Mr. Tong’s lawyers are expected to argue, as have many protesters, that the phrase represents a desire to reclaim Hong Kong’s unique identity from the heavy-handed influence of Beijing. The government has said the slogan represents a call for independence, and thus violates the security law.

That a political slogan could constitute a criminal offense is still a new and unsettling idea in Hong Kong, where residents had for decades enjoyed the right to protest, freedoms largely unseen in mainland China.

“We must bear in mind the context. The words he had, we need to understand that during that period those words were quite commonly spoken and exhibited on many flags and banners in peaceful and even non-peaceful protests in Hong Kong,” said Eric Cheung, a law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong.

“The meaning of these words differ from person to person,” Mr. Cheung said. “You now say that using these words carry only that meaning which amount to intention to subvert the country, I think that is a debate.”

Even if Mr. Tong is not convicted of terrorism, he faces a separate charge of causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

As he awaited trial, Mr. Tong was sharing a cell with 10 men, according to Shiu Ka-chun, a former lawmaker who wrote on his social media page last year that he had been visiting him regularly. Mr. Shiu declined to comment about Mr. Tong. But in his social media posts, he wrote that Mr. Tong has been reading books on history, including a memoir by Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s first democratically elected president.

“For those comrades who are continuing to take a stand, he says wait and be patient,” Mr. Shiu wrote. “For those who have left Hong Kong, he looks upon that calmly and thinks, ‘Hong Kong is in your hearts, everywhere is Hong Kong.’”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

For Biden, Europe Trip Achieved 2 Major Goals. And Then There’s Putin and Russia.

GENEVA — President Biden had three big tasks to accomplish on his first foreign trip since taking office: Convince the allies that America was back, and for good; gather them in common cause against the rising threat of China; and establish some red lines for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”

He largely accomplished the first, though many European leaders still wonder whether his presidency may yet be just an intermezzo, sandwiched between the Trump era and the election of another America First leader uninterested in the 72-year-old Atlantic alliance.

He made inroads on the second, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been enormous reluctance to think first of China as a threat — economically, technologically and militarily — and second as an economic partner.

Mr. Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with Mr. Putin. But it is far from clear that any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a stiff, three-hour summit meeting on the edge of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic.

when he refers to Beijing’s actions against the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities as genocide.

So Mr. Biden toned down his autocracy vs. democracy talk for this trip. And that worked.

Yet while “Biden has gotten words from the Europeans, he hasn’t gotten deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Settling some trade issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, but how you finish, how you translate the sentiments in the communiqués into common policies, and that will be very difficult.’’

Mr. Biden carefully choreographed the trip so that he demonstrated the repairs being made to the alliance before going on to meet Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden made clear he wanted to present a unified front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and the NATO allies were one.

That allowed Mr. Biden to take a softer tone when he got to Geneva for the summit meeting, where he sought to portray Mr. Putin as an isolated leader who has to worry about his country’s future. When Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War with the United States,’’ it was a signal that Mr. Biden believes he has leverage that the rest of the world has underappreciated.

Mr. Putin’s economy is “struggling,’’ he said, and he faces a long border with China at a moment when Beijing is “hellbent” on domination.

“He still, I believe, is concerned about being ‘encircled,’ ” Mr. Biden said. “He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down.” But, he added, he didn’t think those security fears “are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.”

He set as the first test of Mr. Putin’s willingness to deal with him seriously a review of how to improve “strategic stability,’’ which he described as controlling the introduction of “new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.”

It is territory that has been neglected, and if Mr. Biden is successful he may save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as the development of new nuclear delivery systems.

But none of that is likely to deter Mr. Putin in the world of cyberweapons, which are dirt cheap and give him an instrument of power each and every day. Mr. Biden warned during his news conference that “we have significant cyber capability,” and said that while Mr. Putin “doesn’t know exactly what it is,” if the Russians “violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.”

The U.S. has had those capabilities for years but has hesitated to use them, for fear that a cyberconflict with Russia might escalate into something much bigger.

But Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Putin is too invested in self-preservation to let it come to that. In the end, he said, just before boarding Air Force One for the flight home, “You have to figure out what the other guy’s self-interest is. Their self-interest. I don’t trust anybody.”

David E. Sanger reported from Geneva and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Live Updates: Summit Over, Putin and Biden Cite Gains, but Tensions Are Clear

military threats to human rights concerns. Some were longstanding, others of newer vintage.

During the Cold War, the prospect of nuclear annihilation led to historic treaties and a framework that kept the world from blowing itself up. At this meeting, for the first time, cyberweapons — with their own huge potential to wreak havoc — were at the center of the agenda.

But Mr. Putin’s comments to the media suggested the two leaders did not find much common ground.

In addition to his denials that Russia had played a destabilizing role in cyberspace, he also took a hard line on human rights in Russia.

He said Mr. Biden had raised the issue, but struck the same defiant tone on the matter in his news conference as he has in the past. The United States, Mr. Putin said, supports opposition groups in Russia to weaken the country, since it sees Russia as an adversary.

“If Russia is the enemy, then what organizations will America support in Russia?” Mr. Putin asked. “I think that it’s not those who strengthen the Russian Federation, but those that contain it — which is the publicly announced goal of the United States.”

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/1:31

0:00

transcript

Biden Raises Human Rights and Cybersecurity With Putin

Mr. Biden discussing his meeting with Mr. Putin.

I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It’s for the American people, fighting Covid-19, rebuilding our economy, re-establishing relationships around the world with our allies and friends and protecting the American people. That’s my responsibility as president. I also told him that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country. So human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him. It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights. It’s about who we are. This is about practical, straightforward, no-nonsense decisions that we have to make or not make. We’ll find out within the next six months to a year, whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters. We’ll find out whether we work to deal with everything from release of people in Russian prisons or not. We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order because, look, the countries that most are likely to be damaged — the failure to do that — are the major countries.

Video player loading
Mr. Biden discussing his meeting with Mr. Putin.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said on Wednesday that “I did what I came to do” in his first summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Speaking after the summit in Geneva, Mr. Biden said the two leaders had identified areas of mutual interest and cooperation. But he said he had also voiced American objections to Russia’s behavior on human rights, and warned that there would be consequences to cyberattacks on the United States.

Any American president representing the country’s democratic values, Mr. Biden said, would be obliged to raise issues of human rights and freedoms. And so he said had discussed with Mr. Putin his concerns over the imprisonment of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny and warned there would be “devastating” consequences if Mr. Navalny were to die in prison.

Mr. Biden also brought up the detentions of two American citizens in Russia, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, he said.

On the issue of cybersecurity, Mr. Biden said he had argued that certain parts of the infrastructure need to be off limits to cyberattacks. He said he had provided Mr. Putin with a list of critical areas, like energy, that must be spared. Mr. Biden also said the two leaders had agreed to enlist experts in both countries to discuss what should remain off limits and to follow up on specific cases.

“We need to have some basic rules of the road,” Mr. Biden told reporters after the summit.

And if Russia continues to violate what he called the basic norms of responsible behavior, he said, “We will respond.”

Mr. Biden made clear that, during his discussions with Mr. Putin, there were no threats, no talk of military intervention and no mention of what specific retaliation the United States would take in such cases. But Mr. Biden said that the United States was fully capable of responding with its own cyberattacks — “and he knows it.”

Mr. Biden said “there’s much more work to do,” but declared over the course of his weeklong European trip, he had shown that “the United States is back.”

He also said Russia stood to lose internationally if it continued to meddle in elections. “It diminishes the standing of a nation,”Mr. Biden said.

Video

Video player loading
Mr. Putin told reporters Wednesday that there had been “no hostility” in his first meeting with Mr. Biden.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko

President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday repeated well-worn denials of Russian mischief and tropes about American failings, as he spoke to the press after his first summit with President Biden.

But between those familiar lines, he left the door open to deeper engagement with Washington than the Kremlin had been willing to entertain in recent years. On issues like cybersecurity, nuclear weapons, diplomatic spats and even prisoner exchanges, Mr. Putin said he was ready for talks with the United States, and he voiced unusual optimism about the possibility of achieving results.

“We must agree on rules of behavior in all the spheres that we mentioned today: That’s strategic stability, that’s cybersecurity, that’s resolving questions connected to regional conflicts,” Mr. Putin said at a nearly hourlong news conference after the summit. “I think that we can find agreement on all this — at least I got that sense given the results of our meeting with President Biden.”

Mr. Putin’s focus on “rules of behavior” sounded a lot like the “guardrails” that American officials have said they hope to agree on with Russia in order to stabilize the relationship. “Strategic stability” is the term both sides use to refer to nuclear weapons and related issues.

To be sure, there is no guarantee that the United States and Russia will make progress on those fundamental issues, and American officials fear Russian offers of talks could be efforts to tie key questions up in committees rather than set clear red lines. But in recent years, substantive dialogue between the two countries has been rare, making Wednesday’s promises of new consultations significant.

But Mr. Putin fell back on familiar Kremlin talking points to bat away criticisms, pointing to supposed human rights violations in the United States and denying Russian complicity in cyberattacks. He also refused to budge in response to questions over his repression of dissent inside Russia and the imprisonment of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. As he has said in the past, he repeated that the Kremlin does not see domestic politics as up for negotiation or discussion.

“If you ignore the tiresome whataboutism, there were some real outcomes,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Arlington, Va. “Russia is not in the habit of confessing its sins and seeking forgiveness. Particularly under Putin.”

The main outcomes to Mr. Charap were the agreement on U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and cybersecurity, as well as the agreement for American and Russian ambassadors to return to their posts in Moscow and Washington. Mr. Putin also said there was “potential for compromise” on the issue of several Americans imprisoned in Russia and Russians imprisoned in the United States.

To tout his renewed willingness to talk — while acknowledging the uncertainty ahead — Mr. Putin quoted from Russian literature.

“Leo Tolstoy once said: ‘There is no happiness in life — there are only glimmers of it,’” Mr. Putin said. “I think that in this situation, there can’t be any kind of family trust. But I think we’ve seen some glimmers.”

Mr. Biden and the first lady earlier this month.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

After President Biden met his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, the two men did not face the news media at a joint news conference.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke first, followed by Mr. Biden, in separate news conferences, a move intended by the White House to deny the Russian leader an international platform like the one he received during a 2018 summit in Helsinki with President Donald J. Trump.

“We expect this meeting to be candid and straightforward, and a solo press conference is the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting,” a U.S. official said in a statement sent to reporters this weekend, “both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns.”

Video

Video player loading
On Wednesday, President Biden met with the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, in Geneva. The two global leaders are meeting as tensions between Washington and Moscow have escalated over the last year.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Top aides to Mr. Biden said that during negotiations over the meetings the Russian government was eager to have Mr. Putin join Mr. Biden in a news conference. But Biden administration officials said that they were mindful of how Mr. Putin seemed to get the better of Mr. Trump in Helsinki.

At that news conference, Mr. Trump publicly accepted Mr. Putin’s assurances that his government did not interfere with the 2016 election, taking the Russian president’s word rather than the assessments of his own intelligence officials.

The spectacle in 2018 drew sharp condemnations from across the political spectrum for providing an opportunity for Mr. Putin to spread falsehoods. Senator John McCain at the time called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Mr. Putin’s limousine arriving at the Villa La Grange on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Piggybacking on the attention to Russia with the Biden-Putin meeting on Wednesday, the European Union issued a long and pessimistic report on the state of relations between Brussels and Moscow.

“There is not much hope for better relations between the European Union and Russia anytime soon,” said Josep Borrell Fontelles, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, introducing the report. It was prepared in advance of a summit meeting of European leaders next week at which the bloc’s future policy toward Russia will be on the agenda.

That discussion has been delayed several times by other pressing issues, including the pandemic.

“Under present circumstances, a renewed partnership between the E.U. and Russia, allowing for closer cooperation, seems a distant prospect,” Mr. Borrell said in a statement, introducing the 14-page report prepared by the European Commission.

The report urges the 27-member bloc to simultaneously “push back” against Russian misbehavior and violations of international law; “constrain” Russia’s efforts to destabilize Europe and undermine its interests, especially in the Western Balkans and neighboring post-Soviet states; and “engage” with Russia on common issues like health and climate, “based on a strong common understanding of Russia’s aims and an approach of principled pragmatism.”

The ambition, Mr. Borrell said, is to move gradually “into a more predictable and stable relationship,” a similar goal to that expressed by the Biden administration.

Mr. Borrell had an embarrassing visit to Moscow in February as he began to prepare the report. He stood by without reacting in a joint news conference as his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, called the European Union an “unreliable partner.”

As they were meeting, Moscow announced that diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden had been expelled for purportedly participating in “illegal protests” to support the jailed opposition politician Aleksei A. Navalny, a fact Mr. Borrell discovered only later through social media.

He defended the trip, telling the European Parliament that he “wanted to test whether the Russian authorities are interested in a serious attempt to reverse the deterioration of our relations and seize the opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue. The answer has been clear: No, they are not.”

Relations have worsened since then with overt Russian support for a crackdown against democracy and protests in Belarus.

Soldiers working with artillery at a base in Khlibodarivka, Ukraine, in April.
Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Even before the summit between the United States and Russia got underway on Wednesday, Ukrainian officials played down the prospect for a breakthrough on one of the thornier issues on the agenda: ending the war in eastern Ukraine, the only active conflict in Europe today.

Ukraine said it would not accept any arrangements made in Geneva between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin on the war, which has been simmering for seven years between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army, officials said.

Before the summit’s start, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that Ukraine’s entry into NATO would represent a “red line” for Russia that Mr. Putin was prepared to make plain on Wednesday. Mr. Biden said this week that Ukraine could join NATO if “they meet the criteria.”

The Ukrainian government has in recent years dug in its heels on a policy of rejecting any negotiation without a seat at the table after worry that Washington and Moscow would cut a deal in back-room talks. The approach has remained in place with the Biden administration.

“It is not possible to decide for Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday. “So there will be no concrete result” in negotiations in Geneva, he said.

Ukraine’s foreign minister drove the point home again on Tuesday.

“We have made it very clear to our partners that no agreement on Ukraine reached without Ukraine will be recognized by us,” Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister, told journalists. Ukraine, he said, “will not accept any scenarios where they will try to force us to do something.”

Ukraine will have a chance for talks with the United States. Mr. Biden has invited Mr. Zelensky to a meeting in the White House in July, when a recent Russian troop buildup along the Ukrainian border is sure to be on the agenda.

Russia massed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border this spring. Despite an announcement in Moscow of a drawdown, both Ukrainian and Western governments say that only a few thousand soldiers have departed, leaving a lingering risk of a military escalation over the summer.

With Donald J. Trump in Osaka, Japan, in 2019.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

With Barack Obama in New York in 2015.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

With George W. Bush in Washington in 2005.

Credit…Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

With Bill Clinton in Moscow in 2000.

Credit…Dirck Halstead/Liaison
President Donald J. Trump with President Vladimir V. Putin during a joint news conference in Helsinki in 2018.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

If President Biden wanted an example of a summit that did not go according to plan, he needed only to look back to 2018.

That year, President Donald J. Trump flew to Helsinki to meet President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the first face-to-face meeting between the two and a highly anticipated moment given the then-ongoing investigations of Russian interference and cooperation with Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

It might have been a chance for Mr. Trump to push back against those accusations by offering a forceful denunciation of Russia’s actions in private, and again during a joint news conference by the two men.

Instead, standing on the stage by Mr. Putin’s side, Mr. Trump dismissed the conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian meddling and said, in essence, that he believed Mr. Putin more than he did the C.I.A. and other key advisers

“They said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.” He added that he didn’t see any reason Russia would have been responsible for hacks during the 2016 election. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

It was the kind of jaw-dropping assertion that U.S. administrations usually strive to avoid in the middle of highly scripted presidential summits. Critics lashed out at Mr. Trump for undermining his own government and for giving aid and comfort to an adversary. Even Republican allies of the president issued harsh denunciations.

“It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and a staunch supporter of Mr. Trump.

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/0:54

0:00

transcript

A Look Back at Trump’s 2019 Meeting With Putin

Former President Donald J. Trump met with Vladimir V. Putin in June of 2019, where he warned the Russian president not to interfere with the U.S. election.

“You don’t have a problem with Russia, we have — you don’t have a problem. Thank you very much, everybody, it’s a great honor to be with President Putin, his representative, my representative. We have many things to discuss, including trade and including some disarmament and some little protectionism, perhaps, in a very positive way. And we’re going to discuss a lot of different things. We’ve had great meetings we have a very, very good relationship.” Reporter: “Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?” [reporters shouting questions] Reporter: “What about the Ukrainian —” “Don’t, don’t meddle in the election.”

Video player loading
Former President Donald J. Trump met with Vladimir V. Putin in June of 2019, where he warned the Russian president not to interfere with the U.S. election.

There was nothing about the one day Helsinki summit that was normal. Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump were so chummy that the Russian president gave Mr. Trump a soccer ball to take home as a gift. Mr. Trump thanked him and bounced the ball to Melania Trump, the first lady, in the front row, saying he would take it home to give it to his son, Barron.

(Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary at the time, later issued a statement saying that the ball — like all gifts — had been examined to make sure it had not been bugged with listening devices.)

In a statement issued as Mr. Biden headed to Europe last week, Mr. Trump once again called his meeting with Mr. Putin “great and very productive” and he defended supporting the Russian president over his intelligence aides.

“As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our ‘Intelligence’ from the Obama era,” he said in a statement. “The answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious. Our government has rarely had such lowlifes as these working for it.”

The former president also took a cheap shot at his successor in the statement, warning him not to “fall asleep during the meeting.”

One thing was certain — Mr. Biden did not follow through on Mr. Trump’s request that when Mr. Biden met with Mr. Putin “please give him my warmest regards!”

Health workers waiting for Covid patients on Monday at a hospital complex in Moscow.
Credit…Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

In the United States, fireworks lit up the night sky in New York City on Tuesday, a celebration meant to demonstrate the end of coronavirus restrictions. California, the most populous state, has fully opened its economy. And President Biden said there would be a gathering at the White House on July 4, marking what America hopes will be freedom from the pandemic.

Yet this week the country’s death toll passed 600,000 — a staggering loss of life.

In Russia, officials frequently say that the country has handled the coronavirus crisis better than the West and that there have been no large-scale lockdowns since last summer.

But in the week that President Vladimir V. Putin met with Mr. Biden for a one-day summit, Russia has been gripped by a vicious new wave of Covid-19. Hours before the start of the summit on Wednesday, the city of Moscow announced that it would be mandating coronavirus vaccinations for workers in service and other industries.

“We simply must do all we can to carry out mass vaccination in the shortest possible time period and stop this terrible disease,” Sergey S. Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said in a blog post. “We must stop the dying of thousands of people.”

It was a reversal from prior comments from Mr. Putin, who said on May 26 that “mandatory vaccination would be impractical and should not be done.”

Mr. Putin said on Saturday that 18 million people had been inoculated in the country — less than 13 percent of the population, even though Russia’s Sputnik V shots have been widely available for months.

The country’s official death toll is nearly 125,000, according to Our World in Data, and experts have said that such figures probably vastly underestimate the true tally.

While the robust United States vaccination campaign has sped the nation’s recovery, the virus has repeatedly confounded expectations. The inoculation campaign has also slowed in recent weeks.

Unlike many of the issues raised at Wednesday’s summit, and despite the scientific achievement that safe and effective vaccines represent, the virus follows its own logic — mutating and evolving — and continues to pose new and unexpected challenges for both leaders and the world at large.

Displaced Syrian men at a refugee camp in Idlib last year.
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The conflict in Syria — which has now raged for 10 years and counting — was on the meeting agenda for President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as they met on Wednesday.

Since the start of the war, Russia has supported President Bashar al-Assad and his forces, and in 2015 it launched a military intervention with ground forces in the country to prop up the then-flailing government. In the years since, government forces have regained control of much of the country, with the support of Russia and Iran, as Mr. al-Assad’s forced tamped down dissent and carried out brutal attacks against Syrian civilians.

The United States also became deeply involved in the conflict, backing Kurdish forces in the country’s north and conducting airstrikes in the fight against the Islamic State. It has maintained a limited military presence there. Both the United States and Russian forces have found themselves on opposite sides of the multifaceted conflict on numerous occasions.

After years of failed attempts at peace in Syria as the humanitarian toll has continued to mount, Lina Khatib, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, a British think tank, said the moment could be ripe for the two major powers to chart a path forward.

She said that “despite taking opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, there is potential for a US-Russian compromise,” and that the summit could be the best place to begin that process.

“The Biden administration must not waste the opportunity that the U.S.-Russian summit presents on Syria,” Ms. Khatib wrote in a recent piece before the meeting in Geneva. “While the focus of various U.S. government departments working on Syria is on the delivery of cross-border aid, fighting the Islamic State and planning an eventual exit for U.S. troops, all these problems are products of the ongoing conflict, and solving them requires a comprehensive strategy to end it.”

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/1:08

0:00

transcript

Russian and American Media Scuffle Before Diplomacy Meeting

A chaotic scrum between American and Russian reporters erupted on Wednesday before closed-door meetings between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

[reporters arguing] “Let me get up there —” “We’re with them, we’re part of the U.S. —” “I’m not in charge of your press.” “I need to get up with that camera, though, guys, I’m in sound. I need to get up —” [reporters arguing] “One, two, three. One, two, three.” “He’s setting the camera. He’s setting the camera.” “OK, so audio doesn’t go in yet?” “Not yet.” “Let’s go. Let’s go.” “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Stop pushing. Don’t push me.” “Guys, there’s a cord here. There’s a cord here.”

Video player loading
A chaotic scrum between American and Russian reporters erupted on Wednesday before closed-door meetings between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

American and Russian reporters engaged in a shoving match on Wednesday outside the villa where President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia were meeting, stranding much of the press outside when the two leaders began talking.

The chaotic scrum erupted moments after Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin shook hands and waved to reporters before closed-door meetings with a handful of aides.

President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland had just welcomed the leaders “in accordance with its tradition of good offices” to “promote dialogue and mutual understanding.”

But shortly after the two leaders entered the villa, reporters from both countries rushed the side door, where they were stopped by Russian and American security and government officials from both countries. There was screaming and pushing as both sides tried to surge in, with officials yelling for order.

White House officials succeeded in getting nine members of their 13-member press pool into the library where Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin were seated against a backdrop of floor-to-ceiling books, along with each of their top diplomats and translators. The two leaders had already begun to make very brief remarks before reporters were able to get in the room.

Inside, more scuffling erupted — apparently amusing to the two leaders — as Russian officials told photographers that they could not take pictures and one American reporter was shoved to the ground. The two leaders waited, at moments smiling uncomfortably, for several minutes before reporters were pushed back out of the room as the summit meeting began.

“It’s always better to meet face to face,” Mr. Biden said to Mr. Putin as the commotion continued.

Chaotic scenes are not uncommon when reporters from multiple countries angle for the best spot to view a world leader, often in cramped spaces and with government security and handlers pushing them to leave quickly.

But even by those standards the scene outside the villa in this usually bucolic venue was particularly disruptive. Russian journalists quickly accused the Americans for trying to get more people into the room than had been agreed to, but it appeared that the Russians had many more people than the 15 for each side that had been negotiated in advance.

“The Americans didn’t go through their door, caused a stampede,” one Russian reporter posted on Telegram.

In fact, reporters from both countries had been told to try to go through a single door, and officials for both countries at times were stopping all of the reporters from entering, telling them to move back and blocking the door.

When American officials tried to get White House reporters inside, the Russian security blocked several of them.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arriving in Geneva on Wednesday.
Credit…Pool photo by Alessandro Della Valle

Wednesday’s Geneva summit got off to an auspicious start: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia landed on time.

His plane landed at about 12:30 p.m., an hour before he was set to meet President Biden, who had arrived in Geneva the previous evening. Mr. Putin is known for making world leaders wait — sometimes hours — for his arrival, one way to telegraph confidence and leave an adversary on edge.

But this time Mr. Putin did not resort to scheduling brinkmanship.

The summit’s start was laced with delicate choreography: Mr. Putin arrived first, straight from the airport, and was greeted on the red carpet in front of a lakeside villa by President Guy Parmelin of Switzerland. About 15 minutes later, Mr. Biden arrived in his motorcade, shook hands with Mr. Parmelin and waved to reporters.

The Swiss president welcomed the two leaders, wishing them “fruitful dialogue in the interest of your two countries and the whole world.” He then stepped aside, allowing Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin to approach each other, smiling, and shake hands.

Russian officials on Wednesday sought to put a positive last-minute spin on the meeting.

“This is an extremely important day,” a deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, told the RIA Novosti state news agency hours before the summit’s start. “The Russian side in preparing for the summit has done the utmost for it to turn out positive and have results that will allow the further deterioration of the bilateral relationship to be halted, and to begin moving upwards.”

Even before Mr. Putin landed, members of his delegation had arrived at the lakeside villa where the meeting is being held. They included Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, who joined Mr. Putin in a small-group session with Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at the start of the summit; and Valery V. Gerasimov, Russia’s most senior military officer.

Police officers from across Switzerland — the words “police,” “Polizei” and “polizia” on their uniforms reflecting the country’s multilingual cantons — cordoned off much of the center of Geneva on Wednesday.

The city’s normally bustling lakefront was off limits, and the park where President Biden and Mr. Putin were meeting was protected by razor wire and at least one armored personnel carrier.

Inside the leafy Parc la Grange, overlooking Lake Geneva, the police directed journalists to two separate press centers — one for those covering Mr. Putin, one for those covering Mr. Biden. As the reporters waited for the leaders to arrive, a Russian radio reporter went on air and intoned that Lake Geneva had become “a lake of hope.”

Villa La Grange in Geneva.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

A storied villa on the shores of Lake Geneva is sometimes described as having “a certain sense of mystery about it,” but there was little mystery this week about why the mansion and the park surrounding it were closed off.

Visitors were coming.

The Villa la Grange, an 18th-century manor house at the center of Parc la Grange, was the site of the meeting on Wednesday between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin.

Set in one of Geneva’s largest and most popular parks, the site is known not just for its lush gardens, but also for its role as a setting for important moments in the struggle between war and peace.

In 1825, the villa’s library — home to over 15,000 works and the only room to retain the villa’s original decorative features — hosted dignitaries of a European gathering that aimed to help Greeks fighting for independence.

Designed by the architect Jean-Louis Bovet and completed in 1773, the villa was owned by the Lullin family and primarily used as a summer residence before it was bought by a merchant, François Favre, in 1800.

It cemented its place in history in 1864, when it was the site of a closing gala for officials who signed the original 1864 Geneva Convention, presided over by Henri Dunant, a founder of the International Red Cross. An attempt to ameliorate the ravages of war on both soldiers and civilians, it set minimum protections for people who are victims of armed conflict.

After World War II, a new draft of the conventions was signed in an attempt to address gaps in international humanitarian law that the conflict had exposed.

In 1969, Pope Paul VI, who traveled to the park to celebrate Mass for a congregation of tens of thousands, pointed to the villa’s history as he spoke about the risk of nuclear conflagration.

He spoke about the opposing forces of love and hate and called for “generous peacemakers.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

How Private Equity Firms Avoid Taxes

There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.

Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.

The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.

The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.

one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.

It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.

Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.

The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.

Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.

nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.

Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.

The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.

That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.

The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.

article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.

Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.

One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.

The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.

Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.

$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”

Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”

floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.

Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)

Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.

In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.

But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.

So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.

Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.

One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”

The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.

Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.

For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.

Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.

“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.

The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”

wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.

McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.

credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”

Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”

Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.

It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.

The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.

The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)

On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.

Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.

Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.

Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.

The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.

now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.

The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.

Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.

The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.

Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.

“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They are so grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

The Mayor, the Teacher and a Fight over a ‘Lost Territory’ of France

TRAPPES, France — It all began when a high-school teacher warned that Islamists had taken over the city. The teacher went on TV, issuing alarms from inside what he called a “lost city” of the French Republic. In Trappes, he said, he feared for his life.

“Trappes, it’s finished,” the teacher said. “They’ve won.”

The mayor, a strong believer in the Republic, saw the teacher on television and didn’t recognize the city he described. He knew his city, west of Paris and with a growing population of immigrants and Muslims, had problems but thought it was being falsely maligned. The mayor also happened to be a Muslim.

“The truth doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.

For a few weeks this winter, the fight pitting the mayor, Ali Rabeh, 36, against the teacher, Didier Lemaire, 55, became a media storm that, beneath the noise and accusations, boiled down to a single, angry question that runs through the culture wars rippling through France: Can Islam be compatible with the principles of the French Republic?

Lupin.” But Trappes also saw about 70 of its youths leave for jihad to Syria and Iraq, the largest contingent, per capita, from any French city.

article about Mr. Lemaire, who said he was quitting because of Islamists.

Within a few hours, a conservative politician eyeing the presidency tweeted her support for Mr. Lemaire and “all those hussars on the front line in the fight for the Republic.” Next, the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, attacked “certain elected officials” for failing to protect the teacher from Islamists.

That the words of a virtually unknown teacher resonated so much was a sign of the times. A few months earlier, an extremist had beheaded a middle-school teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech. President Emmanuel Macron was now pushing a bill to fight Islamism even as he pledged to nurture an “Islam of France.”

Mr. Lemaire’s words also resonated because of the outsized role in France of public schoolteachers, who are responsible for inculcating in the young the nation’s political values and culture. In the Republic’s mythology, teachers are the “hussars” — the light cavalry once used for scouting by European armies — fighting to preserve the nation’s sanctity.

In the article, Mr. Lemaire said he had been under police escort for months. Trappes’s mayor, he said, had called him an “Islamophobe and racist.” He said he was waiting for an “exfiltration” from deep inside “a city lost for good.”

Overnight, the soft-spoken, longhaired teacher, who said he preferred curling up with Seneca than going on Facebook, was issuing dire warnings on top television news shows.

“We have six months to a year,” he said, “because all these youths who are educated with the idea that the French are their enemies, they’ll take action one day.”

Mr. Lemaire arrived in Trappes, a banlieue, or suburb, in the outer orbit of Paris, two decades earlier. Once a village that grew around a millennium-old Roman Catholic parish, Trappes is now a city of 32,000.

Mr. Lemaire’s high school, La Plaine-de-Neauphle, stands at the heart of an area built to accommodate immigrant workers from France’s former colonies in the 1970s — a mixture of rent-subsidized high-rises, attractive five-story residences and a constellation of parks. The mosque is nearby. So is a market where vendors offer delicacies from sub-Saharan Africa and halal products.

Parti républicain solidariste, which espouses a hard line on France’s version of secularism, called laïcité. He now favors taking girls away from their parents, after a second warning, if the children violate laïcité rules by putting on Muslim veils during school field trips.

“We have to protect children from this manipulation,” of being used “as soldiers or as ideologues,” he said.

remarks to the newspaper Le Monde, the local préfet, the top civil servant representing the central government, praised Mr. Rabeh’s administration for its “total cooperation” in combating Islamism. The préfet also refuted the teacher’s claim to having been under a police escort.

The teacher’s story began wobbling. He admitted to the French news media, as he did to The Times, that he had “not received explicit death threats.” He had also accused the mayor of calling him a “racist and Islamophobe” in an interview with a Dutch television network.

But the network denied the mayor had said any such thing.

letter to the students at the teacher’s high school.

“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you’re worth nothing and that you’re lost to the Republic,” he wrote.

debate was scheduled that evening between Ms. Le Pen and Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister leading the government’s crackdown on Islamism. Hours before the debate, he announced that the teacher would be granted police protection.

That evening, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the national education minister, issued a statement supporting the teacher. He also accused the mayor of trespassing into the high school to distribute tracts — the letter — that morning. “Political and religious neutrality is at the heart of the operation of the School of the Republic,” the minister said.

The city officials at the school that morning told The Times that no copies were distributed inside. The regional education office and Mr. Blanquer’s office refused to make the school principal available for an interview. The minister’s office declined to comment.

The trespassing accusations led to such an avalanche of threats against the mayor that he, too, was put under police protection — a shared destiny, for a while, for the two men of Trappes, who had each lost something.

The teacher was forced to leave the school where he had taught for 20 years and, despite his criticisms of Trappes, said “you really feel you’re on a mission.” He said he should have been more careful with the facts and had made “many mistakes,” but stuck by his interpretation of Trappes as “lost.”

His words, he said, had led to a “clarification of positions today in France.”

The mayor questioned the very Republic that once inspired him. He had believed that “the people who embody the Republic will come, the government will eventually express its solidarity with me.”

“Stunned,” he said, “I find that’s not the case.”

He declined his worried father’s request to resign.

“For a moment during the crisis, I told myself, well, if this is the Republic, I’m abandoning the Republic, just as it’s abandoned me,” Mr. Rabeh said. “But the truth is they’re not the Republic. The kids of Trappes are the Republic.”

Gaëlle Fournier contributed research.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian’

On a recent Tuesday evening, Jully Lee and her boyfriend curled up on the couch and turned on the TV to watch the Ovation Awards, a ceremony honoring stage work in the Los Angeles area that was held virtually this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Lee, an actor, had been nominated for her role in the play “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo,” which was in production before the pandemic.

Ms. Lee, 40, had submitted a prerecorded acceptance speech in case she won. During the ceremony, each nominee’s photo was shown as his or her name was announced. When Ms. Lee’s category arrived, her name was called, and a photo appeared on the screen. A photo of the wrong Asian: her colleague Monica Hong. The announcer also mispronounced Ms. Lee’s name.

“I was just stunned,” Ms. Lee said. She added that after a pause, she and her boyfriend started cracking up. “When things are awkward or uncomfortable or painful, it’s much safer to laugh than to express other emotions. It’s like a polite way of responding to things.”

The LA Stage Alliance, which hosted the ceremony, disbanded in the wake of outrage over the blunder.

The irony of a mix-up like this wasn’t lost on Ms. Lee. It was rare to even be performing with other Asian actors, rather than competing for the same part. “It’s so funny because when there’s so many Asians, then you can’t tell them apart, but in media there are so few Asians that you can’t tell us apart,” she said. “What is it?”

The invisibility of Asians in pop culture is part of what, scholars say, contributes to the “wrong Asian” experience: When people aren’t accustomed to seeing Asian faces onstage or onscreen, they may have more trouble telling them apart in real life. To put it another way: If all you really have to work with are John Cho, Steven Yeun, Aziz Ansari and Kal Penn, that’s not going to go a long way in training you to distinguish among men of Asian descent offscreen. In contrast, Hollywood has given everyone plenty of training on distinguishing white faces, Dr. Nadal said.

Out of Hollywood’s top 100 movies of 2018, only two lead roles went to Asian and Asian American actors (one male and one female), according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Donatella Galella, a professor of theater history and theory at the University of California, Riverside, said that popular culture has long reflected the Western world’s xenophobic views toward Asians, which resulted in placing them in diminished roles onstage and onscreen — the villain, the sidekick. That entrenched a kind of marginalization feedback loop.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Bouncy Castles and Grenades: Gangs Erode Maduro’s Grip on Caracas

CARACAS, Venezuela — From within his presidential palace, President Nicolás Maduro regularly commandeers the airwaves, delivering speeches intended to project stability to his crumbling nation.

But as the Venezuelan state disintegrates under the weight of Mr. Maduro’s corrupt leadership and American sanctions, his government is losing control of segments of the country, even within his stronghold: the capital, Caracas.

Nowhere is his weakening grip on territory more evident than in Cota 905, a shantytown that clings to a steep mountainside overlooking the gilded halls from which Mr. Maduro addresses the nation.

policing, road maintenance, health care and public utilities, to pour dwindling resources into Caracas, home of the political, business and military elites who form his support base.

Hunkered down in his fortified Caracas residences, Mr. Maduro crushed the opposition, purged the security forces of dissent and enriched his cronies in an effort to eliminate challenges to his authoritarian rule.

In remote areas, swathes of national territory fell to criminals and insurgents. But gang control of Cota 905 and the surrounding shantytowns, which lie just two miles from the presidential palace, is evidence that his government is losing its grip even on the center of the capital.

Across the city, other armed groups have also asserted territorial control over working-class neighborhoods.

“Maduro is often seen as a traditional strongman controlling every aspect of Venezuelans’ lives,” said Rebecca Hanson, a sociologist at the University of Florida who studies violence in Venezuela. “In reality, the state has become very fragmented, very chaotic and in many areas very weak.”

As the government’s reach in Caracas’s shantytowns withered, organized crime grew, forcing Mr. Maduro’s officials to negotiate with the largest gangs to limit violence and maintain political control, according to interviews with a dozen residents, as well as police officers, officials and academics studying violence.

In the process, the most organized gangs began supplanting the state in their communities, taking over policing, social services and even the enforcement of pandemic measures.

Police officers say the gang that controls Cota 905 now has around 400 men armed with the proceeds from drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, and that it exerts complete control over at least eight square miles in the heart of the capital.

Gang members with automatic weapons openly patrol the shantytown’s streets and those of the surrounding communities, and guard entry points from rooftop watchtowers. The first checkpoint appears just a few minutes’ drive from the headquarters of Mr. Maduro’s secret police.

As the Venezuelan economy went into a tailspin, the Cota gang began offering financial support to the community, supplanting Mr. Maduro’s bankrupt social programs, which once offered free food, housing and school supplies for the poor.

After monopolizing the local drug trade, the Cota 905 gang imposed strict rules on the residents in return for stopping the once endemic violence and petty crime. And many residents welcome its hard line on crime.

“Before, the thugs robbed,” said Mr. Ojeda, a Cota 905 resident who, like others in the community, asked that his full name not be published for fear of crossing the gangsters. “Now, they are the ones who come to you, without fail, with anything that goes missing.”

During his tenure, Mr. Maduro has veered from brutal suppression of organized crime groups to accommodation in an attempt to check rising crime.

In 2013, he withdrew security forces from about a dozen troubled spots, including Cota 905, naming them “Peace Zones,” as he tried to placate the gangs. Two years later, when the policy failed to check crime, he unleashed a wave of brutal police assaults on the shantytowns.

The police operations resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings, according to the United Nations, earning Mr. Maduro charges of committing crimes against humanity and the hatred of many shantytown residents. Faced with the onslaught, the gangs closed ranks, creating ever larger and more complex organizations, according to Ms. Hanson and her colleague, the researcher Verónica Zubillaga.

Unable to defeat the Cota gang, Mr. Maduro’s government returned to negotiations with its leaders, according to a police commander and two government officials who held talks with the gang and worked to put the agreements in place.

Security forces are once again banned from entering the community, according to the police commander, who is not authorized to discuss state policy and did so on condition of anonymity.

Under the deal with the government, the Cota gang has reduced kidnappings and murders, and began carrying out some state policies. During the pandemic, gang members strictly enforced lockdown rules and mask wearing, local residents said. And the gang is working with the government to distribute the scant remaining food and school supplies to the residents, residents and the two officials said.

“The gang is focused on the community,” said Antonio Garcia, a shantytown resident. “They make sure we get our bag of food.”

Mr. Ojeda said he received $300 from the gang the last Carnival season to buy toys and sweets for his family, a fortune in a country where the minimum monthly wage has collapsed to about $2. Residents said young people in the community are offered jobs as lookouts or safe house guards for between $50 and $100 a week, more than most doctors and engineers make in Venezuela.

Taking these jobs is easier than leaving them. Soon after the oldest son of Ms. Ramírez — who did not want to give her full name out of fear of the gang — began serving as a lookout in Cota 905, he discovered that his life now belonged to the gang.

“He had new clothes, new shoes, but he couldn’t stop crying,” Ms. Ramírez said. “He wanted to go back and couldn’t.”

Anti-government protests are banned in the shantytown, and gang members summon residents to the polling stations on elections, said the residents.

The members “tell us that if the government is toppled, we would be affected too, because the police would return,” said Ana Castro, a Cota resident. “The ‘Peace Zone’ would end, and we would all suffer.”

In private, some government officials defend the nonaggression pacts with the biggest gangs, saying the policy has drastically reduced violence.

Violent deaths in Caracas shantytowns have halved since the mid-2010s, when the Venezuelan capital was one of the world’s deadliest cities, according to figures from a local nonprofit, Mi Convive.

But academics and analysts studying crime in the city say the drop in homicides points to the growing power of Caracas’s gangs against an increasingly weak government. The imbalance, experts said, puts the government and the population in an increasingly dangerous and vulnerable position.

The power shift was evident in April, when the Cota gang shot up a police patrol car and took over a section of highway running through Caracas. The area was a five-minute drive from the presidential palace, and the blockade paralyzed the capital for several hours.

But the government stayed silent through it all. The security forces never came to retake the highway. Once the gang left, officers quietly cleared out the blasted patrol car.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

‘It’s Going to Be a Big Summer for Hard Seltzer’

The music should be pumping and the burgers and jerk chicken wings flying out of the kitchen this holiday weekend at the Rambler Kitchen and Tap in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago.

To wash it down, patrons might go with a mixed drink or one of the 20 craft beers the bar sells. But many will order a hard seltzer. The Rambler expects to sell close to 500 cans in flavors like peach, pineapple and grapefruit pomelo.

“We’ll sell a lot of buckets of White Claw and Truly seltzers,” said Sam Stone, a co-owner of the Rambler. “It’s going to be a big summer for hard seltzer.”

The Memorial Day weekend kicks off what many hope will be a more normal summer, when kids start counting down the number of days left in school, people head back to the beach and grills heat up for backyard parties that went poof last year because of the pandemic. And for the hard seltzer industry, it’s the start of a dizzying period when dozens of old and new competitors vie to be the boozy, bubbly drink of the season.

ad campaign with the British pop singer Dua Lipa. This spring, the hip-hop star Travis Scott released Cacti, a seltzer made with blue agave syrup, in a partnership with Anheuser-Busch. It quickly sold out in many locations.

“People were lining up outside of the stores to buy Cacti and share pictures of themselves with their carts full of Cacti,” said Marcel Marcondes, the chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch.

Also this spring, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer was released. A partnership between Coca-Cola and Molson Coors Beverage, it hit shelves in 16 markets across the country, chasing the cult following of Topo Chico’s seltzer water in the South.

“I feel like I can walk into a party saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I brought the Topo Chico,’” said Dane Cardiel, 32, who works in business development for a podcast company and lives in Esopus, N.Y., about 60 miles south of Albany.

How flavored bubbly water with alcohol became a national phenomenon is partly due to social media videos that went viral and clever marketing that sold hard seltzers as a “healthier” alcohol choice.

White Claw’s slim cans prominently state that the drinks contain only 100 calories, are gluten free and have only two grams each of carbohydrates and sugar. The brand is owned by the Canadian billionaire Anthony von Mandl, who created Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

“The health and wellness element is front and center in terms of the visual marketing,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at the Cowen investment firm. “Every brand’s packaging features its relatively low carb and sugar data.”

On top of that, the alcohol content in most hard seltzers, about 5 percent, or the same as 12 ounces of a typical beer, is less than a glass of wine or a mixed drink. That makes it easier for people to sip at a party or while watching a game without getting intoxicated or winding up with the belly-full-of-beer feeling.

“It’s a nice drink for an afternoon on the patio,” said Shelley Majeres, the general manager of Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver. “You can drink four or five of them in an afternoon and not have a big hangover or get really drunk.”

Blake Street, an 18,000-square-foot sports bar, started selling hard seltzers two years ago. Today, they make up about 20 percent of its can and bottle sales.

The industry has also neatly sidestepped the gender issue that plagued earlier, lighter alcoholic alternatives like Zima, which became popular with women but struggled to be adopted by men.

“I’ve got just as many men as women drinking it,” said Nick Zeto, the owner of Boston Beer Garden in Naples, Fla. “And it started with the millennials, but now I have people in their 40s, 50s and 60s ordering it.”

That kind of broad appeal is attractive to beer, wine and spirits companies.

“We view ourselves as the challenger brand,” said Michelle St. Jacques, the chief marketing officer of Molson Coors, which has been making beer since the late 1700s but hopes to end this year with 10 percent of the hard seltzer market.

Last spring, the company released Vizzy, a hard seltzer that contains vitamin C. Top Chico came this spring. “We feel like we’re making great progress in seltzer by not trying to bring me-too products, but rather products and brands that have a clear difference,” Ms. St. Jacques said.

While grocery and liquor stores have made plenty of space available to the hard seltzer brands that people drink at home, the competition to get into restaurants and bars is fierce. Most want to offer only two or three brands to their customers.

“Oh, my god, I get presented with new hard seltzer whenever they can get my attention,” said Mr. Stone, who sells six brands at the Rambler. The crowd favorite, he said, is the vodka-based High Noon Sun Sips peach, made by E.&J. Gallo Winery. “Everybody, from the big brands to small, new ones, are getting into the hard seltzer game.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Iraqi Activism Fights for Survival Amid Murders and Threats

BAGHDAD — ‘Who killed me?’ the signs asked, alongside images of dead men and women, among the roughly 80 Iraqi activists murdered since late 2019. Young demonstrators held aloft the posters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, illustrating both the enduring spark and diminished strength of Iraq’s anti-government protest movement.

The demonstrators (publicly) and Iraqi officials (privately) say they know who killed many of the activists: Iran-backed militias that have essentially crushed a grass-roots anti-corruption movement that blames Iranian influence, and the militias, for many of Iraq’s ills. In a country where militias — nominally a part of the security apparatus — operate with impunity, the killers have gone unpunished.

The several thousand young men gathered in Baghdad’s central square Tuesday comprised the biggest protest in the Iraqi capital since the anniversary last October of demonstrations in 2019 that swept Baghdad and southern cities and brought down a government. The movement is driven by anger at the government’s failure to make promised reforms, including curbs on Iranian-backed militias.

But in the shadow of assassinations, kidnappings and intimidation of people who criticize the Iraqi government and Iranian interference, turnout on Tuesday was far smaller than organizers had hoped.

Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are clustered. A few of the protesters responded by throwing rocks as police chased demonstrators down alleys. Security forces said the demonstrators later set fire to security vehicles.

“We expected more people to come but some people are afraid — afraid for their jobs and afraid for themselves,” said one of the longtime activists, Dr. Mohammad Fadhil, a physician from Diyala province, speaking before the clashes erupted.

Another protester, Hani Mohammad, said he had been threatened by a group of fighters three days before.

“They came to my house,” said Mr. Mohammad, naming one of the biggest Iran-backed militias, which he did not want to name publicly for fear of retaliation. He said he had already fled.

A year after taking power, prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has largely failed to deliver reforms he promised in response to the 2019 protests, including reining in Iran-backed militias, which are also blamed for attacks on the U.S. embassy and military installations.

Activists who have been killed include protest leaders in the holy city of Karbala, a female doctor in Basra, and a prominent Baghdad security analyst, Hisham al Hashimi, who advised the prime minister. Many of them were shot dead in the streets in view of security cameras or the police, some in the middle of the day.

Though at least one commander has been relieved of duty, no one is known to have been prosecuted.

“What’s the main purpose of these killings? It’s to deter the formation of leadership among the protest movement,” said Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute. “So you target key leaders that have the potential of rallying the masses, you eliminate them and then you create fear within the rest.”

She said there was little prospect that Iraqi political leaders would reform the system that elevated them to power, or push back against the pervasive influence of Iran, and that intimidation and lack of support had left the protest movement too weak to create change.

“You need leadership, you need organization, you need political machinery, you need funding for that,” said Ms. Slim, listing elements that the diverse movement lacks.

Ali al Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, said, “The security establishment is not serious in its efforts, beginning from the investigations within security institutions to bringing the case to the court.”

The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, told the U.N. Security Council this month that many of the protest leaders were being hunted down with ‘rampant impunity’ ahead of the early elections they had demanded.

In addition to those assassinated, more than 560 protesters, the vast majority of them unarmed, have been killed by security forces and gunmen during the protests themselves since 2019. Most were shot with live bullets or killed by tear gas canisters that became lethal projectiles after being fired directly into the crowd.

Ahead of Tuesday’s protest, one of the main Iran-backed militias, the Hezbollah Brigades, issued what many perceived as a veiled threat to the demonstrators, saying that it and other paramilitary forces “must protect these young men who are deceived,” so they cannot be used by enemies, including the United States. It accused the protesters of aiming to delay the elections planned for Oct. 10.

The assassinations have had a chilling effect on the political campaign. The grass-roots movement that began in 2019 aimed to end the corruption-ridden system of government in place since 2003, where government ministries have been carved up between powerful political blocs and militias.

Activists originally saw the upcoming elections as a chance for a fresh start with new faces, but now they appear likely to return the same factions to power.

“There are no parties with integrity that I can vote for,” said Hadeel, a 19-year-old university student protesting Tuesday in Baghdad’s Nasour square. She did not want to give her last name.

“After the election we will not be able to even protest because the government is going to be stronger than before and the militias will have even more power.”

Despite the danger, the protests Thursday could be a harbinger of a painful summer in Iraq.

The protests in 2019 spread from the southern coastal city of Basra, where citizens took to the streets to demand public services. Iraq last year recorded life-threatening record high temperatures of over 125 degrees, leaving many to swelter without electricity or even clean water.

This summer, a lack of winter rain, water mismanagement and water conflicts with neighboring Turkey and Iran are expected to result in even worse shortages for millions of Iraqis, misery that could fuel renewed mass protests.

Among the protesters Tuesday, there was little fear of the coronavirus ravaging Iraq, where only about 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated. No one in the demonstrations was seen wearing masks, and social distancing in the crowded squares was impossible.

“We know virus exists,” said one of the protesters, Hamza Khadham. “But the violence, injustice and oppression by the government against the people is more dangerous than the coronavirus.”

Falih Hassan, Awadh al-Taiee and Nermeen al-Mufti contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

One Year Later

Shortly after 8 p.m. on May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, placed his knee on George Floyd’s neck and kept it there for more than nine minutes. None of the three other officers standing near Chauvin intervened. Soon, Floyd was dead.

Initially, the police gave a misleading account of Floyd’s death, and the case might have received relatively little attention but for the video that Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old, took with her phone. That video led to international outrage and, by some measures, the largest protest marches in U.S. history.

Today, one year after Floyd’s murder, we are going to look at the impact of the movement that his death inspired in four different areas.

30 states and dozens of large cities have created new rules limiting police tactics. Two common changes: banning neck restraints, like the kind Chauvin used; and requiring police officers to intervene when a fellow officer uses extreme force.

pledged to hire more diverse workforces.

wrote. “So companies and institutions stopped whining about supposedly bad pipelines and started looking beyond them.”

It’s still unclear how much has changed and how much of the corporate response was public relations.

Initially, public sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement soared. But as with most high-profile political subjects in the 21st-century U.S., opinion soon polarized along partisan lines.

Today, Republican voters are less sympathetic to Black Lives Matter than they were a year ago, the political scientists Jennifer Chudy and Hakeem Jefferson have shown. Support among Democrats remains higher than it was before Floyd’s death but is lower than immediately afterward.

There are a few broad areas of agreement. Most Americans say they have a high degree of trust in law enforcement — even more than did last June, FiveThirtyEight’s Alex Samuels notes. Most also disagree with calls to “defund” or abolish police departments. Yet most back changes to policing, such as banning chokeholds.

It’s clear that violent crime has risen over the past year. It’s not fully clear why.

Many liberals argue that the increase has little to do with the protest movement’s call for less aggressive policing. The best evidence on this side of the debate is that violent crime was already rising — including in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia — before the protests. This pattern suggests that other factors, like the pandemic and a surge of gun purchases, have played important roles.

Many conservatives believe that the crime spike is connected to the criticism of the police, and they point to different evidence. First, the crime increase accelerated last summer, after the protests began — and other high-income countries have not experienced similar increases. Second, this acceleration fits into a larger historical pattern: Crime also rose in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., after 2015 protests about police violence there, as Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist and crime scholar, notes.

Sharkey has told us. But that doesn’t mean that the pre-protest status quo was the right approach, he emphasizes. Brute-force policing “can reduce violence,” he said, in a Q. and A. with The Atlantic. “But it comes with these costs that don’t in the long run create safe, strong, or stable communities.”

Some reform advocates worry that rising crime will rebuild support for harsh police tactics and prison sentences. “Fear makes people revert to old ways of doing things,” Lopez said.

How can police officers both prevent crime and behave less violently, so that they kill fewer Americans while doing their jobs?

Some experts say that officers should focus on hot spots where most crimes occur. Others suggest training officers to de-escalate situations more often. Still others recommend taking away some responsibilities from the police — like traffic stops and mental-health interventions — to reduce the opportunities for violence.

So far, the changes do not seem to have affected the number of police killings. Through last weekend, police officers continued to kill about three Americans per day on average, virtually the same as before Floyd’s murder.

Related:

125th anniversary, The Times Book Review is highlighting some noteworthy first mentions of famous writers. You can find the full list here. Some of our favorites:

F. Scott Fitzgerald: In 1916, Princeton admitted only men, and they would often play women’s roles in campus plays. The Times featured a photo of Fitzgerald in character, calling him “the most beautiful showgirl.”

in an article about a “Greek Games” competition among students at Barnard: “A messenger, Joan Roth, rushed in to say that Persephone still lived and a rejoicing group danced in. Eight tumblers did tricks before the crowd to distract the still disconsolate Demeter.” Highsmith was among the student acrobats.

Ralph Ellison: In 1950, two years before the publication of “Invisible Man,” Ellison reviewed a novel called “Stranger and Alone,” by J. Saunders Redding. Ellison wrote that Saunders “presents many aspects of Southern Negro middle-class life for the first time in fiction.”

John Updike: An acclaimed short-story writer who had yet to publish a novel, Updike appeared in an advice article in 1958, encouraging parents to teach their children complex words. “A long correct word is exciting for a child,” he said. “Makes them laugh; my daughter never says ‘rhinoceros’ without laughing.” — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Comedian Silverman (five letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.


Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The first “Star Wars” movie premiered 44 years ago today. Vincent Canby’s Times review called it “the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made.”

You can see today’s print front page here.

“The Daily” is about a student free speech case. On “Sway,” Eliot Higgins discusses Bellingcat’s journalism.

Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<