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Vox Sentences: The most 2016 question: Islamophobia, or YouTube stunt?

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Donald Trump's administration-in-waiting has some creative solutions to the "conflict of interest" thing; a YouTube star gets kicked off a plane, and says it's Islamophobia; Russia has a drinking problem (with bath lotion).

Donald PEOTUS and the Half-Blind Trust

Carl Icahn Adam Jeffery/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
  • President-elect Donald Trump has named Peter Navarro — whom Tyler Cowen identified during the campaign as "the economist whose ideas guide Trump" — to head a newly formed National Trade Council. [Bloomberg View / Tyler Cowen]
  • He's also named Carl Icahn, king of the "activist investors," to an advisory role on economic and regulatory policy — but Icahn won't have any formal position in Trump's White House, which will conveniently shield him from any conflict-of-interest laws as he continues to have financial stakes in the industries whose policy he advises. [WSJ / David Benoit]
  • Trump himself is still figuring out how to navigate that whole business-and-the-presidency thing. The latest plan: Instead of putting his business holdings in a "blind trust" run by his children, what about a "discretionary trust" — which would allow Trump and his family to continue to make money from their investments while peeking in to see how their businesses are doing? [Politico / Josh Gerstein]
  • After all, Trump's sons Donald Jr.and Eric — the ones who were supposed to be running the business — are behind a nonprofit that's promising high-roller donors access to the president-elect over inauguration weekend. [Center for Public Integrity / Carrie Levine]
  • And former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is starting a new lobbying firm in the same building where Trump's DC transition headquarters are — using Lewandowski's access to the president-elect as a selling point for future clients. [Washington Post / John Wagner]
  • Around Washington, lobbyists are beginning to appreciate how Trumpworld operates. He cares about stature and is comfortable with CEOs. And if you can get to his inner circle, you can get to him. [Politico / Isaac Arnsdorf]
  • Purely coincidentally, Donald Trump has decided he doesn't think the slogan "drain the swamp" is "cute" anymore. [The Hill / Paulina Firozi]

Hate on a plane, or pranks on a plane?

Adam Saleh Tasia Wells/Getty Images for Beautycon
  • YouTube stars Adam Saleh and Slim Albaher were kicked off a Delta Airlines flight out of London's Heathrow Airport Wednesday. They claim they were booted because they were speaking Arabic (Saleh claims he was making a phone call to his mother) and other passengers got upset. [NYT / Jonah Engel Bromwich]
  • It wouldn't be the first time that Islamophobia got a passenger kicked off a flight (a phenomenon sardonically called "flying while Muslim"). [The Guardian / Homa Khaleeli]
  • The problem is that airlines have extremely broad discretion to boot "disruptive" passengers — so when 20 passengers decide that one passenger makes them uncomfortable, it's easy for them to side with the majority. [Fortune / Christopher Elliott]
  • And as cultural tensions boil over in America and Europe, planes are one of the staging grounds: Just last month, Delta apologized for not kicking off a passenger who went on a belligerent tirade about "Hillary bitches." [AP]
  • Here's the problem, though: Saleh is a YouTube prankster and has a history, in particular, of pranks involving planes... [BuzzFeed News / Aisha Gani and Tasneem Nashrullah]
  • ...and staged videos alleging Islamophobia (such as a 2014 one that purported to show the NYPD engaging in racial profiling). [The Smoking Gun]
  • Accounts from other passengers indicate that Saleh might have been more confrontational than his account suggested. But it's hard to tell when "confrontational" just means "jokingly speaking Arabic in the presence of scared white people." [BuzzFeed News / Aisha Gani and Tasneem Nashrullah]
  • There will only be more of this. Open racism is getting recorded more assiduously and going viral frequently; in addition to Saleh's video, a clip of a woman going on a racist rant against another Louisville mall customer also circulated widely Wednesday. [Lexington Herald-Leader / Morgan Eads]
  • And some people will try to fabricate incidents; also Wednesday, Mississippi police charged an African-American man with setting a fire at a black church and spray-painting "Vote Trump" on the side. [AP]
  • It's important to be critical in consuming news, without edging into denial. Assuming everything is a hoax is not the solution. [New Statesman / Amelia Tate]

Russia's bath lotion problem

Russian vodka Frederik Hermann
  • More than 60 people have died in Irkutsk, Siberia, of alcohol poisoning in recent days, after drinking products made with methanol instead of ethanol. [The Siberian Times]
  • Some of the methanol-adulterated products were cheap counterfeit vodkas. Some, however, were ostensibly medicinal or household products — like a highly alcoholic "bath lotion" called Boyaryshnik that's become a popular vodka substitute. [NPR / Bill Chappell]
  • Russia has spiked excise taxes on alcohol for the past few years, leading to a surprising stagnation in the vodka market as Russia's national drink becomes too damn expensive. [Newsweek / Damien Sharkov]
  • But while some Russians have turned to fruit-based ciders, about 12 million have turned to "substitutes" like Boyaryshnik. [The Guardian / Shaun Walker]
  • Vladimir Putin has issued a series of presidential orders in response to the Irkutsk outbreak. Among them are requirements to better label "medicinal" and other products containing alcohol — and an order for the Russian parliament to adjust excise taxes to "reduce demand" for vodka substitutes, presumably by making vodka itself more affordable. [TASS]
  • In the United States, of course, deaths from lethal adulterations of addictive drugs are also fairly frequent. But the idea that America should respond to deaths from fentanyl-laced heroin by making heroin cheaper does not appear to have crossed anyone's mind. [ / John O'Brien]


  • Charlie Brown Christmas special dancers, ranked. [FiveThirtyEight / Walt Hickey and Leah Libresco]
  • Most countries with presidents don't use Electoral Colleges. And, amazingly, candidates in those places don't ignore rural voters! [Washington Post / David Weigel]
  • There are now two times as many rats as people in Paris. [The Guardian / Kim Willsher]
  • Two years ago, Ed Schultz was ripping into Vladimir Putin on MSNBC. Now he works for him. [Washington Post / Paul Farhi]
  • On the greatness of Stevie Wonder's "We Can Work It Out" (though, to quibble, it's not the only time a cover has improved on the Beatles; Aretha Franklin's "Eleanor Rigby" and Earth, Wind & Fire's "Got to Get You Into My Life" are also unquestionably better). [Slate / Dan Kois]


  • "If you take an escalator down to the lower level, you’ll find Europe’s largest fully automated and robotic underground parking lot, where you can watch your car disappear into the floor, like something out of a James Bond movie." [CityLab / Michaela Cavanagh]
  • "Baby James was just shy of the 11-pound weight limit for packages sent via Parcel Post, and his 'delivery' cost his parents only 15 cents in postage (although they did insure him for $50)." [Smithsonian / Danny Lewis]
  • "Biking in the water was a little awkward. Not challenging in the way that running too fast on a treadmill is challenging, but challenging like learning to articulate sounds in Russian." [Gawker / Caity Weaver]
  • "Workers are basically supervisors of machines." [David Autor to NYT / Claire Cain Miller]
  • "The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it!" [New Republic / Aaron Hanlon]

Watch this: The secret chord that makes Christmas music sound so Christmassy

Hint: Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" uses it. [YouTube / Estelle Caswell, Dion Lee, Joe Posner, and Adam Ragusea]

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