Mattis resigning as Pentagon chief after clashes with Trump
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday after clashing with President Donald Trump over the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and after two years of deep disagreements over America’s role in the world.
Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in Trump’s administration, will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years struggling to soften and moderate the president’s hardline and sometimes sharply changing policies. He told Trump in a letter that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”
His departure was immediately lamented by foreign policy hands and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who viewed the retired Marine general as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had never held political office or served in the military. Even Trump allies expressed fear over Mattis’ decision to quit, believing him to be an important moderating force on the president.
“Just read Gen. Mattis resignation letter,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed toward a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.”
Mattis did not mention the dispute over Syria in his letter or proposed deep cuts to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, another significant policy dispute. He noted his “core belief” that American strength is “inextricably linked” with the nation’s alliances with other countries, a position seemingly at odds with the “America First” policy of the president.
Trump’s demand for wall moves government closer to shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funds hurled the federal government closer to a shutdown as House Republicans approved a package Thursday with his $5.7 billion request that is almost certain to be rejected by the Senate.
The White House said Trump will not travel to Florida on Friday for the Christmas holiday if the government is shutting down. More than 800,000 federal workers will be facing furloughs or forced to work without pay if a resolution is not reached before funding expires at midnight Friday.
The shutdown crisis could be one of the final acts of the House GOP majority before relinquishing control to Democrats in January. Congress had been on track to fund the government but lurched Thursday when Trump, after a rare lashing from conservative supporters, declared he would not sign a bill without the funding. Conservatives want to keep fighting. They warn that “caving” on Trump’s repeated wall promises could hurt his 2020 re-election chances, and other Republicans’ as well.
The House voted largely along party lines, 217-185, after GOP leaders framed the vote as a slap-back to Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to become House speaker on Jan. 3 and who had warned Trump in a televised Oval Office meeting last week that he wouldn’t have the votes for the wall.
Trump crowed about the vote on Twitter, saying: “Nancy does not have to apologize. All I want is GREAT BORDER SECURITY!”
Officials: Pentagon planning troop pullout from Afghanistan
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops serving in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday, marking a sharp change in the Trump administration’s policy aimed at forcing the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war.
One official said the troops could be out by summer, but no final decision has been made.
President Donald Trump has long pushed to pull troops out of Afghanistan, considering the war a lost cause. But earlier this year, he was persuaded by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others military leaders to keep troops on the ground to pressure the Taliban and battle a stubborn Islamic State insurgency. Officials said the latest White House push for withdrawal was another key factor in Mattis’ decision to resign Thursday.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
U.S. troops stormed into Afghanistan in November 2001 in an invasion triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Stock market woes raise a nagging fear: Is a recession near?
BALTIMORE (AP) — Fears of a recession have been mounting with the U.S. stock market appearing to be headed for its worst December since 1931 — during the Great Depression.
Wall Street’s sustained slump has been fueled by investor concerns about lower corporate profits, higher corporate debt, a festering trade war between the United States and China and a broader global slowdown.
And the worries are mounting. On Wednesday, stocks tumbled over concerns that the Federal Reserve will continue raising rates. And they plunged again Thursday as President Donald Trump appeared open to a partial government shutdown unless he receives funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.
So is a U.S. recession imminent?
What can you do to protect your data on Facebook?
ATLANTA (AP) — Facebook has shared users’ private messages, contact information and other personal data with companies such as Microsoft and Spotify, according to a New York Times report that was alarming even in light of previous disclosures about the social network’s practices.
Is there anything users can do to protect their data without walking away from Facebook altogether?
Experts say there is not much you can do about information that is already in Facebook’s hands. But you can at least find out what the company has on you, and you can take steps to limit how much more it can gather from here on in.
REVIEW PRIVACY SETTINGS
Facebook claims it had permission to give companies the data outlined in the Times story, though the company tends to define “permission” loosely .
US charges 2 hackers with alleged Chinese intelligence ties
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials on Thursday said two alleged Chinese hackers carried out an extensive campaign on behalf of Beijing’s main intelligence agency to steal trade secrets and other information from government agencies and “a who’s who” of major corporations in the United States and nearly a dozen other nations.
The indictment is the latest in a series of Justice Department criminal cases targeting Chinese cyberespionage and coincided with an announcement by Britain blaming China’s Ministry of State Security for trade-secret pilfering affecting Western nations.
The alleged hackers, one of whom is nicknamed “Godkiller,” are accused of breaching computer networks beginning as early as 2006 in a range of industries, including aviation and space, finance, biotechnology oil and gas, satellites and pharmaceuticals. Prosecutors say they also obtained the names, Social Security numbers and other personal information of more than 100,000 Navy personnel.
In a new twist reflecting corporate computing’s evolution, the hackers often infiltrated cloud computing companies and other major technology providers to indirectly reach clients’ valuable documents.
Prosecutors said the alleged hackers stole “hundreds of gigabytes” of data, breaching computers of more than 45 entities in 12 states including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Goddard Space Center. The hackers, identified as members of the group APT10, or “Stone Panda,” are not in custody. Prosecutors said their names are Zhu Hua and Zhang Shillong.
Kushners buying 4th New Jersey property in tax-break zone
NEW YORK (AP) — Jared Kushner’s family company is buying another property in a New Jersey beach town where developers can get big tax breaks thanks to a new federal program pushed by Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump.
The Kushner Cos. is negotiating to buy land already approved for retail space and apartments in one of thousands of new Opportunity Zones offering tax breaks around the country, Long Branch Business Administrator George Jackson said Thursday. It would be the fourth Kushner purchase in an Opportunity Zone in the town since the program was included in the Republican-led tax overhaul law passed in December last year.
The program has been praised as a smart way to attract money into high-poverty areas long neglected by private investors. But critics say it includes too many gentrifying neighborhoods already attracting investment and is a giveaway to wealthy developers.
The Kushner Cos. did not respond to repeated requests for comment. An earlier report in the Asbury Park Press on the deal quotes a Kushner spokeswoman saying the purchase is “under contract.”
News of the possible purchase follows an Associated Press investigation that showed Jared Kushner owns stakes in 13 Opportunity Zones properties, all in locations deemed by the Urban Institute in Washington to be showing indications of rapid change or full-out gentrification, including ones in Long Branch. Six of properties are in New York City’s Brooklyn Heights neighborhood overlooking the Manhattan skyline and where apartments sell for millions each.
Democrats to start presidential primary debates in June 2019
Democrats will hold at least a dozen presidential primary debates starting in June 2019 and running through April 2020, with party Chairman Tom Perez promising rules that will give everyone in a potentially large field a fair shot at voters’ attention.
Making public his first in a series of decisions on the 2020 debate calendar, Perez said Thursday that the national party will sponsor six debates in 2019 and six more in 2020. That could be extended if the nomination process drags deep into the spring.
Exact dates, locations, media partners and qualifying thresholds will be announced in early 2019. But Perez says early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina won’t host debates until 2020.
The first two debates in June and July will have two rounds, possibly over two nights, to accommodate what is expected to be an unwieldy field. Candidates will be assigned at random, Perez said, to avoid the party picking and choosing who is a top-tier contender, as Republicans did during their 2016 primary debates.
“Democrats want to put our eventual nominee in the strongest position possible to defeat Donald Trump,” Perez said. He said officials have “listened to voices across our party about how we can make the primary process better” and set rules that “will help every candidate feel like they got a fair shake.”
‘Today’ fares better than CBS after loss of male anchors
NEW YORK (AP) — A year after morning news shows at CBS and NBC abruptly lost male anchors Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer in sexual misconduct scandals, the “Today” show has done appreciably better weathering the storm.
Momentum at “CBS This Morning,” the most buzzworthy morning show for a handful of years, stopped dead with Rose’s firing. Last week CBS announced the exit of Ryan Kadro, the show’s top executive who had worked there since its 2012 launch, leaving an uncertain future.
“Today” is hardly problem-free — remember Megyn Kelly? — but it has the steadiest audience of all three network morning shows. The elevation of Hoda Kotb into Lauer’s role is widely perceived as a winner.
Rose lost his job in November 2017 following allegations of improper behavior with women who had worked with him. Lauer’s downfall, also due to reports of inappropriate relationships with women, came less than two weeks later.
The NBC show currently averages 4 million viewers a morning, a 3 percent drop from 2017 before Lauer’s exit, the Nielsen company said. CBS has lost 10 percent of its audience in the same period, to just under 3.2 million. ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the first-place broadcast with 4.1 million viewers, lost 5 percent of its audience.
Longtime Clippers fan Crystal will be analyst for 1 game
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Clippers announcer Ralph Lawler was approached two months ago with a special request. A longtime season-ticket holder asked team president Gillian Zucker if he could call a game on television with Lawler and honor his 40 seasons with the club.
Lawler apprehensively said yes, until he found out it wasn’t just any season-ticket holder. It happens to be one that has hosted the Academy Awards nine times.
Billy Crystal, who has been the team’s most well-known fan through the good times and bad, will be the analyst for the Jan. 31 game against the Lakers.
“They told me he really wants to do it,” Lawler said before the Clippers faced Dallas on Thursday night. “He has been a fan forever and he wants to take his time to pay his respects for my longtime service to the club.”
Crystal has been a season-ticket holder since 1985, when the team played at the old LA Sports Arena. Lawler said the two have spent a lot of time over the years talking basketball and that it will be a fun experience doing it on television.
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