The week at a glance...United States
Salt Lake City School dinners: Two Utah school officials have been suspended after cafeteria workers at a Salt Lake City elementary school snatched the lunch trays of 40 children whose parents were behind on meal payments, and then threw their meals in the trash. “Our children are traumatized,” said the mother of a fifth-grader at Uintah Elementary School whose tray was taken away without explanation. School officials apologized on Facebook, explaining that the children had been served before they got to a computer that told staff whether they had money in their lunch accounts. The students were given milk and a piece of fruit so that they wouldn’t go hungry, wrote officials, but the situation “could have and should have been handled in a different matter.” The school has launched an investigation.
Washington, D.C.New NSA director: President Obama last week nominated Navy Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers to be the next director of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command—rejecting his own advisory panel’s recommendation that the two organizations be headed by separate leaders. If confirmed by the Senate, the 30-year Navy veteran, a cyberweapons expert with no real experience handling privacy concerns, will oversee a series of NSA surveillance and communication reforms loosely set out by Obama last month. One of the biggest challenges he’ll face will be deciding who should hold the agency’s vast communications database. “Mike’s now flying right into the hornet’s nest of the stuff the president didn’t decide,” said an unnamed senior adviser to the president. “And it’s all going to play out in public.”
Trenton, N.J. Bridgegate scandal: Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie this week continued to insist he knew nothing about his aides’ scheme to foul up a traffic approach to the George Washington Bridge, rejecting claims by former Port Authority official David Wildstein that “evidence exists” that the governor was aware of the lane closures as they were happening. Christie aides allegedly authorized the closures as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. Christie’s team released a memo last week saying that Wildstein would “do and say anything to save David Wildstein.” Meanwhile, state lawmakers investigating the scandal raised questions regarding the five days of legal preparation another former Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, received before giving now-discredited testimony in November that the closures were part of a traffic study. “If it’s a legitimate traffic study, you don’t need five days” of legal coaching, said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak.
East Rutherford, N.J. Trafficking crackdown: Sixteen juveniles were rescued and 45 adults arrested in the New York–New Jersey area last week as part of an FBI crackdown on prostitution during the two weeks preceding this week’s Super Bowl. The minors, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, had been brought in specifically to cater to people who came to the region for the high-profile football game, which drew an estimated 400,000 visitors to MetLife stadium and the surrounding area. The FBI said that some of those freed from pimps were high school students and children who had been reported missing by their parents. According to Lori Cohen of the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, some trafficked women reported being forced to see up to 50 clients a day in the week preceding the Super Bowl. “Many of the men were setting up football parties where they are drinking, watching football, and ordering in prostitutes,” Cohen said. An estimated 3,000 law-enforcement officials and civilians were given special training to spot and report possible instances of sexual trafficking in connection with the big game.
New York City Stop and frisk: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio last week dropped the city’s appeal of a court ruling challenging the police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, repudiating the practice as “one of the most divisive problems in our city.” De Blasio had targeted the tactic—favored by predecessor Michael Bloomberg—during last year’s mayoral campaign, arguing that it unfairly profiled young African-American and Latino men. According to de Blasio, around 90 percent of the people stopped, questioned, and frisked under the policy are innocent of any crimes. In August, a Manhattan federal district court judge ruled that the department’s tactic amounted to an “unconstitutional” policy of “indirect racial profiling.” Last week, de Blasio announced that, instead of continuing a Bloomberg-era appeal against that ruling, he would implement widespread reforms recommended by the judge, including new training and a pilot program that would equip some officers with video cameras.
Boston Execution sought: The Department of Justice last week announced it will seek the death penalty for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, setting up the highest-profile death penalty case since Timothy McVeigh was executed for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Federal prosecutors said the death penalty was warranted because of the age of 8-year-old victim Martin Richard and because Tsarnaev had shown no remorse for the “heinous” attack, which killed three people and injured more than 260 in April. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty, but prosecutors say they have overwhelming evidence against him, including surveillance footage showing him placing a backpack near the finish line just before the explosion. In almost half of such federal cases, however, the government has withdrawn the threat of execution in plea deals.