Do Americans trust Putin more? That’s the question Barack Obama raised Friday at his longest press conference ever, warning that political polarization was making his country blind to foreign threats. With Donald Trump and Republican supporters questioning “our entire intelligence infrastructure” and denying that Vladimir Putin’s hackers meddled in the November election, Americans could “lose track of who we are,” and “Mr. Putin can weaken us.” But Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway said that if Obama and Hillary Clinton “love this country enough” to foster a peaceful transition, they’ll stop fighting over the election.
The Presidential Daily Brief
For four years, the world has watched as rebels have clung to Syria’s biggest city. But this week, it appeared the weight of Russian airstrikes and Syrian government ground forces, helped by Iranian and Lebanese Shiite allies, had all but driven out the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition forces. The two sides agreed to evacuate rebels and their families, and thousands fled before Friday, when Russia announced the convoys would stop due to cease-fire violations. Some 4,000 civilians remain trapped, but a new evacuation deal promises to get the buses rolling again.
And now, the real election. America’s peculiar institution will be front and center on Monday, when the Electoral College’s 538 members gather in state capitals to vote. Donald Trump lays claim to 306 of them, but his detractors are lobbying for defections. At least one has declared he’ll be a “faithless” elector because his candidate is unfit to be president. But the likelihood that 36 others will join him, throwing the election to the House of Representatives if Trump fails to get 270, or switch to Hillary Clinton — is seen as highly improbable.
His Russian romance is one thing. But if you want another window into how Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state operates, look at his deal with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. In 2011, the ExxonMobil CEO crossed the U.S. government, Iraq and Turkey by agreeing to $1 billion worth of oil development contracts with Kurdistan that included projects in disputed areas and lifted Kurds’ independence aspirations. The political fallout, experts warn, could color Tillerson’s relationships with Middle Eastern governments — if the Senate confirms him.
They’re outside looking in. In the year of Brexit, it’s easy to forget what motivates European Union membership — but at least 10 countries want it. That could get more complicated, as the EU’s age of expansion is over, and the bureaucratic process promises to get worse. The European Parliament is currently trying to prevent countries like Turkey from proceeding with their applications. But for candidates like Moldova, with strong ties to the rest of Europe, continued rejection could sour relationships and strengthen Russian influence.
China Returns U.S. Underwater Drone, N.C. GOP Hobbles Gubernatorial Power and Climate Change Burns Africans
Know This: The Pentagon says China has agreed to return its underwater drone. A fiery fuel tanker crash triggered a 55-car pileup in winter weather that caused two fatalities in Baltimore. A car bomb in central Turkey has killed 13 off-duty soldiers. And tsunami warnings have ended without incident after coastal Papua New Guinea residents evacuated today following a 7.9-magnitude offshore earthquake.
Justify This: North Carolina legislators have succeeded in undercutting incoming Democratic Governor-Elect Roy Cooper’s clout: “Having lost the governor’s seat in November’s election, the GOP legislature opted to simply reduce the governor’s power drastically. The two most prominent bills involve the elections system and the governor’s right to make appointments.”
Survive This: Climate change is forcing countless Africans onto a “road of fire” through the desert: “The rains have become fickle, the days measurably hotter, the droughts more frequent and more fierce, making it impossible to grow enough food on their land.”
Thanks, Doc. His eponymous anti-choking procedure has saved more lives — an estimated 100,000 — than the entire population of his Wilmington, Del., hometown. Dr. Henry Heimlich, who died today in Cincinnati days after a heart attack, devised the technique in 1974. It involves embracing a victim from behind and shoving a fist below the ribcage to force air into the throat. He’d said he never used the maneuver until last May, when he cleared the airway of a fellow diner at his retirement home. Many will take a deep breath in his honor.
The truth was in the mirror. A series of cold-blooded killings is making Germans reflect in uncomfortable ways. For years, German law enforcement and media assumed the “kebab murders” of immigrant shopkeepers were Turkish mafia hits, despite conflicting evidence. But a neo-Nazi trio claimed responsibility, two members died surrounded by cops, and its surviving member is now on trial. The case highlights disturbing trends some would rather ignore — like the resurgence of far-right ideology that doesn’t always stop at immigration policy or reject the nation’s genocidal legacy.
Don’t blink. You’ll get a retinal scan, but that’s a small price to pay for breezing from curb to airport gate in 20 minutes. Experts say it’s possible within five years — with the help of biometric data to weed out security risks and tech that examines baggage and passengers without having to forfeit one’s shoes or San Pellegrino. Airports are already testing such systems, but the trade-off is surrendering fingerprints and other data in advance — an approach fraught with commercial exploitation risks that are keeping privacy advocates’ eyes wide open.
It’s an old New World. Cahokia — a name given by 17th century Europeans after the tribe inhabiting the area — was a massive city on the Mississippi River nearly 1,000 years ago. Today it’s buried beneath East St. Louis, but in 1100, it had tens of thousands of inhabitants, eclipsing Paris and London. Modern archaeologists have begun theorizing about the fall of the deeply spiritual civilization dubbed Mississippian, and think the key may lie in evidence of human sacrifices at the site, which possibly prompted rebellion, overthrow and centuries of obscurity.
Art is the key to the kingdom. As the United Arab Emirates pours untold fortunes into a Guggenheim museum and other projects designed to make Abu Dhabi a cultural capital, the plight of its migrant workers has come under increasing scrutiny. A gaggle of activists has brought the protests to New York while construction on the new Guggenheim has stalled. The Emiratis point to labor reforms that are progressive for the region, as well as its status as a modernizing Muslim nation — one that nonetheless won’t yield to “naming and shaming.”
It gets ugly. The Michigan-Ohio State matchup was a thing of beauty, but as bowl season dawns, one can’t deny that some games were a hot mess. There was the Wolverines’ 78-0, turn-off-the-scoreboard humiliation of hapless Rutgers, and Vanderbilt’s fumble-filled 13-6 loss to Florida. But the ugliest was N.C. State’s 10-3 swamping of Notre Dame during Hurricane Matthew, which didn’t deter the Irish air game, with 17 of 26 passes flubbed — but things could get worse as proliferating bowl games spotlight ever-more-unworthy contenders.