Intelligence Compounds or Bucolic Resorts? Russian Estates May Be Both.

A dock is seen at a recreational compound owned by the Russian government near Centreville, Maryland on Thursday. The U.S. government said the facility was used “for intelligence-related purposes.” Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Russia was ordered to vacate two compounds it owns in Maryland and New York, as part of the sanctions imposed Thursday by the White House to punish Russia for its meddling in last month’s U.S. presidential election.

“They are compounds that the Russian government owns and that they use for multiple purposes…intelligence, but also recreational, as well,” said a senior White House official in a call with press yesterday. “And under the Foreign Missions Act, we have the authority to restrict their access to these properties based on their pattern of behavior.”

While the Obama administration is calling them compounds, the sites — one on the Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the other in Oyster Bay on Long Island — certainly look like resorts for sun-seeking diplomats.

A 2007 Washington Life magazine profile showed then-Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov and his wife Svetlana strolling the 45-acre retreat in Centreville, Maryland:

“Within a short walk from the main house are a swimming pool and cabana, tennis court and waterfront dock. While the 57-year old ambassador’s wife likes the seclusion of the pool near the river, her husband, a fit 60-year old, prefers swatting balls on the tennis court, boating on the river or cycling around the grounds with his grandson in tow.”

An Associated Press report from 1997 said that site’s mansion had been converted into apartments, and there were a dozen cottages — enough to house 40 families.

While the two properties were used for recreation and relaxation, James Bamford, author of three books about the NSA, says the estates were almost certainly used for intelligence purposes as well.

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It’s likely, Bamford says, that Russia installed antennas on the roof for microwave eavesdropping. This would allow Russia to pick up phone calls, emails, or anything else transmitted over microwave, which Bamford says is the same thing as a telephone wire — except that it’s invisible. “You need a ground location to pick them up, and it’d be a good place to pick them up.”

A fence surrounds an estate in the village of Upper Brookville in the town of Oyster Bay, N.Y., on Long Island. On Friday, the Obama administration closed this compound for Russian diplomats, in retaliation for spying and cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Alexander F. Yuan/AP hide caption

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Alexander F. Yuan/AP

Was it an open secret that these compounds were being used for intelligence gathering? “I think anybody that works in signal intelligence, which is what the NSA does, would assume this,” said Bamford. “It would be silly if [Russia] didn’t put microwave reception facilities in these places. That’s what you do. That’s how you collect intelligence.”

But to the residents of Centreville, the Russian vacationers were a part of the community — neighbors who mostly kept to themselves, but who also went crabbing, played tennis, and threw big parties on Labor Day.

As Bonnie Delph, who works at the Acme grocery in Centreville told NPR’s All Things Considered, “They’re just like anybody else. And most of them now can speak English; you don’t even know that they are ‘the Russians’, as we call them.”

Though when it came to local custom of catching and steaming live crabs, Delph said the neighbors behind the tall hedges had a different method: The Russians would catch the crustaceans, kill them with a screwdriver, and then boil them.

Delph said that when she moved to Centreville in 1979, during the Cold War, Air Force jets would fly over the town twice a day, a practice that she said went on for years. Only later did the town’s residents understand that the jets were flying over the Russian property.

She said she was shocked and saddened by yesterday’s announcement that the Russians were being made to leave. “They’re just vacationers, and now they’re all older people, like me. And they cause no trouble — you don’t even know they’re there.”

But she predicts this won’t be the end of the Russian presence in her town. “Times change,” she says. “What goes around comes around, and I’m hoping that they get to come back.”

Bamford, the NSA expert, agreed that this exodus may be a temporary one. The closing of the compounds is “mostly a symbolic gesture,” he said. “They’ll probably get it back on January 20 anyway.”

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On The Men Who Rattled Pop's Gender Rules — And What It Means To Lose Them Now

Cultural critic Wesley Morris says George Michael’s music video for the song “Faith” was boundary-pushing. “You are allowed to look at this body in a way that you weren’t allowed to look at Elvis’ when he danced,” Morris says. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

David Bowie, Prince and George Michael are all pop icons who died in 2016. But there is something else that connects them: They all helped to redefine the concept of masculinity in pop culture.

Cultural critic Wesley Morris has been thinking about how these artists performed gender and sexuality. He recently wrote in The New York Times that in today’s climate, “The Princes and the George Michaels seem as radical as ever.”

Morris joined NPR’s Ari Shapiro to discuss how Bowie, Prince and Michael called upon their audiences to reimagine what it is to be a man. Hear their full conversation at the audio link and read an edited transcript below.

Ari Shapiro: Let’s start with David Bowie. He was the oldest of the three, and he kind of paved the way in the 1970s. How do you think he changed our view of manliness?

Wesley Morris: Sort of by suggesting that it didn’t exist, for at least the first 10 or 11 years of his career. He was part of a wave of artists who were interested in — and I don’t know how conscious it was — but it definitely was a reaction against a kind of standard notion [of what] men are supposed to do, any sort of male cliché.

So paint a picture of what he did — how he performed his version of what it meant to be a man.

For one thing, he was limber. He seemed very loose. He was what I imagine the people who might have tormented him, or tormented kids like him, would have called a “sissy” — on the nicer end, I guess, the less mean end. I think that he was really interested in his femininity more than he was interested in his masculinity. He spent a lot of time creating these personae that were androgynous — they weren’t from this planet.

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Right. As much as he dissolved the border between male and female, he also kind of dissolved the border between human and alien.

I mean, he made every aspect of what was normal about being human seem foreign. I think that Ziggy Stardust period was probably the most obviously queer period that he performed in. He was interested in this makeup and these platforms and this hair, and it was neither male nor female, and I think that was what was so disconcerting about him.

But also, if you were a kid, it was kind of weirdly exciting, because these ideas of gender and masculinity and femininity are these acquired notions. I think that if you’re ignorant of what they signify, you see this person signifying none of it and it kind of blows your mind.

Prince was 12 years younger; he took what David Bowie did and ran with it. How would you describe the way he evolved from the version of masculinity that Bowie presented?

It was incredibly sexual. Not only was he interested in acquiring it — he liked having it. He liked making sure the person he was having it with was happy.

And yet he sang about it in his very falsetto voice that doesn’t sound typically masculine at all.

No, no. And it has a tradition in popular music, obviously: He’s doing what people like Little Richard do. I mean, he was a seducer, [but] he wasn’t doing the thing that a lot of R&B artists were doing — like “Yeah, baby, you and me. We got something so special.”

He doesn’t turn the lights low. And he he’s also doing it while wearing boas, high heels, eyeliner, makeup.

And if not being a man in the way that we think of men was something that didn’t hurt your art or hurt your sales, then why not continue to pursue it?

The thing about the ’80s in particular was just how hyper-masculine we had become. There was the burgeoning of the American action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career as an action hero began. Sylvester Stallone moving from Rocky not just to Rambo, but to things like Cobra and Over The Top. This was a time when Michael Douglas was the sexiest man alive.

And people who were gay, defying gender norms, were dying of AIDS.

Yes. And so you have this tension between straight culture — and you have, in somebody like Prince, this person who is really queering the difference between these two. He was singing about heterosexual sex while looking anything but conventionally heterosexual.

How do you explain the success of Bowie and Prince and these other super-effeminate pop stars in an era of such hyper-masculinity?

Their songs were good. [Laughs]

Let’s get to the third member of this trifecta of musicians who exploded masculinity and who died in 2016 — and that is George Michael. What was he doing that was different from Bowie or Prince?

He seemed to be the person who was most clearly gay.

Well, he was. I mean, unlike the other two, he was gay.

Right, but at the height of his popularity, he wasn’t out. But he was the person who, more than anybody else, if you had a gaydar, he set it off.

That shot in the video for “Faith” that’s focused on the seat of his jeans, just swinging back and forth.

Yeah, there’s that. I think that by the time the “Faith” video came around — it was his first solo album — he wanted to have a look that separated him from Wham! And this very sort of butch, rockabilly thing that he went for was so different than the other George Michael that it was arresting. That video just completely eroticized him: I mean, the camera is rising up his body as moving around this contraption that’s spinning. It’s great.

How standard was it at that time for a male body like that to be the object of the camera’s gaze? Because it’s so much more common for the camera to gaze upon a gorgeous woman, especially in a music video.


Right, like the express train to Elvis is immediate. And the express train to James Brown; it goes there, too. I think the thing is that it’s immediate and it’s unmediated. You are allowed to look at this body in a way that you weren’t allowed to look at Elvis’ while he danced.

It’s obviously a tragedy — a coincidence of the calendar — that all three of these artists died in 2016. But do you think that when you put the three of them together, you see something about the evolution, or maybe devolution, of masculinity in pop music?

Yeah. I mean, to have that happen in a year in which we were re-debating the propriety of maleness with regard to women, and excusing it as just the thing that men do?

You’re talking about the presidential race talk about sexual assault, things like that.

Yes, yes. And I think that just looking at what the coming administration is going to look like, it’s gonna be full of generals, full of men who have exerted power in this very traditional way. I think that we go through these waves, these periods. It’s gonna be really interesting to see what the next three or four years turns up — in terms of how you might be able to trace some through-line from people like your Princes and David Bowies and George Michaels to whatever is happening in music in two years.

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Britain's Leader Theresa May Reportedly Condemns John Kerry's Remarks On Israel

It’s unusual for Britain’s Prime Minister to criticize a U.S. Secretary of State — but it seems that Theresa May is attempting to distance herself from the Obama administration ahead of the change in government. Frank Augstein/AP hide caption

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Frank Augstein/AP

British media reports citing an anonymous spokesperson say that Prime Minister Theresa May is harshly criticizing outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry for his speech condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In what seems to be a breach of etiquette in the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Britain, the spokesperson reportedly said that May believed it was not “appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally.”

The Guardian reports that the U.S. State Department responded — also through an anonymous spokesperson:

“We are surprised by the UK Prime Minister’s office statement given that Secretary Kerry’s remarks—which covered the full range of threats to a two state solution, including terrorism, violence, incitement and settlements—were in-line with the UK’s own longstanding policy and its vote at the United Nations last week.”

Indeed, Britain was among the 14 countries last week who voted for a U.N. Security Council Resolution condemning construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank (the U.S. abstained, allowing the resolution to pass). There have even been reports that the U.K. helped broker the deal, ensuring it addressed America’s concerns.

The spokesperson reportedly said May supports the UN resolution, but is concerned about John Kerry’s language:

“We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal, which is why we supported UN security council resolution 2334 last week. But we are also clear that the settlements are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

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Several news stories are suggesting that May is hoping to garner favor with the incoming Trump administration, as the president-elect has stated in his disapproval of the U.S. abstention in the UN vote.

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As U.S. Confronts Russia, Trump's Admiration Of Putin Is Consistent

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual speech to the Federal Assembly at Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow in early December. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images hide caption

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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump is unabashedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, a day after outgoing President Obama issued tough sanctions against the country in response to alleged cyberattacks intended to influence the U.S. elections.

In a tweet Friday afternoon, Trump responded to Putin’s decision not to expel U.S. diplomats from Russia in kind after Obama ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country — admiring the Russian leader’s strategic approach over President Obama, which is the theme of Trump’s ongoing praise of Putin.

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 30, 2016

Earlier Friday, Putin instead signaled he would wait to decide how to move forward until Trump takes office, giving him someone in the Oval Office who has been much friendlier and quite generous with his praise — a stark break from decades of U.S. foreign policy.

The Russian Embassy in the U.S. also retweeted Trump’s post, which he pinned to his Twitter timeline so it would remain at the top. Trump also posted it to Instagram.

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On Thursday, President Obama issued a stinging rebuke to Russia after U.S. intelligence officials concluded the country had directed hacks into Democratic National Committee emails and the personal email account of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. In a statement, Obama said that “all Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions.”

President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

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Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Trump’s praise of Putin stands in stark contrast not just with the outgoing administration, but with top leaders of his own party. GOP congressional leaders backed Obama’s actions on Thursday, albeit criticizing the president for being too late in taking a strong stance against Russia. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the sanctions “overdue” but “appropriate” and said that “Russia does not share America’s interests.” “The Russians are not our friends,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, calling the sanctions a “good initial step.”

Obama has pointed to the impact of past sanctions by the U.S. and Europe in the wake of the annexation of Crimea, maintaining that his approach has damaged Russia’s economy and isolated the country on the world stage.

Trump released a brief statement Thursday evening in response to the latest actions by Obama against Russia simply stating that, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” He said he would meet with U.S. intelligence officials regarding the cyberhacking, though Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on their findings and throughout the campaign dismissed reports that Russia was behind the attacks.

Trump raised eyebrows throughout the campaign with his idolization of Putin.

“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said in an interview with MSNBC in Dec. 2015.

He was pressed by host Joe Scarborough on the killings of political figures and journalists critical of Putin and deflected. That interview came just after Putin praised Trump as “talented.”

Later in the campaign, Trump suggested Russia should find emails missing from Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, which his aides later said was a joke. At the time, Trump tried distancing himself from Putin. “I never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said, ‘Thank you very much’ to the newspaper, and that was the end of it,” Trump said.

But not long after, Trump was heavily criticized for saying Putin wasn’t going into Ukraine, even though his country had already annexed Crimea. The Republican nominee also repeated his praise of Putin as “a leader far more than our president has been” at a national security town hall in early September.

One of the most memorable clashes in Trump’s debates with Hillary Clinton was when the Democratic nominee accused him of being a “puppet” of Russia. Trump shot back, “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet.” He often criticizes the so-called “reset” with Russia that Clinton led in the early days of the Obama administration, even as Trump himself repeatedly has called for friendlier relations with Moscow.

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With three weeks until Inauguration Day, Trump has increasingly used his Twitter feed to weigh in on foreign policy — violating usual protocols where the winner of an election avoids interfering in the foreign policy actions of the sitting president.

Trump’s staff has said such use of Twitter to weigh in on foreign policy won’t end once he’s in the Oval Office.

So far, he’s outlined his opposition to the U.S.’s abstention from the U.N. Security Council vote on Israeli settlements earlier this month. Trump has also Trump criticized China for its seizure of an unmanned U.S. Navy underwater drone, before saying the country that he’s often criticized should keep the drone. And Trump has also called for the U.S. to strengthen its nuclear arsenal and recently seemed to encourage a nuclear arms race with Russia — perhaps because he believes his strategic approach to Putin will work better than Obama’s.

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North Carolina Judge Blocks Attempt To Strip Governor Of Some Powers

Democratic Gov.-elect Roy Cooper defeated incumbent Pat McCrory. Cooper is seen here with his wife, Kristin, at an election night rally in Raleigh. Gerry Broome/AP hide caption

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Gerry Broome/AP

A North Carolina judge is temporarily blocking a law that would have limited the power of the state’s incoming governor. Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper defeated incumbent Republican Pat McCrory in November, in a tight race.

After the election, the Republican controlled Legislature passed two laws to limit the governor’s power, in what Democrats called a “power grab.” As we reported earlier this month, the law put on hold Friday would remove the State Board of Elections from the governor’s control by reducing the number of members on the board from five — three of whom could be from the governor’s party — to four members, evenly split between the parties.

The Associated Press reports that law is now on hold:

“Wake County Superior Court Judge Don Stephens ruled Friday that the risk to free and fair elections justified stopping the law from taking effect this weekend until it could be reviewed more closely. Stephens plans to review the law Thursday.”

The AP reports that Cooper filed the lawsuit earlier on Friday — and got the temporary reprieve just days before he is set to take office. Cooper’s term begins on Sunday.

Meanwhile, a second law, passed two weeks ago, also puts a check on the incoming governor’s power. It would require Cooper’s Cabinet secretaries to receive Senate confirmation, significantly reduce the number of administrative positions in the executive branch, strip the governor of his right to appoint trustees to the University of North Carolina and take away some of the governor’s power to oversee schools in the state.

Republicans still hold large majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.

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Charitable Giving Sees Big Bump In 2016

Donations appear to be up substantially in 2016, partly due to the improving economy. But also some donors expect tax rates, and therefore the value of charitable deductions, to go down under Trump.

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High Demand, Low Supply: Colorado River Water Crisis Hits Across The West

Beverly Kurtz and Tim Guenthner live near Gross Reservoir outside Boulder, Colo. They oppose a an expansion project that would raise the reservoir’s dam by 131 feet. Grace Hood/Colorado Public Radio hide caption

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Grace Hood/Colorado Public Radio

The Colorado River is like a giant bank account for seven different states. Now it’s running short.

For decades, the river has fed growing cities from Denver to Los Angeles. A lot of the produce in grocery stores across the country was grown with Colorado River water. But with climate change, and severe drought, the river is reaching a crisis point and communities at either end of it are reacting very differently.

Just outside of Boulder, Colo., surrounded by an evergreen forest is Gross Reservoir. Beverly Kurtz and Tim Guenthner live just out of eyesight from the giant manmade dam. And that’s on purpose.

“I could have built a house that overlooked the reservoir,” Kurtz says. But, she says, “It’s choking off a wild river, which in my opinion is never a good thing.”

Kurtz and Guenthner have a new-found job in retirement: Fighting a proposed expansion to Gross Reservoir’s dam. The utility that owns it, Denver Water, wants to raise the concrete dam 131 feet.

“It doesn’t make any sense to build a multi-million-dollar dam and disrupt the environment here when down the line, that’s not going to solve the problem,” Kurtz says.

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The problem is that Colorado’s population will nearly double by 2050. Future residents will need more water. Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says more storage is part of the solution. It’s also an insurance policy against future drought.

“From Denver Water’s perspective, if we can’t provide clean, reliable, sustainable water 100 years from now to our customers, we’re not doing our job,” Lochhead says.

Demand for Colorado River water is already stretched thin. So it may sound crazy that places like Colorado and Wyoming want to develop more water projects. Legally, that’s something they are entitled to do.

Wyoming is studying whether to store more water from a Colorado River tributary. “We feel we have some room to grow, but we understand that growth comes with risk,” says Pat Tyrrell, who oversees Wyoming’s water rights.

Risk because in 10 or 20 years there may not be enough water to fill up expanded reservoirs. A 16-year drought has dramatically decreased water supply even as demand keeps growing. And climate change could make this picture worse.

It makes Tyrrell’s job feel impossible.

“You understand the reality today of a low water supply,” he says. “You also know that you’re going to have permit applications coming in to develop more water. What do you do?”

Tyrrell says that as long as water’s available, Wyoming will likely keep finding new ways to store it. But a future with less water is coming.

In California, that future of cutbacks has already arrived. The water that started in Colorado flows more than 1,000 miles to greater Los Angeles.

So even in the sixth year of California’s drought, some lawns are still green.

California’s Imperial Valley produces around two-thirds of the country’s vegetables in the winter, with water from the Colorado River. Lauren Sommer/KQED hide caption

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Lauren Sommer/KQED

“Slowly but surely, the entire supply on Colorado River has become less reliable,” says Jeffrey Kightlinger, who manages the Metropolitan Water District in Southern California. He notes that the water level in Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir on the river, has been plummeting.

An official shortage could be declared next winter. “And that’ll be a historic moment,” Kightlinger says.

It’s never happened before. Arizona and Nevada would be forced to cut back on how much water they draw from the river. California would be spared that fate, because it has senior water rights. So you wouldn’t expect to hear what Kightlinger says next.

“We are having voluntarily discussions with Arizona and Nevada about what we would do proactively to help,” he says.

California could help by giving up water before it has to, between 5 percent and 8 percent of its supply. Kightlinger isn’t offering this out of the goodness of his heart. If Lake Mead drops too low, the federal government could step in and reallocate all the water, including California’s.

“We all realize if we model the future and we build in climate change, we could be in a world of hurt if we do nothing,” Kightlinger says.

This idea of cooperation is somewhat revolutionary after years of lawsuits and bad blood.

Recently, farmer Steve Benson was checking on one of his alfalfa fields near the Mexican border. “We know there’s a target on our back in the Imperial Valley for the amount of water we use,” he says.

This valley produces two-thirds of the country’s vegetables in the winter — with water from the Colorado River.

In fact, for decades, California used more than its legal share of the river and had to cut back in 2003. This area, the Imperial Irrigation District, took the painful step of transferring some of its water to cities like San Diego.

Bruce Kuhn voted on that water transfer as a board member of the district. “It was the single hardest decision I have ever made in my life,” he says.

Kuhn ended up casting the deciding vote to share water, which meant some farmers have had to fallow their land.

“It cost me some friends,” he says. “I mean, we still talk but it isn’t the same.”

Soon, Kuhn may have to make another painful decision about whether California should give up water to Arizona and Nevada. With an emergency shortage looming, Kuhn may have no choice.

Grace Hood is a reporter with Colorado Public Radio. Lauren Sommer reports for KQED.

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U.S. Ethics Chief Was Behind Those Tweets About Trump, Records Show

Walter Schaub Jr. is the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, which tweeted last month about President-elect Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest. U.S. Office of Government Ethics hide caption

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U.S. Office of Government Ethics

In November, the typically straitlaced Office of Government Ethics surprised observers with a series of tweets mimicking Donald Trump’s bombastic style, exclamation points and all: “Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, good for America!”

The controversy was two-fold: (1) The OGE doesn’t typically air its positions publicly, advising White House transition teams behind the scenes. (2) Trump hadn’t promised the total divestitures of business interests implied by the tweets.

New records shared with NPR on Friday show that behind the curious tweets was the head of the OGE himself, Director Walter Shaub Jr.

In two emails, dated Nov. 30, just several minutes apart, Shaub sent to OGE Chief of Staff Shelley Finlayson the nine tweets that took the Internet by storm that day. He then followed up with a link to a legal document referenced in one of the tweets and writes: “Get all of these tweets posted as soon as humanly possible.”

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The OGE director appears to be behind the agency’s bizarre tweetstorm in November. U.S. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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U.S. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR

The emails were part of a 365-page document shared with NPR in response to disclosure requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

OGE is generally tasked with overseeing ethics in the executive branch of the government, and so it’s one of the agencies looking into Trump’s wide-reaching business interests and the conflicts of interest they create for the president-elect as he takes over the reins of the country in January. As NPR’s Jim Zarroli has reported:

“With his vast network of licensing deals, golf courses and commercial real estate, Trump and his family stand to profit from his presidency to an unprecedented degree. Virtually any decision Trump makes could affect part of his domestic or international business empire.”

Several OGE officials did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. It’s still unclear why — if Shaub’s tweets were deliberate — they were temporarily deleted on the day they were posted. At the time, an OGE spokesman said the agency was enthused by Trump’s indicated interest (on Twitter) in avoiding conflicts of interest.

Despite the stylistic peculiarity of OGE’s tweets, Shaub’s position on Trump’s conflicts of interest is not secret. He appears to be on a campaign to get Trump to divest, as shown by his lengthy letter released earlier this month.

“I think that there’s a uniform consensus among everybody who does government ethics for a living … that Donald Trump must divest — he’s got to sell his holdings or use a blind trust or the equivalent, as every president has done for 40 years,” says Norm Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“So I took the tweets as an expression of that common-sensical view,” says Eisen, who has served as special counsel for ethics and government reform in the Obama White House. “This is an undebatable position in our profession.”

NPR had requested, under FOIA, that the agency share all emails related to the Twitter postings on Nov. 30 and related to Donald Trump. Only one exchange appeared to involve a member of the Trump team.

On the day of the tweetstorm, Shaub emailed “D. McGahn” — presumably Donald McGahn, the former chief of the Federal Election Commission whom Trump picked to be White House counsel — to notify him of the press inquiries and the OGE’s response.

OGE Director Walter Shaub Jr.’s email to “D. McGahn.” U.S. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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U.S. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR

OGE redacted about 15 pages among a week’s worth of emails, describing them as “draft” or “internal notes” or “draft communications plan.”

A copy of the postcard received by the OGE. U.S. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR hide caption

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U.S. Office of Government Ethics/Screenshot by NPR

The vast majority of the disclosures were media inquiries from the month of November — but also troves of messages from members of the public received around the time of the tweets.

There are dozens and dozens of emails, letters and even a postcard (of Alexander Hamilton with a black eye?), expressing concerns about Trump’s business holdings and conflicts of interest. Many writers criticized OGE’s tweetstorm; others welcomed its candid commentary. Most writers encouraged OGE to hold up the ethics law and standards.

NPR’s Jim Zarroli contributed to this report.

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Advice From A Critic: 3 TV Shows To Avoid In 2017


December 30, 2016

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans (@Deggans) joins Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss the new season of “The Bachelor” on ABC, the new FOX series “The Mick” and “Emerald City,” which debuts on NBC in January.

Deggans often finds flaws in the shows he reviews — but there are some he just doesn’t like.

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“Panda Grandpa” Pan Pan Dies In China

This photo taken on September 21, 2015 shows giant panda Pan Pan sniffing a birthday cake made of ice for his 30th birthday at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Dujiangyan. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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In the final days of a year that has become known for a number of celebrity deaths, 2016 struck again. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported this week that what’s thought to be the world’s oldest male panda has died in China at the age of 31 — around 100 years old in human years.

Pandas are notoriously difficult to breed, but Pan Pan was known for his virility. He has been dubbed the “panda grandpa” for his many offspring. Pan Pan first became a father in 1991, and according to reports, now has more than 130 descendants populating zoos worldwide, accounting for 25% of the world’s captive pandas. The Smithsonian National Zoo currently has three of Pan Pan’s descendants: Tian Tian, who is Pan Pan’s son, and Bao Bao and Bei Bei, his grandchildren.

Earlier this year the giant panda was removed from the endangered species list as a result of Chinese conservation efforts. Jianguo Liu is a scientist at Michigan State University who works on sustainability, and he says that is good news for pandas, but the work is far from finished.

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“I think the pandas in captivity and in the zoos will be helpful to educate people about the importance of conservation,” Liu says. “I think they’re not in conflict, and I think they are to a large degree complimentary,” he adds of breeding programs and conservation efforts. However, protecting the environment remains far more essential for conservation than breeding pandas in captivity.

“We pay attention to the pandas in captivity like Pan Pan,” Liu says. But, “It’s important to keep in mind, climate change is the long term threat to the pandas in the future.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature warned in September that climate change is projected to eliminate 35% of the pandas’ bamboo habitat in the next 80 years.

“The [Chinese] government has made a huge effort to minimize deforestation, to reforest, to plant trees and protect the natural forest,” Liu says. “That’s great. But that’s not enough.” He adds that the whole world, not just China, must make addressing climate change a priority if the conservation effort is to be successful long term.

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