Weekly Review — September 11, 2018, 11:21 am

Weekly Review

Trump struggles to pronounce “anonymous”; a Sackler stands to profit from a new drug to treat opioid addiction; housing development workers in the Bronx are accused of having orgies on the clock

Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist known for breaking the Watergate story, with Carl Bernstein during the Nixon Administration, published Fear: Trump in the White House today, which compiles documents and interviews with Trump Administration officials.1 In the book, Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, compares the president to a “fifth or sixth grader”; John Dowd, Trump’s former attorney, refuses Robert Mueller’s request to interview the president, fearing Trump would be seen as a “goddamn dumbbell”; Rex Tillerson, former US secretary of state, calls Trump a “fucking moron”; John F. Kelly, current White House chief of staff, complains “[Trump]’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had”; and Jared Kushner tells Steve Bannon that his father-in-law “doesn’t have a lot of cash.”2 3 4 At a rally in Billings, Montana, President Trump addressed the anonymous op-ed written by a senior administration official, which revealed that the author and his or her colleagues had “vowed to thwart” Trump’s agenda and had only decided not to invoke the 25th Amendment and have the president removed from office to avoid creating a constitutional crisis, by stating, “The latest act of resistance is the op-ed published in the failing New York Times by an anonymous—really an anonymous, gutless coward. You just look. He was—nobody knows who the hell he is, or she, although they put he, but probably that’s a little disguise. That means it’s she. But for the sake of our national security, the New York Times should publish his name at once.”5 6 The president mispronounced the word “anonymous” in both instances.7

The US will cut $25 million in funding to hospitals in East Jerusalem that aid the city’s Palestinian population as well as all funding for UN Palestinian humanitarian and economic projects.8 9 In Gaza, a 17-year-old was killed by Israeli soldiers’ live fire in the latest of the weekly Great March of Return protests at the Israeli-Gaza border, bringing the total number of Palestinian deaths since the protests began in March to 179, and in West Jerusalem, Monica Lewinsky, whose black negligee was up for auction in June in a lot that also contained a box of “slightly crushed” M&Ms she had given her former teacher and lover Andrew Bleiler, “abruptly” walked off the stage during a live interview at an Israel Television News Company conference in response to a question about the former US president Bill Clinton.10 11 12 The US State Department has increased the estimate of the number of Uighur and other Muslim ethnic minorities who are being arbitrarily held in “counter-extremism centers” and “re-education camps” in western China, which require them to write “self-criticism” essays and perform singing routines, from the hundreds of thousands to millions.13 China has said the camps provide job training.14 Liu Jiaqi, a Chinese man living in Kenya, had his work permit revoked and was deported after he was filmed criticizing President Uhuru Kenyatta and describing the citizenry as “poor, foolish, and black.”15 In Dallas, a white police officer was put on administrative leave after she broke into her black neighbor’s apartment because she mistook it for her own, then shot and killed him.16

Richard Sackler, former president of Purdue Pharma, which invented the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin and paid over $600 million in fines for “misbranding” its use, is listed as one of six co-creators of a new drug to treat opioid addiction.17 18 Lithuania asked Walmart to stop selling shirts with the Soviet hammer and sickle, Russia is investigating a hole it claims was deliberately drilled into the International Space Station that created an air leak, and France passed a law banning phones from middle schools.19 20 21 “It’s pretty easy to talk instead,” said one student. A school resource officer discharged a Taser a few feet away from a sleeping high school student in Ohio after he slept through attempts by his teacher and interim principal to wake him.22 The FBI recovered a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz after a Minnesota man tried to extort the shoes’ insurance company; a Connecticut woman sustained serious injuries after mistaking a stick of dynamite for a candle during a power outage; and a man who lost most of his penis to a flesh-eating superbug he contracted during a prostatectomy in the UK won his suit against the hospital.23 24 25 Bird Life International revealed the “confirmed or suspected extinctions” of eight bird species, including a pygmy owl and the cryptic tree hunter, in this decade.26 NYCHA supervisors and workers at a housing development in the Bronx were accused of having orgies on the clock, which caused garbage to pile up and repairs to go unfinished.27 “I don’t have a problem with people having orgies,” Throggs Neck Tenant Association president Monique Johnson said. “I have a problem with work not being done. People were neglecting to do their jobs.” Three NYCHA supervisors have been suspended for 30 days. In New Mexico, a statue of the Virgin Mary began to weep for the fourth time this year.28Maud Doyle

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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

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In Wichita Falls, Texas, a woman was banned from Walmart after drinking wine from a Pringles can while riding an electric shopping cart; she had been riding the cart for two and a half hours.

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