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Vox Sentences: So ... that happened

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dylan Matthews, Naomi Shavin, and Dara Lind. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

Trump fired Comey ... over Clinton’s emails, of course.


Trump to Comey: You’re fired

FBI Director Comey Testifies At Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images
  • FBI Director James B. Comey has been fired by the White House — with the official justification being Comey’s handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. A statement from the White House press secretary reads, “President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” [New York Times / Michael D. Shear, Matt Apuzzo]
  • In a letter from Trump to Comey, also made public, Trump insisted that the firing is by no means, definitely not, in no way related to an investigation into his associates’ ties to Russia. “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” he wrote. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • Comey’s handling of the email investigation is an old story (it predates Trump asking him to stay on as FBI director when he arrived in office) but the fallout has continued. On Monday, reports emerged that Comey had given inaccurate testimony to Congress last week. Comey said Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded “hundreds of thousands” of emails to her husband, Anthony Weiner, for him to print for her, some of which contained classified information. In reality, Abedin forwarded a few Clinton emails (it’s unclear whether these were classified or unclassified), and the rest ended up on Weiner’s laptop via backups of Abedin’s BlackBerry. [ProPublica / Peter Elkind]
  • Apparently the FBI has been deliberating how to handle the incorrect statement Comey made since, and how to correct the record. This afternoon, the FBI sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley supplementing the Comey testimony, explaining how the emails actually got on Weiner’s computer. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • The full rationale for Comey’s firing — at least, the official version — comes from a memo written by Deputy AG Rosenstein. Rosenstein argued that the FBI’s credibility “suffered substantial damage,” writing, “I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.” [Washington Post / Devlin Barret]
  • The immediate effect of all of this, at the very least, is that the FBI will need a new director. Which, Vox’s German Lopez writes, “also lets Trump put someone new in place who will oversee the ongoing investigation into his presidential campaign’s ties to Russia.” [Vox / German Lopez]
  • But for an administration that fired their national security adviser long after they ostensibly should have, the Trump administration took the advice to fire Comey extremely promptly. And reports are already surfacing that Sessions was directed to come up with reasons to fire Comey last week — the emails are just a pretext. [NYT / Michael S. Schmidt]
  • If true, that’s worrisome — not least because it would mean that Sessions, after recusing himself from the Trump/Russia investigation in March, then stepped in to fire one of the officials leading the investigation. That connection has led many Democrats — and a few Republicans — to call for a special prosecutor to look into Trump’s Russia ties, to make sure the Sessions-led Justice Department (and whoever leads the FBI next) doesn’t cover up what suddenly seems like a bigger scandal than it previously did. [CNBC / Christine Wang]
  • Here is an explainer about Watergate. No, no reason. Why do you ask? [Vox / Dylan Matthews​]

South Korea elects Moon, and sunshine (policy) could be on its way

South Korea’s new president greets supporters Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
  • On Monday, South Korean voters chose Moon Jae-in as their next president. He is a liberal who plans to limit the power of big business in a country known for its anti-labor policies. He is also a child of North Korean refugees and aims to reshape the country’s policy for dealing with its turbulent neighbor, North Korea. [New York Times / Choe Sang-Hun]
  • Moon’s election is the culmination of a 60-day snap campaign after former President Park Geun-hye (the country’s first female president and daughter of dictator Park Chung-hee) was officially impeached and removed from office on March 10 in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. [Financial Times / Bryan Harris]
  • The election saw the highest turnout in South Korea in two decades of presidential elections — and a historic turn away from the country’s conservative party, which has held power in South Korea almost exclusively (except for a period from 1998 to 2008 when the South was under progressive leadership), toward Moon. [New York Times / Choe Sang-Hun]
  • While Moon comes from the left, he’s not out of left field. He served as chief of staff to former President Roh Moo-hyun — a fellow progressive who followed what’s called the “sunshine policy” toward North Korea. [Guardian / Justin McCurry]
  • The sunshine policy (which was in place from 1998 to 2008, when liberals had control of the government) was marked by engagement with North Korea rather than sanctions. Two South Korean presidents actually visited Pyongyang during the days of the sunshine policy — Roh and Kim Dae-jung, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts of economic and political engagement with North Korea. [CNN / Pamela Boykoff, James Griffiths]
  • One of the biggest questions facing the country’s new president, then, is this: “In South Korea, Will Moon Bring Back Sunshine?” (Great headline, Foreign Policy.) But seriously, while it’s a tough question, the answer seems like yes. [Emily Tamkin / Foreign Policy]
  • Moon advocates for opening up dialogue with North Korea, as he considers the hardline stance that conservatives in his country took since 2008 to have been a failure. In some sense, this aligns with Trump’s statement about being open to meeting Kim Jong Un, whom he called a “smart cookie.” [Guardian / Justin McCurry]
  • Realistically, though — despite Moon saying he and Trump are “on the same page” — their stances are pretty far apart. Moon seems skeptical of the kind of aggressive US involvement that Trump seems inclined toward. For example, Moon plans to review Park’s decision to let the US deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. He’s also said he’s interested in reopening a factory park on the north side of the Korean border — a joint project between South and North Korea. [Vox / Jennifer Williams​]

New H. naledi data changes what we know about our evolutionary tree

Lee Rogers Berger holds a replica of the skull of a new skeleton fossil finding. GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
  • In 2015, news broke that scientists had discovered evidence of a previously unknown member of the human evolutionary family tree, based on studying several skeletons found deep in a cave in South Africa. The new species was called Homo naledi; judging by bones from several individuals, it possessed a unique blend of primitive and modern evolutionary qualities. One paleontologist described it for National Geographic: “You could almost draw a line through the hips — primitive above, modern below.” [National Geographic / Jamie Shreeve]
  • But it was unclear how old the bones were — which meant no one knew how long ago this creature had lived, and how it might fit into the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens. Because the brain was estimated to be roughly the size of an orange (which is relatively small for a hominin), scientists guessed at the time that it must have been quite close to the root of the Homo genus family tree — which would make it more than 2.5 million years old. [New York Times / John Noble Wilford]
  • On Tuesday, the research team announced a surprising result: The Homo naledi species is significantly younger than expected. Using six different dating methods, the team studying Homo naledi found that the remains of individuals they’ve been studying are between 335,000 and 236,000 years old. [National Geographic / Michael Greshko]
  • Here’s why this matters: The age of Homo naledi now suggests that at that point in time, in the midst of our own evolution as Homo sapiens, the hominin family tree was more diverse than originally thought — with more hominins, and more diverse kinds of hominins, on the planet at the same time. [New York Times / Associated Press / Malcolm Ritter]
  • To get a better sense of how and when various hominins coexisted, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History clusters several species near the top of the family tree (closest to the present day). Some you’ve probably heard of, and others you may not have: Homo rudolfensis, Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens (us). Previously undated, Homo naledi isn’t currently on the tree. [Smithsonian Museum of Natural History]
  • No one knows for sure how much these species overlapped and if and how any of them interacted. But on Tuesday, National Geographic described the time period that Homo naledi are now considered part of: “Around 230,000 to 330,000 years ago, there weren’t just precursors to anatomically modern humans on the landscape: There would have been Neanderthals in Europe and Asia, Denisovans in Asia, potentially some Eurasian pockets of our ancestors Homo erectus, as well as the forerunners of H. floresiensis. Amid this pantheon, H. naledi would be the first known that lived in Africa at that time, other than some scattered evidence of archaic forms of H. sapiens.” [National Geographic / Michael Greshko]
  • This latest discovery about Homo naledi isn’t the only recent shake-up to our understanding of our family tree — nor it is the only one having to do with smaller, more primitive-seeming hominins. Homo floresiensis, a species often called the “hobbit” species because it only grew to be about 3.5 feet tall (and which is considered to have existed as recently as 60,000 years ago), was originally thought to have evolved from a shared ancestor of modern humans. But in April, researchers announced that it was far more primitive than originally thought, and that it likely followed its own evolutionary path from Homo habilis, the oldest known member of the human genus, rather than a shared ancestor of ours closer up the family tree, like Homo erectus. [Guardian / Melissa Davey]
  • Which means that as recently as 60,000 years ago, Homo sapiens shared the planet with hominins that could have actually been relatively far from us on the evolutionary tree. And as of today’s news, it seems 200,000 years ago the precursors to Homo sapiens possibly overlapped with Homo naledi. “Our ancestors did not live in a single-species world the way we do,” paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks told the Washington Post. “The real take-home message of this paper is that we were not alone until very recently.” [Washington Post / Sarah Kaplan]
  • The questions these discoveries raise are endless. Here are a few great ones that the Washington Post raised after the Homo naledi news broke: “Was Naledi a result of, and perhaps a contributor to, hybridization within the Homo family tree? Could Naledi be responsible for some of the stone tools found in South Africa during the period it was alive? Should paleoanthropologists shift their focus from East Africa to the continent's less-studied southern regions?” [Washington Post / Sarah Kaplan​]
  • One thing’s for sure: The Smithsonian will need to do some updating to its exhibit on evolution.

Miscellaneous

  • More Republicans say there is "a lot of discrimination" against Christians and white people than say there's a lot of discrimination against black people. [FiveThirtyEight / Perry Bacon Jr.]
  • There's a lot of talk in the US about making a "Breitbart for the left." In Britain, it's already happened, and it's pretty wild. [BuzzFeed / Jim Waterston]
  • They say innovation is slowing down — but then how do you explain this Bluetooth-connected saltshaker? [NY Mag / Jake Swearingen]
  • Owners of BMWs and Mercedes are two and half times more likely to brag about it on Facebook than people who buy “ordinary” cars. [NYT / Seth Stephens-Davidowitz]
  • Pinky Weitzman is an accomplished violist and multi-instrumentalist who's played with Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian. But by day, she's also a senior official at the ACLU. [NBC News / Alex Seitz-Wald]

Verbatim

  • “These Le Pen voters are trapped in a exurban nativist bubble. They are out of touch with the needs and values of real French people, like me." [New Statesman / Helen Lewis]
  • “I always knew that going to private school wasn’t just about eating really great lunch food; it was also about being set up for a very comfortable future. But for the first time ever I realized that the future I was being set up for would not include many brown and black faces.” [The Guardian / Stephenie Jimenez]
  • “Jack Donovan — a 42-year-old skinhead icon and right-wing extremist — lived the gay life once. It was in the 1990s, after he left his parents’ blue-collar home in rural Pennsylvania to study fine art in New York, when he danced go-go in gay clubs, hung out with drag queens, and marched for gay pride. But then he dropped out, learned how to use tools and work as a manual laborer, studied MMA, and decided he wasn’t gay — just ‘an unrepentant masculinist.’” [NY Mag / Maureen O’Connor]
  • “So Americans smile a lot because our Swedish forefathers wanted to befriend their Italian neighbors, but they couldn’t figure out how to pronounce buongiorno. Seems plausible.” [The Atlantic / Olga Khazan]
  • “Stradivarius violins are testaments to our ability to delude ourselves. Just as expensive wines don’t taste any better than cheap plonk under blinded conditions, these antique instruments don’t sound any better than modern ones.” [The Atlantic / Ed Yong]

Watch this: Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

I-N-T-P ... E-N-F-J ... B-U-L-L ... S-H-I-T. [Vox / Estelle Caswell, Joseph Stromberg] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5pggDCnt5M


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