Weekly Review — June 17, 2014, 8:00 am

Weekly Review

ISIS launches a major offensive in Iraq, the 2014 World Cup begins, and Florida keeps on being Florida

An American Mastiff.

An American Mastiff.

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and stole $450 million from its central bank, then captured Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, and other cities as they advanced toward Baghdad and consolidated territory near the Syrian border. Iraqi soldiers abandoned government checkpoints and sold their service weapons, and the military bombed one of its own bases in an attempt to keep militants from seizing more arms. As many as 500,000 residents fled Mosul, and ISIS fighters posted photos online of what they claimed were the mass executions of 1,700 soldiers in Iraq’s northern Saladin Province.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] President Barack Obama announced that the United States would send an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and deploy about 275 soldiers to provide support for embassy and military personnel, and Iran sent two units from its elite Revolutionary Guard to help fight militants. “We have to turn to the heavyweights,” said an Iraqi cabinet minister. “Iraq has not emerged from the fog at any point after Saddam.” “To just go in and burn up more resources on a place that seems bent on destruction? We had an opportunity there,” said Howard McKeon (R., Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “We blew it.”[8][9][10] Five American Special Operations personnel and at least one Afghan soldier were killed by a U.S. Air Force bomber that accidentally struck their position in Afghanistan’s southern Zabul Province.[11] Syrian president Bashar al-Assad issued a decree granting amnesty for all crimes except terrorism, announced the release of an equestrian who had been imprisoned for 21 years after winning a race against Bashar’s brother Bassel, and reportedly ordered the bombing of northern Syrian ISIS strongholds in coordination with the government of Iraq. [12][13][14] Former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford urged the United States to provide arms to moderate forces fighting Assad’s government. “More hesitation and unwillingness,” said Ford, “simply hasten the day when American forces will have to intervene.”[15]

Al Shabab militants killed 48 people in an assault on the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni.[16] In Ukraine, security services thwarted an assassination attempt on President Petro Poroshenko; pro-Russian rebels shot down a military aircraft, killing 49 soldiers; and the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom stopped supplying natural gas over what it claimed was an unpaid $2 billion bill. “This is not about gas,” said Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk. “This is a general plan for the destruction of Ukraine.”[17][18] Organizers of an event at the University of Reading claimed that software designed by Russian and Ukrainian programmers had become the first to pass the Turing test, by convincing more than 30 percent of its interrogators during a series of keyboard conversations that it was actually a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy.[19] The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot request private information from Internet service providers without a warrant, and YouTube denied the Egyptian government’s request to remove a video of a woman being sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square during a celebration for the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.[20][21] Guccifer, the Romanian hacker who leaked images of paintings by former president George W. Bush, was sentenced to four years in prison for breaching the email accounts of world leaders.[22] A 10-year-old Sacramento boy graduated from high school, and a California superior-court judge eliminated the state’s tenure and seniority system for public-school teachers.[23][24] A mother of seven died in a Pennsylvania jail cell while serving a 48-hour sentence related to an unpaid $2,000 bill for her children’s truancy.[25] A 15-year-old Oregon boy brought an AR-15 rifle in a guitar case to his high school and shot and killed another student before killing himself, and the Oklahoma-based manufacturer of the Bodyguard Blanket, a $1,000 bulletproof cover designed to protect children in the event of a school shooting, revealed that sales in the product’s first ten days had been “very spirited.”[26][27][28] Pope Francis announced that he would no longer use the bulletproof Popemobile. “Let’s face it,” said Francis, “I don’t have much to lose.”[29]

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In Brazil, the 2014 World Cup began; doctors, housing advocates, and transit employees went on strike to protest the government’s overspending on the games; and a police officer was filmed firing a live round on demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro.[30][31][32] Two macaws, three Gentoo penguins, and a loggerhead turtle accurately forecast a victory for Brazil in its opening game against Croatia, and the Chinese government barred panda cubs at a Chengdu zoo from offering match predictions.[33][34][35] House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that he would step down from his position after he lost the Republican primary for his seat by 11 percentage points to Tea Party–backed candidate Dave Brat.[36][37] The Minnesota Republican Party denied knowing that its state Supreme Court candidate, Michelle MacDonald, had a DUI case pending. “When I was being interviewed,” said MacDonald, “they were saying this is a good thing.”[38] A Massachusetts law firm that specializes in processing foreclosures was evicted for failing to pay its rent.[39] In Fresno, California, a burglary defendant was stabbed to death by his sister’s boyfriend hours after being mistakenly freed by a jury that had checked the wrong box on a court form.[40] Florida authorities discovered 23 grams of marijuana hidden in the rolls of a 450-pound man’s stomach fat, confirmed that a woman named Crystal Metheney had fired a BB gun into a car carrying three children last month, and arrested a man who had attempted to solicit a prostitute without money. “You got food?” the undercover agent had asked. “I’ll give you a blow job for a salad.”[41][42][43][44]


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Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Shanghai Broadcasting Building, by Cui Jie (detail) © The artist. Courtesy private collection
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In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
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When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Chances that a black American adult attended Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963:

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The 70th governor of Ohio was sworn in on nine Bibles, which were held by his wife.

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