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Vox Sentences: North Korea’s missile test mess

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Turkey swerves away from democracy; North Korea bombs its missile test; Arkansas’s execution plan stalls.

Erdoǧan and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad referendum vote

Erdogan Holds Victory Speech In Ankara
President Erdogan gives a referendum victory speech to his supporters.
Getty Images / Elif Sogut
  • Yesterday, Turkey narrowly approved a referendum to greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan — implementing a system that many have called one-man rule. [Associated Press / Elena Becatoros, Suzan Fraser, Zeynep Bilginsoy]
  • The referendum, which encompassed 18 constitutional amendments, replaces Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential one that gives the president authority to issue decrees, declare a state of emergency, appoint senior officials and ministers, and influence who sits on the country’s highest judicial body. [Associated Press / Zeynep Bilginsoy]
  • The referendum results also seem to promise a nail in the coffin for any lingering chance that Turkey might join the European Union, an oft-dangled possibility now almost assuredly dashed. [New York Times / Alison Smale]
  • “My nation stood upright and undivided,” said Erdoǧan in a victory speech delivered before the votes were finished being tallied. Not exactly. The referendum passed by a slim margin — with 99 percent of votes counted, the referendum received 51.3 percent of the vote, while 48.7 percent of Turks voted against it. [New York Times / Patrick Kingsley]
  • This isn’t the landslide victory Erdoǧan clearly wanted. The country has been in a state of emergency since an attempted coup last summer, and this narrow, suspicious win could ultimately further undermine his leadership both at home and abroad rather than consolidating his power. [Wall Street Journal / Yaroslav Trofimov]
  • At best, a narrow majority of Turks have allowed their controversial leader to stay in office until 2029 — or even 2034 — while presiding over a deeply divided nation. [The Economist]
  • At worst, Erdoǧan had to rig the referendum in his own favor. Two major opposition parties alleged that the rules for counting ballots were illegally changed during voting in order to achieve the million-vote margin the referendum won by, and demanded the annulment of the referendum. International experts assessed the campaign as having taken place on an “unlevel playing field,” called it “imbalanced,” and alleged a “misuse of administrative resources.” [LA Times / Roy Gutman]
  • Those opposed to the referendum hope to challenge the results, and Erdoǧan will likely face increasing scrutiny and opposition in its wake. But if the results stand, it could be a major blow to Turkey’s democracy. [Wall Street Journal / Margaret Coker, Ned Levin, Yeliz Candemir]
  • The crackdown may be coming. In response to protests that have broken out in the wake of the vote, the National Security Council has recommended extending the state of emergency, which was supposed to end April 19. It would be the third state of emergency extension since last summer, which has been used as a tool to suppress and root out opposition. [Associated Press​]

North Korea’s missile miss

STR/AFP/Getty Images
  • “It’s been a scary few days on the Korean Peninsula,” writes Vox’s Jennifer Williams. “In just the past two days, North Korea’s reclusive government has held a massive military parade, flubbed a missile test, and threatened nuclear war with the US.” [Vox / Jennifer Williams]
  • Let’s break it down: On Saturday, North Korea celebrated its most important day of the year, “the Day of the Sun,” with an enormous military parade that involved carting out enormous canisters that would be used to carry intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). It’s unclear if there were actual missiles in the canisters, but one expert put it this way: “If it’s not an ICBM, it’s a bridge to an ICBM.” [Washington Post / Anna Fifield]
  • To top off the celebration, North Korea launched a ballistic missile early Sunday morning from a submarine base on the country’s east coast ... but the launch failed when the missile blew up immediately after liftoff. It’s the latest in a series of launch failures since Barack Obama ordered the US to step up attacks (including electronic warfare) against Korean missile launches — though it’s not at all clear whether the US was responsible for this failure. [New York Times / Choe Sang-Hun, David E. Sanger, William J. Broad]
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not speak at the parade, but an aide did. And what he had to say was not encouraging: “If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare,” said Choe Ryong Hae, according to ABC Australia. [ABC Australia]
  • The US, for its part, appears to be working along multiple lines. Behind the scenes on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi to discuss reducing tensions with North Korea. [Associated Press]
  • (As North Korea continues to escalate tensions and South Korea pushes forward with deploying a US missile defense system, China has found itself in an increasingly difficult place diplomatically — which isn’t helped by President Trump’s seemingly naive and insistent optimism that China can curb North Korea’s provocations.) [Wall Street Journal / Gerald F. Seib]
  • Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence flew to South Korea to warn Kim not to test Trump — citing recent strikes in Syria and Afghanistan as signs of Trump’s “resolve” and the “strength of the armed forces of the United States.” [Reuters / Roberta Rampton, Sue-Lin Wong]
  • North Korea did not take kindly to Pence’s warning. “We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol told the BBC. “If the US is planning a military attack against us, we will react with a nuclear pre-emptive strike by our own style and method.” [BBC / John Sudworth]
  • Indeed, many international relations experts believe that the Trump administration’s rhetoric is only “increasing the odds” that North Korea will continuing testing missiles and conducting nuclear tests. John Delury, an expert on North Korea, pointed out: “Since they have nothing to lose and we have everything to lose, they win every game of chicken.” [Guardian / Tom Phillips, Justin McCurry​]

Arkansas executions on hold for now

The Washington Post / Contributor
  • On Monday afternoon — just hours before the state of Arkansas would have conducted the first two of a planned eight executions over 11 days — the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed both executions.
  • It was the latest setback of many for the state: A federal judge stayed all eight executions over the weekend, and other court orders had stayed individual executions and barred Arkansas from using certain lethal injection drugs. [Washington Post / Mark Berman]
  • (One of the state judges was subsequently barred from future death penalty cases, since after issuing his order Friday he participated in an anti–death penalty protest outside the courthouse.) [Associated Press]
  • On Monday evening, a federal appeals court overturned the hold on all eight executions issued by the federal district court. But as of press time, Monday’s executions remain on hold due to the state court’s ruling. [BuzzFeed News, Chris Geidner]
  • The execution sprint has reopened a nationwide debate over the death penalty, and, in particular, the drugs currently used to administer it. [New York Times / Megan McCracken, Jennifer Moreno]
  • Part of the rush — and the controversy — comes from one drug in particular: midazolam. Arkansas’s supply of the anesthetic is dwindling, and it’s set to expire at the end of the month. Drug companies don’t want to provide more, and the drug has been linked to botched executions in several states. [Washington Post / Mark Berman]
  • But that’s not the only problem drug. Last week, Arkansas Department of Corrections director Wendy Kelley testified in court about how the drugs were procured. Apparently, the state received potassium chloride, which stops the heart, from an anonymous donor — which has raised questions about the drug supplier’s credibility, and about the state of the potassium chloride. Moreover, Kelley said that the supplier of the other lethal injection drugs actually tried to take them back the same day as the deal. “I did not return the drugs,” she testified. [Arkansas Times / Jacob Rosenberg]
  • Indeed, two pharmaceutical companies criticized how Arkansas acquired the drugs — and asked the federal court to prevent Arkansas from using them. One company was not even certain which drugs Arkansas had in the first place. The other company said the state agreed to a refund, but kept the drug even after receiving its payment back. [Washington Post / Mark Berman]
  • It’s worth noting that Arkansas’s execution sprint is noteworthy partly because people aren’t executed that often in America these days. Last year, the US saw only 20 executions, the fewest in a single calendar year in a quarter-century. And death row sentences are on the decline too. [Washington Post / Mark Berman​]


  • In 1925, four women, each an accomplished explorer who had been excluded by the elite all-male Explorers Club, started their own women-only adventuring society, with members and guests like Amelia Earhart, Rachel Carson, and Jane Goodall. [Atlas Obscura / April White]
  • Rep. Bob Brady has been the boss of the Philadelphia Democratic Party for 30 years. Now, with several politicians in his machine facing indictment, and 2016 proving he can't even keep Pennsylvania blue anymore, is it time for his reign to end? [Philadelphia Magazine / Holly Otterbein]
  • RIP Robert Taylor, who as a Department of Defense official in the 1960s launched a project to connect his agency’s supercomputers known as the ARPANET, which is why you are reading this newsletter right now. [NYT / John Markoff]
  • How the Chainsmokers became the Nickelback of EDM. [A.V. Club / Clayton Purdom]
  • The price of cancer drugs rises by 8.8 percent every year in the US. In the UK, the price only grows 0.24 percent. What the hell is going on? [Nautilus / Heather Millar]


  • “Ms Morano also credited her longevity to her decision, in 1938, to kick out her husband.” [BBC]
  • “In one Amex brainstorming session, according to an executive I spoke with, participants spent 10 minutes trying to figure out what FOMO meant before turning to Google.” [NYT / Charles Duhigg]
  • “With the Depression in full swing, Houde had a series of restrooms built as a public-works project. He quipped that the project would provide the unemployed with ‘two kinds of relief.’” [CBC / Jonathan Montpetit]
  • "Back about 12 years ago, maybe 14 years ago, I proposed to my ex-girlfriend on a SEPTA bus in Philadelphia. She didn’t like that. She considered it harassment. She filed a restraining order against me. It was later dismissed and we went on to have two kids together in a relationship that lasted 10 years." [New Jersey State Assembly candidate Brian McDowell to Politico / Matt Friedman]
  • “Broward County introduced a universal screening program, requiring that all second graders take a short nonverbal test, with high scorers referred for I.Q. testing. … The share of Hispanic children identified as gifted tripled, to 6 percent from 2 percent. The share of black children rose to 3 percent from 1 percent. For whites, the gain was more muted, to 8 percent from 6 percent. Why did the new screening system find so many more gifted children, especially among blacks and Hispanics? It did not rely on teachers and parents to winnow students. The researchers found that teachers and parents were less likely to refer high-ability blacks and Hispanics, as well as children learning English as a second language, for IQ testing.” [NYT / Susan Dynarski]

Watch this:

When you treat politics like a game, you’re going to end up with news coverage that cares more about drama than it does about the truth. [Vox / Carlos Maza, Coleman Lowndes]

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