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Vox Sentences: Trump’s new pick for HHS comes straight from big pharma

By Ella Nilsen

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what’s happening in the world, curated by Ella Nilsen. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

A devastating earthquake strikes the border of Iran and Iraq; Trump nominates a new health and human services secretary; thousands of neo-Nazis march in Poland.


The deadliest earthquake of the year just struck Iran and Iraq

 Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • A magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck the border region between Iran and Iraq on Sunday night, killing at least 400 people, injuring at least 7,000 more, and reducing buildings to rubble. [The Guardian / Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Martin Farrer]
  • The quake, felt as far away as the neighboring countries of Turkey and Pakistan, is the deadliest of 2017. Earlier this year, an earthquake in Mexico City killed more than 400 people. [CNN / Shirzad Bozorgmehr and James Masters]
  • The quake struck in a border region between Iraq and Iran, but so far it appears that the majority of deaths and damages were sustained in western Iran’s Kermanshah province. [NPR / Bill Chappell and Scott Neuman]
  • About seven deaths have been confirmed in Iraq; the earthquake struck about 19 miles away from the city of Halabja, which is populated by Iraqi Kurds. [Sky News / Sharon Marris]
  • Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing criticism after a number of apartments for low-income families constructed under his tenure collapsed in the quake. Ahmadinejad spearheaded the housing effort, but his opponents said the buildings were built poorly and couldn’t withstand tremors. [NYT / Thomas Erdbrink]
  • The earthquake was set off after part of the fault line separating the Eurasian tectonic plate and the Arabian plate broke, causing one of the plates to shift downward suddenly, according to the US Geological Survey. That sudden movement created a huge, deadly ripple effect underneath the earth’s crust. [Vox / Brian Resnick]
  • For now the immediate need, besides rescue, is shelter: More than 70,000 people displaced by the quake need a place to stay and are sleeping outside in the cold. [BBC]

We have a new HHS nominee

 Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images
  • President Trump has announced Alex Azar as his new pick to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services, two months after former Secretary Tom Price resigned over a travel spending scandal. [Vox / Dylan Scott]
  • Azar served in HHS under George W. Bush’s presidency, but more recently he’s been working as a top pharmaceutical executive at Eli Lilly & Co., one of the world’s largest drug companies. [Bloomberg / Anna Edney]
  • As Trump announced Azar’s nomination in a tweet this afternoon, he promised that Azar (a former drug executive) would work to lower drug prices. [Donald Trump via Twitter]
  • Lowering drug prices has long been one of Trump’s promises on the campaign trail and in the White House, but it hasn’t happened yet. Despite promising his administration would negotiate with drug companies for lower prices, it hasn’t, and an executive order the administration has been promising to lower costs is widely expected to be pretty industry-friendly. [Politico / Sarah Karlin-Smith]
  • Beyond drug pricing, Azar will likely continue the anti-Obamacare stance of his predecessor. He’s opposed to the program and is in favor of turning Medicaid into a block-grant program (though Azar can’t do either of these things without a vote from Congress). [Washington Post / Julie Eilperin and Amy Goldstein]
  • Azar still has to go through Senate confirmation hearings, with Democrats likely to focus on his ties to the drug industry. [ABC News / Meridith McGraw]
  • If confirmed, Azar would take over a department that’s in turmoil over the travel cost scandal that ousted Price. An inspector general probe over Price’s exorbitant spending on private jets could implicate other people in the office who approved the travel. [Politico / Dan Diamond and Rachana Pradhan]

Europe’s far-right movement is growing bolder

 Lorena de la Cuesta/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Poland’s independence day celebrations turned ugly this weekend, as tens of thousands of nationalist protesters took to the streets, chanting anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish slogans and setting off flares. [CNN / Matthew Day]
  • Police estimate about 60,000 protesters marched in Warsaw on Saturday, as well as about 2,000 counterprotesters. Attendees chanted a mix of religious, pro-Catholic slogans mixed with overtly racist rhetoric, including, “Pure Poland, white Poland.” [BBC]
  • Some marchers gave Nazi salutes and held up banners of the National Radical Camp, an anti-Semitic group. Others carried signs encouraging a “Muslim Holocaust.” [Washington Post / Avi Selk]
  • The country’s independence day has attracted smaller groups of neo-Nazis in the past, but these crowds were some of the largest. Many of the people in attendance were young men, showing that a segment of Poland’s young generation are aligning themselves with the far right. [NYT / Megan Specia]
  • The thing that makes the Poland march especially significant is that government leaders made no attempt to stop it. Throughout the protests, the government also didn’t arrest any nationalist demonstrators, detaining only anti-fascist ones. One official called the protest “a beautiful sight.” [Washington Post / Rich Noack]
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda released a statement today that the country won’t tolerate “sick nationalism” or anti-Semitism, which is the strongest statement a government official has taken against the demonstrations. [Associated Press / Vanessa Gera]
  • But Poland’s government is also being criticized for fostering and subtly encouraging right-wing groups. The ruling Law and Justice party has a nationalist, anti-immigration bent and has tried to take power away from the courts and shut down independent press organizations. [Bloomberg / Wojciech Moskwa and Dorota Bartyzel]

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