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Vox Sentences: The CIA and FBI agree: Russia was trying to help Trump

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A building consensus about Russian hacking; China steals a US drone just to see what Trump will do; Brazil implements the world's toughest government spending regime.


What is to be done (about Russian hacking)?

Woman holding Russian flag Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images
  • America’s top intelligence agencies are now united in accusing the Kremlin as directly acting as a Donald Trump ally. After months of warring leaks in the press, the FBI director and the director of national intelligence have joined the CIA in concluding that Russia deliberately intervened in the US presidential election to help the Republican nominee. [The Washington Post / Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima]
  • The news comes from a leaked internal memo CIA Director John Brennan sent his staff. In it, Brennan also says he has talked to Congress and that “many – but unfortunately not all – members understand and appreciate the importance and the gravity of the issue.”
  • President Obama is trying to send just the opposite message. On Friday, before his final press conference of the year, Obama vowed to retaliate against Russia for interfering in the election. He didn’t specify how. [CNN / Kevin Liptak]
  • Obama would later add to reporters that the US response to Russia would be “thoughtful, methodical,” and not necessarily public, which doesn’t exactly clarify things for inquiring minds. [The Wall Street Journal / Carol Lee, Peter Nicholas, and Shane Harris]
  • Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, also took her strongest stance to date against the Russian hacking — telling reporters Putin attacked the DNC “because he has a personal beef against me.” [The New York Times / Amy Chozick]
  • It's a message Clinton campaign chair John Podesta echoed in an op-ed at the Washington Post. But while Putin is a convenient villain for Clintonworld, it's far from clear Russian interference proved decisive — the FBI almost certainly had a much bigger impact. [Vox / Jeff Stein]

Yoink!

Aerial view of South China Sea DigitalGlobe via Getty
  • The Chinese navy has seized an underwater US drone in international waters — "in plain sight" of the American sailors who were about to retrieve it. [The Guardian / Julian Borger]
  • The US has, shall we say, forcefully requested that China return the drone. [CNN / Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne]
  • China has been engaging in provocations in the South China Sea for years, in the midst of a territorial dispute with other countries (including the Philippines) over where China's waters end and international waters begin. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • But this move is also, clearly, a provocation of President-elect Donald Trump. Trump has been hawkish toward China in off-the-cuff remarks (and mentioned the South China Sea as an issue), but many observers in China and the US are trying to figure out how seriously to take his threats. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • Trump might find a surprising paucity of regional allies if he takes on China in the maritime dispute. The government of Taiwan, despite Trump's promised support, would struggle to find money to ramp up its military in the event of increased hostilities. [Reuters / J. R. Wu]
  • And once-reliable US ally the Philippines — China's original antagonists in the South China Sea to begin with — is again (after a brief rapprochement between Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte) playing nice with China again and thumbing its nose at the US. [AP]
  • The Sino-Filipino alliance might get awkward, however. Duterte is in the middle of an aggressive (not to say extrajudicial-killing-filled) push against drug users and dealers — but most of the drugs in the country come from Chinese criminal organizations. [Reuters / John Chalmers]

Brazil wins the austerity Olympics

Brazilian protester AFP / Andressa Anholete via Getty
  • A constitutional amendment that went into effect in Brazil on Thursday plunges the country into the world's most austere spending regime: Government spending will essentially be prevented from increasing for the next 20 years. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • This is even more extreme than it sounds, because shifts in Brazil's population over the next two decades are going to create more demand for the flat (and, given inflation, dwindling) supply of funds. One expert estimates that in practice, per-pupil spending in Brazil's schools will drop by a third over the austerity period. [The Guardian / Jonathan Watts]
  • Austerity regimes don't tend to be very good at restoring confidence in a country's fiscal stability. But they're great at cutting services to the needy. [The Guardian / Paul Krugman]
  • Michel Temer, who took over for impeached President Dilma Rousseff over the summer, is an ideological fan of austerity — but he was also under pressure. Brazil's finances are out of control — it lost its investment grade rating last year — and investors needed to see some sign of discipline. [Forbes / Kenneth Rapoza]
  • But Brazilians themselves voted neither for Temer nor for austerity. Rousseff's party won in 2015 by promising not to pass austerity measures, and the constitutional amendment, in one poll, was opposed by 60 percent of the populace. [Reuters / Anthony Boadle and Marcela Ayres]
  • The crowning irony, for opponents of Temer's agenda, is that he is entangled in many of the same sort of scandals that got Rousseff impeached. [The Intercept / Glenn Greenwald]
  • For some in Brazil, Temer's move is a desperate measure for desperate times. But those on the left see it as, ultimately, "a coup against the poor." [The Guardian / Mariana Prandini]

Miscellaneous


Verbatim

  • "The deer, a white-tailed buck that had been condemned to die but was then pardoned after an extraordinary tussle between the mayor and the governor, succumbed at the city animal shelter in East Harlem on Friday afternoon, just after state officials arrived to take him upstate and release him.” [NYT / Andy Newman]
  • "The U.S. intelligence community has committed to providing as soon as next month a public estimate of the number of U.S. persons whose electronic communications are ensnared under a surveillance authority intended for foreign espionage.” [Reuters / Dustin Volz]
  • "In the town of Churchill, Manitoba, there’s a huge, gray, three-humped hangar, containing cages made of reinforced cinder blocks and thick metal bars. It’s a jail for polar bears. And when its cells start filling up, you know something is wrong.” [The Atlantic / Ed Yong and Robinson Meyer]
  • "For liberals, who had assumed along with Hillary Clinton that the world was theirs to inherit, this needed an explanation — one that had nothing to do with their own failures, one that could be safely localised somewhere distant, malevolent, and unknowable." [Slate / Sam Kriss]
  • "The overall effect is both soothing and dystopian, like watching a ladies' yogurt ad directed by Leni Riefenstahl.” [Elle / Sady Doyle]

Watch this: The fall of Aleppo, explained

How horrific carnage came to engulf the Syrian city. [YouTube / Sam Ellis, Zack Beauchamp, and Johnny Harris]

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