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US envoy nominee Branstad member of Masons, banned in China
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - If Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad becomes the next U.S. Ambassador to China, he may want to leave any Masonic symbols at home. That's because the Freemasons group that Branstad belongs to has been banned in mainland China for decades. The only masonic lodges that exist in China today are in Taiwan. All the other chapters were eliminated after the communist revolution there in 1949. "Freemasons believe in freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of action, and I don't think that's what the communist Chinese government is about," said Tim Anderson, who is deputy grand secretary of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Iowa.

Trump chooses hardliners but talks softer on immigration
NEW YORK (AP) - Donald Trump embraced new Cabinet officers Wednesday whose backgrounds suggest he's primed to put tough actions behind his campaign rhetoric on immigration and the environment, even as he seemed to soften his yearlong stance on immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It's clearer by the day, underscored by Trump's at-times contradictory words, that his actual policies as president won't be settled until after he takes his seat in the Oval Office. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly has been selected to head the Department of Homeland Security, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate-change denier whose policies have helped fossil fuel companies, is to be announced as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

AP source: Trump to tap Oklahoma AG Pruitt to head EPA
WASHINGTON (AP) - President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, a source close to Pruitt said Wednesday. Pruitt, a 48-year-old Republican, has been a reliable booster of the fossil fuel industry and an outspoken critic of what he derides as the EPA's "activist agenda." The person close to Pruitt who provided the information was unauthorized to speak publicly about Trump's pick and did so on condition of anonymity. Environmental groups quickly denounced Trump's choice on Wednesday as a puppet of polluters, with the Sierra Club likening Pruitt's selection as EPA administrator to "putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires." Representatives of the nation's mining and oil interests, however, cheered Pruitt's selection.

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Trumps taps retired Marine general for homeland security
WASHINGTON (AP) - Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly carved out a reputation as a highly respected, but often outspoken commander who could roil debate with blunt assessments or unpopular directives on issues ranging from women in combat to the treatment of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But the man chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the Department of Homeland Security holds a more somber distinction. The battle-hardened veteran, who served three tours in Iraq, is the highest-ranking officer to lose a child in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. That status, as part of what the military calls a Gold Star family, puts him in the Cabinet of a presidential candidate who verbally attacked a Gold Star family: the Khans, Muslim-American immigrants who lost a son in Iraq and had criticized Trump at the Democratic National Convention.

Syrian government advances despite rebel cease-fire offer
BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's government ignored a rebel cease-fire proposal for Aleppo on Wednesday as its forces captured new neighborhoods around the city center and squeezed some 200,000 tired and frightened civilians into a shattered and rapidly shrinking opposition enclave. Facing a punishing and brutal defeat, rebel factions proposed a five-day cease-fire for the eastern parts of the city to evacuate the wounded and civilians wishing to flee. "The artillery shelling is non-stop," a resident told The Associated Press by messaging service. He asked to conceal his name out of fear for his safety. "The humanitarian situation is really tough. There are corpses on the streets.

Crowd honors 'gift of freedom' from Pearl Harbor servicemen
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) - Thousands of people observed a moment of silence before fighter jets streaked across the sky during a ceremony Wednesday at Pearl Harbor marking the 75th anniversary of the attack that plunged the United States into World War II and left more than 2,300 service people dead. The crowd bowed their heads at the precise moment decades ago when Japanese planes began their assault on the harbor's U.S. naval base. And they stood and clapped when survivors joined active-duty servicemen and women and National Park Service rangers in dedicating wreaths to those killed. Attendees also gave a lengthy ovation to Adm.

Church attack survivor recalls loud noise, then darkness
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A survivor of last year's massacre at a black South Carolina church testified Wednesday that her Bible study group had just closed their eyes and started praying when a loud sound shattered the stillness. The basement room went dark. When Felicia Sanders opened her eyes, she saw a young white man the parishioners had welcomed to the study only a half-hour earlier. Dylann Roof was mowing down the pastor and eight others with gunfire and hurling racial insults. Sanders, the first witness in Roof's death penalty trial, fought back tears as she recalled sheltering her granddaughter under a table and telling her to play dead.

Renzi quits; search on for new leader to guide Italy to vote
ROME (AP) - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi resigned Wednesday evening, his self-inflicted penalty for staking his job on constitutional changes voters resoundingly rejected earlier in the week. He will stay in a caretaker's role at the request of Italy's president until a new government can be formed. Renzi had first offered his resignation on Monday, shortly after voters rejected the constitutional reforms his center-left government had championed. President Sergio Mattarella, Italy's head of state, told him to stay in office until Parliament completed approval of the 2017 national budget. A few hours after the budget was passed on Wednesday, Renzi returned to the Quirinal presidential palace.

Nightclub victims' kin: Oakland fire families face long road
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Authorities investigating the California warehouse party fire that killed 36 people have said they are considering a criminal case - even murder charges. But as relatives learned after a nightclub fire killed 100 people in Rhode Island, any prosecution would be a long and complicated road that may not end with a feeling of justice. The 2003 fire at The Station in West Warwick was started by pyrotechnics for the rock band Great White, which set fire to foam that lined the walls as soundproofing. It was actually highly flammable packing foam, never approved for such a use, and the crowded club became an inferno in seconds.

Trump on the attack against 'SNL' again
NEW YORK (AP) - The chief critic-elect of "Saturday Night Live," Donald Trump, is bashing the show and impersonator Alec Baldwin again - this time prodded into action Wednesday by NBC's own Matt Lauer. The president-elect called the late-night institution unfunny and Baldwin's portrayal of him mean-spirited, suggesting "Saturday Night Live" wasn't long for the world. Trump - who appeared as guest host on "SNL" in November 2015 - has grumbled in tweets about the show three times since October, most recently last weekend after Baldwin and Kate McKinnon appeared in a skit about his Twitter habit. Trump's frequent tweeting was raised by Lauer in a telephone interview on the "Today" show following Time magazine's selection of the president-elect as its Person of the Year.