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Intelligence Report Concludes That Vladimir Putin Intervened In U.S. Election To Help Donald Trump Win

Intelligence officials concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, with the goal of helping President-elect Donald Trump win.  In a highly anticipated report prepared by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, intelligence officials doubled-down on earlier assertions that Moscow was responsible for cyberattacks directed at the Democratic National Committee.

“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the intelligence community concluded in the declassified version of the report, which was released Friday afternoon.

The CIA and FBI have a high degree of confidence that Putin’s aim was to boost Trump’s chances of winning, while discrediting his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The NSA has a moderate degree of confidence in this assertion.

Megyn Kelly Leaving Fox News For NBC

Fox News host Megyn Kelly is leaving the cable news network for NBC News, the network announced Tuesday. Kelly will take on multiple roles at NBC. She’ll host a one-hour daytime talk show airing Monday through Friday and a Sunday evening news magazine show, and will contribute on breaking news stories and NBC’s coverage of major political and special events. 

“Megyn is an exceptional journalist and news anchor, who has had an extraordinary career,” Andrew Lack, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, said in a release. “She’s demonstrated tremendous skill and poise, and we’re lucky to have her.”

The departure is a major blow to Fox News, where Kelly hosted a top-rated 9 p.m. show and was considered a key part of the network’s future.

In a Facebook post, Kelly said she was “incredibly enriched for the experiences” she had in a dozen years at Fox News. She’ll wrap up her last episode of “The Kelly File” on Friday. 

A former litigator, Kelly joined Fox News as a Washington-based correspondent in 2004. She later moved to co-anchoring in the morning, and in 2010, hosted her own show from 1 to 3 p.m. Kelly’s coverage at the time often echoed the broader Fox News worldview, such as her obsessive focus on the fringe New Black Panther Party. She also came under fire in 2013 after asserting that Jesus and Santa Claus were white.

In recent years, Kelly repositioned herself as an independent voice among Fox News’ more partisan talkers and joined news anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace to moderate debates and steer election night coverage. She was the subject of a January 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story that highlighted her tendency to stray from Fox News orthodoxy and the reputation she has gained for aggressively challenging figures on both sides of the aisle. 

CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

Megyn Kelly moderated a GOP primary debate in January 2015 along with Chris Wallace (left) and Bret Baier.

Kelly’s national profile skyrocketed during the 2016 election after Donald Trump leveled personal attacks against her and feuded with the network over her coverage. At the first Republican debate, in August 2015, she drew Trump’s wrath for asking about his history of misogynistic and sexist remarks. The following day, Trump suggested Kelly was menstruating at the time. 

In July, Kelly was again in the spotlight after telling investigators that she, too, was sexually harassed by former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. He resigned in disgrace soon after.  

Kelly publicly described Ailes’ sexual advances in November during the rollout for her memoir, Settle for More. In the book and subsequent interviews after the election, Kelly revealed Trump threatened to turn his millions of Twitter followers against her. 

During the election cycle, Kelly’s more critical coverage of Trump distinguished her from Fox News’ two other primetime stars. Bill O’Reilly was generally sympathetic to Trump in the 8 p.m. slot, while Sean Hannity was the Republican candidate’s biggest media booster at 10 p.m. 

While Fox News remains the dominant cable news network, the network’s primetime line-up is in flux. O’Reilly, whose contract is up later this year, has hinted at retirement and Kelly was viewed as the future face of Fox News. 

The Murdoch family, which runs parent company 21st Century Fox, tried keeping Kelly in the fold. She is reportedly making $15 million for this final year of her Fox News contract, and Fox News was said to offer her at least $20 million annually to stay. 

In a Tuesday statement, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch thanked Kelly for her 12 years at Fox News. “We hope she enjoys tremendous success in her career and wish her and her family all the best,” he said. 

For Kelly, the move completes a yearslong trajectory from anchor on a conservative cable news network to a major TV news personality on a broadcast network. And in launching a daytime show, Kelly will presumably also get to broaden her focus, and potentially appeal, to audiences beyond cable news politics junkies. 

The New York Times, which first reported on Kelly’s move to NBC, noted she was also considering opportunities at ABC and CNN. Though the terms of the NBC deal weren’t announced, the network may not have matched Fox News’ offer. Indeed, Kelly’s representative said Tuesday that “money wasn’t the driving factor.”

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Obamacare Is First Item On Congress' Chopping Block

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Congress is back in session on Tuesday, and leaders of both houses say their first order of business will be to repeal Obamacare.

If they do that, it will be a slap in the face to President Barack Obama just three weeks before he leaves the White House. The Affordable Care is the outgoing president's signature achievement, marked by an elaborate signing ceremony in March 2010 at the White House, with lofty speeches from the vice president and Obama himself.

"Today, after almost a century of trying, today after over a year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America," Obama said that day, to long applause from the assembled crowd.

And Joe Biden famously leaned over to remind the president that it was "a big ***ing deal."

But Republicans have been vowing to repeal the law since the day it passed, and they'll soon have a sympathetic president in the White House to sign whatever bill they send him.

 

"We will repeal the disaster known as Obamacare and create new health care, all sorts of reforms that work for you and your family," President-elect Donald Trump vowed last month in Orlando.

That new health care plan hasn't been fleshed out yet by Trump or his allies in Congress. So they say they'll vote to get rid of Obamacare, but delay its demise until they come up with a replacement that will cover the millions of people who have insurance thanks to the law.

But insurance companies and health care analysts are worried.

"I don't see how you talk to any [insurance] carrier and give them any desire to hang around to see what they replace it with," says Dr. Kavita Patel, an internist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Why would you stick around for that?"

Patel worked in the White House and helped create the Affordable Care Act. But she's not alone in her concern.

Last month the health insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to keep in place many of the financial incentives that are central to the law — including subsidies for patients to help them buy insurance and cover copayments, and a provision that eliminates some taxes on insurers.

The American Academy of Actuaries also warned in its own letter that a repeal of the ACA without replacing it would be dangerous to the long-term health of the insurance market.

Still, Republicans appear determined to move ahead with the vote as soon as this week.

Some history:

Democrats rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010 with no Republican support.

It was a huge, complicated law and, like most legislation, it was flawed. Over the subsequent six years, Republicans, who were angry at the way the Affordable Care Act was passed, refused to cooperate in any actions that would be seen as helping it succeed. Instead, they promised in speeches and television interviews to repeal it entirely. In fact, the House has voted more than 60 times over the years to do just that.

 

Then-Speaker of the House John Boehner stands next to a printed version of the Affordable Care Act during a Capitol Hill news conference on May 16, 2013.

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"There's no getting around the fact that lots of Republicans campaigned hard against the ACA and a lot of them won, including the person at the top of the ticket," says James Capretta, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But even with control of both chambers of Congress and with Trump in the White House, Republicans can't simply repeal Obamacare. They would need the help of at least a handful of Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats can't, however, filibuster budget bills. So Republican leaders have decided to defund Obamacare, eliminating the tax penalties for those who don't buy insurance and the subsidies to help people pay their premiums. Essentially, that guts the law's main elements.

The problem for Republicans is that today, an estimated 20 million people get their insurance through Obamacare. About 10 million buy policies through the exchanges set up by state and federal governments, and most of those patients get subsidies to help pay the premiums.

And millions more are covered because the law allows states to expand the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor.

So people who had pre-existing conditions that shut them out of the insurance market before the ACA passed, or people who had reached insurer-imposed lifetime benefit limits, generally like the law.

But, then there are people like Will Denecke, who is mad because his insurance costs have gone up since Obamacare passed. Before the law was enacted, he spent about $340 a month on health insurance.

"Incredibly, we got a notice from my health care company, Moda, which has been having financial problems, that my premium was going up to $930," he said last October.

He's a self-employed urban planning consultant in Portland, Ore., and, unlike most people in Obamacare, he makes too much money to qualify for government subsidies.

"I've had health insurance my whole life, but it's just offensive in principle to think of spending $1,000 a month on health care insurance when there is a good chance I won't need it," he said.

He was considering just letting his coverage lapse.

And, on the other side, you've got people like Leigh Kvetko of Dallas. She takes 10 medications every day because she's had two organ transplant procedures, and the drugs are part of her daily regimen to survive. After Obamacare passed, she was able quit her job at a big company and start a business with her husband, because she could finally get individual insurance.

"This particular plan, the fact that they cannot discriminate against me because of how I was born, was a lifesaver, literally," she says.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told the Washington Times last month that consumers needn't worry. "We can assure the American public that the plan they're in right now, the Obamacare plans, will not end on Jan. 20, that we're going to be prepared and ready with new options tailored for them," he said.

 

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Trump praises Putin for holding back in U.S.-Russia spy dispute

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.

Putin earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the U.S. expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.

Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

"We will not expel anyone," Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.

"Further steps toward the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out," he said.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether he would seek to roll back Obama's actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," Trump said on Thursday, though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama's executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration "a group of embittered and dim witted foreign policy losers."

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks and that is was possible to impose many sanctions.

"When you attack a country, it's an act of war," McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel "1+1" while on a visit to Kiev.

"And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy." added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.

Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.

A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.

Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies, said Eugene Rumer, who was the top U.S. intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.

But that might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy institute. "If Mr. Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.

As part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the United States that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for "intelligence-related purposes."

Russia was given until noon on Friday to vacate both premises. Convoys of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare.

 

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Report: Wealth gap widens among Asian Americans

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THE common myth surrounding the economic status of Asian Americans is that they generally fare better than most ethnic groups, and very basic statistics support that notion.

According to a 2016 report from Pew Research Center, Asian American men and women earn more than white, black and Hispanic American men and women, respectively, in hourly jobs. The average household wealth of Asian Americans is also on the rise, and will soon be comparable to white households.

However, what isn’t considered in the model minority myth — the notion that all Asian Americans represent success — is that the Asian American experience varies greatly.

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) focused on this phenomenon and found that the wealth inequality among Asians is greater than the wealth disparity among white American households.

Using government data, the researchers explored the increasing wealth gap between poor and rich Asian Americans, comparing the results to those of white Americans.

Asian households at the bottom one-fifth have an average net worth of $9,319 from 2010 to 2013. In comparison, median Asian households averaged a $132,653 net worth, and the net worth of the highest-earning households — the 90th percentile Asians — was at about $1.4 million in the same four-year period.

“Moreover, the gap between wealthy and non-wealthy Asian Americans has widened,” the report read. “Asian Americans also have fewer retirement benefits than whites and are more indebted than whites, creating a potentially precarious situation when stock and housing prices fall. The bottom line is that wealth inequality across American families deserves policy attention. This is especially true for Asian Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution.”

Factors that contribute to wealth inequality — and why many Asian American households are facing drawbacks in financial succession — increasing home mortgages, lower home ownership and student and car loan hikes.

“Wealth inequality among Asian Americans has also grown faster for the past two decades than it has for whites. In part, this rise in wealth inequality can be traced back to greater indebtedness and faster rising debt, especially installment loans for student debt and car purchases,” the report read. “The faster rise in inequality among Asian Americans than among whites in particular suggests that Asian American inequality results from factors other than just age and education”

CAP pointed out that the mean net worth of white households and Asian households is about the same ($680,000, according to CAP’s findings) which creates the illusion that Asian Americans are doing just as well as whites.

But what that statistic fails to recognize is that there are stark differences among cultures within the Asian American community. Folks that hail from Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia — who make up about 45 percent of the Asian population in the U.S. — aren’t doing as well as other Asian ethnic groups.

“The problem is that ‘Asian American’ doesn’t hold together as a category,” Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, told the Washington Post. “The group is too diverse. It doesn’t really make sense to compare recent Chinese, Korean or Pakistani immigrants who are working in tech and engineering jobs to people who came as refugees in the 1980s and their working-class descendants.”

Although Asian Americans are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, they are still a relatively small group. According to the Census Bureau, Asian Americans only comprise about 5-6 percent of the American population so the researcher’s findings may not be wholly accurate.

The researchers acknowledge that the data is “statistically significant” enough to make conclusions about the 10 percent level. A significant takeaway from the report seems to be the increasing financial success of the richest Asian Americans; although the report finds the wealth gap increasing, there isn’t sufficient evidence to say that poorer Asian Americans are significantly getting poorer.

The report utilized the data and findings from triennial surveys from the Federal Reserve, which gather samples of several thousand Americans nationwide, including a few hundred Asian Americans.

 

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