Weekly Review — February 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

The president wants to raise the minimum wage, Pete Seeger and Philip Seymour Hoffman pass away, and a criminal is sentenced to Gladwell

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

In his fifth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25, expressed frustration with congressional obstructionism, and announced plans to take executive action when legislation was being blocked, including by raising the minimum wage for federal government contract workers. “We have solutions to help you take home more of your pay — through lower taxes,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wa.) in the official Republican response.[1][2][3] House Republicans heard a lecture titled “Robots for Humanity” at a retreat on the Choptank River, and the Obama Administration announced that it would nominate the head of the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, to be the next director of the National Security Agency.[4][5] Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the Guardian revealed that the agency had developed the capacity to access smartphone users’ personal data through such apps as Angry Birds and that the Canadian government had tracked citizens through the free wireless network of a major airport.[6][7] The U.S. Air Force suspended nearly half the nuclear launch crew at Malmstrom Air Base in Montana after it was revealed that some had cheated on their ballistic-missile proficiency tests.[8] The Justice Department announced that the United States would seek the death penalty against accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and asked American legal associations to begin helping nonviolent drug offenders prepare clemency petitions.[9][10] Congressman Trey Radel (R., Fla.), who was arrested in October for cocaine possession, resigned, and Congressman Michael Grimm (R., N.Y.) threatened on camera to break in half and throw over a balcony a reporter who asked him about campaign-finance fraud allegations. “I expect,” said Grimm, “a certain level of professionalism and respect.”[11][12]

Prosecutors appointed by Egypt’s military government charged deposed president Mohammed Morsi with colluding to murder prison guards and escape detention, and confined him to a soundproof glass cage in the courtroom.[13] An Italian appeals court declared Amanda Knox, who was found guilty then acquitted of the 2007 murder of her former roommate, guilty. “I am a marked person,” said Knox.[14][15] The Mexican government announced that it would integrate into its security forces a band of vigilantes from Michoacán State whom it had failed to disarm, and arrested a leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel known as “The Uncle.”[16][17] Citing ongoing protests in Ukraine, Russia stopped issuing payments from a $15 billion loan package it agreed to in December, and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych took a four-day sick leave for a respiratory infection.[18] Folk musician Pete Seeger died at age 94, and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died in his apartment at age 46 with a syringe containing heroin in his arm.[19][20] Football players at Northwestern University voted to form a union, arguing that they work more than 40 hours a week and generate millions of dollars in revenue for the school. “This union-backed attempt to turn student-athletes into employees,” said an NCAA spokesman, “undermines the purpose of college: an education.”[21] Employees at an elementary school in Utah took away lunches served to nearly 40 students and discarded them because their parents owed the school money.[22]

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Burglars in Florida stole DJ equipment from a special-needs school, a gang took a single rhino horn from the Cork mansion of Detroit-born Irish dancer Michael Flatley, and three drug addicts detained for robbing a church in Italy told police they couldn’t remember where they’d left a reliquary containing the blood of Pope John Paul II.[23][24][25] Pope Francis blessed a green parrot belonging to a world-champion male stripper, and Isaac Kramer, the director of the International Catholic Association of Exorcists, condemned an Arizona priest for performing exorcisms over Skype. “If a person is fully possessed, the demon inside of them will not let them sit in front of the computer screen,” said Kramer. “It would be like trying to perform a baptism on someone through the telephone.”[26][27] The New York Police Department announced the promotion of an officer who had charged with meth possession two men carrying Jolly Ranchers, and a McDonald’s drive-thru worker in Pennsylvania was arrested for selling heroin in a Happy Meal box.[28][29] A barn fire at a dairy farm in Rasdorf, Germany, was found to have been caused by the interaction of static electricity from a massaging machine with the burps and farts of cows.[30] An environmental activist convicted of participating in fire-bombings across the western United States was sentenced to read a book by Malcolm Gladwell.[31] George Zimmerman, who was acquitted on grounds of self-defense of the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida last year, announced plans to participate in a celebrity boxing match. “I want to show him,” said the rapper The Game, a potential opponent, “you can resolve your disputes without a weapon.”[32]


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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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