Weekly Review — January 1, 2013, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

U.S. Senate leaders reached a tentative last-minute deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled for January 1, though not in time for the agreement to be approved by members of the House of Representatives, who were set to vote as soon as Tuesday afternoon. The deal permanently increases capital-gains, dividend, and income tax rates on individuals making more than $400,000 per year and couples making more than $450,000; begins phasing out certain tax deductions on incomes above $250,000; and provides for an additional two months to negotiate $110 billion in cuts to military and domestic spending programs. Senate Democrats had briefly withdrawn from the talks after Republicans proposed to recalculate inflation in such a way as to lower benefit payments from entitlement programs, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to ask Vice President Joe Biden to help restart the negotiations. “I need a dance partner,” said McConnell.[1][2][3][4] Congressional aides played the Beatles’ “Come Together” for House Republicans, Starbucks urged baristas to write “Come Together” on coffee cups at its Washington, D.C. franchises, Obama signed an executive order increasing the pay of members of Congress, the Constitutional Council of France struck down a 75 percent tax on incomes over €1 million a year that had been scheduled to take effect on January 1, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between his country and South Korea, and a newly released interview revealed Yoko Ono to have blamed the breakup of the Beatles on Paul McCartney’s predominance in the band.[5][6][7][8][9] Police in India charged six men with murder hours after the death of a 23-year-old woman who had been gang-raped and thrown from a moving bus. “This is the story of every Indian woman,” said a protester. Another Indian gang-rape victim committed suicide after police pressured her to drop her accusations and marry one of her attackers. [10][11][12][13][14] In New York City, a woman killed an Indian immigrant by shoving him over the edge of a subway platform. “I pushed a Muslim off the tracks,” she told police, “because I hate Hindus.”[15][16]

Russia put whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in police custody in 2009, on trial for fraud. “Magnitsky’s case has been moved to January,” announced the district court on the first day of hearings, “due to the absence of lawyers for the defense.” Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a law, passed in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law named after Magnitsky, that prohibits Americans from adopting Russian children.[17][18] Two Los Angeles residents turned in rocket launchers as a part of a no-questions-asked gun-buyback program; 200 Utah teachers took a concealed-carry firearms course in response to the recent elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut; and scientists were studying the DNA of Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, in search of a gene that made him evil.[19][20][21] A man set fire to his home on Christmas Eve in Webster, New York, then shot at the responding firefighters, killing two, before shooting himself in the head. A neighbor whose home burned down as the fires spread vowed to rebuild. “I really want to live on the bay,” she said. “He’s gone now, right?”[22][23] The German magazine Der Spiegel accidentally published on its website an obituary for “colorless” former U.S. president George H. W. Bush, whose condition was in fact improving after he was admitted to intensive care with a fever, and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the army general who led U.S. forces in the first Gulf War, died at 78.[24][25] In Syria, a general tasked with preventing military defections defected.[26]

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Mexican marines killed four men who were trying to steal the dead body of a Zeta drug-cartel leader known as the Pokémon.[27] Children sledding in Wyoming discovered the frozen dead body of a homeless man who was unknowingly the potential heir to a $19 million fortune.[28] China passed a law allowing parents to sue their adult children for not visiting them frequently enough, and a Filipino bishop announced his opposition to a reproductive-health bill aimed at curbing overpopulation, arguing that a larger population could better care for the country’s elderly.[29][30] A norovirus outbreak caused hundreds of passengers on an exclusive Caribbean Christmas cruise to be stricken with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.[31] In England, two elves were arrested for assault, and a garden-center Santa was fired for telling children he wasn’t real.[32] The baby Jesus was stolen from a live nativity scene outside a funeral home in Mount Healthy, Ohio, and a woman in Damascus, Oregon, told reporters about a letter, written by a worker in a Chinese forced-labor camp, that she’d found in a box of decorations from Kmart’s “Totally Ghoul” holiday line. “If you occasionally buy this product,” wrote the laborer, “please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.”[33][34]

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In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

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