clock menu more-arrow no yes

Vox Sentences: A high-stakes game of chicken with North Korea

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 first congressional special election of the Trump years is upon us; sure, why not some North Korean missile tests.


What’s the matter with Kansas

James Thompson
Democratic candidate Jim Thompson.
Mark Reinstein / Contributor
  • It’s special election day in Kansas’s fourth district. (That’s where Wichita is!)
  • The race is for the US House seat formerly held by Republican Mike Pompeo, who is now serving as President Donald Trump’s CIA director. The two contenders are Republican Ron Estes, the state’s treasurer, and Democrat Jim Thompson, a civil rights attorney and Army veteran. Final results are expected to roll in around 10 pm Eastern on Tuesday. [Vox / Jeff Stein]
  • Typically this race would be an easy win for Republicans. Pompeo won reelection in November by 31 points, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the district by 27 points, and a Democrat hasn’t held the seat since the early 1990s. On top of all that, it’s home to Koch Industries — the company owned by conservative superdonors Charles and David Koch. [Kansas City Star / Bryan Lowry]
  • But Republicans are nervous. An internal Republican poll showed Estes up by just one point in the final week. So now, in a frenzied last-ditch effort, the Republican Party and conservative groups have been pouring money into the race and running attack ads against Thompson to ensure a win. [Washington Post / Dave Weigel]
  • The president went full Trump in a get-out-the-vote robocall: “Our country needs help, Ron is going to be helping us, big league.” [BuzzFeed / Alex Levinson]
  • It’s a sign that Thompson’s strategy of tying Estes to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, the least popular governor in the United States, and Trump, an extremely unpopular president, might be working. [FiveThirtyEight / Henry Enten]
  • Thompson has also seen a sudden surge in donations. But unlike Estes, the fundraising effort isn’t coming from the top. The Democratic Party has largely stayed away from the race, but grassroots progressive groups mounted a campaign that raised $240,000 in 20,000 donations, mostly since last Thursday. In response to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s un-involvement, Thompson says the party is too stuck in its establishment ways to support a candidate like him. [Huffington Post / Igor Bobic, Ryan Grim]
  • Thompson has said Bernie Sanders inspired him to run. His campaign has become the gun-owning, military veteran Kansas version of Sanders’s presidential campaign, with a strong economic populist message. And what better place to see the fight go down than in the Koch brothers’ backyard? [The Nation / John Nichols]
  • Despite all this, it’s still highly probable that Thompson will lose — perhaps by double digits. But even if that happens, it doesn’t mean Democrats should necessarily be discouraged. This is a deep-red state, and even losing by a slimmer margin than expected is a sign of pushback against the Trump agenda. Same goes for the special election coming up in Georgia’s Sixth District. More than the seat itself, this is about testing Democrats’ mobilization efforts for the coming midterm elections. [Vox / Jeff Stein​]

A game of chicken in Korean waters

A US soldier in South Korea.
A US soldier in South Korea.
Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images
  • Last Wednesday, North Korea launched a medium-range missile — the latest in a series of “saber-rattling” demonstrations of the country’s military capability, which some nuclear observers feel could be leading up to a sixth nuclear test. [Wired / Eric Niiler]
  • The Trump administration responded by sending a US aircraft carrier into North Korean waters on Sunday, in what wasn’t explicitly called, but was agreed by all to be, a show of force to deter the country from going any further in its tests. [NPR / Philip Ewing]
  • But while Trump’s move was, if anything, less aggressive than his strike against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, North Korea is better equipped to strike back than Syria. And on Tuesday, North Korean state media threatened the carrier — and warned of nuclear retaliation if the US didn’t stand down. [Reuters]
  • Both sides are posturing right now, but they’re also raising the stakes. The game of chicken could end in disaster, if North Korea gets provoked into taking some aggressive action to save face; on the other hand, it could also end with the collapse of the North Korean state. Or both! [Vox / Sean Illing]
  • If a Korean peninsular war did break out, observers expect (hope?) the North would probably refrain from exchanging nuclear attacks; instead, there would be a short, brutal weeks- or months-long war that North Korea would certainly lose. [Quartz / Steve Mollman]
  • The most important variable could be whether China offered assistance to the North Koreans — something President Trump is attempting to prevent, promising (on Twitter, of course) a more favorable trade deal in exchange for China’s “help” with the rogue nation. [NYT / Mark Landler]
  • Belligerence aside, experts assume that the US response to North Korea’s latest provocations won’t be martial, but rather another round of economic sanctions — perhaps even a “dragnet” that would prohibit any companies in the US financial system from doing any business with the North Korean government (or companies that do business with that government). [USA Today / Oren Dorell]
  • But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Trump administration’s foreign policy, it’s that it’s unpredictable. To some extent, that’s by design. But to some extent, it’s accidental — the function of a president who, for example, comes into meetings and waits for the other person to tell him what the agenda is. [Washington Post / Kevin Sullivan and Karen Tumulty​]

Sweet Home Alabama (County Jail)

Robert Bentley in perhaps happier times, in 2013.
AFP / Stringer
  • The salacious saga of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s affair with his senior aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason has been in and out of the national spotlight since last year. [GQ / Jason Zengerle]
  • But it all came to a head last night, when Bentley formally resigned after reaching a plea agreement on charges of two misdemeanors, including “knowingly converting campaign funds to personal use.” [New York Times / Alan Blinder]
  • As Matt Yglesias points out, it wasn’t the affair that brought down Bentley — it was the improper use of campaign and state resources in relation to the affair. Mason’s role as a senior aide “made it essentially inevitable that state resources would end up being used to facilitate both the affair and the subsequent cover-up.” [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
  • Alabama lawmakers introduced articles of impeachment in 2016, and the impeachment proceedings began on Monday. But impeachment wasn’t necessary: By Monday evening, Bentley was out of office, and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was sworn in Monday night. [CNN / Elliott C. McLaughlin, Devon M. Sayers]
  • Even though Bentley’s ultimate fall happened quickly, this story was chugging along for quite some time, beginning when Bentley’s wife abruptly divorced him in 2015, fueling affair rumors. [AL.com / Leads Gore]
  • The matter escalated when Bentley fired the state’s top cop, arguably in an attempt to cover up the affair. [Washington Post / Amber Phillips]
  • It’s also just an unusually good political sex scandal, right down to the details, from how Bentley’s love notes to Mason accidentally synced to his wife’s iPad… [Talking Points Memo / Allegra Kirkland]
  • …to Bentley’s bizarre, smiley pre-resignation mug shot. [Washington Post / Amber Phillips​]

Miscellaneous

  • An adult man has about 126,000 calories’ worth of edible body parts — most of it fat or bone marrow. [Quartz / Katherine Ellen Foley]
  • In defense of the “wicked son” of Passover Seder. [Slate / Miriam Krule]
  • Patrick Stewart is trying to find a mass grave of Revolutionary War soldiers hidden under an empty lot in Brooklyn. [NY Post / Max Jaeger]
  • In many aging small towns, a shop owner's retirement can mean a store shuts down and the whole community suffers. A program called RedTire in Kansas is helping retirees sell to buyers who'll keep their businesses running. [Yes / Kaela Bamberger]
  • The case for resurrecting Han Seoul-Oh, the Fast & Furious franchise’s best and most ridiculously named character. [UPROXX / Brian Grubb]

Verbatim

  • "Public shaming is way better than anything a court can do." [Esquire / Suzy Khimm]
  • “I also immediately noticed something that I had long suspected: Many of the dankest memes are created by and shared among Nazis well before they make it to the rest of the internet.” [Vice / Jason Koebler]
  • “Here’s the not-so-glamorous side of independent film: All of my student loans defaulted, all my credit cards went into collections, I went back to Bad Robot to help my friends who are chefs there, to help them in the kitchen.” [J.D. Dillard to the Ringer / Sean Fennessey]
  • “In another photo, a shirtless man wearing a bear head and a leather harness strapped around his chest raises a fist to the sky, as if in protest — or joy, or maybe rage.” [Vice / Jennifer Swann]
  • “In Virginia, a blue state in the last three presidential elections, Democrats have failed even to show up in some races: 44 of the state's 67 Republican delegates ran unopposed in 2015, including three Republicans in districts carried by Hillary Clinton.” [Mother Jones / Tim Murphy]

Watch this: Why I gave my kidney to a stranger

100,000 people in the US need a kidney. So Dylan gave away one of his. [Vox / Joss Fong, Dylan Matthews]


Read more

Why I gave my kidney to a stranger — and why you should consider doing it too

The cruel hypocrisy of Trump’s sudden concern for Syrian children

This one small language tweak could change our views of refugees

The potential legal train wreck ahead for Fox News and Bill O’Reilly

Why United Airlines can get away with treating its customers like garbage