Black Lives Matter in the time of Covid-19 The chaos currently gripping the US has divided Egyptians, despite that causes closer to hand — like the Palestinian struggle — share with the Black Lives Matter movement a common horizon Black Lives Matter, Covid-19, coronavirus, United States, rights, equality, racism, Egypt Recently, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has created a great deal of controversy amongst Egyptians and on Egyptian media. Misunderstandings and varied views regarding this movement currently gripping the US make a discussion of its parameters direly due. Despite the fact that the “Black Lives Matter” movement was founded in the US in 2013 as a result of the shooting of African American teen Trayvon Martin, it has currently escalated to unprecedented heights after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. Police violence against African American citizens has been a volatile issue for years in the US, but this incident taking place amidst the Covid-19 pandemic along with two other recent instances were the match that lit the fire of the current unrest. Racism in the US has been pinpointed by many as a historically sustained pandemic. But how do we as Egyptians position ourselves towards all of this? Egyptians, whether on social media or in the street, are quite divided. Some can only see the current protests in light of the limited violence, looting and rioting, arguing that “Black Lives Matter” is a violent exclusionary movement and that blacks should go back to their original homelands (of course, this group is completely clueless regarding the history of slavery and dispossession that brought blacks originally to American/Native American soil)! Others, on the other hand, are quite empathetic, but feel that Egyptians’ empathy with the “Black Lives Matter” movement is trend-oriented and shortsightedly ignores other oppressive struggles closer to Egyptians, such as the Palestinian struggle. This group draws attention to all the violence Palestinians face on a daily basis at the hands of the Israeli occupation, which cannot be denied. What we need to understand, though, is that whether it is the “Black Lives Matter” movement or the Palestinian struggle, it is the same issue: standing up against violence and racist hatred. The current support Arab-American groups and Palestinian-American groups are showing towards the “Black Lives Matter" movement in the US is proof of this. This undermines the empty argument that “Black Lives” is a reverse racist, exclusionary movement, since “All Lives Matter.” In reality, claiming and naming a particular black position now is the only means to overcome the systemic racism ingrained in the American political system, which normalises racism that is against the rights of all American citizens and humans in general. As citizens, African-Americans in the US have a very distinct history of dispossession that needs to be taken into account. The majority of African-Americans in the US did not leave their original homelands of their own accord but were abducted, sold into slavery and forcibly moved to build the US capitalist economy under the worst of conditions. In the Declaration of Independence, the American Forefathers stated that “All men are created equal” and that everyone has the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Sadly though, actuation of these ideals was continuously questioned by the institution of slavery that supported American capitalism. Abolitionists in the past rose to argue that blacks should have equal rights and that the practice of racist laws such as the ones denying blacks education and fining any whites teaching slaves to read had to be stopped. The Civil War took place to acquire the rightful freedom of blacks and end their economic oppression by whites, but Jim Crow laws of racial segregation remained in the US till the 1950s. These laws prevented African-Americans from being educated in the same schools as whites, riding the same transportation, or even using the same washrooms (social distancing at a whole new level). The Civil Rights movement headed by figures like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X called for the end of segregation and the inclusion of blacks into the American Dream, and some gains were won, but curiously enough both of these leaders were assassinated. Though outright laws of segregation ended, white supremacist practices remain and are still practiced by groups such as the KKK, which has chapters all over the US. That is why Floyd’s murder and his plea to police officers, “I can’t breathe,” is an actual description of suffocation that African-Americans have been experiencing long before the lung failures resulting from Covid-19. A suffocation that has led to the sudden grasp for breath, that is literally taking place now. Writers like Dr Cornell West have long been analysing the dire conditions of poverty and injustice that have led to this current situation and have anticipated its outcomes. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery are all points in a circle of institutionalised injustice and violence that has robbed African-Americans of their humanity for years. The Covid-19 pandemic has only starkly placed this injustice before our eyes as we compare the numbers of African-Americans and minorities killed by this disease as a result of misguided funding directed to black communities. This is why the current protests are calling for redirection of funds to develop African-American communities rather than criminalise and police them. This uprising is gaining momentum, moving actually and digitally to encompass the parameters of all such injustice, undermining mainstream capitalist funded media framing of the movement as violent. Nations face demise and decay when their central creeds and belief systems become blatantly questionable. The various major crises in American history have been shaped by this kind of crisis of identity. The men who crafted the US Constitution were above all shaping a dream of equality and freedom, and this has for a long time shaped how Americans like to define themselves, irrespective of the realities of racism, which were always relegated to the sidelines as isolated incidents practiced by a minority. The current chapter of unrest in American history will not end until the real problems of systemic racism and discrimination are addressed. A digital uprising is already being organised and movements like “In Defense of Black Lives,” which stress capitalist economic oppression suffered by blacks, are joining forces. Political leaders like Andrew Cuomo, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama have all expressed the need to face the realities of systemic racism. As Egyptians, we need to look in the mirror and realise our own blackness and attempt to understand the historical context. *Somaya Sami Sabry is an associate professor of American and cultural studies at the English Department of Ain Shams University.
Whether invoked by a neo-conservative in the George W Bush administration or denied by a liberal in Obama’s, America is an empire. However, for decades the reach and influence of this empire were checked by the existence of other empires. The 30 years since the end of the Cold War and the defeat of the former Soviet Union have been a unique moment in history when America became the world’s sole empire. Now that moment is coming to an end, and geo-strategists are busy thinking about the multitude of scenarios in which the American empire could interact with today’s rising power, China, which is determined to become an empire and very likely will become one. Yet, what is happening inside America today still merits close attention, for it has a major influence over how America will interact with China and the rest of the world. American politics are becoming much more polarised than at any point since the end of the Civil War and the period of the Reconstruction of the South that followed in the second half of the 19th century. This polarisation transcends the Republican and Democratic Parties descending into wars of words to discredit each other. Today’s polarisation has become socially entrenched and in terms of opposing (and not just different) views of what America means and what its social order ought to be. The polarisation stems from different identities and ways of living, rather than from political positions or economic interests. This is important, because it means political contestation in America is no longer based on seeing the other as intellectually wrong, but rather on seeing the other as belonging to a different moral (and spiritual) place. When societies arrive at this point, politics typically become paralysed. The public space becomes increasingly empty. If one faction sees the other as intellectually, morally and spiritually corrupt (or at best utterly mistaken), it will not only not discuss with it. It will also try to cut its links with anything that has to do with it. This is already happening in different parts of the US today, not only geographically, but also culturally. The result is that the common social space – to which the nation as a whole used to come to debate, discuss and find compromises – initially loses its centrality and then gradually disappears. The diminishing importance of American newspapers, traditional centres of excellence (for example, top universities), national TV networks, and culturally unifying threads (think of the great American novel that captures the national mood and sentiment) are all cases in point. Some might say that the extreme bipartisanship in the US Congress today is the most glaring example. As political contestation becomes increasingly polarised, representing not only different viewpoints, but also different convictions, ways of life, and identities, the other could well become more than just “different” or even “wrong”. It could become “evil”. American political rhetoric has often combined the sacred with the secular. More than in any other Western country, God has always had a central presence in America’s politics. (It is important to emphasise that the most influential of the country’s Founding Fathers, the initial architects of the American project at its birth-moment, saw God in grander hues than those gleaned from anthropomorphic understandings.) As articles of faith and views stemming from what is “good” and what is “evil” take centre stage in any highly polarised polity, demonising the other quickly follows. As a result, the centre becomes diluted, and power is fragmented. The traditional nodes of power in America get marginalised in favour of powers that traditionally were on the margins. We are already seeing this as far-right (and to some extent also far-left) groups that were always on the fringes are now at the centre of the two American political parties. The rest of the world should care about this because what happens in America has always affected how it deals with the world outside. And at this moment when China’s rise is bringing American global hegemony to an end, the effect of the inside on the outside is particularly important. The situation is historically unique. Never before in modern history (at least in the past three centuries) has a single empire ruled supreme in the world. There are no precedents for how America will behave at this moment of global transition. America’s internal dynamics accentuate the uncertainty. The acute polarisation concerning what constitutes American values, frame of reference and way of life could translate into acute differences as to what its national interests are, what its role in the world is and what it is willing to do to defend those interests. The increasing polarisation is unlikely to lead America to over-aggressive or over-acquiescent positions with regard to China. But the diverging views that result from polarisation could well lead to confusion and chaos, or at least to weakened decision-making processes. Previous foreign policy mistakes have cost America dear, but serious mistakes in delicate geo-political situations (such as dealing with China at this moment in history) are of a different order of magnitude. They will have serious consequences for the whole world. This is because the interaction between America and China in the coming decade will affect international trade, the functioning of the most important international institutions, the development of revolutionary technologies, the global economy, and of course politics in different parts of the world. Dousing the demon of acute polarisation in American society will benefit many parts of the world and not just America. As for those who have always looked with admiration at the intellectual rigour of the original American project, they are now looking at today’s American politics with surprise and wistfulness.
Across the world, countries have imposed social distancing regulations to avoid overwhelming the health care capacity during the corona pandemic — the so-called “flatten the curve.” Such a policy can make a lot of sense. The first peer-reviewed cost-benefit analysis of the US shows just that. It looks at moderate social distancing, an approach similar to Sweden’s. Here, social interaction is reduced about 40 percent, allowing schools and work to stay open but dramatically reducing contacts in all other public areas. Had this been done across the US, it would have cost $7 trillion more in lost GDP, but more than half the death toll would have been avoided compared to a scenario in which no regulations were put in place. The social benefits of saving these lives add up to about $12 trillion, meaning each dollar in cost achieves $1.70 in social benefits. The study uses rather optimistic assumptions, especially assuming away a second wave of infections, meaning the real social return is likely lower. A long-term lock-down policy during which schools and work are also shut down, however, would cost much more but save fewer additional lives. This would likely leave society worse off. But most of the current conversation has been focused on the response in the rich world. That, despite the fact that four-fifths of the world’s population lives outside the rich world, and many large nations, including India and Indonesia, have engaged in dramatic and strict corona policies. Is this the right decision? For the poorer countries, the benefits of corona policies are sharply lower, as documented by researchers at Yale University. First, poor countries have substantially fewer old people who would benefit from social distancing. Second, poorer countries already have low hospital capacity, so flattening the curve will help little and still see hospitals overwhelmed. Third, poorer people face several challenges and die from many other, preventable causes. This means that they value any risk reduction from corona much less. Together with the National Planning Commission in Malawi, Copenhagen Consensus and the African Institute for Development Policy have just conducted what is likely the first cost-benefit analysis on corona policies for a developing country. Its findings are stark. Models show that along with limiting corona deaths, moderate social distancing will also improve treatment of some diseases like HIV but reduce the effectiveness of other treatments, such as those for malaria and tuberculosis. It will also lower the number of traffic deaths but increase the number of malnourished children. In total, the studies find that the policy can avoid almost 7,000 deaths in a country of 19 million people. That is encouraging. However, there are significant costs. While a corona epidemic inevitably creates an economic cost, moderate social distancing will have a somewhat higher economic impact. The total economic loss for Malawi runs to $6.7 billion, almost equivalent to an entire year of GDP. Malawi has shut down its schools to help tackle corona, but this is also very expensive. About six million school children will learn less and end up less productive in their adult lives. Given that the productivity increase for a year of extra schooling is estimated at 12.2 percent, the total loss over the coming generations for Malawi is worth $5.2 billion today. Put bluntly, moderate social distancing and school closures can save 7,000 lives at the cost of $12 billion in lower life quality for its future. Is that worthwhile? Many well-meaning people will argue that lives should be saved at any cost. But clearly, that doesn’t happen. Malawi each year sees 22,000 people die from HIV, almost all of whom could have been saved with enough resources. One study estimates that effective policies to increase nutrition for HIV-infected people could save 7,000 lives for $3 million. For the amount Malawi would spend on saving one life through corona policies, it can save 4,000 lives through smart HIV policies. Moreover, most of the saved lives from corona are older people, whereas most of the lives saved from HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and child nutrition are much younger. It turns out that just in terms of life years saved, moderate social distancing will likely lose more life years than it will gain. And it will cost $12 billion. Therefore, the new analysis shows that in Malawi, each dollar spent on moderate social distancing to tackle corona will deliver just four cents of social benefits. Faced with the specter of corona, initial frenzied action is understandable. And moderate policies in rich countries are likely justified. But for the majority of the world, the benefits are smaller and the costs are higher. Malawi should, of course, continue a series of sensible low-cost social distancing measures like cocooning the elderly, no large gatherings and handwashing. It should keep health services for tuberculosis, malaria and vaccinations running. It should provide masks for health personnel. But crucially, Malawi — and likely many developing nations — should not shut down its schools or economy to tackle corona, because the damages will vastly outweigh the benefits. Bjorn Lomborg is President of the Copenhagen Consensus, Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Visiting Professor at the Copenhagen Business School. His upcoming book is "False Alarm".
Scenes emerging from the US states of Minnesota, California and many others of riots and violent protests have dominated the TV news despite the prevailing daily dose of gloomy news of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world. A police officer in Minneapolis was caught on film kneeling on the neck of African-American man George Floyd for over eight minutes and enough for the poor man to die horribly at the scene. The policeman, named Derek Chauvin, ignored Floyd’s pleas and cries of “I can’t breathe” until he died as a result of Chauvin’s knee choking him. The video then went viral, unleashing massive protests in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle among 13 other US cities now under mandatory curfews. The governor of Minnesota took unprecedented measures and issued a state of emergency, calling on the state’s National Guard to quell the riots. US President Donald Trump also vowed to involve the American military should the riots continue. At least seven other states have called on their National Guards to curb the growing violence of rioters mingling with peaceful protesters. These hooligans have committed acts of vandalism and the arson of public and private property across many states, exacerbating an already tense situation and overshadowing the death of Floyd by exacting vengeance on the whole of society. Violent groups have capitalised on the situation and have been reported as being involved in acts of violence during the protests. Dozens of shops, restaurants and private businesses have either been burned, looted or vandalised by rioters who have violated curfews and clashed with police, resulting in the killing of a federal police officer in California and the injury of many others. The events following the death of Floyd are reminiscent of many others that have occurred over past decades in the US. One of the most infamous took place in 1992 when a court acquitted four police officers accused of assaulting the African-American man Rodney King and brutally beating him. One of the most violent riots in US history then took place in Los Angeles, resulting in 63 deaths, 2,383 injuries and more than 7,000 fires. It also resulted in damage to 3,100 businesses as the riots cost nearly $1 billion in financial losses during the course of six days. Unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself as a result of the horrific death of Floyd at the hands of the US police. This cycle of violence seems to be beyond the control of any US president, whether he be Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton or George Bush. The deeply rooted racial issues in the US were not resolved by the existence of an African-American president such as Obama, and certainly they will not be resolved by Trump. The race issue requires a more extensive outlook and more protection laws, and it seems to have been overlooked in the recent past when Obama was elected as the country’s first black president. Many believed at that time that the majority of the nation had changed and that racism in the US was a practice of the past. But events have proven otherwise. In fact, the rise of the far-right and of alt-right groups in the US has been a clear signal that racism is far from over in the United States and that it must be tackled on all levels, especially within government departments and the authorities that deal directly with citizens such as police departments across the country. The bottled-up hatred between large sections of Americans towards others also manifests itself in such riots, which emerge to destroy property as a result of a single horrific death. These events are not caused by racial-segregation laws, which were abolished in the US educational system in 1954, but they are an indication that large numbers of Americans still view themselves in terms of ethnicity first and citizen second. Floyd has meanwhile joined the countless black and non-white victims of police brutality and abuse in the US. While there have been measures to reeducate the police forces, which have had positive results in some cases, racism still lingers within police forces across the United States. A bad apple can spoil an entire basket, and the killing of Floyd should not be seen as necessarily tainting the entire police force of Minnesota. Yet, it does taint the efforts and sacrifices that this police force has been making to tackle racism, along with similar ones made elsewhere. It is imperative that bad examples such as Chauvin be weeded out early before they cause nationwide disasters. Chauvin had had 18 complaints filed against him in his 19 years in the police department, and he was disciplined as a result of two of them. These cases included deaths and shootings, and yet he was still awarded a medal of valour in 2008. There is no doubt that a police officer’s job is not easy and involves his placing his life at risk every day. But this cannot be a reason for officers to take the law into their own hands or to overstep their roles as the protectors of the public or enforcers of the laws, turning them into executioners. The video of Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd causing his eventual death is a scene that cannot be allowed to take place again in the United States or anywhere else in the world. Chauvin has now been arrested and charged with third degree murder, and the escorting officers patrolling with him have also been suspended from their work. Chauvin violated proper police conduct in his act, but alas he is not the only case of such violations that have taken place in recent years. Countless other cases have also been reported in the US of police brutality, many of them involving a white policeman and a minority victim who has been mistreated, abused, humiliated and sometimes even killed during the process of apprehension or arrest. In many cases, police officers are trigger-happy and fire upon suspects at the slightest of excuses. The threats to the US status in the world are numerous. Some of them are military, such as those from its global rivals such as Russia, or economic, such as from China, or security based, such as from the likes of terrorists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) group. But none of these can defeat the United States militarily, as it is more than capable of defending itself from countries like Russia, China, North Korea or Iran. China, despite its exponential growth, cannot overshadow the United States. Even with continued attacks and threats by global terrorist groups, none of these can ever manage seriously to affect the power of the United States. The real threat to US unity and welfare comes from within because the race issue still has not been resolved after over two centuries of the country’s history. Race and racial identity remain a major cause of problems in the US today and ones that are deeply rooted within US society. It is high time that US-based human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch shift their focus inwards towards America’s own human rights violations and racial issues before dictating what other governments should do in their own countries. The United States today is at a crossroads, and the divisions in US society are becoming ever clearer and more visible to everyone. They cannot be hidden by the language of political correctness any longer.
I am a black American man who has been privileged to serve in law enforcement for 40 years. Today, if a young person of color asks me what they should do if a police officer stops them, I answer: Put your hands on the steering wheel where they can be seen, cooperate and comply. And should they answer me back, as they likely would today -- Even if I did all that, we are still getting murdered -- I would have nothing to tell him or her. With my decades of experience, I would have nothing to say. Black Americans -- mostly young men, but women as well -- are being killed by American law officers not for anything they did but for who they are. The killings are not accidents, statistical freaks or mistakes in judgment. They are products of American history. Until there is a plan for reform to address these failures of policing -- most immediately embodied in the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd -- I will continue to have nothing to say to the young people of color who ask me what to do, how to prevent their own deaths at the hands of police. And I fear that under President Donald Trump, no plan will ever be devised, that we will be left with nothing but the darkness in which we now find ourselves. The need for a better America cannot be disputed. Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was out for a jog -- unarmed -- in Glynn County, Georgia, when two local white men, Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, a former local law enforcement officer, were recorded on the cellphone of a third local white resident, William "Roddie" Bryan, gunning him down. Only months later, after a local radio station obtained Bryan s cellphone video, posted it on its website, and the video went viral, did officials announce that a grand jury would decide whether to bring charges. Just two days later, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers arrested the McMichaels on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. Bryan was arrested May 21, charged with felony murder and false imprisonment. The men have not been asked by a judge to plead and attorneys for them have told reporters they committed no crimes. A DOJ spokesperson has confirmed that the department s Civil Rights Division was assessing evidence to weigh whether federal hate crime charges were appropriate. The timeline of this case, including the long suppression of charges, spans 74 days. But its true history, the history of violent racism in America, is much longer, dating to the 19th century and the Jim Crow era of the early 20th century, when lynchings and the refusal to prosecute them were routine. In Louisville, Kentucky, in March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT -- working on her city s hard-hit front line of the Covid-19 pandemic -- was shot to death in her home by three Louisville Metro police officers. In plainclothes, they broke in deep in the dead of night and, her family says, without identifying themselves. Taylor s boyfriend opened fire on the unknown men. His fire was returned, and Taylor took the brunt of it, struck eight times. As it turned out, the warrant, concerning drug charges, was served in connection with two people already in police custody. Taylor s only "offense" was having had a prior relationship with one of them. The FBI has opened an investigation into her death. It took seconds to put eight rounds into Breonna Taylor. As with the Arbery slaying, the history behind this blink of an eye is much longer, bringing to mind the fate of Fred Hampton, a 21-year-old Chicago activist, Black Panther and founder of the Rainbow Coalition. He was shot to death on December 4, 1969, in a predawn raid on his Chicago apartment by Cook County State s Attorney tactical officers, Chicago police officers and FBI agents. The coroner s jury ruled justifiable homicide, but the consensus among historians is that Hampton was targeted for assassination by the FBI, acting in this case as latter-day Nightriders. On May 25, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and three other officers arrested George Floyd in connection with a "forgery" incident -- passing an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin restrained Floyd by kneeling on his neck, ignoring his repeated appeals for his life ("I can t breathe") and bystanders pleas that the officers were killing the man. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The asphyxiation of Floyd is proving to be a tipping point in the long history of American racism. Videos of police violence against black people have become commonplace. Most record fast-moving, violent incidents. But the record of the last minutes of Floyd s life shows a man being slowly, deliberately deprived of the breath of life. It is a lynching. Floyd s death took place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which our President likes to call the "invisible enemy." In contrast, Floyd s killing was intensely, obscenely visible, and the response to that visibility has been intensely visible as well in dozens of American cities. Meanwhile, under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has essentially abandoned in-depth investigations into unconstitutional policing practices, according to a CNN report. During President George W. Bush s first term, the DOJ launched 12 investigations of law enforcement agencies for practices that violate the Constitution. President Barack Obama s Justice Department opened 15. Trump s Justice Department, according to legal experts and DOJ records, has opened only one. While federal authorities are involved in investigating what happened to Arbery and Taylor, no systemic investigation of policing practices in any of these locations seems likely to happen under Trump s administration. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of video coverage of the peaceful demonstrations and protests and violent riots and looting that have followed what happened in Minneapolis. What we lack is a plan to address the events themselves, just as we lack a plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic -- which, of course, impacts people of color with greater frequency and consequence than it does white people. The virulence of the disease is rooted in the same social and economic conditions as the virulence of law enforcement attitudes and policies toward communities and individuals of color. As we have no plan for Covid, so we have no plan for addressing police violence against this same population. And if the record of Trump s Justice Department is a barometer of what s to come, we may never have a plan under his leadership. In 2015, I was asked by President Obama to serve on the President s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was a response to a number of serious incidents between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect. Ours was not a "commission" but a "task force," charged with identifying the problems and quickly formulating plans to correct them. In 90 days, through hearings with some 140 witnesses, we formulated 59 recommendations with 92 action items in the areas of building trust and legitimacy, policy and oversight, technology and social media, community policing and crime reduction, training and education, and officer wellness and safety. We created a plan, a political, policy, strategic, tactical and moral GPS. Under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the work of the task force and its recommendations were essentially discarded. Needless to say, Attorney General William Barr has not resurrected them. Were someone in the federal government to stumble across what we did, they would find themselves with a leg up to creating what we need now even more desperately than what we needed in 2015: a plan, a map, a GPS. But we are left with none. The consequences of this dire absence should be as obvious to us in 2020 as they were to the writers of the Book of Proverbs millennia ago: "Where there is no vision, the people perish..." The problems we face at this moment are part of our long history. But the complete absence of leadership -- political, moral, policy, strategic -- strikes me as genuinely unprecedented. What s the plan now, America?
President Donald Trump s announcement that his administration will designate Antifa as a terrorist organization is surely unconstitutional because it would effectively criminalize joining an American domestic ideological group. Thanks to the First Amendment, the US government has historically avoided designating domestic groups on both the left and right as terrorist. Belonging to such groups is consistent with the legitimate exercise of your First Amendment right to freedom of speech and belief — whether you are a white supremacist or an environmental activist. Of course, should an American citizen commit a crime in service of her extremist beliefs she can be prosecuted for that crime, but she can t be prosecuted for merely belonging to the group, no matter how objectionable its views might be. The situation is quite different when it comes to terrorist groups based overseas. If you look at the National Counterterrorism Center s list of designated terrorist groups, you will see that all the groups that are listed are based outside the United States. Joining such designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations is not protected by the First Amendment and is prosecuted as a crime. In recent years scores of Americans, for instance, have been convicted of joining ISIS or attempting to join the terrorist group, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years. If Trump succeeds in designating Antifa it potentially opens the door for American citizens to be charged for merely holding their beliefs — even if they are extreme and at times, militant. close dialog It also begs the question why analogous extremist right wing groups are not similarly designated by the Trump administration, since violent right-wing extremists in the US kill far more Americans than leftist terrorists. According to data gathered by New America, a research institution, since 9/11 right-wing terrorists in the United States have killed 110 people for political reasons, while Antifa supporters have killed exactly no one for political reasons. Meanwhile, those motivated by black nationalist ideology have killed 12 people. In other words, the threat posed by lethal right-wing terrorists since the 9/11 attacks is almost 10 times greater than that posed by leftist terrorists. To its credit, the Trump administration designated the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group based in Russia, as a terrorist organization in April. Yet there is no indication that the Trump administration will effectively criminalize being a member of an American right-wing extremist group. And for good reason: The First Amendment is the first for a reason, and it allows Americans to hold extremist beliefs of all flavors without fear of prosecution — including Antifa supporters.
This past week has brought tragedy upon tragedy to our nation: the death toll from Covid-19 passed a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths; the brutal killing of George Floyd ignited mass protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and seven people were shot in protests demanding justice in Louisville. But our President was mostly busy with other things: getting into a public fight with Twitter, condemning China over Hong Kong and terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization -- an entity that once looked to the United States as the world s leading institution in fighting pandemics. President Donald Trump also took time, of course, to send out a stream of new, controversial tweets. He called protesters in Minneapolis "thugs" and repeated a racist line from a Miami police chief years ago, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." He even retweeted a video in which a supporter says, "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat." But other than a brief tweet in the midst of another storm, Trump remained silent on the most sensitive issue of his presidency: the pandemic that is killing so many older Americans and people of color living near the edge. Understandably, with the rash of other news, the press is moving on. But we should pause for one more moment to recognize how sad and sharp a departure his silence is from past traditions of the presidency. Since the early days of the Republic until now, Americans have looked to our presidents to provide protection, meaning and comfort, especially in moments of crisis. After George Washington was sworn as commander in chief of the Continental Army, Ethan Allen s younger brother, Levi, wrote to Washington in 1776 that he had become "Our political Father and head of a Great People." Shortly thereafter, Washington was frequently referred to as "Father of Our Country." As he steered us through war, the constitutional convention, and two terms as President, the phrase caught on. He wasn t much of a speaker -- he thought his deeds spoke for him -- but he was a leader of such strong character and rock-solid integrity that he became the gold standard of the presidency. Lincoln began his presidency during great uncertainty about his leadership. He won the election of 1860 with the smallest plurality ever (39%), and his military experience was virtually nil. But over time, he kindled a special relationship with Union soldiers, many of whom called him "Father Abraham." Historians say his homespun ways, common manner and kindly empathy converted them. In his re-election, soldiers were his greatest supporters. Franklin Roosevelt was known to be self-involved in his early years, but his struggles with polio transformed him into a caring, compassionate leader. Working families and many people of color thought they had a friend in the White House. So attached did his followers become that when he gave a fireside chat on a summer evening, you could walk down the streets of Baltimore and hear every word as families sat in their living room by a radio. Historians generally agree that Washington, Lincoln and FDR were our greatest presidents. All three are remembered for their empathy and steadfastness in caring for the lives of average Americans. They continue to set the standard. In contemporary times, it is harder for any president to sustain deep ties with a majority of Americans. We are too sharply divided as a people, and the internet often brings out the worst in us. Even so, several of our recent presidents have found moments when they can unify us and make us feel that at the end of the day, we are indeed one people. In many cases, these moments have come to define their presidencies: Ask any American adult and they can generally remember one, two or even three occasions in which recent presidents connected with us emotionally, stirring our hearts. I remember with absolute clarity the Challenger disaster in 1986. One saw the plumes of the rising space craft against a bright blue sky -- and then that horrific explosion as it instantly disappeared. Ronald Reagan was one of the few presidents in our history who expressed our emotions so well in a moment of shock and mourning. For hour upon hour, the networks had replayed the explosion, and it seemed so meaningless. But then Reagan used his speech to replace that picture in our minds with a different one: the astronauts waving goodbye. They became our heroes, especially as Reagan (drawing upon speechwriter Peggy Noonan) closed with lines from a World War II poem: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God. " One thinks, too, of Bill Clinton traveling to Oklahoma City after the bombing there of a federal building in 1995. Clinton, like Reagan, was at his best when he captured tangled emotions and gave meaning to deaths of some of our finest citizens. He not only consoled families in private but moved the nation when he mourned them publicly. As I recall, that s when presidents were first called "Mourners in Chief" -- a phrase that has been applied repeatedly to presidents since. (Not coincidentally, Clinton s speech of mourning in Oklahoma City is widely credited with resurrecting his presidency, then in the doldrums.) One remembers, too, George W. Bush standing on the top of a crushed police car in the rubble of the World Trade Center bombing. When a first responder said he couldn t hear the President, Bush responded through his bullhorn: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." One also remembers Barack Obama flying again and again to speak at gravesites where young children or church parishioners were being buried, victims gunned down in a gun-obsessed nation. Thinking about the mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, one s mind returns to the image of the President of the United States leading a memorial service, singing "Amazing Grace." Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama -- two Republicans, two Democrats -- served as our "Mourners in Chief." All four bound us together for a few moments, and we remembered who we are and who we can be. Why has our current "Mourner in Chief" gone AWOL? God knows. But his flight from responsibility is yet another sadness among this week s tragic losses.
They don t want Donald Trump to change. They like him just as he is. There is no other credible explanation for the majority of white evangelical Christians apparently undying support for a president who has repeatedly shown them precisely who he is and has long been, with his indecency, bigotry, crudeness, serial untruthfulness and immorality. And yet, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a majority of white evangelical Christians believe that President Donald Trump has helped their interests. He fares even better on the issue of whether he fights for what they "believe in" -- 53% answered "very well"; 28% "fairly well." Consider, against this, that the President has tweeted six times this month about a decades-old conspiracy theory targeting MSNBC s Joe Scarborough. Trump has shown himself to be a man who would disrespect the memory of dead woman just to get back at a political opponent. That woman, Lori Klausutis, died while working as an intern in Scarborough s Florida office when he was a congressman. Trump has disgustingly suggested Scarborough -- who is a Trump critic -- had something to do with her death, a widely debunked theory. Klausutis death, according to the medical examiner, was the "result of an acute subdural hematoma which occurred as a result of a closed head trauma sustained in a simple fall." The autopsy report concluded that the fall happened because Klausutis had "a sudden cardiac arrhythmia from her undiagnosed floppy mitral valve disease." Some have laid the blame for allowing this beyond-the-pale behavior on Twitter and Jack Dorsey, its CEO and founder, but this is misguided. It makes little sense to believe that Dorsey or other heads of social media platforms can do anything significant to modify Trump s behavior -- or even that they should. Sen. Kamala Harris, for one, suggested a Twitter ban for Trump months ago. That suggestion has simmered since then and received more attention after Trump s recent tweets about Scarborough and Klausutis. Still, on Tuesday, Twitter began a kind of fact-check on a Trump tweet, for the first time, about a different issue -- voting -- adding a hyperlinked line at the bottom of two of the President s tweets that allows Twitter users to "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." I get why Twitter felt compelled to do this, but it won t fix the problem. Trump will continue being indecent because his base wants him to be. Fact-checks in other media haven t stopped him; neither will this one. Trump can t be forced by fact-check to become a decent human being. Facts he doesn t like enrage him. And he either ignores fact-checks or uses them to claim that they target conservatives, as he did quickly Tuesday after Twitter gently weighed in on his false voting claims. Indeed, the moment Trump became president -- in large part because a high percentage of white Evangelical Christian voters chose him -- was the moment it became the duty of the American public to help shape his behavior while in office. And the only real slice of the public that might effectively do this -- that has any real influence over Trump -- is white evangelical Christians. Kicking Trump off Twitter would not work, even if Dorsey took that route; it would open a political Pandora s box. While Trump is the most indecent political leader of the modern era -- by a mile -- other politicians have used social media platforms to traffic in ugly speech as well, including anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods about their opponents. Booting Trump would make it an imperative to do the same with other politicians who cross the line. Do we really want Twitter, in a hyperpartisan era such as this deciding which politician had crossed the decency or truthfulness line? I don t. I don t trust Trump, but neither do I trust a corporation s judgment to get it right and not succumb to political pressure. Let s recall, in any case, that Trump is president of the United States of America. Most of what he says and does in public is potentially newsworthy, for good and for ill. That s why deleting his indecent tweets is also a bad option. Social media platforms are essentially stuck with Trump in the way newspapers, news websites and network and cable news shows aren t. Those other media can decline to show him live -- or have the pause before printing -- that makes it possible to fact-check his every utterance and put them into context before broadcasting or publishing them. What s more, banning Trump could put less powerful Twitter users at potential risk. Part of Twitter s allure is that it has empowered the previously voiceless like never before, allowing them to start revolutions at a moment s notice. It s a sure bet that if a man as powerful as Trump can be banned, the most vulnerable among us will eventually pay a larger price in the months and years to come, as the powerful weaponize Twitter bans against them. Dorsey can t solve this problem, no matter how many times people demand he must. White evangelical Christians can. They are one of the primary reasons Trump was elected and now has the right to rule like a toddler. Evangelical voters hold in their hands any real chance he has of being reelected. If most white evangelical Christians wanted Trump to grow up, he d have to -- or be forced to relinquish power. Which returns us to a sticky problem: Many of them appear to not mind what Trump does. What he says doesn t appear to be a deal breaker for many of them. They call his offensive statements, cheap shots and low blows "counterpunching" and don t seem to mind it. It gives many evangelicals who support Trump goosebumps to see a Republican president "fight" the liberal media and "evil" Democrats the way Trump has. While the rest of us see indecency, this hefty slice of evangelicals see manliness and a leader ordained by the Almighty. According to the Pew survey, 69% of white evangelicals think that "honest" describes Trump very or fairly well, and 61% believe that "morally upstanding" describes the President very or fairly well. This, despite evidence that proves the opposite. That s why the heartbreaking letter Klausutis widower sent Twitter to urge the social media giant to delete Trump s tweets about his late wife will not likely move these evangelical supporters. They back Trump no matter what. Indeed, it seems obvious that Trump is more important to them than their claims of wanting to be Christ-like and believing in decency and the sanctity of life. At this point, it s silly to pretend otherwise -- to buy into the lie that they support him because he is pro-life, given that his administration has demonstrated time and again that it doesn t believe all life is equal -- or out of economic angst, given the Depression-like unemployment rate. If it were just about abortion, they could relax: He has already all but ensured that the Supreme Court will be conservative-leaning for another generation. Besides that, if he had been removed from office, a white evangelical Christian and fierce abortion opponent, Vice President Mike Pence, would have become president (based on the line of succession). Not even that convinced them to leave Trump. I know it s hard for many fair-minded people to accept this truth, because it sounds so dark. I know because I ve long tried to explain it away as well. I spent nearly two decades as a parishioner in a mostly white, Southern evangelical church. I didn t want to believe this about the people I ve broken bread with -- in their homes and in my own. We have cared for each other s children. I didn t want to believe this about so many of the people I ve prayed and cried with. But it s true. Every single time Trump has done or said something untoward and forced them to choose him or their principles, they ve chosen him. Because of that, we are stuck with Trump s indecency as long as he s president. Jack Dorsey can t do anything about that. No, Trump won t change. That s why every registered voter needs to understand that if he wins in November, Trump will feel even more emboldened in his behavior.
"He s a fool, an absolute fool," former Vice President Joe Biden said of President Donald Trump s refusal to wear a face mask. "Every doc in the world is saying you should wear a mask when you re in a crowd." Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, didn t raise his voice and smiled often. But he pulled no punches. "Presidents," he said, "are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine." It was Biden s first in-person interview since the pandemic forced him off the campaign trail two months ago, and CNN aired it moments after Trump gave another one of his bizarre, conspiracy-laden, self-aggrandizing presentations on the White House grounds. The two performances had much in common: both outdoors, on a beautiful late-spring day, both candidates campaigning, dressed the part. But the content, in case anyone forgot, was a reminder of how different the two men are. Trump s statements were his by-now-familiar blend of lies, boasts, misdirection and insults. He had gathered the media for an event touting a deal to lower insulin costs for seniors. "Insulin. So many people. So necessary," he said, straying from his prepared text with chopped sentence fragments and non-sensical musings. "I don t use insulin. Should I be? Huh? I never thought about it." Older voters are telling pollsters they prefer Biden, so that s no doubt why Trump declared, "we love our seniors," and claimed he will always protect medical coverage for pre-existing conditions even as his administration is in court trying to do away with Obamacare, the program that at long last expanded Americans access to health insurance. The President repeated his latest vile distraction: He again promoted the thoroughly unfounded claim that MSNBC s Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman who is fiercely critical of him, may have been involved in the death of an aide in his Florida office 19 years ago. The death of the woman, who had a heart condition, was ruled an accident. On the same day the widower of the woman pleaded for an end to the use of his dead wife s memory for political games, Trump unapologetically did it again, "Very suspicious," he said. It was another shameful performance; the kind Americans have been observing for more than three years. The kind that has put Biden ahead in the polls, which is possibly the reason Trump again claimed -- falsely -- that mail-in ballots would lead to large-scale fraud. Without mail-in ballots, millions of Americans afraid of possible infection at polling stations in the midst of a pandemic may not feel able to vote in November. Trump attacked the media, "Sleepy Joe," and gushed about what a great job he s done fighting the pandemic that on his watch has killed almost 100,000 Americans. It would have been many times worse, he bragged, if he hadn t done such a great job. But the President s approach to the pandemic is a chaotic mess of contradictions. After retweeting a post from a Fox News personality mocking Biden for wearing a face mask at a Memorial Day event, Trump this time disparaged a reporter who asked about it. Trump told the reporter to take off his mask for the follow up question. The reporter said he would keep it on and speak louder instead, "Okay, good," Trump sniffed, "you want to be politically correct." Doctors and federal guidelines urge Americans to wear masks; the President refuses to do it, and mocks those who do. Biden was asked if wearing a mask is a sign of weakness or strength. He said it s a sign of leadership. "A president s got to lead by example," he told CNN s Dana Bash. "This macho stuff is costing people s lives." Bash and Biden were sitting 12 feet apart. Bash said that they wore masks whenever they got any closer than that. Biden punched hard at Trump, but the former vice president also did a credible job of acknowledging his mistakes. After an interview in which he joked that African-American voters who don t support him aren t really black, Biden again apologized, saying there s nothing wrong with admitting a mistake, especially if he s hurt someone. "If I say something offensive, I should apologize. Biden s brand is decency. But Americans want more than that, especially now. They want a leader who will take them safely out of the current calamity. We need to reopen the economy smartly, he said, we cannot separate economic well-being from health. "There are ways to reopen rationally," to "put people in a position where they don t have to risk their lives to make a living." Biden managed to come across as simultaneously strong and polite. If Trump watched the interview, you can bet he hated it. All those references to his phony masculinity, to his lies, to his foolishness, hit the mark. Let s see how Trump vents on Twitter. Biden was smiling, but he raised the temperature in the race. Voters who watched both events saw the contrast, almost side by side. If you liked one of them, you couldn t possibly like the other.
Jorge Garcia Curbelo and Danilo Ochoa Jomarrón always imagined coming to the United States to get married and live happily ever after as an openly gay couple. They never imagined that they would be separated at the border -- or worse yet, unable to see one another for more than a year as a deadly pandemic raged across the globe. "We had a beautiful relationship in Cuba, but we were always afraid of being caught by the police and had to be cautious because of the government," Curbelo told me when sharing some of the reasons that pushed them to leave their country. While homosexuality is technically legal in Cuba, there is still a pervading sense of homophobia and discrimination against LGBT individuals, particularly outside of major cities. Jomarrón even says that he lost his job as an art teacher due to being "unfit" to work in a school -- a remnant of the Fidel Castro era that forbade homosexuals from working in the education sector but that was supposedly scrapped when laws came into force prohibiting this kind of workplace discrimination. "We wanted to have a life that we couldn t have in Cuba, where we could get married and live freely," Curbelo continued. But when Curbelo and Jomarrón arrived at the US-Mexico border a little more than one year ago in hopes of escaping this kind of persecution, US Border Patrol officers split them up, sending Curbelo to an immigration detention facility in Pennsylvania and Jomarrón to one in Georgia. It was a far cry from the freedom that they had bargained for -- and the beginning of a very long separation. "We told them that we re a couple," Curbelo continued, recalling the moment that they were separated. However, as with other LGBT couples before them, this did little to convince the border officers that they should be able to stay together. Americans across the country are now working to lift the so-called lockdown, a bid for freedom from restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. But if they truly believe in freedom for all, they should turn their attention to the refugees and asylum-seekers, like Curbelo and Jomarrón, who are sent to immigration detention facilities and spend their lives under lockdown for far too long. Over the past two months, most Americans have gotten a small taste of what it feels like to be unable to see their loved ones, part of a "new normal" that has replaced visits with video calls, as the country struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. But for anyone navigating the rules of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, many aspects of this "new normal" have been a part of life since long before the pandemic. US citizens and legal residents can only visit detained loved ones during certain visitation hours, and in some facilities only through plexiglass or over video -- even if they were in the same room. It isn t "social distancing." It is just the rules. Since the coronavirus crisis began, ICE has suspended all social visitations. For refugees and asylum-seekers, trying to keep track of a loved one in the system can be even more challenging. Often, they are separated with no way to contact another detainee for months at a time. For many, it is a price they are willing to pay for the hope of someday getting to be together. However, this hope seems further and further away as the Covid-19 pandemic rages both outside and inside detention facilities, making many couples wonder what will happen if one of them gets sick and is deported -- or dies -- before they have a chance to say goodbye. Separation, before and after Covid-19 "We would call my family members to learn about each other," Curbelo continues, explaining how he and Jomarrón got news about each other while they were both in detention. "We could call people on the outside, but not other detainees," he explains, describing how guards limited his and Jomarrón s ability to communicate. "They wouldn t allow three-way calls, either." A few months later, Curbelo won his asylum case. However, when Jomarrón presented the same evidence -- both of their asylum claims were largely based on their relationship, after all -- he was denied. It is an example of the vast difference in asylum success rates from one state to another. "Jorge s case was so strong, that he was able to get asylum, even pro se," said Tahirih Justice Center supervising staff attorney Shelly Anand, referring to the fact that Curbelo, like many asylum-seekers, didn t have legal representation. Since Jomarrón s asylum was refused, the Tahirih Justice Center has stepped in to provide pro-bono legal support. "His case is parallel to our client (Jomarrón) -- so this says a lot about the jurisdiction that we re working in," she continued, referring to the low success rates in Georgia. According to Syracuse University s TRAC Immigration project, 33% of asylum-seekers in Pennsylvania were granted asylum in 2019. In Georgia, this dropped to only 5%. For the young couple, it was a nightmare. "It is a terrible feeling," said Curbelo. "I got asylum and he didn t, all because of the opinion of one judge." As soon as he could, Curbelo traveled to Georgia to visit Jomarrón and get married -- even though a wedding in an ICE detention facility was not the wedding that either of them had imagined for themselves. But if it would help them be able to reunite -- and perhaps have a real wedding someday -- it was worth it. "I don t remember it that well, honestly," he says, describing the anticlimactic experience of getting married in the detention center. "The county judge refused to do the wedding," he continued. "No one from ICE was interested in the ceremony, so it was just the lawyers, a notary, him and me." It was the first time that Curbelo and Jomarrón had been able to see each other since coming to the United States. Curbelo had to go back to Missouri, where he is staying with family members and had just gotten a job working in a factory. He had no vacation days and needed the money. Then, the pandemic struck. No one was wearing protection It immediately became clear to Curbelo how easily Jomarrón could catch the deadly disease. "No one was wearing protection," Jomarrón said, recounting what it was like to be in a detention facility as the Covid-19 raged both on. "No one had masks, or gloves or anything," Jomarrón continued, speaking to his experiences. According to the ICE website, all facilities are using personal protective equipment (PPE) in line with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention s guidelines. However, this doesn t match testimonies similar to Jomarrón s that detention centers across the country are also not requiring guards or detainees to wear masks, and generally make social distancing impossible. "The conditions in detention centers were terrible before the coronavirus," Anand elaborated, speaking to how ICE s overcrowding problem has only fueled the spread of the pandemic. "Now, they re even worse." Last week, Jomarrón was released. The Tahirih Justice Center was able to argue that his preexisting medical conditions made him more vulnerable to Covid-19, which made him eligible for humanitarian parole. He is one of more than 900 low-risk detainees that ICE has released in response to overcrowding concerns in light of the pandemic. Still, this has done little to contain the pandemic for the thousands who remain detained. As of last week, according to ICE, more than 1,200 ICE detainees have tested positive for the virus. "It is impossible to stay healthy in these conditions," Curbelo said, speaking to his own experience spending three months in ICE detention before the pandemic. "I was afraid of him getting sick; he was afraid of me getting sick," he continued, describing what it is like to not only be separated by the US immigration system, but then separated by the system amidst a pandemic. "He was afraid we might never see each other again." The Trump Factor Now, Curbelo and Jomarrón are finally able to reunite for the first time since they got married, though their future together still depends on Jomarrón winning his asylum case. However, with new regulations from the pandemic, hopeful asylum-seekers like them might not even be able to make it across the border. As President Donald Trump extends border closures and travel restrictions to contain the pandemic, the US asylum system has ground to a halt. Meanwhile, US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency is facing a significant funding shortfall, largely because it isn t processing any paperwork and has lost income from the application fees. And, so far, the government has not offered to bail it out. Some have remarked that the Covid-19 pandemic provides the perfect scapegoat for the Trump administration to complete its full-scale assault on the US asylum system, including but not limited to the "zero tolerance" policy that once separated young children from their parents at the border and the so-called "remain in Mexico" policy that currently forces asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico until their cases are heard. However, Covid-19 has not put an end to the violence, war and persecution that is pushing people like Curbelo and Jomarrón to come to the United States in the first place. "You still have thousands of people waiting to access the process," said Al Otro Lado refugee program director Nicole Ramos, describing one effect of the pandemic on the Mexican side of the border. According to Ramos, many of the asylum-seekers who have been waiting for their court date for months under the Trump administration s "remain in Mexico" policy are now being told that processing has completely stopped. The Department of Homeland Security says hearings have been suspended through June 8. Many have nowhere else to go and are now living in growing tent cities along the border -- which, like other refugee camps, make the spread of the virus almost inevitable. "It is prime for the spread of the pandemic," Ramos continued. "Now, there is a health crisis within a health crisis because of this attempt to destroy the asylum process." It is only a matter of time before the Covid-19 lockdown is fully lifted. But if left unchecked, the lockdown on refugees and asylum-seekers will extinguish the hope of those who immigrate to the United States to live a life in freedom for years to come.
President Donald Trump s effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election is in full swing. In the past week, he has wrongly called lawful vote-by-mail programs in Michigan and Nevada "voter fraud," "illegal," and "cheat[ing]," threatening to withhold federal funds if those states carry out their existing, lawful balloting processes. On Sunday, he tweeted that mail-in vote proponents were "trying to use Covid for this scam." In reality, the President has virtually no legal power to determine how states cast their ballots. But Trump s effort here seems to be less about exercising actual legal imperatives than signaling to others his desire to fight hard to limit access to mail-in ballots -- a particularly critical issue given widespread concerns about public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, we are about to see a series of legal battles across the country that will determine whether millions of people can vote by mail, and the outcome of those cases could swing the 2020 election. Trump s threats to unilaterally withhold federal funding ring hollow -- and I m confident he won t even try, despite the bluster, because any such effort is destined to backfire in the courts. Under the Constitution s Spending Clause, Congress -- not the President -- holds the power to distribute federal funds to states and to condition those funds on certain terms; a President s decision to withhold funding approved by Congress likely is an illegal "impoundment." Further, the vast majority of federal election funds for 2020 already have been distributed or allocated by Congress to the states, and any conditions on federal funding must be imposed before such funds are disbursed. So what s the goal, then? On a thematic level, Trump s public statements appear designed to undermine confidence in the election and its outcome. And on a practical level, Trump is sending unmistakable marching orders to his political supporters: fight like mad to limit mail-in balloting. Here s what those legal battles will look like. About one-third of all states allow voting by mail, but only if the voter shows specific "cause" or need, such as disability, absentee status or religious observance. (Other states either vote entirely by mail or allow "no-excuse" absentee voting, meaning voters do not need to provide any reason to vote by mail). The big question in those "cause" states is whether voters who fear exposure to the coronavirus by physically going to polling places can qualify to vote by mail. This exact question came to a legal head recently in Texas. A federal district court judge ruled that Texas voters who fear catching the coronavirus can vote by mail under the state s law permitting mail-in voting based on disability or physical condition. The Texas attorney general, a Republican, had argued against such an expansion of voting access, claiming that it could lead to voter fraud -- a claim (often made by Trump, including in last week s tweets) not supported by any meaningful evidence. The Texas AG did not accept defeat, instead appealing to the federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a famously politically conservative bench. The Court of Appeals promptly halted the district court s order, and now will consider whether to decide the appeal on its merits. The legal battle over mail-in ballots in Texas promises to be just one front in a broader legal campaign. Both political parties reportedly have invested tens of millions of dollars in upcoming legal battles over electoral access across the country; the Republican National Committee alone has allocated $20 million to fight lawsuits seeking broader electoral access. This expenditure might ultimately backfire on Republicans, however. There is no conclusive proof that vote-by-mail favors Democrats. Some data shows that Republicans are more likely to vote by mail than Democrats and several prominent Republican officials favor mail-in balloting. Despite Trump s bluster, he simply has no meaningful legal power here. But he certainly can rally the troops to fight legal battles in states across the country to limit mail-in voting. The outcome of these cases will determine whether millions of voters can safely cast their ballots from home -- or must choose between risking exposure to the coronavirus at polling places or not voting at all. Now, your questions: Kirk (Michigan): Could the US Department of Justice bring federal charges in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery? Yes, the DOJ could bring its own criminal charges in the Arbery case, even though Georgia prosecutors already have filed state-level murder charges against three defendants. The Supreme Court last year unanimously upheld the "separate sovereigns" doctrine -- meaning that the federal government is separate from state government, so both can bring criminal charges for the same matter. There is a federal hate crime statute, which was passed in 1968, during the Civil Rights Movement. The law carries a potential life sentence. Prosecutors would need to prove that a defendant committed an unjustified killing "because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person." The Justice Department has said it is "assessing all of the evidence in the case," so we should see a decision sometime soon. Manoj (Pennsylvania): Wouldn t Michael Flynn, or any person, have to be sentenced before he can be pardoned? No. Article II of the Constitution gives the President the "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States," without any explicit time limitation. Accordingly, Presidents can issue pardons at any point during -- or even before or after -- formal legal proceedings. For example, President Gerald Ford famously (or infamously) pardoned former President Richard Nixon shortly after Nixon s resignation in 1974. At that point, Nixon had not yet been charged with any crime. On the other side of the spectrum, presidents can pardon people who already have completed their sentences. For example, President Barack Obama pardoned dozens of drug offenders and other low-level offenders who had long since finished serving their sentences. Most recently, President Donald Trump pardoned former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Wall Street junk bond trader Michael Milken years after both finished serving their sentences. Presidents even have, on occasion, issued posthumous pardons, including Trump s 2018 pardon of the boxer Jack Johnson. Nancy (Arkansas): If the Justice Department does nothing to investigate the firing of inspectors general, is there anything the Senate and House can do? There is no legal mechanism by which Congress can undo Trump s recent firings of various IGs. Congress can, however, investigate them by issuing subpoenas and holding public hearings. Members of Congress from both parties have expressed concerns over the recent firing of State Department IG Steve Linick, and congressional Democrats have announced the opening of an investigation. A congressional investigation can bring public attention to the matter and can result in anything from impeachment (which is extraordinarily unlikely at the moment, given the recent impeachment and impending election) to new legislation. And if Congress uncovers new facts, those new facts could spur the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation -- under this administration or potentially a new one if the White House changes hands in 2021.
The coronavirus lockdown is not over and it s highly probable a second wave of the pandemic will follow. How will the world react to the extention of a lockdown which has proven more devastating on the people and the economies than the pandemic itself? The world has dealt with the crisis in an unavailing manner. The lockdown has proven that the countries have reached a level of negativity that made COVID-19 the dominant actor. I admit I don t understand the reason behind the world s surrender to the pandemic. Other diseases that have swept the world before, from the plague to the Spanish flu, which killed millions, and bird flu and swine flu only a decade ago, were treated and prevented from spreading. So why this exaggerated fear from the coronavirus when the world has reached unprecedented levels of progress? Is it a state of uncertainty and fear of the expected period for controlling the virus? Is it the social media, which amplifies everything around us and is at the very basis of spreading lies and fabrications? Why is everyone, from rich to poor, professionals to laymen, doomed in the presence of COVID-19, believing that it will turn the world upside down? Will a fundamental change truly take place in the wake of the crisis we are living in, which we have been unable to date to distinguish between the extent of its reality and the extent of its fabrication? Speculations and questions surround us, leaving us confused, baffled and unable to find valid and satisfactory answers. There is a lot of misperception about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on globalisation. Is the pandemic boosting globalisation, or is there no relationship between the two? Many writers established a link between the virus and globalisation, which developing countries not long ago described as a calamity for their economies and peoples. This was in the 1980s, when the World Trade Organisation was born after more than eight years of negotiations. Today, we find developing countries more adhering to and believing in globalisation, recognising its advantages for their economies more than developed countries. Others, including George Soros, the outspoken American-Hungarian billionaire, said one thing is certain about the post-pandemic world: there is no return to globalisation. Otherwise, everything is possible: from the United States conceding its leadership, to fighting back the Chinese giant, questioning the future of the EU, the revival of the Cold War and the emergence of a new movement along the lines of the Non-Aligned Movement, a global recession and a threat to our civilisation. The narrative of deglobalisation suits also major transnationals, which were the first to call on countries in the past to embrace globalisation. They abandoned globalisation out of the fear of risking the gains of their boards and directors, if they remain attached to countries, whose economies may collapse in the wake of the pandemic. Many would want to believe that we are facing a new approach characterised by greater patriotism and self-reliance, and the return of states to national production chains. Such speculation is closer to fiction than reality, as it is inconceivable that the transcontinental giants will cease their octopus-like moves and continuing manipulation of states. Companies that have unjustly exploited countries for hundreds of years will not give up seizing natural resources at low prices or through low-wage labour. The prevailing expectations are business as usual. There will be no deglobalisation. Those who promote a new balance that is fairer and more equitable, or find more introverted solutions to spare their countries and peoples the effects of the pandemic, are but deluding themselves. The pandemic will not lead us to the perfect world. There may be new consensus and alterations behind the power game. Industrial focal points may move from China to Mexico or to other emerging countries because of the desire to suppress China. However, the pandemic will not change anything in our world, there will be no retreat from excessive globalisation, and there will be no endeavours to establish a more just and equitable response to the South. On the contrary, Northern economies will seek excuses for not being able to help. What may change, however, is the form of cooperation at the national level between governments and the private sectors, as each on its own cannot bear the repercussions of the pandemic. The pandemic may also have effects on emerging economies, such as Egypt’s, and stimulate them to rely more on a competitive productive economy rather than on rents that rely predominantly on inflows of financial resources, such as remittances from workers abroad andtourism, which lose their advantage in the post-pandemic period. Nonetheless, states must be certain that the next crisis will result from the waves of human migration from countries whose economies collapsed to those that overcame the virus in Europe, or elsewhere, though their economies remain fragile. It will be the next bomb to which there is no vaccine. States will not be able to tame it and will find it difficult to accept, and inhumane to reject. Now that we are coexisting with the virus, one may ponder whether the reason behind this crisis is real or intentional, which in effect does not matter much today. Whatever the conviction, we should avoid underestimating the consequences, as hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. Our questions, however, remain open and unanswered. Has the crisis been a weapon China raised against the US to force it to alleviate the fierce trade war against it? Alternatively, should one accuse the US of making the crisis a pretext to prove the righteousness of the "America First" strategy and putting the blame on China? Or, is the reason behind the increasing power struggle in the European Union the imbalance caused by BREXIT and the subsequent disintegration of the German-French league? Or should we believe what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently stated that the coronavirus is not man-made? Is such a statement made in anger against President Donald Trump, who defamed the WHO president or because of the organisation s loyalty to China? Whatever the reasons behind the crisis and its increased politicisation, only history will reveal the truth.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has surged into the headlines atop a geyser of revelations so dramatic that they may even help President Donald Trump distract the public from his disastrous pandemic response. Ironically, Pompeo s scandal was propelled by the efforts of the secretary himself -- and his boss -- to keep it quiet. Their decision to get rid of the man charged with investigating any signs of malfeasance at the State Department has only drawn a spotlight, and the closer we look, the more disturbing Pompeo s actions appear. Investigations by a number of news organizations allege a pattern familiar in the Trump administration: possible abuse of power for personal gain; disdain and circumvention of accepted procedures, and a propensity to treat a government position as a personal fiefdom with little regard for both the taxpayers money and common decency. In short, it looks like Pompeo brought the swamp to Foggy Bottom. On Wednesday, Pompeo ridiculed what he called "crazy" stories about him, with a satirical summary mocking the reports: "someone was walking my dog to sell arms to dry cleaners," he gibed. The news reports are not so laughable. For starters NBC News provided detailed evidence of about two dozen luxurious dinners held by Pompeo and his wife Susan at the State Department s Diplomatic Reception Rooms, all paid for by taxpayers, with guest lists made up more of Republican donors and activists than foreign diplomats and policy experts. (Some 39% of the nearly 500 invitees were from Fox News, NBC reported.) But that s only part of the unfolding narrative. It became apparent late last Friday that something worth hiding was brewing under Pompeo, when Trump announced his intention to fire the State Department s Inspector General, Steve Linick. Inspectors general are Senate-confirmed government officials charged with auditing and investigating potential instances of fraud and abuse in the government. For that reason, they have come under relentless attack from a president who stands at the center of so many corruption scandals you need a spreadsheet to keep track, paying tens of millions to settle accusations of fraud at his Trump University and found in violation of charity rules at his Trump Foundation (he denies wrongdoing in both cases), to name just a couple in an endless stream. Linick s was the third late-night inspector general firing in six weeks, a slow-rolling Friday night massacre. Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday that he asked Trump to fire Linick, but offered scant explanation for the reason, other than that it should have happened sooner. He called claims that the firing was retribution for probes into his activities "patently false." The law requires the President to give 30 days notice on IG dismissals, so the announcement shot the starting gun on Congressional investigations into Linick s firing. Moments after the announcement, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel -- chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs -- dropped the first bombshell, revealing that Linick was investigating Pompeo. Engel, with Sen. Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened a probe into the ouster, decrying "the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President s gutting of these critical positions." Later, NBC reported that Linick was investigating Pompeo s use of a State Department political appointee to conduct personal errands, such as walking his dog and picking up his laundry. Within hours, the accusations grew more disturbing. Engel told CNN of another possible reason for Linick s firing. The inspector general, it turns out, was investigating the declaration of an "emergency" that Pompeo had cited one year ago as reason for bypassing the requirement that Congress approve an $8 billion sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Engel, who called the declaration "phony," said Linick was conducting an investigation of it at his office s request. The New York Times reported that Pompeo had already answered written questions into that probe. But now there s more. The NBC investigation identified the dog-walking staffer, whose name appeared in the emails NBC reviewed in connection with the so-called Madison Dinners. The staffer was the principal liaison between Pompeo s office and the protocol office that organized the dinners. "Two administration officials told NBC News that Linick made some type of inquiry to the protocol office last week, before he was fired," NBC reported. "One of the officials said Pompeo s office was then notified." Was Linick also investigating Pompeo s dinners? That remains unclear. Even if he was not, Americans will find the details fascinating and more than a little disturbing. The events, with their own logo embossed on State Department invitations, brought hundreds of people to the center of US diplomacy more than 20 times since Pompeo became Secretary of State. Trump's dangerous assault on government watchdogs Trump s dangerous assault on government watchdogs Pompeo s spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, told NBC that the dinners were an "opportunity to discuss the mission of the State Department and the complex foreign policy matters facing our exceptional nation." But the guest list more closely suggests an opportunity to further a political career within the Republican establishment. The majority came from the corporate world and conservative media and entertainment, along with Republican -- only Republican -- members of Congress. Among those wined and dined -- and sent home with custom-embossed party gifts -- were Fox News Laura Ingraham, Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of a prominent anti-abortion lobbying group, Bill Miller, head of a leading casino lobbying group, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy, a leading conservative donor, and others, in a detailed mailing list reviewed by NBC. Sources told NBC that the State Department collected information about each guest, and that information was all forwarded to the private Gmail account of Susan Pompeo, the Secretary of State s wife. Whatever reason she had for receiving the data, it amounts to a treasure trove, should the Secretary of State decide to run for a Kansas Senate seat -- or for President. If that is the purpose of the dinners and the emailing, it is a violation of the Hatch Act, which bans most federal employees from using their position for partisan political activities. You may recall, by the way, the time a Trump-appointed federal watchdog, loyal conservative Henry Kerner, advised the President to fire adviser Kellyanne Conway for violating the Hatch Act. For his trouble he was smeared by Congressional Republicans at a hearing on the matter. ("Let me know when the jail sentence starts," Conway cracked to a reporter. Trump called Kerner s assessment flawed, said "it seems to me very unfair," and that he had no intention of firing Conway.) One of the most distinctive and harmful traits of the Trump administration is its disdain for ethics and integrity in government. But another, is its pattern of leaving political appointees stained, their reputation in tatters, a prospect that should worry Pompeo.
Developments are accelerating as July approaches with the looming prospect of Ethiopia acting on its threat to start filling its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Last week Ethiopia replied in a manner consistent with the mode the Ethiopian government has followed for years to the memorandum that Egypt had submitted to the UN Security Council on 1 May. Addis Ababa continues to insist on its right to act unilaterally and remains indifferent to legitimate Egyptian and Sudanese concerns regarding the dam s engineering specifications, environmental and economic impacts, and the safety precautions that need to be put into place to avert catastrophe for downstream nations at some point in the future. The Egyptian memorandum to the 15-member Security Council, elevating its cause to a higher international level, expresses Egypt s frustration with Ethiopia s persistent refusal to conclude an agreement with Egypt and Sudan after US-mediated negotiations in Washington broke down earlier this year. The UN must intervene constructively in this crisis that threatens the lives and wellbeing of the Sudanese and Egyptian people. Surely, the international organisation cannot sit on the sidelines and watch as Addis Ababa flouts international law and violates agreements that have been in operation for decades on the flimsy excuse that they were “concluded in the colonial era”. The Ethiopian strategy to counter Egyptian-Sudanese coordination over this existential question for Egypt is inspired by an urge to assert complete and sole control over the Blue Nile, the source of most of the water that reaches Egypt. The nature of this strategy is evidenced by Addis Ababa s refusal to apply one of the most important principles of the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses: the need for a country planning to utilise a transboundary watercourse to notify others sharing this watercourse of its plans in advance. In the event that the other countries believe the plan could cause them harm, the law requires the concerned parties to conclude a mutually acceptable agreement. In 2011 Ethiopia laid the cornerstone of its GERD project and then kept to itself all the details concerning the engineering specifications, reservoir capacity and safety standards. Once information on the envisaged dam began to leak, it emerged that the project would be much larger than Ethiopia had led others to believe. It turned out that GERD would be high enough to create a 74 billion m3 reservoir, or five times the 14 billion m3 capacity that had been approved in all previous European and US studies. Then, in the findings of the first international technical committee that was formed to study the specifications and potential impacts of the dam, it turned out that the electricity generating capacity factor of the planned hydropower plant was less than 30 per cent. Addis Ababa had billed GERD as the powerhouse of East Africa, capable of generating more than 6,000 megawatts. In fact, according to the scientists, production could not exceed 2,000 MW, which led many to ask what Addis Ababa s real motives were for building a dam of such an oversized scale. The answer to this question is obvious. The dam is a means to control how much water flows to downstream countries under the pretext of the sovereign right to use domestic natural resources as Addis Ababa sees fit. It does not take international law experts to understand the antiquated and misleading nature of the Ethiopian argument. The Blue Nile is not a “domestic” resource but an international one shared by other countries along the same watercourse. These countries have rights upheld by international law, not least of which is the right to ensure that hydraulic projects planned by other countries will not cause them significant harm. This is why international law requires not just engineering studies at the envisioned construction site but also studies on the potential hydraulic, economic, social and environmental impacts on other countries in the same river basin. On the basis of such studies, appropriate measures can be taken in advance to safeguard the rights of all parties and mechanisms can be put in place to determine responsibility and exact compensation in the event harm of some sort does occur. This is why the UN Watercourses Convention underscores the principles of prior notification and mutual agreement that Ethiopia has been so stubbornly blind to as though determined to live by the law of the jungle, heedless of the needs of others. To round out its strategy, Ethiopia has persisted in its practices of deception and misinformation, and procrastination and evasiveness. For example, when faced with criticism of their unilateral actions, Ethiopian leaders protest, “we won t reduce the amount of water to Egypt by a single drop!” That is for public consumption. Behind the scenes, in the negotiating chambers and elsewhere, they adopt a different style altogether as they haggle over just how much water they can divert and in how short a time. Then they drag out negotiations across endless rounds and stretch out the intervals between one round and the next in order to buy time until they present Egypt and Sudan with the next provocation or fait accompli. It is because of such practices that the international community as embodied in the UN and the Security Council must step in quickly to resolve this crisis before it spirals out of control. Egypt will not gamble with the lives of the Egyptian people.
Did al Qaeda strike a blow to the United States at the end of last year? FBI Director Christopher Wray told a press conference on Monday that Mohammed Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who killed three US sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station last December, was a terrorist associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, an al Qaeda affiliate based in Yemen. This means that the FBI may have determined that, unlike other recent acts of terrorism perpetrated by self-radicalized domestic terrorists, the Pensacola attack may be the first time since 9/11 that a foreign terrorist organization was able to strike successfully in the United States. (Though, as CNN noted, the officials "stopped short of saying that Alshamrani had been directed by the terror group.") It is also a reminder that the Trump administration s travel ban, which primarily targets Muslim-majority countries, is likely not the shield the president says it is. Saudi citizens like Alshamrani are not subject to the ban and the Trump administration continues to enjoy warm relations with the Saudi royal family. AQAP had claimed responsibility for the Pensacola attack in February, but such boasts are not always genuine. Wray said evidence gathered from Alshamrani s two iPhones showed that he had been coordinating "planning and tactics" with AQAP. Wray and Attorney General William Barr, who also spoke at Monday s press conference, had harsh words for Apple, which manufactured Alshamrani s phones, saying that the company had not helped to unlock them. Barr said it was only the FBI s own computer experts who were able to find the encrypted information that tied Alshamrani to AQAP. Apple said in January that it had already helped the FBI by giving it access to the data from Alshamrani two phones that was stored in cloud storage, but that it was unable to help with the encryption on the devices that was essential to protect its customers from hackers and criminals. No doubt Alshamrani s case will be cited often in the future by the FBI and Department of Justice to argue that they need to be able to break into encrypted phones when they have a lawful search warrant, as they did in Alshamrani s case. And Apple will continue to assert that the encryption they place on the phone is a necessary part of their business model to assure their consumers that their data is safe and that installing any kind of "back door" on their phones could be exploited by all sorts of bad actors. In a 2016 letter to customers, Apple said that the issue was so important that even Apple can t unlock its own phones saying, "We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business." The letter from Apple was issued after the FBI said Apple had to bypass the encryption on one of their iPhones after two ISIS-inspired terrorists killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. Despite a court order, Apple refused to hack into the terrorists phone, and eventually the FBI found a technical solution on its own. Aside from highlighting the ineffectualness of the administration s travel ban, the Pensacola attack is also a reminder that although al Qaeda and its affiliates have been greatly damaged by US drone strikes and other counterterrorism measures, they still remain focused on attacking American targets and very occasionally they may succeed.
When President Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick late Friday night, he continued an audacious campaign to exact revenge on the very people centrally charged with ensuring government accountability. It was yet another Friday night massacre, aimed at punishing government watchdogs and distracting from their recent findings of potential waste, fraud, and abuse by the Trump administration. And the firing of Linick might have been something even more pernicious: criminal obstruction of justice. Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican (Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa) alike have declared that they will demand more answers than the administration has given so far. That s important -- but it s also not enough. The Justice Department must get off the sidelines and do its job, regardless of whose political interests might be damaged. One federal obstruction of justice statute criminalizes efforts to "influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law," including proceedings within any federal department or agency. So if, for example, a person intentionally misleads investigators on a specific question, or hides a certain piece of evidence, or tries to get a witness to lie on a particular point, then the statute applies. Logically (and legally), if it s obstruction to tinker with one piece of an agency investigation, then it s certainly obstruction to demolish the whole thing. Linick s firing comes after he reportedly had begun an investigation of possible wrongdoing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, specifically focused on alleged improper use of a State Department employee to perform personal tasks for Pompeo and his wife. Details are sparse: Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel revealed the investigation in his statement denouncing the firing, but did not provide any further information. Requests for comment from the State Department regarding the investigation revealed by Engel were not returned Friday evening and Sarah Breen, the State Department s Office of Inspector General director of communications, told CNN in an email, "We cannot confirm or deny the existence of any specific investigation." But if the allegation is true, such abuse could itself be a crime under a federal law prohibiting theft or conversion (wrongful taking) of any thing of value of a federal agency. Just as it would be a crime (for example) to steal an official State Department vehicle, it also is a crime to use a salaried State Department official to conduct unauthorized personal errands while on the federal clock. To put a rough hypothetical monetary value on it, using a State Department employee who makes an $80,000 salary to spend one day per week doing unauthorized personal errands is akin to stealing $16,000 per year from the federal government. The Justice Department has no excuse to do nothing here. Potential federal crimes -- obstruction of justice and theft of government property alike -- jump off the page. IGs cannot bring criminal charges on their own but they can and do refer cases to the Justice Department for potential prosecution -- so frequently that the Justice Department s manual has a whole section on how to handle such referrals. Although longstanding Justice Department policy counsels against indicting a sitting president, the inquiry into the action against Linick shouldn t end there. Anybody who urged or counseled Trump to fire Linick could face exposure for obstruction, if they acted with intent to scuttle the investigation of Pompeo. The questions, then, are whether someone indeed made a request to fire Linick, and why Trump wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he no longer had the fullest confidence in the IG? But I have no faith that the Justice Department will do its job. Attorney General William Barr already has made clear that he is about politics -- specifically guarding the flank of Trump and his top officials -- before prosecution. And, while senators from both parties quickly raised a clamor and called for accountability after Linick s firing, the Justice Department has given zero indication of any interest, never mind action. Such strategic passivity would merely continue a disturbing trend under Barr s leadership. First the Justice Department inexcusably sat out the entire Ukraine investigation that led to Trump s impeachment, never so much as raising an initial inquiry over potential crimes (by Trump and others) including bribery, extortion, and solicitation of foreign election interference. Continued inaction by the Justice Department now, as Trump serially dispatches IGs and cripples any effort to hold his administration accountable, would be as unsurprising as it is destructive. Once again, the Justice Department has neon flashing signs of corruption laid out before it. We ll see if Barr does anything about it. I m not holding my breath. Now, your questions: Matthew (North Carolina): Does the fact that the FBI got a search warrant for Senator Burr s property mean he is likely to be charged with a crime? Not necessarily, but overall the news -- the Los Angeles Times reported that federal agents executed a search warrant on Burr s home and obtained his cellphone and other property -- is not good for Burr, who sold up to $1.7 million in stock in February after he received closed-door Senate briefings about the coronavirus shortly before the market spiraled downward. (Burr has denied any wrongdoing -- saying he made the trades based solely on public information, not information he received from the committee -- and he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the sales after they were made public.) To get a search warrant, a prosecutor must demonstrate (and a federal judge must agree) that there is probable cause to believe that 1) a crime was committed and 2) there will be evidence of those crimes in the location to be searched. Probable cause is not a particularly high burden of proof -- it is lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard necessary to convict a defendant at trial -- but it requires a prosecutor to articulate with specificity, and backed by evidence, why it is likely that a crime was committed. In many but not all cases I handled as a prosecutor, a search warrant would be followed by a criminal charge and arrest. Usually, once a prosecutor has enough proof to establish probable cause, it is not a far leap to get to a criminal charge. But there also were instances where I would obtain a search warrant and the proof would come up shy of what was necessary and appropriate for a charge. Bottom line: the search warrant indicates that it is a very realistic possibility, though far from certain, that Burr will be charged. (Burr has denied any wrongdoing, saying he made the trades based solely on public information and has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the sales after they were made public.) Sam (Iowa): Should Supreme Court Justices that were appointed by President Trump recuse themselves from ruling on cases that directly involve him? The two Trump-appointed Justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, certainly can choose to recuse themselves from any case directly involving the President, but no law or precedent requires them do so. Supreme Court justices -- unlike all other federal judges -- are not subject to a specific code of ethics, so they can do whatever they choose in cases presenting potential conflicts of interest. But generally, justices need not recuse from a case merely because it involves the same President who nominated him or her. The 1974 United States v. Richard Nixon case provides historical precedent. The Court ruled 8-0 against Nixon, requiring him to turn over the White House tapes (Nixon resigned weeks later). Three of the Justices on the case were appointed by Nixon: Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell. A fourth Nixon-appointed Justice, William Rehnquist, did recuse himself -- not because he had been appointed by Nixon but because he had worked in the Nixon administration s Justice Department. And in the 1997 Clinton v. Jones case, the Court ruled unanimously against President Bill Clinton, allowing Paula Jones s civil lawsuit against him to proceed. Both Clinton-nominated Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, stayed on the case (and ruled against Clinton). William (California): Given the current coronavirus pandemic, has the Trump administration changed its legal position seeking to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act? The Trump administration considered but decided against modifying its position. The Supreme Court has granted "certiorari" -- meaning it has decided to review -- a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called "Obamacare") in its next term, which starts in October 2020. We almost certainly will not get a final ruling from the Court before the presidential election on November 3, 2020, but the case could become a key part of the political landscape during the campaign. The Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012 and again in 2015. The Court relied on the individual mandate, which imposes a financial penalty for people who do not carry insurance, as a lawful exercise of the government s taxation power. After Congress in 2017 changed the penalty to zero, however, Texas and a group of other Republican-led states challenged the ACA again. The Trump administration joined the lawsuit, seeking to strike down the entire ACA. But Barr reportedly urged Trump to modify his position -- seeking to strike down only the individual mandate but not the entire ACA -- in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Trump, however, rejected that advice, and the administration has stuck to its position that not only the individual mandate but the entire ACA is unconstitutional and should be invalidated.
Water storage dams that provide water to satisfy the different uses such as agriculture, industry, drinking, tourism, etc. are usually designed based on three main capacities. The first is the dead storageallocated for trappingsediments, the second is the live storage used to store water during flood seasons and rainy years in order to be utilized throughout the year and during dry periods, the third is for the high flood protection storage that protects the people from potentialrisks and protect the dam from collapse. Taking Aswan High Dam as an example, the dead storage is in the range of 30 billion cubic meters, the live storage is 90 billion cubic meters, and the flood protection storage is estimatedat 40 billion cubic meters. Therefore, all the water discharge outlets are situated above the dead storage. It is worth noting that Aswan High Dam Operation Protocol stipulates that before the start of the annualflood season specifically on the first of August each year, the water level in Lake Nasser shall not exceed the live storage maximum level in order to provide sufficient capacity to face any new flood. With regard to hydroelectric dams, the amount of generated electricity is directly proportional to the amount of water discharged from the turbine s tunnels (Water Discharge), and to the depth of the water stored above the turbine level (Water head). Therefore, these dams aim to maintain the highest water storage level to be able togenerate the maximum amount of electricity, and sometimes a portion of the flood protection storage is used to increase the amount of storedwater in order to increase power generation. The Cameroonian Dam (Lagdo Dam), which is located in West Africa near the Nigerian border, is an example of the violations that may occur during the filling and operationofhydropower damwith the aim to optimize the hydropower production. In 2012, Cameroon had witnessed heavy and intensive rainfall that caused high floods in the Niger River where this dam is located. The officials in charge of the Lagdo dam operation opened its gates in orderto ensure itssafetyandreleasedthe stored water to be able toaccommodate the new flood. Unfortunately, the released water was drained quickly towards neighbouring Nigeria causing flash floods, killing 431 Nigerians, destroying more than 150,000 hectares of agricultural land, and migrating 1.3 million Nigerians.This situation was repeated this year during the current month, as the dam region in Cameroon was subjected to intensiveand prolonged rainfall, so the dam authority discharged large amount of the dam storage to accommodate this year s floods, which cause huge damageinlarge areas of agricultural land downstream the dam in Nigeria. Another example from the east of Africa is Owen falls dam located near Victoria Lake s outlet in Uganda. Due to intensive and prolonged rainfall this year, in addition to the decision of the authority in charge of Owen Dam management to maintain high level in the lake to optimize energy production, the water level in Lake Victoria has overflowedand flooded the north of Uganda. Accordingly, Owen Dam management authority was forced to release huge amount of stored water causing devastating flooding inSouth Sudan that swept away its plains and villages. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has a capacity of 74 billion cubic meters, but there are not any available official data regarding the capacity of its dead storage, live storage and flood protection storage, noting that GERD is much larger than the Cameroonian Lagdo Dam. Moreover, GERD has 13 Francis turbines, generating 375 MW each. It is necessary for the safety of the dam to put in place a telemetric communication system that linksrainfall and flood monitoring stations and link them to the dam site using satellites systems. This information should be shared with the downstream countries to assist them in their water management as well asflood risk management. The hydrological data available for the Blue Nileindicates thatits maximum daily discharge during the flood period (July/August) is estimatedat 800 million cubic meters, its maximum monthly discharge is estimated at 24 billion cubic meters, and its maximum annual discharge in the range of 70 billion cubic meters. Whereas the average annual discharge of the Blue Nile is about 50 billion, therefore, the live storage in the dam should not be less than the average value of the annual flow, and the flood protection storage capacity should not be less than the maximum monthly discharge of the Blue Nile. The total capacity of GERD is 74billion cubic meters, which is sufficient to fulfil the live storage and flood protection storage requirements. However, it is obvious that there is no clear consideration regarding the dead storage capacity allocated to store sediments, the Blue Nile is known by its high erosion rates, and the huge quantities of sedimentation that the river carries annually to Sudan and Egypt. It is worth noting that Egypt has allocated 30 billion cubic meters of Aswan High Dam storage capacity to the dead storage to accommodate the quantities of sedimentsof the Blue Nile. The limited dead storage capacity of GERD may be due to Ethiopia s plans concerning the construction of other dams along the Blue Nile that will retain these sediments and generate hydropower. Once GERD is operational, the sedimentary materials will start to be accumulated upstream the dam occupying part of the dam s storage capacity. This part will increase annually causing a continual decrease of the live storage capacity, consequently the power production will be reduced, on the other hand it might affect the flood protection storage capacity, increasing the risks of floods in the near future in the region in general and in Sudan in particular. Concerning GERD construction progress, which has not completed yet, as it may take an additional year to complete the middle part of the dam,Ethiopia is trying to complete the implementation of the transmission line (Chinese funded), which will transfer the bulk of the dam s electricity to the Ethiopian territories. It is to note that Egypt will not import electricity from Ethiopia as a result of its hostile positions, while Sudan desires to buy from the generated electricity but it has not started yet the construction of thetransmission line that will transfer the generated electricity from the dam site to the Sudanese territories, which may require 3-4 years to be implemented. One of the basics in hydropower dams is that if one of the dam s turbines is notoperated, the tunnel or part of the tunnel designated for it will be closedaswater is not allowed to pass through it, otherwise the turbine will be damaged and destroyed.Therefore, the amount of water released from GERD at the beginning of operation will be limited, but in case the dam experiences high floods during this period, water will start to be accumulatedupstream the dam and the water level will rise until it begins to flow through the high flood emergency spillway at the top of the dam, threatening the safety of the dam asit will become like a large waterfall and the water flows through the spillway at an approximate height of 150 meters causing severe problems to Sudan. When Ethiopia completes the construction of its transmission line, followed by Sudan scompletionto its electrical transmission line from the dam site to its territories, and over the years, the sediments will start to be accumulatedupstream the dam affecting the flood protection storage capacity. If the water storage reaches 65 billion cubic meters in the beginning of August and the new flood season reaches 14 billion cubic meters, accordingly the dam will be filled and forced to discharge an amount of 500 million cubic meters per day downstream the river for a whole month. In case the dam is completely filled with water that starts to overflow through the emergency spillway, and if this flood lasts for a week or two, and the dam was completely unable to store one additional drop of water, then the Blue Nile region in the beloved Sudan will be drowned and water structures will collapse causing death and damage, and the terrified management of GERD will fear its collapse, therefore they will release the excess water until the discharge of the dam s water reaches more than one billion cubic meters per day. Some may wonder what is new for Sudan about the Blue Nile floods since itis already accustomed to it. Andwhy Sudan is the one threatened by therisks of the Blue Nile floods as a result of GERD construction while the opposite is supposed to happen? The truth is that before GERD Sudan used to unload its dams, but after GERD construction, and according to many studies, Sudan will not need to empty its dams before the flood season, hence Sudan can use these dams to increase its power generation capacity. Whereas, before GERD the problem was confined to the Blue Nile flood, but after the dam operation there will be a probability of error occurrencewhile managing the dam during floods (Release huge amounts water) as a dam safety measure, which may increase the risks for Sudan. Furthermore, the water of the Blue Nile will not be loaded with sediments, as was the case before GERD, which increases its speed and erosion threats to canals and other installations.
Recently, the global spreading of COVID-19 is accelerating. Bearing on huge cost and tremendous sacrifice，China has achieved preliminary success on the battle against COVID-19. Despite of domestic difficulties in production resumptions and serious risks of cases imported, China has begun to provide tons of medical supplies and send medical experts to other countries to fight the epidemic. This reflects China s commitment as a responsible great nation, and its goodwill of weathering through this crisis together with other countries. This is a vivid manifestation of the concept of building a "Community of Common Health for Mankind". While surprisingly, some western politicians and media have thrown such absurd remarks as “face mask diplomacy of China", intentionally defiling China s benevolence as a show for political gains. Although it is widely acknowledged that some western politicians and media have have long crossed the line of human conscience, it is still shocking to see such stigmatization of China s cooperation with rest of the world in fighting against COVID-19 when the pandemic is so severe and many lives are being lost every day. When COVID-19 was raging in China, many friendly countries did not hesitate to lend a helping hand and offered valuable support to China. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi wrote to Chinese President Xi Jinping and sent Dr. Hala Sayed, the Minister of Health and Population as his special envoy to visit China with a batch of face masks as the gift from Egyptian People. Many other countries provided assistance to China. Such timely help will always be remembered and cherished by the Chinese people. President Xi Jinping pointed out: "The Chinese nation is a grateful nation and always reciprocates others goodwill". Despite the severe pressure of epidemic rebound, China are supporting the global response to pandemic without any hesitation nor gain-or-loss calculation. Factories across the countries are operating day and night, providing medical supplies to the fighters in the battlefront of countries all over the world. According to Chinese customs statistics, from March 1 to April 30, China has send medical products to other countries amounting over 10 billion dollars, including 27.8 billion pieces of masks, 130 million pieces of protective suits, 73.41 million boxes of COVID-19 detection reagents, 12.57 million pieces of infrared thermometer, 491 hundred pieces of ventilators, 124 thousand units of patient monitors, 43.63 million pairs of goggles and 854 million pair of medical gloves. China has sent 19 medical expert groups to 17 countries, held more than 70 visual meetings with experts and officials from more than 150 countries and international organizations. China has donated US $ 50 million to WHO in two batches. China doubled its returns within capacity to the countries which has extended helping hand when China was suffering. What is more important is China is practicing the concept of Community of shared future and Community of common health for Mankind. Therefore, it is inevitable choice of China to fight against the epidemic hand in hand with other countries and fulfill its responsibility as a major country. Many medical supplies are provided as donations. It is well known that in providing foreign aid, China always attaches no political conditions to aids. In the disease relief aids, the Chinese government would first consider the severity of the epidemic in those countries and scarcity of medical resources, and to respond to concrete demands of the countries, and to our own capabilities, and then we define the aid programs together with the recipient country government through consultation. It should point out that when China was suffering from COVID-19, some politicians and media did not show sympathy and basic human conscience, but sitting on the sidelines, gloating and even adding insult to injury. When China reached out helping hand to other countries, those politicians and media begun to smear China desperately based on their dark psychological and selfish political interests. This crazy manipulation that confuses right with wrong and stigmatizes China s relations with the rest of the world is one of the strains of the "political virus" created by some politicians and media using pandemic to attack China. It will damage global cooperation in fighting the pandemic. All countries in the world must stand together to disinfect and eliminate such “political virus”. Despite the slanders and malice, China s determination and action to support the global fight against the pandemic will not change. China will spare no effort in providing substantial help and supply to the world. The Chinese government is donating 3 batches of medical supplies to our fraternal Egyptian friends, of which 2 batches are already arrived and put into use in the battle against COVID-19 in Egypt. At the same time, Chinese provincial and municipal governments, social organizations, and enterprises are also actively providing donations to Egypt, such as Xinjiang Autonomous Region Government, China Family Planning Association, Jack Ma Foundation, China Construction Group and etc. All these donations include more than 2 million face masks, 270,000 N95 masks, more than 130,000 copies of testing reagents, 100,000 sets of protective clothing, 40 ventilators, and many gloves, masks, goggles, forehead thermometer, etc. The Chinese Embassy in Cairo also donated masks and infrared temperature detectors to Egyptian government sectors and several universities. As people always say “The world has its own true feelings”, peoples of different countries are friendly and kind to each other. We firmly believe that as long as we have in mind that we are all one family with shared future and uphold the benevolence of commitment and justice, governments and peoples around the world will understand each other more and unite closely in the fight against the epidemic. Mankind will eventually defeat the disease together.
Earlier this month, Egypt wrote to the UN Security Council in relation to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Egypt s complaint itemised the unilateral actions Ethiopia has taken since first using the turmoil in Egypt that followed the January 2011 Revolution as cover to begin construction of the dam without notifying downstream nations. Despite Ethiopia s violations of the rules and conventions of international law and good neighbourliness, Egypt continued to exchange visits with Ethiopian leaders. Eventually they agreed to create an international technical panel consisting of two technical experts from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, and four leading international experts. The panel was tasked with evaluating Ethiopia s design and engineering studies and its studies on the dam s potential environmental and economic impacts on downstream nations. The panel completed its first report in May 2013. Several days before it was released Ethiopia began operations to divert the Blue Nile. The move sent the message that Ethiopia would continue with its construction of the dam despite the recommendations of the international panel. It set the tone for Ethiopia s behaviour from then on. On Monday, the Ethiopian irrigation minister said Ethiopia has “prepared a comprehensive document that provides sufficient response” to the complaint Egypt filed to the Security Council. The panel concluded that Ethiopia s feasibility and impact studies were not commensurate with a dam on such an enormous scale and had not adequately assessed the magnitude of the effects it would have on its neighbours. The panel called for more detailed engineering studies on the structural safety of the dam, and more studies of its potential impact on the environment, economies and water needs of downstream nations. After the panel s report was released, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia met at the level of heads-of-state, foreign ministers, irrigation ministers and intelligence chiefs in order to select an international consultancy firm to undertake the recommended studies. Dozens of meetings were held over the course of two years, but Ethiopian evasiveness meant no conclusion was reached. In March 2015, Khartoum, Cairo and Addis Ababa signed a declaration of principles in an attempt to build trust. The declaration committed the three states to completing the recommended studies and then to use the findings to draw up a set of rules for the filling and operation of the dam in a manner that serves Ethiopia s development goals without harming downstream nations. Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum continued to exchange visits at various levels in order to choose a consultancy firm, eventually settling on a French consultancy. Ethiopia rejected the French consultant s preliminary report detailing its methodology and timeframe, and acted to prevent the firm from completing the required studies. It then proposed the creation of an independent tripartite committee of scientific experts to agree on the rules for filling and operating the dam. The committee was formed, the technical disagreements continued, and Ethiopia continued to obstruct any agreement. By mid-2019 Egypt s patience was exhausted. It announced that negotiations had failed and invoked the 10th principle of the 2015 Agreement on the Declaration of Principles which states that if the three parties are unable to settle disputes through consultations or negotiations they may turn to a neutral international party for mediation. In November 2019 the three parties agreed to accept the mediation of the US, as represented by its Treasury Department, in collaboration with the World Bank. After several rounds of negotiations in Washington the participants were on the verge of signing a detailed draft agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam. In a meeting at the end of February Egypt initialled the agreement but Ethiopia refused to attend the final session and sign the deal. It later claimed the draft agreement was an extension of colonial era Nile water agreements. Ethiopia then proposed the three countries should first agree on the rules for filling the GERD reservoir and then, at some later stage, meet again to negotiate rules for operating the dam. Khartoum and Cairo rejected the idea. Most recently, in late April, Addis Ababa announced that it would begin filling the GERD reservoir in July. In doing so it showed its determination to flout the agreement on the Declaration of Principles, the provisions of the UN Watercourses Convention and all principles of good neighbourliness with fellow Blue Nile Basin countries, Sudan and Egypt. Egypt already faces pressures on its water supply and cannot sustain any further threats. It has suspended many agricultural expansion projects that are needed to attain food security: the Salam Canal project in North Sinai, the Hammam Canal and Hammam Canal Extension projects in the northwest Delta, and the Toshka (New Valley) project in the south have all been placed on hold. At the same time, Egypt has been working at breakneck speed to open desalinisation and agricultural run-off water recycling plants. Any increase in Egypt s water deficit will have severe political, economic, and social repercussions. There is already a $10 billion gap in Egypt s domestic food supply. The water crisis in Egypt is an existential matter. At 500 m3 per capita, Egypt receives the lowest amount of water of all Nile Basin countries. Ethiopia receives 1,000 billion m3 of rainfall a year, securing its forests, pastureland and rainfall fed agriculture, and livestock and seasonal crop exports. Yet it is seeking to take a portion of Egypt s established annual Nile water quota of 55.5 billion m3, or five per cent of the rainfall Ethiopia receives. Egypt can no longer afford to indulge Ethiopia s games as it attempts to impose a fait accompli with GERD and build other dams on the Blue Nile and its tributaries. Ethiopia has form in behaving this way with other countries with which it shares watercourses: the Omo River with Kenya, the Juba River with Somalia, the Atbara River with Eritrea, and the Sobat with South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. Egypt is also fully aware of the significant harm Ethiopia has inflicted on both Kenya and Somalia by unilaterally building dams on the rivers it shares with these countries but thinks of as its own. Egypt has exhausted all peaceful means to dissuade Ethiopia from its destructive behaviour. This is why we hope the complaint lodged with the UN Security Council will compel the international community to press Ethiopia to respect the principles of international law, and sign the draft Washington agreement that Egypt has already initialled. Addis Ababa has no convincing excuses not to sign. The draft agreement incorporates the suggestions submitted by all three parties. It was formulated by the mediating party, the US, as represented by the secretary of the treasury. It had the technical input of the World Bank, known for its expertise in international law on transboundary watercourses. Yet given Ethiopia s record, the international community will have to act firmly to defuse this crisis. It must compel Ethiopia to adopt a mode of behaviour that is more rational and cooperative, and less aggressive and provocative. Its failure to do so will seriously jeopardises regional peace and security. The writer is a former minister of water resources and irrigation and a professor of water resources at the Faculty of Engineering, Cairo University.
The battle against the coronavirus is currently dominating headlines and monopolising the time and resources of governments around the world. We, in Egypt, are no different. However, in addition to taking aggressive measures to contain COVID-19, Egypt is also contending with another matter that is equally urgent and that is potentially of greater consequence to long-term regional stability, which is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia has almost completed the construction of the GERD, which will become Africa s largest hydropower dam. The danger that the GERD represents to water security in Egypt cannot be overstated. Egypt is, essentially, a desert oasis that depends entirely on the Nile as its sole source of life. Just check Google Earth – over 100 million Egyptians live in a densely populated and slender strip of green that snakes through an ocean of desert, which eventually opens up into the Nile Delta as it approaches the Mediterranean. With a water storage capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, which is twice as large as the Hoover Dam in the US, the GERD could, if filled and operated unilaterally, constitute a clear and present danger to Egypt. That is why it is essential that Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, the three states that share the Blue Nile where the Dam is being built, agree on the rules governing the filling and operation of the GERD. As a hydropower dam, the GERD is not a water-consumptive project, which means that, if the three countries agree on appropriate rules on its filling and operation, the Dam would not appreciably reduce the quantity of water flowing in the Blue Nile and would not harm downstream communities. In other words, a win-win solution is attainable. Moreover, Egypt has repeatedly affirmed that it wholeheartedly supports Ethiopia s right to development, including by harnessing the benefits of the Nile River. However, it always takes two to tango. Ethiopia must also have the requisite political will to reach an agreement that enables it to fill and operate the GERD without affecting Egyptian water use. Unfortunately, however, almost 10 years of negotiations on the GERD have failed due to Ethiopia s obstructionism and its adoption of a consistently unilateralist approach. Initially, these talks were intended to ensure that studies on the transboundary and environmental impacts of the GERD were conducted after a panel of world-renowned experts issued a deeply troubling report that highlighted flaws in the Dam s design and criticised Ethiopia for not undertaking studies on the downstream effects of the GERD. To manage the process of preparing these studies and to ensure that the rules on the filling and operating of the GERD are developed on the basis of them, an international treaty titled the Agreement on Declaration of Principles (DoP) was signed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on 23 March 2015. This treaty stipulated that the transboundary and environmental studies were to be completed and that the rules on the filling and operation of the GERD were to be agreed on the basis of these studies within 15 months. Five years later, that obligation has still not been fulfilled. At each and every juncture, Ethiopia has adopted a policy of prevarication that prevented the completion of these studies and that undermined attempts to reach an agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD. That was why Egypt called upon the United States, which is a strategic partner for both Egypt and Ethiopia, to join the negotiations as an observer and facilitator. After 12 rounds of talks that were held in Addis Ababa, Cairo, Khartoum, and Washington DC from November 2019 until February 2020, and after an herculean effort by US secretary of the treasury Steven Mnuchin, who was tasked by president Donald Trump to oversee the talks, the US, in coordination with the World Bank, prepared a compromise text of a treaty on the filling and operation of the GERD. This agreement is not an American attempt to impose a solution on the three countries. It was developed on the basis of the positions expressed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan during the negotiations and provides a fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial formula that preserves the core interests of the three countries. It enables Ethiopia to realise a return on its investment by rapidly and sustainably generating hydropower from the GERD, while protecting downstream states against the adverse effects of the dam and mitigating the ravaging effects of potential droughts. Like in any compromise, Egypt is not entirely comfortable with everything in the US-drafted agreement. After all, it is often said that a good compromise is one where all the parties are equally dissatisfied. However, in a show of its good will and genuine commitment to enabling Ethiopia to achieve the objectives of the GERD without harming downstream interests, Egypt accepted this agreement and initialled it on 28 February 2020. Ethiopia, on the other hand, refused to attend the final ministerial meeting that was held in Washington DC on 27-28 February 2020 and rejected the text prepared by the US. Moreover, Ethiopia recently declared that it plans to commence the filling of the GERD without an agreement with its downstream co-riparians. This act of brazen unilateralism would breach the 2015 DoP and, given the potentially disastrous effects of the GERD, would also constitute an intolerable infringement on Egyptian national security. Egypt cannot and will not stand idly by as Ethiopia empowers itself to control the destiny of the Egyptian people. That is why the US must remain engaged in this process. Not only are America s prestige and credibility as the pivots of global governance on the line, but also an agreement on the GERD would contribute to maintaining regional stability and security and chart a new course for cooperation among the Nile River riparians. We now have a unique opportunity to strike a historic deal that promises to change the face of the region. Secretary Mnuchin and his assistants worked hard for an agreement, and the US and the international community must now send a clear message to Ethiopia that a policy of unilateralism is untenable and that it must sign the agreement that is now on the table, which was the outcome of the negotiations in which it participated, and which will open limitless possibilities for the Nile River riparians and realise the aspirations of over 250 million Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Sudanese.
By the height of the Watergate scandal in 1974, virtually every major newspaper in America had called for President Richard Nixon s resignation. During the investigation and impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, more than 100 newspapers called for him to resign. But President Donald J. Trump? He could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody... and not a single major daily newspaper would call for his resignation. I admit that -- just like the original Trump quote it references -- that Fifth Avenue statement is a bit hyperbolic, but think about it: After three years of political and actual carnage under Trump, including Robert Mueller s description of acts that amounted to, he told Congress, obstruction of justice; Trump s "fine people on both sides" reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where a counter-protester was killed; his rampant conflicts of interest and credible accusations of his violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution; his close to 17,000 false statements; a travel ban that primarily targets mostly Muslim-majority countries; impeachment for alleged extortion of a foreign government (he was acquitted in the Republican Senate), and the gross mishandling of a deadly pandemic, you d think somebody on an editorial board might say it s time for the President to leave. But this has not happened. Why not? Not knowing the answer, I set out to talk to a lot of smart people to find out why. I did this because history would lead you to believe that most of the editorial boards of America s newspapers/digital sites would have stepped up to that plate already. To be clear, editorial boards are the group of writers and editors behind the daily editorials on the news -- appearing in the editorial pages -- that reflect the newspaper s values. These are separate from the "op-eds" commissioned by opinion editors from outside writers that reflect a range of views -- often at odds with those of the editorial board. But this has not happened. Why not? Not knowing the answer, I set out to talk to a lot of smart people to find out why. I did this because history would lead you to believe that most of the editorial boards of America s newspapers/digital sites would have stepped up to that plate already. To be clear, editorial boards are the group of writers and editors behind the daily editorials on the news -- appearing in the editorial pages -- that reflect the newspaper s values. These are separate from the "op-eds" commissioned by opinion editors from outside writers that reflect a range of views -- often at odds with those of the editorial board. Pulling no punches on Nixon and Clinton According to United Press International, by August of 1974, almost every major daily newspaper had called for President Richard Nixon s resignation over the Watergate scandal. The most prominent exception was the New York Times, which argued that it was the impeachment process that should determine the fate of the President. The Wall Street Journal wrote "resignation to insure the orderly transfer of power is fitting, we emphasize only because impeachment and conviction would otherwise be certain." The Chicago Tribune argued, "We are appalled. We saw the public man in his first Administration and we were impressed. We now see a man who, in the words of his old friend and defender, Senator Hugh Scott, is shabby, immoral and disgusting. The key word here is immoral." The House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for Nixon and sent them to the House; he resigned before they could vote on them. Twenty-four years later, in 1998, more than 100 newspapers called for the resignation of President Bill Clinton, both during the Kenneth Starr investigation and the subsequent impeachment trial for obstruction of justice and perjury, over his affair with a White House intern. The editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jane Eisner, told the New York Times that her paper debated the issue fiercely: "Ms. Eisner said she was not expecting the feelings of profound exhaustion and nausea she experienced when finally, after two and a half hours of anguished arguments, Chris Satullo, the deputy editorial page editor, went to write the Sunday editorial that began with the words Bill Clinton should resign. " Peter R. Bronson, then-editorial page editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, told the Times, " As soon as we saw the Starr report and got knee deep, we said, This really smells, we ve seen enough, the evidence is compelling and damning, Mr. Bronson said. The ground shifts So, what changed between 1998 and 2020? Both John Dean, Nixon s White House counsel and Carl Bernstein, the famed reporter who with Bob Woodward broke news in the Washington Post of the Watergate coverup, have called Trump s Ukraine scandal far worse than anything in Watergate. And Trump s offenses were much more far reaching than Clinton s: he used American foreign policy to leverage a political favor, and he s also certainly had a fair share of tawdry scandals What has changed? Just about everything, it seems, beginning with the media: the explosion of 24/7 news networks and the endless horizon of internet-on-demand caused some newspapers to fold or shrink and lose relevance. The lucky few left standing wobbled through a decade trying to claw their way back into news dominance. Papers lost advertisers, lost readers and increasingly lost influence with the public, particularly the editorial pages: so much opinion journalism was readily available from so many other new online sources. And there also was a shifting of standards post-Clinton that held politicians to a different moral standing than in the past. Even given the multitude of Trump s scandals and failings, only two mid-sized dailies, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Connecticut Post have been willing to call for President Donald Trump s resignation (as far as I could find in an exhaustive search). And while a handful of large-newspaper editorial boards called for his impeachment, I could find only one -- the LA Times -- that called for his removal (and with a headline that covered all the bases: "Convict and remove President Trump -- and disqualify him from ever holding office again"). Why have so many editorial pages railed -- over and over -- against Trump s behavior in the most vehement terms, through scandal, impeachment, botched pandemic response and much more, and yet they won t call for him to go? Editorial boards new reluctance I put this question to more than a dozen experts, media columnists, editorial writers, academics and White House reporters. What emerged was not one simple explanation, as journalism professor Jay Rosen of New York University explained it, but a number of factors that have discouraged editorial pages around the country from taking this bold step. Central to these, according to John Avlon, a senior political analyst at CNN and the former editor in chief of the Daily Beast, is that "the reality of the hardened partisanship is beyond reason. We ve become really unmoored from our best civic traditions." And one of our best civic traditions used to be holding political leaders to account -- demanding, in extreme situations, that they resign. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned timing: editorial boards reluctance to urge Trump to resign so close to the election. One editor (who preferred to remain anonymous) at a major daily said his editorial board came close to calling for Trump s ouster during his impeachment, but added "my question is why now, when the election will be decided in six months." On one level that argument makes sense: the voters should have the final say on the President s future. But it misses the mark, given that many editorial pages have already excoriated, for example, the President s handling of the pandemic, a tragedy that has cost more than 78,000 American lives so far, without addressing his fitness to continue to serve. Any CEO who was deemed responsible for allowing a massive tragedy to unfold would be immediately called upon to resign or be fired, even if he or she were six months from retirement. When I asked my question of Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for the Washington Post and former public editor of the New York Times, she responded by speculating, or spit-balling, as she called it: "It may have something to do with the knowledge that such a call would not be effective but would also deepen the rampant polarizations among citizens. And for some, it would exacerbate the resentment of the traditional press, if that s even possible at this point." Loss of relevance in new media landscape? Indeed, Sullivan s speculation captured the consensus of everyone I talked to. Jonathan Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News, was one of them. He told me "perhaps it s the fact that there is zero percent [chance] he (Trump) would do it [resign] or that any in his party would ask him to do it." He compared the situation to Clinton, where many in the press thought he might resign and many editorial pages chimed in with their own calls. Karl makes an important point: although there was no chance Clinton was going to resign (I know that because I was there), there was a chance that members of his own party might demand it, something I also know from my personal experience then. Karl s futility argument resonates, in part due to the polarization Sullivan referenced above. The only problem with his theory is that editorial pages take positions every day knowing that they will fail to persuade politicians -- or the public -- most of the time. In defense of editorial pages recent reticence, many believe their editorials have less impact anyway in the diffuse new-media environment of today and may want to avoid highlighting that by taking a public stand -- and being shown as ineffectual or out of touch. In the 2016 campaign, the overwhelming majority of newspapers endorsed Hillary Clinton, or chose not to endorse at all. We know how that turned out. That has led, in part, to a trend among many newspapers to discontinue endorsing candidates in elections. The changing nature and business models of local papers also play a role. Jay Rosen from NYU again: "Local newspapers are weaker institutions, they have declined a lot in quality, reach and authority. This gives some of them less confidence in their voice, especially in regions where they know they will get push-back." Both Rosen and Brian Stelter, CNN s chief media correspondent, pointed to the budget cuts often hitting editorial pages even before they hit reporters. What s more, the internet, which if nothing else is full of opinion, has diluted the impact of major news organizations editorial pages, making them less relevant. But the answer to my questions goes beyond the news media s effectiveness or its business models. It has a lot to do with Trump himself -- and the tactics of the right wing of American politics. The power of the right Kurt Bardella, a former Republican who served as the spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, put it this way: "Donald Trump and his right wing allies have invested so much time in creating the false narrative that the mainstream media is fake and the enemy of the people. I think the media falls into their trap of not wanting to go down a certain path because they re worried about being labeled biased or partisan." Jay Rosen has a similar take, saying the right wing s "working the refs" strategy works. But he goes further: "You cannot overlook the level of flak, push-back and general hatred that newspaper editors get from Trump supporters for anything like this... editors defy these attacks every day, but it can make you think twice." Nearly all the editors and columnists I talked to echoed a certain empathy for editorial page editors and a resignation that nothing was likely to change soon. But Brian Karem, columnist for Playboy, was less charitable. "Major newspapers are shaky -- not on the solid financial ground they were even 10 years ago," he told me in an email. "They are fearful of losing any more advertisers or readers... they see no need to buck the tide or even join it... We are unlikely to find a Katharine Graham in the age of Donald Trump -- though we desperately need one." He was referring to the Washington Post publisher who weathered tremendous blow-back when she presided over the paper during the reporting on Watergate that led to Nixon s resignation. So, where does this leave us? Have the nation s editorial boards -- with so many of them clearly and frequently expressing no confidence in this President s ability to do his job -- abdicated their duty? I agree with Professor Rosen s admonition that there is no simple explanation... and I think my friend Brian Karem is being a bit harsh. In my view, there is a simple solution to this problem. They should go down fighting. If the President is unfit to lead the country, then say it. And if lives are at risk and our Constitution is being attacked on a regular basis, then it is the duty of our great editorial pages to seek the ultimate remedy -- a call for resignation. Yes, the election is only six months away and voters usually should have the last word. But if the President s policies are a clear and present danger to Americans, or his behavior -- like Clinton s and Nixon s -- so outside of the agreed upon norms, why aren t the guardians of truth at the nation s top editorial pages screaming: He has to go?
We do appreciate heroism and sacrifice of police and army soldiers during war on terrorism to defend the homeland. On the other hand, we find the religious institutions offering full support to the doctors and nurses by donations and prayers during the current pandemic. Furthermore, the churches were closed and all church activities were suspended. Yet, some people rejected such decision and maybe they didn t know