Weekly Review — April 2, 2012, 5:47 pm

Weekly Review

asmallfamily_350x356 The U.S. Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. In audio recordings released following the second day of debate, the Obama Administration’s lead advocate, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., was heard to stumble repeatedly while defending the law. “I’ve seen him argue under pressure,” said a former assistant to Verrilli. “That’s not the way he usually sounds.” On the third day, the justices considered whether to invalidate the entire law in the event they struck down the mandate requiring all U.S. citizens to have health insurance, or only certain provisions. “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia.[1][2][3][4] Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that Americans with preexisting conditions should not receive coverage unless they were previously insured. “If they are 45 years old and they show up and say ‘I want insurance because I have heart disease,’” said Romney, “it’s like, ‘Hey guys. We can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you are well and then if you get ill, you are going to be covered.’”[5][6] Two Buddhist monks set themselves on fire at Tsodun Monastery in Ngaba, making them the thirty-first and thirty-second Tibetans to have immolated themselves in protest in just over a year; a 13-year-old Pakistani boy died after setting himself on fire because he was ashamed of being too poor to afford a new school uniform; and two builders, one of whom had been charged with tax evasion and the other of whom claimed not to have been paid in months, set themselves on fire in Italy.[7][8][9] Britons lamented a new tax on heated baked goods such as pasties and sausage rolls. “I’m planning to put a sign up in the window,” said a pasty-maker from Cornwall. ‘‘Hot for the rich, and cold for the poor.”[10] Canada announced that it would eliminate the penny, and a truck crash on a northern Ontario highway spilled between $3 and $5 million in Canadian coins. “We are going to be using magnets,” said a police officer of the retrieval efforts, “and other less sophisticated means.”[11][12]

The National League for Democracy won 40 of 45 seats in byelections held in Burma, including one contested by party leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. “Look at us; we are so happy,” said a Burmese warehouse owner as men around him sang along to a Johnny Cash–inspired anthem. “It’s like we’ve each been released from prison.”[13][14][15] The Muslim Brotherhood broke an earlier pledge not to seek Egypt’s top office by nominating business tycoon and former political prisoner Khairat el-Shater as its candidate for the country’s presidency. “For the first time since I was a Muslim Brother,” said a former colleague of Shater’s, “I’m certain of bad intentions.” “[Shater’s] prayers against those who slander him are answered,” said the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie. “Literally, by the way.”[16] A microphone picked up a private discussion about missile defense between President Barack Obama and outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting in Seoul. “After my election, I have more flexibility,” Obama said. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” responded Medvedev. [17] The pilot of a JetBlue flight from New York to Las Vegas faced criminal charges after he began ranting while at the controls, then, after being persuaded to leave the cockpit, began yelling at passengers in the cabin. “Iraq, Al Qaeda, terrorism, we’re all going down!” he reportedly screamed. “I’m going to show you Iraq and Iran right now,” said a passenger who subdued the pilot by putting him in a choke hold.[18]

Researchers reported the discovery in Ethiopia of foot bones from a species of hominin that lived 3.4 million years ago and was “fully committed” to walking on two legs.[19] An Austrian man named Hans Url cut off his left foot with an electric saw shortly before unemployment officials were to determine his fitness for work, then put it in an oven. “He wants to work,” said Url’s wife. “But the job he imagines for himself doesn’t exist.”[20] The French government and descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte were planning a new Napoleon theme park in Montereau. “[The attractions] mustn’t be vulgar,” said Montereau mayor Yves Jego, “but fitting for the stature of the man.”[21] The British National Trust released a report on “nature deficit disorder” in children; four teenagers ran naked through Weber County, Utah, armed with BB guns to protect themselves from rogue deer; and a Winter Haven, Florida, man who tore the heads off two of his family’s pet rabbits and broke the neck of a third pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty.[22][23][24][25] Animal-rights activists expressed concern, following a recent decision by Florida’s legislature to overturn a ban on the dyeing of live animals, that shelters would be inundated with unwanted neon and pastel chicks given as Easter gifts. “They’ll usually take one or two of each color, maybe 10 or 15 of them,” said a poultry rancher who sold dyed chicks until his retirement in 2008. “The kids get tired of it pretty quick.”[26]

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Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

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On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

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In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

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In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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