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Vox Sentences: Obama moves to Trump-proof the Arctic

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Obama permanently(?) bans Arctic drilling; four officials charged in the Flint water crisis; we still don't know much about yesterday's truck attack in Berlin.

The Outer Continental Lands Shelf Act to the rescue!

Environmental protesters Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • President Obama issued a memo today that indefinitely — and possibly permanently — bans new oil and gas drilling in more than 100 million acres of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. [CNBC / Tom DiChristopher]
  • The ban is part of a joint agreement with Canada, which also moved to limit drilling in most of its offshore territory. But really it's a preemptive move to stop President-elect Donald Trump from opening up wanton Arctic drilling. [Bloomberg / Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Josh Wingrove]
  • What distinguishes this from plenty of other progressive policies Obama could make on his way out of office is that, unlike your typical executive order, this ban can't simply be undone with another executive order from the next president — and Obama administration lawyers think it maybe can't be undone at all. [Washington Post / Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin]
  • The reason is that Obama's acting under the authority of an obscure 1953 law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which allows the president to remove lands from access to drilling — and doesn't include a mechanism for how a president could put lands back on. [Vox / Brad Plumer]
  • A Republican Congress, of course, could always amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. [Washington Post / Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson]
  • But the Trump administration is almost certain to put up a court fight first. [Trip Gabriel via Twitter]

More charges, but still no drinkable water, in Flint

Flint water plant Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
  • Charges were filed Tuesday against four officials in the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, including two officials at a Flint water plant and two emergency managers appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to steer the city through a financial crisis. [CNN / Sara Ganim and Sarah Jorgenson]
  • That makes 13 officials who've been charged in connection to the Flint water crisis — and the emergency managers are the highest-ranking officials, and the ones closest to Snyder, to be charged to date.
  • In particular, the four men are being charged with conspiring to shift funds that were supposed to be used in cleaning up a dump site near Flint's water supply for another purpose — and using the Flint River as a water supply in the meantime. [ / Jake May]
  • The Flint River, which Michigan officials didn't require to get treated for corrosiveness, proceeded to corrode lead pipes on its way into the city — creating startlingly high, health-threatening levels of lead in the water supply. [AP]
  • A year after the problem first reached nationwide attention — and despite the investigation and indictments — Flint's water still hasn't been cleaned up. [Vox / Connor Coyne]
  • Nor is Flint the only place in America with dangerously high lead levels — in 3,000 communities, according to Reuters, lead levels are even higher than they are in Flint. [Reuters / M. B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer]

Who actually committed the Berlin attack, though?

Memorial for victims of Berlin Christmas market attack Michele Tantussi/Getty Images
  • ISIS has claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack on a Berlin Christmas market, which killed a dozen people. [Slate / Josh Voorhees]
  • But ISIS could be bluffing. It doesn't really have much of a network in Germany. And, crucially, investigators in Berlin still don't really know who actually carried out the attack. [BuzzFeed News / Mitch Prothero]
  • Initially, police arrested a 23-year-old asylum seeker from Pakistan. But they released him Tuesday after finding no evidence that he was actually involved. [NYT / Melissa Eddy and Alison Smale]
  • You would think this might be awkward for members of Germany's far-right AfD party, who leaped to blame German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the attack. [Daily Mail / Allan Hall]
  • But even without knowing whether an asylum seeker was actually responsible, the political consensus in Germany is still that the attack is going to be a problem for Merkel (and a boon for the AfD) unless she hardens her line on accepting refugees. [FT / Nikolaus Blome]
  • This is the result of something of a policy disconnect. There are serious security concerns with the way Europe is patrolling its borders and accepting immigrants; last week, the European border agency Frontex accused nongovernmental organizations of aiding human smugglers by guaranteeing rescue of their charges. [FT / Duncan Robinson]
  • But the political actors who benefit from a backlash after an event like the Berlin truck attack aren't people whose primary concern is security; they're people like the AfD, whose desire to reduce Muslim immigration to Germany predates the security crisis and is mostly about cultural values. [Der Spiegel]

The result is that real human beings, like the innocent-bystander Pakistani asylum seeker detained as a terrorist, get caught in the gap. [The Guardian / Kate Connolly]


  • How 2016 went from being merely a year to being a meme in its own right. [A.V. Club / Clayton Purdom]
  • John Podesta and anyone else whose data got exploited in 2016 can rest easy: You're not as bad at cybersecurity as the Empire in Rogue One. [Slate / Jacob Brogan]
  • It wasn't an illusion: Voters really did suddenly break for Trump at the last minute. [FiveThirtyEight / Dan Hopkins]
  • It should probably come as no surprise that the TV show with the richest audience airs on BBC America (or that No. 2 is The Americans). [NY Mag / Josef Adalian]
  • Clinton voters are just as likely to say that African Americans don't get a fair shake in society as to say that "average Americans" don't. Just take a wild guess what the results are for Trump voters. [Huffington Post / Michael Tesler]


  • "Here and elsewhere, as the Communist regimes fall like bowling pins and the US emerges resplendent, vindicated and victorious, The Cold War: A New History reads like the ventriloquized autobiography of an Olympic champion." [NY Review of Books / Tony Judt]
  • "As CEO of the banefully ephemeral squawk mortar, @Jack has the power to avert global war just by suspending one account." [Financial Times / Alphaville]
  • "'Why do you dance?' Dirac asked his companion. 'When there are nice girls, it is a pleasure,' Heisenberg replied. Dirac pondered this notion, then blurted out: 'But, Heisenberg, how do you know beforehand that the girls are nice?'" [The Guardian / Robin McKie]
  • "In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills. … The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia." [Charleston Gazette-Mail / Eric Eyre]
  • "If the story of the election is the story of two Americas, and never our bubbles shall meet, the almost-total disappearance of blockbuster network shows … is more than a clueless tale of feckless, uncreative bureaucracy. It is a civic loss." [Slate / Willa Paskin]

Watch this: How one of America’s least healthy counties got so sick

We visited Concordia Parish, one of America's sickest counties. We're afraid it's about to get worse. [YouTube / Julia Belluz and Carlos Waters]

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