The Butcher Is Dead. What Comes Next for Iran? Plus. . .

Ben Kawaller wages class war at the Kentucky Derby. Scarlett Johansson rages against the machine. And more.

On today’s Front Page from The Free Press: Ben Kawaller tries to ruin the Kentucky Derby; River Page makes sense of the fight between OpenAI and Scarlett Johansson; Eli Lake has more exclusive reporting on the ICC’s charges against Israel’s leaders; Suzy Weiss asks why Big Tech is censoring Winslow Homer; and much more. 

But first, our lead story comes from Reuel Marc Gerecht, who asks how Ebrahim Raisi’s death will change Iran:

In the 24 hours after the unexpected death of the Islamic Republic’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, the following things happened: the BBC published a headline about his “mixed legacy,” the UN flew its flag at half-staff to honor him, and the U.S. Senate chaplain offered a prayer for him on the Senate floor. 

Such morally bankrupt responses would shock Iranians who launched fireworks in cities across the country after his death, took to social media to celebrate it, and handed out candy in the street. 

The question is whether the people celebrating on social media, and the ones keeping their disgust for the regime out of the limelight, can convulse the theocracy’s political system. In 50 days, according to Iranian law, the government must hold a presidential election. Will Iranians take to the streets in great numbers?

Never underestimate the Iranian people, who have consistently risen up over the last decade. The last regime-shaking protests were sparked by a young Kurdish Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, who died while she was in the custody of the morality police in 2022 for not wearing a headscarf. 

Given Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s success last year in violently suppressing those protests—at least 516 people were killed, almost 900 injured, and 20,000 jailed—the 85-year-old won’t be squeamish in crushing rallies that again challenge the theocracy’s legitimacy. Continue reading.

This week Ben Kawaller heads south to the Kentucky Derby, where he tries to foment revolution at the country’s most prestigious horse race. Watch his latest video and read his accompanying essay below. 

I was raised in a wealthy, liberal area of Brooklyn, which means that I did not grow up worrying about money, and that I atone for this sin by feeling terrible about it. I come from the milieu that produced the iconic image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the 2021 Met Gala wearing a designer dress that demanded “Tax the Rich.” Like the Democratic congresswoman, I wish to enjoy the finer things in life—and for that I am very, very sorry. 

So leave it to me, when I descended upon the Kentucky Derby earlier this month, to start asking everyone about wealth inequality. I wanted to know if anyone in this ostentatious and largely Republican crowd thought there was anything to the idea that America is anything less than a pure meritocracy.

My routine was to sidle up to some unsuspecting partygoer, make inoffensive small talk about our outfits, and then watch them edge steadily away from me as soon as I started feeling them out on tax policy. I soon discovered that politics at a horse race is about as welcome as flatulence at an orgy. 

Not that that stopped me from making everyone uncomfortable, even those who were nice to me. One man in the famed Millionaires Row seats guided me through placing a bet on a racehorse, only to be rewarded with: “Thank you. Now, do you come from money?” He elected not to answer. 

Not everyone was so reticent. I spoke to people from a range of backgrounds, including not just businessmen who’d inherited their fathers’ companies but people who’d grown up in poverty and achieved the American Dream. Their response generally went: If they could do it, can’t anyone?

I wanted to direct them to the neighborhood immediately surrounding Churchill Downs, where working-class residents sell food on the sidewalk or rent their driveways for parking space. Surprisingly, though, none of the six or seven working-class people I spoke with seemed all that interested in resenting the wealthy. 

I asked one woman who was selling dollar hot dogs in her front yard if she thinks a lot about wealth inequality. “I really don’t,” she told me. “I just live by my means.” I asked another food seller if she had any resentment toward rich people: “Nah, I just want them to come over here and spend some of that rich money with me.” Another woman, thrilled to be working as a server to the millionaires, seemed positively scandalized by my efforts to get her to indulge any class resentment. “We’re not going to talk about that,” she told me. “We’re going to talk about my joy. . . and about how I want to progress.”

Or, as one drunk college-aged girl I met in the infield put it, “Why are we focusing on the negative?” 

I asked her if she thought anyone so focused on the negative might have a point about. . . anything. She launched into a tirade, saying they just complain, “We don’t have this, we don’t have this, they have this, this is annoying.”

She said she has a different view. “We are living and we are breathing. That is a blessing. Enjoy it.” 

I asked this girl if she knew anyone in the pricier seats. She told me her parents were in Millionaires Row. 

  1. Trump’s lawyers rested their case without calling the former president as a witness on Tuesday. Closing arguments come next week, and then it’s over to the jury. Then, hopefully, it’s over for the rest of us. (Axios)

  2. There’s trouble in the French colonies. President Emmanuel Macron is making the daylong journey from Paris to New Caledonia today, in an attempt to quell violent riots on the Pacific archipelago—which started when his government decided to allow more recent French arrivals to vote in provincial elections there. I guess this is what the French would call post-colonialisme. (BBC)

  3. Democrats are in another spasm of panic about their presidential candidate’s reelection chances—and whether his unpopularity is hurting others. “We’ll see how much gravity we can defy,” said one senator of his Democratic colleagues in tough races. (The Hill

  4. Amid a new Russian offensive, more than 14,000 Ukrainians have been displaced from the Kharkiv region, according to the WHO. Kiev claims Russia has lost 1,500 troops in its so far unsuccessful attempt to seize Ukraine’s second largest city. (Kyiv Post

  5. Israel needs better friends, argues Richard Hanania. “The war in Gaza has captured the attention of the world because Israel, due to the kinds of tragic choices it must make, has emerged as the main avatar of Western civilization.” (Tablet

  6. Six percent of American adults, who now presumably weigh around 75 percent less, say they have used injectable weight-loss drugs. Of those who have used them, 64 percent say they are either effective or extremely effective. (Gallup

  7. Federal debt is up by nearly 50 percent since the start of the pandemic. Uncle Sam owes $34.5 trillion today, up $11 trillion from March 2020, and the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the number is set to rise by “an amount greater than at any point in the nation’s history.” Can we please figure out a way to make fiscal conservatism cool again? (CNBC

  8. Beijing has sanctioned Rep. Mike Gallagher and banned him from traveling to China. Gallagher was the main architect of the TikTok ban signed into law by Joe Biden last month. (Reuters) Read Rep. Gallagher’s essay for The Free Press, “Why Do Young Americans Support Hamas? Look at TikTok.” 

  9. “It’s time to make movies political again,” says the director of a Donald Trump biopic, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival yesterday to standing ovations. In one scene, the young Don commits marital rape—but, the director insisted, “I don’t necessarily think that this is a movie he would dislike.” The Trump campaign is threatening to sue. (Hollywood Reporter

  10. A portrait of the richest woman in Australia has been hung in the country’s National Gallery. It’s. . . provocative. Okay, it’s bad. It is very, very bad. So bad that the woman in question, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, has demanded it be taken down. Instead, it has gone viral. Behold. . .  (The Art Newspaper

Yesterday we reported on one of the many problems with International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan’s request for arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and defense minister. Namely, the fact that there is scant evidence of the “deliberate starvation” that forms the heart of the ICC’s case, and that Khan ignores abundant evidence that Hamas is hoarding food and medical supplies. 

Now, a new study published by the Hebrew University’s Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science, and Nutrition brings clarity to the contested question of food security in the Gaza strip. The working paper analyzed the adequacy of the food supply Israel has facilitated into Gaza since January. And the results are devastating to Khan’s case. 

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was conducted in conjunction with four other Israeli universities and the country’s ministry of health and found that “the quantity and quality of food delivered to Gaza have steadily improved and diversified since January 2024” and that “the food supply contains sufficient energy and protein for the population’s needs.” 

Specifically, the Israeli researchers found that on average, between January and April, 124 trucks carrying food and humanitarian aid entered Gaza per day. That adds up to 3,211 calories worth of nutrition per Gazan, per day. The World Health Organization standard for calorie consumption is 2,900 per day for average-sized men and 2,200 per day for average-sized women. 

“Contrary to claims that Israel has deliberately starved Gaza, Israel has gone to considerable lengths to facilitate food aid delivered to Gaza,” the authors write. 

One of those authors, Aron Troen, a professor of nutrition science and public health at Hebrew University, told The Free Press, “We wanted to understand what the reality was. To do so we obtained the registry of each and every truck that has entered Gaza through the two southern land routes from January to April.” 

Troen said that there were serious problems with a previous UN study on food security in Gaza, published in March, that claimed a famine was “imminent” in the northern part of the territory. For example, it did not examine the steps that Israel had taken to open humanitarian corridors and land routes into the territory. 

This raises an important question for Khan and the International Criminal Court. If it’s true, as World Food Program director Cindy McCain recently said, that there is a famine in northern Gaza, who is to blame? Israel has been allowing food to enter Gaza, but as I reported Tuesday, the Israelis have documented how that food is commandeered by Hamas and hoarded for its families. 

Troen said the group’s findings “raise significant questions about the failure of the international aid agencies to deliver the food and hold Hamas accountable for their disruption to distribution.” 

Perhaps Khan would have benefited from the insights in the new working paper. One Israeli defense official told The Free Press that his government is prepared to share the paper with the court’s investigators.

→ ScarJo vs. Sky: This week, Academy Award–nominated actress Scarlett Johansson accused OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, of stealing her voice to create an AI virtual assistant called “Sky.” According to Johansson, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman approached her nine months ago about licensing her voice to the company. She declined. Then, two days before the company launched the new version of ChatGPT, he asked again, but before she could respond, the company unveiled its new product, complete with a voice Johansson says is “so eerily similar” to her own. After Johansson complained, OpenAI took down “Sky.” 

For an argument about the use of cutting-edge technology, the Johansson-Altman bust-up evokes a case from the 1980s, says Taylor Barkley, director of public policy at the Abundance Institute, a think tank that specializes in AI and other emerging technologies. In the 1980s, Ford wanted to use Bette Midler’s voice in an advertisement. When she declined, they hired a Midler impersonator. “The court decided in Midler’s favor, given the facts leading up to the use of likeness.” 

In other words, intent is crucial. And while Open AI denies it sought to imitate Johansson, Altman’s case isn’t helped by the fact that, on May 13, just a few days before the new product’s release, he cryptically tweeted the word Her—in an apparent reference to the 2013 film starring Johansson as an AI chatbot who falls in love with Joaquin Phoenix. (Most normal people see the film as a lonely, dystopian comment on a world fueled by AI, but our tech overlords apparently feel differently.) 

“The fact pattern of OpenAI approaching Scarlett Johansson, her declining, you know, at least twice. And then there’s that tweet that Sam Altman still has up. I think those things are what could tip the scales in Scarlett Johansson’s favor,” says Barkley. Not that anyone is suing anyone just yet. 

But can old rules keep up with AI technology developing at breakneck speed? In a world beset by deep fakes, it’s an important question that matters to ordinary people as well as rich and famous actors like Johansson. 

A number of states have passed legislation banning deep fake porn specifically. And Congress is currently considering the No AI Fraud Act, which, as Barkley explains, “says in general that every individual has a property right in their own likeness and voice.” Altman and his colleagues at OpenAI are pressing ahead with new technology. As for the rest of us, Barkley says: “We’re all figuring this out together, I think culturally and from a policy and legal standpoint.” —River Page

Big Tech vs. Winslow Homer: Claudia Strauss-Schulson has been running Schulson Autographs, which sells historical documents like letters signed by presidents or a doodle by Marlon Brando, for around 15 years. Strauss-Schulson, speaking to me from Millburn, New Jersey, tells me she was “flabbergasted” when she got an alert that Google—her site is optimized for the search engine, meaning would-be buyers are shown her products in their results—had flagged a small sketch of a Confederate soldier by the artist Winslow Homer as “dangerous or derogatory content.” 

The alert advised: “Update your products to ensure a safe and positive experience for customers,” and went on, “Products that display shocking content or promote hatred, intolerance, discrimination, or violence are not allowed.” The note said the breach meant the sketch would be prevented from showing “in all countries,” though the work is still searchable via third parties, like the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America

Strauss-Schulson thinks the small sketch, which reads, “Winslow Homer, New York, March 4, 1869,” was flagged, possibly by a bot, because she labeled it “Winslow Homer Sketch of a Confederate Soldier Signed.” She has not updated her original listing and notes that the sketch is hardly hardcore Confederacy-worshipping propaganda, and far from the most shocking thing for sale online. There isn’t even a Confederate flag in the image. 

“To me it looks like a universal soldier who’s looking right at you about the horrors and sadness of war,” says Strauss-Schulson. 

Strauss-Schulson has a collection of Homer sketches and drawings that she’s acquired over the years. The nineteenth-century artist was born in Boston and is known for his landscape and maritime scenes. One of his most famous oil paintings, Prisoners from the Front, from 1866, likewise depicts Confederate soldiers captured by a Union general. Homer, at 25, was embedded with Union troops during the war, on assignment with Harper’s Weekly Illustrated. He sent his drawings to the magazine’s New York office, where engravers translated his work from the field onto wood to be mass printed for the magazine’s 200,000 subscribers. 

“These are the documents upon which history gets written. This would be a beautiful thing to have in a high school textbook to illustrate the Civil War,” says Strauss-Schulson, who calls the entire episode “odd.” She adds, “I know what other people sell, and this doesn’t come close.” —Suzy Weiss

Leon recommends Love’s 1967 album “Forever Changes”: It’s the greatest album you’ve never heard of and sounds like everything and nothing of its time. 

Melanie has a restaurant recommendation for anyone planning a trip to Charleston, SC: Everyone eats at all the buzzy joints downtown but one of the best, most consistent restaurants in Charleston is The Royal Tern on Johns Island. They have you at hello with A+ biscuits and homemade dinner rolls. The grilled shrimp garlic bucatini is always my favorite bite of the month, and the bar is always well stocked. 

What should Free Pressers be eating, drinking, listening to, watching, reading, wearing, or doing this summer? Send your recommendations to

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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