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In Syria, the chaotic evacuation of eastern Aleppo continues, amid ongoing fighting punctuated by a series of short-lived ceasefires. This morning, the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, says a civilian evacuation convoy was attacked by Syrian government forces, killing one person and wounding at least four more, including a medical worker. On Wednesday, the Syrian Army and its Russian ally resumed shelling and airstrikes against eastern Aleppo, despite a ceasefire. This is a spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general.
Stéphane Dujarric: “The U.N. is deeply concerned by reports of fighting in Aleppo today despite the announcement of a ceasefire agreement last night. Any continued fighting leaves thousands of civilians in the direct line of fire. The safety and security of tens of thousands of men, women and children still trapped in eastern Aleppo remains precarious. We urgently call for a pause in fighting to allow people who wish to leave safely the besieged eastern Aleppo for a destination of their choice.”
The ongoing fall of Aleppo is considered a decisive battle in the ongoing Syrian civil war, and it comes after eastern Aleppo has been besieged and bombarded for months by government forces and Russian airstrikes. Anti-government activists have called the fall of Aleppo “doomsday,” while Russia has described it as victory against terrorists and jihadists. The battle has been marked by increasingly polarized coverage, with propaganda on both sides. On Wednesday, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations was accused of lying to the U.N. Security Council during a recent emergency meeting by showing a photo he falsely claimed depicted a Syrian soldier helping a female civilian in Aleppo. In fact, the photo was taken in Fallujah and shows an Iraqi soldier helping an Iraqi woman in June 2016. Meanwhile, in Sarajevo, hundreds of survivors of the years-old siege of the city in the 1990s gathered Wednesday in solidarity with the civilians of Aleppo.
Franjo Topic: “We know how it feels to be abandoned and forgotten. We remember how it is when there are no replies to the screams for help. So today we stand united with Aleppo, Syria, and all other towns where people suffer.”
More than 10,000 people died during the 1,400-day siege of Sarajevo. It was the longest siege in modern history.
In the United States, Donald Trump’s transition team is now attempting to distance itself from a 74-part questionnaire circulated at the Department of Energy requesting the names of employees working on specific climate-related projects and the names of employees who have attended climate talks over the last five years. Many have denounced the move as the creation of an “enemies list.” The Energy Department said earlier this week it would not turn over the names. Following the widespread pushback by both the department and environmental groups, an official with Trump’s transition team said this morning, “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol.”
President-elect Donald Trump met with a slew of technology leaders at Trump Tower on Wednesday, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and others. The meeting was organized by Trump transition team member billionaire Peter Thiel, who famously drove the news website Gawker out of business by secretly bankrolling a controversial lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media earlier this year. Trump’s adult children—Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric—were also at the meeting. Trump’s inclusion of his children in political meetings has sparked increasing concerns about conflicts of interest, given their role in running the Trump business empire. The topics discussed during the 90-minute meeting were reportedly immigration, education and trade with China. There are few details about the conversation, however, because journalists were forced to leave the meeting after only a few minutes. Donald Trump has not given a press conference for 140 days now, or over four months. His last news conference was when he called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email servers. Trump was slated to give his first news conference as president-elect today on whether and how he would disentangle himself from his vast business empire before taking office, but his spokesperson earlier this week said he was postponing it until sometime in January.
A handful of Senate Republicans have come out saying they may block John Bolton from being confirmed as deputy secretary of state, if Trump picks him. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul says he would block John Bolton’s potential confirmation, saying, “There is something to be said for one of the top diplomats in the country being diplomatic.” Bolton was the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush. Bolton once famously talked about lopping off the top 10 stories of the United Nations headquarters. Trump’s pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has also sparked concern and pushback from both Senate Democrats and Republicans, many of whom are concerned about Tillerson’s close ties to Russia.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has endorsed Minnesota Congressmember Keith Ellison as the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, adding to a chorus of voices supporting Ellison as the future head of the party. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has also backed Ellison, who is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the first Muslim elected to Congress. Ellison has said he’ll step down from Congress if elected DNC chair in February. Labor Secretary Tom Perez is slated to announce today he’ll also run for head of the DNC. Perez is expected to have the support of the White House.
According to NBC, unnamed U.S. intelligence officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump win. The CIA has accused Russia of intervening, and President Obama has ordered a review of Russia’s role. President-elect Donald Trump has called the claims “ridiculous.” This comes as a New York Times investigation has revealed the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware a DNC computer had been hacked as early as September 2015, allegedly by a team known as “The Dukes,” which the FBI says is linked to the Russian government. The Times investigation goes on to report an FBI agent called the DNC repeatedly to inform them of the security breach, but that the party’s tech-support contractor did almost nothing with the information, believing it might simply be a prank call. The Times also reports the hackers used a relatively low-tech means of infiltrating the emails of top targets, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairperson, John Podesta, whose emails were successfully hacked and then leaked over the summer, generating a slew of negative coverage of the Clinton campaign. The tactic is known as phishing—sending an email to a user asking them to change their password or click on a link in order to gain access to their entire account. John Podesta in fact did change his password after receiving one of these phishing emails, after being advised to do so by one of his aides.
Meanwhile, Yahoo has admitted as many as 1 billion accounts were hacked in 2013. Yahoo says the hack involved private user information, including names, phone numbers, birthdates, passwords and security questions. In September, Yahoo also admitted that 500 million of its accounts were hacked in 2014. These two hacks are the largest known security breaches of a single company in history. Yahoo says it’s not known who is behind the newly disclosed hack.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has boasted that he personally carried out extrajudicial killings while he was the mayor of Davao. Speaking on Monday night, he said, “I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.” Duterte has long been accused of overseeing death squads in Davao, prompting Human Rights Watch to call him the “death squad mayor.” As president, he’s launched a brutal so-called war on drugs that has seen thousands of people killed by police and vigilantes since this summer.
In news on Standing Rock, the Justice Department says it will not comply with North Dakota’s request to send 100 federal officers to aid in the ongoing police crackdown against Native American water protectors fighting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. The Justice Department has said, however, that it has given training and technical assistance to local law enforcement officers, who have been sued for excessive use of force, including firing rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons in freezing temperatures at the protectors, injuring hundreds of people.
In more news on Standing Rock, water protector Red Fawn Fallis is still in custody and had a preliminary hearing Monday on a federal charge of possession of a weapon by a felon. She originally faced charges of attempted murder of a police officer—charges that were later dropped by Morton County, reportedly for lack of evidence. She’s been imprisoned since October 27, when hundreds of police raided a frontline resistance camp. A video from that day shows nearly a dozen officers pinning her to the ground and arresting her. The video does not show Red Fawn Fallis with a gun. You can hear the sound of three pops in the video.
In North Carolina, Republican legislators called a surprise special session Wednesday with the aim of restricting some of incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s power, following a contentious and close election between him and outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory. Democratic lawmakers protested the surprise session, calling it unconstitutional. The Republican lawmakers are attempting to impose measures to require state Senate approval for all of the governor’s Cabinet picks, as well as measures to strip him of the power to appoint University of North Carolina trustees. Another effort by Republican lawmakers to pack the state Supreme Court appears to have been defeated. Republicans were threatening to try to add two more justices to the court after Democratic African American Judge Mike Morgan defeated a Republican incumbent in the November election, tilting the court 4-3 to the Democrats. The North Carolina Supreme Court has had seven judges for the last 80 years.
In West Virginia, a government worker who sparked outrage after calling Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” is slated to get her job back, after being removed over the racist comments. Pamela Ramsey Taylor was the director of the Clay County Development Corporation. She made the comments in a social media post in November, after Donald Trump’s election victory. The mayor of Clay, Beverly Whaling, also resigned, after responding to the post, “Just made my day Pam.”
And Peru has launched its first daily national news broadcast in the indigenous language of Quechua for the first time in Peruvian history. Millions of people in Peru and many more in Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina and Chile speak fluent Quechua, which was the dominant language of the vast Inca Empire that ruled the region before the Spanish conquest. The broadcast is part of an effort to combat centuries of oppression against Indigenous Peruvians and their languages. This is a clip of the first broadcast.
Marisol Mena: “How are you today, brothers, sisters and fellow citizens of pleasant heart? I hope this is a good day for all of you. With a lot of joy, we are here to spread the news. We are very joyful, and we thank you with all our hearts for the warm welcome our program has received.”
Fernando Zavala: “I hope it’s a good day for all of you. I’m happy because I’m here at the beginning of this news program in Quechua.”