Breaking news: Republicans might finally be willing to break with President Donald Trump. Following the president s performance with Covid-19 as well as his response to the Black Lives Matters protests there have been a number of stories speculating about whether the GOP will finally come undone. The drama is greatly exaggerated. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters that she is "struggling" to figure out how to vote in November ... When Colin Powell announced that he would support Joe Biden and former president George W. Bush revealed he would not support Trump, the New York Times reporters a "growing number" of Republicans were debating how far to go. The speculation about internal handwringing and possible "turning points" within the GOP never ends. It s the drama that never happens, but one the press loves to keep following. It needs to stop. The notion that there is a major fissure between the Republicans and President Trump simply masks the character of the modern party. Republicans nominated and elected Donald Trump to be President four years ago. They have stood by him, and done so even in the toughest of times. Nothing, even his "fine people" remarks after a 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville or his recent hardline response to mass marches over George Floyd s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, shakes this. When we look at President Trump we see the modern party before our very eyes. Stories about internal division mask this basic reality and suggest that there are greater options outside the Democratic Party than actually exist. When Trump decries those who want to bring down Confederate monuments and treats the job of governance as if it is a third rate reality show, he represents the party. When he invokes former president Richard Nixon and conservative Democrats George Wallace and Frank Rizzo while screaming about "law and order" as a response to civil rights protests, or tweets out "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," he speaks for the GOP. The story of the Trump presidency has been a story about how comfortably he sits within his party. Throughout his term, polls have shown remarkably solid support for the President within the Republican electorate, regardless of his actions. By and large, congressional Republicans have stood by him at every turn, protecting him from investigations and continuing to vote the party line on most issues. Of course, some such as Maine Sen. Susan Collins hem and haw, but that s the sum total of their profiles in courage. The saga of Sen. Mitt Romney captures where the party has gone. After launching the #nevertrump "movement" in 2016, Romney ended up going along with the President in the early years. Recently, he has received kudos for standing up to Trump that, while being well deserved, actually reveals how low the bar has moved. When Senator Romney was the only Republican to vote for conviction during the President s impeachment trial for using foreign policy to help his re-election bid, it said more about what the rest of his party now considered to be acceptable than it did about Romney. When it was a headline to see Romney march with civil rights protesters against police brutality, the moment showed how far the GOP has distanced itself from this basic call for social justice. The most realistic assessments of the President have come from George Conway, a genuine conservative married to the President s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, knows Trump well. Conway has started the Lincoln Project, launching blistering ads about the President and the entire party. He has consistently blasted former colleagues who suggest that they can distance themselves from the person in the Oval Office. These are platitudes meant to disguise the choice voters actually face in November, between a party that has gone all in with Trumpism and another that has not. Every American is free to decide which choice they prefer for the next four years, but nobody should be under the illusion that a different option is on the table.
On Saturday, President Trump delivered a commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, honoring the graduating cadets for their service while touting the "colossal rebuilding" of the armed forces under his presidency. "To the 1,107 who today become the newest officers in the most exceptional Army ever to take the field of battle, I am here to offer America s salute. Thank you for answering your nation s call," he said. What wasn t immediately apparent from his speech -- which Trump delivered with the help of a teleprompter -- was the growing disconnect between the President and the US military. Not since President John F. Kennedy ignored his top military officers advice to invade Cuba and deploy nuclear weapons against the Soviets during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis has there been such a split between an American president and the Pentagon. Consider that Trump s top military adviser General Mark Milley publicly said it was a "mistake" for him to have appeared in an infamous photo op with the President after a walk from the Rose Garden at the White House. The photo op, which culminated in Trump holding up a bible outside St. John s Church, was made possible by first violently dispersing peaceful protesters outside the White House two weeks ago. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued the apology in a video commencement address to the National Defense University on Thursday and said, "I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics." Trump s Defense Secretary Mark Esper also tried to distance himself from that photo op. The former US Army officer publicly broke with the President and said he did not support Trump s calls to invoke the Insurrection Act and use active duty troops to quell the protests that had broken out after George Floyd s killing. CNN reported that Esper s statement went over "poorly at the White House, where his standing was already viewed to be tenuous." Around the same time, Esper s predecessor, retired General Jim Mattis, broke his long silence and launched a personal attack on the President he served for two years. He said, "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership." To top it off, four former chairmen of the joint chiefs, going back to the administration of President George H. W. Bush, all took the extraordinary step of publicly breaking with the President to condemn the use of violence against peaceful protestors. For good measure one of those former chairmen, retired General Colin Powell, told CNN s Jake Tapper that Trump lies "all the time." Many other retired four-star generals and admirals have spoken out against Trump. There is a widespread perception that Trump is quite popular within the US military. But many active duty personnel have soured on him, and Trump s chairman of the joint chiefs and his defense secretary have publicly distanced themselves from the President -- as have some of the nation s most revered retired generals and admirals. President Trump has long thrilled to the power of the US military, which he celebrated in Saturday s West Point speech. But he is now in the unusual position of being the Commander in Chief of a military that is turning away from him. This article was updated to clarify the scope of the President s photo op, which began at the White House and culminated outside St. John s Church.
The current Egyptian political order began in 2014, a year after the 30 June Revolution that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime. The new order rectified and supported the process of transition and change that was launched by the January 2011 Revolution. As it struggled to overcome enormous challenges at home, complicated and aggravated by the repercussions of regional crises, the government, under the leadership of President Abdel- Fattah Al-Sisi, who was elected in June 2014, set into motion the largest comprehensive modernisation process that bolstered Egypt s ability to confront the diverse threats and dangers that loomed over the country. Terrorism was at once the most dangerous and complex threat during this period. Directly targeting the home front, the danger was spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood, which sought to avenge itself against state and society for the 30 June 2013 uprising that erupted when Egyptians found themselves prey to a scheme that sought to uproot the nation state founded in 1952 and to put their country and society at the service of a radical ideological organisation with a ruthless and fanatically militant universalist vision. This threat naturally had to take the highest priority especially when it became clear how closely connected it was to major terrorist threats that were on the rise elsewhere in the region, most notably the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq and the proliferation of Al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya and elsewhere in the Sahel and Sahara. To complicate matters further, all these countries fall in the spheres of concern of Egyptian national security, which compelled the government to act quickly at the regional and international levels to promote effective and unconventional responses that would achieve crucial gains while sparing the country additional burdens. It should be added that successes in this domain have worked to increase the confidence and respect of Egypt s regional and international partners, especially those most concerned and influential in transnational threats such as terrorism. These successes naturally extended to other related phenomena such as arms smuggling, money laundering, human trafficking and organised crime. The Egyptian government applied a strategic vision that enabled it to act effectively within its regional spheres of national security and that incorporated the international geopolitical centres most connected with these spheres. At the African level, the post-2014 order began under very difficult circumstances as Egypt s membership in the African Union (AU) had been frozen in 2013. As soon as he came to power, President Al-Sisi immediately set into motion a plan of action to reinstate Egypt s AU membership. His first visit abroad after his election was to attend the AU Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, which immediately worked to bolster Egypt s continental relations. As he followed through with a range of bilateral exchanges, he reoriented the Egyptian political compass southward, reviving Egypt s African role in a new modernised edition. Egypt went to great lengths in order to reactivate and innovate frameworks of inter-African cooperation. An early important landmark in this regard was the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development in Africa, established in 2014 as an umbrella organisation for the promotion and organisation of Egyptian-African collaborations. These efforts were soon crowned by Egypt s election as chair of the African Peace and Security Council in 2016 which, in turn, opened new horizons for Egypt to play a prominent role in conflict resolution and peace-building in Africa. Another qualitative shift in Egyptian-African relations began in 2019 when Egypt assumed the chair of the African Union. Egypt s African drive experienced numerous critical successes during this period. For example, the African Free Trade Agreement went into effect under Egypt s AU chairmanship. Cairo organised the first coordinating summit in Niger in July 2019 to formulate and develop “the foundations of partnership and cooperation between the African Union, the regional economic blocs, and the member nations” towards the realisation of the principles of African integration and mutual dependency. That summit also launched the second working plan (2021-2030) for the comprehensive African infrastructural development programme which accords particular attention to the development of a continental electricity grid and the creation of an African-wide common energy market. In addition to this remarkable success, Egypt took the lead in representing Africa in major international forums with the aim of expanding opportunities for partnerships and networking between Africa and important loci on the international investment map. The most important milestones in this regard were the Chinese-African Summit in June 2019, the G20 Summit in Japan in June 2019 and the G7 Summit in France in August 2019. On top of these international summits came two that will be forever associated with Egypt in the history of the continent because of Cairo s success in pioneering them: the first Russian-African summit in Sochi in October 2019 and the first British-African investment summit in London in January 2020. The new Egyptian strategic vision accords considerable importance to African security and defence. In this regard, Egypt has initiated numerous dynamic cooperative mechanisms along the linkages between Egyptian national security and African security, starting with the AU police training centre to train security forces for the Sahel and Sahara countries. Egypt followed through by hosting the headquarters of the African Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development and then the permanent headquarters for the Sahel-Sahara Regional Counterterrorism Centre. The Aswan Forum for Peace and Development, which was held in December 2019, lay the cornerstone for an annual event, sponsored by the Egyptian presidency, dedicated to the advancement of peace and sustainable development in Africa. In the first forum, the Egyptian president launched “Silence the Guns 2020”, an initiative developed by the AU Peace and Security Council in 2019 during Egypt s chairmanship of the African Union and that Egypt was keen to get off the ground in the framework of its commitment to conflict resolution and peace-making throughout the continent. The strategic projects and plans that President Al-Sisi has inaugurated during the past six years share a common thread, which is the conviction that Egypt and its national security interweave in many significant ways with Africa and the Middle East, in which Egypt stands at crucial junctures, and with the international centres with which it is essential to work in order to generate a robust security climate. In this framework, Egypt has dedicated great efforts to promoting effective cooperation with all regional and international powers in order broaden the scopes of common interests that serve the welfare of all parties, out of the belief that such processes contribute in crucial ways to safeguarding Egypt s vital interests at home and abroad. Accordingly, the Egyptian presidency s action plan in the African sphere during the past six years was complimented by projects and agendas in other directions. Within the neighbouring Mediterranean sphere, for example, Egypt announced its strategic partnership with Greece and Cyprus in December 2015. Over the following years this first successful step towards promoting collaboration along the northern axis continued to evolve until it culminated in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. Launched in 2019, the seven-country forum is the most important regional grouping in the field of energy as well as cooperation in other fields. Cairo, as a pioneering spirit and the headquarters of that forum, has become the centre of increasing international attention, and many other countries, including France and the US, have been inspired to ask to join the forum. Nevertheless, 2016 stands out as the most important year in the evolution of Egypt s international profile under the post-2014 order. That was the year in which Egypt acquired a seat on the UN Security Council, enabling it to truly reap the fruits of its efforts and visions concerning many major world problems. The attention and respect that Egypt acquired in the fight against terrorism poised it to head the UNSC Counterterrorism Committee, which is responsible for formulating and following through on the international community s comprehensive strategy for fighting terrorism around the world. The work that Egypt performed as chair of this committee during the peak of the terrorist peril, which had begun to rear its head more widely and fiercely than ever before, earned Cairo greater trust and respect among its partners in the committee and the international community as a whole, many among which grew increasingly convinced by the Egyptian outlook on this issue. Egypt s success here led to other important and related posts and activities. It was unanimously elected as a member of the Human Rights Committee for the 2017-2021 term. In May 2018, it took part in the international conference on Libya that convened in Paris and brought together 20 states and four international organisations including the Arab League with the purpose of developing a roadmap for a political solution to the Libyan crisis. Egypt s presence in that forum underscored both how crucial the Libyan situation is not just to Egypt but to the whole of North Africa and how influential a role Egypt can play in that crisis. Egypt, represented by President Al-Sisi, subsequently participated in the Palermo Conference in 2018 and the Berlin Conference in January 2020, taking its place along other major international stakeholders in the processes of developing solutions to lead Libya out of the vicious cycle of war and towards a healthy and stable political future. The foregoing is only a segment of Egypt s record of international relations and activities, but it is a strong indicator of how Al-Sisi s government worked to elevate Egypt s regional and international status and strengthen the bonds of mutual trust and cooperation between it and many other nations and international organisations. However, if the strategic vision that Al-Sisi set into motion in 2014 had the power to safeguard and secure Egypt s strategic security at many levels, we ultimately have to underscore, if only briefly here, another essential component in the national security equation: the largest ever military modernisation and development drive in the history of modern Egypt. Any comprehensive concept of national security will provide for a major element of hard power to take its place alongside the soft power components of strategic strength. This is not to suggest that the Egyptian army was not as central to the protection of our national security before the revolution as it was after 30 June 2013. However, the sheer magnitude and multiplicity of the threats and challenges that faced Egypt as well as the rest of the region and the world during the past decade imposed new and unfamiliar burdens on our armed forces. This is what made President Al-Sisi accord the highest priority in his first six-year plan to the development of the Egyptian Armed Forces in accordance with the latest concepts of comprehensive power. This meant not only upgrading the structures, equipment and capacities of our army in order to render it as effective a safeguard as possible for Egyptian national security, but also equipping it to undertake new functions in the framework of protecting and promoting the comprehensive development and modernisation programme that is unfolding on the ground in Egypt at present. Under today s conditions, active deference is a guarantee for sustaining the building processes that lead to success.
The self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar retreated in the last three weeks from its positions around Tripoli and lost control of the largest airbase in the western part of Libya, Al-Watiya. Last Thursday, 4 June, his forces retreated from another stronghold after the city of Tarhuna fell to the forces of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). The official spokesman of the Tripoli government said that with the fall of Tarhuna, the forces of the GNA “liberated” all of the western part of Libya from the forces loyal to Haftar. Moreover, Fayez Al-Sarraj, president of the government in Tripoli, promised that the intention of his government is to retake control of all of Libya, implying that their next move is to advance towards the east where the seat of the interim Libyan government is located in Benghazi. In other words, his forces will get nearer to Egyptian borders, and probably in the presence of Turkish military “advisers”. If this happens, it would constitute a major escalation in the conflict with uncalculated regional consequences. On Thursday, 4 June, Al-Sarraj was in Turkey where he conferred with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish government promised that it would continue providing assistance and aid to the government in Tripoli to safeguard recent successes achieved by its forces in the war against the LNA. Furthermore, it announced that it would start exploration for gas and oil in the territorial waters of Libya in conformity with the agreement it signed last November with the GNA in Tripoli on the delimitation of an exclusive Libyan economic zone in the Mediterranean. While Al-Sarraj was in Turkey, Haftar and the speaker of the Libyan parliament were conferring with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo. After two days of talks, the Egyptian President, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, announced in a joint press conference in their presence that the talks held by the Egyptian government had led to agreement, translated to a document dubbed the “Cairo Declaration” that dealt with an “initiative” aiming at reaching a political solution for the Libyan conflict in accordance with the Security Council resolutions and the decisions and conclusions of various international meetings on the situation in Libya, namely, the Berlin Summit and other meetings in Paris, Palermo and the United Arab Emirates. The major highlights of the “initiative” include the reunification of the economic, financial and political institutions in Libya, the fair and transparent distribution of national wealth, and the demobilisation of the various militias operating in Libya, in addition to the exit of foreign mercenaries brought by Turkey, principally from Syria, to fight with the forces of the GNA. The Egyptian president said that the two Libyan officials have called for a ceasefire in Libya to become effective at 6:00am on Monday, 8 June. There is talk of setting up a presidential council, representative of the three Libyan regions, coupled with the drafting of a “constitutional declaration” that sets forth the next steps in the smooth transition towards a stable national government, representative of the Libyan people. In a nod to the Berlin Declaration of 19 January, the Egyptian president emphasised the importance of complementarity among the three tracks that had been incorporated in this declaration; namely, the economic/financial, the military/security and the political tracks. In this context, he called on Libyan parties to discuss the military aspects of the conflict and how to secure a total ceasefire in the context of United Nations-sponsored 5+5 talks. Furthermore, he proposed an international meeting in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations and attended by the European Union, the Arab League, as well as the African Union, to provide an international framework for the political process whereby the Libyan parties would reach a political solution for the Libyan conflict. What was striking in the joint press conference was the insistence of the Egyptian president on how dangerous the present situation in Libya is from the standpoint of the national security interests of Egypt. He warned against any attempts to settle the Libyan conflict through the use of military force, stressing that Egypt is closely watching developments on the battlefields in Libya. Some observers would interpret this as a warning to the Tripoli government not to get nearer Egyptian borders with Libya. Similarly, the warning is also addressed, without naming it, to Turkey. Still, I firmly believe that Egypt should never get involved militarily in the Libyan quagmire. Our absolute priority should be to defend our western borders against intrusions and infiltrations from the Libyan side of the border. The Egyptian president was right, of course, in sending out a warning, so that neither the Tripoli government nor the Turkish government misread Egyptian intentions. The New York Times in its edition dated Saturday, 6 June, quoted Emadeddin Badi, who is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, as saying that there is “clearly more conflict still to come, but everybody — domestically and externally — is going to recalculate their position”. I tend to agree with this assessment. Needless to say, everyone hopes that the warring parties in Libya would reason that there could never be a military solution in Libya and, consequently, they opt for a political solution that would guarantee the territorial integrity and independence of Libya. However, the recent military gains by forces loyal to the Tripoli government could encourage these forces to push for launching a major attack against the forces of Haftar throughout Libya. The open question is whether Turkey would oblige or not. The Egyptian warning against military escalation in Libya could, hopefully, be a wake-up call for both the Tripoli and the Turkish governments, in this respect, against such a grave miscalculation. Maybe Russia could play the role of a buffer between the two Mediterranean powers, if need be. The day the Cairo Declaration was out, the spokesman of the forces of the Tripoli government announced that these forces are advancing towards Sirte, a major stronghold for Haftar forces, as well as Gafra Airbase. Going to press, indications are that the defences of the forces loyal to Haftar would be overpowered. The balance of power on the Libyan battlefields has shifted dramatically to the advantage of the Tripoli forces, a development that would make it difficult to persuade the Tripoli government to negotiate with the defeated party — at least for the time being. *The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
At some point in the lead up to the criminal trials of the four former Minneapolis police officers who face charges relating to the killing of George Floyd, the defendants likely will seek to move the venue -- the geographical location -- of the trial. Motions to change venue are commonly made by defendants in high-profile, high-stakes cases, but are rarely granted. If and when the defendants in the Floyd case make such a motion, the court must deny it. A change of venue could diminish the number of African American individuals in the jury pool and would likely badly undermine public confidence in the ultimate verdict. Under Minnesota court rules, a criminal case should be tried in the county where the conduct occurred, barring extraordinary circumstances. But the Minnesota rules permit a judge to move a case to another county if "a fair and impartial trial cannot be had" in the county where the conduct occurred, where pre-trial publicity has made it reasonably likely that a fair trial cannot be held, or "in the interests of justice." The judge can decide to move a case to any of Minnesota s 87 counties, but not outside the state. Justice demands that the Floyd case not be moved out of Hennepin County, encompassing Minneapolis where the charged murder occurred. Most importantly, a transfer of the case from Hennepin County to another county will almost certainly result in a jury pool with a lower percentage of African Americans -- potentially far less. Hennepin County is Minnesota s most populous county and also has the highest percentage -- 13.6% -- of African American residents. Only one other county in Minnesota is even over 10% African American population, and 47 counties are below 1%. Even Wright County, which borders Hennepin County, has only 1.6% African-American population. Simply put: it is almost unimaginable that the American public will accept as fully legitimate a verdict from a non-representative jury pool in a county where the charged crime did not even occur. Further, the rules do not support a transfer of venue. While there has been an extraordinary amount of pre-trial publicity about the case, there is no logical reason to believe the impact has been any different on potential jurors in Hennepin County than those in any other county. Anybody with an internet connection or cable tv -- in any county in Minnesota, or anywhere in the country -- has been exposed to coverage of this case. The transfer of venue rule seems grounded in antiquated notions of local, paper-based media where word spread slowly based on geography. That simply does not apply to the modern world. And if the case remains in Hennepin County as it should, the law provides important procedures designed to root out potential jurors who may be unduly predisposed for or against any party. While the law does not require that a juror has never heard anything about a case -- realistically, all or nearly all potential jurors will have heard plenty about the Floyd case -- it does give lawyers for all parties the opportunity to question potential jurors to determine whether they have formed strong opinions and are incapable of deciding the case based solely on the evidence at trial. With the world watching, the Minnesota courts must get it right. Moving the case out of Hennepin County would be a serious mistake, and a step away from true justice. Now, your questions: Patrick (Oregon): Is there a possibility that federal criminal charges will be filed against the officers involved in the death of George Floyd? Yes, federal charges are both possible and likely here. The Justice Department announced that it has opened an investigation and "has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter." There is no prohibition against both the federal government (through the Justice Department) and a state government (through state or local prosecutors) charging the same person with crimes relating to the same conduct. The Supreme Court confirmed just last year that this type of dual approach to prosecution -- sometimes called "separate sovereigns" -- is constitutional. The most likely federal criminal charge here is deprivation of civil rights. Prosecutors must prove that somebody acting under "color of law" (police officers certainly qualify) willfully deprived a person of his constitutionally protected rights -- here, that means Floyd s right to be free of unreasonable seizure by the police. Given the strength of the evidence, I expect the Justice Department to file such charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (who kneeled on Floyd s neck while Floyd said he couldn t breathe) and potentially the other officers at some point. Page (Arkansas): Does the legal concept of "qualified immunity" mean the charges against the officers could be dismissed? No. "Qualified immunity" is a legal doctrine that makes it extraordinarily difficult to sue a public official (including a police officer) for money damages based on the officer s on-the-job conduct, unless it was already "clearly established" by law that the officer s actions were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may soon take up a case that could limit or eliminate the qualified immunity doctrine. But qualified immunity has nothing to do with criminal charges. There is no such thing as a qualified immunity defense to a murder charge, or any criminal charge. So while qualified immunity could pose a barrier to potential civil lawsuits filed by the Floyd family against the individual officers -- though the family could sue the police department or the city, rather than the individual officers -- it will have no bearing on the criminal case. Russ (Canada): Does the President have legal power to deploy military troops to respond to protests or to provide police services in the states, even if a governor does not request aid? Yes. Under the Insurrection Act of 1807, the President has authority to deploy federal troops in certain delimited circumstances: (1) where requested by a state governor, (2) where necessary to "suppress" unlawful "obstruction" or "rebellion," or (3) where required to prevent interference with enforcement of federal or state laws. While a request from a governor is necessary under the first of those provisions, it is not necessary under the second and third. Thus far, however -- despite his statement that "If the city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residence, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them" -- Trump has not actually deployed federal troops domestically beyond Washington DC in any significant manner.
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.
As the world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed lives of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Thus, many preventive measures were taken everywhere including the shut down of churches and suspend of its services. Yet, Pope announced in a television interview that the Holy Synod may decide to change the way of taking communion and abolish the Mastier (the spoon used in the Coptic rituals of