Washington Post

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation. Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.

The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia. Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack US democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

Trump picks billionaire Betsy DeVos, school voucher advocate, as education secretary

President-elect Donald Trump intends to name Betsy DeVos, a conservative activist and billionaire philanthropist who has pushed forcefully for private school voucher programs nationwide, as his nominee for education secretary, apparently.

President-elect Trump’s pick underlines his promises on the campaign trail to put “school choice” — the expansion of taxpayer-funded charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools — at the center of his efforts on education. Teachers unions and other proponents of public schools immediately decried DeVos’s nomination as a catastrophic attack on public education. Some conservative groups are also likely to be unhappy; they have argued that choosing DeVos signals that President-electTrump is wavering on his vehement opposition to the Common Core State Standards.

What TV journalists did wrong — and the New York Times did right — in meeting with Trump

[Commentary] On Nov 21, some of the biggest names in TV news trooped into Trump Tower for an off-the-record meeting with the president-elect. The meeting was a huge success — for President-elect Donald Trump. The result for Trump: He once again was able to use the media as his favorite foil. Having a whipping boy is more important than ever now that the election is over and there is no Democratic opponent to malign at every turn.

The New York Times played it right. Despite a tweet attack from the president-elect, editors refused to go the off-the-record route with President-elect Trump, which was his preference, for obvious reasons — because he wanted again to control the story. Journalists, and their corporate bosses, shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as props in Trump’s never-ending theater.

Trump adviser Stephen Bannon received salary from charity while steering Breitbart News

Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon accepted $376,000 in pay over four years for working 30 hours a week at a tiny tax-exempt charity in Tallahassee while also serving as the hands-on executive chairman of Breitbart News Network.

During the same four-year period, the charity paid about $1.3 million in salaries to two other journalists who said they put in 40 hours a week there while also working for the politically conservative news outlet, according to publicly available documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The salary payments are one part of a close relationship between the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute, a conservative investigative research organization, and for-profit Breitbart News. The ties between the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) and Breitbart call into question the assertions the institute made in filings to the IRS that it is an independent, nonpartisan operation, according to philanthropic specialists and former IRS officials. Bannon launched the institute in 2012, shortly after taking the helm of Breitbart. He sought tax-exempt status from the IRS by describing the institute as an education group to help the United States and other countries maintain a “higher quality of life” through “promotion of economic freedom,” according to IRS filings. But from its inception, the institute has been closely tied through personnel and donations to a network of nonprofit organizations that have pushed a conservative agenda, in part through highly critical reports about Clinton and the Obama administration, according to IRS filings from multiple organizations. The institute received nearly $4 million in donations between 2012 and 2014 from two conservative charities — Donors Trust and the Mercer Family Foundation.

President-elect Trump won’t pursue case against Clinton, Campaign Manager Says

President-elect Donald Trump has decided that he won’t seek criminal investigations related to former rival Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server or her family foundation, his campaign manager said.

President-elect Trump’s apparent decision, conveyed by Kellyanne Conway in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,’’ is a change from his campaign rhetoric, in which he issued incendiary calls for a special prosecutor to reopen the FBI’s closed investigation of Clinton’s use of a private server while serving as secretary of state and had also urged investigations of allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation. He nicknamed the Democratic nominee “Crooked Hillary” and encouraged chants of “Lock her up!” at his rallies. President-elect Trump’s decision to pursue or not pursue a criminal investigation from the Oval Office would be an extraordinary break with political and legal protocol, which holds that the attorney general and FBI make decisions on whether to conduct investigations and file charges, free of pressure from the president. Conway said President-elect Trump sees things differently. “I think when the president-elect, who’s also the head of your party, tells you before he’s even inaugurated that he doesn’t wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone and content” to fellow Republicans, she said. “Look, I think he’s thinking of many different things as he prepares to become the President of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign are not among them,” she added.

President-elect Trump just announced he’d abandon the TPP on day one. This is what happens next.

On Nov 21, President-elect Donald Trump said that he would pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Barack Obama’s signature trade deal linking countries around the Pacific Rim, on his first day in office.

Immediately before, a gathering of international leaders in Peru gave early hints of what might happen next. The picture is one of China rushing forward to lead the world’s next trade agreement, with US allies such as Australia and Japan in tow. Without the United States, the TPP is effectively done. But international trade negotiations will not stay quiet for long. America’s largest trading partners are already looking toward the next agreement. That appears likely to put China, Russia and other countries — which the United States had pointedly excluded from the TPP, in hopes of encouraging them to improve their trade practices and join at a later date — in a more favorable position to negotiate a trade pact that works for their economies. At the summit in Peru this weekend, world leaders turned toward two agreements China has been negotiating in the TPP’s shadow. As the United States pushed ahead with the TPP in the past several years, China had been pushing for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a deal negotiated among 16 Asian countries that is now close to completion, as well as the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which is open to 21 economies along the Pacific Rim, including China, Russia, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile and the United States.

The secretive brain trust of Silicon Valley insiders who are helping Trump

Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel is putting together a brain trust of Silicon Valley insiders to share ideas with the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump. But he’s having trouble finding takers.

In recent days, the Facebook board member and PayPal cofounder - who is also a member of the Trump transition - has been appealing to fellow entrepreneurs of all political stripes to share their best ideas and possibly join the incoming administration. Thiel has been carrying around an iPad with an editable list of possible candidates, say people familiar with Thiel’s thinking who did not want to be named because the venture capitalist has not made his effort public. Those who have been approached by Thiel have been asked to add other names to the shortlist.

President-elect Trump’s pick for attorney general could be bad news for Silicon Valley

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general probably wouldn’t have been the tech industry’s first choice. Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is on the opposite side of several issues that are close to Silicon Valley’s heart and related to the Justice Department. Here are some key areas where tech giants could clash with Sen Sessions if his nomination is successful:

Encryption: When Apple and the Department of Justice faced off over an encrypted iPhone used by one of the shooters in a mass killing in San Bernardino (CA), the tech industry rallied around Apple. But Sen Sessions came out strong on the government’s side.

E-mail privacy: Reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require the government to get a warrant to search the contents of your inbox is something Congress (and the public) generally supports — even if they haven’t managed to get it done yet. But earlier in 2016, Sen Sessions proposed an amendment to an ECPA reform bill that alarmed some privacy advocates.

Immigration: Sen Sessions is a longtime proponent of more limits on immigration. In October, he suggested that the United States may want to do away with the H-1B visa program, which allows companies to recruit foreign workers if they can’t fill positions domestically. That puts him at odds with the tech industry, which generally wants to expand that program. In fact, a group backed by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg called FWD.us supports immigration reform — including more H-1B visas. In 2014, an ad campaign from the group rattled Sen Sessions so much that he lashed out at Zuckerberg during a speech on the Senate floor.

How AT&T defends its free data policy to skeptical regulators

Parent company AT&T is defending a feature with DirecTV before regulators who said in Nov that they harbor “serious concerns” about the practice, in a fight over how consumers get to experience video on their mobile devices. The program allows consumers to watch as much DirecTV as they want on their AT&T cellphone plans without that consumption eating into customers' monthly data allotments. The exemptions, which AT&T will also apply to its new streaming video app, DirecTV Now, are perfectly good for consumers, the company said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Consumers have enthusiastically embraced Data Free TV,” the letter reads. (AT&T owns DirecTV.) As AT&T uses Data Free TV to promote its proprietary services to consumers, other companies could be harmed by the move, critics have said. For example, if Netflix refused to play on AT&T's terms, consumers who watched “Orange is the New Black” on AT&T's data network could find that they were depleting their available data. This would lead to DirecTV having an advantage over Netflix. And the gap would become even more pronounced for smaller media and Internet companies, skeptics say. In its letter, AT&T responded to those claims by arguing that its practice of exempting DirecTV is good for consumers and that it doesn't exclusively benefit its own bottom line. “AT&T makes its sponsored data program available to all content providers on the same terms and conditions,” the letter said. “In fact, AT&T went further in meeting the nondiscrimination requirement than traditional law would require.”

Hackers can now report bugs in Defense Dept. websites without fear of prosecution

The Defense Department became the first US government agency to launch a policy enabling researchers to report bugs or flaws they discover in its websites without fear of prosecution. Calling it a “see something, say something” policy for the digital domain, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the program is aimed at improving the security of the Pentagon’s unclassified, public-facing networks. The Army also opened registration for Hack the Army, a challenge in which researchers and hackers scour Army sites for software flaws and compete for thousands of dollars in bounty rewards. The Army contest explicitly authorizes researchers to try to hack a limited set of Army systems to find weaknesses. Meanwhile, the new policy is aimed at creating a way for hackers or researchers who come across flaws to report them without exposing themselves to criminal liability.

“This is a historic moment for hackers and the U.S. government,” said Katie Moussouris, founder of Luta Security and an adviser to the Pentagon on the new policy. “For the first time since hacking became a felony offense over 30 years ago, the Department of Defense has now opened the doors for ongoing vulnerability disclosure from helpful hackers who want to help secure these systems without fear of legal prosecution.”