Women Of NASA To Be Immortalized — In Lego Form

The Women of NASA set, submitted by Maia Weinstock, celebrates female NASA pioneers.

Maia Weinstock
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Maia Weinstock

Five storied female NASA pioneers will soon grace toy-store shelves, in Lego form.

The Danish company announced on Tuesday that it would produce the Women of NASA set, submitted by science writer Maia Weinstock.

“Women have played critical roles throughout the history of the U.S. space program,” Weinstock wrote in her project proposal. “Yet in many cases, their contributions are unknown or under-appreciated – especially as women have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

She said the set is meant to shed light on the rich history of women in STEM professions.

It beat out eleven other projects in the Lego Ideas competition, which each had to receive votes from 10,000 supporters to be eligible.

A Lego figure of mathematician and space scientist Katherine Johnson, whose story was featured in the recent film Hidden Figures.

Maia Weinstock
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Maia Weinstock

The set features Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose story was featured in the recent film Hidden Figures. Johnson, who is now 98 years old, appeared on stage at the Academy Awards on Sunday. She was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Other NASA women honored in Lego form are:

“Excited to be part of such a great group of women,” Jemison tweeted after the announcement, “And even more jazzed about women in STEM!”

NASA astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison will be featured in the new Lego set.

Maia Weinstock
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Maia Weinstock

Lego says it is particularly excited about the “inspirational value” of the set. It is still determining the final product design – the photos accompanying this story were part of the proposal submitted by Weinstock.

“I hope it sets a new example for both girls and boys,” Weinstock told the BBC. “Girls, in that they can and should be engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, and boys, in that they internalise at an early age that these careers are for everyone, not only men.”

A Lego spokesperson says Women of NASA is slated for launch later this year. Other projects that were vying for Lego production included depictions of the Addams Family Mansion and the Large Hadron Collider.

The Women of NASA featured in the Lego set are (left to right): computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, mathematician Katherine Johnson, astronaut Sally Ride, astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, and astronaut Mae Jemison.

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Maia Weinstock

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This Tiny Patch Of Mold Cost One Lucky Buyer Nearly $15,000

A capsule of the original mold from which Alexander Fleming made the drug known as penicillin, on view at Bonham’s auction house in London. The international auction house says it has sold a small patch of mold for $14,617.

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Alastair Grant/AP

If you consider thousands of dollars for a tiny patch of decades-old mold a tad too pricey, well, maybe you’re just not cut out for the high-stakes world of mold auctions. Because not even that hefty bit of green wouldn’t have brought home the other bit of green that just sold Wednesday at a London auction house.

The mold in question — which actually outpaced early expectations to be sold for a whopping $14,617, according to The Associated Press — is a capsule of the original Penicillium chrysogenum Alexander Fleming was working with when he discovered the antibiotic penicillin. Encased in a glass disc, inscribed with the words “the mould that first made Penicillin,” and signed by Fleming himself, the little sample comes from the collection of Fleming’s niece, Mary Anne Johnston.

Penicillin eventually went on to revolutionize medicine, which by the 1940s was mass-producing the antibiotic to treat many bacterial infections. “Scientists at Oxford University further developed penicillin,” the AP explains, “and production was ramped up so that enough of the antibiotic would be available for the Allied invasion on D-Day in 1944.”

And Fleming himself, it seems, was also distributing the original mold far and wide. Called “mold medallions,” little items like the one sold Wednesday were passed out to notable figures worldwide. Bonhams, the London auction house, says Pope Pius XII got one, as did Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich and the Queen Mother Elizabeth.

“These insignificant-looking artefacts soon took on the status of holy relics,” says Kevin Brown, author of Penicillin Man: Alexander Fleming and the Antibiotic Revolution, according to Bonhams.

Fleming seems to have used the mold medallions as a combination annual bonus and hostess gift. As Quartz puts it: “Award Fleming an honorary degree? You got mold. Dedicated service in his lab? Mold. A special audience with a celebrity or royal? Again: mold.”

And Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, apparently received multiple copies.

“Every time he met Fleming, he got another one of these things,” Brown tells the AP.

So, perhaps it’s not the only patch of mold Fleming left behind — or, really, even close to the only one — but still, it remains a little splotch of history. And besides, Wednesday’s buyer (whose name has not been released) at least got a better deal than the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which bought a similar sample for £23,000 in 1996 — or, Quartz notes, about $51,000 when adjusted for exchange rate and inflation.

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At Texas Clinic, 2 Women Explain What Changed Their Minds On Abortion

In response to an anti-abortion march in McAllen, Texas, many pro-abortion rights demonstrators encircled the Whole Woman’s Health clinic, which is the only abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley.

Courtesy of Laura Molinar

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Courtesy of Laura Molinar

Since President Trump took office, there’s been an upswing in rallies and protests outside clinics that perform abortions.

During the campaign, Trump vowed to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has emboldened activists on both sides of the abortion debate. At one abortion clinic in Texas, along the border with Mexico, two young women in opposing camps recently changed their minds about the way they feel and think about the issue of abortion.

It’s midday on a Tuesday, and 32-year-old Mercedes Soto is standing outside the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas. The name is counterintuitive. It’s the last remaining abortion clinic in the entire 1,800-square-mile region known as the Rio Grande Valley.

Soto is demonstrating with fellow anti-abortion protesters who call themselves prayer warriors. She doesn’t look like the other women praying. She’s a lot younger.

The word “misunderstood” is tattooed in cursive on the outside of her arm. Soto says she had a rough childhood. She says she always felt isolated and unloved, so when she turned 18 she left home.

“If you would have looked at me in my old life, you wouldn’t have expected anything good,” Soto says. “I was in very very bad steps. I turned to drugs as a coping mechanism. I started hanging out with the wrong crew. I joined a gang. I just wanted to belong. I wanted to belong. And I wanted somebody to be there for me.”

Mercedes Soto says she was considering an abortion the first time she came to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic. She decided against the procedure, became an anti-abortion activist, and now protests outside the clinic with her son, Samson.

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Eli Cantu/Youth Radio

Then, two years ago she got pregnant. That’s when she came to this clinic for the first time, except not as an anti-abortion protester but as a patient.

“I was on the other side,” Soto says. “I was contemplating abortion, and I was very headstrong about my abortion.”

On her way into the clinic that day, Soto was stopped by a woman, an anti-abortion activist praying outside the clinic.

“She starts telling me I’m beautiful, and I wasn’t trying to hear this woman,” she says. “I wasn’t.”

Soto decided not to have an abortion. Now, she is carrying a sign with what looks like a gory fetus and the words “Abortion Is Murder.” In her other hand, she is holding an even more persuasive tool — her 1-year-old son, Samson, whom she often brings with her to protest shutting down the McAllen clinic.

In January, hundreds of protesters rallied outside the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic. One group was marching against the abortion clinic, and another, smaller group was standing to protect it.

“Seeing all of these women here has just ignited the fire,” said 25-year-old Laura Molinar, who traveled more than 230 miles from San Antonio.

She held a hand-drawn sign on yellow poster board with the words “Don’t Tread On Me” on top. The flag is one you see all over the place in Texas. Only this time, the snake is wrapping around a giant uterus.

“It took me a while to draw this uterus,” Molinar joked. “It’s not the best.”

There used to be another abortion clinic about 35 miles from the one in McAllen, but it closed because of a Texas law known as House Bill 2. HB2 was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, but many clinics affected by the law never reopened.

For Molinar, these closures would have been celebrated in the church she grew up in.

“As a teenager I was so involved with the Catholic Church, you know, doing praise and worship,” Molinar said.

Friends from her church youth group used to pray outside abortion clinics. But last year, the issue became personal when Molinar chose to have an abortion.

“I was faced with making that choice for myself,” Molinar said. “And I never thought that that would happen to me until it actually did. I remember feeling so alone, and so scared and unworthy, and I remember telling myself that I will do everything in my power from this point on to help women so that they will never feel like that.”

In the Rio Grande Valley, the local Catholic diocese is a major organizer of anti-abortion efforts.The clinic in McAllen has protesters outside its main entrance almost every day. And anti-abortion activists even travel from across the border in Mexico to demonstrate at the clinic.

But for Molinar, her religion remains a guide. For her, it’s not just about maintaining abortion access in this part of Texas, but also fighting for all the other services the clinic provides to low-income women and unauthorized immigrant women, like birth control, prenatal care and Pap smears.

“I still identify as Catholic, and I still feel that God loves me,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve confronted that yet. And I feel that a lot of members of the church shame these women, and they make them feel unloved and unsupported and that God doesn’t love them, which is not true.”

With abortion, it so often seems like the national divides are entrenched and that nothing will change a person’s point of view. But in this Texas town and across the U.S., there are women like Soto and Molinar, who defy what you might think, and sometimes even switch sides.

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Thousands Allege Wage and Promotion Discrimination By Sterling Jewelers

A 69,000-person class action against the parent company of Kay Jewelers alleges widespread pay discrimination against female employees. The suit alleges, at the same time, the company failed to stop a pattern of unwanted sexual advances by male managers.

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Bill Wippert/AP

Thousands of women who worked for the largest retail jewelry company in the U.S. allege that they suffered wage and promotion discrimination, and more than 200 of them describe an atmosphere in which female employees endured unwanted sexual advances from male superiors at the company.

In newly released sworn statements by current and former employees of Sterling Jewelers Inc., whose parent company runs Kay Jewelers and Jared jewelry stores among others, women describe an atmosphere of pay secrecy in which men dominated positions of power and qualified women were routinely passed over for promotions, and in some cases, even publicly demeaned.

In sworn statements, female employees also described male Sterling managers and executives who grabbed their bodies, propositioned them for sex, kissed them without their consent and spoke about women’s bodies and about sex during company events.

The 249 statements, most of them by women, were collected as part of a class action lawsuit originally filed in 2008 against the company, alleging it violated the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The allegations of sexual improprieties have been offered to show the workplace context in which the pay discrimination allegedly occurred.

The suit covers at least 69,000 current and former employees, whom it alleges were affected by wage and promotion discrimination dating back to the early 1990s. About 10,000 women actively filed documentation of what they say was pay discrimination, according to an attorney handling the case.

Because the suit is being tried through arbitration, as opposed to a public trial with a judge or jury, much of the case information has been kept private until now.

On Sunday, following a request by The Washington Post, a judge ordered that more than 1,300 pages of statements be released.

The statements maintain that women who were hired as low-level employees at Kay and Jared stores were prohibited from discussing their wages, but found out through informal conversations that they were making significantly less money than men doing the same work.

For example, Timeen Adair, who worked for Sterling from 1992 to 2009, said that when she found out she was being paid less than a man in the same position she complained her manager, and was eventually promoted.

“It did not seem right to me that a male who was not performing as well [as] I was should be paid more than me, and that it was justified by the possibility of some future promotion,” she said in her statement.

After she was promoted to store manager, she noticed “a pattern in which female sales associates were hired at about $1 an hour less than male associates.”

Adair also said she witnessed sexually aggressive behavior by executives at the company, who had power over their subordinates. She said when a certain executive visited her store, he would request that certain women “go out drinking and dancing” the night before.

“We felt obligated to go when directed like this,” Adair said, because her superior told the women they needed to show up, and because the executive “typically was visiting the store the next day and no one wanted to get on his bad side.”

Ellen Purdy worked for Sterling from 1987 until 2011, and said one of her superiors “would constantly call me and other female employees ‘Honey.’ This made me uncomfortable as it was a term of endearment reserved only for my husband. I tried to ignore it, however, as I could not afford to lose my job.”

Robin Parham-Finman, who worked for Sterling from 1999 to 2007, said “there was certainly a Good Old Boy culture at Sterling where male management (most of the upper management was male) would have each others’ backs.”

Robin Parham-Finman worked at Sterling-owned stores in Florida between 1999 and 2007.

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Screenshot by NPR

As they rose in the company and attended managers meetings, hundreds of women said they found themselves at alcohol-fueled gatherings at which male managers and executives, including top Sterling executives, allegedly made passes at their female subordinates.

Kristin Henry was originally hired at a store in Florida in 2000. The next year, a male colleague told her he was making $12.50 per hour. Henry made only $9.50 per hour in the same position.

Nonetheless, Henry remained with the company. She said she was passed over for management positions multiple times in favor of men who had less experience selling jewelry, before she eventually became a manager in 2005.

But, in her new position, Henry was assigned to work with a man who, she said, “looked at me and and other female employees in a sexual manner that made me feel uncomfortable.”

She recounted an instance in which she said the male employee told her he hoped she “was stopping by Victoria’s Secret to get something to wear for him.” Following the incident, she said she called the company’s human resources hotline. She said the office didn’t follow up with her.

Later that year, Henry attended a managers meeting for the company. After an awards dinner, her superior, a man, “tried to kiss and touch” her. Shortly after she reported the incident, she said she was fired from Sterling.

Diane Acampora, who worked at Sterling stores from 2002 to 2009, said, “It was common knowledge at the Company that these [manager] meetings provided abundant opportunity for heavy drinking and extramarital sexual activity between male managers, supervisors and executives and subordinate female managers.”

Diane Acampora worked at Sterling-owned stores in Pennsylvania and Georgia between 2002 and about 2010.

Screenshot by NPR

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Screenshot by NPR

Multiple male employees also gave sworn statements describing what they saw as systematic wage discrimination against women, and sexual comments toward female employees, dating back decades.

A spokesperson for Sterling, David Bouffard, wrote in an email to NPR that, “It’s critical to understand thatnone of the 69,000 class members have brought claims in this arbitration for sexual harassment or sexual impropriety,” continuing:

“Indeed, the distorted and inaccurate picture of our company presented in these allegations does not represent who we are. They involve a very small number of individuals in a workforce of more than 84,000 during the class period, and many of the allegations go back decades. Complaints that were reported to the company were thoroughly investigated, and action was taken where appropriate. The company had – and continues to have – multiple processes in place to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct, and we continue to encourage all employees to use these processes to raise any workplace concerns so we can investigate and respond appropriately.”

The class counsel for the case, attorney Kalpana Kotagal, says descriptions of unwanted sexual advances are relevant to the gender discrimination claim, because they point to a pervasive culture of sexual intimidation at the company.

“We contend that this evidence of sexual harassment … is directly relevant to claims of sexual discrimination,” Kotagal told NPR.

Presenting evidence that the company knew of both pay disparities and sexual harassment of female employees, and did not act sufficiently to remedy it, could suggest “a lack of real concern about discrimination,” Kotagal said.

In addition to the class action being handled through arbitration, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit, also in 2008, against Sterling, alleging wage discrimination on the basis of gender.

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While Trump Touts Stock Market, Many Americans Left Out Of The Conversation

A campaign sign for President Trump and Vice President Pence hangs on a desk while traders work before the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange the day after the 2016 election.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Trump likes to tout the booming stock market as evidence that he is already boosting the economy. He bragged about it in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, and then got more to point to on Wednesday, when the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 21,000 for the first time.

To Trump, this is validation of the business-friendly policies he has pushed thus far. But there’s something jarring about Trump’s stock market talk as he promises his commitment to the middle class and laments the poverty level: Those stock market gains will overwhelmingly benefit the richest Americans.

America’s massively unequal stock ownership

Ignore for a second that stock index milestones like Dow 21K are inherently rather arbitrary. The broader point is that stock indexes have recovered nicely since the Great Recession — the S&P 500 (a more comprehensive look at the stock market than the Dow) has more than tripled from its trough in 2009.

However, stock ownership has slipped during that same period. According to Gallup, 52 percent of U.S. adults owned stock in 2016. Since Gallup started measuring this in 1998, that’s only the second time ownership has been this low. These figures include ownership of an individual stock, a stock mutual fund or a self-directed 401(k) or IRA.

That means the stock market rally can only directly benefit around half of all Americans — and substantially fewer than it would have a decade ago, when nearly two-thirds of families owned stock.

And that decline was bigger among lower-income Americans, data from the Federal Reserve show. Of the 10 percent of families with the highest income, 92 percent owned stock as of 2013, just above where it had been in 2007. But ownership slipped for people in the bottom half of the income distribution, and to a lesser degree for people who were above the median but below the top 10 percent.

Those richest Americans own far greater amounts of stock. As of 2013, the top 10 percent of Americans owned an average of $969,000 in stocks. The next 40 percent owned $132,000 on average. For the bottom half of families, it was just under $54,000.

Combine the uneven ownership rates and ownership amounts, and the total inequality in the stock market is astounding. As of 2013, the top 1 percent of households by wealth owned nearly 38 percent of all stock shares, according to research by New York University economist Edward Wolff.

Indeed, nearly all of the stock ownership in the U.S. is concentrated among the richest. According to Wolff’s data, the top 20 percent of Americans owned 92 percent of the stocks in 2013.

Put another way: Eighty percent of Americans together owned just 8 percent of all stocks.

Of course, it makes sense that richer people would own more stocks than the rest of Americans, just as they own more of other types of assets, like real estate. But the massive disparities in stock ownership are important for two reasons: One is that when a politician brings up the stock market as a measure of economic success, that success isn’t very relevant to many Americans.

Trump isn’t alone in mentioning the stock market into his speeches; Obama referenced gains in his 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 State of the Union addresses, according to MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash.

Another reason this kind of data is important is that it doesn’t just reflect who has enough disposable income to make some trades; it’s about the nation’s retirement system. While half of Americans benefit from the stock market (the richest far more than the rest), many lower- and middle-class Americans don’t even have the retirement accounts that constitute many middle-class Americans’ stock ownership.

More than one-third of Americans working full-time have no access through their employers to either pensions or retirement investment accounts like 401(k)s, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Many national-level politicians occupy a world where stock ownership is a fact of life. But that’s not true for many of the people they represent.

How stocks could benefit non-stock-owners

To be fair, non-stock-owners could see a potential upside to the improving stock market through what’s known as the “wealth effect.” The basic idea is that when the stock market improves, wealthier folks feel better about their finances and therefore spend more. That spending drives more economic growth and can help people up and down the income spectrum.

Indeed, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke listed the wealth effect as one argument for his quantitative easing programs. The Fed’s accommodative monetary policy after the recession helped goose stock prices, in part by lowering yields on safer assets like Treasury bonds. That sent investors to the stock market to invest. And as Bernanke wrote in 2010, higher stock prices would boost spending, which would “lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.”

That expansion isn’t necessarily even, though. Former Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher explained to CNBC in 2016 that the Fed’s quantitative easing program boosted the prices of stocks and other assets, but that the economic benefits were limited.

“We were going to have a wealth effect. That was achieved. We made wealthy people wealthier,” Fisher said. “But the point is it didn’t trickle down.”

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Episode 513: Dear Economist, I Need A Date

Banknotes as hearts.

Image Source/Getty Images/Image Source

This episode originally ran in 2014.

Economists get a bad rap. People say they’re dry, they’re boring, too rational or always going on about one indicator or another.

But here at Planet Money, we wanted to see if the principles of economics could help us out with something more personal, more abstract: love.

So we solicited your questions about dating and sex and relationships. And then we asked economist Tim Harford to play “love doctor.” We hear from a despondent high schooler, a polyamorist and we get an update from a listener who took Tim’s advice to heart.

Music: “Baiser Fatal” and “Hearts Beat In Time” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on iTunes or PocketCast.

Check out Why Oh Why, a podcast we mention in this episode.

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HoneyHoney On Mountain Stage

The Los Angeles-based roots duo HoneyHoney makes its Mountain Stage debut at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe’s latest release as HoneyHoney, titled III, was produced by the legendary Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson). Cobb’s touch accentuates the soul-stomping outfit’s brand of West Coast country-rock with a Southern soul.

For this set, the duo is joined by drummer Conor Meehan, an in-demand sideman who’s previously worked with Dr. John, Reggie Workman and John Medeski & Chris Wood.

  • “Big Man”
  • “Burned Me Out”
  • “Back To You”
  • “Thin Line”

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House Democrats Lose Another Bid To Investigate Trump, But Don't Plan To Quit

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leader of the House Democrats, says she wants a vote every week on forcing disclosure of the president’s tax returns.

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Alex Brandon/AP

House Democrats are pursuing a strategy to force Republicans to take repeated votes on whether to investigate President Trump’s ethics and alleged ties to Russia.

The Democrats failed Tuesday evening as the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee rejected such an investigation. A party-line vote ended a long day of wrangling, barely two hours before the president took the rostrum in the House chamber for his address to Congress.

Democrats say their strategy is aimed at keeping a parliamentary spotlight on the president’s ethics issues and other controversies. Republicans hold clear majorities in the House and Senate and control the agenda.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to push for a vote every week on a resolution that would force disclosure of Trump’s tax returns between 2006 and 2015. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., has already gone down on party-line votes in the Ways and Means Committee and on the House floor. Senate Democrats have a companion measure.

The Democratic resolution of inquiry defeated Tuesday in House Judiciary would have directed the Justice Department to give the House its records on four issues: Trump’s business empire; the revocable trust that allows him to maintain ownership; possible conflicts of interest arising from foreign money going to his businesses; and alleged links between people around Trump and Russian operatives.

“It simply says give us, the Judiciary Committee, the information so that we can look at what has actually happened,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte said the resolution of inquiry was “unnecessary, premature and not the best way” to tackle the concerns.

Other GOP lawmakers said Democrats have already judged Trump. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said, “President Trump’s detractors are going through the stages of grief.”

Still another resolution from House Democrats would create an independent commission to investigate alleged Russian interference with the election. The Senate and House intelligence committees are also looking at that issue, amid partisan conflict.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who aggressively investigated the Obama administration, has also called for what he termed an independent review of the Russia connections.

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Sensing Chaos, Russia Takes A 'Wait-And-See' Approach To Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin before a meeting in 2015.

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Despite ordering an “influence campaign” to help Donald Trump in last year’s election, the Kremlin is scrambling to respond to a win it didn’t expect, New Yorker editor David Remnick and staff writer Evan Osnos tell Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

Remnick, who lived and worked in Moscow from 1988 to 1992, and Osnos say Trump’s victory has created unintended consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This was like a bank heist that, instead of blowing the doors off the safe, they blew the safe up entirely,” Osnos says.

Remnick adds that Russia’s state-controlled media, which was full of praise for Trump during the campaign, has changed its outlook of late: “We’ve now had a month of chaos, and they’ve decided to take much more of a wait-and-see attitude.”

Osnos and Remnick collaborated with contributor Joshua Yaffa to report on Trump, Putin and the “new Cold War” for the current issue of The New Yorker. The title of their article, “Active Measures,” is a reference to the type of intelligence operation in which the goal is to take active measures to influence events and undermine a rival power.

Interview Highlights

On why the White House’s response to the DNC hacking was “muted”

Osnos: There was a robust, a really intense debate going on within the White House and the national security community about what the best response would be. In September the Obama White House went to Mitch McConnell and said, “Look, we believe that the Russians were involved and that they may be threatening the integrity of the vote,” and they said, “We want to issue a bipartisan statement that would encourage state voting authorities to keep an extra eye on the security and integrity of the vote.” Basically a bipartisan gesture, and Mitch McConnell, this is now public, he has said that he would regard that as a partisan gesture.

That was one of the reasons … why the Obama White House was reluctant to go too far in being very public about this. There are people in Hillary Clinton’s camp who, one of whom was quoted in our article, saying, “We look back and wonder why this was not,” — in the words of this person — “a five-alarm fire in the White House.”

On Russian TV news coverage of Trump and his administration

Remnick: I’ve been watching Russian TV a lot, which you can do really easily on YouTube. Initially, there was great celebration, enormous celebration. Champagne corks popping. People going on the air and saying, “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” practically, and showing great enthusiasm for Trump because Trump, of course, has been incredibly complimentary of Putin, says much nicer things about Vladimir Putin than Barack Obama or anybody else.

But now, things are different. We’ve now had a month of chaos. We’ve had the Michael Flynn firing or resignation. Suddenly the order goes to Russian television, which is completely under Putin’s control, “Enough about Trump. Enough compliments. Let’s play it down. Let’s take it easy.”

On differing perceptions of the end of the Soviet Union

Remnick: What I witnessed was the dissolution of an empire, these 15 republics going each their own way, the end of Communist ideology and the rise of things like a free press and artistic freedom — and the rise of politics, actual politics, of competition of ideas and the filth and tumult that that all brings, and it was incredibly exciting.

I think most Westerners experienced it and many Russian intellectuals and people of the rising, the nascent, middle class and educated people in particular, and people in cities, they experienced it largely as a great passage forward in history. And we forget that even then … a lot of people were made deeply anxious about this.

A Cold War, which had been fought for two generations, had been lost. This was experienced not as a triumph by so many, but also as an incredibly disorienting, humiliating passage of history in which the great empire had disintegrated. … An economic depression came along that, for many people, was incredibly painful, like the ’30s in the United States. … A lot of people in Russia, exemplified by Putin, saw this as a crash followed by chaos, followed by poverty.

On Trump’s calling the press the “enemy of the American people”

Remnick: It goes back to Robespierre. [“Enemy of the people”] is an ugly, ugly phrase. I don’t know how self-aware Donald Trump is of that kind of phrase. I guarantee that Steve Bannon knows what “enemy of the people” means. Stalin used it to keep people terrified. If you were branded a vrag naroda, an “enemy of the people,” you could guarantee that very soon there would be a knock in the middle of the night at your door and your fate would be horrific.

To hear that kind of language directed at the American press is an emergency. It’s an emergency. It’s not a political tactic, and if it’s a political tactic, it’s a horrific one and that needs to be resisted, not just by people like me who are editors or writers — but all of us. This is part of what distinguishes American democracy and it is untenable, immoral and anti-American.

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