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Trump’s son-in-law gets sucked into the Russia scandal; famine threatens 20 million in four countries; civilian casualties on the rise in Mosul.
Jared Kushner’s Big Day
- President Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner is set to be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee over meetings he attended and arranged with Russian officials. [New York Times / Jo Becker, Matthew Rosenberg, Maggie Haberman]
- The New York Times’s story identified three meetings of particular interest, which all occurred during the transition period in December: one between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner; another meeting between Kislyak and a deputy Kushner sent in his place; and a third meeting, arranged at Kislyak’s request, between Kushner and the chief of the Russian development bank Vnesheconombank, against which the US government has imposed sanctions.
- Kushner has agreed to be questioned, but the White House maintains that he did nothing wrong and was simply acting within his role as a point person on the transition team for foreign governments.
- Kushner is the latest Trump aide to be called before Congress to discuss ties to Russia. The House Intelligence Committee is also investigating any connections between Trump’s campaign and Russian attempts to influence the US election, and so far Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, his former adviser Carter Page, and another close adviser, Roger Stone, have all agreed to appear before the committee. [Wall Street Journal / Byron Tau, Carol E. Lee, Shane Harris]
- The House committee also hopes to bring in Flynn — who stepped down as national security adviser after lying to the vice president about his own conversations with Kislyak — to testify. [CNN / Tom LoBianco]
- But it’s not clear how effective the House Intel Committee will be, given that its chair, Devin Nunes, is a Russia-sympathetic Trump ally who last week falsely claimed to have proof that the government wiretapped Trump tower — and has since revealed he did that after visiting the White House to “meet a source.” [Vox / Yochi Dreazen]
- Meanwhile, in conveniently deflective timing, over the weekend Kushner was named to a cushy job in a new department in the executive branch: head of the White House Office of American Innovation. It’s being described of as “SWAT team” of business executives turned consultants who will make the government “run like a great American company,” according to Kushner. [Washington Post / Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker]
- Sound familiar? In 2008, Obama proposed an initiative literally described as a “SWAT team” that would be overseen by a chief performance officer, and the unit’s purpose would be to cut down inefficiency and ensure performance and progress goals were be met within the government. [Washington Post / Aaron Blake]
- But don’t worry: Kushner’s new job will not prevent him from continuing to weigh in, completely unqualified, on matters of foreign policy, and because the position is unpaid, apparently it totally does not count as nepotism. [Wall Street Journal / Michael C. Bender]
- One theory on Kushner’s continually expanding role in the White House: Kushner’s sustained loyalty to Trump, and the similarities between the two men, have set up Kushner as “the perfect Trumpnik.” [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
Millions face starvation as Trump plans cuts to foreign aid
- Reports out of Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen suggest that up to 20 million people in those countries are facing starvation, in what the UN is calling the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The crisis comes as President Trump proposes to cut foreign aid. [New York Times / Jeffrey Gettleman]
- In Somalia, upward of 6 million people are in desperate need of food assistance due to regional famine and ongoing brutality at the hands of the terrorist group Al-Shabab, which has blocked roads and made aid delivery extremely difficult. In addition, cholera has broken out, making the need for medical assistance dire as well. [Washington Post / Kevin Sieff]
- Earlier this month, Somalia’s prime minister stated that 110 people died from hunger in a 48-hour span. The UN’s humanitarian appeal for Somalia alone for 2017 is more than $860 million. [NBC]
- In South Sudan, 7.5 million people are facing starvation, and more than half of them are displaced as well. In Nigeria, 120,000 people are at risk, while in Yemen, over 7 million people face severe food insecurity. [CNN / Faith Karimi]
- In South Sudan, an ongoing civil war has exacerbated agricultural problems. Since 2013, the civil war, which the UN has called an “ethnic cleansing,” has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and reports indicate that both government and opposition forces have blocked humanitarian aid from reaching civilians. [Washington Post / Rael Ombuor]
- After a famine in Somalia that ran from 2010 to 2012 killed close to 260,000 people, the UN called for a faster, earlier response to famine in the region. [BBC]
- But earlier this month, the Trump administration announced plans to propose “fairly dramatic reductions in foreign aid” as part of a 28 percent, or $10.9 billion, cut to the State Department and other international programs. [Reuters / Richard Cowan, Roberta Rampton]
- Those cuts could exacerbate the crisis. According to the UN, US aid represented nearly a third of foreign aid in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen in 2016. [Washington Post / Stuart Graham]
- The Trump cuts are nowhere near finalized, and Congress is expected to strongly resist them. But it certainly seems doubtful that foreign aid increases that could help cope with the new need are in the offing.
US-backed airstrikes in Mosul kill scores of civilians
- US-backed airstrikes resulting in civilian deaths in the city of Mosul — where Iraqi forces have fought Islamic State militants for months for control of the city — are at an all-time high according to a group that monitors US- and Russian-backed airstrikes in the Middle East. According to Airwars, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in US-led attacks in Iraq and Syria in the month of March alone. [Washington Post / Thomas Gibbons-Neff]
- As of last week, the US was investigating claims that up to 200 civilians in Mosul had been killed in recent American airstrikes there. [New York Times / Tim Arango, Helene Cooper]
- Then on Saturday, the US military acknowledged launching a single airstrike on March 17 that nearby residents say resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people; if the allegations prove true, this airstrike would be the deadliest to civilians since the US got involved in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in 2014. [Washington Post / Missy Ryan, Loveday Morris]
- But Iraqi forces have denied the reports, blaming the civilian deaths on explosives set by the Islamic State. [BBC]
- Iraqi forces have been struggling to recapture the city of Mosul from Islamic State control for months. In January there was a major breakthrough: Iraqi forces took control of the eastern side of Mosul. [Washington Post / Mustafa Salim, Loveday Morris]
- Then last month, Iraqi forces launched a second offensive to take back western Mosul as well. [New York Times / Rukmini Callimachi, Falih Hassan]
- This second initiative has seen some success: Within days, Iraqi forces took over most of the Mosul airport… [New York Times / Rukmini Callimachi, Michael R. Gordon]
- …And earlier this month, Iraqi forces captured the main government buildings in western Mosul. [Washington Post / Loveday Morris, Mustafa Salim]
- But as parts of Mosul have been liberated, horror stories have circulated on what life has been like for civilians trapped in the city during the battle: people used as human shields by ISIS militants, others killed by booby-trapped explosives set by ISIS or by airstrikes intended to target the militants — while civilians’ cars are being confiscated for use as car bombs. [Wall Street Journal / Ben Kesling, Awadh Altaie]
- And last week, in addition to reports of civilian deaths, it was reported that more than 180,000 Iraqis had fled western Mosul as the fighting raged on, many of whom are in refugee camps. The UN estimated that another 320,000 Iraqi civilians may soon follow suit. [BBC]
- Today news came that the US military is sending about 240 soldiers to assist the Iraqi military in Mosul, but the soldiers are only expected to be in Mosul for 36 hours and will not be engaging in front-line combat. [NYT / Michael R. Gordon]
- It took only about two months for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to provoke a passive-aggressive war over parking with their neighbors in DC’s Kalorama neighborhood. [Washington Post / Paul Schwartzman and Peter Jamison]
- Polyamory is more common than you might think: One study examining surveys of nearly 9,000 single adults found that more than one in five had been in a consensual nonmonogamous relationship. [NY Mag / Drake Baer]
- There's no medical reason the abortion pill shouldn't be available over the counter, like Plan B, a move that would dramatically expand access to abortion. But the FDA has subjected it to restrictions way bigger than its side effects justify. [Vice / Gabby Bess]
- Michael Chong is a candidate to lead the Conservative Party of Canada. He is also, seemingly unintentionally, the poster boy for restroom hygiene in Guatemala. [Toronto Star / Sammy Hudes]
- Believe it or not, that’s only the second-weirdest Michael Chong story in recent days. [Toronto Star / Jackie Hong]
- "The various warring fiefdoms and camps within the White House are constantly changing and are so vast and complicated in their nature that there is no amount of reporting that could accurately describe the subterfuge, animosity and finger-pointing that is currently happening within the ranks of the senior staff." [Former Trump campaign senior aide to Politico / Alex Isenstadt]
- “It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms.” [New Yorker / Jia Tolentino]
- “There is nothing pleasant about witnessing another man defecate, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed.” [Task and Purpose / Adam Linehan]
- “Munzenberg firmly believed that atrocity porn had political uses.” [Jacobin / Aaron Lake Smith]
- “For all the admiration Singapore’s school system earns abroad, it is frequently disparaged at home.” [FT / Jeevan Vasagar]
Watch this: How sign language innovators are bringing music to the deaf
Visualizing rhythms and rhymes through American Sign Language. [Vox / Estelle Caswell]
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