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Vox Sentences: Raqqa is free from ISIS, but in ruins

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US-backed Syrian forces reclaim Raqqa from ISIS; Trump's pick for the nation's "drug czar" withdraws his name after an explosive investigation; a 31-year-old right-wing politician is poised to become Austria's next chancellor.

Freed from ISIS, Raqqa faces an uncertain future

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
  • US-backed forces in Syria said they have recaptured the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. [NYT / Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad]
  • This constitutes a major victory against the Islamist terrorist group, but by mid-afternoon today, ISIS fighters weren’t completely eradicated. US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters that Syrian Democratic Forces controlled about 90 percent of the city and more than 300 ISIS fighters had surrendered over the past few days. [NPR / Bill Chappell]
  • Raqqa became associated with ISIS after the terror group captured the northern city in 2013 and declared it to be the capital of its so-called caliphate, carrying out intense violence against civilians, including public executions. [Voice of America]
  • The campaign against ISIS included intense airstrikes led by US forces. While the US has said this bombing has been targeted, activist groups report that more than 1,000 civilians have died in the fighting, and many of the casualties have been from the bombings. [BBC]
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces have a disproportionate number of Syrian Kurds fighting in their ranks. With ISIS gone, the Kurds face an uncertain political future, and plan to work with local Arab leaders to form a government. [Reuters / John Davison and Tom Perry]
  • ISIS brought violence and devastation to the region, but it also managed to unite a bunch of ethnic and religious factions that have fought each other for years. Without a common enemy, old conflicts could easily resurface. [The Atlantic / Thanassis Cambanis]

Trump’s "drug czar" pick had a big problem: a drug industry scandal

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
  • Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino, President Trump’s pick for head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is out of consideration after an investigation found that a law he wrote significantly hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration from cracking down on large, suspicious shipments of opioid painkillers. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • Doctors overprescribing these drugs are widely credited for starting and fueling America’s current opioid epidemic, which killed 64,000 people last year. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • A recent investigation by the Washington Post and 60 Minutes showed that after an intense lobbying effort by drug companies, Marino and other lawmakers wrote the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, which was friendly to drugmakers and made the DEA’s job more difficult. [60 Minutes / Bill Whitaker]
  • People in the drug distribution industry believed the DEA was being too aggressive on them, so they pushed for the bill. Ultimately, the law made it nearly impossible for DEA agents to stop large shipments of opioids they had deemed suspicious, and it happened in the middle of an opioid epidemic. [Washington Post / Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein]
  • For a sense of the scale of what's considered a "suspicious" drug shipment, look to West Virginia, which has the worst overdose death rate in the country. Drug companies shipped an eye-popping amount of opioids to the state: Three companies shipped more than 9 million pills to one tiny town with a population of fewer than 400. [West Virginia Gazette Mail / Eric Eyre]
  • Trump still has not declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, and it’s worth noting that with Marino withdrawing his name from consideration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the DEA, and the entire Department of Health and Human Services are all without nominees. [Tamira Keith via Twitter]

In Austria, European populism strikes again

Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images
  • A 31-year-old conservative politician named Sebastian Kurz is poised to become Austria’s next chancellor, after successfully running on an anti-immigrant platform. [The Economist]
  • The final votes are still being tallied, but Kurz is widely expected to become chancellor. He currently serves as Austria’s foreign minister; if officially elected, he would be Europe’s youngest leader. [Associated Press]
  • Kurz ran as part of the People’s Party, which has been around for decades. But the charismatic young politician helped give the party new energy, while at the same time infusing it with anti-immigrant sentiment. [Vox / Sarah Wildman]
  • Austria is one of the countries that have seen a tremendous influx of Middle Eastern refugees fleeing war and devastation; though it is thought of as part of the pathway to countries like Germany, about 90,000 refugees settled in Austria in 2015 alone, fueling tensions. [BBC]
  • In contrast to the emergence of a relatively new far-right party in neighboring Germany, the People’s Party is largely seen as a mainstream conservative party, and Kurz is borrowing far-right ideas to remold it. If elected, he would face a choice of whether to ally with the far-right Freedom Party or the center-left Social Democrats to create a coalition government. [Bloomberg / Boris Groendahl and Jonathan Tirone]
  • Combined with recent far-right political wins in Germany and the resurgence of far-right populists in France and the Netherlands, Kurz’s win shows that anti-immigrant sentiment is impacting politics in the entire continent and could spell trouble for the continuation of the European Union. [NYT / Steven Erlanger and James Kanter]


  • A McDonald’s in Singapore is offering its customers the option of a "phone locker," a nifty little jail cell for your smartphone so that you physically cannot look at it while eating and just talk to the person sitting across from you instead. [Mashable / Yvette Tan]
  • Multiple women have come forward accusing indie rock guitarist Matt Mondanile, formerly of the band Real Estate, of groping and kissing them without their consent. [Spin / Andy Cush]
  • The scenic highways along Norway’s northern fjord routes combine solitary, mountainous scenery with stark, modern architecture. [NYT / Ondine Cohane]
  • More than 9,000 barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from a Louisiana refinery spill this weekend, the largest spill since Deepwater Horizon. It has since been contained. [WSJ / Dan Molinski and Alison Sider]
  • Residents in a remote part of Kazakhstan live in an area that’s seen a disproportionate amount of nuclear testing. The effects of nuclear weapons are evident, with high rates of conditions like hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cancer. [National Geographic / Alexandra Genova and Phil Hatcher-Moore]


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