Social Enterprise Project Connects African Asylum Seekers, Israelis in the Kitchen

It looks like any other cooking class in yuppie Tel Aviv. Sleek kitchen utensils, baskets of fresh vegetables, participants sipping wine and beer. The first hint that this is a little different is the beer Asmara from Eritrea.

Yael Ravid, co-director of Kitchen Talks, explains how her cooking events make a special connection between Israelis and the Africans seeking refuge in their country.

“As we cook together shoulder to shoulder, we literally break bread, not as a metaphor but as a real happening together. I’m hoping they will enjoy the holiday feast we’re preparing for the Eritrean Christmas and they will get a chance to know Asmayit, our Eritrean cook, and to ask her questions about her life, her home kitchen, how she grew up, how she came here,” she says.

Chef Asmayit Merhatsion is a 30-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea. As she chops and stirs, she tells her story, starting with her imprisonment in Eritrea.

“When I was in college I was arranging for women or girls to pray. They catched [caught] us and asked who organized? I organized. They are thinking our meeting is political but it’s not political, it’s religious. That’s why I was in prison,” she explains.

After two short stints in prison, she escaped to Sudan, then to Libya, hoping to make it to Europe. But after Europe closed its doors, she decided on Israel, paying smugglers to get her across the Sinai desert.

That was almost nine years ago. Today she is married and has a young daughter. She works for the AIDS task force. And she is a chef with Kitchen Talks to share her love for Eritrean food and culture.

“It’s a vegetarian dish, five types of food we do and the traditional bread we have here I make it at home. This one is not bread it’s injera, it’s made of teff flour growing in Eritrea or Ethiopia…it’s non gluten, its healthy, that’s why we are not fat,” she says.

Participants paid about $50 for the collaborative cooking event and were enthusiastic when they tasted the results. Many said it was their first time meeting with an asylum seeker and eating their exotic food.

“You can form an opinion based on things that you don’t know or things that you fear. Then once, like even seeing here people interacting, and then once you know somebody, like get to know them and speak with them, and all of a sudden you’re like, they’re people just like me and deserve rights just like I do’,” says Adi Cydulkin, a cooking class participant.

“They are here, they exist here, we can’t ignore it, we should help especially the young children to become good citizens here in Israel,” says Eli Levy.

Participants agreed that they will take home, not only empathy for African asylum seekers like chef Asmayit, but also some of her tasty recipes they learned tonight.

Thousands of Women to Gather for Fourth Annual Women’s March

Thousands of women are planning to march in cities across the United States Saturday for the fourth annual Women’s March to advocate for a host of issues, including gender equality and women’s human rights.

Rallies are planned in dozens of cities, including Washington, where the first Women’s March in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of people the day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office.

The march has included a political message since it began three years ago when many protesters wore the knitted pink hats that have become a symbol of women’s anti-Trump sentiments.

Politics continued to be a strong theme at the Women’s March in all subsequent years, including in 2018 when the organizers moved the march to Nevada, a battleground state for the midterm elections that year, as well as in 2019 when the march returned to Washington and heralded the record 102 women who had been recently elected to the House of Representatives.

Several of the Democratic candidates for president in 2020 are planning to attend Women’s March events across the country this year. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will attend the Women’s March in Reno, Nevada, while former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is planning to be at a rally in South Carolina. Senator Michael Bennet and businessman Andrew Yang will attend Women’s March events in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively.

Since its first march, the Women’s March has faced controversy, including its leaders facing accusations of anti-Semitism. The organizers have repeatedly denied the claims. Three of the four original co-chairs of the organization have left the group, and the organization has appointed a new board that includes three Jewish women.

Current co-president of the Women’s March, Isa Noyola, noted in a statement ahead of this year’s march that it will be the last march before the 2020 election.“

In 2020, we have a chance to finish what we started three years ago and remove Trump from office,” she said.

Amid Kenya Power Struggle, IMF Says Investment Program in Crisis

Hundreds of mismanaged infrastructure projects have stalled in Kenya and it will cost around $10 billion to revive them, the IMF said in a report whose findings point to a growing power struggle at the heart of government.

Amid mounting public anger over ballooning state debt and a series of graft scandals, President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday confirmed acting finance minister Ukur Yatani in the post after its previous incumbent, Henry Rotich, was charged with financial misconduct — an accusation he denies.

The government has acknowledged that some past investment projects did not pass muster, and Yatani told a budget preparation meeting on Wednesday that available resources would be “dedicated only to projects and programs that will ensure higher economic and social returns.”

FILE – Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich, right, arrives at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi, July 23, 2019.

Yatani, an ally of Kenyatta while Rotich was closer to Deputy President William Ruto, has won support from voters since provisionally taking over at the ministry in July.

The International Monetary Fund report, published on Wednesday, lays bare the scale of the task Yatani now faces. It said an estimated 500 projects — around half of the total v had ground to a halt due to “non-payment to contractors, insufficient allocation of funds to projects, and litigation cases in court.”

The state would need to raise around 1 trillion shillings ($10 billion) to complete them, the report said.

Kenya has ramped up public investment projects since 2010. But that increase “occurred without enough screening for project viability and readiness before they entered the budget,” the IMF said.

“There has been a subsequent squeeze on ongoing projects in the absence of fiscal space, which is now accruing large costs to the government.”

The fund named no specific projects, but construction of roads, markets and stadiums has stalled all over the country. Unpaid bills from the infrastructure department to suppliers and contractors totaled 78 billion shillings as of June, the IMF said.

Yatani said the government was reconstituting its planning and project monitoring unit to “ensure timely completion of projects and realization of value for money.”

His confirmation as finance minister was part of a government reshuffle that adds to signs of a rift between Kenyatta, who must step down when his second five-year term finishes in 2022, and Ruto, who considers himself the heir apparent but has begun to fall out of favor.

Deadline? What Deadline? North Korea, US Try New ‘Strategic Patience’

In April, just weeks after his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed in Hanoi, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided to ramp up the pressure on Washington.  

“We will wait for a bold decision from the U.S. with patience till the end of this year,” Kim said in a speech to North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly.

Just three weeks later, Kim launched his first missiles in nearly a year and a half and would conduct 12 more rounds of launches in 2019, underscoring the urgency of his year-end deadline.

At one point in early December, North Korean state media published near-daily warnings of Kim’s deadline, including one threat from a Foreign Affairs Ministry official regarding a potentially sinister “Christmas gift” for the U.S.

The top U.S. Air Force general in the Pacific region said he expected North Korea’s gift to be a long-range missile launch. The U.S. increased surveillance flights around the Korean peninsula, apparently on alert for weapons tests.

The Christmas gift never came, though.  

Maybe, some analysts said, North Korea was waiting for Kim’s annual New Year’s speech to unveil a major, provocative announcement.  

That didn’t really happen either. Kim’s New Year’s comments were relatively restrained, striking a more pessimistic than provocative tone.  

All of this raises questions. Why did North Korea steadily raise tensions for much of 2019, only to let them apparently fizzle out once the deadline passed, and what does that say about how North Korea will act in 2020?

North Korean ‘strategic patience’

The short answer is that nobody knows.  

One big clue is Kim’s New Year’s remarks, which came at the end of an important meeting of ruling party politicians in Pyongyang.  

Kim warned the world would soon witness a “new strategic weapon” and said he no longer feels bound by his moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests, which he unilaterally declared in April 2018, just as his diplomacy with Trump was beginning.

FILE – A man watches a TV screen showing a file image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2020.

Kim did not formally abandon nuclear talks, though. Instead, he said their progress depends on the U.S. — progress that won’t likely come anytime soon, he added. North Korea, he said, should be prepared for a “long-term” standoff with Washington.

That could be North Korea’s version of “strategic patience,” according to North Korea analyst Koo Kab-woo. That is a reference to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempt to apply carefully calibrated economic and military pressure until Pyongyang was ready to make concessions at the negotiating table.

For North Korea, strategic patience includes emphasizing “self-reliance, an increase in its nuclear deterrent, and stronger diplomacy that could bring about the denuclearization [of North Korea] if the U.S. lifts its confrontational policies,” said Koo, a scholar at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, at a recent conference.

While that strategy may include more weapons tests, as hinted at in Kim’s speech, North Korea may be reluctant to cross any “red line” that would prompt a major reaction by Washington, Koo said.  

An intercontinental ballistic missile or nuclear test could also upset China and Russia when both countries are pressuring the U.S. to relax sanctions on North Korea, analysts have said.  

As a result, North Korea may not fully provoke or fully engage the U.S. in the near future — a policy of intentional ambiguity, Koo said.

Bigger moves coming?

Not everyone agrees with the strategic patience analogy, though.

“Strategic patience implies that North Korea has expectations from U.S.-DPRK diplomacy,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst for the North Korea-focused NK News online publication, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  

According to Lee, Kim’s New Year’s comments signaled he has “little to no hope” for a diplomatic breakthrough.

“My feeling is that he is buying time for himself, not because he is hopeful of concessions from the U.S., but because he is not ready to showcase the ‘new strategic weapon’ yet,” she said.  

There’s still a possibility that North Korea may act more forcefully this year, Lee said.

“It could be that Kim feels it’s not the right time to provoke. It could be the China factor, it could be that Kim is waiting for the right moment in the U.S. presidential election, or it could be that he wants to see some progress on the problems on the economic front,” she said.  

Status quo

If North Korea is reluctant to upset the status quo for now, though, that may be just fine for Trump, who is entering a more intense phase of his reelection campaign and has been focused on other foreign policy issues, such as Iran.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019.

“As long as North Korea doesn’t launch long-range missiles and doesn’t test nuclear devices, I think Trump can claim that everything is alright,” said Artyom Lukin, an international relations scholar at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia.

Trump’s reelection campaign has portrayed the North Korea talks as a major foreign policy win, and Trump remains publicly optimistic about their eventual success, even as North Korea stormed away from talks and conducted a near-record number of weapons tests in 2019.  

However, there does appear to be a limit for Trump. Last month, he signaled he would be disappointed if Kim resumed ICBM or nuclear tests. “He knows I have an election coming up. I don’t think he wants to interfere with that, but we’ll have to see,” Trump said.

Trump may be employing his own version of strategic patience, according to Lukin, describing the approach as: “We are ready to talk when you are ready, but we can wait.”

Who will move first?

If both the U.S. and North Korea are showing signs of “strategic patience,” the big question is: Who can afford to wait longer?  

In Lukin’s view, the situation is much more urgent for North Korea.

“Any radical move they make is only going to make their position worse. If they start testing long-range missiles, it will carry all sorts of risks for them. If they start real denuclearization, it’s also a very risky thing,” Lukin said.

“The only thing that’s left for Kim Jong Un is to wait, wait, and wait. But you could wait a long time — you could wait forever and nothing could happen, actually,” he added.  

Signs of frustration

One sign of North Korean frustration came last week, when senior North Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry official Kim Kye Gwan accused the U.S. of taking advantage of the relationship between Trump and Kim.

Though the Trump-Kim relationship remains “not bad,” it is also not enough to ensure the talks progress, he said. 

“Although Chairman Kim Jong Un has … good personal feelings about President Trump, they are, in the true sense of the word, ‘personal,'” the diplomat said.  

Nuclear talks can only resume, Kim said, once the U.S. agrees to totally accept all of North Korea’s demands. 

“But we know well that the U.S. is neither ready nor able to do so,” he added.
 

Germany: Ugly Anti-Semitic Remnant at Center of Court Battle

High on the wall of a German church where Martin Luther once preached, an ugly remnant of centuries of anti-Semitism is now at the center of a court battle.
    
The so-called “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg dates back to around 1300. It is perhaps the best-known of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages, in various forms and varying states of repair, that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
    
Located about 4 meters (13 feet) above the ground on a corner of the church, it depicts people identifiable by their headwear as Jews suckling on the teats of a sow, while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.
    
Judaism considers pigs impure, and no one disputes that the sculpture is deliberately offensive. But there is strong disagreement about what consequences that should have and what to do with the relief.
    
A court in the eastern city of Naumburg will consider on Tuesday a Jewish man’s bid to make the parish take it down.
    
It’s the second round in the legal dispute, which comes at a time of mounting concern about anti-Semitism in modern Germany. In May, a court ruled against plaintiff Michael Duellmann, who wants the relief put in the nearby Luther House museum.
    
Judges in Dessau rejected arguments that he has a right to have the sculpture removed because it formally constitutes slander and the parish is legally responsible for that. Duellmann appealed.
    
The relief “is a terrible falsification of Judaism, a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people,” Duellmann says, arguing that it has “a terrible effect up to this day.”
    
Duellmann, a former student of Protestant theology who converted to Judaism in the 1970s, became involved in the issue in 2017, the year Germany marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. He says he joined vigils in Wittenberg against the sculpture and was asked if he would be prepared to sue when it became clear that the church wasn’t prepared to take it down.

‘Culture of remembrance’
    
Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of another church in Wittenberg in defiance of Roman Catholic authorities in 1517, starting the German Reformation. He also is known for anti-Jewish invective, from which Germany’s Lutheran church has distanced itself.
    
Luther preached at the Town Church, now a regular stop for tourists visiting Wittenberg.
 
When the church was renovated in the early 1980s, the parish decided to leave the sandstone sculpture in place, and it was also restored. In 1988, a memorial was built on the ground underneath it, referring to the persecution of Jews and the killing of 6 million in the Nazi Holocaust.
    
In addition, a cedar tree was planted nearby to signify peace, and a sign gives information on the sculpture in German and English.
    
Pastor Johannes Block says the church is “in the same boat” as the plaintiff and also considers the sculpture unacceptably insulting. The parish, he says, “also is not happy about this difficult inheritance.”
    
However, he argues that the sculpture “no longer speaks for itself as a solitary piece,” but is embedded in a “culture of remembrance” thanks to the memorial. “We don’t want to hide or abolish history, but take the path of reconciliation with and through history,” he says.
   
 “The majority of the Town Church parish doesn’t want this to become a museum piece, but to warn and ask people to remember history on the building, with the original,” Block says.
    
Duellmann isn’t impressed. “The ‘Jew pig’ is not weakened” by the memorial, he says. “It continues to have a terrible anti-Semitic effect in the church and in society.”

World Heritage site

There are mixed opinions in the church, too. Last year, the regional Lutheran bishop, Friedrich Kramer, said he favors taking down the sculpture from the church wall and exhibiting it in public at the site with an explanation. He doesn’t favor putting it in a museum. He praised the 1988 memorial but said it has weaknesses, including a failure to address Luther’s anti-Semitism.
    
If judges do order the sculpture removed, that may not be the end of the story. Block says the church would ask authorities to assess whether it is possible to remove it from a building that is under a preservation order, and more talks with the court would probably follow.
    
The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a status that it gained in 1996.
    
Plaintiff Duellmann has little sympathy with the church’s preservation order dilemma. He contends that authorities deliberately failed to mention the offending sculpture at the time of the application in order not to endanger it.
    
Whatever the outcome, Block says he regrets that the case went to court.
   
 ‘We are not advocates and initiators” of the sculpture, he says. “We are heirs and are trying to deal very conscientiously with this inheritance.”

Trump Administration Offers New Guidance for Prayer in Public Schools

The Trump administration is set to release Thursday updated guidance on prayer in public schools that officials are touting as President Donald Trump’s commitment to religious freedom.

Trump has made religious freedom a signature issue in his domestic and foreign policy, declaring a Religious Freedom Day and directing the State Department to host an annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, among other actions.   

The updated U.S. Education Department’s guidance on prayer in public elementary and secondary schools is drawing cheers from Trump’s most vocal supporters among Evangelical Christians.

What does the law say about school prayer?

While school-sponsored prayer in U.S. public schools is prohibited, individual and group prayers on school grounds are not. American schools once used to start their day with a prayer or a reading from the Bible. That tradition came to a halt in 1962 when the Supreme Court ruled that school-sponsored prayers violated the Constitution’s  prohibition on establishing an official religion. Subsequent court rulings have recognized prayer in school as constitutionally protected.  

What does the U.S. Education Department guidance say?

The guidance, last updated in 2003, requires local educational agencies to certify on an annual basis that they have no policy that prevents constitutionally protected prayer in elementary and secondary public schools. The education department can cut off funding to schools that don’t comply with the policy. The department provides tens of billions of dollars to public elementary and secondary schools. More broadly, the guidance keeps school districts apprised of the law and the extent to which school prayer is constitutionally and legally protected.

What is allowed?

Students are free to pray alone or in groups while not in class or engaged in other school activities. They can read the Bible or other scriptures, such as the Koran. They may be excused from class to attend a prayer. Teachers may similarly take part in religious activities as long as they make clear they’re not doing so “in their official capacities,” according to the guidance.

What is not allowed?

While religion can be taught in public schools, schools are not allowed to sponsor religious activities such as prayers. Teachers, administrators and school employees are forbidden from “encouraging or discouraging prayer and from actively participating in religious activities with students,” according to the guidance.  For example, teachers may not lead their classes in prayer. Nor can school administrators include prayer in school-sponsored events.

What is being updated?

The Education Department hasn’t disclosed details of the updated guidance. However, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan told reporters Thursday morning the guidance “will remind school districts of the rights of students, parents and teachers, and will empower students in others to confidently know and exercise their rights.”

In addition to the education department updating its school prayer guidance, nine federal agencies are releasing proposed rules that will remove “discriminatory regulatory burdens” that the Obama administration placed on religious organizations that receive federal funding, Grogan said.

Buttigieg Decision on Police Chief Shadows Presidential Run

Karen DePaepe had been waiting all day for a call back from Pete Buttigieg.

It was March 2012, and the 30-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had just decided to replace the city’s first African-American police chief over complaints that he illegally wiretapped police officers’ phone calls.

DePaepe, who oversaw the department’s phone system, had called the mayor to try to talk him out of removing the popular chief. She wanted to tell him the situation was not that simple. It was DePaepe who discovered a mistakenly recorded phone line, and, she says, heard white police officers making racist comments. She said in an interview with The Associated Press that she reported what she heard to the chief, and the recording continued.

Buttigieg — who’s now competing for the Democratic nomination for president — never called her back. When DePaepe’s phone finally rang, she says, it was the young mayor’s chief of staff, who told her she, too, had to go. Federal prosecutors, he told her, had suggested that she and the chief could be indicted if they weren’t removed.

DePaepe hung up, crying and in disbelief. She called one of the prosecutors, who she says told her she was not in trouble and should not quit.

“Who do I believe? I’m being told two different stories,” DePaepe recalled thinking, adding, “Someone is lying to me.”

Buttigieg’s demotion of Chief Darryl Boykins and firing of DePaepe has shadowed his presidential campaign, giving rise to complaints he has a blind spot on race and raising questions about whether he can attract the support of African-Americans who are crucial to earning the Democratic nomination. It’s also reinforcing skepticism that the 37-year-old former mayor has the wisdom or experience to handle the demands of the Oval Office.

Black Lives Matter activists have been protesting at his campaign events in recent days, spurred in part by his handling of the case.

Buttigieg has defended his actions, saying he was responding to a “thinly veiled” message from federal prosecutors. In his telling, he saved two people from criminal charges and took the political heat for getting rid of a well-liked chief.

But interviews with more than 20 people with direct or indirect knowledge of the events, along with a review of documents and contemporaneous news reports, paint a more complicated picture that is not as flattering to Buttigieg. While some said they believed the young mayor was trying to do the right thing, others told the AP that his lack of experience led him to take actions that weren’t well thought out, and that his explanations don’t ring true. His subsequent failure to include African-American people in positions of power further damaged his standing in the community.

“It left a really, really bad taste in my mouth,” said Pastor Wendy Fultz, who is black and a leader of the local chapter of the activist group Faith In Indiana.

Recorded calls, alleged racism

The story begins before Buttigieg was elected.

The South Bend Police Department had a long-standing practice of recording certain telephone lines, including front desk lines, 911 calls and the phone lines of most division chiefs. In 2010, some of those phone lines were switched, and a detective’s line began being mistakenly recorded, according to a federal investigation.

DePaepe said she learned of the mix-up in February 2011. She was troubleshooting a problem when she says she heard what she describes as racist comments by officers and discussion about something she considered possibly illegal.

She reported it to the chief weeks later. He was shocked, she recalled, but didn’t immediately tell her to do anything, and the recording continued.

Just before Christmas, the chief asked her to make tapes of what she heard.

Boykins, who did not respond to messages seeking comment, listened to at least one tape and made copies of some of them. He confronted an officer about his “loyalty,” then told him he would take the tapes to the mayor, according to a November 2012 FBI report on the case obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information request.

A 2015 investigation by a special prosecutor in Indiana found Boykins’ motivation for continuing the recordings was to gather evidence of disloyalty, rather than to expose racism. However, the prosecutor declined to bring charges.

Shortly after Buttigieg was sworn in, multiple officers complained to the U.S. attorney’s office in northern Indiana, alleging that their phone calls were being illegally recorded and that Boykins had threatened to use the information to fire or demote them, according to FBI records obtained by the AP. The FBI launched an investigation of possible violations of the federal Wiretap Act.

The tapes have never been released, despite repeated calls from the community. Buttigieg says he hasn’t heard them, and DePaepe won’t discuss details of what she heard, citing a settlement  that bars her from doing so.

The South Bend Common Council — the community’s city council — sued to release the tapes, and the lawsuit is pending. The next hearing is Jan. 22. At the heart of the lawsuit is whether the calls were recorded legally.

Boykins and DePaepe, who is white, denied wrongdoing, and no one was charged.

A lawyer for several officers who sued the city says the tapes were made illegally and were an invasion of privacy. He says his clients made no racist comments, and some had their jobs threatened by the chief.

But Buttigieg, within months of becoming mayor, was faced with the dual challenge of a federal investigation into the police department and officers accused of racism.

The meeting

Buttigieg was sworn in on Jan. 1, 2012.

In his memoir, he writes that he believed there were problems with the management of the police department and that cleaning it up would be a major task. Still, he reappointed the chief, who had the support of both the Fraternal Order of Police and the NAACP, and was known for his work with youth and in city neighborhoods.

“He is liked and respected for very good reasons. And I have a lot of respect for him,” Buttigieg told the AP last month.

But the decision to keep him on, Buttigieg wrote in his memoir, became his “first serious mistake as mayor.”

Weeks after Buttigieg took office, three officers complained to his chief of staff, Mike Schmuhl, that Boykins was recording and listening to their phone conversations, according to a 2013 deposition  of Schmuhl obtained by the AP through a public records request and first reported by the website The Young Turks. Schmuhl relayed the information to Buttigieg.

A few days later, then-U.S. Attorney David Capp called Schmuhl to say his office was looking into it, Schmuhl said in his sworn testimony. Soon after, Schmuhl told Buttigieg about the investigation, campaign spokesman Sean Savett said.

But what Schmuhl told him didn’t seem to make an impression.
 
“I remember there were rumors going around about the internal politics inside the police department, and it might have had something to do with people recording each other, but not a way that I really understood and pieced together until that meeting with the prosecutors,” Buttigieg told the AP.

 On March 23, 2012, at Capp’s request, South Bend officials met with federal law enforcement.
 
Buttigieg sent Schmuhl, a high school friend who is now managing his presidential campaign, along with acting city attorney Aladean DeRose and Rich Hill, an outside lawyer Buttigieg hired for advice.

Capp brought then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Schmid, two other federal prosecutors and an FBI agent.

What happened at that meeting is hotly contested. It’s also the key to much of the acrimony that arose in the days and weeks afterward, and it has raised questions about Buttigieg’s management style and his forthrightness.

Three days after that meeting, according to a lawsuit Boykins later filed alleging racial discrimination and defamation, Schmuhl met with the police chief to pressure him to resign, which he did three days later.

The response was explosive: Angry members of the Common Council joined the next day with community leaders for a meeting attended by more than 100 people to demand Boykins’ reinstatement. The mayor refused.

Local news reported over the following days that DePaepe had found recordings of officers making racist comments. More than a week later, on April 10, she, too, was fired.

Buttigieg’s memoir glosses over that timeline, omitting the fact that he fired DePaepe well after racism allegations were reported.

The mayor initially refrained from publicly justifying his decisions, but as rumors swirled across South Bend, he began to explain. He told the South Bend Tribune that “charges were not filed because we acted to satisfy federal authorities.”

“It was still the right thing to do to prevent them from getting into deeper trouble, even if they were going to hate me for it,” he told the newspaper.

He repeated that explanation in his memoir, published in 2019, and went on to question the U.S. attorney’s motives.

“Why should a U.S. attorney shoulder the responsibility of taking down a beloved African-American police chief, if he can get the mayor to do it for him by removing him from his position?” he wrote.

In an interview with the AP, Hill, one of the city’s lawyers in the meeting, backed up Buttigieg’s account.

He said federal officials explicitly told them the city needed to take “personnel action.”

“The U.S. attorney said, you have problems with two people and … if you address the issues with those two people satisfactorily, then there would not be prosecution,” Hill said.

Leaving the meeting, Hill said they all had the same understanding.

“There was no difference in interpretation. There was no discussion about what we heard,” Hill said. “We were all three equally clear of what the message was that we needed to deliver to the mayor.”

Schmuhl, through the Buttigieg campaign, declined interview requests but agreed to answer written questions. He said that it was clear the city needed to act to ensure the police department complied with the law and that “the people whose actions prompted a federal investigation into the police department could not remain in their positions.” In his 2013 deposition, Schmuhl said authorities gave them 60 days to address those issues.

But he also said in the deposition that during the 30-minute meeting, the U.S. attorney never overtly said anyone had to be fired.

‘It’s just what happened’
 
Several people involved in the case have cast doubt on Buttigieg’s story.

“I don’t feel he’s being accurate at all,” DePaepe told the AP. “When I listen to him speak, and somebody asks him a question, he sort of talks in circles.”

DePaepe said she spoke three times with Schmid, the prosecutor who handled the investigation and who attended the March meeting. She said she asked him whether she was in trouble and needed a lawyer.

“He said, ‘No, you’re a witness to a complaint,'” she told the AP.

After Schmuhl told her she and Boykins could be indicted, she said she called Schmid and he told her she should not quit her job.

Boykins’ lawyer, Tom Dixon, told the AP that three of the federal prosecutors who were in the March 23 meeting assured him that, as a matter of policy, the office does not involve itself in personnel decisions of local government.

Dixon recalled they told him: “We just want to reiterate that we never get involved, regardless of what you hear on the news.”

On May 31, 2012, Capp wrote in a letter to the city that during the March meeting, “We advised that our primary concern was that [South Bend Police Department] practices comply with federal law.”

After reviewing the situation in South Bend, he concluded, “It is our opinion that no federal prosecution is warranted.”

Buttigieg has pointed to the letter as proof that he made the right decision, but others have said the letter shows investigators were not planning to charge Boykins or DePaepe to begin with.

The U.S. attorney’s office and current and former federal officials who attended the March 23 meeting either did not comment or did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Former federal law enforcement officials who reviewed details of the case at the request of the AP agreed it would be unlikely for a U.S. attorney to suggest they would not pursue criminal charges in a public corruption case if a mayor fired or demoted staff.

Brian Kelly, who specialized in public corruption as a federal prosecutor, said Buttigieg inherited a “fiasco involving inappropriate taping” but said any personnel decisions he made were his own.

 “It’s not surprising that a local mayor would try to deflect blame to the U.S. attorney’s office for a decision that was unpopular,” he said. “But ultimately, the U.S. attorney’s office would have nothing to do with the hiring and firing of people.”

Buttigieg, in an interview with the AP, stood by his story. “It’s just what happened.”

Boykins, he insisted, had to go because he “failed to tell me that he was under federal investigation.” DePaepe had to go, he said, “because her actions led to a federal felony investigation into the police department.”

But even that is disputed. Boykins’ lawyer said investigators told Boykins he was not under investigation.

Buttigieg said he should have insisted on getting something from prosecutors in writing “so that years later, there wouldn’t be a need to defend my account of what I believe happened, but that we would have a document that we could point to that was clear.”

But Buttigieg also acted without having the city do its own investigation.

DePaepe says she was never given the chance to explain what happened. Boykins told her and others who spoke with the AP he wasn’t either.

Janice Hall, then the city’s head of human resources, told the AP that she was not consulted.

“I would have wanted to hear the facts” from DePaepe, Hall said. “There was so much secretiveness involved in the whole process.”

That failure had an important side effect. Buttigieg wrote in his memoir that he didn’t know about the purportedly racist comments until after he removed Boykins, allegations he called “explosive, and serious” if true. But his book leaves out DePaepe and fails to address why he went ahead with her firing with no internal investigation, even after local media reported on the comments on the recordings.

Buttigieg said he didn’t think they were in a position to second-guess the FBI, and even if they did their own investigation, “the main investigative resource we would have had would be the police department, which obviously would not be able to conduct this one.”

Tom Price, a top aide to Buttigieg’s predecessor, said, “It seemed like a quick reaction that wasn’t well thought through.”

No black leaders

Buttigieg’s response raised questions about his age and ability to manage, questions that are echoed in his presidential run. It also damaged his relationship with the African-American community in South Bend, a rift that has led to doubts about whether he can attract the support of black voters nationwide.

Former Councilman Oliver Davis, a vocal critic of Buttigieg who has endorsed Joe Biden, said people understood he would pick his own chief, but the way he went about it brought disrepute on one of South Bend’s most respected African American leaders.

“The issue is not that he removed and demoted the chief. You can change people around all you want to. But you disgraced him. You disgraced him for your own political good,” Davis said.

Boykins was at that time the only African-American in a senior position in city government.

The previous mayor had three black men in top-level positions: Boykins, the fire chief and a senior mayoral adviser.

When Buttigieg took over, the adviser left. The fire chief, Howard Buchanon, retired because Buttigieg chose another chief. That appointee was a white man.

Buchanon told the AP that after the Boykins situation blew up, Buttigieg asked to meet to discuss it.

“I said, ‘You led us to believe that a lot of minorities were going to be in your administration,'” Buchanon recalled telling him. “But Mayor Pete, I don’t see that.” 

He recalled asking the mayor where black and Hispanic leaders were in his administration: Buttigieg’s head dropped — a tacit acknowledgement that there were none.

Pastor J.B. Williams, a leader in Faith In Indiana, told the AP: “We did not see a plan to have minorities involved in decision-making processes. That, to me, was a big mistake.”

Asked about the criticism, Buttigieg highlighted his 2013 appointment of an African American woman as the city’s top lawyer — an appointment made more than a year after Boykins’ demotion.

Among the steps Buttigieg took to address allegations of racism in the department, his campaign said, were requiring all officers to take civil rights and implicit bias training, and installing a majority-minority civilian police board.

South Bend’s population is 53% non-Hispanic white, and more than one-quarter black. But more than three-quarters of the people Buttigieg chose as top advisers or department heads during his eight years in office — including two police chiefs — were white, according to an AP analysis of information provided by the campaign.

Buttigieg’s defenders say he knew there would be implications within the black community if he removed Boykins, but he had to do “the right thing.”

“There was never a good choice,” said Mark Neal, Buttigieg’s first city controller. “Like any good leader, you live with the consequences of that.”

His critics are unmoved.

Buchanon said if Buttigieg’s record in South Bend is any indication of how he’d run the White House, “I don’t see any black person in leadership for him.”

 “He had the opportunity to change some things,” Buchanon said. “And he didn’t.”

Around South Bend, opinions about Buttigieg’s tenure and abilities are as varied as the people who hold them.

Many people say he entered the mayor’s office with good intentions but not enough experience — less than three years as a consultant at McKinsey, a position he recently described as mostly doing research and analysis. He was also an intelligence analyst in the Navy Reserve and in his memoir referred to himself as “a more junior employee … rather than the boss.”

Hall, the former HR director, said Buttigieg got poor advice from people he depended on, including Schmuhl, who now runs his campaign.

“They had not had a lot of experience,” Hall said.

Davis and others noted Buttigieg got rid of veteran leadership, instead going with what Davis called a “millennial crowd” that had “no muscle memory” for how things worked.

Price, who supported Buttigieg in the past, said his experience running a city of just 100,000 doesn’t make him ready for the White House. “I think he’s massively underqualified to be president,” Price said. “I think he would be a dreadful mistake for our country, and for the Democratic Party.”

Buttigieg told the AP he has learned from the Boykins affair, which he calls a “no-win” situation. Sometimes, he said, you can’t find a perfect answer — only an approach that’s going to involve “the least harm.”

When you’re young and encounter a problem, Buttigieg said, people who disagree will say you did it because you were young.

“If you were older, they would still disagree,” Buttigieg said. “They just wouldn’t say it had to do with being young.”

Intellectual Property Theft a Growing Threat

The new U.S.-China trade agreement includes provisions that are aimed at curbing forced technology transfers, in which companies hand over technical know-how to foreign partners. For many high-tech businesses, the intellectual property behind their products represents the bulk of their companies’ value.  To learn more about the risks of IP theft, Elizabeth Lee recently visited the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where companies talked about the risks to their technology secrets.

Book by Pope Emeritus on Celibacy Gets Shrug in France

The former pope Benedict XVI reportedly wants his name removed from a controversial book that appears to undermine his successor, Pope Francis, on issues of priestly celibacy. The book hit stores Wednesday in France, the first country to publish it. But despite the furor the book has stirred in the press, many French readers appear underwhelmed.

The book, “Des Profondeurs de Nos Coeurs,” meaning “From the Depths of Our Hearts,”  defends priestly celibacy at a time when Pope Francis is considering whether to lift restrictions on married priests in remote areas. Cardinal Robert Sarah, who co-authored the book, rejects accusations he manipulated Benedict regarding the content.  

The furor, which appears to lay bare spiritual divisions between the two popes, has made news headlines, but hasn’t stirred up much public interest.  

Parisian Brigitte Gallay says she has heard about the book, but notes Protestant ministers are married with children. She sees nothing wrong about a church that’s closer to the lives of ordinary people — even though some Catholics might be shocked at the thought of married priests.  

The Catholic Church has taken a hit in France, not just because of declining attendance, but also because of a major pedophilia scandal — the theme of a recent movie. A trial opened this month against a priest at the heart of the scandal, which has helped fuel debate about the dangers of priestly celibacy.  

At Paris bookstore Gibert Joseph, social worker Alexander Monnot adds the book to a pile of others he’s planning to buy. Monnot says he supports celibacy for priests.  

“The fact is, at the very beginning of the Church, there was Jesus and 12 apostles,” Monnot said. “And even some were married. They all left their families to preach. Jesus was not married. And priests should be an incarnation, a continuation of Jesus.”

Monnot says he is looking forward to reading the book’s arguments in favor of celibacy, but that’s not the only reason he’s buying it. He predicts the French publisher will recall this edition, which has Benedict’s name as co-author, meaning the copy he’s buying may one day be a collector’s item.