Weekly Review — December 11, 2018, 12:33 pm

Weekly Review

John Kelly resigned; “ballot harvesting” uncovered in North Carolina; a robot ran over bear repellent at an Amazon warehouse

In Katowice, Poland, the United Nations held its 24th annual climate change conference to design a “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.1 2 Researchers announced that global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to reach a record high in 2018, projecting a 2.7 percent rise by the end of this year; scientists said that Greenland’s ice sheet, which if it melted would raise sea levels across the world by 20 feet, is thawing at a rate not seen in 350 years; in France, a raise in gasoline taxes has been canceled after mass protests; and in northern California, the cleanup began following the deadly fires that killed 85 people.3 4 5 6 Six Michigan doctors were charged with insurance fraud in a $464 million scheme that involved overcharging for braces, performing unnecessary medical procedures, and prescribing 13.2 million doses of opioids over five years; Affordable Care Act enrollment is down 11 percent compared to this time last year; and, despite providing multiple forms of identification, a home health nurse was repeatedly questioned by a sheriff’s deputy while giving care to an elderly patient until she called her boss, who asked the officer, “Are y’all saying she looked suspicious because she’s black?”7 8 9 William P. Barr, who, as a member of the George H. W. Bush Administration, wrote a memo on presidential power that some claim was used to justify the use of torture during George W. Bush’s presidency and signed off on a report called “The Case for More Incarceration,” was announced as the nominee for attorney general, and John Kelly, who responded to a reporter’s question about an Ebola outbreak in Latin America by saying, “It’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,’” announced that he is leaving his position as White House chief of staff.10 11 12 Fifteen activists, who chained themselves to the front of a plane at the Stansted Airport in Essex, UK, to prevent its passengers from being deported to Nigeria, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, were found guilty of a terrorism-related offense and could be sentenced to life imprisonment.13 A report revealed that the United States outsold Russian weapons manufacturers by $184.9 billion last year.14

In Bladen County, North Carolina, a case of “ballot harvesting,” in which absentee ballots were collected from voters illegally by workers paid $75 to $100 a week by a consultant hired by the campaign staff of Mark Harris, was uncovered, and Rosanell Eaton, who was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that struck down voting restrictions in North Carolina and who registered to vote during Jim Crow despite racial abuse, including her being shot at, died at 97.15 16 17 In Charlottesville, Virginia, James Fields, who killed Heather Heyer with his car during a white supremacist rally in 2017, was found guilty of first-degree murder.18 American taxpayers spent $40 million on Confederate monuments and heritage groups over the past decade, said a report, and Silent Sam, a statue of a Confederate soldier, will be reerected, the University of North Carolina announced, in a new multimillion-dollar building.19 20 Arrests at the US–Mexico border jumped 78 percent in November compared with the same period last year.21 “To tell you the truth, with past administrations, we never had a problem like this,” commented the immigration lawyer for a Guatemalan man trying to obtain a visa to attend the funeral of his 13-year-old daughter.22 Qatar left OPEC, the US government outlined a plan to open 9 million acres to drilling and mining, and for the first time in 75 years, the United States is a net oil exporter.23 24 25 Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro announced he will abolish the country’s human rights ministry.26

In Robbinsville, New Jersey, a robot at an Amazon factory accidentally punctured a can of bear repellent, which sent two dozen workers to the emergency room; a nearly identical incident had occurred at a Haslet, Texas, Amazon facility in 2015.27 28 The Oregon Department of Health and Human Services employee in charge of coordinating reviews of child abuse fatalities was revealed to be active in the 9/11 truther community and believes, among other conspiracy theories, that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was caused by government experiments.29 A 500-year-old skeleton wearing thigh-high leather boots was found in the Thames River, and British prime minister Theresa May said she eats peanut butter out of the jar to help ease the stress of Brexit negotiations.30 31 China announced that rejecting physical money as a method of payment is illegal.32 NASA released the first recordings of sound from Mars after a probe recorded 10-to-15 mph winds vibrating a seismometer.33Jacob Rosenberg

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What China Threat?·

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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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Without a Trace·

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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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Going to Extremes·

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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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“Tell Me How This Ends”·

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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

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

In England, a flutist stole 299 rare bird skins from an ornithology museum in order to pay for a new flute.

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

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