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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2017
November
22
Wednesday

The wheels of justice can turn slowly at times. But they do turn.

Take the case of the “Butcher of Bosnia.” As Yugoslavia violently broke up a quarter-century ago, a Bosnian Serb commander was working with deadly efficiency in places whose names resonate tragically: Srebrenica, Sarajevo. The ethnic cleansing campaign that Ratko Mladic helped orchestrate against Bosnian Muslims would ultimately kill some 100,000 people. Mr. Mladic escaped after the war to Serbia but was ultimately tracked down and extradited to The Hague.

Today, five years after his trial began, a United Nations tribunal found Mladic guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and sentenced him to life in prison.

The Monitor broke the story of the Srebrenica massacre that killed more than 7,000 men and boys. David Rohde, the Monitor’s Balkans correspondent at the time, garnered a Pulitzer Prize and several other awards for his courageous and  “persistent on-site reporting.”

Persistence comes up repeatedly amid the search for accountability, be it related to the Bosnian conflict, ISIS crimes against the Yazidis, or what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today called ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar. People methodically document the unthinkable, building a case for a moment they trust will come. They often work at personal peril, motivated by their conviction that atrocity must not remain unexposed, and that sensibilities can shift.

As the Monitor’s Robert Marquand reported in 2011: Mladic’s arrest came “amid key changes in international and Serbian thinking – ranging from the killing of Osama bin Laden, to the Arab Spring…. [I]n the end, Mladic … may have been too great a liability for a country whose new generations seek to join Europe and emerge from isolation....”

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And now to the five stories we chose for you today, showing civic spirit, persistence, and preparedness at work. 

1. In the days between presidents, Zimbabweans think big

As Zimbabweans contemplate a future without former President Robert Mugabe, their dreams shed light on how citizens define good – and democratic – governance. 

Amelia
Supporters of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who is expected to become Zimbabwe's new president and is known as 'The Crocodile,' pay tribute as they cheer at Manyame Air Base in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 22. Robert Mugabe resigned as president 'with immediate effect' Tuesday after 37 years in power, shortly after Parliament began impeachment proceedings against him.
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Ben Curtis/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadDuring each of her pregnancies, Bekezela Moyo patiently packed the many things hospitals could not provide: bedsheets and food for herself, hand soap and gloves for the nurses. The lack of supplies was just one sign of economic devastation under President Robert Mugabe, whose 37-year rule came to a stunning end Tuesday night. A thousand kilometers away in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Ms. Moyo now lives, she heard the shriek of party horns and the staccato pop of fireworks: the sounds of fellow migrants celebrating. She herself was skeptical. The next president, after all, will be Mr. Mugabe’s former deputy, a career-long loyalist – hardly a recipe for radical political change. But like many Zimbabweans in this strange moment, suspended between the country’s past and future, she allowed herself a flickering moment of hope for the Zimbabwe to be. Things could change, she thought. Things could be better.

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1. In the days between presidents, Zimbabweans think big

This time 37 years ago, the Moyo family had a lot to celebrate.

Their country, Zimbabwe, became independent that April, and to great international fanfare it inaugurated its first prime minister – a charming and bookish former freedom fighter named Robert Mugabe.

Then, barely four months later, the family rejoiced for a second time – at the birth of their daughter.

They named her Bekezela, an Ndebele word meaning patience.

In the course of her life, that has proven to be a virtue Ms. Moyo has often needed, as she lived through the transformation of the bright Zimbabwe of her childhood into something far dimmer.

She has called on that patience each time she handed over an entire month’s earnings to pay her children’s school fees – all, she thought bitterly, so they could attend schools that were a shadow of the one she graduated from two decades ago. And she has been patient during each of her pregnancies as she packed the many things the hospital could not provide – bed sheets and food for herself; needles, hand soap, and gloves for the nurses.

She called on her namesake virtue, too, on the crossing from Zimbabwe to South Africa, as the Limpopo River sloshed up to her chest and she prayed hard that she would not see a crocodile. And she was patient once again in the following weeks as she walked for miles from hair salon to hair salon in downtown Johannesburg asking if they had any openings for a stylist.

But on Tuesday night, there was suddenly one important thing she didn’t have to be patient about anymore.

As lawmakers in Zimbabwe’s parliament debated a motion to impeach Mr. Mugabe – whose stunning fall from power began when army tanks moved quietly into the capital early last week – the country’s justice minister suddenly rushed towards the stage with a letter in his hand. He whispered something to Parliament’s speaker, Jacob Mudenda, who opened the note and, smiling broadly, began to read.

“I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 (1) of the constitution of Zimbabwe,” he began, “hereby formally tender my resignation as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe with immediate effect.”

The chamber erupted. Outside, within minutes, it seemed a country-wide dance party had begun, as Zimbabweans flooded public spaces in jubilant celebration. A thousand kilometers away, Moyo heard the shriek of vuvuzelas and the staccato pop of fireworks exploding outside the window of her Johannesburg apartment. Below, entire blocks of the inner city – an area popular with migrants – had broken into a spontaneous block party.

Moyo herself was skeptical. The next Zimbabwean president, after all, will be Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy and a career-long loyalist of his party, ZANU-PF, who will be sworn in Friday. Mugabe’s removal was set in motion by an early November political purge in which Mr. Mnangagwa himself was fired – a sign to many that the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, was positioned to inherit his rule – but his rise hardly seems a recipe for radical political change.

But like many Zimbabweans, in this strange moment of suspension between the country’s past and its future – between Mugabe and whatever happens next – Moyo allowed herself a flickering moment of hope for the Zimbabwe to be.

Things could change, she thought.  Things could be better.

Basic aspirations

Indeed, as analysts the world over scramble to guess at the country’s path post-Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s citizens are imagining their own – taking stock of hopes that, in many cases, they long ago gave up believing could become reality.  

For some, that means thinking seriously for the first time about what life might be like under a democracy, where presidents come and go at the whim of voters.

Many in Zimbabwe, indeed, are optimistic that changes in the region in the last four decades will mean their next leader will be forced to be more accountable than their last one. Mugabe was the last remaining African president from the independence era, a strongman who ruled in some ways in the mold of the colonial government that preceded him – by violently crushing dissent and muzzling civil society. (In a recent statement on Zimbabwe’s crisis, Amnesty International placed the number of people “tortured, forcibly disappeared or killed” by the Mugabe regime in the “tens of thousands.”) He also routinely rigged elections and, in the early 2000s, set Zimbabwe’s economy into freefall when his government seized most of the country’s commercial farms – which were largely white-owned – in a campaign to return land to black Zimbabweans.

“I envision a future of responsible, credible leaders, regardless of their liberation war credentials,” says Presia Ngulube, a political activist in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s “second city,” who notes that the country’s youths have become increasingly important in politics in recent years. “We need a government that has love for the people and helps make their lives better.”

But many Zimbabweans also have hopes for the future that are several degrees more basic – a revealing window into just how far the country has fallen under Mugabe’s nearly-four decade rule.

“I just hope there will be more jobs for people,” says Priscilla Dlomo, who works part-time as a maid in Johannesburg.

Several years ago, she says, she came home to her family’s house in Bulawayo to find her parents collecting stacks of her old clothes. They were preparing, they told her, to take them out to the countryside to barter with farmers for corn. They still had money – trillions of dollars in fact – but rampant hyperinflation meant that it shrunk in value between morning and the afternoon of the same day, and anyway, there was almost nothing left in the stores to buy.

So when she imagines the Zimbabwe she would like her daughter, now 18, to live in, it’s simply a place where such humiliations are a distant memory.

“For her I’d like to see her be able to finish school and to find a good job,” she says. “So she can have an easier life than mine.”

Even for ardent supporters of Mugabe, of which there remain many in Zimbabwe, the prospect of change is in some ways a refreshing one.

“We have a new leader who is willing to work with every Zimbabwean,” says Gift Muchena, a ZANU-PF supporter and informal trader in Harare, speaking of Mr. Mnangagwa. Mr. Muchena says that toward the end of Mugabe’s rule, even supporters like himself recognized that pointed political infighting in the party had prevented them from always ruling effectively. “We are looking forward to a rejuvenated ZANU.”

For now, all of these possible futures still jostle for space. There is no longer a President Mugabe here, and there is not yet a President Mnangagwa. There is only Zimbabwe – cautious, hopeful, and unsure.

“I feel good about the future,” says Ms. Dlomo, the maid in Johannesburg. “As long as Mugabe is gone, I think things will improve for all of us.”

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2. A billionaire’s fight to break the cycle of poverty in Oklahoma

George Kaiser feels morally driven to better serve low-income children. To him, that means shaping a long-term commitment that frees children from responsibility for the circumstances of their birth and honors their inherent drive to learn.

Amelia
George Kaiser sits for story time with Elijah, a student at one of the preschools that the philanthropist opened in Tulsa, Okla.
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Ann Hermes/Staff
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIf it seems as though George Kaiser is everywhere in Tulsa, Okla., it’s because he is. The philanthropist is involved in preschools and elementary schools, industrial parks and recreational parks, parenting classes and rehab programs. Across the United States, private money is being aimed at problems that were once the purview of government. Mr. Kaiser’s foundation has given away more than $1 billion over the past decade, much of it in Tulsa. “A vibrant community can provide better for all members of the community,” Kaiser says, “and there are certain things you need to be a vibrant community.” Now his foundation wants to target every poor child born in Tulsa, from birth until third grade, so that a patchwork of programs becomes a seamless quilt. A national network of philanthropists is chipping in. “They’re making a very big bet in one community,” says one foundation head, “on a comprehensive strategy that can be truly transformative.” (Note: The expanded version of this story also includes a short video.)

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2. A billionaire’s fight to break the cycle of poverty in Oklahoma

Inside a sun-splashed classroom, George Kaiser folds his lanky frame into a tiny plastic chair next to a blue mat. For the dozen-plus 3- and 4-year-olds sitting on the mat in various stages of squirming, it’s afternoon story time.

Mr. Kaiser is the billionaire benefactor behind this and other preschools for the poorest children in Tulsa, Okla., and he’s the reason why this classroom looks the way it does – cozy nooks, fairy lights, play kitchens, books everywhere – and has two certified early education teachers. As one of them reads “The Gingerbread Man,” Kaiser’s face has the rapt look of a child waiting for the page to turn.

He’s been here before. He’s brought US lawmakers and presidential candidates into the classroom and plied them with data showing the effect of early education on at-risk kids.

Still, he never seems to tire of the attentive faces, the happy hubbub. One of the kids, a smiley African-American boy in a striped polo shirt, is too antsy to sit for long, so he gets up and runs over to the tall visitor in the gray suit, who stretches out his arms for a hug. The boy leans into Kaiser’s lap, and the two listen to the story of a runaway cookie’s comeuppance.

Cheryl Remache, a local mother, recalls a similarly personal encounter she had with Kaiser. A few years ago, she broke down and sobbed at a preschool board meeting because one of Kaiser’s schools had taken in her two autistic sons. He came over and hugged her. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without him,” says Ms. Remache, her eyes tearing up again. 

Her younger son, Jayden, is now in sixth grade and a member of his school’s debating team. Remache says the preschool was the building block that helped him succeed. “This is not a drop-off babysitter. This is education,” she says.

If it seems as if Kaiser is everywhere in this former “oil capital of the world,” helping and hugging people, it’s because he is. The deep-pocketed philanthropist is involved in preschools and elementary schools, industrial parks and recreational parks, artists’ lofts and folk-singer museums, parenting classes and prisoner rehabilitation programs. He has, in fact, turned Tulsa into perhaps the country’s most ambitious test bed for the power of philanthropy to tackle poverty at its roots.

Across the United States, millionaires and billionaires are increasingly stepping in with private money to try to solve problems that were once largely or exclusively the purview of government. In Detroit, philanthropic dollars helped build a streetcar system. In Kalamazoo, Mich., donors are underwriting college tuition programs. Elsewhere, philanthropists are funding the mapping of all cells in the human body to try to stamp out disease and pouring money into preventing obesity.

Yet few if any of today’s megadonors are involved in as many programs targeting the poor in one city as is Kaiser. The oil and gas industrialist believes that every child deserves a chance to succeed and that effectively spent charitable dollars – his and others’ – can unlock their potential. His foundation has given away more than $1 billion over the past decade, almost all of it in Tulsa. 

“God bless George Kaiser. That’s all I can say,” says Dewey Bartlett Jr., a former two-term mayor of the city. 

Kaiser’s next act will be his most audacious. Over the next decade, his foundation wants to target every poor child born in Tulsa, from birth until third grade, so that a patchwork of public programs – prenatal care, parenting classes, child care – becomes a seamless quilt. The strategy reads like a welfare program from Denmark. But it’s being piloted in the reddest of red states, where limited government is a way of life. 

Funding will also come from a national network of philanthropists eager to see if Kaiser’s model works. “They’re making a very big bet in one community on a comprehensive strategy that can be truly transformative,” says Nancy Roob, chief executive officer of the New York-based Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. “It’s one of the most robust of its kind anywhere in the United States.” 

The idea behind all these efforts – fighting poverty with philanthropic wealth – is one that holds great promise in an era of dazzling private fortunes, yawning economic inequality, and public-sector austerity. But it comes with caveats: greater reliance on the whims of the wealthy and a potential erosion of oversight by elected officials. It also raises the question of what happens to poor communities that don’t have a rich benefactor.

Is Kaiser a glimpse of salvation for America or just a saintly anomaly in one city? 

Kaiser is a tall man with a thinning shock of gray hair, an irrepressible demeanor, and a patrician air. To hear him tell it, in his Great Plains drawl, his generosity stems from “Jewish guilt” and a debt of gratitude owed to Tulsa. His father, Herman Kaiser, a German judge disbarred by the Nazis, immigrated here in 1940. Herman joined his uncle’s oil and gas company, which became Kaiser-Francis Oil. George was born two years later, the first US citizen in the family. 

Growing up in Tulsa, George sensed the social change in the air. Public schools were desegregating; “colored only” signs were coming down. The whites-only country club invited Jews to join. Herman refused, believing it was a token gesture, and George hasn’t forgotten it. “I’m still uncomfortable going there,” he says. 

George went to Harvard University and studied politics and international relations. He briefly considered a diplomatic career. Instead he went to business school and in 1966 moved back to Tulsa to join the family firm. Three years later his father suddenly fell ill (he would live another 23 years). George took over the company and led it through the turbulent ’70s.

But it was banking that catapulted Kaiser into the ranks of America’s richest. In 1991, he bought a Tulsa bank that was in federal receivership, one of dozens of failed lenders. Having served on its board, Kaiser knew it had potential and he led the revival of what became the Bank of Oklahoma. At the time, it had $1.8 billion in assets. Today it has $33 billion, and Kaiser is its largest shareholder. Bloomberg estimates his net worth at $12.5 billion. 

Kaiser’s shift to philanthropy came gradually, from writing checks to local charities to setting up a community foundation in 1998. In the past, Tulsa had “a lot of major corporations and a lot of wealthy people, largely in the oil and gas industry. Those people had moved to Houston or retired,” he says. Kaiser began thinking about the most effective way to help the city’s disadvantaged residents. 

By this time, he had read new medical research into brain development. He began to ask, what if the biggest barriers to social mobility are in plain sight, waiting to be broken down? Could this help to repair the American dream of equal opportunity for all?

The key conclusion, says Kaiser, is that experience determines the development of cognitive and social and emotional abilities in children. “What that means is that rich, smart parents have rich, smart kids not because of genetics but because they also hold their kids and read to their kids and put mobiles over their cribs,” he says. “What that means is that you can fix it.” 

He smiles. “I don’t have epiphanies, but that’s as close to an epiphany as I came.” 

This led Kaiser to scour the country for state-of-the-art programs to provide intensive nurturing to poor children from as young as 6 weeks. In 2006, Tulsa opened its first Educare, a nonprofit preschool, paid for by the philanthropist. The city now has three, and a fourth will open in 2019. Most of the teachers come from early education programs at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa and Tulsa Community College, programs underwritten by Kaiser. 

Each Educare has fewer than 200 students grouped in small classrooms taught by specialists. They have the look and feel of a private preschool in an elite ZIP Code. But every child is at or below the poverty line, and on Fridays, as nap mats are stowed in cubbyholes, paper bags of donated food are discreetly left for the neediest to take home. A sign on the wall reads, “Embrace. Empower. Evolve.”

Kaiser had settled on his first antipoverty fix. But his philanthropy would keep evolving.

It’s opening night at Tulsa’s annual film festival. Inside the lobby of a restored 1920s theater, Nathan Young, a bearded man in a faded denim shirt, stands in front of a blank screen. “I want to thank everyone for coming tonight,” he says, blinking at the modest crowd.

On the exposed brick walls hang several large photographs of Native American men whose eyes are blacked out, surrounded by objects used in peyote rituals. Mr. Young explains that the images are part of “Infinite Peyote Road,” a multimedia show that reimagines the persecution of the sacred.

Young is a Tulsa Artist Fellow, which entitles him to housing and studio space downtown and a $20,000 stipend, all underwritten by the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF). “Cities thrive on artists,” says Julia White, who runs the fellowship. “They’re the social activists, the creators who go out into the community.” 

The fellowship is one item in Kaiser’s expanding cultural portfolio. As a patron of the arts – a familiar role for philanthropists – he is more wildcatter than Medici, exploring for a cultural cachet that can help Tulsa outrun other hardscrabble heartland cities in attracting young talent. 

Sure, other cities may have baristas and bike lanes, yoga studios and hiking trails. But do they have the Woody Guthrie Center? An archive of his music? A repository for Bob Dylan’s works? A 100-acre riverfront park with adventure playgrounds and a boating lake? Tulsa does, or soon will, thanks to Kaiser. 

The Bob Dylan Archive, acquired by GKFF last year for a reported $20 million, will eventually open to the public at a downtown site near the Woody Guthrie Center. (Mr. Dylan, who idolized Guthrie, visited the center last year.) For now Dylan’s trove of notebooks, films, and recordings are housed at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa and open to scholars and Dylanologists. 

Kaiser is not one of them (“I predated both the political and the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll time” at college, he says). He likes the social justice message in Dylan’s songs, but he’s buying into him as a means to an end: making Tulsa the next hub of Americana cool. And that, in turn, is good for the economic prospects of the city’s neediest households. 

“A vibrant community can provide better for all members of the community, and there are certain things you need to be a vibrant community,” he says.

GKFF has even bought derelict land in North Tulsa and worked with the city to develop it and look for investors to build factories, hoping to generate jobs and training for local residents. It’s an unusual role for a charitable foundation: economic development agency. 

A Gathering Place for Tulsa, a park for families with everything from a giant ‘Reading Tree’ to fly-fishing fountains, is being built with major private funding.
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Courtesy of Nick Goodwin

While cities from New York to Detroit have tapped private donors to build public parks, none compare in scope and generosity to A Gathering Place for Tulsa. GKFF alone has committed $200 million in land and capital to design, build, and run the park. It has raised an additional $150 million in private donations to go along with a $65 million investment in public infrastructure.

Today the site is still a blur of diggers, dirt berms, and half-built playgrounds. Giant castles and animals loom over curving pathways. Kaiser reckons that American kids are too cosseted from risk-taking play and has imported equipment from Germany that will no doubt excite injury lawyers. There are also mirrored mazes, a massive cottonwood “Reading Tree,” and flying-fish fountains. 

Kaiser loves that kids from across the city will mix at the park. It’s another selling point for Tulsa, which helped him tap corporate donors. But he still hesitates at the ballooning cost, the dollars not going to programs that directly improve a poor child’s well-being. 

“I can’t really justify it,” he says. 

Other donors might sit back and bask in the civic acclaim. Kaiser, who works 95-hour weeks, is too busy looking at spreadsheets to see if the data support his programs’ goals, whether it’s time to invest more or cut funding. That arithmetic is what drives his philanthropy, he says, not the warm buzz of story time in a classroom. “Without evidence, it’s an emotional response,” he says.

Indeed, Kaiser possesses a restless mind. He reads widely, from medical journals to economic surveys, and displays an uncanny recall of historical facts and granular data, all salted into analytical sentences delivered with a professorial tone. He has the air of a striver who knows he’s one of the smartest guys in town, but who still stops to ask: But what if I’m wrong?

Kaiser applies a cost-benefit lens to his own lifestyle, too: He usually flies coach, wears a $12 watch, and hunts for a cut-rate hotel room. Forbes called him “one of the world’s most understated billionaires.” Susie Buffett, a philanthropist who led Kaiser to Educare (Nebraska, where she lives, now has three), says he is “cut from the same cloth” as her famously unflashy father, Warren Buffett. “My father is a huge George fan,” she says. 

Ms. Roob says Kaiser’s analytical bent comes with a dose of empathy. “What it takes to make someone effective in philanthropy is having the right partnership of head and heart,” she says. 

Ebonie Carroll (l.), Kelsey Lipp (c.), and Shay Veloquio (r.) chop ingredients during a cooking class at Women in Recovery, a treatment program for nonviolent female offenders in Tulsa.
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Ann Hermes/Staff

Educare came too late to Tulsa for Kelsey Lipp. As an infant, she was neglected by her teen mother, who struggled with methamphetamine addiction, and abused by her father and stepfather. “I couldn’t trust anyone,” she says. “I knew I had to take care of myself.” At age 14, she ran away from home and was held for more than a year by a man who, she says, repeatedly forced her to have sex. 

After her escape, she hid the truth from her family, dropped out of school, and turned to drugs. At 19, she found out she was HIV-positive, which led her deeper into meth addiction. “I felt my life was over,” she says. To feed her habit, she stole. Last July, a botched home robbery led to her being shot in the leg while driving away. In February she was arrested at her grandparents’ house. “I knew I was going to jail and I was angry about it,” she says. 

Today Ms. Lipp, who is 22, is out of jail and enrolled in Women in Recovery, an 18-month program of drug rehab, therapy, and life skills and career training. Oklahoma leads the country in locking up women, mostly for drug-related offenses. By focusing on mothers facing prison sentences, the program tries to both rescue the women and prevent their children from taking the same path.

Kaiser started the program in 2009. He likes to point to the subsequent drop in Tulsa’s female prison admissions, compared with the statewide trend, as a measure of its efficacy. It’s also a much cheaper alternative than locking people up, given the lower rate of repeat offenses by women who stick with the program. 

The initiative has gotten government buy-in: In April, Oklahoma signed a “pay for success” contract that will reimburse Women in Recovery for each individual it rehabilitates. State officials praised the arrangement as beneficial to taxpayers, especially at a time of “fiscal duress.” 

A decade of tax cuts and fitful economic growth has resulted in nearly $1.2 billion in state budget cuts. Oklahoma’s per-student K-12 spending has shrunk by more than one-fifth, the deepest of any state, and dozens of schools have adopted four-day weeks to save money. The state is still struggling to fill a $215 million budget deficit in 2017-18.

For philanthropists making ambitious investments in helping the poor, such austerity poses a dilemma. Simply put, there’s not enough private capital to replace public dollars. And the long-held idea of philanthropists as risk-taking pioneers – what Kaiser calls the “R&D shop” for government – seems to work best when policymakers are willing to step up and fund worthwhile initiatives. 

In 2010, Kaiser signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign led by Bill Gates and Mr. Buffett to persuade the ultrarich to give away most of their money. Like Buffett, he has called for higher taxes on the wealthy. Once a registered Republican, Kaiser swung hard to the Democratic side and raised money for the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Tyson Fowler, who attended a Kaiser-funded preschool, now goes to a magnet school in Tulsa.
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Ann Hermes/Staff

The ultimate test of how much his money can help the poor may come with his Birth through Eight Strategy for Tulsa. Since Educare and other quality preschools don’t have enough places to serve all of the city’s impoverished children, Kaiser wants to build out a continuum of social services to ensure that more kids are born and raised in nurturing homes.

About half of all students in Tulsa public schools enter first grade behind in math and reading. The program aims to increase kindergarten readiness and third-grade test scores. Advocates will start by targeting expectant mothers with prenatal programs and connect them with services for their children. Within a decade, it hopes to serve 32,000 low-income kids. GKFF is providing most of the estimated $200 million in private funding, along with Blue Meridian Partners, a network of individuals and foundations to which GKFF belongs. 

Once implemented, GKFF believes the program will become a national model. Kaiser sees it as a way to give back to Tulsa, and, because the initiative is local, he can measure its results better than, say, those of a health-care project in India. 

And Kaiser does like to gauge the results of his giving. He is not like many megadonors: He doesn’t just give money and then let others run their do-gooder projects. Both he and his staff at GKFF go deep into the operational weeds, designing, testing, and tweaking programs, and collecting data.

When the foundation opened the first Educare, Kaiser himself picked out the carpet colors and paints. “Attention to detail is a hallmark of George’s,” says Steven Dow, executive director of CAP Tulsa, a nonprofit that runs other Kaiser-funded preschools.

That engagement and the sheer breadth of Kaiser’s business and philanthropic interests has burnished his image as Tulsa’s kingmaker. It also means a steady stream of supplicants to his door inspired to “go talk to George,” as he puts it, about a project or investment. Yet none of Kaiser’s projects are named after him. There is no George Kaiser school in Tulsa. This is both modesty – “I don’t need a legacy,” he says – and savvy marketing: It allows him to sell naming rights to other donors. 

Kaiser says he works hard to involve other private and public players so that his pledges don’t become an excuse for politicians to shirk their responsibilities. Local officials say Tulsa is fortunate to have Kaiser and other local benefactors, but insist that the boundaries between public and private sectors should remain clear, too. “There’s a tendency in the community that every need that people see that they don’t know how to pay for, well, we should just talk to the Kaiser [Family] Foundation,” says G.T. Bynum, Tulsa’s mayor. “But if it’s something that the city should be paying for, then I think the city should pay for it.” 

As Kaiser spends down his vast fortune, the debate over his impact on Tulsa is likely to grow. The strategies that his foundation pursues, from prenatal services and early childhood education to criminal justice and cultural tourism, may have equal if not greater weight than any bond issue or city council resolution. Should Kaiser take a wrong turn, Tulsa presumably would, too. 

That tension between the vision of big donors and the fortunes of the communities they’re supporting is as old as philanthropy itself. Compared with politicians, the ultrarich are freer to put bold ideas into practice, for better or worse. “It’s like electricity: Great wealth can burn your house down or make the lights go on,” says Paul Schervish, professor emeritus at Boston College and an expert on charitable giving.

Kaiser believes that he can make the lights go on in Tulsa. It might just take a generation before the children growing up today – including those sitting on a blue mat in a preschool – will see the effects on their lives.

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3. Attuned to temblors: the push for better earthquake forecasting

How can communities plan for an unknown threat? Seismologists say forecasts work best when they spark action, not fear.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadAftershocks of an announcement at last month’s geological conference rippled through the press this week. A pair of seismologists reported that they had found a new way to forecast earthquakes – and suggested that we were about to move into a high-quake period beginning in 2018. This forecast isn't meant to scare anyone, says one of the geoscientists. “We actually would like to empower communities to be safer and more responsive to their context, not to terrify people for these years.” Helping communities plan for earthquakes has been a constant challenge. Unlike hurricanes, they don't telegraph their arrival days ahead of time. But advances in long-term forecasting and early detection have likely already helped save lives. In Japan and Mexico, early warning systems alert communities at risk and trigger industrial systems to shut down and transit systems to slow trains at the first sign of a quake. The US Geological Survey is piloting a similar system for the earthquake-prone West Coast of the United States.

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3. Attuned to temblors: the push for better earthquake forecasting

It usually begins with a normal day. People go about their business: running errands, attending class, or going to work. Birds sing, dogs bark, and trees blow in the wind. Then suddenly the ground lurches, buildings quiver on their foundations, unstable structures crack and crumble. Within seconds, the humdrum of daily life has been shaken and irrevocable damage has been done. Lives can be lost, sometimes in the thousands.

Earthquakes surprise their victims. And any attempts to predict them remain on shaky ground. Pinpointing precisely when, where, and with how much magnitude a specific earthquake will occur is impossible, most seismologists agree.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing scientists can do to help communities anticipate earthquakes. Forecasting efforts that calculate the probability that an earthquake will occur in the near future can prompt municipalities to revisit emergency and preparedness plans. And more immediately, early warning systems can buy communities valuable seconds to brace for incoming seismic ripples.

One attempt to provide a long-term forecast came last month when a pair of seismologists suggested a possible earthquake forecast at the Geological Society of America annual meeting. The team spotted a pattern in historical data that suggests that 2018 and the following four years could bring an increase of earthquakes over magnitude 7 globally.

This forecast isn’t meant to scare anyone, says Rebecca Bendick, a geoscientist at the University of Montana in Missoula and one of the researchers behind the latest forecast. “We actually would like to empower communities to be safer and more responsive to their context, not to terrify people for these years.” 

Getting a handle on the big picture

The tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust are constantly shifting atop the planet’s liquid mantle. But the plates don’t always slide past each other with ease. Instead, their edges stick together, much like zippers or seams. The movement of the plates puts pressure on the crust around these seams, forcing it to bend elastically. But that stress builds up over time, and the seams can only take so much pressure before they give in, letting loose that stress in the form of an earthquake.

Unlike forecasting a hurricane, for example, by directly observing atmospheric pressures in a region, scientists cannot directly measure how much stress the crust is under. Faults are generally too deep beneath the Earth’s surface. But researchers can use an indirect approach. Satellite data, for example, can show how tectonic plates are moving. Scientists can use that data to calculate how much pressure has built up at a fault since its last temblor.

“We know something’s going to happen because we can see this stress building up on the fault plane” in the model, explains Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismology Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. But this doesn’t give scientists a specific day, week, or even month when that pressure might erupt. Instead, it simply hints that an earthquake might be impending over the next handful of decades.

The new hypothesis put forth by Professor Bendick and her colleague, Roger Bilham, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, looks at forecasting from a global perspective rather than forecasting for individual faults and considers whether there might be a calculable cycle of global upswings in large quakes.

Bendick and Professor Bilham looked at the history of earthquakes over a magnitude of 7 (like September’s Mexico City quake) over the past century, and they found an interesting pattern, correlated with another planetary cycle: variation in the Earth's rotation.

The Earth's rotation is known to undergo a slight change (just a few milliseconds per day) in its rotation rate over a multi-decade cycle. This shift doesn’t affect our daily lives, but it does slightly change the shape of the Earth. As the Earth’s rotation speeds up, the equator expands ever so slightly. As the Earth slows, the equator shrinks. The scientists think the added stress of that distortion might add an extra little nudge of pressure on tectonic plates that pushes faults that are already on the verge of an earthquake over the edge. Alternately, they propose, the mantle and crust of the Earth respond to the slowdown differently, and that distinction adds a similar nudge of pressure.

When the scientists compared the timing of this cyclical slowdown with historic increases in large earthquakes, they noticed that there tended to be more temblors near the time of the Earth's slowest rotation rate. The planet is currently in the midst of such a rotational slow down, prompting Bendick and Bilham to forecast a corresponding uptick in earthquakes.

According the scientists’ calculations, the likelihood of magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes is roughly 25 to 30 percent higher during the next five years, particularly around the equator. Their hypothesis has yet to be published and is undergoing peer review, but if it holds up, it could be another tool in forecasters’ toolboxes. They hope their research will help earthquake-prone regions near the equator prepare their infrastructure and emergency response systems to be more resilient in the event of a quake.

Buying critical seconds

On a shorter timescale, researchers and governments are working together to detect the first grumblings of an earthquake and alert communities that might be affected. Earthquake early warning systems use seismometers (instruments that measure motion in the ground) to pick up initial ground shaking. That signal is then processed to confirm that it is an earthquake, before triggering an alert. The whole process can take four or five seconds, or even fewer.

Seismic waves do not instantly affect everyone when a quake occurs, they propagate outward like the waves created by a stone dropped in a still lake. So for communities away from the epicenter of an earthquake, early warning systems could add valuable seconds or even up to a minute of time to prepare for the incoming quake.

But what can a few mere seconds do in such an immediate crisis situation?

Actually, a lot, says Bob de Groot of the U.S. Geological Survey. For individuals, even a few seconds of warning can buy time to move to a safe location, duck, cover their bodies, and find something to hold onto.

Early warning systems can also be connected to infrastructure control systems to trigger automated safeguards. Institutions like hospitals or public transit authorities can program an automated action in response to such an alert. At a hospital, for example, generators could kick on even before ground shaking reached the area, saving valuable time keeping key machines running. Or trains could be programmed to slow to a stop with such an alert, so they're not hurtling along tracks that might be disrupted by a quake.

On the earthquake-prone West Coast of the United States, the USGS is currently piloting just such an early warning system, called ShakeAlert. Efforts are underway to expand the seismometer network there for more accurate and expedient predictions.

Countries like Japan and Mexico have had earthquake early warning systems in place for more than a decade. And during Mexico City's devastating earthquake in September, the early warning system bought residents valuable seconds to get outside.

“The system has great potential, as has been demonstrated around the world, of saving lives and reducing damage,” Dr. de Groot says.

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4. In Colombia, it’s land rights vs. mining – and a need to fund peace

Baked into Colombia's peace accord was an effort to give long-suffering local communities a greater voice. Now the challenge is to  foster a fruitful discussion about the issues that divide locals and the central government.

Amelia
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIt was one more sign of a nation moving on from its conflict with armed rebels after more than five decades of violence: In 2016, Colombia’s constitutional court began granting local governments the ability to welcome – or reject – work by extractive industries on their lands. That was seen as a win by communities, which are overwhelmingly choosing not to let mining companies in. But now, with the federal government bankrolling peace programs and trying to attract more foreign investment, the rejection of extractive industries is pitting national and local governments against each other. One issue: Mining firms are seen as not having delivered on their development promises. “The problem with the government’s plan,” says a university professor in Bogotá, “is that they’ve never had a conversation with the municipal governments or local communities where mining takes place.”

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4. In Colombia, it’s land rights vs. mining – and a need to fund peace

When South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) arrived in this central Colombian farming town ten years ago, it promised residents like Herver Oliveraula “rivers of milk and honey,” he recalls. The mining giant was set to extract an estimated 28 million ounces of gold from the La Colosa mine, buried under the northern Andes.

Mr. Oliveraula was skeptical, he says, but also wanted to trust that his community – and country – could benefit from the natural resources underfoot. It wasn’t until activists from the youth collective Cosajuca in 2012 showed him a geological map of his town that he changed his mind. It laid out mining concessions from the government, granting AGA rights to explore in nearly 80 percent of the municipality – including Oliveraula’s 6-hectare farm.

“How could some government [ministry] grant our farm to a multinational without ever coming to consult anyone who lived on it?” he asks.

Oliveraula joined local grass-roots activists, working with support from international and national non-government organizations, to resist the massive gold-mining project. Their basic proposition, that locals should have a say in what happens on their property, is a concept that has started gaining a global foothold in recent years. And in May 2016, a landmark case in Colombia’s Constitutional Court took the idea of first consulting locals a step further, giving communities here the right to close the door entirely to international mining efforts based on a local vote.

Mining and gas investment are vital to Colombia's economy. In 2013, nearly half of Colombia’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) went into the oil and mining sector. That share has shrunk in recent years, but industry lobbyists estimate oil and mining could deliver $1.5 billion in FDI annually over the next five years. 

And there's a big reliance on mining and gas royalties to fund public spending. That includes vital programs linked to the 2016 Peace Accord, which ended more than 50 years of fighting between the government and Marxist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

And although funding social programs to help demobilized guerrillas reintegrate into society or to develop rural infrastructure are paramount to creating a lasting peace, land rights are a central part of Colombia’s Peace Accord, too. Rural communities, like Oliveraula’s, suffered the brunt of the conflict's violence. Giving citizens a voice on how their community’s land is used was a central part of peace negotiations.

In 2016 – and in a series of similar rulings since – Colombia’s highest court struck down a 2001 mining law that granted the national government sole authority over mining permits. As communities start putting that ruling into action, the court’s decision has set the stage for a political struggle. How Colombia deals with the conflicting interests of the federal government and local communties could play a major part in the sustainability of its budding peace.

“The problem with the government’s plan [to promote mining as a way to boost the economy] is that they’ve never had a conversation with the municipal governments or local communities where mining takes place,” says Fabian Acuña Villarraga, a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá who studies the relationship between the federal government and municipalities on mining.

People walk on a street in downtown Cajamarca, Colombia. Residents in Cajamarca voted by 98.8 percent to halt all mining activity in their municipality.
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Julia Cobb/Reuters

The 'reality'

As these new legal standards become practice, rural communities are making waves. Already residents in Cajamarca voted by 98.8 percent to halt all mining activity – including AGA’s exploration projects – in their municipality. Nine other communities have launched landslide extractive-industry blocking votes, and another 44 municipalities are slated to vote on similar measures.

Cajamarca sits below impossibly steep slopes covered with plots of coffee, yucca, beans, and plantain trees. The verdant crops make the hillsides look like patchwork quilts in shades of green. The Pan American highway cuts through the middle of town, creating a bustling stream of semi-trucks and buses in this otherwise quiet farmland. The roads here are still largely unpaved, and education and healthcare are lacking, but residents say they are proud of their abundant water sources and the rich soil that have earned them the nickname of “Colombia’s agricultural dispensary.”

Municipalities are turning against mining, in part, because the community development promised by the government and companies haven’t materialized, Mr. Acuña says.

“When you look across Colombia, you see that not one mining municipality is rich,” says Acuña. “The way the municipalities see it, the money goes to the government and mining companies, while they get stuck with the social and environmental problems.”

In Cajamarca, the popular resistance that formed against AGA included youth activists, rural farmers, and religious leaders.

Catholic nun Nidia Alareón joined the campaign against mining to protect the community’s water. She fears La Colosa could compromise Cajamarca’s future as an agricultural center.

“Even though they come here trying to paint pictures of little golden birds, that’s not reality,” Sister Alareón says.

There’s also Colombia’s long history of armed groups and paramilitaries getting involved in or “protecting” extractive projects. Between 2001 and 2011, Peace Brigade International found that 80 percent of the human rights violations occurring in Colombia during that period were committed in mining and energy-producing regions.

At least three anti-mining activists have been killed in Cajamarca since 2013, says Robinson Mejia, a leader with Cosajuca, the youth movement. An estimated 33 Colombian environmental and land-rights activists have been killed so far this year nationwide, according to Global Witness, a London-based environmental and anti-corruption NGO.  

Alareón recalls receiving a telephone call in the months leading up to the community's vote in March, 2017 where the unidentified voice on the other end of the line implied she was in danger if she continued to protest the mine. The 71-year-old nun continued her work, knocking on doors and speaking through a megaphone at rallies in order to spread anti-mining campaign messages, she says.

"We [the Dominicana nuns] are of the people," says Alareón. "So we lived with the threat because they weren't going to silence me, nor silence my people, we kept fighting."

What does 'the country need?'

The notion of consulting communities prior to launching invasive projects like mining is an increasingly common practice worldwide. In Colombia and many other Latin American countries, minority groups such as indigenous and Afro-descendent communities have laws granting them rights to prior consultation on significant land-use changes. However, the land-rights granted to citizens in other parts of Latin America have not been as far reaching as in Colombia following the recent court rulings.

Yet, despite Constitutional Court decisions, Cajamarca’s overwhelming vote to halt AGA’s exploration work doesn’t mean “case closed.”

AGA Colombia says it invested $360 million into the La Colosa project before it was halted by voters last March. The community decision pushed the mining company to “pause much of the current fieldwork around the project” while it “studies the impact” of the vote’s result on their future investment, according to a company statement emailed to The Christian Science Monitor.

The federal government is on alert.

"We promise to push Congress to legislate on the popular consultations. It can’t be that the interests of a very small minority, a municipal government, gets in the way of the needs of an entire society,” Colombia’s Finance Minister Mauricio Cárdenas said at a mining and energy conference in August.

“We have to arrange it so that there is a way to guarantee participation and that the projects are well socialized with the communities, but we can’t have actors with veto power over the projects that the country needs,” Mr. Cárdenas said.

Colombia’s High Council on Post-conflict, Human Rights, and Security estimates that enacting the peace agreement with former FARC rebels will cost the country around $42.5 billion over a 15-20 year period.

I don’t “expect the mining bans to stand through the end of the year,” says environmental lawyer Rodrigo Negrete, who foresees an increase in lawsuits fighting these nascent mining bans.

That’s a concern for people like Oliveraula. Sitting in his open-air kitchen he says he knows victory could be short-lived. He's willing to fight to maintain his family’s land, but he doesn’t want to return to the past.

“My only hope is that the decisions being made by the government right now [about mining and community choice] don’t drag us into more violence.”

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On Film

5. ‘Darkest Hour’ joins satisfying parade of Churchill biopics

Winston Churchill's life is nothing if not well explored – so why another flick about him? Because of the enduring appeal of historical figures who  – with oratorical flourish – plant themselves firmly and bravely on fundamental values and principles.

Amelia
Gary Oldman stars in 'Darkest Hour.'
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Jack English/Focus Features
 

The 30 Sec. Read“Darkest Hour” follows Winston Churchill during his first weeks as prime minister in May 1940, at a time when France is close to surrender and the Nazis have trapped British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Since we know how this plays out, it’s incumbent upon the filmmakers to provide us with more than historical waxworks. Too much time is expended in the underground war room where stuffy politicians debate tactics. But we’re left in no doubt that Churchill is a man of steadfast principle. And just in case we still don’t fully appreciate Churchill’s humanity, we have his wife, Clementine (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), to set us straight. Through a haze of cigar smoke she tells him, “You are strong because you are imperfect.” That’s insufficient, though somewhat satisfyingly so. In the title role Gary Oldman doesn’t attempt to convey Churchill’s dark nights of the soul, or to step outside the homburg-and-bow-tie caricature. What he does do is fully fill out the caricature. It’s not a performance of great depth. But it’s highly entertaining.

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5. ‘Darkest Hour’ joins satisfying parade of Churchill biopics

In the past two years alone, we’ve had John Lithgow in a television series and Michael Gambon in a TV movie about Winston Churchill. Earlier this year, we had Brian Cox on the big screen. All these are highly estimable enactments, each definitive in its own way. So why another? Perhaps the simplest answer, prompted by Gary Oldman’s newest incarnation in “Darkest Hour,” is that Churchill, with his valiance and massive cigars, his dark dyspepsia and mumbly eloquence, is an actor’s dream role.  

Directed by Joe Wright and written by Anthony McCarten, “Darkest Hour” follows Churchill during his first few weeks in May 1940 as the newly elected prime minister, succeeding Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup), at a time when France is close to surrender and the Nazis have trapped virtually the entire British Expeditionary Force on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. (For more of the same, see “Dunkirk,” which carries its own Churchill bona fides.)

Churchill is first introduced to us in his darkly lit bedroom, swathed in blankets, as his tremulous new secretary (Lily James) tentatively enters and risks his wrath. It’s the kind of slow reveal one might expect to see in a monster movie, except Churchill, of course, turns out to be something of a sweetheart. His real wrath is directed at Hitler, which, at least in pragmatic terms, puts him at odds with his chief political adversaries, Chamberlain, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), and, for a time, King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn), who believe “peace” negotiations with Hitler are the only way to rescue the militarily outmatched England from annihilation.

Since we know how this all plays out, it is incumbent upon the filmmakers to provide us with more than historical waxworks. With the exception of Oldman’s performance, this is, alas, not the case. There is altogether too much screen time expended in the underground war room as we watch stuffy politicians hotly debating tactics. Above ground, things aren’t much better, what with all the parliamentarians jeering and cheering in the corridors of power as Churchill weightily ponders the best course of action and the screen flashes date-stamped title cards cluing us in as to what day it is.

Amid all the stiff-upper-lip theatrics, it’s amusing to see our Winnie rising to greet the day with his customary whiskey and cigars, or insisting on his daily 4 p.m. nap. But we are left in no doubt that Churchill is a man of steadfast principle, even when he himself wavers in his resolve to fight Hitler at all costs. In one especially dubious scene, Churchill elects to ride the underground with the common folk and seeks out their opinion about appeasement. Led by a little girl, they respond with a resounding “Never!” Armed with fresh resolve, he strides into Parliament. 

Just in case we still don’t fully appreciate Churchill’s humanity, which comes through most fully in conflict, we have his wife of 31 years, Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), to set us straight. Speaking through the persistent haze of cigar smoke that imbues this movie, she tells him, “You are strong because you are imperfect.”

This is pretty standard-issue Great Man of History psychobabble, and it’s insufficient, though somewhat satisfyingly so. The clichés go down easy. Oldman doesn’t attempt to convey Churchill’s dark nights of the soul, nor is he encouraged to step outside the homburg-and-bow-tie caricature of the prime minister that is by now de rigueur. What he does do is fully fill out the caricature. It’s not a performance of great depth – how could it be within Wright’s limited conceptual framework? – but it’s highly entertaining. The film itself may skirt stodginess, but Oldman, who has played everyone from Sid Vicious to Ludwig van Beethoven to Lee Harvey Oswald, never does. (The extraordinary makeup job is courtesy of Kazuhiro Tsuji.) And like many first-rate British actors, he knows how to ringingly deliver a speech. This is especially important in this movie because Churchill epitomized a statesman for whom words, however grandiloquent, were not just words – they were incitements to action.  

An added note: I wouldn’t take too seriously the tendency among some of this film’s liberal champions to inflate its importance by drawing parallels between the unfolding events in “Darkest Hour” and the era of Donald Trump. Are we supposed to recognize here, by implication, the lack of such a great leader in our own perilous times? But “Darkest Hour” could just as easily be co-opted by those who feel it depicts a lion who battles his own party and, while making his own rules, stands up to murderous bullies. This is one of those “Patton”-like movies that can be embraced for its own ends by virtually any political faction. Which is another way of saying its usefulness as principled propaganda is moot. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.)

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The Monitor's View

Finding virtue after a war crimes verdict

 

The 30 Sec. ReadToday the final and most important verdict came down from the special court set up by the United Nations during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb military, was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But while the trial was the most significant since the Nuremberg tribunal, it did not end with any general message about some of Europe’s worst atrocities in the 20th century. Rather the chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, simply said, “Mladić’s guilt is his and his alone.” The conviction, he added, is not a verdict against the Serbian people. His comments will be as important to the future of Europe as the trial’s outcome. Justice is always individual, a point that is especially important when an injustice like genocide is committed in the name of false aggregation – of false prejudice against a group.

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Finding virtue after a war crimes verdict

A special court set up by the United Nations during the Balkan wars of the 1990s made its final and most important verdict on Nov. 22. It found Ratko Mladić, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb military, guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. While the trial was the most significant since the Nuremberg tribunal, it did not end with any general message about some of Europe’s worst atrocities in the 20th century.

Rather the chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, simply said afterward, “Mladić’s guilt is his and his alone.”

The conviction, he added, is not a verdict against the Serbian people.

His comments will be as important to the future of Europe as the trial’s outcome. Justice is always individual, a point that is especially important when an injustice like genocide is committed in the name of false prejudice against a group.

In Mr. Mladić’s case, the gross generalization was that all Muslims must be killed or kicked out of Bosnia in the name of a “greater Serbia.” During the trial, he also justified his wartime actions as necessary to defend “Serbia and the Serbian people.”

Such collectivized hate, driven by the ultranationalism that erupted after the 1991 breakup of the former Yugoslavia, ended with a massacre of some 8,000 men and boys from the village of Srebrenica in 1995 as well as with mass killings in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

The prosecutor’s point about individual responsibility is critical in the long struggle of ensuring peace in the Balkans. Tensions remain high among the region’s religious and ethnic groups. Yet in many once-embattled neighborhoods, Muslims and Serbs – as well as victims and perpetrators – have learned to get along. They are trying to restore the moral universe of seeing each other as individuals first.

This equality between neighbors has now been echoed by the Mladić verdict – that all are equal before the law.

Michael Ignatieff, president of Central European University, recently traveled to Bosnia to write a book on moral virtues, and he interviewed Bosnians struggling to get along. “How is it that forgiveness works in these micro-settings?” he asked.

One person, who witnessed a massacre in his village, told him how he has learned to live with some of the perpetrators. He said, “I’ve learned not to generalize. That is, there is no such thing as a guilty Serb in general.”

He refused to make a false aggregation, preferring to take each individual as an individual – just the way that justice was meted out for Mladić.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

#RAKFriday17 and everyday acts of goodness

 

On Friday, Nov. 24, people around the world are being encouraged to perform a random act of kindness and share it on social media with the hashtag #RAKFriday17. Lately, it can seem as though kindness has taken such a back seat to vitriol that we’re surprised when someone does something kind. But such actions are actually natural. It’s not just about one human being doing something nice for another. God endows each of us with His infinite love. So it’s in everyone’s nature to not only feel but to express God’s goodness. When actions are divinely inspired, they have the healing power of infinite Love behind them. Even one simple demonstration of the divine goodness that reaches everywhere and everyone – one expression of genuine spiritual love – enables us to realize the stupendous good that is there for everyone to see, feel, and live.

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#RAKFriday17 and everyday acts of goodness

In recent years, the Friday after Thanksgiving – the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States, commonly called Black Friday – has increasingly encroached upon the national day of giving thanks. However, there is a small but growing movement under way to redeem the spirit of Black Friday and refocus this time of year on the sharing of blessings. On Nov. 24, people around the world are encouraged to do random acts of kindness and share them on social media with the hashtag #RAKFriday17.

Lately, it seems as though kindness and courtesy have taken a back seat to vitriol, snarky tweets, and a wariness of both strangers and friends who hold differing views. So much so that when someone does something kind these days, I find myself surprised and comforted.

Yet there’s something so natural about such displays of goodness. In the book of John in the Bible, the disciples of Christ Jesus are surprised one day when during a time of great personal struggle, Jesus rises, takes a basin of water and a towel, and washes his students’ feet (see 13:1-17). The disciple Peter is so shocked by this act by his revered and respected teacher that he says to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet” (New Revised Standard Version).

But Jesus explains that this act is meant to be an example of how they should be treating others: “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” With this act of gracious selflessness, Jesus teaches us the importance of caring for each other with humble expressions of love.

It’s not just about one human being doing something nice for another. Jesus’ gesture was an example of the infinite love that God, who is all good, endows each of us with every day. No one is left outside this universal and impartial love of our Father-Mother God. And it’s in everyone’s nature to not only feel but to express God’s infinite goodness, because divine Love, God, created us as its spiritual reflection.

So when actions are divinely inspired, they have the healing power of infinite Love behind them. The founder of this paper, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: “Goodness never fails to receive its reward, for goodness makes life a blessing. As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 165).

Sometimes it seems as if there is no solution to all of the strife in this world. But even one simple demonstration of the divine goodness that reaches everywhere and everyone – one expression of genuine spiritual love – enables us to realize the stupendous good that is there for everyone to see, feel, and live.

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Viewfinder

A nation in holiday motion

Travelers arrive at dawn to catch their flights from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
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David Goldman/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 24th, 2017 )

Thank you for joining us today. To our American readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving. And to all our readers around the globe, please accept our heartfelt thanks for being part of the Monitor community. We look forward to seeing you again on Friday, when we'll address this question: When it comes to conservation, is it time to think a bit more like indigenous communities?

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