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Chuck Hagel calls President Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria 'shameful'

WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offered a blunt assessment of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from northeastern Syria.

That move gave a green light for Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds, allowed the Russians to step into the resulting leadership vacuum and undermined American credibility on the world stage, Hagel said in a World-Herald interview last week.

Chuck Hagel

“The Russians have taken over the very positions that we left,” Hagel said. “If that’s not humiliating and embarrassing to the United States of America, I don’t know what is. If Americans don’t quite get it or understand it — or want to understand it — everybody else in the world does.”

Hagel said he bases the last part of that assessment in part on a recent 10-day trip across Europe, where he delivered speeches in Germany and England. Hagel spoke with officials and diplomats from across Europe and the Middle East who wanted to know just what is going on with America that it would abandon the Kurds who helped fight against Islamic State extremists.

“They were shocked because they see it as a real act of pulling the rug out from under an ally we’ve depended on,” Hagel said. “We’ve turned our backs on an ally, and that has not been lost with our allies all over the world. So I think it was just shameful.”

Trump has cast the pullback as strategically savvy and last week described a Turkish cease-fire as a “major breakthrough” made possible by the pain and suffering from the fighting that preceded it.

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While many Capitol Hill Republicans have criticized the troop withdrawal, others have come to Trump’s defense and suggested that he was in a difficult position once Turkey announced its imminent offensive.

Given the relatively small number of U.S. soldiers in the area, that argument goes, it would have been irresponsible to leave them in harm’s way.

Hagel took issue with that line of thought, however, noting that he has known Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for many years.

Erdogan has problems of his own at home, and effective use of U.S. diplomacy and influence could have deterred the Turkish attack, Hagel said.

Trump also has made the case that his moves are part of a broader desire to simply get out of the region, saying it’s about time someone else did the fighting over “this long blood-stained sand.”

“How many Americans must die in the Middle East in the midst of these ancient sectarian and tribal conflicts?” Trump said recently. “After all of the precious blood and treasure America has poured into the deserts of the Middle East, I am committed to pursuing a different course — one that leads to victory for America.”

Hagel’s conversation with The World-Herald came before Trump announced Sunday that U.S. forces had raided a compound housing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who apparently blew himself up to evade capture.

In a written statement on Monday, Hagel said Baghdadi’s death is good news, although it’s tragic that the terrorist reportedly killed several children along with himself.

Hagel praised U.S. military personnel, saying they eventually track down such murderers, including Osama bin Laden. But he also predicted that Baghdadi’s demise won’t mean the end of the Islamic State, also called ISIS.

“These terrorists organizations are dangerous and sick perversions of religion,” Hagel said in the statement. “They’re actively decentralized all over the Middle East and Africa. We’ll continue to fight ISIS and al-Qaida. This fight is not over.”

Before serving as President Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Hagel represented Nebraska for two terms in the U.S. Senate.

Much of his second term in the Senate was defined by sharp criticisms of his fellow Republican, President George W. Bush, over that administration’s handling of the Iraq War.

So Hagel said he certainly understands the get-us-out-of-there sentiment among Americans who witnessed the aftermath of a misguided invasion of Iraq.

But he also warned about the consequences of completely abandoning the region, as evidenced by waves of refugees who have flooded Europe from there.

“The problems don’t stop because America gets out,” Hagel said.

He said it requires presidential leadership to explain to the public the necessity of a U.S. role in the Middle East, in contrast to what he described as an incoherent approach by Trump.

One overlap between Trump and Hagel is that both have criticized Obama for not following through on his “red line” over Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

Indeed, Hagel said administrations that came before Trump share some of the blame for the current situation in Syria — including the one in which he served.

During his time as defense secretary, Hagel complained to the White House that the administration lacked a Syria strategy — complaints that contributed to his departure from the administration.

“They didn’t like it when I said ‘We don’t have a policy,’ ” Hagel said. “We didn’t.”

Photos: Our best shots of 2019 (so far)

For good or ill, iPhones can now show speed traps and checkpoints

Users of iPhones who want to avoid the police can now hit up Google Maps before they hit the gas.

Google is rolling out the ability to report speed traps, crashes and slowdowns in real time to its Maps iOS app, making the new feature available to about 1 billion existing users worldwide. It was already available on Android phones, as well as on Google's other map app, Waze, which has a fraction of the users.

U.S. law enforcement officials have been critical of using this type of technology to report checkpoints to identify those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and other types of police presence, something they say heightens safety risks on the road.

"Revealing the location of checkpoints puts those drivers, their passengers, and the general public at risk," the New York Police Department wrote in a letter to Google in February, demanding that Waze stop alerting users to those locations.

It's the latest wrinkle in the sometimes rocky relationship between law enforcement and tech companies in recent years. Most giant tech firms tout a mixture of free speech, privacy and ease of use as pillars of their services and devices, values that don't always align with helping the police crack a case.

Amazon initially fought law enforcement on subpoenaing recordings from one of its Echo speakers that may have been witness to a murder but eventually turned them over. The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist's phone with help from professional hackers after Apple declined to help. And the United States, Britain and Australia have all called on Facebook to halt its plans to encrypt its messaging apps, unless it provides a way for investigators to see communications.

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Google said in an emailed response to questions about Google Maps that safety is "a top priority" and that reporting features can be beneficial to public safety. "We believe that informing drivers about upcoming speed traps allows them to be more careful and make safer decisions when they're on the road," said Google spokeswoman Genevieve Park.

NYPD spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell said in a statement Monday that "the Department has engaged in productive discussions with Google to make information available to drivers that will make roads safer and encourage responsible driving, while not impeding the enforcement of New York State Vehicle and Traffic laws."

There have previously been lower-tech options for reporting DUI checkpoints and speed traps. German radio stations alert drivers to the locations of speed traps on the Autobahn. Drivers sometimes flash their headlights to oncoming traffic to warn others of police in the area. On social media, users sometimes note recent checkpoint locations on Nextdoor, Twitter and other platforms.

An Ohio man was arrested in 2014 for holding up a sign that said, "Check point ahead! Turn now!" according to a CBS News report. He was eventually cleared of the charges against him.

There are also several apps aimed specifically at documenting police presence, including sobriety checkpoints.

Google Maps is also adding other categories of incidents that can be reported by iPhone and Android users: objects in the road, lane closures, construction and disabled vehicles. While the app has an option to report "speed traps," it does not have one for sobriety checkpoints or a means to comment within the reporting feature. Waze allows users to report "police" and "camera," and to create comments that explain whether the incident is a checkpoint or another type of law enforcement activity.

But map apps have transformed communities in more than one way, as they frequently route cars around traffic and onto unexpected roads — sometimes making traffic worse in other areas.

In one example, a quiet Maryland street suddenly became inundated with several hundred cars an hour after Waze routed vehicles there. The situation led an exasperated homeowner to submit false reports of a blockage on the street in an attempt to trick the algorithm. He was unsuccessful.

According to mobile data and analytics firm App Annie, Google Maps has more than 150 million monthly active smartphone users in the United States and Apple Maps has nearly 74 million monthly active smartphone users.

But Apple Maps could have a chance to catch up as it moves to make improvements. Apple plans this year and next to roll out updates including more detailed graphics and better pedestrian information. Apple said in a statement that the updates came after the company drove "4 million miles to rebuild the basemap from the ground up."

Apple Maps suffered an embarrassing debut in 2012 that involved bloopers including missing transit information and a misplaced Washington Monument.

Schools consider late starts in hopes of keeping snow days from piling up
After last year's brutal winter, several metro area districts have another option: delaying instead of canceling classes when storms hit

Students in some metro area school districts may need to conjure some extra strong voodoo to win a snow day this winter.

Several districts and Omaha Archdiocese schools will consider delaying the start of the school instead of just canceling classes.

That's a break from the way metro area schools typically handled storms in recent years.

At most districts, snow days have been an all-or-nothing proposition: School has either been in session or called off.

But after a brutal winter last year, when districts piled up more snow days than normal, several are adding late starts as an option.

Starting later would give crews more time to clear streets, sidewalks and parking lots, and it would allow rush-hour traffic to subside, officials say.

Late starts won't take such a big bite out of instructional time. Lost time must be made up if a school loses too much time and falls below the state minimums.

The Millard, Elkhorn, Papillion-La Vista, Springfield Platteview andWestside districts will all consider late starts.

Omaha Public Schools officials are still deciding, according to spokesman Jeremy Maskel.

"It's definitely one of the things we're exploring," he said Monday.

Ralston and Douglas County West have not used late starts, but officials in those districts are discussing the possibility.

Late starts have been an option in Bennington for many years.

The Gretna Public Schools will not use late starts.

Superintendent Jim Beran said he wants to keep the district's snow day procedure straightforward for parents.

"If you tell them it's a late start, and then the weather turns, are you going to turn it into an all-day affair?" he said.

The Bellevue Public Schools also will keep things simple and not do late starts, unless extraordinary circumstances arise, Superintendent Jeff Rippe said.

The possibility of late starts could get a frosty reception from students, who covet cancellations. Snow days can turn into a day of sledding, building snowmen or just lounging at home.

Snow days are so eagerly anticipated that students have invented rituals to conjure up storms: dumping ice cubes in the toilet, turning their pajamas inside out, singing the ABCs into the freezer.

On social media, they pepper superintendents with appeals to cancel.

Their spells apparently worked overtime last year. Days off piled up from the wild weather: cold, snow, flooding.

During February, Millard students attended school only 14 days because of a combination of snow cancellations and parent-teacher conferences. By March, most metro area school districts had canceled school four or five days for weather. Millard students had to continue classes after Memorial Day, a situation the district tries to avoid. The multiple snow days were

"incredibly disruptive" to the educational flow and to working families, Millard Superintendent Jim Sutfin said.

On some of the snow days last year, the weather turned out less menacing than predicted, and the schools could have stayed in session, he said.

Sutfin will now have three options when weather makes roads and sidewalks unsafe: cancel school, delay the start or declare an e-learning day.

The district experimented with e-learning days last year.

On those days, students stay home but do schoolwork via technology, digital tools and other resources. The idea is to minimize disruptions to the learning process and keep kids on track.

Delayed starts will be new for Omaha Archdiocese schools, said spokesperson Blair Bonczynski.

The Catholic schools will follow the lead of OPS regarding delays and closures, she said.

The Council Bluffs Community Schools will consider a twohour late start when appropriate, spokeswoman Diane Ostrowski said. The district has not had late starts in recent years, she said.

California a 'tinderbox,' from north to L.A.
Fires prompt evacuation of tens of thousands; scores of homes burn, thousands threatened; 2 million lack power

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters battled destructive wildfires in Northern California wine country and on the wealthy west side of Los Angeles on Monday, trying to beat back flames that forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

California's biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, cut off power to an estimated 2.2 million people in the northern part of the state over the weekend in yet another round of blackouts aimed at preventing windblown electrical equipment from sparking more fires. PG&E said its power lines may have started the fire in Sonoma County, as well as two smaller fires over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The blaze that broke out last week amid Sonoma County's vineyards and wineries north of San Francisco exploded to at least 116 square miles, destroying 123 buildings, including at least 57 homes, and threatening 90,000 more structures, authorities said. About 156,000 people were under evacuation orders, mostly from the city of Santa Rosa.

In Southern California, the Los Angeles fire erupted before dawn Monday and roared up slopes into well-to-do neighborhoods, threatening thousands of homes. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to clear out.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the fire had grown to at least 500 acres and that he had seen five burned homes. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said he expects that number to climb.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted that he and his family had to evacuate their home in the city's Brentwood section.

"I pray for all the families in the area that could be affected," he tweeted. "Pretty please get to safety ASAP."

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also was driven from his home, and the Hollywood premiere of Schwarzenegger's "Terminator: Dark Fate" was canceled Monday night.

The fire was burning in the upper elevations of the Brentwood area. The evacuation area extended westward through Pacific Palisades down to the Pacific Coast Highway, encompassing some of the most exclusive real estate in California, where celebrities and executives live in mountain and ridgetop retreats that cost tens of millions of dollars but are surrounded by tinder-dry vegetation.

David Boyle, 78, said he awoke at 3 a.m. to his doorbell ringing and police officers pounding on the front door. They warned him that the wildfire was advancing toward his Brentwood home near the Getty Center arts complex and that he needed to evacuate. He grabbed dog food and his wife's jewelry and hustled his dogs out the door. They went to a recreation center.

"It's a fact of life when you live in this area," he said. "Every place has some problem with disasters. People talk about earthquakes here, but I don't think it's as bad as hurricane season."

Night-flying helicopters made water drops before daybreak, and airplanes unleashing loads of water and bright pink fire retardant joined the battle after the sun came up.

The Getty, with its collection of priceless art, was built with special fire protection features, and Los Angeles Fire Capt. Erik Scott said it was not threatened.

But Mount St. Mary's University evacuated 450 students from its Chalon campus nearby. The University of California, Los Angeles in the city's Westwood section canceled classes — not because of a direct threat from the fire but because of road closings and evacuations affecting people on their way to UCLA.

Similarly in Northern California, about 40 school districts in Sonoma County canceled classes. And the University of California, Berkeley called off classes because of the power outages there.

Fire conditions statewide have made California a "tinderbox," said Jonathan Cox, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Of the state's 58 counties, 43 were under warnings for high fire danger Sunday, with flames driven by gusts that reached more than 102 mph.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency over the weekend.

The biggest evacuation was in Sonoma County, where some people who were packing up and fleeing Sunday had done so two years ago, when devastating wildfires swept through Sonoma, Napa and neighboring counties, killing 44 people.

At an evacuation center at Napa Valley College, Francisco Alvarado, 15, said he, two younger brothers and his parents decided to leave their Calistoga home in advance of evacuation orders. Two years ago, the family had to flee, but in the middle of the night.

"I'm pretty mad that we have to keep evacuating," he said. "I just want to be home. I'm trying to leave here tomorrow; I want to sleep in my bed."

Hundreds of people arrived at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa by Sunday. Some came from nursing homes. More than 300 people slept in an auditorium filled with cots and wheeled beds. Scores of others stayed in a separate building with their pets.

Among them was Maribel Cruz, 19, who packed up her dog, four cats and fish as soon as she was told to flee her trailer in the town of Windsor, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. She also grabbed a neighbor's cat.