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Michelle Goldberg: The vindication of Angela Merkel

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Michelle Goldberg: The vindication of Angela Merkel

The climax of Kati Marton’s captivating new biography of Angela Merkel, “The Chancellor,” comes in 2015, when the German leader refused to close her country’s borders to a tide of refugees fleeing civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and Africa.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” Merkel said, calling on the other members of the European Union to take in more people as well. “I don’t want to get into a competition in Europe of who can treat these people the worst.”

For the usually stolid and cautious chancellor, it was a great political leap, a sudden act of moral heroism that would define her legacy.

By the end of the year, 1 million refugees had come. Many observers predicted disaster. According to Marton, Henry Kissinger, ever callous, told Merkel, “To shelter one refugee is a humanitarian act, but to allow one million strangers in is to endanger German civilization.” Marton quotes my colleague Ross Douthat writing that anyone who believes that Germany can “peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference” is a “fool.” She describes former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s fear that the refugees would be Merkel’s “political undoing.”

For a while, it seemed like some of this pessimism was warranted. Douthat’s column was inspired by a hideous outburst of violence in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, in which a mob of largely Middle Eastern and North African men sexually assaulted scores of women. The refugee influx fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, which in 2017 won 94 seats to become the largest opposition party in Parliament. Some blamed Merkel’s policy for spooking Brits into supporting Brexit. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seized on it. Though Merkel retained the chancellorship after the 2017 elections, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, lost 65 seats.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the AfD lost ground.

“The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German workforce and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

The refugee policy was what inspired Marton, a former ABC News bureau chief in Germany and the author of nine previous books, to write about Merkel in the first place. Marton is herself the daughter of refugees from Hungary, journalists who had been imprisoned by the Communist regime, and the granddaughter of victims of Auschwitz. (She’s also the widow of famed diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whom she began dating when he was Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Germany.) Watching Merkel in the summer of 2015, said Marton, “I just thought wow, who is she, and how is she getting away with this?”

Part of the reason that Germans accepted — and in many cases celebrated — Merkel’s decision lies in their country’s unique relationship to its national history. Germany has made reckoning with the Holocaust central to its identity, and many citizens grabbed eagerly at this chance for redemption.

“When their trains pulled into the gleaming Munich station, exhausted men, women and children were greeted by a sea of signs that read, ‘Welcome to Germany,’ held aloft by cheering citizens lining the platforms,” Marton wrote.

Volunteers converted schools and stores into dormitories.

“Germans were more than happy — in fact, thrilled — to see themselves in the role of humanitarian saviors,” Stelzenmüller said.

But the refugees had more to offer Germany than a burnished self-image. In an aging country with a low birthrate, they were a useful addition to the workforce. The economy, Stelzenmüller said, “was looking for labor before the pandemic, and so there was a real demand and presumably a willingness from the labor market and companies to help people. And of course we have a long experience, a decades-long practice, of on-the-job training that is seen as a model by other European countries and in fact by America.”

Not all the lessons of Germany’s refugee experience will be welcomed by progressives. Merkel, after all, headed a center-right party, and her government took a conservative approach to assimilation.

“Refugees have a responsibility to adapt to German ways,” Marton quotes Merkel saying at a meeting of her party in 2015. “Multiculturalism is a sham.”

The newcomers were required to learn German and were settled throughout the country to avoid ghettoization. Merkel, wrote Marton, “was determined to avoid the dense concentration of immigrants that ring cities in France and Great Britain.”

And in the end, Merkel didn’t leave the border open, eventually negotiating a controversial deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to take in asylum-seekers and prevent them from continuing on to Europe. She didn’t remain in power for 16 years by letting emotion outpace her sense of realpolitik.

All the same, in absorbing 1 million desperate people at a time when others were putting up razor wire, Germany did something great, something the rest of the world could learn from as wars and ecological calamity send many millions more trudging across the globe in search of sanctuary.

“We now have a case study, an example, of how it can work, and I’m hoping the world will make use of Merkel’s example,” Marton said. The chancellor’s refrain in 2015 was, “We can do this.” If only the rest of us could too.

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MLB owners lock out players, 1st work stoppage since 1995

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MLB owners lock out players, 1st work stoppage since 1995

IRVING, Texas — Major League Baseball plunged into its first work stoppage in a quarter-century when the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night and owners immediately locked out players in a move that threatens spring training and opening day.

The strategy, management’s equivalent of a strike under federal labor law, ended the sport’s labor peace after 9,740 days over 26 1/2 years.

Teams decided to force the long-anticipated confrontation during an offseason rather than risk players walking out during the summer, as they did in 1994. Players and owners had successfully reached four consecutive agreements without a work stoppage, but they have been accelerating toward a clash for more than two years.

“We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players’ association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.”

Talks that started last spring ended Wednesday after a brief session of mere minutes with the sides far apart on the dozens of key economic issues. Management’s negotiators left the union’s hotel about nine hours before the deal lapsed at 11:59 p.m. EST.

MLB’s 30 controlling owners held a brief digital meeting to reaffirm their lockout decision, and MLB delivered the announcement of its fourth-ever lockout — to go along with five strikes — in an emailed letter to the Major League Baseball Players Association.

“This drastic and unnecessary measure will not affect the players’ resolve to reach a fair contract,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that enhances competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our membership.”

This stoppage began 30 days after Atlanta’s World Series win capped a complete season following a pandemic-shortened 2020 played in empty ballparks.

The lockout’s immediate impacts were a memo from MLB to clubs freezing signings, the cancellation of next week’s annual winter meetings in Orlando, Florida, and banishing players from team workout facilities and weight rooms while perhaps chilling ticket sales for 2022.

The union demanded change following anger over a declining average salary, middle-class players forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy and veterans jettisoned in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among clubs tearing down their rosters to rebuild.

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Trump tested COVID-positive pre-debate, ex-aide says in book

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Trump tested COVID-positive pre-debate, ex-aide says in book

By JILL COLVIN

Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 three days before his first presidential debate in September 2020 with Joe Biden, according to a new book by Trump’s former chief of staff.

In “The Chief’s Chief,” obtained by The Guardian before its Dec. 7 release, Mark Meadows writes that the then-president received a negative test shortly after the positive test and resumed his usual activities, including attending the debate against his Democratic challenger. Trump on Wednesday called the story “Fake News.”

The revelation, if confirmed, would further show that the Trump White House did not take the virus seriously even as it spread among White House and campaign staff and eventually sent Trump to the hospital, where he required supplemental oxygen and experimental treatments.

The former president said Meadows’ story “of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”

Meadows retweeted Trump’s statement. In an interview late Wednesday with Newsmax, Meadows said the story was being spun by the press.

“Well, the president’s right, it’s fake news,” Meadows said. “If you actually read the book, the context of it, that story outlined a false positive. Literally he had a test, had two other tests after that that showed that he didn’t have COVID during the debate.”

The book’s publisher, All Seasons Press, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The White House began a testing regimen for Trump’s senior aides and those who would be in contact with him after earlier positive cases. But aides repeatedly refused to disclose when Trump was tested the week of the debate, leading to speculation that he may have had COVID-19 while onstage with Biden.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News had said previously that he believed Trump may have had COVID-19 at the time of the debate because of the virus’ incubation period. It typically takes several days between the time a person is exposed to the virus and when there is enough viral load to be detected.

Trump was 74 and Biden was 78 at the time, putting them at higher risk of serious complications from the virus. COVID-19 vaccines were not then available.

Trump announced in a tweet early on Oct. 2, 2020, that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later that day.

But Meadows writes that Trump received a positive test on Sept. 26, three days before the debate and the same day that he held a Rose Garden ceremony for his final Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, according to the paper. Trump traveled that evening to a rally in Pennsylvania.

Meadows, Trump’s fourth and final chief of staff, writes that he received a call from the White House doctor as Trump’s helicopter was lifting off from the White House for the rally. Meadows says he was informed that Trump had tested positive and was instructed to stop the president from departing.

When Meadows told Trump of the result, the president’s reply, according to The Guardian, “rhyme(d) with ‘Oh spit, you’ve gotta be trucking lidding me.’”

But Meadows said the test had been conducted with an old model kit and he told Trump it would be repeated with a newer version. After “a brief but tense wait,” Meadows reported that the second test had come back negative.

Trump took that result as “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened,” Meadows wrote, according to The Guardian. In subsequent days, he held news events, met with Gold Star families at the White House, attended several fundraisers and appeared at the debate.

On the day of the debate, Sept. 29, Meadows wrote that Trump looked slightly better — “emphasis on the word slightly.”

“His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone. But the dark circles under his eyes had deepened. As we walked into the venue around five o’clock in the evening, I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual. He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back,” Meadows was quoted as writing.

Meadows noted that both candidates were required to test negative for the virus within 72 hours of the debate, but wrote that, “Nothing was going to stop (Trump) from going out there.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser, who also served in the Trump administration, said he was not aware of the test results but anyone who tests positive should isolate from other people.

“I’m not going to specifically talk about who put who at risk, but I would say as I said, not only for any individual, but everybody, that if you test positive you should be quarantining yourself,” he said at a news briefing Wednesday.

Biden brushed off the report. “I don’t think about the former president,” he told reporters.

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that the book publisher is All Seasons Press, not All Season Press.

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Wizards dunk all over the Wolves

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Wizards dunk all over the Wolves

The Timberwolves’ defense that’s been so good this season was, well, not Wednesday in the nation’s capital.

The Wizards got dunk, after dunk, after dunk, after dunk in their 115-107 home victory over Minnesota. Washington scored 68 points — including 34 of its 45 made field goals — in the paint.

Washington tallied 18 dunks, per the play by play.

Minnesota looked a step slow for much of the night, as guys like Jarred Vanderbilt, Anthony Edwards and Jaylen Nowell played through illness.

The Wolves held Washington to 30-percent shooting on non-paint shots, but that didn’t matter much, because the Wizards were able to get the ball into the interior with such ease.

Washington attacked Minnesota’s point of attack pick-and-roll defense, using ball movement to find one easy look inside after another.

Minnesota relies on its wings to come down from the corner to serve as the “low man” protecting the paint on drives to the rim. That spot was rarely filled Wednesday.

“We didn’t have low man, and our weak side kept pulling out,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “I don’t know if it was fear of shooting or whatnot.”

Finch and Co. tried everything to shore up the paint defense, switching up coverages multiple times. That even included what looked to be a 1-2-2 zone late in the game. On the first possession of that look, Montrezl Harrell tallied another slam.

Harrell finished with 27 points on 11 for 12 shooting. Fellow center Daniel Gafford added 18 points and 10 rebounds on 7 for 10 shooting.

“I think guys were being a step slow. We were reacting a little late, I feel like pretty much on everything — low man, X outs, switching and stuff like that,” Vanderbilt said. “It caused a little confusion. I felt like we were so focused on the high wall, trying to contain (Wizards star guard Bradley Beal) that we opened up the roll a lot, and the roll got pretty fast, giving them a little lane. …They took advantage of that tonight.”

Minnesota was beat in every sense of the physicality battle. Improved rebounding had been the catalyst for the team’s recent run of success, but the Wizards outrebounded the Wolves 52-39 on Wednesday.

It got so bad that Finch turned to a three-man grouping of Karl-Anthony Towns, Naz Reid and Vanderbilt — Minnesota’s primary three bigs — on the floor at once late in the game to see if anyone could grab a board.

It still didn’t really happen.

“There was just too much space interior-wise, so guys were able to hop around and re-position themselves,” Finch said. “We didn’t hit first.”

Offensively, Washington single-covered Towns for much of the night, often with smaller defenders such as Kyle Kuzma. It was almost as if the Wizards were daring Towns to beat them.

He did for much of the night, finishing with 34 points on 11 for 25 shooting before exiting the game late after he slipped off the rim on a dunk and landed on his tailbone. Towns said his X-Rays were negative, and he felt “much better” after the game.

“I feel better than I thought I was going to feel. I was in extreme pain for sure. I don’t know how much I can divulge of it,” he said. “Just going to have to deal with it.”

Towns wouldn’t commit to playing Friday in Brooklyn, noting he’ll have to see how he feels Friday.

“I’m not going to rush it. I almost tried to go back in tonight,” Towns said. “I don’t know. I don’t know much it would’ve gave. But that’s the game of basketball. You got to keep fighting.”

In allowing Towns to go off, Washington (14-8) prevented Minnesota’s other players to get into a rhythm. D’Angelo Russell had an off night offensively, going 3 for 18 from the field, and 1 for 12 from deep.

“I thought he had clean looks early, and late I thought he was trying to make something happen out of nothing,” Finch said of Russell. “Shot selection in the fourth overall was not very good for us.”

The Wolves (11-11) shot just 30 percent from 3-point range as a team. Anthony Edwards finished with 25 points.

“For all the bad that happened tonight, I thought we gave ourselves a chance. Which is a good sign to know that even when we play probably some of our worst basketball of the year, we still felt we should’ve won the game and we were right there and we should’ve won,” Towns said. “Just minor things we have to clean up and we do that we’ll be in a better position.”

BRIEFLY

The Timberwolves’ ninth-annual broadcast auction raised more than $104,000 for the Fastbreak Foundation — a new record.

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