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Jahanshah Javid

Age: 58 |

Birth City: آبادان |

Joined on October 02, 2012

Victims of Police Brutality

Cartoon by Tomas

Why filming police violence has done nothing to stop it

By Ethan Zuckerman

MIT Technology Review: The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers was captured on video, not once but half a dozen times. As we try to understand why a police officer continued compressing a man’s neck and spine for minutes after he’d lost consciousness, we have footage from security cameras at Cup Foods, where Floyd allegedly paid for cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. As we wrestle with the sight of three officers standing by as their colleague killed Floyd, we have footage from the cell phones of witnesses who begged the officers to let Floyd off the ground. In the murder trial of Officer Derek Chauvin, who was patrolling despite 17 civilian complaints against him and previous involvement in two shootings of suspects, his defense may hinge on video from the body cameras he and other officers were wearing.

None of these videos saved George Floyd’s life, and it is possible that none of them will convict his murderer.

Officer Chauvin knew this. In the video shot by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, you can see him lock eyes with the teenager. He knows she’s filming, and knows that the video is likely being streamed to Facebook, to the horror of those watching it. After all, in a suburb of nearby St. Paul four years earlier, Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile while Castile’s partner streamed the video to Facebook. Yanez’s police car dashcam also recorded the seven shots he pumped into Castile’s body. He was charged and acquitted.

After Castile’s death, I wrote a piece for MIT Technology Review about “sousveillance,” the idea posited by the inventor Steve Mann, the “father of wearable computing,” that connected cameras controlled by citizens could be used to hold power accountable. Even though bystander video of Eric Garner being choked to death by New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014 had led not to Pantaleo’s indictment but to the arrest of Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the murder, I offered my hope that “the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras combined with video streaming services like Periscope, YouTube, and Facebook Live has set the stage for citizens to hold the police responsible for excessive use of force.”

I was wrong.

Much of what we think about surveillance comes from the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault examined the ideas of the English reformer Jeremy Bentham, who proposed a prison—the panopticon or Inspection-House—in which every cell was observable from a central watchtower. The possibility that someone might be watching, Bentham believed, would be enough to prevent bad behavior by prisoners. Foucault observed that this knowledge of being watched forces us to police ourselves; our act of disciplining ourselves as if we were always under observation, more than the threat of corporal punishment, is the primary mechanism of “political technology” and power in modern society.

The hope for sousveillance comes from the same logic. If police officers know they’re being watched both by their body cameras and by civilians with cell phones, they will discipline themselves and refrain from engaging in unnecessary violence. It’s a good theory, but in practice, it hasn’t worked. A large study in 2017 by the Washington, DC, mayor’s office assigned more than a thousand police officers in the District to wear body cameras and more than a thousand to go camera-free. The researchers hoped to find evidence that wearing cameras correlated with better policing, less use of force, and fewer civilian complaints. They found none: the difference in behavior between the officers who knew they were being watched and the officers who knew they were not was statistically insignificant. Another study, which analyzed the results of 10 randomized controlled trials of body camera use in different nations, was helpfully titled “Wearing body cameras increases assaults against officers and does not reduce police use of force.”

Reacting to the DC study, some scholars have hoped that if cameras don’t deter officers from violent behavior, at least the film can hold them accountable afterwards. There, too, body cameras rarely work the way we hope. While careful, frame-by-frame analysis of video often shows that victims of police shootings were unarmed and that officers mistook innocuous objects for weapons, attorneys for the defense screen the videos at normal speed to show how tense, fast, and scary confrontations between police and suspects can be. A 1989 Supreme Court decision means that if police officers have an “objectively reasonable” fear that their lives or safety are in danger, they are justified in using deadly force. Videos from body cameras and bystander cell phones have worked to bolster “reasonable fear” defense claims as much as they have demonstrated the culpability of police officers.

It turns out that images matter, but so does power. Bentham’s panopticon works because the warden of the prison has the power to punish you if he witnesses your misbehavior. But Bentham’s other hope for the panopticon—that the behavior of the warden would be transparent and evaluated by all who saw him—has never come to pass. Over 10 years, from 2005 to 2014, only 48 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter for use of lethal force, though more than 1,000 people a year are killed by police in the United States.

As he stared at Darnella Frazier, Officer Chauvin knew this, because it’s impossible to work in law enforcement in the US and not know this. The institutions that protect police officers from facing legal consequences for their actions—internal affairs divisions, civil service job protections, police unions, “reasonable fear”—work far better than the institutions that hold them responsible for abuses.

The hope that pervasive cameras by themselves would counterbalance the systemic racism that leads to the overpolicing of communities of color and the disproportionate use of force against black men was simply a techno-utopian fantasy. It was a hope that police violence could be an information problem like Uber rides or Amazon recommendations, solvable by increasing the flows of data. But after years of increasingly widespread bodycam use and ever more pervasive social media, it’s clear that information can work only when it’s harnessed to power. If there’s one thing that Americans—particularly people of color in America—have learned from George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Eric Garner, it’s that individuals armed with images are largely powerless to make systemic change.

That’s the reason people have taken to the streets in Minneapolis, DC, New York, and so many other cities. There’s one thing images of police brutality seem to have the power to do: shock, outrage, and mobilize people to demand systemic change. That alone is the reason to keep filming.

Lincoln Memorial

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

The Police Were a Mistake

The New Republic: Contrary to most of American folklore, the Founding Fathers were not a supernaturally wise monolith. Leading revolutionary figures like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton may have shared certain broad values, like a commitment to republicanism, but they often passionately disagreed about what, exactly, the new nation’s political systems should look like. The Constitution that they ultimately wrote is more of a compromise between those differences than a perfect resolution to them.

One issue where the Founders were virtually unanimous in agreement, however, was their fear of standing armies. From Julius Caesar’s legions at the Rubicon to Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army to the forces mustered by European monarchies, large armed forces in peacetime invariably threatened a free people’s rights. Many of the Thirteen Colonies’ post-independence constitutions included declarations that standing armies “are dangerous to liberty, [and] they ought not to be kept up.” John Adams warned that they should be “watched with a jealous eye,” while Thomas Jefferson referred to them as an “engine of oppression.”

Those fears deeply influenced the Constitution, which includes multiple tools for Congress and the president to keep the military under civilian control. “A standing military force with an overgrown executive will not long be safe companions to liberty,” Madison said in a speech to the Constitutional Convention. “The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending have enslaved the people.”

Those fears took on new meaning as civil unrest spread throughout the country over the last several days. Tens of thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was brutally killed by four Minneapolis police officers last week, and the culture of police brutality and militarism that has permitted a long list of similar killings. In response, police officers in cities across the country have largely responded violently, with abusive and authoritarian tactics. Social-media networks are flooded with footage and accounts of cops shoving elderly pedestrians and innocent bystanders into pavement, bludgeoning journalists or pelting them with rubber bullets, and dispersing lawful crowds with tear gas and overwhelming force.
The American constitutional order is not designed to reform and supervise what are effectively armed paramilitary forces in every major city.

Modern American policing—the militarized departments, the heavy-handed enforcement of minor laws, the deep-rooted racial inequities, the resistance to firm civilian control—has existed for so long that it’s easy to assume that it’s the natural state of our society. In fact, this form of law enforcement is essentially a policy experiment, and a failed one at that. The American constitutional order is not designed to reform and supervise what are effectively armed paramilitary forces in every major city. Eventually, perhaps already, one will have to bend to the other.

There are now more than 18,000 law-enforcement agencies in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most of them are small, parochial institutions that range from county sheriffs’ offices and small-town police departments to tribal police forces and state park rangers. Some are behemoths. “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted in 2011. His claim is only a slight exaggeration. The New York Police Department currently includes more than 36,000 uniformed officers, more than double the size of the state national guard. It maintains its own navy, air force, and intelligence service.

This level of social control and management would have been alien to Americans for a large portion of this country’s history. Early American communities did not have a “police force,” at least not in any form their modern-day counterparts might recognize. Most towns and cities relied upon a night watch to keep the peace after sunset, as well as constables and sheriffs to enforce court orders, execute warrants, and deliver summons. Southern police departments can also trace their genealogy to slave patrols, which helped maintain the institution of slavery before the Civil War with the full force of government power.

American cities would not move towards professionalized and uniformed police forces until the 1830s and 1840s, starting with cities like Boston and Philadelphia. They drew inspiration from London, where Home Secretary Robert Peel had led the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Historians often frame Peel’s work in the context of London’s population growth and a move towards Victorian-era social and moral reform. It also took place against a backdrop of social and political tensions over Irish nationalism, labor reform, and Catholic emancipation.

“The new force faced hostility from the Whigs, from magistrates, and from parish councils, whose jurisdiction the Act appeared to infringe,” Adam Zamoyski wrote in his book Phantom Terror, which documents the paranoia among European counter-revolutionary leaders after the Napoleonic Wars. “It was widely denounced as an attack on civil liberties, an attempt by the government to establish a private army and introduce ‘espionage’ into the country, and as thoroughly un-English. When they first appeared on the streets, in their blue uniforms and top hats (blue tailcoat and white ducks in summer), their only weapon a rattle and a truncheon, the members of the new force were either ridiculed with epithets such as ‘Peelers,’ ‘Bobbies,’ ‘raw lobsters,’ and ‘Jenny Darbies,’ (gendarmes), or vilified as oppressors and spies.”

Creating American police forces would be no less controversial. In the 1830s and 1840s, New York City was regularly wracked by riots and crime waves. Local constables were either unwilling or unable to impose any sort of order upon the burgeoning metropolis. Reformers and some newspapers demanded action from their elected officials. But local leaders firmly resisted creating any force that would resemble the British military occupation during the revolution, which still lingered in public memory >>>

Can't Breathe

Cartoon by Maarten Wolterink

In the US, black people are being systematically erased

By Emily Tamkin, US editor

The New Statesman: “MAGA is ‘Make America Great Again’”, US President Donald Trump said by way of explanation of his political slogan on Saturday (30 May). “By the way, they love African-American people, they love black people. MAGA loves the black people.”

To say that MAGA loves black people is to imply that black Americans are not included in Trump’s Make America Great Again. A surreal statement for the president to make, but an unintentionally revealing one, for indeed, black Americans are not included in the president’s plans to return the country to earlier, “greater”, whiter days.

The hours ahead of Trump’s comments were similarly surreal and all too real. On Friday evening, white police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. On Monday 25 May, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he had killed a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd. Floyd had allegedly tried to use a fake $20 bill. The grocery store that accused him of doing so called the police, and Chauvin held him to the ground, his knee on Floyd’s neck, for almost nine minutes while Floyd said “I can’t breathe” (as Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, did before his death in 2014) and “don’t kill me”.

For days, people took to the streets of Minneapolis to protest; some peacefully, others not. The protests were, after all, a response to an act of violence and to many other deaths before Floyd’s; five people have died at the hands of the police in Minneapolis since 2018, and, as NPR put it, “almost all have been black”. On Thursday night, parts of Minneapolis were on fire. Finally, on Friday, Chauvin was charged, having already been fired from the police force along with the three other officers who were present.

That evening, people protested across the US. They protested in Minneapolis, yes, but also in Louisville, Kentucky, where a 26-year-old woman named Breonna Taylor was killed by police in her own home in March; in New York City, where an officer was filmed appearing to throw a woman to the ground; and in Atlanta, Georgia, where the CNN headquarters was damaged amid the protests.

Killer Mike, the 45-year-old rapper, delivered a speech at the Atlanta mayor’s press conference, saying, “I am duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organisation”. His speech went viral. Commentators and pundits, many of them white, hailed the speech, tweeting, “everyone should watch this” and “leadership”.

Another televised moment with a somewhat different message went viral, too; Cornel West, the philosopher and activist, said on CNN, “I thank God that we have people in the streets. Can you imagine this kind of lynching taking place and people are indifferent? People don’t care? You know what’s sad about it though, brother? At the deepest level? It looks as if the system cannot reform itself”. This, too, was hailed by commentators and pundits and onlookers, many of them white, and albeit further on the left. “I can't believe they let Cornel West on TV, speaking uninterrupted for so long”, tweeted Chris Sturr, the co-editor of left-wing magazine Dollars and Sense.

Protests happened in Washington, DC, too, surrounding the White House. Trump, in a bizarre series of tweets on Saturday morning, said he’d not been afraid, and appeared to threaten protesters with dogs and weapons.

“Great job last night at the White House by the U.S. @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool. I was inside, watched every move, and couldn’t have felt more safe. They let the “protesters” scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard – didn’t know what hit them... Nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”

Trump added: “On the bad side, the D.C. Mayor @MurielBowser, who is always looking for money & help, wouldn’t let the D.C. Police get involved. ‘Not their job.’ Nice!”

Bowser, in turn, tweeted, “My police department will always protect DC and all who are in it whether I agree with them (such as those exercising their First Amendment Right) or those I don’t (namely, @realdonaldtrump)...While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism. There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone…”

On Saturday, the conversation shifted from the mayor and president taunting one another on Twitter to the subject of who was responsible for the protests. Some noted that it was white would-be allies who had to be told by black protesters not to engage in violence, and who were more eager in confronting the police. Some worried about law officials instigating violence, or about people using the protests as an opportunity to loot. Some suggested that protests in cities were made up of people from outside the cities; Minnesota’s governor claimed 80 per cent of instigators were from out of state. US Attorney General Bill Barr said the violence appeared to be organised by extremist leftist groups. “George Soros” started trending on Twitter; surely, the Hungarian-born billionaire philanthropist was behind all this. “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!”, Trump tweeted Saturday.

In fact, county jail records showed that, contrary to the Minnesota governor’s claim, 81 per cent of those arrested were from Minnesota. And while there were white people acting up and centring themselves, to say that the protests spreading across the country were organised by interlopers or radical leftists isn’t just untrue (or, in the case of Soros, anti-Semitic, playing on the trope of a Jewish puppeteer). It also takes the events of the past week and ensures they are no longer about the killing of George Floyd. It erases the black people protesting, and the pain that’s led them to the streets. It makes this week’s protests like Trump’s MAGA; somehow related to, and yet not of, black Americans. The erasure of black Americans from the story is all-American; it’s also wrong.

Meanwhile, in an improbable and yet somehow completely predictable twist, in the middle of all this, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched two astronauts into space in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX is led by Elon Musk, whose net worth is estimated to be $37.2bn dollars. It’s the first time astronauts from the US have journeyed into space since 2011 >>>

Lock Him Up!

Cartoon by Jos Collignon

Twitter is now in completely uncharted waters

By Brian Fung and Seth Fiegerman

CNN Business: There is no turning back for Twitter now. The only way out is through.

When Twitter slapped a warning label on one of President Donald Trump's tweets Friday for "glorifying violence," it was almost certain that the move — a first for the platform — would escalate tensions with the White House.

But even Twitter may not have guessed that the official White House Twitter account would then choose to repost the same language hours later in an apparent attempt to further test Twitter's limits. Having already made its position clear, Twitter really only had one option: It added a warning label onto that tweet, too.

The back-to-back incidents capped off a rocky week in which Twitter's decision to place warning labels on two Trump tweets set off a presidential firestorm that culminated in an executive order that seeks to punish the entire social media industry. Twitter now finds itself in an unprecedented position. For years it was Trump's favored platform; now Twitter is locked in a war with the president simply for choosing to enforce its policies. Seemingly every tweet on the platform — those from general users and those from Twitter employees — are being scrutinized anew. Republicans are coming after it. Rivals are throwing it under the bus or staying silent. Fact-checking organizations are calling for greater transparency.

And there is no end in sight.

Even as Twitter scrambled to address Trump's warning to Minneapolis protesters on Friday that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was getting ready to call on Attorney General William Barr for a criminal investigation of Twitter. The allegation: Twitter has violated US sanctions by giving Iranian officials a platform for speech.

It's a reflection of the dizzying number of ways that Twitter has opened itself up to attacks, virtually overnight, because it dared to add "context" to Trump's claims. Suddenly, Twitter — a platform with far fewer users and far less money than rivals like Facebook and Google — faces the threat of government action, an hourly onslaught of attacks from the President and death threats directed at one employee singled out by Trump and his allies.

Twitter declined to comment for this story beyond referring CNN Business to a blog post on its policies.

An era of inaction comes to an end

When Trump threatened to nuke North Korea, Twitter took no action despite pressure from users. When he attacked four Democratic congresswomen by telling them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," Twitter allowed the tweets to stand. When he revived a decades-old conspiracy theory against TV host Joe Scarborough, Twitter said it was "deeply sorry" for the pain the tweets caused — but did nothing.

The company has long sought to walk a tightrope between angering too many users on the left, and too many users on the right. The result was a kind of inaction that primarily benefited Trump. Now, after years of upsetting the people out of power, Twitter has finally resolved to upset the people in power for a change.

"I would not be surprised if the voices in the company that may have been trying to steer towards moderation and trying to find a middle ground have sort of stepped away from that," said Adam Sharp, the former head of news, government and elections at Twitter.

Nu Wexler, a former spokesman for Twitter, Google and Facebook at various points in his career, said Trump provided Twitter this week with an ideal opportunity to begin enforcing its policies with his tweets about mail-in ballots and "looting" leading to "shooting."

"If you had to pick a test case to litigate in the court of public opinion, fact-checking a demonstrably false claim about voting and a very specific violent threat are the ones you would pick," he said.

Still, if the back-and-forth between Twitter and the White House this week is any indication, it may just be the first of many tests to come >>>


Cartoon by Milt Priggee

Trump silent on US death toll

The Guardian: Donald Trump remained silent on the death of more than 100,000 Americans from Covid-19 as the US mourned the milestone, and South Korea considered a return to further restrictions after recording its biggest one-day increase in nearly two months.

The president made no comment on Twitter about the momentous day, but used the platform to attack tech companies for trying to censor him, a day after Twitter put a fact-check warning on one of his claims.

It came as South Korea reported 79 new coronavirus infections, with 67 of them from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s population of 51 million.

The recent rise underlined the risks that come with relaxing social distancing rules, as countries seek to breathe life into their struggling economies. On Thursday the Bank of Korea said the economy was expected to suffer its first contraction since the 1990s, shrinking 0.2%. In February it was forecast to grow by 2.1%.

As US deaths from Covid-19 topped 100,000 and infections neared 1.7 million, White House officials said Trump would sign an executive order on Thursday that could threaten punishment on social media companies, sparking a fall in the share prices of both Twitter and Facebook.

“Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election. If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen!” he tweeted late on Wednesday night.

Eric Trump, the president’s son, also attracted criticism for ignoring the coronavirus fatalities, instead tweeting about the day’s stock market’s surge.

New York has been the worst-affected American state, with just under 30,000 deaths, with New Jersey in second on 11,339 and Massachusetts in third on 6,547, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

Pandora's Boxes

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards

As states reopen, U.S. sees ‘unmistakable’ rise in coronavirus hospitalizations

CNBC: U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations have crept higher as states increasingly loosen Covid-19 restrictions and try to return to some semblance of normalcy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday.

“We now see a trend in an uptick in hospitalizations. It’s a small uptick, but it is an uptick and it’s unmistakable and it is probably a result of reopening,” Gottlieb said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We are going to have to watch it.”

Hospitalizations are a key indicator that epidemiologists watch closely to understand the state of the outbreak. Hospitalizations are not as dependent on the availability of testing as other closely watched measures such as the number of new cases, which is constrained by the number of tests deployed and delayed by shortages of equipment like swabs.

However, hospitalizations are likely a lagging indicator of the underlying reality because it can take weeks for people to become infected, develop symptoms, get tested, receive test results and become sick enough to be admitted to a hospital.

“We expected cases to go up and hospitalizations to bump up when we reopened and I was talking to a lot of states about their plans and they were expecting that there was going to be an uptick,” said Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina. Pfizer has a Covid-19 vaccine under development. “That’s why they all implemented very staged reopenings where they reopened in phases and then reassessed the data to make sure that any increase wasn’t an inordinate increase.”

Every state has now reopened some nonessential businesses and eased at least some restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus. However, states are moving at vastly different paces. Wisconsin reopened over night after the state’s Supreme Court overruled the governor’s stay-at-home orders whereas New Jersey has kept most nonessential businesses closed.

Some state officials, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, made the announcement to reopen despite failing to meet the criteria set by the White House, including a sustained drop in new infections for at least two weeks.

Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Arizona have all seen a small uptick in hospitalizations, said Gottlieb. CNBC could not confirm the data Gottlieb referenced because not all states make hospitalization data available.

There are hopes that the virus will spread more slowly during the warmer summer months even as people begin to intermix more, Gottlieb said. There’s little evidence at this point to indicate that Covid-19 is a seasonal virus, but other human coronaviruses have shown seasonality, with most cases peaking in winter.

“The hope is that there’s a seasonal effect here,” Gottlieb said. “And that seasonal effect will hopefully offset the increased social interaction, which is going to cause cases to go up, so as we get into July and August things will start to either level off or go down.”

People should still practice social distancing precautions and where protective equipment such as masks as society continues to reopen, Gottlieb said. He added that images of large gatherings across the country over Memorial Day weekend worried him.

“I’m concerned there are people who think this is the all-clear, and I think what we really need to be doing is defining a new normal,” he said. “We’re going to need to live differently until we get a vaccine.”

Netanyahu indicted

Cartoon by Rainer Hachfeld

Benjamin Netanyahu appears in court on corruption charges 

The Guardian: Defiantly railing against attempts to “overthrow” him before donning a face mask to enter court, Benjamin Netanyahu sat for the first day of his high-profile corruption trial, which threatens to put Israel’s longest-serving leader behind bars and open deep divisions within the country.

Speaking in the corridors of the courthouse ahead of the hearing, Netanyahu decried police and prosecutors he accused of attempting to topple him. “When there is a strong rightwing leader like me, everything is permitted to bring him down,” he said, flanked by loyal ministers. “This is an attempt to overthrow us.”

At the start of the hour-long proceedings, one of the judges – also in face masks and behind clear plastic screens – asked Netanyahu if he had read and understood the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He responded: “Yes, your Honour.”

His lawyer argued for the court to grant a three-month delay to deal with the huge caseload of evidence. The case, with hundreds of witnesses, could last months if not years.

Public interest in the trial is so intense that police closed off streets around the court in Jerusalem to prevent crowds from gathering too close.

Netanyahu chaired the first official cabinet meeting of his new unity government, sworn in a week ago on Sunday morning. By the afternoon, he had become the first sitting Israeli prime minister to fight criminal charges in court.

A poster has been hung above the main highway in Tel Aviv with a photo of the prime minister. “Israel is ashamed,” it said.

Netanyahu, 70, has forcefully denied the allegations, calling them a politically motivated witch-hunt. Perhaps fearing negative visuals from courtroom, his lawyers tried and failed to have him exempted from appearing.

Ahead of the trial, he battled the allegations outside court, smearing the domestic media and judiciary as conspirators against him, often to the point that he has been accused of stirring up public hatred.

Within earshot of the court, supporters of Netanyahu – who has been in power for more than a decade – shouted out his nickname: “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!”

“Wake up the people of Israel,” shouted one protester, Sarit Ayalon, 58, an academic. “The media became a voice for one side,” she said, holding an Israeli flag.

Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted Netanyahu, filed police complaints this month over what he said were coordinated death threats. At the pro-Netanyahu protest, a sign had been erected on which the attorney general’s face had been cut and pasted on to the image of a man in jail.

Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, compared the vitriol against the judiciary to rightwing politicians’ goading of Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s. After months of incitement for his efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, the former prime minister was murdered by an ultranationalist extremist.

“The campaign that has been mounted against the justice system … is reckless and dangerous,” Barnea wrote. “Netanyahu and his associates … are shutting their eyes as to what this campaign is liable to lead to. They are playing with fire.”

Indicted last year in three separate cases, Netanyahu faces more than a decade in prison if convicted. He is accused of accepting expensive gifts including champagne, jewellery and cigars, and colluding with Israeli media magnates to publish favourable stories about him while smearing his political opponents.

Unlike one of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert, who stepped down after it appeared he would be indicted, Netanyahu has refused to leave power, and his role as head of the new unity government has bolstered his position.

Crucially, the coalition deal he signed affords him extra protection, exempting him from a rule that obliges ministers to resign if charged with a crime.

Yuval Shany, vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, warned of a vast conflict of interests in having a prime minister up in court while still in office.

“If, God forbid, we have a war, is it because there is a security threat or this is a wag the dog type of moment when you want to distract public attention?” he said. “This is in itself a very unhealthy situation.”

Point Man

Cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher

Trump is back to attacking Obama. That’s not the best idea

By James Pindell 

The Boston Globe: Whether out of a need to find a distraction amid a health crisis in an election year or his constant desire to find a political foil, President Trump is back to attacking his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Obama, of course, has long been a target of his, going back Trump’s days of leading the birther movement, inaccurately calling into question whether Obama was an American and thus a legitimate president.

This time, Trump has latched onto some ambiguous concept of “Obamagate,” which even he couldn’t define to a reporter when asked recently.

“You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody,” said Trump when asked last week what crime exactly Obama committed.


In practice, Obamagate is some umbrella of accusations from Trump that he can’t articulate and haven’t been proven. But specifics or proving the accusations isn’t the point. The point might be to talk about something other than the horrible news on his watch and poll after poll showing Trump losing reelection in national polls and key swing states.

Needing a distraction or finding a foil may not be a horrible idea politically, especially given the fact Election Day is less than six months away and the economy is in the tank.

That said, there are two reasons why Trump might want to attack someone else.

Obama is a lot more popular than Trump

Trump can choose anyone to be his opponent in this faux fight. He could have stuck with attacking members of Congress or the media collectively, vastly less popular than him. After all, if Trump is trying to offer Americans a choice between himself and someone else, why would he choose someone who is arguably one of the most popular politicians in America right now?

Presidents almost always are viewed more favorably after they leave office, and the same is true with Obama. A 2018 Gallup poll found 63 percent of Americans approved of the job Obama did as president when they looked back on it. More recently, polling outfit YouGov showed Obama’s favorability rating was 55 percent, some 11 points higher than Trump.

Every attack on Obama might make Trump and his political base feel good, but instead of the rest of the American public conceding he has a point, with Obama, they might start off with skepticism because they generally like Obama more.

For fun, the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling outfit released a poll this week showing that in a hypothetical 2020 matchup for president, Obama, who is constitutionally prohibited from running again, would beat Trump 54 to 43 percent nationally.

What about Biden?

Consider for a moment that Trump actually pulls off something very hard this summer: convincing Americans that Obama was actually a bad president and a bad guy generally. So what? Obama isn’t on the ballot.

If Trump makes Obama hated that, at best, might only indirectly might hurt the person Trump is actually running against this year: Obama’s former vice president Joe Biden.

There is a long-established tactic in politics. Party operatives and outside groups constantly go on the attack hoping to make an undisciplined candidate attack them and leaving their preferred candidate out of the crossfire.

Republicans in the US Senate seem to get it. They just launched an investigation into a firm associated with Biden’s son, Hunter. They even issued a subpoena for him to appear in front of a Senate committee. While Trump has encouraged this move, he isn’t talking about it as much as he is talking about Obama lately.

Brazil's "little flu"

Cartoon by Antonio Rodríguez

Brazil hits record high for new coronavirus cases

CNN; Brazil hit a record high for new coronavirus cases Wednesday, after becoming the country with the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world earlier this week.

The country's health ministry reported 19,951 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 291,579 confirmed cases.
This new surge tops the previous record set Tuesday. Reported deaths caused by coronavirus also increased by 888 on Wednesday, bringing to the country's total to 18,859 deaths, the ministry said.

Asked about Brazil's skyrocketing numbers on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said that he was mulling a travel ban on Brazil.

"We are considering it," Trump said, adding: "We hope that we're not going to have a problem. The governor of Florida is doing very, very well testing -- in particular Florida, because a big majority come in to Florida. Brazil has gone more or less herd, and they're having problems.

"I worry about everything, I don't want people coming in here and infecting our people," Trump said, "I don't want people over there sick, either."

Amid the spiraling health crisis, Brazil's lower house of Congress has approved a proposed law that would make the use of personal protection masks in public spaces mandatory.

The proposed law would require people to wear any form of face covering in areas that are accessible to the public, including parks, sidewalks, public transportation and even private buildings where there is a high level of foot traffic. Individuals not wearing masks would be fined up to $52.

The proposal needs approval by the Senate and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who rarely wears facial coverings. It is unclear when the Senate vote will happen.

Health system on the brink

Brazil's alarming numbers come days after Sao Paulo's mayor warned that its health system could be overwhelmed very soon if residents don't follow social distancing guidelines. Officials in the major city of 12 million have declared a five-day holiday in a bid to get residents to stay home.

By Monday, Brazil achieved the grim record of having the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, behind the United States and Russia.

Doctors and nurses work in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectious Disease hospital in Sao Paulo.

Doctors and nurses work in the Covid-19 intensive care unit at the Emilio Ribas Institute of Infectious Disease hospital in Sao Paulo.
Yet Bolsonaro continues to dismiss the threat of the virus, saying quarantines and lockdowns could have a worse impact on Brazil's economy.

He has repeatedly dismissed Covid-19 as a "little flu" and urged businesses to reopen, even as many governors scramble to implement social isolation measures and slow the spread.

The country lost its second health minister in a month last week. Nelson Teich stepped down after clashing with Bolsonaro over the country's coronavirus strategy. In April, Bolsonaro fired his predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, after a prolonged standoff.

Teich clashed with Bolsonaro over the use of malaria drugs to treat the virus and social isolation measures.

Despite the political crisis, the populist leader continues to tout chloroquine as a potential wonder drug against the new coronavirus -- like his US counterpart Trump -- even though it is an unproven treatment for Covid-19.

Bolsonaro tweeted on Wednesday that there will be new guidelines to expand the use of chloroquine.

"Today we will have a new protocol on chloroquine" issued by the Ministry of Health, Bolsonaro wrote, calling it "a hope, according to the many who have used it."

Brazil's medical authority approved the use of hydroxychloroquine -- which has been described as the less toxic derivative of chloroquine -- in April in serious cases of coronavirus if the doctor and patient agree. Bolsonaro has since pushed for approval to use the drug in less serious cases.

It follows Trump's claim on Monday that he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, even though medical experts, the US Food and Drug Administration and at least one study have questioned its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.


Cartoon by Angel Boligan

Coronavirus Won't Kill Globalization. But It Will Look Different After the Pandemic

By Arjun Appadurai

TIME: Even in the heady early years of globalization back in the 1990s, scholars of the new trend were worried about its viral qualities: its speed, its ability to penetrate borders and regulations, its capacity to transform and even colonize the countries to which it came. I was one of these analysts. Though most of us thought globalization would likely be a largely positive force, we did not anticipate then that globalization could gradually become dangerous, infectious and hard to control.

Then came a spate of viruses that themselves seemed to be global travelers: HIV, the swine flu, mad cow disease, SARS, various brands of influenza, and now COVID-19. This last scourge is the most globalized in our history. Its speed of movement is matched only by the scale of its global reach. And it has unleashed an assault against globalization, with critics using the current pandemic as an example of how it can go wrong.

All of a sudden, many in media, academia and politics seem ready to hit the pause button on globalization. “Globalization is headed to the ICU,”a Foreign Policy column argued on March 9, while The Economist’s May 14 issue asked whether COVID-19 had killed globalization. Some on the left have hailed the virus as a potential cure for the damaged planet, a way to restrain the cruelties of globalized capitalism and restore the virtues of communities and countries over those of corporations and markets. Meanwhile on the populist right, leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have used the widespread push to close national borders, and to keep foreigners, tourists and migrants out, to exploit pre-existing sentiments of xenophobia and racism among their supporters. Is this recent push just the thin edge of the wedge in a growing effort to turn the clock back on globalization?

Perhaps, but such an effort is wishful thinking. Globalization is here to stay. It’s a horse that left the barn 30 years ago, when the Soviet Union fell, when free markets for labor and capital became the norm, and when financial markets became more important than the trade in goods and services. These trends cannot be reversed, any more than the industrial revolution or the emergence of computers.

So far, it’s clear that no significant global player is changing its game plan. China is quietly continuing its enormous investments in the Belt and Road Initiative while the U.S. and Russia are in an ongoing tussle about major arms deals with India—intensified since the COVID-19 crisis became global—because neither power wants to shrink its global share of the arms market. French President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald Trump have just come to a broad agreement to slow down the E.U. effort to tax the big American tech firms (Google, Facebook, Microsoft) in the interests of avoiding a tariff war between the two countries. Germany remains keen to avoid lining up with either the United States or China in the most recent hostilities between the two. Though many nation-states are preoccupied with tightening their borders, maximizing their medical resources and prioritizing the health of their citizens above all else, no country has taken any serious action to undo or reverse their global alliances, interests and strategies.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 appears to have given the nation-state a fresh lease on life, after many decades of being seen as a junior partner to markets, corporations, multilateral agencies, and media organizations. Many presidents and prime ministers have been given enhanced powers. The populations they lead have, generally, increased their faith in them too. This has led some to fear that the authoritarian leaders now in power in many countries will become even more dismissive of liberal political values.

But the revival of the power of the nation-state is limited. No state can use the coronavirus crisis to sweep away the reach of the global financial system. The economic indicators that underpin many leaders’ popularity are based on internationalized labor, raw materials, and supply chains that cannot be drawn back into national nets and boundaries without significantly reducing quality of life. Meanwhile, citizens have become newly aware of their own power and agency in securing the survival and prosperity of their own nation states, by following public health rules, and making economic and social sacrifices. Neither politicians nor citizens are likely to forget this rediscovery of the social power of ordinary people.

The recent crisis has also shown how neither science nor technology can succeed without globalization. This was exemplified by the effort of President Trump to help the United States to buy a German company developing a coronavirus vaccine. The attempt, which failed, was a marker of the tensions that arise when science, which so often relies on international cooperation, collides with national ambitions and anxieties. The best virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts are constantly in touch with one another across national boundaries. Drug companies rely on globally conducted trials and scientific talent drawn from a global pool. Emergency equipment is sent from various countries to one another. Although there is still a competitive race to find the best tests, equipment, vaccines and cures, the globalized model of corporate collaboration in the big pharma corporate world is sure to continue. And nation states that treat the pandemic as a zero-sum game, to be won or lost, are sure to fail.

But the irreversibility of globalization has not meant, as some predicted in the 1990s, the end of xenophobia or the reduced marginalization of vulnerable groups. Many right-wing populists, like Trump, are responding to the crisis by tapping into racist, anti-migrant and anti-liberal prejudices. President Bolsonaro in Brazil has openly shown his contempt for the advice of scientists. And the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the crisis to stoke Islamophobia and abandon the working and migrant poor that came to India’s cities from its villages. The downsides of globalization might well deepen faster than its upsides.

Just as COVID-19 is a virus with global qualities, globalization is itself viral. But all viruses evolve, and globalization is no different. The nation-states of the world have had highly uneven success in their response to COVID-19, and that is primarily because the architecture of the system of nation-states is not well suited to an age of problems without national boundaries. Since globalization is here to stay, it is the system of nation-states that might well be forced to change, in ways that some might welcome, and others will resist. That battle will outlast the story of COVID-19.