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Vox Sentences: Putin’s response to sanctions: shrug, point to calendar, smile

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Putin would rather deal with Trump than retaliate against Obama; the alt-right is starting fights; China, the world's biggest ivory market, will ban all sales by the end of 2017.

Russia plays a waiting game

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • After the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats Thursday (as a rebuke to Russia for allegedly supporting efforts to hack key email accounts during the US presidential campaign), Russia's foreign ministry recommended Vladimir Putin retaliate by kicking out a similar number of Americans. But he didn't do it. [NYT / Neil MacFarquhar]
  • There's a simple reason for this: Donald Trump. If Putin retaliated now, it might encourage more escalation from Obama. But come January 20, Putin will have a man in the White House interested in rapprochement with Russia. [FT / Kathrin Hille]
  • Sure enough, Trump praised Putin's decision to "delay" retaliation — praising Putin ("I always said he was smart") as a way to praise himself. [The Atlantic / David A. Graham]
  • It's very easy to get caught up in the psychodrama of Trump's supposed personal admiration for Putin. But Trump's tweet is only another reminder that the actual government Trump is building is stocked full of people with a strong interest in a US/Russian alliance. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
  • The problem is that it's not clear what benefit the US would get out of such an alliance — or why Russia would want to keep partnering with the US after it's gotten the concession it wants in the short-term (like reversing sanctions and getting the US to stop supporting Syrian rebels). [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
  • Furthermore, Trump and his team continue to deny things about Russian involvement in the US that the intelligence community regards as settled fact — like Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway's claim Thursday that the Russian intelligence agency GRU doesn't have any operatives in the US. [The Guardian / Shaun Walker]
  • It's another sign of Trump's lack of interest in deferring to the intelligence community — which might cause management problems for him and his administration, not to mention making it likely that the president remains uninformed. [Washington Post / Michael V. Hayden]

Growing pains on the alt-right

Moment Mobile ED
  • The alt-right — the child of internet troll culture and old-school white supremacism that's basically the youth wing of the Donald Trump coalition — has been emboldened by the president's election. Shockingly, they're encountering some growing pains.
  • For one thing, there's the armed march (organized by the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer) planned in the town of Whitefish, Montana, during the second week of January. Politicians from both parties have condemned the march, and the police are already preparing. [KPAX / Nicole Miller]
  • Whitefish has become something of a flashpoint for the movement. Alt-right godfather Richard Spencer lives there part-time, as does his mother — who he accused of getting harassed by a "pushy," "Jewish" real-estate agent earlier this month, provoking online harassment against local Jews. [Ha'aretz / Allison Kaplan Sommer]
  • Montana has long been a bastion for right-wing movements, but usually they've kept to themselves. As they feel emboldened to move into the mainstream, they're kicking up tensions with other residents, who don't particularly want their ski-resort towns associated with white supremacism. [NPR / Kirk Siegler]
  • The movement's also facing threats from within. An event planned in Washington, DC, for inauguration weekend — called the "Deploraball" — has dissolved into recriminations after one organizer booted another organizer for anti-Semitism, and proceeded to get more or less kicked out of the movement for his trouble. [We Hunted the Mammoth / David Futrelle]
  • The anti-Semitism problem isn't likely to go away, because it's a key point of tension between the incoming Trump administration (which, like other right-populist movements of recent years, is staunchly pro-Israel and anti-Muslim) and the beliefs of the alt-right's biggest leaders, like Spencer. [The Intercept / Glenn Greenwald]
  • Milo Yiannopoulos is one of the few alt-right celebrities who might be able to close the gap. But he's busy promoting himself — getting a book deal with Simon and Schuster that has provoked calls for a boycott of the publisher (an idea Alexandra Schwartz usefully critiques here). [New Yorker / Alexandra Schwartz]

2016 was a good year for elephants

VCG/VCG via Getty Images
  • China, the world's biggest market for ivory, has announced it will shut down all domestic ivory sales by the end of 2017, in an effort to combat illegal trade spurred by poaching. [Washington Post / Simon Denyer]
  • The international ivory trade has been more-or-less banned since 1989. But some stockpiles have been legally sold since then — and one sale, to China in 2008, spurred a boom in poaching. [LAT / Robyn Dixon and Jonathan Shaiman]
  • This is because, with more legal ivory available on the market, it was easier for businesses to launder illegal ivory alongside it, and pass them off as the same. [National Geographic / Laurel Neme]
  • The results have been catastrophic for African elephants. Poaching peaked around 2011, but the population of elephants dropped by 30 percent between 2008 and 2014. [Vox / Brad Plumer]
  • International bodies have considered reinstating the international trade to stop poaching — encouraging Africans to farm elephants for legal ivory instead. But elephants simply don't reproduce fast enough to satiate global demand. [Science / Virginia Morell]
  • So instead, countries have acted to stifle the demand. The US, which had been the second-largest-market for illegal ivory, banned all ivory sales in June; it's too soon to tell if it's worked, but ivory prices fell even when the ban was being discussed. [Motherboard / Kaleigh Rogers]
  • China seemed like the tougher nut to crack — the government had promoted ivory carving as Chinese patrimony for years. But public pressure (and a desire not to hurt the country's image in Africa) got the government to agree to a timeline. [National Geographic / Rachael Bale]
  • It's not clear what China's going to do with its legal stockpile. But it does have plans in place for ivory carvers: Some will get hired to preserve artifacts in museums. [Huffington Post / Ryan Grenoble]


  • Good thing about self-driving cars: way fewer traffic fatalities. Bad thing about self-driving cars: way fewer organs for people who need transplants. [Slate / Ian Adams and Anne Hobson]
  • RIP Robert Hulseman, inventor of the red Solo cup. [Chicago Tribune / Ally Marotti]
  • How Stadium Events for NES became the most sought-after game in the world. [ESPN / Justin Heckert]
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign against paper money could be just the beginning. There's increasing speculation he wants to adopt a radical reform that would eliminate the income tax and replace it with a tax on banking transactions. [FT / Amy Kazmin]
  • State-based pollsters are supposed to have special expertise. Why did they blow 2016 so badly? [Washington Post / David Weigel]


  • "When conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote a column last December that pleased Trump, he wanted to send Erickson an email. So Trump scribbled a note with a black Sharpie and had his assistant make a digital scan of the note and email it to Erickson." [Politico / Josh Dawsey]
  • "Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have." [Brunhilde Pomsel to The Guardian / Kate Connolly]
  • "THOMAS, MORGAN, age 15, tasted the perfect mango mousse cake just before succumbing to death. During her life, she was a 'mousse lover.' She loved mousse. She was tragically killed by the perfect mousse." [McSweeney's / Karen Chee]
  • "We've got over 700 murders here. I don't want my kids to be 701." [Victor Bloomingberg to NYT]
  • "Stormfront has been around since the ’90s, which means it’s been around for the entirety of the genomic revolution. The major milestones in human genetics—sequencing of the first human genome, genetic confirmation that humans came out of Africa, the first mail-in DNA ancestry tests—they’re all there, refracted through the lens of white nationalism." [The Atlantic / Sarah Zhang]

Watch this: 2016, in 5 minutes

Another trip around the sun, and another opportunity to remember how far we've come. [YouTube / Carlos Waters, Dion Lee, Joe Posner]

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