Weekly Review — December 18, 2018, 9:00 am

Weekly Review

Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison; Mitch McConnell announced Senate vote on long-delayed bill to decrease the prison population

The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, met in the Oval Office with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for a televised bipartisan back-and-forth that resulted in bickering about a proposed wall on the border between Mexico and the United States, and a potential federal government shutdown, of which Trump said he would be “proud” to have forced in the name of “border security;” Pelosi, who opened the closed-door portion of the meeting with a prayer about the wisdom of King Solomon, said privately that Trump’s prioritizing of the wall is “a manhood thing” and compared the tête-à-tête to “a tinkle contest with a skunk” in which “you get tinkle all over you,” while the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, stated that the talks were a “constructive dialogue.”1 2 3 4 5 Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who was apprehended with her father after crossing the border into New Mexico with her family and other undocumented migrants, died of cardiac arrest caused by dehydration and shock after waiting more than an hour and a half for medical care while in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection.6 Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the president, said that the Trump Administration would do “whatever is necessary to build the border wall,” and that Caal Maquin’s death was “a painful reminder of the ongoing humanitarian tragedy that is illegal immigration” during an interview in which he had augmented his hairline with an unknown substance.7 8 More than 85,000 Yemeni children have starved to death during the Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen, a motivating factor for the US Senate’s vote to end military support for the Saudi war, the first time the Senate has invoked its powers under the 1973 War Powers Act.9 10 Though the House of Representatives would have to pass the resolution by the end of 2018, and Trump, who has endorsed US assistance and thanked Saudi Arabia for low gasoline prices, would have to sign it, Senator Bernie Sanders said the vote was “a profound statement that will reverberate all over the world.”11 12 For the second time in three years, Iraqi officials declared the heavily fortified neighborhood in the heart of Baghdad known as the Green Zone, which was cordoned off by American forces in 2003, open to the public.13

A judge in Manhattan federal court sentenced Michael D. Cohen, a former lawyer for President Trump, to three years in prison for what the judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct,” prompting a contrite Cohen to tell the court that “it was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”14 Trump tweeted that, as a lawyer, Cohen was supposed to have known the law well enough not to break it, and that he only “became a ‘Rat’ after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable & unheard of,” referring to a routine, lawfully executed search and seizure at Cohen’s New York City office.15 16 Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, said that he had been tricked into lying to FBI agents investigating Russia’s election interference, a suggestion that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, rejected.17 The Russian spy Maria Butina, who with her boyfriend hosted dinners with wealthy Americans and courted NRA leaders to gain political influence, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, and faces a sentence of up to six months in prison after having agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.18 Bowing to pressure from the White House and activist groups, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, announced on Tuesday that the Senate would take up a long-delayed bipartisan bill that aims to reduce the prison population.19 Nearly half of all adults in the United States have a family member currently or formerly incarcerated.20

In response to four weeks of “yellow vest” protests against such perceived injustices as a fuel-tax hike, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged tax cuts and wage and salary increases, but declined to meet a demand to restore a special tax on households with assets above 1.3 million euros which he cut last year.21 Theresa May will remain the British prime minister after a 200–117 no-confidence vote in the Conservative Party, making her immune from a leadership challenge for a year and freeing her to deliver the exit from the European Union for which Britons voted in 2016.22 Apple announced that it will invest $1 billion in a new campus in Austin, Texas, with plans to open new facilities in Washington and California over the next three years, and expand its operations in Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Iowa.23 Wells Griffith, a White House adviser on energy and climate, presented a defense of fossil fuels at the world’s biggest climate conference in Katowice, Poland, saying that “no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” over the laughter of the audience.24 A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that over the past five years the Arctic has been warmer than at any time since records began, in 1900, and the region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.25 Organizers of a Christmas event in Cambridgeshire, England, apologized to parents after an evacuation at a nearby event prompted a hired Santa Claus to rip off his beard and make a hasty exit, telling attending children to “get the fuck out.”26Justin Stewart

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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.

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