By Nichola Groom (Reuters) - The controversial government program that funded failed solar company Solyndra, and became a lighting rod in the 2012 presidential election, is officially in the black. According to a report by the Department of Energy, interest payments to the government from projects funded by the Loan Programs Office were $810 million as of September - higher than the $780 million in losses from loans it sustained from startups including Fisker Automotive, Abound Solar and Solyndra, which went bankrupt after receiving large government loans intended to help them bring their advanced green technologies to market. The report's findings are more of a political victory than a financial one. It took the program three years to break even after Solyndra's failure, while during that same time the Standard & Poor's 500 index increased 67 percent. Still, the federal loans program is a success for taxpayers, judging by the numbers in the new report, the DOE said. After Solyndra's 2011 collapse, the program was sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers as a waste of public money and a fountain of cronyism. The outcries mounted as others in the program failed, and the DOE issued no new loans between late 2011 and this year. "Taxpayers are not only benefiting from some of the world's most innovative energy projects... but these projects are making good on their loan repayments," Peter Davidson, executive director of the Loan Programs Office, said in an interview on Wednesday. Davidson took over the loan program in May of 2013. Under the program, the DOE issues a loan guarantee for about 50 to 70 percent of a project's cost. The borrower then secures a loan from either the U.S. Treasury or a private lender. Most of the program's loans have come from the Treasury, Davidson said. The losses are not expected to rise significantly, while "every month money continues to roll in" from interest payments, Davidson said. "We feel very confident that going forward our portfolio is much less risky than it has been," Davidson said. That is because most of the projects that received government loans are large power plants that are now feeding electricity into the grid, Davidson said. They include massive photovoltaic solar and solar thermal power plants in California and Arizona, wind farms and geothermal energy facilities. Since DOE approved loans for the five utility-scale photovoltaic projects, 17 more have been funded by private investors who would not have taken on that risk five years ago, Davidson said. "The loan guarantee program has been successful in bringing to market good projects with good credit support that absolutely would not have been built," said a spokesman for NRG Energy Inc, an energy company that owns three solar power plants that received DOE loan guarantees. The DOE's loan program was created in 2005 under the Bush Administration, but its program for renewable energy projects was funded in 2009 as part of the Obama Administration's economic stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The DOE also approved loans for next-generation vehicles that funded both the defunct Fisker as well as Tesla Motors Inc, which last year repaid its $465 million government loan 9 years early. Of the $30.3 billion in loans and loan guarantees issued by the Loan Programs Office, $21.71 billion has been disbursed. At least one company has yet to draw down its DOE loan. Solar wafer maker 1366 Technologies Inc was required under the terms of its loan to fund a small factory itself before it could tap its government money to finance a larger facility. It expects to break ground on that factory early next year. In the meantime, the promise of the DOE loan guarantee gave private investors the confidence to put up nearly $90 million for the smaller facility. "Those funds would not have been there if the DOE had not been there as a partner," Chief Executive Frank van Mierlo said in an interview. Losses make up 2.28 percent of the loan program's total commitments, or 3.6 percent of the amount disbursed. The government has not recovered any funds from Solyndra. It's $528 million loan makes up most of the program's losses. The government recovered $53 million from Fisker, which received $192 million of its $529 million loan commitment. Fisker's assets were acquired by Chinese auto parts producer Wanxiang in February for $149.2 million. This year, DOE began lending money again. They have programs in the works that will support both renewable energy and fossil fuel projects. In February it approved $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia, and it issued a conditional $150 million commitment to help build a wind project off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (Reporting By Nichola Groom; Edited by Ronald Grover and Ken Wills)
- Yahoo News
David Cohen, who helped spearhead CIA modernization efforts, could be Biden's pick for the agency's post-Trump future
Cohen is reportedly being considered as one of President-elect Joe Biden’s candidates for CIA director amid pushback from human rights experts and progressives opposed to Michael Morell, Biden’s original top choice.
- Yahoo News 360
Media reports suggest President Trump is eyeing another bid for the White House in four years. Will Trump 2024 become a reality?
- The Independent
Educator says she wants to keep on teaching when Joe Biden becomes president
- Associated Press
The European Union’s aviation safety agency has extended a ban imposed on Pakistan's state-run airline this year barring it from flying to Europe after a plane crash that killed 97 people in the port city of Karachi, a spokesman said Friday. At the time — and while the probe into the May 22 Airbus A320 crash was still underway — authorities acknowledged that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots, 260 out of 860, had cheated on their pilot’s exams. Pakistan International Airlines subsequently grounded 150 of its pilots while a probe by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority into the other pilots is still ongoing.
Russia protested on Friday after Latvia charged several journalists from the Rossiya Segodnya news agency with violating European Union sanctions. The journalists were charged because of their association with Dmitry Kiselyov, who heads Rossiya Segodnya, said Sputnik Latvia, a subsidiary of Rossiya Segodnya. The Kremlin media mogul was sanctioned by the EU for his role in Russia's seizure of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
- The Week
President-elect Joe Biden said when it comes to the Department of Justice, he is "not going to be telling them what they have to do and don't have to do."Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were interviewed by CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday, and the discussion turned to reports that President Trump is contemplating preemptively pardoning his adult children, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Biden said this "concerns me in terms of what kind of precedent it sets and how the rest of the world looks [at] us as a nation of laws and justice."Biden promised that he is "not going to be saying, 'Go prosecute A, B, or C,' I'm not going to be telling them. That's not the role, it's not my Justice Department, it's the people's Justice Department. So the persons or person I pick to run that department are going to be people who are going to have the independent capacity to decide who gets prosecuted, who doesn't."Harris, who once served as California's attorney general, added that the administration will assume that "any decision coming out of the Justice Department ... should be based on the law, it should not be influence by politics, period."More stories from theweek.com What Trump is doing isn't politics. It's something much worse. 5 absurdly funny cartoons about Trump's desperate fraud claims The Donald goes down to Georgia
- Associated Press
A council of Kentucky prosecutors said Friday it does not have the legal authority to appoint another special prosecutor in the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, despite a plea from Taylor's mother. Tamika Palmer had petitioned the Kentucky Prosecutors Advisory Council in October for a new special prosecutor to investigate police actions in her daughter’s death. In September, a grand jury declined to indict any Louisville police officers on charges connected to Taylor's shooting death during a warrant search.
Iran plans to install hundreds more advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges at an underground plant in breach of its deal with major powers, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Friday, a move that will raise pressure on U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. The confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report obtained by Reuters said Iran plans to install three more cascades, or clusters, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges in the underground plant at Natanz, which was apparently built to withstand aerial bombardment.
- The Telegraph
Michel Barnier is accustomed to being universally praised on his regular tours of the EU's capitals to preach the gospel against Brexit. On Tuesday, he was in the unfamiliar position of coming under friendly fire for the first time in three years as the EU's chief negotiator. It was an uncomfortable moment for Mr Barnier, who was headquartered at the Hotel Conrad in Westminster and is enmeshed in intensive Brexit negotiations with his UK counterpart David Frost. Expectation had been building that a trade agreement with Britain was close and a damaging no deal avoided. A fitting legacy for a politician who had dedicated decades of service to the EU was in Mr Barnier's grasp. He was far from the poisonous briefings in Brussels that were going on behind his back – but bad news travels fast. The chief negotiator was going soft on Britain, EU diplomats in the Belgian capital sniped. He risked giving too much away.
- The Week
President Trump reportedly needs no encouragement to start praising the dangerous, baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.The most pressing matter for federal Republicans right now is the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia, which will determine control of the body. But in a meeting with advisers and top Senate Republicans about that matter, Trump totally derailed the conversation by bringing up QAnon, people familiar with the discussion tell The Washington Post.Trump is reportedly not thrilled with Georgia and that fact that it flipped for President-elect Joe Biden, and is publicly upset with Republican leaders in the state who haven't somehow overturned the election for him. So even though Republican advisers say Trump's help is "key to convincing his die-hard supporters to vote for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue" in the January runoff election, the president isn't thrilled about doing so, the Post reports. "Advisers say he has been frustrated at how some GOP senators have criticized him," leading Trump to appear "disinterested" when discussing Senate campaign plans, the Post continues.That was clear in a recent meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), and other aides. As they discussed Georgia's Senate races, Trump brought up the QAnon-supporting soon-to-be congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene. Trump mispronounced the name of the group as "Q-an-uhn," and then said supporters of the theory that purports Democrats are a cannibalistic, pedophilic cabal "basically believe in good government," people familiar tell the Post. Everyone reportedly went silent until White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows mentioned he had "never heard it described that way," the Post reports.Trump has been asked to denounce QAnon several times, but usually gives the theory his tacit approval instead.More stories from theweek.com What Trump is doing isn't politics. It's something much worse. 5 absurdly funny cartoons about Trump's desperate fraud claims The Donald goes down to Georgia
- The Independent
President-elect Joe Biden laid out his vision for his soon-to-be vice president’s role, saying Kamala Harris will be asked to take on “the urgent need of the moment” rather than pursue her own policy agenda. “I headed the  recovery act not because that’s what I said I wanted to do,” Mr Biden said Thursday night of his tenure as vice president – but because then-President Barack Obama instructed him to be the lead negotiator with Congress. “I have confidence in turning to her” to handle the “urgent need of the moment.”
- Associated Press
The Army Corps of Engineers reversed course on an Obama-era proposal to charge for water drawn from reservoirs the Corps manages, North Dakota’s attorney general said Friday. Attorneys general from a dozen Western and Plains states sent a letter last year to the Trump administration asking that the proposal be withdrawn. Republican North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem headed the effort, which was backed by attorneys general from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The shootings occurred in August in Kenosha, Wisconsin amid civil unrest sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Rittenhouse's lawyers have said he was helping protect property and that he acted in self defense. Rittenhouse, 17, was charged with first-degree homicide and five other criminal counts related to the shootings, in which Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber were killed and Gaige Grosskreutz was wounded.
- Reuters Videos
Bangladesh has started moving Rohingya families from a port near its border with Myanmar, to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. Some 1,600 refugees were relocated on Friday on naval vessels - despite complaints by human rights groups that they were being coerced. Bhasan Char is a flood-prone island that emerged from the sea just 20 years ago. But Bangladesh's government says some Rohingya must be taken there to ease overcrowding in refugee camps. Two Rohingya being relocated told Reuters their names appeared on lists compiled by government-appointed local leaders without their consent. While, an 18-year-old woman said her husband had put their names on the list thinking it was for food rations. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group which fled Myanmar for Bangladesh, following a military-led crackdown in 2017. The UN has accused Myanmar of having genocidal intent, but the government there says its forces were targeting militants. There are now more than a million Rohingya living in crowded, squalid conditions in Bangladesh's refugee camps, where they're at risk of getting diseases.
- USA TODAY
Five executions are scheduled before Joe Biden, who opposes capital punishment, takes office. Ninety current and former law officials want a halt.
The "ambitious" target for 2030 would see the UK move faster than any major economy, the PM says.
- Associated Press
Lebanon's Hezbollah said Friday it is suing a former Christian lawmaker and a website affiliated with a Christian political party for defamation, after they accused the Shiite militant group of being responsible for the devastating explosion at Beirut's port this summer. Hezbollah’s legal representative Ibrahim Mussawi said the accusations, leveled by Fares Souaid and the website of the right-wing Lebanese Forces party, were misleading. Mussawi, also a Hezbollah lawmaker, told a press conference outside the courts house that blaming the group threatens to disrupt social peace in Lebanon, at a time when the United States is exerting maximum pressure on his party and its allies.
A Chinese official's tweet of an image of an Australian soldier that sparked a furious reaction from Canberra was amplified across social media by unusual accounts, of which half were likely fake, an Israeli cybersecurity firm and Australian experts said. The digitally altered image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the throat of an Afghan child was tweeted by China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday. Twitter declined Australia's request to remove the tweet.
- LA Times
Jewish art dealers under pressure from Nazis sold medieval relics to Germany in 1935: Can their heirs sue to recover now?
- Associated Press
The Pentagon said Friday it is pulling most U.S. troops out of Somalia on President Donald Trump's orders, continuing a post-election push by Trump to shrink U.S. involvement in counterterrorism missions abroad. Without providing details, the Pentagon said in a short statement that “a majority" of U.S. troops and assets in Somalia will be withdrawn in early 2021. There are currently about 700 troops in that Horn of Africa nation, training and advising local forces in an extended fight against the extremist group al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaida.