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Vox Sentences: Trump's new national security adviser has his job cut out for him

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In which we do not envy the job of the national security adviser; a famine in South Sudan threatens 100,000.


Strap in, McMaster

McMaster AFP / Nicholas Kamm via Getty
  • We have a new national security adviser! President Donald Trump announced Monday that he's appointing H.R. McMaster, a highly respected active-duty Army general, to the position — greatly reassuring a lot of Trump critics in the national security world. [The Atlantic / Andrew Exum]
  • The question is how McMaster will deal with Trump and the Trump White House. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • This is, after all, a man who, in his book about the Vietnam War, blamed the poor planning of the war under Lyndon B. Johnson on "an advisory system [...] structured to achieve consensus and to prevent potentially damaging leaks." [Yoni Appelbaum via Twitter]
  • One of McMaster's first orders of business might be to disentangle the role his own predecessor, Michael Flynn, played in what appears to be a freelance attempt by Trump advisers to propose a deal to lift sanctions on Russia. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reportedly delivered a draft of such a deal to Flynn weeks before Flynn's resignation. [NYT / Meghan Toohey and Scott Shane]
  • That deal reportedly included a proposal (sent to Cohen and another Trump associate, Felix Sater, by a Ukrainian legislator) to end Russia's war in Ukraine — Russian troops would withdraw from eastern Ukraine, and the people of Crimea could vote on a referendum on which country to affiliate with. Russia, as it happens, thinks this is a terrible deal. [Reuters / Aleksandar Vasovic and Andrew Osborn]
  • Among the many, many questions raised by the whole affair is the role of Sater — who was involved in some of Trump's shadiest deals as a businessman, and now appears to be acting as a go-between for Russian-affiliated Ukrainians and Trump's inner circle. [TPM / Josh Marshall]
  • As if there weren't enough opportunities for rumor and intrigue, a senior Russian diplomat died suddenly Monday — the sixth to do so since December. It was probably natural. But people talk. [Reuters / Jack Stubbs]

A bad year for famine

A hospital in South Sudan AFP / Albert Gonzalez Farran via Getty
  • The United Nations has formally declared a famine in South Sudan, in the state of Unity — though without emergency aid, the famine is likely to spread. [BBC]
  • To qualify as an officially recognized famine, malnutrition rates have to exceed 30 percent, with "extreme food shortages" facing 20 percent of the population. The last time this happened was in Somalia in 2011 — when approximately 250,000 people died. [The Guardian / Ben Quinn]
  • The famine has its roots in the civil war that's killed tens of thousands of South Sudanese since late 2013 (a mere two years after the country achieved independence). The war has upended agriculture, leaving people to forage for whatever food they can find. [Washington Post / Rael Ombuor]
  • 100,000 people in South Sudan are already starving, according to aid agencies — and without a rapid increase in aid, 275,000 children could end up malnourished or dead. [LAT / Robyn Dixon]
  • But the aid agencies are going to be sorely tested this year. At the beginning of the year, the US Famine Early Warning System warned about South Sudan — along with three other countries. There is evidence that war has brought parts of Nigeria into famine; Yemen may be in similar danger. And in Somalia, crop failure and lack of rain could lead to another famine. [US Famine Early Warning Systems Network]

The fall of Milo

Milo Getty/Drew Angerer
  • On Saturday, the Conservative Political Action Conference — the annual convention for the conservative movement — announced (to the shock and horror of several board members) that alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos would headline this week's conference. [Washingtonian / Elaina Plott]
  • By Monday, not only had CPAC withdrawn the invitation, but publisher Simon & Schuster had announced that it would no longer publish Yiannopoulos's book, called Dangerous (cue eye roll). [The Daily Beast]
  • And a half-dozen staffers at Breitbart reportedly stand ready to leave if Yiannopoulos isn't fired there, too. [The Hill / Rebecca Savransky]
  • What changed? Over the weekend, a conservative blog drew attention to a video from 2016 in which Yiannopoulos had praised sex between young teens and older men. [NYMag / Margaret Hartmann]
  • Pederasty is pretty bad! But given that Yiannopoulos's whole shtick is literally "get press for saying offensive things and then play the victim when people react badly," it's not obvious why these comments are a deal breaker and things he's said about women, trans people, immigrants, etc. ad nauseam are not. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • The puzzle is compounded by the fact that CPAC, in inviting Yiannopoulos to keynote, was supposedly honoring his role as a "free speech" crusader — then canceled his speech because he said something offensive. It's almost like defending Yiannopoulos on "free speech" grounds was always a smoke screen for tacit endorsement of the actual sentiments he was expressing. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • As many conservatives have been pointing out for a long time, Yiannopoulos isn't actually a conservative. He's a provocateur of liberals. There's a difference, and it's one conservatives (or at least CPAC) appear to have momentarily forgotten. [The Independent (UK) / Kate Maltby]
  • Or ... not so momentarily. After all, Milo's shtick is a modified version of former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon's, who's currently serving as one of the most trusted aides to President Donald J. Trump. Who's also, in some ways, less conservative than anti-liberal. And who is also speaking prominently at CPAC.

Miscellaneous

  • Jill Price has near-perfect autobiographical memory — she can tell you the exact day she drove a car for the third time, and the exact day she heard the song "Jessie's Girl" for the first time. What can her brain tell us about how memory works? [The Guardian / Linda Rodriguez McRobbie]
  • Most policymakers assume that poor people use check-cashing services because they don't realize they're being ripped off. But new research suggests that many use them to avoid getting ripped off — by traditional banks. [Business Insider / Alex Morrell]
  • Jean-Luc Godard's 1955 short film Une Femme Coquette, his first real attempt at filmmaking, was one of the rarest, most sought-after films on Earth. Now it's turned up … on YouTube. [A.V. Club / Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]
  • How the Socialist Party of America went from a real electoral force — with mayors, members of Congress, and nearly a million votes for president — to obsolescence. [Jacobin / Paul Heideman]
  • For decades, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed lived as a Somali refugee in the United States, working as a civil servant in Buffalo. Now he's the president of Somalia. [Politico / Taylor Gee]

Verbatim

  • "In addition to compulsory voting, Ecuador has the ley seca, which prohibits the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcohol from 36 hours before polling starts to 12 hours after votes are processed." [Berkley Center / Rebecca Hong]
  • "[Trump] is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid." [Chikako Tsuruta to Japan Times / Tomohiro Osaki]
  • "On this picture, neural networks implement the monkey." [Paul Christiano]
  • "Her love for chicken nuggets is, I'm sure, more than she loves me." [Kristian Helton to WAND-TV]
  • "Why are you laughing? This is very sacred business. We're here to scour the shame off your soul." [Offbeat Home & Life / Ariel Meadow Stallings]

Watch this: How the BBC makes Planet Earth look like a Hollywood movie

The technology behind the cinematic style of the BBC's Planet Earth II. [YouTube / Joss Fong and Dion Lee]