November 4, 2016

The Russian government started heavily interfering in the U.S. election not so much to help Donald Trump but to hurt Hillary Clinton, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has never forgiven for calling 2011 Russian elections less than free and fair, Kurt Eichenwald reports at Newsweek, citing multiple Western and European intelligence sources. However, Putin is reportedly pleased — and European governments perplexed and terrified — that Trump continues to disregard the information he gets from U.S. intelligence on Moscow's hacking operation and defends Putin.

Here's how Moscow's disinformation and propaganda campaign works, according to Eichenwald: "Hackers pilfer information from a variety of organizations both inside and outside Western governments; that is distributed to individuals who feed it into what a source told a European intelligence expert was a 'pipeline.'" This often-multi-step pipeline is eventually routed to the media, including through WikiLeaks, though, Eichenwald notes, "there is a strong possibility that WikiLeaks does not know with certainty the ultimate source of these records." But for a bit in August, Russia stopped feeding the WikiLeaks pipeline, Eichenwald explains:

Trump's attacks on the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier following the father's speech at the Democratic convention created dismay in the Kremlin. Top Russian officials came to believe Trump would be forced to withdraw from the race because of his psychological state and apparent unsuitability for the presidency, according to information obtained by the Western intelligence source. In particular, Kremlin officials feared they could not predict what impact it might have on Russia should Trump step aside ... By October, "buyer's remorse" had set in at the Kremlin, according to a report obtained by Western counterintelligence. Russia came to see Trump as too unpredictable and feared that, should he win, the Kremlin would not be able to rely on him or even anticipate his actions. [Newsweek]

The massive cyberattack and misinformation campaign caused a deep split inside the Kremlin, but Putin is reportedly happy with the operation, whoever wins. "Should Clinton win, he has told associates, her administration would be bogged down trying to heal divisions within the United States brought about by releases and misrepresentations of hacked information, and would have little time or political capital to confront Russia's efforts in Syria, Ukraine, and other locales," Eichenwald writes, citing a Western intelligence source. You can read more, including the dismay European spooks express at having to investigate Trump's various ties to Moscow, at Newsweek. Peter Weber

2:14 p.m.

WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar is reportedly eyeing an exit after the announcement of the company's merger with Discovery — which he reportedly only found out about recently.

Kilar has "hired a legal team to negotiate his departure" as chief executive of WarnerMedia, a job he has held for about a year, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The news came only hours after AT&T said it would spin off WarnerMedia, which owns HBO, Warner Bros., CNN, and more, and merge it with Discovery to create a new standalone company run by Discovery CEO David Zaslav. The idea was that the combined company would be better positioned to compete against the likes of Disney and Netflix, and Discovery's brands include HGTV, Food Network, and Animal Planet. The deal is expected to be finalized next year.

But Kilar, the Times reports, was "kept in the dark about the deal until recent days." Zaslav told reporters on Monday that he and AT&T CEO John Stankey had met "secretly" over the past few months.

Kilar's name was not mentioned in the AT&T press release announcing the $43 billion deal, and the Times reports that when Kilar sent a memo to employees about the "momentous news," he didn't mention anything about his future at the company.

Kilar took over as the head of WarnerMedia in May 2020 after previously serving as Hulu's CEO. HBO Max, the new WarnerMedia streaming service, launched later that month. Kilar's reported plans to exit were revealed only three days after The Wall Street Journal published a profile of him, which described how he has "led one of the most radical overhauls in the entertainment industry" and opened by saying, "Jason Kilar might have a career as a tour guide if this WarnerMedia chief executive gig doesn't work out for him." Brendan Morrow

1:22 p.m.

President Biden announced Monday that the United States will export 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines by the end of June. Those doses are on top of the 60 million doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca already earmarked for export.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has not received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, so the U.S. wouldn't be able to distribute the doses produced in the country anyway, but the latest development is significant because the other companies' shots are in use domestically.

An anonymous Biden administration official told Bloomberg the measure is only a first step, and, as the vaccination rate plateaus in the U.S., the White House will increasingly turn its attention to helping curb the coronavirus pandemic abroad. The pivot comes as the global discrepancy in vaccinations has become more glaring — many lower-income countries are struggling to secure supplies even as the virus surges in many pockets of the world.

It's not yet clear where exactly the exported vaccines will go, or how the U.S. will decide which countries get them, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the criteria should become available soon. One thing Biden did clarify in his comments is that the U.S. won't use vaccines to secure favors from other countries. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

Opinion
12:40 p.m.

The new CDC guidance on mask usage for Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 has swiftly shifted mask mandates. My state of Minnesota lifted its mandate, though our municipal mandate is still in place. Our favored Costco, however, is outside city limits and newly mandate-free for vaccinated customers, which means I can do my next grocery trip unmasked.

My twin toddlers soon cannot. They'll turn two this summer, which means that just as my husband and I can take our masks off in most indoor spaces, they'll have to put theirs on. Teaching them to wear a mask is proving a herculean task, so much so that I wonder if it's possible. Either way, I know it's ridiculous.

Other nations realize this. We have a flight planned for later this summer, so I've been researching airline rules. American carriers and airports all require masks for children two and up, per federal mandate. Airlines from other nations take a far more reasonable approach. At Emirates and Virgin Atlantic, the minimum age is six years old. For British Airways and Air France, it's 11 (and that higher cutoff isn't only for air travel).

This isn't indicative of a lax attitude toward the pandemic: France and the U.K. have had far stricter mitigation measures than we've seen anywhere in the United States. In the most recent French lockdown, for example, no one could travel more than 6 miles from their homes, a wildly draconian rule. Yet French parents don't have to wrestle their uncomprehending toddlers into masks to travel, and American parents do.

I have two ideas for a more reasonable (and, yes, obviously self-serving) approach given what we know of young children's mental and emotional development and COVID-19 itself. The first idea, which is my preference, is that children 11 and younger, who are currently too young to be vaccinated, would simply be exempt from all mask mandates, which is exactly what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. For this demographic, pandemic risks are very low, especially with adult vaccination rates rising, and the benefits of normal life are high.

The second idea, if WHO guidance isn't acceptable, is to make kindergarten the cutoff. (The WHO actively advises against masks for kids 5 and under.) A child too young to go to school is too young to wear a mask. Their brains are just not ready yet, and this is as much biological reality as is COVID-19. Bonnie Kristian

12:40 p.m.

The Supreme Court on Monday announced it will take up its first abortion case since Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation gave the court a 6-3 conservative majority. Many legal scholars and analysts believe the ruling on the challenge to a struck-down Mississippi law that seeks to ban nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy could significantly affect Roe v. Wade.

Legal historian Mary Ziegler and others argue Roe doesn't necessarily have to be overturned outright for the Supreme Court's decision to alter the landscape. Instead, tinkering with it and allowing some pre-fetal-viability bans, like the Mississippi law, will pave the way for dismissing precedent. "If not viability, what is the limit on bans?," Ziegler tweeted. "IS there a limit on bans?"

Not everyone is so sure this spells doom for Roe's central components, though. Attorney Gabriel Malor actually thinks the fact that the justices will rule only on whether "all previability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional" suggests the case might not be as crucial as it seems. Malor thinks the answer to that question is obvious (of course they aren't all unconstitutional, he writes), while a more important question presented in the challenge won't even be taken up.

Meanwhile, Drexel University law professor David Cohen writes that no one can confidently predict how the court will rule, pointing out that an 8-1 conservative court was widely expected to overturn Roe when ruling on Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, but ultimately did not. Tim O'Donnell

12:29 p.m.

Former child star Ricky Schroder, who drew criticism for confronting a Costco employee over the store's mask policy in a viral video, is both apologizing and doubling down.

The Silver Spoons actor on Instagram apologized to the Costco worker he filmed himself confronting for not allowing him into the store without wearing a mask, while at the same time suggesting that's something he "had" to do to make a point against mask mandates, per Entertainment Weekly.

"I was trying to make a point to the corporate overlords," Schroder said in a video, addressing the Costco worker. "Sorry that I had to use you to do it. If I hurt your feelings, I apologize. But I do think that independence from medical tyranny is more important than hurting people's feelings. So I'm sorry I hurt your feelings, but I want us all to be free."

The Costco employee was seen in the video explaining to Schroder that while the CDC recently issued guidance saying that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can stop mostly wearing masks indoors, "the mandate in California has not changed" yet and he was still required to wear a mask in the store. Costco is "simply abiding by the law," the worker added. Schroder, though, angrily rejected that explanation in the video, declaring that his followers in California should "give up your membership" to Costco in protest.

The video quickly went viral and prompted criticism of Schroder over his treatment of the Costco employee, with writer Paul Rudnick tweeting, "Anyone who harasses a store or restaurant employee over a mask policy is despicable." Brendan Morrow

11:07 a.m.

The White House is abuzz, and not just with political gossip.

In a recent call with President Biden's senior adviser Cedric Richmond, former Trump adviser Jared Kushner offered not only job advice, but also his condolences regarding the White House fly problem, sources told Politico.

"Yeah man, they're like bats," Kushner said to Richmond in what Politico called a rare "point of agreement" between the two officials. "Good luck," Kushner added.

The White House's bug issue is reportedly ongoing, extending back through the Trump presidency to at least the Obama administration, per Politico. Former National Security spokesman under President Barack Obama Tommy Vietor said, "We had bug zappers going 24/7." Brigid Kennedy

10:22 a.m.

It's very important to Martha Stewart that the world doesn't get the wrong impression about how many "glorious" peacocks she has.

Stewart took to Twitter to slam the New York Post for running a "fake news" story that said she has 16 peacocks on her farm. She'll have you know, in fact, that her peacock game is far stronger than that.

"I actually have 21 of these glorious birds whose house is impeccable," Stewart declared.

Stewart has apparently been absolutely thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, previously saying she has "zero complaints" about quarantining on her 153-acre farm. While she was at it, she clarified on Twitter for anyone wondering that her peacocks "do not smell" and are "so clean," their "voices are loud but such fun to hear," and they're "so friendly."

So there you have it! In the Post's defense, People notes Stewart did write a blog post on "my peacocks and peahens" back in July 2020 in which she said, "I have 16 living in a coop surrounded by a large, fully-enclosed yard." But the Post has added a correction to its story, bumping up Stewart's number of peacock friends by five and possibly avoiding the libel case of the century. Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads