Weekly Review — December 26, 2018, 2:17 pm

Weekly Review

“Mad Dog” Mattis resigned; Trump’s spiked slats forced a government shutdown; Canadian boy bit by coyote upset he hasn’t turned into a werewolf

While speaking to Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a phone call that had been arranged by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in order to clarify his threats against US-supported Kurdish forces, Donald Trump told the Turkish president, “Okay, it’s all yours,” and repeatedly said that the United States would completely withdraw from Syria as soon as possible.1 2 “I’ve done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents.… not even close!” Trump tweeted.3 US Secretary of Defense General James Mattis, who said, “It’s fun to shoot some people.… I like brawling,” while discussing the war in Afghanistan, responded to the announced pullout by resigning from his post on Thursday, and stated his last day would be February 28, 2019; on Sunday, the president announced that he would remove Mattis from his post January 1, 2019.4 5 6 Trump, who once told Mattis to “go in” to Syria and “kill the fucking lot of them” and that “you don’t need a strategy to kill people,” announced that the interim acting defense secretary would be a former executive of Boeing, the second-largest defense contractor in the world.7 8 9 After Trump stated that he would be “proud” to force a government shutdown and the Senate failed to approve $5.7 billion for the erection of a wall or spiked steel slats across the southern border, the government ceased operations for the third time this year, forcing 420,000 employees to work without pay through the holidays and placing another 380,000 on unpaid leave.10 11 12 13 14 The US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquake and water conditions around the world, has stopped displaying real-time updates as part of the shutdown, retaining only 75 of its estimated 8,032 employees; without this data, seismologists in Indonesia have been limited in their ability to predict if another tsunami will follow the one that hit the country Saturday, which killed at least 429 people and left hundreds more injured.15 16 An Iraq War veteran living in Miramar, Florida, created a GoFundMe titled “We the People Will Build the Wall” which has raised $17,239,732 of its $1 billion goal; contributions in US Dollars to GoFundMes that were created to provide relief to Indonesia after the earthquake and tsunami in September, which killed at least 2,256 people and injured more than 10,000 others, total $128,453.17 18 19

Following reports of illegal drones sighted near the runways at Gatwick Airport in London which caused the airport to shut down for 36 hours, a forensics examination revealed that the drones might not have existed; Korean Airlines have increased ticket-refund penalties for three fans who checked in to a flight just to take pictures of Wanna One.20 21 The UN approved a British-led resolution which arranged a cease-fire at the port in Hodeida, Yemen, that would allow foreign aid to reach the population, while a rival resolution proposed by the United States on behalf of Saudi Arabia was rejected.22 23 It was revealed that Facebook gave certain companies access to its users’ data that far exceeded what had been publicly disclosed, including allowing Netflix and Spotify to read private messages, and that the Russian Internet Research Agency’s influence campaign’s most popular Instagram account was @blackstagram.24 25 A week after Congress passed legislation requiring its members to use private money rather than public funds to settle sexual-harassment lawsuits, Rudy Giuliani defended Trump’s use of campaign contributions as hush money, arguing that if donations were given for “another purpose, it’s not a campaign contribution. Here, the purpose was to protect you against your wife. Protect her from embarrassment.”26 27 A 600-meter floating barrier launched off the coast of San Francisco has failed to collect the trash of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.28

A human-rights commission has called on a school in Canton, Massachusetts, to stop administering electric shocks to disabled children as a form of punishment, and an eight-year-old boy died on Christmas morning while in the custody of US Customs and Border Patrol, the second such fatality of a Guatemalan child under the age of 10 the law enforcement agency had presided over in 17 days.29 30 In Texas, a 61-year-old grandmother arrested for a misdemeanor trespassing charge, who had been held on $300 bond since July, died in the Bexar County jail, and in Missouri, a convicted deer poacher was sentenced to watching Bambi every month during his year in prison.31 32 Pope Francis warned child abusers to prepare for “divine justice”; a priest in Middletown, New York, who has settled several sexual abuse cases with the state, said in a sermon that Jesus “understands that we’re not perfect”; and an FBI agent who accidentally shot a bar patron while performing a backflip off-duty pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.33 34 35 Denmark’s parliament has approved a plan to exile foreign criminals to a small island that is used as a laboratory for research on infectious diseases, and Northern Ireland has begun soliciting feedback on probation and punishment from offenders and victims of crime.36 37 A spate of thefts of the baby Jesus from the mangers of nativity scenes around the country prompted local business leaders in West Bend, Wisconsin, to nail Jesus to his manger for their display.38 In Airdrie, Canada, a six-year-old boy was not injured after being bitten by a coyote because of his snowsuit and the quick actions of his mother’s boyfriend.39 “However, he is a bit upset he has not turned into a werewolf yet,” his mother wrote on Facebook.—Maud Doyle

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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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