Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative May 2019 news and views
Note: Excerpts are from the authors’ words except for subheads and occasional “Editor’s notes” such as this.
U.S. Justice & Constitutional Crisis
Attorney General William P. Barr (Image by Donkehotey via dmca)
Washington Post, Trump finds in Barr the attorney general — and shield — he long sought, Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger and Ashley Parker, May 4, 2019 (print ed.). For a time, President Trump was reluctant to select William P. Barr as his attorney general. The veteran Justice Department official from the George H.W. Bush administration was not a longtime Trump loyalist, and the president wondered whether one of his own political allies might serve better as a shield, people familiar with the matter said.
But Trump was ultimately persuaded — in part because his lawyers and advisers told him Barr was a strong supporter of presidential power and unafraid of taking on critics. This week, the president has been thrilled with his choice, particularly after Barr sparred so vigorously with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that some were left wondering whether he viewed himself as the president’s defense attorney, according to people familiar with the matter, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
In Barr’s first three months in the job, his actions have served to protect Trump, though his motive is up for debate. Barr’s defenders note that the attorney general has long advocated strengthening the power of the executive branch, and the attorney general has told other lawyers that he is more interested in protecting the presidency than the man in the job.
But critics say that Barr has emerged as the partisan champion Trump always wanted — one willing to defend the president’s most questionable conduct, put a Trumpian spin on the results of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and mislead Congress along the way.
“He has failed the men and women of the Department of Justice by placing the needs of the president over the fair administration of justice,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y., right) said at a congressional hearing Thursday that Barr skipped after a dispute over the terms of his appearance.
Palmer Report, Opinion: The facts make clear that Donald Trump has never been weaker or closer to ouster, Bill Palmer, May 4, 2019. Despite all the pundit buzz lately about how Donald Trump somehow now has the upper hand when it comes to 2020, the facts show the opposite. Of all the crazy, deranged, and illegal things that Trump has done over the past two years to try to boost his approval rating, and thus his 2020 prospects, literally zero of them have worked – as evidenced by the fact that his approval rating still sucks.
There’s also plenty of buzz about how the events of this past week somehow mean that Donald Trump is now “winning” and “unstoppable.” Really? On what planet is this alternate reality playing out? Here are the facts: Trump’s most effective henchman, William Barr, was taken off the table this week. Barr took his big swing, missed, struck out, and now he’ll be spending the rest of his tenure playing defense in the name of trying to save himself – which means he can’t focus on saving Trump.
Then we have the buzz about how House Democrats “can’t do anything” or “aren’t willing to do anything” to stop Donald Trump. But again, those pesky facts. The Democrats are holding Barr in contempt of Congress on Monday morning, and it looks like they’re doing the same to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. House Democratic leaders have laid out the various ways in which they’re going to destroy Trump’s obstructors, ranging from massive fines to arrest. Oh, and they’re also lining up Robert Mueller to publicly testify about Trump’s crimes – which is the first step in Trump’s impeachment, whether they’re using that word yet or not.
We don’t know precisely how any of this will play out going forward. But in terms of Donald Trump and his henchmen being weakened, and the door opening for House Democrats to crush them, and the clearly stated willingness of House Democrats to indeed crush them, this has been one of the best weeks the Resistance has had in a long time. These are just the facts – no matter how many pundits try to spin this past week as the end of times.
Washington Post, Republicans with price tag concerns threaten Trump’s infrastructure plan, Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis, May 4, 2019. A $2 trillion infrastructure deal outlined this week by President Trump and top Democrats is already losing momentum, as the president’s own chief of staff is telling people inside and outside the administration that the effort is too expensive and unlikely to succeed.
The tentative accord to repair the nation’s roads, revitalize mass transit and expand broadband systems was reached at a private White House meeting Tuesday between Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress, who said they were pleasantly surprised by the president’s willingness to back a large-scale spending effort.
But the initiative has run into immediate opposition from Republicans who balk at the hefty price tag and from conservative allies who are pushing lawmakers to block it. Those opposed to the deal include Trump’s top aide, Mick Mulvaney, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is not in favor of the
spending, according to people who have spoken to him.
New York Times, Biden Sees Trump, Not G.O.P., as the Problem. Democrats Disagree, Shane Goldmacher, May 4, 2019. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is defending his friendliness toward Republicans in Washington, saying President Trump doesn’t represent them. His focus on the president as the source of the nation’s ills has exposed a rift with Democrats who see a nation cleaved by partisanship.
As Joseph R. Biden Jr. made his way across Iowa on his first trip as a 2020 presidential candidate, the former vice president repeatedly returned to one term — aberration — when he referred to the Trump presidency.
“Limit it to four years,” Mr. Biden pleaded with a ballroom crowd of 600 in the eastern Iowa city of Dubuque. “History will treat this administration’s time as an aberration.”
“This is not the Republican Party,” he added, citing his relationships with “my Republican friends in the House and Senate.”
There is no disagreement among Democrats about the urgency of defeating Mr. Trump. But Mr. Biden’s singular focus on the president as the source of the nation’s ills, while extending an olive branch to Republicans, has exposed a significant fault line in the Democratic primary.
U.S. Policy: Korea, War
Washington Post, Mother of Otto Warmbier calls U.S. diplomacy with North Korea a ‘charade,’ David Nakamura, May 4, 2019 (print ed.) The mother of Otto Warmbier (an American shown in North Korean detention before his death) on Friday criticized the Trump administration’s diplomatic outreach to North Korea as a “charade” and blasted dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime as “absolute evil” in the family’s first public comments on the stalled negotiations.
During remarks in Washington, Cindy Warmbier, whose son died in 2017 just days after he was released, in a coma, from 17 months in captivity in North Korea, also compared Kim to Adolf Hitler, saying that the only difference is that Kim brutalizes “all of his people.”
“There’s a charade going on right now. It’s called diplomacy,” Warmbier said during a Hudson Institute seminar. Of Kim, she added: “How can you have diplomacy with someone who never tells the truth? I’m all for it, but I’m very skeptical. He lies, he lies, he lies — all for himself and his regime.”
Her remarks came at a sensitive moment, as there has been little communication between Washington and Pyongyang since the collapse of a leaders’ nuclear summit in Hanoi in late February, where President Trump and Kim walked away after failing to reach an agreement on denuclearization.
Global Research via SouthFront, Opinion: The Spontaneous “Military Coup” in Caracas was Meant to Fail? Michel Chossudovsky, May 4, 2019. Comparison with the Failed June 29, 1973 Coup which preceded the September 11, 1973 military coup against Salvador Allende.
Strategic Culture Foundation via Southfront, Opinion: “Pompeo Lies, Cheats and Steals (But He’s Still a Good Christian), Philip M. Giraldi (author, conservative pundit and former CIA officer, shown at right), May 4, 2019. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently recounted to an audience at Texas A&M University that when he was head of the Central Intelligence Agency he was responsible for “lying, cheating and stealing” to benefit the United States. “Like we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”
The Secretary made the comment with a grin, noting that when he was a cadet at West Point he subscribed to the Academy honor code, which stated that “You will not lie, cheat, or steal or tolerate those who do.” The largely student audience clearly appreciated and irony and laughed and applauded, though it is not clear what they made of the “glory of the American experiment.” The normally humorless Pompeo was suggesting ironically that yesterday’s Pompeo would be required to turn today’s Pompeo into the appropriate authorities for lying and also conniving at high crimes and misdemeanors while at the Agency.
And Pompeo is not alone in his doing what would have hitherto been unthinkable as many senior figures in the Trump Administration who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution now find themselves conniving at starting various wars without the constitutionally required declaration of war from Congress. Pompeo has personally assured both the Venezuelans and Iranians that “all options are on the table,” while also arming the Ukrainians and warning the Russians to get out of Caracas or else face the consequences. And it is a good thing that he has now learned how to lie as he does so when he keeps insisting that the Iranians are the leading state sponsors of terrorism or that the Saudis are fighting a just war in Yemen.
And then there is the ethical dimension. The United States government is already involved in economic acts of war through use of its sanctions worldwide. It is currently dedicated to starving the Iranian and Venezuelan people to force them to change their governments. U.S.-proclaimed Venezuelan President Juan Guaido is shown at left this week with his fellow rebel Leopoldo Lopez.
This week, a global boycott of Iranian oil sales to be enforced unilaterally by Washington kicks in with the objective, per Pompeo, of reducing “Iran’s oil exports to zero” to deny its government its “principal source of revenue.”
The problem with the Pompeo objective is that attacking a foreign government normally rallies the people around their leadership. Also, denying a country income ultimately hurts ordinary people much more than it does those who make the decisions. One recalls the famous Madeleine Albright line about killing 500,000 Iraqi children through malnutrition and disease brought about by sanctions as “being worth it.”
Pompeo believes himself to be a good Christian. Indeed, a very good Christian in that he believes that the second coming of Jesus Christ is imminent and by virtue of his good deeds he will be saved and “raptured” directly to heaven.
He, like Vice President Mike Pence, (shown at left) is referred to as a Dispensationalist, and he also believes that those who are not “born again” and accept Jesus will be doomed to hell. Most Dispensationalists think that the second coming will be preceded by a world war centered in the Middle East referred to as Armageddon, which will pit good against evil. How that shapes Pompeo’s thinking vis-à-vis encouraging a major armed conflict with Iran is certainly something that war-weary Americans should be considering.
One of the really interesting things about fanatics like Pompeo and his dos amigos Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton (below at right) is how they are unable to figure out what comes next after the “lying, cheating, stealing” and shooting are over. After American air and naval power destroy Iran, what comes next? If Iraq and Afghanistan are anything to go by, “next” will be kind of figured out as one goes along. And as for an end game, fuggedaboutit.
Now let us suppose that with the crushing of the Mullahs all the requirements for Armageddon will be met and Jesus Christ makes his second appearance, what happens after that when the world as we know it ends?
The point of all this is that we Americans are in the hands of a group of people who are adept at self- deception and who are also quite capable of doing some very dangerous things in light of their religious and personal views. It is one thing to have a strong foreign policy defending actual American interests but it is quite another to have a propensity to go to war to satisfy a personal predilection about how one goes about enabling a biblical prophecy. Equally, having a moral compass that is flexible depending who is on the receiving end is like having no real morals at all.
We have reached a point here in the United States where bad decisions and behavior best described as evil are masked by a certain kind of expressed piety and visions of national greatness. It is time to get rid of the Pompeos and Pences to end the charade and restore genuine morality unencumbered by the book of Revelations together with a national dignity that is not linked to threats or projection of military power
New York Times, Inside Gang Territory In Honduras: ‘Either They Kill Us or We Kill Them,’ Azam Ahmed, Photographs by Tyler Hicks, May 4, 2019. In one of the deadliest cities in the world, an embattled group of young men had little but their tiny patch of turf — and they would die to protect it. Journalists from The New York Times spent weeks recording their struggle. From 2018 through early 2019, The New York Times followed the young men of Casa Blanca in this tiny corner of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, one of the deadliest cities in the world, as they tried to keep the gangs at bay.
Shootouts, armed raids and last-minute pleas to stop the bloodshed formed the central threads of their stories. MS-13 wanted the neighborhood to sell drugs. The other gangs wanted it to extort and steal. But the members of Casa Blanca had promised never to let their neighborhood fall prey to that again. And they would die for it, if they had to.
U.S. Justice & Constitutional Crisis
Washington Post, Barr’s no-show triggers contempt threats, Nixon comparison and more impeachment talk, Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis and John Wagner, May 3, 2019 (print ed.). Attorney General William P. Barr’s snub of House Democrats on Thursday has triggered an all-out war between the White House and Congress, pushing the House closer to holding the nation’s top law enforcement official in contempt of Congress and prompting Speaker Nancy Pelosi, right, to liken President Trump to President Richard M. Nixon.
The almost daily confrontations between the two branches of government increase the pressure on Pelosi (D-Calif.) to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump, a politically fraught move that she has resisted in the absence of strong public sentiment and bipartisan support. Many Democrats argue that the 2020 election is the best means to oust the president.
But Democrats are infuriated with Barr, who refused to testify Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee’s scheduled hearing on his handling of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, and Trump’s defiance in the face of multiple congressional requests for documents and witnesses. Democrats cast the administration’s unwillingness to cooperate as a threat to democracy with far-reaching implications.
“Ignoring subpoenas of Congress, not honoring subpoenas of Congress — that was Article III of the Nixon impeachment,” Pelosi (right) said of Trump in a private meeting with colleagues, according to notes taken by an individual present for the remarks. “This person has not only ignored subpoenas, he has said he’s not going to honor any subpoenas. What more do we want?”
Pelosi escalated her rhetoric this week as more Democrats press for tough steps to counter the president.
Washington Post, White House complained to Barr about Mueller report after its release, Rosalind S. Helderman and Josh Dawsey, May 3, 2019. The letter from White House lawyer Emmet Flood emerged publicly a day after the attorney general criticized special counsel Robert S. Mueller III at a Senate hearing.
Washington Post, Watergate had the Nixon tapes. Mueller had Annie Donaldson’s notes, Carol D. Leonnig, May 3, 2019. Daily notes jotted down by the chief of staff to the White House counsel provided a trove of evidence cited by the special counsel.
Concoting A Coup
New York Times, What Makes a Coup Succeed? Confidence, Consensus and a Sense of Inevitability, Max Fisher, May 3, 2019 (print ed.). This week in Venezuela, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó struggled to create that sense of inevitability for his plan to oust the president, Nicolás Maduro, but the military backing he called for never emerged.
His failure, alongside the success of recent movements to oust unpopular leaders in Algeria and Sudan, underscores the dynamics that typically make a coup succeed or fail. A historic lull in coups and revolutions appears to be ending, making these dynamics increasingly consequential well beyond Venezuela.
We tend to think of coups as driven by angry protesters or rogue officers. But, in practice, they are almost always brought about by the country’s dominant political, military and business elite.
Those power brokers, after all, have the final say over whether a leader stays or goes. But they can only remove a leader if they act together — making any coup what Naunihal Singh, a leading scholar of coups, called a “coordination game.”
U.S. Covert Action Projects
Daily Beast, Erik Prince Set Up Intel Training for Project, Staff report, May 3, 2019. Blackwater founder Erik Prince arranged for political activist James O’Keefe’s conservative group Project Veritas to receive more than one round of “training in intelligence and elicitation techniques.”
The Intercept reports. In 2016, the self-styled “guerrilla journalist” group reportedly got lessons from a retired military intelligence operative. The training lasted several weeks and ended with the operative, Euripides Rubio Jr., reportedly quitting because the group “wasn’t capable of learning.”
In 2017, Prince next set Project Veritas up with a former British MI6 officer in hopes of turning the organization into “domestic spies,” according to report. At the time, O’Keefe posted social-media photos of the event at Prince’s Wyoming ranch, claiming he was training in “spying and self-defense” and planned to turn Project Veritas into “the next great intelligence agency.”
Palmer Report, Opinion: We told you Deutsche Bank is handing over Donald Trump’s tax returns, Bill Palmer, May 3, 2019. Earlier this week the New York Times revealed the shocking revelation – buried pretty far down in a lengthy and otherwise unremarkable article – that Deutsche Bank has multiple years of Donald Trump’s personal and business tax returns, and is turning them over to House Democrats.
Palmer Report made a point of highlighting this crucial information, and we pointed out that it explained why Trump had suddenly filed a belated lawsuit trying to stop Deutsche Bank’s cooperation with the House. Because so few others were talking about it, we faced the inevitable questions along the lines of “How can this be real if I’m not reading it anywhere else?” Nevermind, of course, that we had pointed right back to the New York Times paragraph we found it in. But now the story is finally getting wider coverage – and additional details are surfacing about it.
On Friday night, Rachel Maddow used her MSNBC show to highlight the fact that Deutsche Bank has Trump’s tax returns. She also added the new detail that Trump’s lawsuit is set to go before a judge on May 22nd. If the judge grant’s Trump’s request for an injunction, the bank’s cooperation with Congress will be held up while the legal process plays out in court. But if the judge denies Trump’s injunction, Deutsche Bank can immediately turn over Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats. Legal experts all seem to think that the judge will rule against Trump.
So we’re now less than three weeks away from House Democrats probably getting their hands on multiple years of Donald Trump’s tax returns, along with whatever ugly secrets they contain. In this case, we love saying that we told you so.
Nader.org, Opinion: Trump vs. Congress and Our Constitution, Ralph Nader (right), May 2, 2019. Donald Trump is the most impeachable president in American history. Many Democrats, however, are running away from the word “impeachment” for tactical political reasons. Some Democrats say they have a sworn duty under the Constitution to present articles of impeachment for a vote in the House of Representatives, regardless of the refusal by the Republican controlled Senate to hold a trial.
Interestingly, when Republicans in the House impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998, he was more popular in polls than Donald Trump is now. The Republican controlled Senate, however, failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to remove President Clinton from office. Clinton’s offenses – lying under oath and obstruction of justice pale in comparison to the many mega offenses of Trump.
The six major House Committees are investigating issues ranging from his tax returns and business dealings to the documented serial obstructions of justice documented in the Mueller Report. As these investigations move well beyond what is already on the public record and more Americans learn their contents, there will be more than enough to substantiate numerous articles of impeachment. Plus a new one of Trump’s own creation— the wholesale, broadside obstruction of all these Congressional investigations, defying subpoenas for sworn testimony and documents, amounting to a gigantic contempt of Congress – itself an impeachable offense.
Trump is trying to bar key witnesses from testifying. He is suing his own accounting firm and Deutsche Bank to shield his sordid business relationships and potential tax violations.
I’ll bet he’s never even read our Constitution – he says out loud that whatever Congress does on impeachment, the Supreme Court will rescue him. Donald, when it comes to Congressional impeachment and conviction, the decision by Congress is final.
The House Democrats can strengthen their case with the American people by connecting impeachable offenses with actions that endanger the lives, health, and economic well-being of adults and children.
Washington Post, Opinion: A court just dealt a blow to rigged elections. It probably won’t last, Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, May 3, 2019. Opponents of gerrymandering — i.e., Democrats — just secured an important victory in a federal appeals court, when a three-judge panel ruled that Ohio’s congressional maps are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
“We are convinced by the evidence that this partisan gerrymander was intentional and effective and that no legitimate justification accounts for its extremity,” the judges wrote. “The 2012 map dilutes the votes of Democratic voters by packing and cracking them into districts that are so skewed toward one party that the electoral outcome is predetermined.”
“Packing and cracking” describes taking the other party’s voters and packing them into as few districts as possible, so they win overwhelming victories, or cracking them into minorities in districts where the party is then guaranteed to lose. These tactics are how map-drawers “waste” the opposition’s voters, rigging statewide balances of power.
But this decision will ultimately be appealed to the Supreme Court — and with the other cases also being heard, there’s little reason to think this will be upheld.
Joseph Biden, shown as U.S. vice president giving a speech at the National Press Club in a Justice Integrity Project photo.
Strategic Culture Foundation, Analysis: Joe Biden Is America’s ‘Der Alte,’ Wayne Madsen, May 3, 2019. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been a national political leader since 1972, decided, at the age of 76, to run for president of the United States. Biden’s videotaped announcement stressed that Donald Trump’s acquiescence of the August 2017 neo-Nazi and white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was changing the very fabric of the United States. Biden took a commanding lead in the opinion polls, leading the over 20 other Democratic contenders. Biden also outraised his opponents in small donation fundraising during the first 24 hours of his official candidacy.
While the Democrats are fielding a several younger and more progressive candidates, including several women, Biden – who is actually a few years younger than his opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont – has adopted a center with a slight lurch to the left policy plank. Biden is taking the safe path to what he and many others believe will be a 2020 decisive victory over Trump.
History would suggest that Biden has a decent chance of ensuring Trump is a one-term president. In times of political trauma, which usually follow wars, assassinations, and dictatorships, electorates have often turned to political or military figures from the past to ensure a return to stability.
After the U.S. Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and an unsuccessful congressional impeachment of Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, the U.S. electorate was ready for someone who represented what they considered to be firm but fair. In 1868, campaigning with the slogan, “Let us have peace,” the victorious general of the Civil War, Republican Ulysses S. Grant, was elected president in a landslide over Democratic former New York Governor Horatio Seymour.
Following Germany’s defeat in World War II, Konrad Adenauer, right, shown in 1952, an elder statesman of the interwar period’s center-right party, was elected as the first chancellor of the newly-constituted Federal Republic of Germany. As the first president of the Federal Republic, Free Democratic Party elder statesman, Theodor Heuss, was elected. Both Adenauer, who was 76 when sworn in and nicknamed “Der Alte” (the elder), and Heuss, who was 65 when elected, had troublesome baggage from the Nazi era. In 1949, with other looming problems for Germany, the electorate and the Allied occupation powers of the United States, Britain, and France felt that Adenauer’s and Heuss’s past decisions, which they later regretted, should not serve as an impediment to taking the reins of political control of West Germany.
There are, of course, lessons here for Biden, who has collected some of his own unfortunate baggage over the decades.
Joe Biden, for many Democrats, independents, and anti-Trump Republicans, is America’s “Der Alte.” Like Adenauer, Biden is 76, but his age is, in fact, an asset for the former vice president amid a field of younger candidates who lack the “gravitas” to take on the mercurial and bombastic Trump.
Washington Post, U.S. added 263,000 jobs in April, beating expectations as record hiring streak continues, Heather Long, May 3, 2019. The unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest since 1969. Hiring was strong across most sectors with especially large gains in business services (76,000 jobs added), construction (33,000 jobs added) and health care (27,000 jobs added). Economists were watching government employment closely since the U.S. Census is beginning to ramp up hiring ahead of the 2020 Census. The federal government added 12,500 jobs in April, which likely included some boost from the Census.
Media / #MeToo
New York Times, Woody Allen Pitched a Memoir. Publishers Weren’t Interested, Alexandra Alter and Cara Buckley, May 3, 2019 (print ed.). Woody Allen has been largely shunned by Hollywood. Celebrities who once vied for roles in his films now say they regret working with him. Amazon has backed out of a multimovie distribution deal with him.
Now, Allen (shown at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) appears to be losing stature in another quarter of the entertainment industry: publishing.
In the last year, Allen quietly tried to sell a memoir, according to executives at four major publishing houses, only to be met with indifference or hard passes. Before the #MeToo movement roared to life, Allen’s memoir would probably have set off a bidding war and commanded six or seven figures, given his cultural status. But with his career all but derailed by resurfaced allegations that he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow nearly three decades ago — allegations that Allen denies and that have left Americans unsure whom to believe — the prospect of publishing his memoir seems to hold little appeal.
Executives at multiple publishing houses said that an agent representing Allen approached their companies about the memoir late last year, but that they made no offers, largely because of the negative publicity that working with Allen may have generated.
Vice News, “We’re drinking now”: The oldest newspaper in New Orleans just fired its entire staff, David Uberti, May 3, 2019. One of the nation’s last local newspaper wars is officially over. Owners of the New Orleans Advocate announced Thursday that they had bought The Times-Picayune, ending a six-year battle for media turf in a cultural capital grappling with inequality and the long-term fallout from Hurricane Katrina.
In the end, the upstart Advocate, a Baton Rouge-based organization that launched its New Orleans edition in late 2012, overtook the 182-year-old Times-Picayune, which wilted in recent years under wayward ownership of the national chain Advance Publications. The purchase announced Thursday promised to create a unified daily newspaper and website — publishing under both organizations’ flags — held in local hands.
“This is a trophy,” John Georges, the New Orleans grocery wholesaler who now owns both publications, told VICE News. “We’ve been competing with the Times-Picayune for the past six years, and we were very successful. But despite that success, there is overlap.”
In an industry where companies are frantically consolidating to cut budgets and stay afloat, that’s code for job losses. “I bought the assets yesterday,” Georges added, as opposed to the newsroom.
World Press Freedom Day
New York Times, Opinion: Why The Times Is Taking Down Its Paywall for 3 Days, Michael Slackman, May 3, 2019 (print ed.). As we mark World Press Freedom Day, our international editor asks each of us to imagine what would happen around the world if journalists, and the public, were not watching.
I am now The New York Times’s international editor, overseeing correspondents covering the world. When I was asked to write about World Press Freedom Day — a United Nations invention that once seemed like a nice acknowledgment and now feels more important than ever — my thoughts returned to [an] afternoon when the gunfire broke out.
After the shooting was over, grieving families pulled me into a morgue. They wanted a witness. Three bodies riddled with buckshot were laid out on cold metal tables, and one young man, very much alive, was leaning over his dead brother, gently caressing his face, kissing his cheeks, crying.
The government tried to do what governments always try to do: change the narrative. It said its forces had been fighting terrorists. But I was there. I saw the police shooting at peaceful protesters. And I worked for a news organization that had sent me there to report what I saw.
We are living at a moment in history when democratic values are under threat by authoritarian leaders. The internet, which holds such promise as a democratizing force, has been co-opted by people peddling divisive, hateful ideologies. Citizens around the world who want to speak out are under siege from their own governments.
Every day, journalists at The Times and other mission-driven, independent news organizations around the world work hard to hold the powerful to account. To celebrate their work and press freedom, The Times is taking down its paywall from May 3 to 5 so everyone who registers can browse as many articles as they like.
As you read today’s news, or some of the remarkable stories I mention here, consider: What if no one were watching?
Daily Beast, Mormon Church Accused of Shielding Itself From Sex-Abuse Claims With Victims Hotline: Report, Staff report, May 3, 2019. Court documents have revealed that calls from the Mormon Church’s 24-hour helpline, used by church officials to report suspected abuse, are being transferred to a law firm that defends the church in abuse-related lawsuits, VICE News reports. Helpline calls are first answered inside the Salt Lake City offices of a Mormon Church-sponsored agency known as LDS Family Services, where staffers are then instructed to transfer callers to the law firm Kirton McConkie.
The law firm is technically independent from the church, but has legally advised and defended them for decades. The Mormon Church is Kirton McConkie’s largest client. Directing abuse-related calls to church lawyers allows the church to classify them as “attorney-client” communications, protecting them from disclosure in lawsuits and other forums, according to legal experts. Mormon leaders have long insisted that the helpline’s sole purpose is to advise church officials about compliance with local abuse-reporting laws; but court documents reviewed by VICE News, suggests that in reality, the system serves to shield the church from potential lawsuits.
School Shooting Hero Praised
Washington Post, ‘His sacrifice saved lives’: UNC-Charlotte shooting victim tackled the gunman, Jodie Valade, Susan Svrluga and Nick Anderson, May 2, 2019 (print ed.). Student Riley Howell was described as a hero in an incident that left him and student Ellis Parlier dead. Police said Wednesday that the 21-year-old student at the University of North Carolina’s campus here knocked the assailant off his feet at a pivotal moment in Tuesday’s shooting, saving the lives of others even as Howell himself received a mortal wound.
Kerr Putney, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, described Howell as “the first and foremost hero” in an incident that left two dead and four injured but could have turned out far worse.
“But for his work, the assailant may not have been disarmed,” Putney said of Howell in a televised news conference. “Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives.”
Putney said Howell, of Waynesville, N.C., was probably the second UNC-Charlotte student to die in the shooting that occurred in the Kennedy Building shortly after a class began at 5:30 p.m. The other fatality, officials said, was Ellis “Reed” Parlier, 19, of Midland, N.C.
Media News: WaPo Caught In Fake News?
Moon of Alabama, Fact Checker Commentary: Venezuela – Coup Failure Necessitates A New Policy, b, May 2, 2019. U.S. media, especially cable TV, is clearly working in favor of ‘regime change’ in Venezuela. They even avoid to call the intended coup a coup.
Many U.S. journalists who regularly write on South America are extremely biased and have no qualms to lie. Consider this by Anthony Faiola and Mariana Zuñiga in today’s Washington Post: “A pro-government rally on Wednesday next to Miraflores, the presidential palace, drew about 500 people, far fewer than the multiple rallies of thousands of people supporting Guaidó.”
Now watch this drone clip of the described rally:
One can also compare the WaPo take to the (similar biased) NYT account which at least gets some facts straight: “Across town in central Caracas, thousands of Mr. Maduro’s supporters dressed in red marched along the main highway toward the presidential palace. Most appeared to be retirees or public sector workers. Many were brought in from across the country by public buses that stretched for miles on the side of the highway….It was one of the biggest pro-government demonstrations in Caracas in months, underlining the government’s desire to portray strength and tenacity after the failed uprising.”
To get a good picture of the situation in Venezuela and the upcoming new policies one has to combine many sources. Some media and reporters are simply much better than others. A few point how embarrassingly Tuesday’s coup attempt and the crazy White House plans failed.
The Associated Press’ Matt Lee and Ben Fox have a similar fair take: “For the third time this year, the big moment in Venezuela has turned into a bust. Trump administration officials had expected that Wednesday might turn out to be the beginning of the end for President Nicolas Maduro with senior government figures withdrawing support and the opposition launching a mass uprising with military backing.”
The administration is somewhat split about which direction to take. The neoconservative hawks — Bolton, Pompeo, Abrams and Rubio — are looking for war, while their boss and the Pentagon are against launching one. Trump wants the votes of the millions of Cuba hawks in Florida, but he has no interest in launching a long war. The Pentagon knows that an invasion of Venezuela would lead to another decades long struggle.
U.S. Justice & Constitutional Crisis
Attorney General William P. Barr, shown from a CNN still from his Senate confirmation testimony on Jan. 15, 2019.
New York Times, Democrats Threaten Barr With Contempt After He Skips House Hearing, Nicholas Fandos, May 2, 2019. House Democrats, decrying what they called an erosion of American democracy, threatened on Thursday to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress after he failed to appear at a hearing of the Judiciary Committee and ignored a subpoena deadline to hand over Robert S. Mueller III’s full report and evidence.
They seized on a letter from Mr. Mueller to the attorney general in which he took Mr. Barr to task for the way he had characterized the special counsel’s conclusions on whether President Trump had obstructed justice. At two hearings, before the House and Senate, Mr. Barr indicated he had been unaware of such discontent.
“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday, referring to a House hearing in which he said he was unaware that the special counsel had protested his portrayal of his conclusions. “That’s a crime.”
Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, fired back, “Speaker Pelosi’s baseless attack on the attorney general is reckless, irresponsible and false.”
Palmer Report, Opinion: Nancy Pelosi drops the hammer on William Barr, Bill Palmer, May 2, 2019. The House Judiciary Committee went ahead and held its Mueller report hearing today without Attorney General William Barr, who was too afraid to show up after his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday went disastrously for him. In the end, the point of today’s hearing was to establish that Barr is a criminal with something to hide. Now that it’s out of the way, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is making clear that Barr is toast.
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has announced that he’s holding a vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. But that’s just the start. Nancy Pelosi said this to reporters today: “Not honoring subpoenas is obstruction of justice … He lied to congress which is a crime.” She then tweeted this: “Attorney General Barr’s decision to mislead the public in his testimony to Congress was not a technicality — it was a crime.”
Pelosi is rather clearly telegraphing what’s going to happen next. Most cable news pundits are incorrectly implying that there is nothing House Democrats can do to Barr under the law. Various online pundits are incorrectly insisting that House Democrats are unwilling to do anything to Barr. Back in the real world, the Democrats have a number of aggressive options available to them, including massive fines, impeachment, and – yes – having the Sergeant-at-Arms arrest him.
House Democrats have to go through specific steps while going down this path, in order justify their moves both in a legal sense and in the court of public opinion. But Pelosi’s words make clear that they’re taking that path against William Barr. Once the Democrats make their move, the pundits will shift from the current doomsday narrative about how nothing can be done to Barr, to a new doomsday narrative about how the Democrats are somehow helping Trump by taking down Barr. But that’s irrelevant. The public wants action, and justice demands action. It’s happening.
Washington Post, Barr recasts McGahn’s account of Trump’s efforts to push out Mueller, Carol D. Leonnig, May 2, 2019 (print ed.). William P. Barr’s view of the episode with the former White House counsel provided the most revealing look yet at his rationale for determining there was not sufficient evidene to charge President Trump with trying to thwart the probe.
It was one of the most dramatic cases of potential obstruction of justice laid out by federal investigators: President Trump directing the top White House lawyer (shown at right) to seek the removal of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — and then later pushing him to deny the episode.
But Attorney General William P. Barr on Wednesday played down evidence that Trump sought to fire the head of the investigation bearing down on him, emphasizing in testimony before a Senate committee that the president may have had valid reasons for his actions.
It was a surprise recasting of the account of then-White House counsel Donald McGahn, who told investigators that Trump called him twice in June 2017 at home, pressuring him to intervene with the Justice Department to try to get Mueller removed. McGahn told federal investigators that he planned to resign rather than comply. And he said he later refused a demand by Trump that he write a letter denying news accounts of the episode.
• Washington Post, Barr spars with Democrats over ‘snitty’ Mueller letter, Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian and Rosalind S. Helderman
New York Times, Opinion: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr, James Comey (former F.B.I. director, shown in an official photo), May 2, 2019 (print ed.). Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president.
How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?
How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest?
Washington Post, Analysis: Mueller’s silence enables Trump, allies to dominate the debate over the probe’s findings, Greg Miller, May 2, 2019 (print ed.). Before the Senate, William P. Barr seemed more like a defense lawyer than the top U.S. law enforcement official.
Barr became the latest Trump ally to take advantage of that void, and of Mueller’s constrained conception of his role, by speaking to his description of the work of the special counsel and his interpretation of the Mueller report’s conclusions — all to the advantage of the president. Barr pursued that role so aggressively Wednesday that at times he came across as much a defense lawyer for the president as attorney general of the United States.
• Washington Post, Analysis: With ‘snitty’ slip-up, Barr undercuts his argument, Aaron Blake,
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Commentary: Fascism by lawsuit — Trumplican “Justice,” Wayne Madsen (syndicated columnist, author), May 2, 2019 (subscription required, excerpted by permission). Donald Trump has turned the White House and the “Trumplican Party,” formerly known as the Republican Party, into an extension of the Trump Organization’s litigation department.
Palmer Report, Opinion: It’s Mueller Time, Bill Palmer, May 2, 2019. In the days leading up to William Barr’s congressional testimony, Palmer Report pointed out that the only goal for the Democrats was to find a way to catch Barr in an ugly lie or get him to admit an ugly truth. Once it was established in public view that Barr handled the Mueller report dishonestly in an attempt at covering up Donald Trump’s crimes, it would set the stage for the real witnesses.
As it turned out, when Robert Mueller’s letter surfaced accusing William Barr of lying about the Mueller report, it alone was enough to demonstrate that Barr had indeed led a coverup of Trump’s crimes. Barr’s subsequent idiocy during his televised Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was merely icing on the cake. By that time, the Democrats’ mission was accomplished.
Washington Post, Former CIA officer Jerry Lee admits conspiracy to spy for China, Rachel Weiner and Shane Harris, May 2, 2019. A former CIA case officer long suspected in the intelligence community of being a devastating mole for the Chinese government admitted Wednesday he conspired to commit espionage in that country.
But no evidence was produced that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, right, shared any information.
Lee, a 54-year-old Hong Kong native and U.S. Army veteran who served in the CIA for 13 years, faces up to life in prison.
But because the guilty plea he entered in federal court in Alexandria describes the information involved as “secret” rather than “top secret,” his recommended sentence will be significantly lower. He had been set to go to trial this week before Judge T.S. Ellis III.
New York Times, Top Executives of Opioid Company Found Guilty of Racketeering, Gabrielle Emanuel and Katie Thomas, May 2, 2019. The defendants, from Insys Therapeutics, were accused of conspiring to bribe doctors to prescribe a fentanyl-based painkiller. The arguments presented were relevant to cases nationwide, as prosecutors work to hold major drug makers accountable for the opioid epidemic.
A federal jury on Thursday found the top executives of Insys Therapeutics, a company that sold a fentanyl-based painkiller, guilty of racketeering charges in a rare criminal prosecution that blamed corporate officials for contributing to the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The jury, after deliberating for 15 days, issued guilty verdicts against the company’s founder, the onetime billionaire John Kapoor, and four former executives, finding they had conspired to fuel sales of its highly potent drug, Subsys, by not only bribing doctors to prescribe their product but also by misleading insurers about patients’ need for the drug.
The verdict against Insys executives is a sign of the accelerating effort to hold pharmaceutical and drug distribution companies and their executives and owners accountable in ways commensurate with the devastation wrought by the prescription opioid crisis. More than 200,000 people have overdosed on such drugs in the past two decades.
Federal authorities last month for the first time filed felony drug trafficking charges against a major pharmaceutical distributor, Rochester Drug Cooperative, and two former executives, accusing them of shipping tens of millions of oxycodone pills and fentanyl products to pharmacies that were distributing drugs illegally.
More Media News
Washington Post, Facebook bans far-right leaders including Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos for being “dangerous,” Elizabeth Dwoskin, May 2, 2019. The bans are a sign that the social network is more aggressively enforcing its hate speech policies under pressure from civil rights groups.
Facebook said on Thursday it has permanently banned several far-right figures and organizations including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Infowars host Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Laura Loomer, for being “dangerous,” a sign that the social network is more aggressively enforcing its hate speech policies under pressure from civil rights groups.
Facebook had removed the accounts, fan pages, and groups affiliated with these individuals after it reevaluated the content that they had posted previously, or had reexamined their activities outside of Facebook, the company said. The removal also pertains to at least one of the organizations run by these people, Jones’ Infowars.
Jones, for example, recently hosted Gavin McInnes, the leader of the Proud Boys, which Facebook designated as a hate figure in December. Yiannopoulos, right, another alt-right social media star, publicly praised McInnes this year, and Loomer appeared with him at a rally. Jones has been temporarily banned before by Facebook as well as other social media platforms including Twitter.
But Facebook and its counterparts have largely resisted permanent bans, holding that objectionable speech is permissible, so long as it doesn’t bleed into hate. Facebook has also been wary of offending conservatives, who have become vocal about allegations that the company unfairly censors their speech.
The move is likely to be welcomed by civil rights activists, who have long argued that these individuals espouse violent and hateful views and that Silicon Valley companies should not allow their platforms to become a vehicle for spreading them.
Synogogue Suspect Was Evangelical
Washington Post, Alleged synagogue shooter espoused Christian theology, raising tough questions for evangelical pastors, Julie Zauzmer, May 2, 2019. Some Christian leaders say the suspect’s background in the church has nothing to do with his alleged crime, and the church shouldn’t have to answer for him. But others called for a moment of reckoning.
Before he allegedly walked into a synagogue in Poway, Calif., and opened fire, John Earnest (shown above in custody) appears to have written a seven-page letter spelling out his core beliefs: that Jewish people, guilty in his view of faults ranging from killing Jesus to controlling the media, deserved to die. That his intention to kill Jews would glorify God.
Days later, the Rev. Mika Edmondson read those words and was stunned. “It certainly calls for a good amount of soul-searching,” said Edmondson, a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a small evangelical denomination founded to counter liberalism in mainline Presbyterianism. Earnest, 19, was a member of an OPC congregation. His father was an elder. He attended regularly. And in the manifesto, the writer spewed not only invective against Jews and racial minorities but also cogent Christian theology he heard in the pews.
So the pastor read those seven pages, trying to understand. “We can’t pretend as though we didn’t have some responsibility for him — he was radicalized into white nationalism from within the very midst of our church,” Edmondson said.
Earnest’s actions on Saturday in Poway — where he allegedly killed one Jewish worshiper and injured a rabbi, a child and another synagogue-goer — have spurred debate among evangelical pastors about the role of a certain stream of Christian theology in shaping the young man’s worldview, which allegedly turned deadly on the last day of the Passover holiday.
Washington Post, Stephen Moore abandons bid for Federal Reserve seat, Trump says, Felicia Sonmez, May 2, 2019. Moore, right, had faced Republican opposition in the Senate as he faced criticism over writings from the 2000s, in which he made derogatory statements about women.
A CNN file graphic links estimated civilian casualties for a recent period to U.S. companies making money by helping the Saudi-led coalition fight to install its preferred government over neighboring Yemen.
Washington Post, Senate fails to override Trump’s veto of resolution demanding end to U.S. involvement in Yemen, Karoun Demirjian, May 2, 2019. The measure represented a bipartisan rebuke of the president’s continued embrace of Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition targeting Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.
The Senate on Thursday fell short of the votes needed to override President Trump’s veto of legislation demanding an end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military coalition operating in Yemen, a country plagued by more than four years of a devastating civil war.
The measure, sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), passed both the Senate and the House earlier this year, with the support of all Democrats, seven Republican senators, and 18 House Republicans. It sought to use Congress’ war powers to curtail U.S. logistical and intelligence support for the coalition, which backs Yemen’s exiled government and its fight against the Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran.
The measure gained support among lawmakers after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last fall, which American intelligence officials believe was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, shown at left.
But Trump — who has been criticized for his continued embrace of Saudi leaders in the wake of Khashoggi’s death — used the second veto of his presidency to block it.
Washington Post, Reports of sexual assaults in the military spiked nearly 38 percent last year, Pentagon says, Frances Stead Sellers and Dan Lamothe, May 2, 2019. The statistics show about 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact,” a category that includes rape, forcible sodomy, groping and other offenses.
U.S. Political Corruption
Washington Post, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigns amid book scandal, health problems, Paul Schwartzman and Peter Hermann, May 2, 2019. Pugh, a Democrat (shown in a file photo), reportedly was paid nearly $800,000 by entities connected to the city and state government for her self-published “Healthy Holly” book series. She is Baltimore’s second mayor to quit in a decade.
Washington Post, Hillary Clinton mocks president: ‘China, if you’re listening, why don’t you get Trump’s tax returns?’ John Wagner, May 2, 2019. At a news conference in July 2016, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump famously called for Russia’s assistance in finding Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
On Wednesday night, Clinton turned the tables, suggesting a plea that one of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates could make: “China, if you’re listening, why don’t you get Trump’s tax returns?”
“I’m sure our media would richly reward you,” Clinton added during an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
Clinton offered the hypothetical as part of an argument that Republicans are letting Russia get away with having aided Trump in the 2016 election.
New York Times, Opinion: The Trouble With Joe and Bernie, Paul Krugman (right), May 2, 2019. Neither man seems ready for harsh political reality. It’s still very early, but Joe Biden ) has emerged as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders is in second place, although he appears to be fairly far behind, and one poll shows him in a statistical tie with Elizabeth Warren. So what should we think about the men currently leading the field?
Well, I have concerns. Not about electability, a topic about which nobody knows anything. Never mind what today’s general election polls say: What will polling look like after the inevitable Republican smear campaign? The answer to this question depends, in turn, on whether news organizations will cooperate with those smears as gleefully as they did in 2016.
No, my concerns are about what will happen if either man wins. Are they ready for the political trench warfare that would inevitably follow a Democratic victory?
The trouble with both Biden (right) and Sanders is that each, in his own way, seems to believe that he has unique powers of persuasion that will let him defy the harsh reality of today’s tribal politics. And this lack of realism could set either of them up for failure.
Start with Biden, a convivial guy who has maintained good personal relations with Republicans. All indications are that he believes that these good personal relations will translate into an ability to make bipartisan deals on policy.
But we’ve already seen this movie, and it was a tragedy. Barack Obama took office with a message of unity and bipartisan outreach, and a sincere belief that he could get many Republicans to back his efforts to revive the economy, reform health care, and more. What he faced instead was total scorched-earth opposition.
Sanders, by contrast, doesn’t do bipartisanship. He doesn’t even do unipartisanship, refusing to call himself a Democrat even as he seeks the party’s nomination. But what Sanders appears to believe is that he can convince voters not just to support progressive policies, but to support sweeping policy changes that would try to fix things most people don’t consider broken.
That, after all, is what his Medicare for All push, which would eliminate private insurance, amounts to. He is saying to the 180 million Americans who currently have private insurance, many of whom are satisfied with their coverage: “I’m going to take away the insurance you have and replace it with a government program. Also, you’re going to pay a lot more in taxes. But trust me, the program will be better than what you have now, and the new taxes will be less than you currently pay in premiums.”
Could those claims be true? Yes. Will voters believe them? Probably not.
Democratic candidates in the next tier of the current race seem to get it. Warren’s proposals are very progressive, but they’re also incremental, and even her fairly radical ideas, like her proposed wealth tax, poll well. Anyone who watched Kamala Harris at Wednesday’s Barr hearing knows that she has no illusions about the state of partisanship.
Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography.
More On Venezuelan Coup Crisis
Washington Post, In Venezuela, opposition tries to maintain momentum as bid to topple Maduro crumbles, Anthony Faiola and Mariana Zuñiga, May 2, 2019. Juan Guaidó, shown above at left, called for daily protests until President Nicolás Maduro (above right) leaves. Venezuela’s opposition sought to maintain pressure Thursday on President Nicolás Maduro through further protests, as the embattled socialist leader convened a weekend of dialogue to critique his mandate and fine-tune “the revolution.”
Following a failed attempt to stage a peaceful military revolt Tuesday and overthrow Maduro, the opposition was facing a limited array of options.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Wednesday called on Venezuelans to stage daily protests until Maduro leaves. The campaign, opposition officials said, included an appeal to public servants to show civil disobedience by wearing blue armbands to work.
After two days of violent protests that left two people dead and dozens wounded, the opposition was banking on a resilient populace to continue the effort — though it remained unclear how exhausted, crisis-battered Venezuelans would respond. Guaidó insisted late Wednesday that political change remains within Venezuela’s grasp.
At 6 a.m. on Thursday, Maduro appeared at a military base in western Caracas alongside Vladimir Padrino López, a member of the president’s inner circle who the Trump administration has said was negotiating his ouster.
“The empire is investing in dividing us and say there’s a civil war in Venezuela,” Maduro said, referring to the United States. “They say they have to intervene, to weaken our homeland. No matter the circumstance we have to be united, and that’s what loyalty is. It has to be a collective strength.”
Washington Post, How many Cuban troops are there in Venezuela? The U.S. says more than 20,000. Cuba says zero, Adam Taylor, May 2, 2019. The ambiguity notwithstanding, President Trump has threatened to impose a full embargo and high-level sanctions on Cuba over the alleged Cuban troop presence.
Future of Freedom Foundation, Commentary: Regime Change Failure (So Far) in Venezuela, Jacob G. Hornberger, May 2, 2019. So far, the U.S. national-security establishment’s regime-change operation in Venezuela has met with failure. Having designated Venezuelan public official Juan Guaidó as the new president of the country, U.S. officials have still not been able to deliver him the reins of power. At the very least, Guaidó isn’t collecting taxes from anyone, which is usually a good sign of who wields political power within a country.
A couple of days ago, Guaidó, perhaps acting on orders of the CIA and other U.S. officials, declared that the revolution to put him into office was on. He called on the Venezuelan people to take to the streets and rise up against the Nicholas Maduro regime and for the Venezuelan military to turn against Maduro.
The result was failure. Only few hundred people showed up and the military establishment declared its loyalty to Maduro. Guaidó’s right hand man, Leopoldo Lopez, who was aligned with Guaidó on revolution day, quickly ensconced himself in the Chilean embassy and then later in the Spanish embassy.
The Los Angeles Times yesterday pointed out that there is one constituency in Venezuela that matters most — the military. Whoever gets the military on its side will win the regime-change battle. The Times’ observation says as much about Venezuela’s government as it does about the U.S. government. Both governments are what are known as “national-security states.” A national-security state is characterized by an extremely powerful and permanent large military-intelligence establishment, one that wields overwhelming power within the overall governmental structure.
In the United States, the national-security branch of the government is composed of a triumvirate consisting of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. In Venezuela, like in Egypt, North Korea, and other national-security states, all of the powers that are wielded by the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA are simply combined within the overall military establishment. Thus, when we refer to the Venezuelan “military,” we are referring to a combination military and intelligence establishment, one that wields such omnipotent powers as assassination, military arrests, indefinite detention in military facilities, torture, trial by military tribunal, secret surveillance, and all the other powers exercised by the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.
In any national security-state, the military-intelligence establishment wields the real power within the government. As Michael Glennon, professor of law at Tufts University, explains in his excellent book National Security and Double Government, in the U.S. governmental system the national-security part of the federal government is the part that is actually in control but permits the other three parts — the president, the Congress, and the federal judiciary to maintain the veneer of power.
The solution to all this mayhem? Leave Venezuela to the Venezuelans, dismantle America’s national-security state apparatus, and restore America’s founding governmental structure of a limited-government republic and its founding principle of non-interventionism.
U.S. Justice & Constitutional Crisis
New York Times, Mueller Pushed Twice for Barr to Release Report’s Summaries, Michael S. Schmidt, May 1, 2019 (print ed.). The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III (shown above in a file photo), pushed Attorney General William P. Barr twice to release more of his investigative findings in late March after Mr. Barr outlined the inquiry’s main conclusions in a letter to Congress, citing a gap between Mr. Barr’s interpretation and Mr. Mueller’s report, according to a letter released on Wednesday.
The letter, from Mr. Mueller, revealed deep concern about how Mr. Barr handled the initial release of the special counsel’s findings.
Mr. Mueller’s office first informed the Justice Department of their concerns on March 25, a day after Mr. Barr released his letter clearing Mr. Trump but declined to release the special counsel’s findings themselves.
“We communicated that concern to the department on the morning of March 25,” Mr. Mueller said in a second letter to Mr. Barr two days later. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”
Mr. Barr’s letter “threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the department appointed the special counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations,” Mr. Mueller wrote.
New York Times, Barr Defends Handling of Mueller Report Against Withering Rebukes, Peter Baker, May 1, 2019. Attorney General William P. Barr defended himself on Wednesday against withering criticism of his handling of the special counsel investigation as Democrats accused him of deceiving Congress and acting as a personal agent for President Trump rather than a steward of justice.
At a contentious hearing marked by a deep partisan divide, Mr. Barr denied misrepresenting the investigation’s conclusions despite a newly revealed letter by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, protesting the initial summary of its findings. Mr. Barr dismissed the letter as “a bit snitty” and the controversy over it as “mind-bendingly bizarre.”
But in a series of aggressive interrogations, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed indignation and asserted that the attorney general had been “purposely misleading,” engaged in “masterful hairsplitting” and even “lied to Congress.” Several Democrats on the committee, elsewhere in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail called for Mr. Barr’s resignation or even impeachment.
In just 11 weeks in office, Mr. Barr has become a lightning rod for criticism for minimizing the findings of Mr. Mueller’s report and publicly embracing the president’s explanations of his actions. Senate Democrats took the opportunity on Wednesday to excoriate him before a national television audience.
“Mr. Barr, now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrifice their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office,” Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, told him (shown at left), likening the attorney general to the president’s personal lawyer and White House counselor.
“You put the power and authority of the office of the attorney general and the Department of Justice behind a public relations effort to help Donald Trump protect himself,” she added. “Finally, you lied to Congress.”
New York Times, William Barr Hearing: Live Updates and Analysis of Testimony on the Mueller Report, Staff reports, May 1, 2019. Attorney General William P. Barr will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to testify about his decisions around the special counsel’s report.
Palmer Report, Opinion: Lindsey Graham has profane meltdown during William Barr testimony, Bill Palmer, May 1, 2019. If you’ve been wondering why Donald Trump’s disgraced Attorney General William Barr was willing to show up and testify about his crimes to the Senate Judiciary Committee today, even as he publicly considers dodging tomorrow’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, you need look no further than the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee is run by Trump’s corrupt lunatic lackey Lindsey Graham. Sure enough, Graham (right) wasted no time turning the whole thing into a freak show this morning.
Graham kicked off his opening statement by appearing to complain about the air conditioning, and that turned out to be the least strange thing he said. He then went on to falsely claim that Robert Mueller found “no collusion” – such a blatant lie that MSNBC felt compelled to mute him and quickly jump in to explain that Graham was lying. That’s almost unprecedented for a committee chairman’s opening statement, yet it set the tenor for the day.
Graham made the stunning admission that he hasn’t even read the entire Mueller report, and that alone should have caused a trap door to open up underneath him. He then wasted no time bringing up Donald Trump’s favorite phony conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s emails and former FBI agent Peter Strzok’s text messages. At one point Graham read aloud the Strzok quote “Donald Trump is a fucking idiot” for no good reason, and his profanity was broadcast uncensored on live national television. Graham then apologized to any children who were watching.
After Lindsey Graham was finished with his profane, lying, and incoherent meltdown in front of the cameras, Democratic ranking member Dianne Feinstein then used her opening remarks to state the facts about the Mueller report, and Robert Mueller’s letter exposing William Barr’s lies about the Mueller report. We presume Lindsey Graham is now hiding under his desk.
Washington Post, Opinion: William Barr and his horrible hearing, Barr corrects testimony, says Trump campaign briefed on 2016 campaign threats, Jennifer Rubin, right, May 1, 2019. So far, Attorney General William P. Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee has done himself and the administration no favors. To the contrary, former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal observes, “Barr has been evasive and misleading from the first paragraph. It’s conduct totally unbecoming of an attorney general. He’s not even very good at misleading.”
Fordham law professor Jed Shugerman were more blunt. “This is nuts . . . just bonkers, ” he told me mid-morning.
Among Barr’s worst moments:
Claiming there was a difference between seeking to remove special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for “conflicts” (which never existed), or firing him; claiming, despite the language of Mueller’s letter, that he did not think Mueller found Barr’s four-page letter from March 24 misleading; claiming that he did not release Mueller’s summaries because the entire report had to be released (yet Barr released his own four-page letter, which he refused to characterize as a “summary”); and claiming that Mueller refused to reach a prosecutorial decision (despite the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) guidelines prohibiting prosecution of a sitting president) because of insufficient evidence.
Washington Post, Emoluments case can proceed, judge says, providing potential access to information about Trump’s business deals, Jonathan O’Connell, Ann E. Marimow and Carol D. Leonnig, May 1, 2019 (print ed.). The federal lawsuit, backed by nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers, says the president is violating the Constitution’s emoluments provision when his businesses accept payments from foreign governments.
Democrats in Congress can move ahead with their lawsuit against President Trump alleging that his private business violates the Constitution’s ban on gifts or payments from foreign governments, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision in Washington from U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (a Republican-nominated judge, shown at left) adopted a broad definition of the anti-corruption ban and could set the stage for Democratic lawmakers to begin seeking information from the Trump Organization. The Justice Department can try to delay or block the process by asking an appeals court to intervene.
In a 48-page opinion, the judge refused the request of the president’s legal team to dismiss the case and rejected Trump’s narrow definition of emoluments, finding it “unpersuasive and inconsistent.”
The lawsuit is one of two landmark cases against Trump relying on the once-obscure emoluments clauses of the Constitution.
Washington Post, Administration won’t provide details on individual clearances, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey, May 1, 2019. The White House said that it will not authorize any executive branch officials to disclose to Congress information about individual security clearances.
The White House said Wednesday that it will not authorize any executive branch officials to disclose to Congress information about individual security clearances, a move that House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) called “the latest example of the president’s widespread and growing obstruction of Congress.”
The Oversight panel has been examining the administration’s handling of security clearances and allegations that officials, including presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, were granted access to sensitive information over the objections of career staff.
The investigation has led to an angry and escalating standoff between the House committee and the White House, which accused the panel in a letter Wednesday of “advancing a partisan political agenda.”
Among other things, White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone wrote, “the committee appears to be putting public servants at risk” as it seeks information on the way in which the White House granted security clearances to Kushner and others in the top echelons of the Trump White House.
Palmer Report, Opinion: We told you William Barr forced to Robert Mueller to prematurely shut down his investigation, Bill Palmer, May 1, 2019. Shortly after William Barr first released his obviously fictional “summary” of the Mueller report several weeks ago, Palmer Report looked at the underlying circumstances and concluded that Barr had likely forced Robert Mueller to prematurely end his investigation. Since that time, more clues have gradually emerged to that end. Sure enough, a major news outlet is now reporting that this is indeed what happened.
During her MSNBC show on Monday night, Rachel Maddow revealed that NBC News is working on a story about how William Barr forced Robert Mueller to shut down his probe. She didn’t provide any details, and she said that the full story could take another day or two to make it out the door. But based on what’s already publicly known, it’s not difficult to piece together the general parameters.
The first big clue came when it was revealed in federal court hearings that Robert Mueller’s grand jury was still intact, even though Mueller and his team were off the job. This raised questions about why Mueller would quit when there were more indictments still coming, as grand juries only remain empaneled for the purpose of bringing additional indictments. The second big clue was that Mueller’s longstanding and apparently crucial Supreme Court fight against a foreign government-owned mystery company is still ongoing and near nearly complete, raising the question of why Mueller would file his “final report” without this important information, when he was so close to obtaining it.
Palmer Report was also dumbfounded last month when we found an error in the Mueller report, which stated that the Trump Tower Moscow deal ran through the summer of 2016, when Rudy Giuliani had recently confessed in public that the deal actually ran through election day in 2016. This strongly suggested that the Mueller report was finalized in haste, without time for a thorough final review by Mueller’s team, which in turn suggested that Mueller was abruptly given a short deadline for turning his report in.
From the way Maddow described it tonight, it sounds like NBC News has specific inside information about how William Barr forcibly shut Robert Mueller’s team down. We’ll have to wait for that story to be published to find out the full context. But it’s going to tell us a lot about why Mueller didn’t bring certain charges, and why he didn’t investigate certain avenues: he wasn’t done with his investigation when Barr essentially fired him. This could end up being an even bigger bombshell than Mueller’s letter exposing that Barr lied about the Mueller report with his summary.
Media / WikiLeaks
Washington Post, Assange sentenced to nearly a year in prison for jumping bail, William Booth and Karla Adam, May 1, 2019. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was sentenced Wednesday to 50 weeks in a British prison for jumping bail. He apologized to the court, but the judge said he had used his “privileged position” to show disdain for British law.
Assange (shown in a file photo) next faces an extradition hearing in London related to separate and more serious charges in the United States of conspiring to hack a government password.
Assange, 47, appeared at London’s Southwark Crown Court wearing a black jacket and gray sweater, the bushy white beard seen during his arrest last month now neatly trimmed. He offered a letter of apology and answered the judge in a quiet voice from behind a glass wall in a bland courtroom packed with journalists taking notes.
The Australian citizen had faced up to a year in a British prison for his bail violation — the maximum penalty for such an offense. He broke his bail conditions in 2012 when he fled to the Ecuadoran Embassy in London after Sweden requested his extradition in a case involving sexual assault allegations, including rape. Assange has denied those accusations.
Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion; “Wag the Dunce”: Trump’s failed Venezuela coup, May 1, 2019 (subscription required). Donald Trump’s White House, also known as the “Gang Who Couldn’t Coup Straight,” had one shot at overthrowing Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro to divert attention away from the anticipated late April 30th release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s complaint letter about how Attorney General William Barr misled the public and Congress on the findings of his investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign.
Washington Post, Guaidó, Maduro call for rival protests in Venezuela, Mariana Zuñiga and Anthony Faiola, May 1, 2019. The demonstrations come a day after one person was killed and dozens others hurt in clashes around the country.
Moon of Alabama, Opinion: Venezuela — Guaidó Got Snookered — White House Starts Beating War Drums, b, May 1, 2019. Yesterday’s failed coup attempt in Venezuela significantly hurt the Trump administration’s international standing. It delegitimized its Venezuelan clients Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López (shown above, with López at right). After recognizing that their original ‘regime change’ plan failed (again) the White House starts to beat the war drums.
That wasn’t the plan: “The Trump administration, which has backed Mr. Guaidó (shown in a file photo) since he first challenged Mr. Maduro’s authority more than three months ago, clearly thought the day would unfold differently.”
There is no official explanation why the Trump administration believed that the comical coup attempt by Juan Guaidó and his master Leopolo López would work.
There are signs though that the government of President Nicolas Maduro set a trap. Several people in the top echelon of the Venezuelan government gave false promises that they would join the U.S. proxy side. They snookered Guaidó into launching his coup to let him fail.
A Washington Post wrap-up says that everyone expected important people to change sides. Everyone in Washington believed that significant figures in the Venezuelan government would change sides. They did not do so. Vladimir Padrino rejected the coup within an hour after Guaidó announced it. It seems that the Guaidó side got played by the Venezuelan Defense Minister and several other officials and officers. They seem to have promised to support Guaidó only to bait him into taking steps that would embarrass him.
The total failure of the coup is obvious when one looks at what happened to Leopoldo López, the mentor of Juan Guaidó. He was under house arrest for leading the violent demonstrations and deadly riots in 2014. Yesterday morning the guards let him go. While the circumstances are not clear, the police chief responsible for the guards has been fired. López promised his followers that he would go to the Miraflores Presidential Palace. But he wasn’t even able to leave eastern Caracas. Yesterday evening López, with his wife and daughter, fled into the Chilean embassy. They seem to have disliked the accommodations. Two hours later they moved into the Spanish embassy. While the embassy food may be good, it will be a quite different life than in their own comfortable mansion. A few of the soldiers who supported Guaidó took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Guaidó is still free.
Guaidó and his backers in the Trump administration were made to believe that some significant elements of the Maduro government and of the army would turn on Maduro. They launched a coup attempt that fell apart within a few hours as no one changed sides. All their blustering has now been deflated. Guaidó has lost his credibility. Washington may still support him but in Caracas there is likely no one left who believes in him.
Bolton (shown at left in a screengrab from YouTube), Pompeo, Abrams and of course Donald Trump have been exposed as buffoons who, despite their powerful positions, can not even organize a simple coup. They publicly supported through dozens of tweets and interviews what turned out be a bad amateur theater play. The diplomatic corps will joke about this episode for the next decade.
It is unlikely that Trump wants to launch a war on Venezuela. He likely knows that it would not be a cake walk, and that it would be a severe risk for his reelection. But who knows what Bolton or Pompeo might tell him to get their way.
They just got snookered by the Maduro government. Why would they not snooker Trump?
Washington Post, 50 Americans are living in Venezuela’s D.C. embassy. Amid a standoff, Venezuelans say they want it back, Marissa J. Lang, May 1, 2019. For the first time since the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington (shown above) shut down amid an international power struggle over the future of Venezuela, an ambassador representing opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Wednesday stood on the building’s front steps.
Carlos Vecchio spoke of the intense protests and violence gripping the troubled South American nation as the conflict played out in real time over loudspeakers and megaphones in Washington’s posh Georgetown neighborhood. The embassy itself has become the scene of a proxy standoff between supporters of Guaidó and those who say Nicolás Maduro is the rightful leader of Venezuela.
As Vecchio spoke — a microphone in his right hand, a megaphone in his left — protesters with the left-wing activist group Code Pink leaned out a second-story window of the embassy, chanting “Hands off Venezuela” and “Trump’s stooge” into a speaker of their own. The crowd below chanted “Guaidó” and “Hands off my embassy.”
On one side, a group of activists from Code Pink and other left-wing organizations have been living inside the embassy since April 10 at the invitation of the Maduro government. On Tuesday, they sat on the embassy steps and sang American protest songs, holding yellow signs that read “No to U.S. coup plots” and “Hands off Venezuela!”
On the other side of the barricades, pro-opposition demonstrators decked out in yellow, red and blue filled the streets. They chanted, “libertad,” meaning “freedom,” and sang the Venezuelan national anthem.
U.S. Crime, Courts
New York Times, Once Idolized, Guru of Nxivm ‘Sex Cult’ to Stand Trial Alone, Barry Meier, May 1, 2019. Keith Raniere, who led a group in which women were branded, is on trial in Brooklyn. Testimony is expected to be prurient, bizarre and nauseating, court filings suggest.
It seems a fitting final act to a strange saga: On Tuesday, Keith Raniere, who once led a cultlike group in which women were branded and taught to idolize him, will face trial alone, abandoned not only by the women he subjugated and abused, but by those who served him loyally for years.
For two decades, Keith Raniere, 58, was referred to as “Vanguard” by his followers in a group called Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um).
He ordered women to maintain near-starvation diets to achieve the type of body he found desirable and punished those who disobeyed his edict to have sex only with him, former followers said. In recent years, some women were branded on their pelvis with a symbol containing Mr. Raniere’s initials, an act he described in a text message as a “tribute” to him.
During his trial in Brooklyn federal court, which is expected to last six weeks, jurors will hear testimony that will be prurient, bizarre and nauseating, court filings suggest. Among the graphic details: Prosecutors plan to use pictures of a naked 15-year-old girl in Mr. Raniere’s bed to prove that he exploited underage women.
New York Times, A man who made racist death threats to Barack Obama and Maxine Waters was sentenced to 46 months in prison, Michael Gold, May 1, 2019. Stephen J. Taubert said he threatened to kill the former president and the congresswoman because he was upset about “people knocking” President Trump. First, the Syracuse man repeatedly called a senator’s office in Washington and said he planned to kill former President Barack Obama, using a racial slur in his threat, the authorities said.
A year later, the same man, Stephen J. Taubert, called the California office of Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat, and vowed to kill her and her staff members. Once again, he spouted violent rhetoric over the phone, using racist epithets.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taubert, 61, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for the phone calls.
His sentence was handed down in the Federal District Court in Syracuse. It came six weeks after a jury found Mr. Taubert guilty of threatening to kill a former United States president, transmitting a threat in interstate commerce and making a threat to influence, impede or retaliate against a federal official.
The jury also found that Mr. Taubert chose to make threats against Mr. Obama and Ms. Waters, two black Democratic Party leaders, because of their race, a distinction that allowed prosecutors to seek an enhanced sentence.
U.S. Politics / Scandal
New York Times, Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies, Kenneth P. Vogel and Iuliia Mendel, May 1, 2019. It was a foreign policy role Joseph R. Biden Jr., right, enthusiastically embraced during his vice presidency: browbeating Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt government to clean up its act. And one of his most memorable performances came on a trip to Kiev in March 2016, when he threatened to withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the political elite.
The pressure campaign worked. The prosecutor general, long a target of criticism from other Western nations and international lenders, was soon voted out by the Ukrainian Parliament.
Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, left, Mr. Biden’s younger son, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general.Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s younger son, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2017 in Kiev, Ukraine. … that he had never discussed the matter with Hunter Biden and that he learned of …
The broad outlines of how the Bidens’ roles intersected in Ukraine have been known for some time. The former vice president’s campaign said that he had always acted to carry out United States policy without regard to any activities of his son, that he had never discussed the matter with Hunter Biden and that he learned of his son’s role with the Ukrainian energy company from news reports.
But new details about Hunter Biden’s involvement, and a decision this year by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general to reverse himself and reopen an investigation into Burisma, have pushed the issue back into the spotlight just as the senior Mr. Biden is beginning his 2020 presidential campaign.
They show how Hunter Biden and his American business partners were part of a broad effort by Burisma to bring in well-connected Democrats during a period when the company was facing investigations backed not just by domestic Ukrainian forces but by officials in the Obama administration. Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma prompted concerns among State Department officials at the time that the connection could complicate Vice President Biden’s diplomacy in Ukraine, former officials said.
“I have had no role whatsoever in relation to any investigation of Burisma, or any of its officers,” Hunter Biden said Wednesday in a statement. “I explicitly limited my role to focus on corporate governance best practices to facilitate Burisma’s desire to expand globally.”
Crony Politics Scandal In New Jersey
New York Times, The Tax Break Was $260 Million. Benefit to the State Was Tiny: $155,520, Nick Corasaniti and Matthew Haag, May 1, 2019. How a lawyer with deep connections to Democratic politicians in New Jersey helped to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax credits. It was called the Economic Opportunity Act, a measure intended to kick-start the sputtering post-recession economy in New Jersey, particularly in its struggling cities. The state would award lucrative tax breaks to businesses if they moved to New Jersey or remained in the state, creating and retaining jobs.
But before the bill was approved by the Legislature, a series of changes were made to its language in June 2013 that were intended to grant specific companies hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax breaks, with no public disclosure, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.
Many of the last-minute changes to drafts of the bill were made by a real estate lawyer, Kevin D. Sheehan, whose influential law firm has close ties to Democratic politicians and legislative leaders in New Jersey.
Mr. Sheehan was allowed by lawmakers to edit drafts of the bill in ways that opened up sizable tax breaks to his firm’s clients, according to a marked up copy of the legislation obtained by The Times, which identifies Mr. Sheehan’s changes.
Sports Gender Ruling
New York Times, Caster Semenya Loses Case to Compete as a Woman in All Races, Jeré Longman and Juliet Macur, May 1, 2019. Female track athletes with naturally elevated levels of testosterone must decrease the hormone to participate in certain races at major competitions like the Olympics, the highest court in international sports said Wednesday in a landmark ruling amid the pitched debate over who can compete in women’s events.
The decision was a defeat for Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters from South Africa, who had challenged proposed limits placed on female athletes with naturally elevated levels of the muscle-building hormone testosterone.
At a time when the broader culture is moving toward an acceptance of gender fluidity, the ruling affirmed the sports world’s need for distinct gender lines, saying they were essential for the outcome of women’s events to be fair.
“The gender studies folks have spent the last 20 years deconstructing sex and all of a sudden they’re facing an institution with an entirely opposite story,” said Doriane Lambelet Coleman, a law professor at Duke and an elite 800-meter runner in the 1980s who served as an expert witness for the track and field’s world governing body. “We have to ask, ‘Is respecting gender identity more important or is seeing female bodies on the podium more important?’”
Semenya’s biology has been under scrutiny for a decade, ever since she burst on the scene at the 2009 world track and field championships and was subjected to sex tests following her victory. In South Africa, leaders complained of racism. The issue of whether a rare biological trait was causing an unfair advantage for Semenya and a small subset of women quickly morphed into a battle about privacy and human rights, and Semenya became its symbol. She has said little publicly about her specific biology other than stating that God made her the way she is.
In issuing its ruling the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport addressed the complicated, highly charged question involving fair play, gender identity, biology and human rights that track and field has been grappling with for decades: Since competition is divided into male and female categories, what is the most equitable way to decide who can compete in women’s events?
In a 2-to-1 decision, the court ruled that restrictions on permitted levels of naturally occurring testosterone were discriminatory but that such discrimination was a “necessary, reasonable and proportionate means” of achieving track and field’s goal of preserving the integrity of female competition.