pushed back on unsubstantiated allegations that were made.
What we need to know about Trump and the Russian hacking effort is, was there any connection, what’s true and what isn’t? Trump is right to say we shouldn’t listen to fake news or rumor. We need an investigation in Congress and I think also by the FBI to establish what is true and not.
STEVE INSKEEP: What are your questions about contacts between the president or his staff and Russia?
DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, I wrote something that was, I think, new this morning, saying that Trump’s choice for national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, had been in contact with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, around the time, I said on the day of, but I think it was the day before, the announcement of sanctions against Russia, expulsion of 35 diplomats.
The Trump campaign today confirmed that, yes, indeed, there had been a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak on December 28. That’s the day that it was in almost every major news outlet that sanctions were on the way.
The Washington Post had actually written the day before that they were coming. The question is, was it appropriate to be talking about future policies, future conversations between Trump and Putin on the day that the Obama administration was trying to impose sanctions?
STEVE INSKEEP: Because you can’t have two presidents at a time, of course, and President Obama is still the president at this moment.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Precisely.
STEVE INSKEEP: Now, you also have a question about President Obama.
DAVID IGNATIUS: So, there is a question.
And the more we know about Russian hacking, we legitimately ask, why didn’t President Obama do more to stop it? Why didn’t — in the now we realize months in which the FBI, our intelligence agencies were looking at this threat, why didn’t the administration take stronger steps?
I think the administration is the White House was genuinely worried that if it took steps, it might escalate into much sharper Russian action that could actually disrupt the election, even the process of counting votes on Election Day.
STEVE INSKEEP: And what’s your question about Russia?
DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, I tried in my last question to think the way a counterintelligence analyst at the CIA would think, looking at this kind of evidence.
Is it possible that the Russians wanted this information to come out, wanted the unsubstantiated, salacious information in the dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer to come out?
Is the real goal that Russia has had all along to destabilize the American political environment, our political system? I think you need to look at every piece of this with the most skeptical eye.
STEVE INSKEEP: Who would you trust, David Ignatius, to answer those questions?
DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, we have institutions. That’s what our system is about.
I would trust the Congress. I would trust a bipartisan select committee of the House and Senate. I would certainly trust our law enforcement agencies. We have experienced U.S. attorneys. We have FBI investigators. We have intelligence officers.
I think they ought to do this, they ought to do it in their own time, in secret. It’s not something to be hashed out in the press every day. But I do think we need answers, we need to know what’s true and what isn’t.
STEVE INSKEEP: David Ignatius at The Washington Post, thanks very much.
DAVID IGNATIUS: Thank you.
STEVE INSKEEP: And just moments ago, the Trump transition team said that incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn also spoke with the Russian ambassador on December 29. That’s the day the new sanctions were announced.
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STEVE INSKEEP: When President-elect Trump is inaugurated next week, he inherits enormous power.
During confirmation hearings for his Cabinet secretaries this week, senators have taken steps to limit that power.
They pressed the president-elect’s Cabinet nominees to admit climate change is real, or that Russia is a threat, or that torture is illegal. It’s still considered unlikely that the Senate will reject his nominees, but senators are setting terms of employment for the administration ahead.
The terms are often different than what Mr. Trump proposed while campaigning.
DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: I have these guys, torture doesn’t work. Believe me, it works, OK? And water-boarding is your minor form.
STEVE INSKEEP: That’s what the candidate said in early 2016. In early 2017, a Democratic senator asked Jeff Sessions, the nominee for attorney general, if torture is legal.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, Attorney General-Designate: Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military and by all our other departments and agencies.
STEVE INSKEEP: Sessions effectively committed himself to telling the president the U.S. can’t do that.
Elaine Kamarck has written a book on the presidency.
ELAINE KAMARCK, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution: This is the United States Senate reminding President-elect Trump that there is a Constitution, and the Constitution has divided powers in it, and that we are a government of laws, not men.
STEVE INSKEEP: A president can override the attorney general, but it can be politically costly. In 1973, Richard Nixon’s attorney general resigned, rather than follow his orders during Watergate.
In 2004, George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, rejected a secret wiretapping program. This week, senators are asking nominees if they’re ready to push back against the president’s promises. The president-elect has scorned the Iran nuclear deal.
DONALD TRUMP: Never, never, ever, in my life have I seen any transaction so incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran.
STEVE INSKEEP: His choice for defense secretary, James Mattis, was skeptical too, but told senators he favors keeping it.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), Secretary of Defense-Designate: Sir, I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It’s not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.
STEVE INSKEEP: Some of the same allies work with the United States on climate change.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.
STEVE INSKEEP: Rex Tillerson, the choice for secretary of state, said he’d rather not walk away from this issue.
REX TILLERSON, Secretary of State Nominee: I think it’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone.
STEVE INSKEEP: This afternoon, the president-elect said he’s not concerned about these different views.
DONALD TRUMP: No, that all gets straightened out. We want them to be themselves, and I told them, be yourselves and say what you want to say. Don’t worry about me.
STEVE INSKEEP: But Paul Light, who studies presidential transitions, has rarely seen so much daylight between a chief executive and his nominees.
PAUL LIGHT, New York University: They are setting themselves up for scrutiny. If they violate their own promises to the Senate, it creates an issue with the president. The Senate isn’t going to come in impeach and a Cabinet secretary. But the media and outside groups will put pressure on the president to force the resignation or change his own policy.
STEVE INSKEEP: The Senate hearings have also reflected some senators’ anxieties about this president.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.): Congressman, during the campaign, the president-elect essentially laid out something that looks to me like outsourcing surveillance.
STEVE INSKEEP: Consider the hearing for Congressman Mike Pompeo, now the nominee to run the CIA. Oregon’s Ron Wyden asked if the new president might receive surveillance information on Americans gathered by Russia.
REP. MIKE POMPEO, CIA Director-Designate: It is not lawful to outsource that which we cannot do under — the agency cannot do under its laws. That can be too clever by half.
SEN. RON WYDEN: But that’s not the question. You can’t request the information from a foreign government. We understand that. But the question is, what happens if it’s provided to you, especially since it’s being encouraged?
REP. MIKE POMPEO: Senator, my understanding is that the same set of rules that surround the information if it were collected by the U.S. government apply to information that becomes available as a result of collection from non-U.S. sources as well.
STEVE INSKEEP: Scholar Elaine Kamarck, a Democrat who’s been critical of the president-elect, ended this week of hearings feeling better.
ELAINE KAMARCK: I think the nominees, in their disagreements with Trump, what they are doing is, they are saying, almost uniformly, we will abide by the laws of the land.
And that’s pretty good. Now, if, down the road, the Congress wants to change the laws of the land well, we elected them, and that is what we have got.
STEVE INSKEEP: The nominees do not differ from the president on everything. Elaine Chao, the choice for transportation secretary, said she will support the president-elect’s plan to buy American.
ELAINE CHAO, Secretary of Transportation-Designate: It is his policy, and, of course, all Cabinet members will follow his policy.
STEVE INSKEEP: Even though Chao once wrote that it was like digging a moat around America. There will be only one president of the United States, and his name will be Trump.
By the way, both the House and Senate have passed the waiver for General Mattis to serve as secretary of defense. It awaits the president’s signature.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President-elect Donald Trump today renewed his efforts to discredit reports that Russia has compromising information on him.
On Twitter, he said it’s all — quote — “totally made-up facts by sleazebag political operatives.” And he said they were — quote — “probably released by intelligence’ agencies.”
And there were new questions about contacts between Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. We will delve into that after the news summary.
STEVE INSKEEP: That was part of a busy morning for the president-elect on Twitter. He also said his one-time opponent Hillary Clinton was — quote — “guilty as hell” and that the FBI was very nice to her.
An inspector general is now examining FBI Director James Comey’s public statements about his investigation of Clinton’s e-mails during the campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Justice Department charged today that Chicago’s police have been violating people’s rights for years. The federal agency found widespread use of excessive force and racial bias against blacks and Latinos.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the assessment in Chicago after a year-long probe.
LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General: Our investigation found that this pattern of practice is in no small part the result of severely deficient training procedures and accountability systems. It doesn’t adequately review use of force incidents to determine whether force was appropriate or lawful, or whether the use of force could have been avoided altogether.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the findings sobering and he pledged new reforms.
STEVE INSKEEP: U.S. Marines may finally get help after drinking tainted water at Camp Lejeune. The case goes back to the 1980s at the famous training base in North Carolina. Testing found contamination from fuel tanks and a dry cleaner. Hundreds of thousands of people passed through that base, and some developed diseases like leukemia, liver cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will pay up to $2.2 billion.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Japanese company Takata will plead guilty in a federal investigation of its air bag inflators, and pay $1 billion in fines and restitution. Federal prosecutors announced the plea deal in Detroit. And they said three former Takata executives have been indicted for a cover-up going back to 2000.
BARBARA MCQUADE, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Michigan: They signed and submitted false reports of test data to their customers, and they directed engineers to falsify and manipulate data. Even after the inflators began to fail in the field and injuries and deaths were occurring, these Takata executives continued to withhold the true data from its customers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The defective inflators can explode with too much force. They are blamed for 16 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide.
STEVE INSKEEP: Today, the House followed the Senate in setting the stage for repealing Obamacare. Lawmakers approved a rule which allows big parts of the law to be removed with a simple majority in the Senate. The Republican majority still has not agreed on their long-promised replacement for the program, which provides health insurance for millions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Wall Street had a fairly quiet Friday the 13th. The Dow Jones industrial average lost five points to close at 19885. The Nasdaq rose 26, and the S&P 500 added four.
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A report released Thursday by federal agencies indicated that recent rain activity has helped parts of California emerge from a five-year drought.
According to the United States Drought Monitor report, 42 percent of the state is no longer in a drought. That’s up from nearly 32 percent a week ago.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that parts of Northern California have received more than a foot of rain over the past week, which has increased snow water content and filled major reservoirs in the area. Shasta Lake, Northern California’s largest reservoir, is now at 82 percent of its capacity. A week ago, it was 74 percent full.
The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly analysis, released on Thursday, shows only 2 percent of the state remains in the most extreme category, “exceptional drought,” down from nearly 43 percent a year ago. Video by Teodros Hailye/KQED
As a result of the recent rainfall, most of Northern California is now considered drought-free, said meteorologist David Miskus, the author of the report.
Other parts of the state are still at risk, however. The southern half of California has seen less rainfall over the past week than the north, and water levels in reservoirs and wells remain below normal. Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County, for instance, is at just 8 percent capacity.
As a result, the United States Drought Monitor has labeled those areas as facing “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions.
“I would not expect the drought to completely go away from Southern California, at least for another couple of winters,” Miskus told the PBS NewsHour. “The North is a completely different story.”
Miskus said Northern California tends to receive more precipitation because of its climatology and location. He said the Pacific storm system track runs northward, which is why places like Southern California receive less rain than Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Despite some improvements in drought conditions, California Gov. Jerry Brown is not ready to ease or rescind the drought state of emergency declaration he made in 2014.
“We’ve still got a couple of months of the rainy season to go before we assess how drought conditions shake out,” California Natural Resources Agency spokesman Sam Chiu told the NewsHour. “The status of reservoirs, snowpack and groundwater levels at the end of the rainy season will be part of the assessment of the Governor’s statewide drought emergency declaration.”
More rain is expected throughout the state, including in Southern California, next week.
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WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump’s meetings with CEOs seeking federal approval for major mergers are raising red flags for ethics lawyers concerned about the possible erosion of a firewall between the incoming White House and regulators reviewing those billion-dollar deals.
Trump met this past week with the heads of German chemical company Bayer and seed and herbicide giant Monsanto, who made their case for their $57 billion merger. The deal would likely need to be approved by Trump’s choices to lead antitrust enforcement at the Justice Department. On Thursday, Trump sat down to discuss jobs with the chief executive of AT&T, which is trying to acquire Time Warner.
Presidents typically keep their distance from such reviews, so as not to appear to be exerting political influence on a regulatory process intended to evaluate the impact a merger could have on competition and consumers. Trump’s private sessions suggest he may be less worried with appearing to be close to pending deals that require government approval.
“While it’s true the Department of Justice is under the executive branch, it’s not appropriate for the president to make that regulatory decision — and certainly not for political considerations,” said Bruce Green, a law school professor at Fordham University who specializes in ethics.
Green equated the meetings to a 2016 campaign controversy: Bill Clinton’s conversation with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the Phoenix airport tarmac at a time when the Justice Department was looking into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
“If the conversation is private, it will raise questions and suspicions,” Green said.
Part of the challenge is not knowing what was precisely said at the meetings.
“We don’t know really what they were discussing, what Trump’s response was to that and to what extent that will influence the antitrust review,” said Maurice Stucke, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s antitrust division who teaches at the University of Tennessee College of Law.
On Wednesday, Werner Baumann, Bayer CEO, and Hugh Grant, Monsanto CEO, talked about their merger as in the broader conversation on innovation, Monsanto said in a statement.
AT&T specifically denied talking about its proposed $85.4 billion merger when CEO Randall Stephenson met Thursday with Trump. The company said its conversation focused on how it could increase its U.S. investments, create jobs and make American companies more competitive.
Trump’s choice for attorney general told senators this week that incoming administration would be transparent.
“The antitrust policies of the United States have to be consistent and as clear as possible,” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said at his confirmation hearings.
“I have no hesitation, if the finding justifies it, to say that certain mergers should not occur and there will not be political influence in that process,” he said.
During the campaign, Trump opposed the combination of the telecom AT&T and Time Warner, the media conglomerate that owns HBO and CNN. “It’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” Trump said at the time.
The meetings are part of Trump’s aggressive and unorthodox strategy for job creation, in which he openly cheers on, and sometimes jeers, individual companies. He’s shown himself willing to intervene in even relatively small corporate matters.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that people should shop at Maine retailer L.L. Bean, after The Associated Press reported that heiress Linda Bean had contributed to a pro-Trump political action committee and the company was facing calls for a boycott.
Trump has praised the Japanese tech mogul Masayoshi Son, who controls the wireless carrier Sprint, for a commitment to create jobs. He has pushed Ford to scrap plans to build an auto plant in Mexico, which the company did this month in large part due to lower gasoline prices reducing demand for smaller cars.
While Trump has celebrated his approach as using his negotiation skills to save American jobs, others worry the president is inappropriately intervening.
“You’re having companies ingratiating themselves with him — and then decisions being made that affect those companies,” said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability. “That poses serious conflict problems.”
Multiple lawyers told The Associated Press that the meetings with companies under antitrust review by the president-elect were unusual, though not necessarily unethical since these meetings could be considered a form of lobbying. Past presidents have waded into antitrust issues, notably Theodore Roosevelt, who sought in 1902 to break up a railroad monopoly.
Trump’s meeting with Bayer and Monsanto generated concerns from the National Farmers Union, which opposes the merger on the grounds that it could harm competition and increase the price of seeds.
“Our members were baffled by that meeting — that there would be time made out for it before a secretary of agriculture nominee is even presented,” said Rob Larew, senior vice president of public policy at the farmers’ trade group.
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