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In Iowa, a long and bruising hunt for a candidate to love

By Jenna Johnson
In Iowa, a long and bruising hunt for a candidate to love
Tanya Keith's collection of Democratic buttons, pins, posters and books. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

DES MOINES - When Tanya Keith and her teenage daughter Aviva Jotzke learned that their favorite Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, had dropped out of the race a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses, they cried and mourned with fellow supporters.

Then they began to assess their options.

Over the next seven days, they would attend three campaign events for different candidates, have numerous conversations with one another and friends who had committed to other candidates, and endure what seemed a never-ending weighing and reweighing of what issues and leadership traits matter most to them.

"I am not comfortable in the undecided space," said Keith, 48, who committed to Booker at a Memorial Day picnic in 2019 and was his precinct captain for her neighborhood. "I don't like to sit and mull and wait."

Their desire to commit early is rare this caucus season. Iowans always feel a special responsibility in kick-starting primary voting, but that sentiment has been heightened this year by the party's determination to defeat Donald President Trump, now gestating for more than three years.

Many voters have found themselves paralyzed by indecision as they try to determine not only which candidate they like best but which has the best shot of beating Trump in November.

Polls show an unusually large number of Democrats are uncommitted, and a recent Monmouth University poll of Iowa found 4 in 10 voters said they could change their minds before caucus day.

Their decision-making is complicated by a historically large Democratic field, which has given voters like Keith and Jotzke far more candidates to consider than in a usual year, and the shadow of the 2016 campaign, in which nominee Hillary Clinton lost narrowly in states that typically vote Democratic. Across the state, Iowa Democrats often sound like television pundits as they describe how each candidate might fare on a debate stage with Trump or in balloting in swing states.

Even those who have committed can find themselves thrust back into indecision if their chosen candidate drops out - as Booker did on a recent Monday morning.

Keith loved - and still loves - what she saw as Booker's kindness and relatability, the way he connected with younger voters, and his call for "baby bonds" that would give every newborn a $1,000 savings account, which she considers "the way to talk about reparations without getting white poor people up in arms."

She moved to Iowa from New Jersey about 20 years ago, and she and her husband are raising their family in Des Moines' diverse River Bend neighborhood because "it was important for me to live somewhere where my kids would not assume that white people were just all there was."

"I just loved how he talked about racial and economic inequality," she said of Booker. Then she paused and screamed out loud in frustration at his departure.

It took Jotzke, 17, a bit longer to commit to Booker, as she originally signed a caucus card for Pete Buttigieg, the millennial former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. She thought that because Buttigieg is gay he would bring a different perspective to the race and have empathy for marginalized communities.

"He didn't apply it, at least in my opinion, to racial justice and to standing up for trans people and all the marginalized people," said Jotzke, a junior in high school who will turn 18 about three weeks before Election Day, meaning she is allowed to caucus for the first time in February. "He just didn't apply it well."

"And that was sad," her mom said.

"Yeah," she said. "It was sad."

Jotzke switched to Booker late last year, after she talked to the candidate - and he followed up with her. Of everyone in the field, she concluded, Booker was the most empathetic and understanding.

When he dropped out, they didn't have a second choice and weren't sure they wanted to commit to anyone else. How could they suddenly support a candidate they had been arguing against as they tried to build support for Booker?

"It's hard because it's a mourning of what could have been," Jotzke said. "I don't know if there's anyone as good as him. I don't want to pick any of the others. I want to pick him."

Keith was angry that Booker left the race when so many Iowans were still undecided - and that he had been pushed off the debate stage by rules set by the national party. She was invited to attend a house party featuring billionaire Tom Steyer and decided to attend so that she could "scream at him" about "what money has done to this race." Jotzke had no interest and stayed home to do homework.

When Keith arrived at the party, she saw the beloved former principal of her children's school and realized she couldn't make a scene. She was impressed by Steyer's passion for protecting the environment and his answers on combating racial inequality. She ended up hugging him and posing for a photo. But he did not win her over.

The mother and daughter kept at it. They've been campaigning together for years - as a toddler before the 2004 caucuses, Jotzke would go "banging on doors" with her mother for the eventual Iowa winner, John Kerry - and they didn't want to sit out this year's voting.

They quickly cut their list to the two women in the race: Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Jotzke added one more to her list: Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur whose ideas she liked although she worried about his lack of political experience.

"I try to envision the debate stage in the general election, and I think about watching some septuagenarian white man yelling at another septuagenarian white man," Keith said. "And it just feels wrong to me. And I feel like we need to talk about what's happening in this country on a level that old white men don't get. And I think that women, especially moms, understand on a base level what is happening in this country."

Although both often hear the argument that former vice president Joe Biden has the best shot at beating Trump, they just don't think that's true.

"He just keeps sounding like your grandpa that isn't like overtly racist but still says things that are NOOOOT comfortable with where we are in 2020," said Keith, who works in historical preservation and, on the side, has written two books about soccer. "Like, I don't think that he's a bad person."

"You still love him," Jotzke continued. "You still want him in the family."

"And then Bernie," her mother said, continuing down the list of septuagenarians. "Why did he not drop out after that heart attack? ... He's the only candidate that would be past his expected life expectancy on Election Day. That's disturbing, you guys, it's really disturbing."

On policy, the two know that the candidates have been sorted, often against their will, into two major buckets: the left wing and the centrists, the dreamers and the pragmatics. But when they looked at the field, they saw candidates with positions that seemed similar and uniformly more liberal than those of Clinton just a few years ago.

Four days after Booker dropped out, Jotzke got a call from a Buttigieg supporter. It was not the first entreaty. A few days before, a Sanders supporter had knocked on their door, and their phones had been filling with calls and messages.

Jotzke explained that she wouldn't caucus for Buttigieg because he hadn't, in her view, advocated enough for marginalized communities. She found herself making the case for Klobuchar, noting the senator has passed a lot of bipartisan legislation and has won in rural Minnesota counties where Trump won in 2016.

She got off the phone and heard her mother on the phone with a Warren supporter calling from Massachusetts, who had nearly convinced Keith to caucus for the senator.

"Did you just commit to caucusing for Warren?" Jotzke asked. "That's not OK because I'm leaning towards Klobuchar."

The two agreed to not make up their minds until they had seen both candidates in person. They mostly agreed on the pros and cons of each: They love that Warren has such a massive organizing operation in their state and elsewhere. They really liked that Klobuchar is from the Midwest and younger. They like that Warren has been a leader on liberal issues, but they worried about her promise to provide free college for all, which Klobuchar has said could lead to the working class paying the tuition bills of the rich. They suspected that Klobuchar would be more likely than Warren to make Booker her running mate, but there was no way to know for sure.

There's one other thing that worried them about supporting Warren: Bernie bros, the avid Sanders supporters who engaged in angry battles with opponents in 2016.

"We both worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign, and we saw what the toxicity between Bernie bros and Hillary people became, and we're both real slow to want to engage with that," Keith said. "His supporters - not him - his supporters are so rabidly tearing into Warren supporters that it's just a real turnoff."

Five days after Booker dropped out, the two attended a Planned Parenthood event for Warren in a Des Moines home, and Keith asked the senator about the private 2018 dinner with Sanders during which Warren says Sanders raised doubts that a woman could defeat Trump. (Sanders has denied her account.)

"I believe you 100 percent," Keith said. "Because I looked at you and I looked at him and I'm like, 'He did that.' I know that Bernie Sanders said those things to you. ... I know what men say to us in rooms and then what they say to us in person to gaslight us."

Keith said she had "a little PTSD from the Clinton campaign" and asked Warren to share her plans "for shutting that down when you're the nominee."

Warren said she and Sanders are longtime friends who "fight for the same issues."

"What I truly believe is," Warren said, "we're going to have to pull together."

The event deepened Keith's tilt toward Warren and left Jotzke suddenly conflicted. The next night, they attended a Klobuchar rally in the Des Moines suburbs. Before it was over, they had swapped positions.

Keith found Klobuchar a "very relatable" fellow Midwestern mom who was "tough as nails" and told jokes that made her burst out laughing. She liked that Klobuchar sent her daughter to a public school where a majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunches - just like the schools where she sends her children. She loved that the senator closed with a riff on Martin Luther King Jr. and the need for racial justice and fairness.

"I'm talking myself into Amy," she told Jotzke.

At the same time, Jotzke was struck by the lack of enthusiasm at the Klobuchar event and worried that the senator didn't have the personality to energize a crowd or propel people to vote. She also found Klobuchar to be a less polished speaker, saying "um" at least six times in one minute.

"We'll talk in the car," Jotzke told her mother.

On the drive home, the two went back-and-forth on the strengths of the two women and the visions for the country they both championed. That night, they were amused to see that the New York Times editorial board had landed at the same place, endorsing Warren and Klobuchar. Together, they watched videos from the board's interviews.

Warren seemed to have more gravitas, while also being funny and intelligent. While Klobuchar might better connect in intimate settings and small towns, Warren appeared more comfortable in front of massive crowds and on debate stages, they both felt. Plus, both candidates would soon be trapped in the impeachment trial in Washington, putting more responsibility on their Iowa organizers - an area where both felt Warren is stronger.

"Well, that settles it," Jotzke said, "I'm for Warren."

Her mother agreed and the next afternoon - as Yang prepared to visit their neighborhood and as Sanders held a rally less than three miles away - the two traveled to Warren's headquarters to sign yet another commit-to-caucus card. It had been exactly one week since Booker left the race.

The next day, they planted a light-green Warren campaign sign in their snow-covered front yard. They left the Booker sign right where it was.

- - -

The Washington Post's Amy B Wang contributed to this report.

What one family's story reveals about reparations

By Tracy Jan
What one family's story reveals about reparations
Ginny Yamamoto stands with her parents Mitsuo Yamamoto and Jayne Yamamoto, and along with her daughter Robyn Syphax within their Japanese garden in Sacramento, California. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Her mother's parents were imprisoned during World War II for being Japanese American. The Yamamotos lost everything - their home, their leased strawberry farm, their dignity - after the government labeled them "the enemy."

Her father's ancestors were enslaved at Mount Vernon. Unlike the vast majority of enslaved African Americans, the Syphaxes became landowners, though it took an act of Congress to gain full recognition of their property rights.

The impacts of government-sanctioned racism course through both branches of Robyn Syphax's family tree. That uncommon lineage shows how even token compensation for historical wrongs can reverberate through generations, affording a chance to heal.

Japanese Americans received reparations - a presidential apology and a $20,000 check - more than four decades after their captivity. African Americans have not.

For Robyn, reparations are a meaningful way to acknowledge the loss that both sides of her family have experienced - the "loss of being able to live a normal life."

"Whether they were families that were uprooted from Africa and brought here as slaves or families that were put in internment camps, they did not have the same opportunities that everyone else had at the time," the 28-year-old said. "The government should say, 'I'm sorry,' just like they did for Japanese Americans. This is the only way to start the healing process."

But her family's experiences defy simple conclusions about the role of reparations in making amends.

For Robyn's grandfather, reparations made it official: The internment of Japanese Americans was a historic injustice.

For her mother, reparations helped crack open the door to her parents' painful past, though no amount of money could compensate for their losses.

But for her father, slavery was too long ago to determine who should benefit from reparations, and he is skeptical of how cash payments would lift African Americans into prosperity.

And for her uncle, the plot of land bequeathed to his family before the Civil War seeded their wealth after enslavement, effectively becoming a form of reparations he said other black families deserve today.

Now, more than 150 years after slavery was abolished, congressional Democrats, most of the party's presidential candidates and Japanese American civil rights leaders are mobilizing around reparations for African Americans.

Supporters anticipate a House vote on the issue this year, as well as its inclusion in the Democratic Party platform.

It's the biggest push for reparations since 1989, when the late Congressman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., inspired by the law authorizing redress for Japanese Americans, began introducing H.R. 40 - numbered to reflect the "40 acres and a mule" that the U.S. government promised enslaved people after the Civil War (and later rescinded).

- - -

For Robyn and her family, the attempts to reckon with history began in Arlington, Virginia in 1825.

Robyn's great-great-great-great-grandparents were Maria Carter Custis Syphax and Charles Syphax.

Maria was the daughter of Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, and one of his enslaved maids, Arianna Carter, according to historical accounts. (Martha and George Washington, her second husband, had adopted Custis after his father died.) Custis freed Maria in 1825 - 40 years before slavery ended - and gave her a 17-acre triangular plot on the edge of the Custis family's Arlington plantation after she married. Her husband, Charles, remained enslaved as the chief butler on the estate.

Maria's white half sister, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. The federal government confiscated the 1,100-acre Arlington estate from the Lees for nonpayment of taxes after they fled during the Civil War.

The Syphax land was confiscated, too, because Maria did not have a deed to her 17 acres. Nevertheless, she and her family continued living on the property.

In 1866, Maria's eldest son, William Syphax, who became chief messenger of the Interior Department, petitioned Congress to pass a bill returning the 17 acres to his family, and the Syphaxes reclaimed their plot.

Subsequent sales of the property gave Maria's descendants the means to pursue education and professions in law, government, medicine and business, according to Robyn's uncle Scott Syphax.

"Our family is actually a case study in what would have happened if people had gotten their '40 acres,' " said Scott, whose brother, Robert, is Robyn's father.

Scott and Robert's great-grandfather, Charles Sumner Syphax, became a Howard University dean and mathematician. Their grandfather, Charles Sumner Syphax II, became a doctor, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1924. Their father, Charles Sumner Syphax III, became one of the first African American developers in Detroit in the age of redlining.

The Syphax land, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, was acquired by the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.

- - -

On the other side of the country, Robyn's grandparents were being rounded up for internment.

Her grandfather, Mitsuo "Mits" Yamamoto, was 16 in 1942 when notices began to appear in Sacramento ordering everyone of Japanese ancestry out of the West Coast. Her grandmother, Jayne Yamamoto, was just 10.

U.S.-born citizens like Mits and Jayne, as well as their immigrant parents, were given just days to report to "assembly centers."

Mits's parents left their belongings at their landlord's barn and a makeshift warehouse recommended by the War Relocation Authority. His father sold his new pickup truck for next to nothing.

As their landlord drove them to the train station, Mits looked back at the farmland his parents leased - acres of ripe, red strawberries ready to be picked.

"I can't imagine what was on my folks' minds - working all year for one crop and having to leave in the middle of it," said Mits, now 93.

Japanese Americans lost as much as $6 billion in property and income because of their forced removal and incarceration, according to a 1983 federally commissioned study that adjusted for inflation and interest. The government froze bank accounts, labeling them "enemy alien assets." Speculators took advantage of wartime prejudices to buy land for a fraction of its value.

Other losses were less tangible, though still deeply felt. After boarding the train under armed guard, Mits became "Individual #22034D" - the letter "D" denoting he was the fourth person in the family, after his parents and older sister.

Over the next three years, the Yamamotos were held in three prison camps - spending the most time at the "Jerome Relocation Center" in Arkansas, which incarcerated more than 8,000 Japanese Americans at its peak.

Mits's family was assigned to a barrack in Block 2, closest to the barbed wire perimeter where military police atop sentry towers pointed their rifles inward.

Because of the wartime labor shortage, Mits was eventually granted permission to seek seasonal jobs in Chicago and Sarasota, Florida - after answering a loyalty questionnaire in which he swore "unqualified allegiance" to the United States and affirmed his willingness to serve in combat for the U.S. armed forces. And in those travels, he encountered raw discrimination - paid less than white Americans performing the same jobs, detained by police while shopping and denied service at a roadside diner.

"In California, although we were called 'Japs,' we were recognized at least," Mits said. "Then, we became nobody. Not black. Not white."

Mits was 19 when his family was freed in 1945, given $25 each and one-way train fare. They returned to Sacramento to find their farm had been leased to someone else and their belongings missing from the warehouse.

" 'I'm sorry, too bad,' was the answer we received," Mits said. "We never saw any of those items again."

His father, then 70, was too frail to farm. Mits, who had graduated from high school while imprisoned at Jerome, skipped college to help support the family. "We had to start from scratch," he said.

Despite prejudice against Japanese Americans, Mits found work in a hops field and also pruned grapes. But like thousands of other Japanese American families who had dominated fruit and vegetable farming in California, Oregon and Washington, the Yamamotos never got back into the farming business.

In 1949, Mits was hired at Campbell Soup, packing cans for $1.20 an hour. His mother picked strawberries on someone else's farm. His father got a live-in job tending to the garden of a white family.

They would never be fully compensated for the loss of their farming operation. Other Japanese American families received some restitution from the United States soon after the war, but the government paid out only a quarter of the claims for damaged or lost property filed under a 1948 law, according to a federal report decades later.

But life went on. Mits met Jayne through his best friend, who happened to be Jayne's brother. They married in 1952 and had four children, including Robyn's mother, Ginny.

For decades, the couple buried their experiences, rarely speaking of their internment.

Government resettlement policies discouraged Japanese Americans from congregating in public, speaking Japanese or living next door to other Japanese American families. And the Yamamotos urged their own children to assimilate.

"They have a saying, 'shikata ga nai' - you know, 'it cannot be helped,' " said Jayne, now 87, who had been incarcerated at Tule Lake in California. "They said it was something we had to endure, and we did. We kept quiet. Our generation never said nothing."

- - -

Meanwhile, younger Japanese Americans, or third-generation known as Sansei, began responding to their parents' silence about their wartime experiences with political activism.

Momentum for reparations gathered in the 1980s. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians held public hearings around the country, allowing the older Nisei generation to speak out about their mistreatment for the first time.

But Mits and Jayne did not participate. They still could not bring themselves to share details of their imprisonment with their children, let alone the world.

The commission determined that President Franklin D. Roosevelt's executive order to incarcerate Japanese Americans was spurred by racism and wartime hysteria - not military necessity - and recommended that reparations be paid to survivors.

Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988, with black lawmakers backing redress. But legal scholars said the law was narrowly framed so as not to serve as a precedent for any other kind of reparations claim. Only Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps and still alive when the bill passed would be compensated - not their children or grandchildren.

Some in the black press decried Japanese American redress, with the New Pittsburgh Courier declaring it "the latest slap in our Black faces by white America."

Some 82,210 former prisoners - out of 120,000 - received reparations checks and an apology from President George Bush and, later, President Bill Clinton. The rest, including Mits's and Jayne's parents, had already died.

At first, Mits did not think he deserved to be compensated. It was his parents - not him - who had suffered the most, he said. "They had something, and they lost it."

Mits and Jayne gave half of their combined $40,000 in reparations to their four adult children "so they could get a better head start" - a symbolic transfer of wealth after everything that had been taken away.

Their daughter Ginny Yamamoto Syphax, then 30, married to Robert Syphax, and raising Robyn's older brother, Ryan, put her share of the reparations, $5,000, into an investment account Mits had opened for her as a child.

It would take another 30 years - and a pilgrimage to the Jerome internment camp - before the full weight of her parents' experience would feel real to Ginny.

During the trip last April, her father pointed out the spots on a map where his barracks once stood, and the barn where a fellow prisoner had hung himself in despair.

"The floodgates hit me - just pure sadness for my parents and grandparents," said Ginny, now 61. "That was when I just totally realized the injustices."

She does not think the government payout is enough for what Japanese American families lost.

"I don't think you can put a dollar amount on it," Ginny said. "It's not just financial loss. It's also emotional loss. You're being uprooted from a place that, for my grandparents, was the land of opportunity. You come and work your tail off, and then to lose that sense of security of having a home - suddenly it's all gone."

At his kitchen table, Mits fought back tears, grateful to the younger generation who had pushed for reparations.

"The young people - they made things happen," he said. "Thanks to them, our history wasn't just swept under the rug."

Cash compensation made the government apology feel more sincere, Mits said. He considered his black in-laws and the healing potential that redress for slavery could bring.

"You should pay for your mistakes," he concluded.

- - -

In 1989, with the government poised to disburse $1.6 billion to Japanese American survivors of wartime incarceration, Conyers, the Michigan congressman, introduced his bill to create a commission to study reparations proposals for African Americans living with the legacy of more than two centuries of slavery and subsequent segregation.

It drew only two dozen sponsors. Conyers reintroduced the bill every legislative session until he resigned from Congress in 2017. Each time, the bill failed to move beyond the House Judiciary Committee. And while the House and Senate apologized for slavery in 2008 and 2009, the symbolic moves did not accompany action on reparations. Conyers died in October at age 90.

But for Scott Syphax, Ginny's brother-in-law, compensating African Americans for the stolen wealth that their enslaved ancestors generated - as well as the government-sanctioned discrimination in employment, housing, lending, education and policing - just makes sense. Even the promises of the New Deal and the G.I. Bill, which helped lift white Americans into the middle class, were never fully realized for black Americans.

"It's like the equivalent of a very layered cake of actions and laws that have led to the economic disparity that we have today," said Scott, a retired chief executive of a real estate development firm who now runs a foundation to diversify corporate boards.

"When we were freed, not only did black people not receive anything," he said, "there were active pieces of discrimination - both cultural and statutory - that blocked us from being able to create enough in assets to transfer onto successive generations."

The net worth of a typical white family is nearly 10 times that of a typical black family, according to Federal Reserve data. Homeownership, one of the most important ways for families to build wealth, has remained virtually unchanged for African Americans in the 50 years since housing discrimination was outlawed.

Over wine and cheese at his home last fall, Scott, who also hosts a political talk show on local television, and his brother, Robert, a retired IT manager for the state of California, ran calculations of what cash reparations could mean for African Americans.

In one scenario, they divided $500 billion - an amount proposed by former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson - by approximately 48 million black Americans, yielding roughly $10,000 per person.

"You kind of look at that number and say well, okay, will $10,000 actually move someone into permanent prosperity?" said Scott, 56.

"I don't see how you pay a segment of society that large the kind of money that would be required to improve anyone's position," said Robert, 61.

While he felt cash compensation was the best way to acknowledge how the government had wronged his Japanese American in-laws, Robert said reparations checks would do little for young African Americans segregated in neighborhoods devoid of jobs, education, even basic infrastructure. The money, he said, should instead be invested in educational opportunities and community programs for systemic change.

Then there are the questions that commonly come up when discussing reparations: "How would it actually work?" Scott asked. "Should Africans who came over, you know, 40 years ago get a piece of this? Who gets this?"

Their mother's family had been sharecroppers on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Their grandfather migrated to Detroit at 17 to work in the auto factories - never having had the option of pursuing an education.

"Who knows who he would have become had his family had access to the 40 acres and a mule that were promised?" Scott said. "That side of my family deserves reparations."

"Right now," he said, "there's a crack in the door in that there's at least a beginning of a discussion - one that's happening in more areas than just black dining tables."

- - -

Thirty years after Japanese Americans began receiving reparations checks, their descendants around the country are beginning to unite behind redress for slavery.

"One of the things people say about African American reparations for slavery is the same thing people said to us when we were fighting for redress: 'You should just get over it,' " said Susan Hayase, 63, a third-generation Japanese American who fought for reparations in the 1980s. But petitioning the government for redress of grievances is "the most American thing - a basic right guaranteed by the Constitution," she told civil rights activists gathered recently in San Jose's Japantown.

Public support for reparations has doubled since 2002, when just 14% of Americans believed the government should make cash payments to black descendants of slaves, according to polling by Gallup. In 2019, 29% of all Americans supported reparations - with black Americans accounting for most of the increase.

Georgetown students voted last year to pay additional fees as reparations for the university's participation in the slave trade. Cities are debating their own version of reparations for redlining, predatory lending and discriminatory policing, with the Chicago suburb of Evanston recently agreeing to create a reparations fund with a tax on recreational marijuana.

The House reparations bill, now sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, has drawn more than 120 co-sponsors, a record, according to Keenan Keller, Conyers's longtime aide and a Democratic counsel on the House Judiciary Committee.

"Sometimes facts take a long time to penetrate, and the issue of reparations took that very long journey," Jackson Lee said. "People are recognizing that the healing that is necessary will not occur with just the passage of time."

One afternoon at Mits and Jayne's ranch-style home, Robyn unearthed a box of black-and-white family photos from the hall closet. Tucked inside was a manila envelope containing the official apology from President Bush - a two-paragraph letter dated October 1990, 45 years after her grandparents' imprisonment.

Robyn examined the embossed presidential seal and read the blue type for the first time:

"A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories; neither can they fully convey our Nation's resolve to rectify injustice and to uphold the rights of individuals. We can never fully right the wrongs of the past. But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese Americans during World War II."

Robyn contemplated the weight of those words, reflecting on both sides of her family. Internment - like slavery - had been sanctioned by the government and accepted by most Americans as normal, she said. "But only one side of the story has an ending."

The eastern Mediterranean is a sea of political troubles again

By Alan Crawford, et al.
The eastern Mediterranean is a sea of political troubles again
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, listens as President Donald Trump (not pictured) speaks during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington on Nov. 13, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Alex Edelman.

After Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, it found itself short of military hardware. In stepped Moammar Gadhafi, and four Turkish DC-9 commercial aircraft with the seats stripped out were loaded with rockets from Libyan stockpiles of U.S.-made weaponry. He refused all payment.

"I can never forget the friendship shown by Gadhafi at a very difficult time," retired Turkish diplomat Taner Baytok recalled in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper. "I describe it as a debt of gratitude."

Baytok was reminiscing in 2011, the year the Libyan leader was overthrown and the country entered a new era of chaos. Now Turkey is in the ascendancy and Libya a divided, war-ravaged shell. Yet those ties are being rekindled, inflaming a region that's still nursing the wound from the defining events of almost a half century ago.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's pledge to send in troops to bolster the United Nations-backed government in Libya is upsetting the delicate balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean, as countries jostle over lucrative hydrocarbon resources in the waters around the divided island of Cyprus.

A maritime agreement signed in November with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's beleaguered administration prompted Turkey to claim rights to parts of the seabed that Athens says is Greek under international law.

Erdogan's assertion last week that he will start issuing exploration licences in contested waters on the basis of the new maritime boundary took tensions to new levels-risking a spiral of escalation in an already turbulent region with a history of U.S., Russian and, more recently, Chinese involvement.

Erdogan says that Turkey strives to become a global energy hub and "has never sought regional tension." But regional tempers are boiling over regardless.

Egypt, which holds the eastern Mediterranean's largest discovered gas reserves, warned of "repercussions" for any measures that violate Cyprus's sovereign rights over its resources and "threaten the security and stability" of the region.

Cyprus, split in 1974 and its northern part only recognized as a separate state by Turkey, went further still: "Turkey is turning into a pirate state in the eastern Mediterranean," the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

Cyprus has the backing of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France in its standoff with Turkey, according to a senior Cypriot government official who asked not to be named discussing relations with Ankara due to their acute political sensitivity.

France, which flexed its naval muscle in the eastern Mediterranean by sending a frigate in the fall, is due to dispatch its aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to the region in a show of force, said the official. The Saudis are also sympathetic since they too feel threatened by Turkey's expansive ambitions, the person said.

In Greece, people are discussing the activities of their eastern neighbor, an historical antagonist, on the street, at bus stops and over coffee, broadly viewing Erdogan's latest moves as just another episode in a long line of Turkish saber-rattling.

While not fearing an outright war, they do see an incident involving naval ships as conceivable, with the risk of military engagement posing a threat to the economy just as the country is finally exiting a decade-long crisis. The two countries, both NATO members, came close to conflict in 1996 over a pair of uninhabited islets in the Aegean.

Erdogan's recent comment that Turkey and Libya must be consulted on "any exploration activity or construction of a pipeline" in areas between the two countries-effectively carving off the entire eastern Mediterranean-also has ramifications for energy giants including Italy's Eni. The company declined to comment.

The tussle for influence is the result of a power vacuum caused by U.S. disengagement from the Middle East and Africa, according to the Cypriot official, who said that all the regional players are trying to fill the space vacated.

Ankara's actions in a region that lies at the nexus of Europe, Africa and the Middle East come at a time of shifting global power as the U.S. curtails its overseas engagement and Russia steps in. That dynamic provides Erdogan with an opening to resurrect Turkey's former influence in the eastern Mediterranean with a powerful new ally-Vladimir Putin.

Erdogan hosted the Russian president in Istanbul on Jan. 8 to inaugurate the TurkStream pipeline, which will take natural gas from Russia to Europe via Turkey.

Erdogan and Putin back opposing sides in the Libya conflict, though are now trying to broker a cease-fire and then reap the rewards. After failing to bring Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar to heel in Moscow and then Berlin, talks are due to move to Geneva.

"Erdogan wants Russian support for Turkey's maritime deal, that's why he wants Putin to help him save Tripoli's government from defeat," said Grigoriy Lukyanov, a Libya expert at the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council. "Russia loses nothing if Turkey advances its interests," while any sanctions on Turkey would simply drive it closer to Moscow, he said. "It's a win-win for Russia."

Turkey's alliance with Moscow is already in evidence through Erdogan's purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system in the face of U.S. and NATO protests. Yet it's now adding a new dimension to historic regional rivalries, with the EastMed pipeline project to take Israeli offshore gas to Europe-bypassing Turkey-acting as the lightning rod.

Greece signed an agreement this month with Israel and Cyprus on the pipeline's construction. Turkey's Energy Strategy and Policy Research Center has dismissed the project as "incoherent" and the signing ceremony in Athens as an ineffective attempt to respond to Turkey's deal with Libya.

Israel, which publicly opposed Turkey's maritime deal with Libya, is watching developments with some concern, but is not yet overly worried by Turkey's moves, according to a person familiar with the government's thinking. Turkey wants to be the corridor to carry eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe, and although Israel has been pushing for the EastMed pipeline, it's not yet proven to be economically viable, said the person, adding that Israel could always sell gas to Europe via Egyptian LNG plants.

Low-level talks have been held between Israel and Turkey on restarting gas discussions, said the person, who noted that Erdogan has meanwhile said that no such deal is in the offing. Israel remains vigilant as regards Turkey all the same, said the person, asking not to be named discussing confidential contacts.

In December, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to bolster its security and energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean, including support for EastMed. The legislation instructs the State Department to report on Russia's security, political and energy goals in the region, and authorizes the U.S. to give security assistance to Cyprus and Greece.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, has previously accused the U.S. and NATO of building up their military presence in the region "in an openly anti-Russia manner." The state-run Cyprus New Agency on Wednesday cited a State Department official as saying that the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by reports of Turkey's drilling operations in the waters off Cyprus.

Assistant Secretary of State for energy Francis Fannon plans to visit the region as the U.S. seeks to use the new discoveries to "catalyze regional cooperation," he said in emailed comments. That includes stepping up work with Cyprus, Greece and Israel "to promote stability and prosperity in the region" as well as cooperation with Egypt. He also plans to visit Turkey for the first time.

"Turkey is a valued U.S. ally and we look forward to enhancing our energy cooperation," Fannon said.

Those competing interests place Cyprus at the epicenter of geopolitical tensions again.

The island has sought good relations with both east and west. A former British colony, it has a Royal Air Force base also used by American units. Its banks have long been a haven for Russian money, with Putin providing aid to the island during the financial crisis. Lavrov is due to visit in March, while his counterpart, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, is due some point this spring.

Talks to reunify the internationally recognized Greek-speaking south and Turkish north broke down in 2017, and the island remains divided by a UN-patrolled sliver of no-man's land known as the "Green Line." The discovery of hydrocarbons in Cypriot waters had been seen as the key to unlock reunification efforts.

But after the latest talks collapsed, Turkey dispatched two drilling ships to Cypriot waters, the Fatih and Yavuz-both named after Ottoman sultans-and blocked access to what it regards as its own exclusive economic zone.

U.S. support is welcome but isn't assuaging regional concerns, in part because of President Donald Trump's perceived soft-pedaling on Putin and Erdogan. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis raised Turkey's "unacceptable" provocations in a meeting with Trump at the White House this month.

History too offers an uncomfortable precedent. Back in 1974, the U.S. failed to intervene when Turkey invaded the north of Cyprus. Despite securing Cypriot neutrality in the Cold War, the Soviet Union welcomed the invasion as a destabilizing factor for NATO.

Now, Russians could have similar justification to welcome any Turkish move against Cyprus. There are other parallels. As Cypriots point out, the reason for the U.S. distraction then under Richard Nixon was eerily similar to today: a president caught up in an impeachment process.

- - -

Bloomberg's Yaacov Benmeleh, David Wainer, Ilya Arkhipov, Stepan Kravchenko and Laura Hurst contributed to this report.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

The economic system we've built is a superhighway for viruses

By megan mcardle
The economic system we've built is a superhighway for viruses

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

Already the outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, has drawn the inevitable comparisons to historical plagues: the mysterious ailments that scourged the Roman empire and may have contributed to its collapse; the Spanish flu epidemic, which killed millions in the wake of World War I; and even the Black Death, which is estimated to have taken between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population. Like those diseases, coronavirus seems to be extremely contagious and quickly spread. And in that, unlike its predecessors, it will have a great deal of assistance from modern technology.

Over the past four decades we have rebuilt our economy to center on megacities, mass travel and supply chains that wrap around the globe several times over, all of which coincidentally make nice wide superhighways for wayward viruses. That system makes us richer than any generation in human history, but it also makes us extraordinarily vulnerable. Emerging illnesses can skip continents before we even know they exist, giving us little time to prepare or react.

This is the stuff of nightmares and also the plot of a fair number of post-apocalyptic books, movies and television shows. These stories are familiar enough that when we confront an out-of-control and potentially fatal virus in real life, we can't help but wonder whether our seemingly solid civilization isn't a lot more fragile than it usually appears.

We can't close down those particular roads without also slowing down the economic growth that our societies have come to expect and depend upon. Moreover, our hyper-specialization makes us vulnerable to catastrophe in a particular way that earlier societies were not, because the majority of us are trained to be cogs in that vast and complicated economic machine, not autonomous individuals. An Italian peasant could go on as ever while cities fell and trade networks shriveled; a modern retail worker cannot. And even most of our farmers would be hard-pressed to do much without a steady supply of fuel, pesticides and chemical fertilizer.

But, despite our obvious vulnerabilities, we are also in some key ways much better armored against this particular sort of disaster than our predecessors ever were.

For one thing, rich-world citizens are far healthier than the people of late antiquity, or medieval Europe, or even 1918. Compared to even the wealthiest citizens of those times, we still eat better, safer food; live in cleaner and better-ventilated homes; are less likely to suffer from chronic infections; and more reliably separate our sewage from our water supply. That advantage looks even more stark when we turn to the average citizens of those eras, whose diets were monotonous, low on protein and devoid of fresh produce for months at a time, not to mention frequently contaminated by cooks with dirty hands or spoiled by heat and pests.

Better nutrition means that our bodies have more reserves available to fight invading pathogens. Better sanitation means that pathogens have a harder time spreading from person to person, and that even when one does make it through all our defenses, our immune systems can really focus on the threat. When we do get sick, our health-care system can provide antibiotics to treat secondary infections, and intravenous fluids to keep us hydrated, reducing mortality even if there is no direct treatment for the disease.

Thanks, too, to centuries of specialization, we actually know how infectious diseases spread. So when an epidemic gets underway, we don't waste time on sacrifices to propitiate angry gods or fretting about deadly miasmas seeping in with the night air. Instead, we use our superior knowledge and resources to keep our hands clean, our faces covered, our homes free of pests that serve as disease vectors and our patients isolated in hospitals that can treat them rather than spreading infection to family members who can't.

Those resources can also be used to attack diseases head-on; humans are reading the DNA of the Wuhan coronavirus, tracking mutations and looking for its source. Meanwhile, well-funded U.S. government labs are already testing a medicine to fight coronaviruses, part of a program to address emerging infectious threats.

Could we be better prepared for a pandemic? Of course, and we should be. The advent of antibiotics and to some extent antivirals has made even our health-care systems too complacent about fighting infectious disease, something that should be both a medical and a political priority. But even as we prepare, we should probably be less worried that our complexity makes us vulnerable to collapse and more grateful it has given us the resources to actually fight those emerging threats.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Being John Bolton

By kathleen parker
Being John Bolton

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

WRITETHRU: Penultimate graf, tweaks throughout last sentence

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- You can call John Bolton a lot of things -- bully, brawler, neocon -- but not many would call him a dummy.

This is especially true at this precise moment, when he may be the only person to emerge a winner from Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

To many Americans, the name John Bolton likely conjures up little more than a walrus-ian mustache to which the man's loyalty never wavers. Perhaps he keeps the little shrub to remind his upper lip not to curl with contempt toward those whose opinions differ from his own. As his friends and former colleagues will tell you, Bolton tends to be an absolutist with an affinity for black and white and no love for elitists or fools.

They will also tell you that he is above all a man of principle who would never sacrifice himself for the most-unprincipled president in modern history. Whether he is subpoenaed to testify before the Senate is virtually irrelevant considering that we already know what he knows.

For one thing, excerpts of his forthcoming book's manuscript were recently leaked to The New York Times. Among revelations therein: Then-national security adviser Bolton and Attorney General Bill Barr discussed "concerns that President Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China."

Also, Bolton writes that Trump explicitly made military aid to Ukraine contingent upon investigations into political foe Joe Biden and his son Hunter. But, then, we already knew that, too.

The rest is theater, which, frankly, has become a bit dull. Witnesses-to-the-rescue is a tempting notion, but it seems unlikely that Bolton's contribution would sway the Republican-majority Senate to convict the president.

So, why the backlash against Bolton from the White House, other than his apparent disloyalty? What else does he have? The White House knows exactly what he has since Bolton sent a copy of his manuscript for its review a month ago.

The more apt observation may be that he's got nothing to lose and, based on his long history of government service, everything to maintain. That is, his reputation for principle over loyalty. Bolton's repertoire in government service, which began soon after his graduation from Yale Law School (on scholarship), is that of a bulldog -- stubborn, fearless, prone to infighting and concerned foremost with the sovereignty of the United States. He was an America First gladiator long before Trump thought of it as a foreign policy imperative.

Among other things, Bolton has nothing but contempt for the United Nations, which made his turn as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush a bit unusual. Before that, while serving in the State Department, he helped Bush un-sign the U.N. "Rome Statute," which created the International Criminal Court for war crimes, lest other countries use the treaty as a cudgel against America and our troops. In a 2018 speech to the Federalist Society, Bolton referred to this as "one of my proudest achievements."

In some conservative circles, bets are that Bolton wouldn't just be willing to testify, as he has said he would if subpoenaed by the Senate. He'd (BEG ITAL)love(END ITAL) to. One way or the other, his story, supported by the paper trail he created as national security adviser, will come out. It won't be good for Trump, but it won't necessarily hurt him in the immediate future. Everybody knows what Trump is. The only issue is whether enough senators care enough to convict him.

Trump and his loyalists have accused Bolton of trying to sell a book and make money. Note to the unpublished: Well-known writers such as Bolton typically are paid upfront by their publisher in the form of an advance. Whether the book makes money, thereafter, is primarily the concern of the publisher. Bolton's book's value has been reported in the neighborhood of $2 million.

Thus, money isn't likely Bolton's chief motivation. Far more compelling to someone like Bolton is what one might call principled justice. Trump embarrassed Bolton by ignoring his advice and then firing him by tweet (Bolton maintains he quit) for an offense that ought really to make Bolton's point-of-pride list: He objected to Trump's genius idea to host the Taliban at Camp David near the anniversary of 9/11.

So, no, Bolton isn't only selling books. He's saving his legacy -- and giving back to Trump as good as he got. Testifying before the Senate might just make his day -- in a Dirty Harry kind of way. But the book otherwise will stand when history passes judgment on a man who picked the right side.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

I'm very worried about this president. Buy my book to find out why!

By alexandra petri
I'm very worried about this president. Buy my book to find out why!

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT RELEASE)

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

I think we can all agree: This is a moment of serious crisis for our nation. Did the president almost definitely commit an impeachable offense? Is something terrifying going on in the White House, probably at this very moment, that should fill all with shock and alarm?

To find out, you'd better buy my book! It comes out in ... two to six months, when you can read more about the PRESSING NATIONAL EMERGENCY from the grips of which I only hope we will be able to extricate ourselves before serious damage is done to this republic. On Kindle, it's just $16.99, and if you preorder it, I will start work on a sequel, "Other Crimes the President Did, That I Know About, About Which It Has Not Occurred to Me to Come Forward." This could be a series, if we're lucky!

I am just following in the footsteps of American heroes such as Paul Revere, who, when he saw that the British were coming, immediately rushed to his horse, leaped on its back and went galloping off to his publisher to deliver a manuscript warning of this emergency, to be published within the year. I am only behaving like other heroes whose names will ring down the ages, like Anonymous White House Official.

I have witnessed things that are of acute concern to everyone in this country, and to find out what they were, you had better agree to fund my musical, which will not only reveal why the president is a danger to the union, but also will do so in a series of toe-tapping songs. The nation is on the precipice -- which, coincidentally, is also the title of my graphic novel, due to come out in installments starting in spring 2021, each one of which would make absolutely essential testimony in an impeachment trial. Do I have evidence that could bring down a presidency? To find the answer to this question, you'll have to buy a ticket to my one-man show, "I Have Evidence That Could Bring Down a Presidency."

Look, this is a critical moment in our nation's history. Now is a time for people of good will to do the right thing, without any thought of reward -- coincidentally, the title of the roman à clef I am penning that will describe in even more detail everything unthinkable and wrong that has occurred behind these White House doors, just with punny fake names (Mike Pencil!).

I am deeply, convulsively, alarmingly concerned at all that is going on, and I am doing my patriotic duty. Order a copy of my book now, and for a limited time only, I'll also throw in an audio cassette on which the president confides to me a totally unexpected and different crime that he has additionally committed!

Volunteer this information now? For free? Absolutely not. Do you genuinely think that somebody who would just do the right thing not in a self-motivated fashion would be in the Trump administration in the first place?

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Special Operations Forces are stretched to the danger point

By david ignatius
Special Operations Forces are stretched to the danger point

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- Five years ago, a Navy lieutenant wrote a graduate school thesis titled "Navy SEALs gone wild: publicity, fame, and the loss of the quiet professional." That was a warning bell of trouble among America's bravest but most stressed warriors.

The ethical squeeze got worse last year, when President Trump intervened in a military discipline case to protect a publicity-hungry SEAL named Eddie Gallagher, who had become a darling of Fox News despite allegations that he had violated SEAL rules. Pentagon leaders cringed at Trump's meddling, knowing it could make discipline problems worse.

"I was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's trial was handled by the Navy. He was treated very badly," Trump complained in a November tweet. He probably thought he was standing up for the military, but four retired four-star generals told me this week that Trump's comment was a gut punch to the order and accountability that these brave men and women need to perform their missions honorably.

A former commander warned of the cost to military ethics and discipline of presidential interference in the Gallagher case and two others Trump championed: "Now the tendency is to reach out to Fox News. You might end up smelling like a rose, and you might even get invited to Mar-a-Lago," as Gallagher and his wife were.

Special Operations Command (SOCOM) took an important step Tuesday to protect the integrity of its forces with the release of a comprehensive review of the "culture and ethics" of these elite units. It's written in careful language (perhaps to a fault) and doesn't go near the issue of Trump's intervention in the cases of Gallagher and others.

But the thrust of the report is clear: Special Operations Forces (SOF) are badly frayed by nearly 20 years of war. They've been the fix for every big military problem since Sept. 11, 2001. They've become the most fearsome killers in the history of warfare. But they're at the red line.

Gen. Richard Clarke, the SOCOM commander, told reporters Tuesday: "We have a 'can do' culture with a bias toward action," but nearly two decades of war have "imbalanced that culture" and "set conditions favorable for inappropriate behavior." Clarke underlined that message Tuesday with a letter to the roughly 75,000 troops under SOCOM: "Trust is our currency," he wrote, but recent discipline issues have "jeopardized that trust."

SOCOM warned in its 69-page report that it had "uncovered not only potential cracks in the SOF foundations at the individual and team level, but also through the chain of command, specifically in the core [tenets] of discipline and accountability." If the underlying conditions aren't addressed, "unethical behavior and misconduct" could put performance and safety at risk.

The military has known for a decade that its Special Operations Forces were stretched to the danger point. Elite units were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan almost continuously, sometimes with no "dwell time" at home between assignments. A SOCOM commander worried a decade ago that the force was ragged. His master sergeant responded that it was worse; there were "gaping holes."

SOCOM commanders have tried hard to repair the damage. Adm. Eric Olson in 2011 reported on pressure faced by special operators and their families. Adm. William McRaven, his successor, created mental and physical health facilities to better protect forces and families; Gen. Joseph Votel, the next commander, had earlier removed a SOF unit from Afghanistan that was reporting far more enemy killed-in-action than other units; Gen. Tony Thomas, who followed, sent troops a 2018 "guidance on ethics" and directed a focus on core values.

The pressures have eased. Because SOF personnel have nearly doubled since 9/11, troops can now, in theory, spend two years at home for every year they're deployed.

But culture begins at the top, with America's political leadership. When Trump complains, as he did in a tweet last year, "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!" he risks undermining commanders' work on accountability. Even worse is when he seems to condone Gallagher's attack on the SEAL commander for conducting a peer review of Gallagher's SEAL status. "I would have torn him apart," says one retired four-star general of Gallagher's behavior. "That was insubordination, pure and simple."

America's debt to its SOF fighters is immense. They've lived the burden of combat, and the reality that it can bring out the best and worst in people. Part of protecting these warriors is reducing the burden of too many deployments -- and maintaining discipline and accountability when bad things happen.

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Beware of clickbait scams following the death of Kobe Bryant

By michelle singletary
Beware of clickbait scams following the death of Kobe Bryant

THE COLOR OF MONEY COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Singletary clients only)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

WASHINGTON -- The sudden death of Kobe Bryant has many fans rushing to buy clothing and memorabilia that commemorates the life of the five-time NBA champion.

A few hours after the news broke Sunday about Bryant's death in a helicopter crash in California, I was sitting in church waiting for service to start when a fellow parishioner asked if I thought it was OK to order from a certain online site. He wanted to purchase a memorial T-shirt.

The black shirts were going fast, and he needed to act quickly before they sold out, according to a pressuring message on the site.

Like Marvel's Peter Parker, my "spider sense" indicated impending danger.

I asked the church member if he had ever shopped at the site before. He hadn't. He had just been searching on the Internet for something to remember the basketball player by and saw a shirt he liked.

But I cautioned him that the site might be a fake, in which case he would never receive the shirt. Or maybe it was set up by a scammer as a way to capture his credit card information so the data could be used to make fraudulent purchases.

I strongly suggested that he stick with a trustworthy online retailer. The man's wife, who had been listening to our conversation, smiled.

"Thank you," she mouthed after her husband decided to wait and do some additional research.

Scammers are quick to home in on people's curiosity, grief and/or admiration following the death of a high-profile personality.

The Better Business Bureau issued a warning this week cautioning consumers to watch out for Bryant-related clickbait and to "not let their mourning cloud their judgment."

"Every time there's a celebrity death, we see scammers take advantage of people," said Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.

Following the death of comedian Robin Williams in 2014, an email circulated on Facebook promising a "goodbye" video that was supposedly recorded by the actor just before he took his own life.

But when people clicked the link, they were sent to a fake BBC News site, according to an advisory issued at the time by Symantec, a security software company, which has since changed its name to Norton LifeLock. Users were told they had to install an application on their computer or fill out a survey to view the video, which didn't exist.

"Scammers operating these sites use affiliate programs to earn money for the completion of surveys and file downloads," the cybersecurity company warned.

Sham links could contain malware intended to capture your personal and financial data, which could lead to identity theft, Hutt said.

"We expect the scammers to do something similar to what they did when Robin Williams died," she said.

Be careful of clicking links promising that proceeds from the sale of Bryant memorabilia will go to a charity. Use caution when clicking stories with sensational headlines teasing "never seen before" videos or photos of Bryant and his family. Bryant's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in the helicopter crash as well.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to consumers either looking for Bryant merchandise or searching for articles about his life and death.

-- (BEG ITAL)Watch out for fake shopping sites(END ITAL). Avoid unfamiliar websites. Scammers can also easily impersonate legitimate online shopping sites. Don't follow a link to a site. Search for it yourself.

-- (BEG ITAL)Don't rush to purchase stuff(END ITAL). "Take your time," Hutt urged. "There will be plenty of opportunities to buy merchandise or memorabilia. If you are being rushed, that's a big red flag -- and a sign that something might be shady."

-- (BEG ITAL)Check for the security settings(END ITAL). If the site is secure, its web address should start with "https://" and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping-cart page. If you hover over a link you can see its true destination.

-- (BEG ITAL)Use credit not debit(END ITAL). Keep in mind that your debit card is directly tied to your bank account. There is not much of a delay from the time of your purchase until the funds are withdrawn. This means fraudulent transactions can quickly do a lot of damage. Consider using a credit card for online purchases. The consumer protections are stronger for credit card users. If your credit card is used without your permission, you can only be held liable for up to $50. And even then, most banks won't try to collect that from you. If a product is damaged or not delivered, you can dispute the charges and you have an ally -- your credit card issuer -- which can withhold payment until the situation is investigated and settled.

-- (BEG ITAL)Look out for deceitful discounts(END ITAL). I know you want to save money, but don't respond to an unsolicited email from an unknown source promising some great deal.

Just be careful out there, and exercise extreme caution if you're looking for something to remind you of Bryant's legacy.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

A Bolton subpoena fight could tie up the Senate for months. That's exactly what Democrats want.

By marc a. thiessen
A Bolton subpoena fight could tie up the Senate for months. That's exactly what Democrats want.

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, and thereafter.)

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- If House Democrats really cared about getting former national security adviser John Bolton's testimony, they would not wait for Senate Republicans to vote on it. There is nothing that bars House Democrats from calling new impeachment witnesses just because the Senate impeachment trial is underway. Bolton dropped his objections to testifying more than three weeks ago. So, why didn't the House issue a subpoena right then and there?

Answer: Because the Democrats' goal is not to obtain Bolton's testimony. Rather, it is to tie the Senate in knots, extend the Senate trial as long as possible and inflict maximum political damage on the president and Senate Republicans. If Republicans let them get away with it, they will set a dangerous precedent.

Unlike the House, the Senate cannot turn to other business in legislative session while an impeachment trial is underway without unanimous consent of all senators. If the Senate votes to call Bolton to testify, even if Bolton agrees to cooperate, the president would almost certainly seek an injunction to prevent him from doing so. That could tie the Senate in litigation that could last for many months.

Even if Bolton ultimately testified, during the trial the president's defense team could object to his answering specific questions on the grounds that his answers would irreparably damage the presidency by divulging privileged information. The Senate might be forced to vote on every individual objection. And even if the Senate voted to allow Bolton to answer, and Bolton agreed to do so, the president's lawyers could go to court to seek an injunction to prevent him from answering. In other words, there is almost no scenario in which the Senate is not dragged into court.

How long would the court battle take? During the Nixon impeachment inquiry, it took three months for the Supreme Court to rule on the president's claim of privilege, but that was because the Supreme Court agreed to bypass the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Most executive privilege cases take much longer.

It's impossible to predict how the courts would rule, but this much is certain: The president's claims of privilege would not be dismissed quickly or lightly. Courts have accorded the president great deference on such claims when it comes to matters of national security, so they would very likely give similar weight to the president's claims when it concerns conversations with his national security adviser. Moreover, in deciding whether to breach the president's privilege, the courts would take into account the House managers' testimony before the Senate in which they claimed they had proved their case without Bolton's testimony.

But the bigger question is: Why should the Senate be stuck with this mess? There has never been a presidential impeachment trial in which the Senate was forced to resolve issues of privilege. That is the House's job. If the House had subpoenaed Bolton months ago, the legal battle would be well underway. If representatives had done it even three weeks ago, when Bolton agreed to testify, we would be three weeks further along in the litigation fight.

Instead, the House failed to meet its responsibilities and threw the whole mess into the Senate's lap. If senators agree to go along, they would set a precedent for future impeachment trials.

Not only have the House managers refused to do their job, they have also leveled outrageous accusations against senators if they refuse to do it for them. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., accused senators of being "treacherous" if they did not vote for witnesses -- an accusation that prompted Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to send Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. a note complaining that Nadler had violated Senate rules. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., drew audible gasps from senators when he declared that Trump had threatened to put their heads "on a pike" if they crossed him. If Democrats were really trying to convince moderate Republicans to call witnesses, they would not behave in such an ugly and partisan manner.

Why would the Senate agree to set such a precedent, especially when Bolton's testimony will not change the outcome of the trial? A majority of senators agree that, as Alan Dershowitz said on the Senate floor Monday night, "nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense." Trump will be acquitted.

So, when the House managers demand that the Senate subpoena Bolton, the answer should be simple: Do it yourselves.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

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