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Vox Sentences: Mess-opotamia

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Trump arrives in Germany ahead of G20 summit; Hobby Lobby has to give up its ancient artifacts; new questions are raised about the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.

Hindsight is G20/20

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  • President Trump arrived in Germany today for the G20 summit, a meeting of the world’s most powerful countries to discuss pressing issues including trade, climate change, and the increasing threat posed by North Korea.
  • The G20 is all about global cooperation, and usually the US is seen as the key player in the talks. But it’s a different world under Trump’s “America First” policies, and other countries are already reacting. Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but vocally pushed back on his brand of isolationism. [Reuters]
  • Global trade will loom large over the proceedings, especially since Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has promised to renegotiate NAFTA. ['NYT / Julie Hirschfeld Davis]
  • So far, the president’s message appears to be “renegotiate everything,” from trade deals to the Paris climate agreement. What remains to be seen, and has huge implications for the United States, is if other world leaders will play ball, or if they'll move ahead without the US. [Washington Post / Damien Paletta and Ana Swanson]
  • The first indicators appear to be "move ahead." Japan and the European Union announced a huge new trade detail today, largely seen as a rebuke to Trump’s aversion to free trade. The US was nowhere to be found in the details. [CNN Money / Ivana Kottasová]
  • The biggest impacts of the new deal include removing some tariffs between the EU and Japan, but the move could also hurt US companies, especially carmakers, which will have to keep paying fees to trade with those countries. [CNN Money / Ivana Kottasová]
  • There will also be a big focus on climate change, as Germany, Japan, and others have reiterated their commitment to meeting the metrics for lowering carbon emissions set by the Paris climate agreement (which Trump pulled the US out of last month). [Inside Climate / Marianne Lavelle]
  • Trump is also expected to meet for the first time with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ahead of the meeting, Putin published an op-ed criticizing Trump’s trade policies and recent US sanctions against Russia as intelligence agencies investigate that country’s meddling in the 2016 US election. Putin also reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to the Paris agreement. [Handelsblatt Global / Vladimir Putin]
  • Trump and other leaders were greeted by thousands of anti-capitalism protesters as they arrived in Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday. The president had other things to worry about, too. Apparently, his aides forgot to book him a hotel. [Vox / Lindsay Maizland]

Hobby Lobby's secret stash

Behrouz Mehri - AFP/Getty Images
  • The craft giant Hobby Lobby is back in the news again, for allegedly buying thousands of rare antiquities that were smuggled out of Iraq.
  • Federal prosecutors have slapped the company with a $3 million fine for buying thousands of clay tablets inscribed with ancient writing called cuneiform that could date back to Mesopotamia, known as the earliest civilization. [Washington Post / Derek Hawkins]
  • The reason Hobby Lobby president Steve Green has to pay such a heavy price and return his entire collection is because there’s a good chance the artifacts were looted from Iraq and stolen. [WSJ / Rebecca Davis O’Brien]
  • One of the biggest groups in Iraq that profits off stolen antiquities? ISIS. (Although, to be clear, there's nothing linking Hobby Lobby's tablets to the terror group.) [The Conversation / Fiona Rose-Greenland]
  • Green is an evangelical Christian, and he was trying to build a collection of historical artifacts because of a longtime interest in objects from biblical times. He is currently spending $500 million to build a museum in Washington, DC, to house those and other relics. [NPR / Richard Gonzales]
  • Hobby Lobby is maintaining that it tried to go by the book and didn’t realize it was crossing any lines purchasing $1.6 million worth of artifacts.
  • But federal prosecutors say that as early as 2010, a cultural property expert warned the company that Mesopotamian artifacts carried a high risk of being illegally looted. [NPR / Richard Gonzales]
  • In addition, many of the artifacts were disguised in packages labeling them as tiles coming from Turkey, and federal prosecutors are saying Hobby Lobby representatives never actually met with the dealer who sold them the tablets. [NYT / Alan Feuer]
  • The last time Hobby Lobby was making headlines, the US Supreme Court had sided with the company in a major court battle, allowing corporations to not pay for their employees’ birth control if it did not line up with their religious beliefs. [CNN / Bill Mears and Tom Cohen]

New questions about Kaspersky

Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Congress is deep in another Russia investigation. This one has to do with the popular Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, which provides software to several branches of the US government. [The Hill / Morgan Chalfant]
  • After sounding the alarm about potential links between Kaspersky and Russian intelligence, senators want the Pentagon to stop using the company’s software on its computers, even as Kaspersky’s founder, Eugene Kaspersky, strongly denies any ties between his company and the Russian government. [The Hill / Morgan Chalfant]
  • Rumors about Eugene Kaspersky (who attended a school sponsored by the KGB and once worked for the Russian Defense Ministry) are nothing new, but things are getting more serious with the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the Senate’s move to bar US defense from contracting with the company. [NPR / David Welna]
  • At a recent hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida asked six top US intelligence officials including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers if they would use Kaspersky antivirus software on their computers. One by one, each said no. [NPR / David Welna]
  • And more evidence of a connection has emerged, as McClatchy recently obtained Kremlin documents issued to the company. This wouldn’t be unusual if the papers were routine contracts, but these documents contained a military intelligence unit number matching one belonging to the FSB, Russia’s spy agency. [McClatchy / David Goldstein and Greg Gordon]
  • US intelligence agencies including the FBI, CIA, and NSA have all said they are trying to learn more about the company. The FBI is conducting interviews of company employees. [ABC News / Mike Levine]
  • Besides government contracts, Kaspersky is hugely popular for its antivirus software for businesses and personal computers. It has 400 million users across the globe, including companies such as Walmart and Target. [McClatchy / David Goldstein and Greg Gordon]
  • Throughout the past few months, Kaspersky has insisted that his company is private and would not assist any government in espionage efforts. He has also offered up his company’s source code to be scrutinized by US intelligence officials, maintaining it is clean. [Associated Press / Raphael Satter and Veronika Silchenko]
  • Russia apparently is not happy about the tension between the US and Kaspersky. If the Senate pulls defense contracts with the company, the Kremlin has threatening to retaliate with similar sanctions. [Bloomberg / Stepan Kravchenko]


  • Palm Beach, Florida, has been known as the country’s recovery capital for years. But sober houses are increasingly becoming the problem, with little regulation and huge incentives to make money off clients struggling with addiction. [Politico / Frank Owen]
  • Connecticut already had a huge problem with income inequality. Then a bunch of corporations and residents started leaving, making things even worse. [The Atlantic / Derek Thompson]
  • Greyhound racing is on the decline from its peak in the 1990s. As fewer people watch and bet on the dogs, advocates say animal welfare is getting even worse — including greyhounds being given cocaine before races. [Washington Post / Kyle Swenson]
  • Teenage summer jobs aren’t enough to put kids through college anymore, because costs have exploded and Pell Grants and minimum wages simply haven’t kept pace. [NPR / Anya Kamenetz]
  • One person is murdered in Mexico approximately every 20 minutes, as that country’s drug war is coming back with a vengeance. Murder rates are about 30 percent higher than they were last year. [WSJ / Robbie Whelan]


  • “After months of waiting, the nuts still hadn’t dropped. So around last September, Noah Seccombe, a 39-year-old macadamia farmer in eastern Australia, decided it was time to bring out the sticks.” [Mike Cherney / WSJ]
  • “All of a sudden people expect you to do things that are more abstract, more daring, more audacious and visual in the way you design television sequences.” [Patrick Clair to The Verge / Lance Richardson]
  • “During her campaign, Bruner posted on Facebook that Barack Obama had worked as a male prostitute in his twenties. ‘That is how he paid for his drugs,’ she reasoned. Bruner went on to assert that climate change is a ‘ridiculous hoax,’ and that dinosaurs are extinct because the ones on Noah’s Ark were too young to reproduce. Somehow, she made it to a runoff, which she then lost.” [Lawrence Wright / New Yorker]
  • “I’m comfortable going to work in Thunderdome every day.” [Chris Cuomo to NYT / Michael Grynbaum]
  • “As he was strapped in, a priest leaned in and coached him to say 'gracias' and a simple prayer. Just before the first bolt knifed through his brain, Martinez grinned and waved at the young Houston doctor who would declare him dead a few minutes later.” [Ben Hartman / Texas Tribune]

Watch this: The growing North Korean nuclear threat, explained

North Korea has a new missile, and it can reach the US. [YouTube / Sam Ellis]

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