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Vox Sentences: Dam fails and damn fools

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The near failure of the Oroville Dam; the appalling operational security of the Donald Trump White House; the blind (and often inaccurate) panic of Trump's first deportation raids.


Dam, that was a close one

Worker at the Oroville Dam Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
  • 180,000 Californians were ordered to leave their homes Sunday after Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation about the possible failure of the Oroville Dam — the tallest dam in the US. [Gov. Jerry Brown]
  • Oroville has been at 151 percent of capacity in February due to (otherwise-welcome) heavy rains — and its main spillway (the controlled release valve for excess water) is a crumbling wreck. [Forbes / Marshall Shepherd]
  • Water engineers are instead releasing as much water as possible via the emergency spillway — but weren't confident it could hold that long. If it didn't, a member of the regional flood protection board said, "There's nothing saying the ground is going to stay where it is." [Sacramento Bee / Ryan Sabelow]
  • Oroville isn't the only dam with a structural integrity problem. Like much of America's infrastructure, American dams are aging to the point of dangerousness. (By 2020, nearly 30,000 dams will be between 50 and 70 years old — officially overage — and thousands more will be older than that.) [Vox / Brad Plumer]
  • For now, Oroville is looking safe — but only until Thursday, when more rains are expected.
  • Failure of a dam spells disaster in the short term, and often not much better in the long term — the Oroville Dam, for example, provides water to California's Central Valley farmers and to Southern California. Which, uh, doesn't need all the water it can get or anything. [Ethan Elkind]

The public dining Situation Room

A North Korean government-released photo of the missile. Korean Central News Agency/AFP/Getty Images
  • On Sunday, North Korea launched a land-based version of an intermediate-range (300 mile) missile. (It's similar to previous versions that have been launched from submarines, but able to travel farther.) [CNN / Hilary Clarke]
  • The launch was roundly condemned by all members of the UN Security Council, including occasional North Korean ally China, in a statement drafted by the United States. [AFP]
  • The president of the United States, for his part, found out about a launch while meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which was convenient. At Mar-a-Lago, which was ... less convenient. In the public dining room, which was very convenient if you are a foreign spy and maybe less so if you are a security official. [CNN / Kevin Liptak, Sara Murray, and Athena Jones]
  • (Seriously, according to reports, staff members helped President Trump read classified documents, in the public dining room, by pointing their phone flashlights at the docs. The Verge's Russell Brandom explains why this is Actually Very Bad.) [The Verge / Russell Brandom]
  • Luckily, the White House is only dealing with one intelligence-consequences-of-loose-phone-behavior scandal at a time — haha, not. National Security Adviser Mike Flynn has reportedly apologized to Vice President Mike Pence for lying to him about whether he discussed loosening sanctions with the Russian ambassador prior to Trump's inauguration, but that doesn't really solve the problem that he lied to the FBI. [ABC News / Adam Kelsey]
  • According to press secretary Sean Spicer, Trump is reviewing the Flynn "situation." According to adviser Kellyanne Conway, the president has total confidence in Flynn. Maybe both are right! Who even knows anymore? [NYT / Matthew Rosenberg, Glenn Thrush, and Michael S. Schmidt]

Is there a new deporter-in-chief?

ICE agent Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested more than 680 people in a nationwide immigration sting last week — the first major action against unauthorized immigrants by the Trump administration. [NYT / Liz Robbins and Caitlin Dickerson]
  • A lot of the most alarming rumors about the raids — including that ICE agents were mounting street checkpoints, and that they were planning to catch immigrants on their way out of church — turned out to be wrong; as a result, immigrants were even more terrified and panicky than they would otherwise have been. [LAT / Joel Rubin, Brittny Mejia, James Queally, and Ruben Vives]
  • What did happen looked pretty similar to raids that occurred over most of the Obama administration, in which many people were deliberately targeted for having criminal records or having been ordered deported, but some were caught up as collateral arrestees. [AP / Shannon Dininny]
  • In other words, even though Trump has set new (much broader) immigration enforcement priorities in theory, the raids didn't represent that in practice.
  • (If the Trump administration sticks to this strategy, it'll be catching people who are easy to deport — scrambling the planned strategy of some Mexicans to encourage unauthorized immigrants to gum up the courts.) [WSJ / José de Córdoba and Santiago Pérez]
  • But this isn't business as usual, either. Many of the people arrested last week — like Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who was arrested and deported after showing up to a check-in with an immigration agent — were people the Obama administration had deliberately decided not to deport. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • And then there's the fact that ICE is now detaining immigrants simply for being in the same apartment as the person they have a warrant for, and being unauthorized. This should be seen as a concession to ICE field agents, who spent years criticizing the Obama administration over not being allowed to make "collateral arrests." [CNS News / Edwin Mora]
  • The biggest change from Obama to Trump isn't what either of them says, but what they allow field agents to do. [Vox / Dara Lind]

Miscellaneous


Verbatim

  • "[Stephen] Miller stopped talking to his friend as they prepared to jump from Lincoln Middle School to Santa Monica High School. … 'I can't be your friend any more because you are Latino,' Islas remembers him saying." [Univision Noticias / Fernando Peinado]
  • "New Jersey has become the first state to adopt a broad program to reduce infant deaths by aiming to distribute as many as 105,000 of the so-called baby boxes — the expected number of births in the state this year." [NYT / Lisa Foderaro]
  • "The actor playing the pup’s killer, Omer Barnea, had a hard time, too. 'He felt horrible,' she recalls. 'Every time the director yelled cut, he just picked up the dog and cuddled him.'" [NY Post / Lindsay Putnam]
  • "He explained to me that he was reluctant to fritter away money on such things, given that by the time the girls were in their late teens, it would be possible to upload the informational content of a Harvard or Yale degree directly to their brains and at a fraction of what such an education costs today." [NYT Mag / Mark O'Connell]
  • "A man came running after us with a piece of paper and a pen and approached Einstein and asked him for his autograph. Einstein obliged. … Einstein said to me, 'You know, this is just the last remnant of cannibalism.' I was puzzled and said, 'How is that?' He said: 'Yes, formerly they wanted your blood, now they want your ink.'" [Oskar Morgenstern]

Watch this: Kellyanne Conway’s interview tricks, explained

Kellyanne Conway has a supernatural ability to derail any interview that paints Donald Trump in a negative light. How does she do it? [YouTube / Carlos Maza and Coleman Lowndes]