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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.

June
26
Monday

Religious liberty. Terrorism. Same-sex marriage. Gun rights. All in one day. On Monday, the United States Supreme Court finished its term with cases that cut to the country’s deepest divides. The next term, which ends a year from now, will have far more blockbusters.

The question is, How will Americans handle it? The solidarity that kept America together through the severe strains of Vietnam and the toppling of Jim Crow was at least partly born of shared sacrifice and purpose, first in World War II, then the cold war.

Today, that solidarity is at a low ebb. Rebuilding it during the year ahead might call for sacrifice of a different sort.

 “[E]ven the best-designed legal institutions and practices may yield decisions which many believe to be mistaken,” Columbia University professor Michele Moody-Adams tells The Atlantic. These are the inevitable “strains of commitment” to any democracy, she adds. The path forward is in finding a deeper foundation for our sense of unity. “Contemporary life erects many barriers to respect and concern for our common humanity, but the future of our democracy demands that we learn how to transcend them.”

1. For Supreme Court, a big finish to a sleepy term

Monday's final day of the Supreme Court term appears to be less a finish line than a green flag for the new court.

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadMonday became the most headline-generating day of an otherwise sleepy Supreme Court term. A byproduct of that, experts say, appears to be a mammoth term this October, starting with a hearing on President Trump’s travel ban executive order, which restricts the entry of immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries into the United States. The justices handed Mr. Trump his first major legal victory on the controversial measure, by taking up the case while allowing most of the order’s provisions to go into effect immediately. Many court-watchers predicted that this term would be an underwhelming one before it even started. In the fall, the US Senate was in the midst of toxic partisan battle over replacing Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. The vacancy would last more than 400 days, and it had a visible effect on the court, experts say, with landmark decisions on thorny constitutional questions notable by their absence. That doesn’t mean the past term has been without its highlights, however. These include Monday’s ruling in favor of a Missouri church seeking to resurface its playground, which while limited to playgrounds, holds future implications for religious liberty and school vouchers. “In the end, the soundness of today’s decision may matter less than what it might enable tomorrow,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent.

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1. For Supreme Court, a big finish to a sleepy term

After every US Supreme Court term, Ralph Rossum typically adds upward of 10 of the court’s most significant constitutional law decisions to a constitutional law website he edits.

This year, it looks like he’s only going to add five – and one of those came down only on Monday, as the justices sided 7-2, along narrow lines, with a Missouri church that had been denied state funding to resurface its preschool playground because of its religious affiliation.

Monday thus became the most headline-generating day of an otherwise sleepy term. A by-product of that, experts say, is the mammoth nature of next fall's term, starting with a hearing on President Trump’s travel ban executive order, which restricts the entry of immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries into the United States. The justices handed Mr. Trump his first major legal victory by taking up the case, which has been mired in court battles since February, while allowing most of the controversial order’s provisions to go into effect immediately. Three conservative justices argued in a partial dissent that ban should be allowed to take full effect.

Many court watchers predicted this term would be underwhelming before it even started. In the fall, the US Senate was in the midst of toxic partisan battle over replacing Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. The vacancy would last more than 400 days, and it had a visible effect on the court, experts say, with landmark decisions on thorny constitutional questions notable by their absence.

Justice Scalia’s unexpected passing saw two contentious 2016 cases end with 4-4 votes, which simply upheld the lower court ruling and set no Supreme Court precedent. Lawyers, litigants, and the justices themselves appear to have sought to avoid such ambiguous outcomes this term. Roughly half the court’s decisions have been unanimous, and there have been no tie decisions so far despite six months with a bench split ideologically down the middle.

“They didn’t take up a lot of the sort of controversial things where they knew they would probably end up with an evenly split court,” says Professor Rossum, who teaches at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Monday brought more examples, as the justices opted to re-hear several potentially divisive cases next term, including one examining whether immigrants who have been held in detention more than six months are entitled to a bond hearing.

That doesn’t mean the past term has been without its highlights. These include the playground case and Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a decision that saw the justices rule that defendants have a right to a new trial if their first is tainted by racial bias on the jury.

“Being short one justice [this past term] has shaped the docket and shaped some of these decisions that I think have accounted for, yes, a less headline-generating term,” says Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, but “I’m skeptical that that means there’s less impact from these decisions.”

Here is a quick look at some of the big decisions and takeaways:

Trinity Lutheran

Trinity Lutheran is arguably the most significant decision of the term. As Chief Justice Roberts read the majority opinion, “he tried really strenuously to say they are merely applying generations and generations of binding precedents of the court,” says Lyle Denniston, the Supreme Court reporter at the National Constitution Center.

“The reality is,” he says, “the court has never, never before allowed a direct payment of taxpayer funds to an activity that will in part be religious.”

At its core, the majority opinion in the 7-2 decision ruled that Missouri’s policy (which has since been altered) violated Trinity Lutheran’s Free Exercise rights. “Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”

But at the end of that second sentence, a footnote directs the reader to two more crucial sentences: “This case involves the express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

That footnote could be easily sidestepped in the future, says Mr. Denniston, particularly given the fact that only four justices agreed with the full majority opinion. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a concurrence that he only agreed with the final judgment and thought it should be narrower. Justices Gorsuch and Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that they disagreed with that footnote specifically.

“If you want to argue that Trinity Lutheran is a sweeping decision,” adds Denniston, “all you have to say is the part of the opinion that is supposedly narrowing [its scope] doesn’t have the support of the majority, because Justices Thomas and Gorsuch don’t join it.”

“The Supreme Court can do one thing, and how people use that can make it come out differently, in a more expansive or less expansive way, when the next case comes along,” he continues.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg made an argument for how it could be narrowed. In a dissent, they detail the long history of state provisions restricting government aid to parochial schools that the majority ignored. (Missouri is one of 38 states with such a provision in its state Constitution – laws that have been placed for more than a century.)

The majority opinion, “all but invalidate[s]” the provisions of those three dozen states, writes Justice Sotomayor.

“The weighty interests they protect, and the history they draw on deserve more than this judicial brush aside,” she adds. “Today’s decision discounts centuries of history and jeopardizes the government’s ability to remain secular.”

Indeed, perhaps the only true consensus in the Trinity Lutheran decision is that its fragile and heavily footnoted majority will be tested soon. One footnote, near the end of Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, cites Justices Gorsuch and Thomas in stating: “In the end, the soundness of today’s decision may matter less than what it might enable tomorrow.”

Abbasi

Another court decision with long-term significance is a technical statutory case that has largely flown under the radar. Furthermore, it was decided by a court even more shorthanded than usual.

Four justices – the minimum required to reach a decision – ruled in Ziglar v. Abbasi that non-citizens caught up in a post-9/11 roundup of Muslim (and other young men of Arab descent) immigrants couldn’t bring suit against federal officers for damages related to the arduous conditions of their confinement.

“Allowing a damages suit in this context … would require courts to interfere in an intrusive way with sensitive functions of the Executive Branch,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “The risk of personal damages liability is more likely to cause an official to second-guess difficult but necessary decisions concerning national security policy.”

Furthermore, the opinion made it clear that it would be even more improper for courts to allow suits seeking money damages than suits seeking “injunctive or other equitable relief” – like the travel ban litigation, for example.

By erecting a new obstacle to bringing damages suits against federal officers, the ruling “stands out because of its implications,” says Professor Vladeck.

“Abbasi is such a general structural decision about government accountability and the role of the courts,” he adds. “It’s hard for me to think that there could be a decision with a greater long-term impact legally.”

Free speech

The court also delivered a pair of important decisions that bolster free speech protections.

In a case that attracted attention in large part because of its potential implications for trademark lawsuits against the Washington Redskins, the justices ruled unanimously in Matal v. Tam that a federal law that bars the government from approving trademarks “which may disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols” violates the First Amendment.

The ruling was nominally in favor of an Asian-American rock band called “The Slants” – who chose the name in an effort to reclaim a derogatory slur.

The second case, Packingham v. North Carolina, also saw free speech advocates cheering for a traditionally unpopular plaintiff: a sex offender who had been barred from using Facebook by a North Carolina law that prohibits access to “commercial social networking” sites. The justices ruled, again unanimously, that the North Carolina law violates the First Amendment by impermissibly restricting free speech.

“That’s the court taking a strong line on freedom of speech, even on two cases where you could say the issues involved are ones where the censor’s position would have some emotional resonance: sex offenders and racially insensitive speech,” says Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

Civil rights

The term was a fruitful one not just for free speech advocates, but for civil rights advocates as well.

“In a number of cases the court has actually protected civil rights in a pretty meaningful way,” says Steven Schwinn, associate professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

In one case stemming from the foreclosure crisis, Bank of America v. City of Miami, the justices ruled 5-3 that cities are entitled to bring suit under the Fair Housing Act. Miami had sued two banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, charging that foreclosures had a disproportionate impact on majority-minority neighborhoods because the banks had engaged in discriminatory conduct.

In Peña-Rodriguez, another 5-3 decision, the court crafted a new exception to the “no-impeachment” rule that prohibits trial courts from reconsidering cases based on statements from jurors during deliberations. If there is evidence that a juror relied on racial stereotypes or animus in convicting a defendant, the opinion said, the trial court can consider that evidence in deciding if the defendant can receive a retrial.

And in a victory for inmates diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, the court ruled in Moore v. Texas – another 5-3 decision – that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals used the wrong standards to determine that Bobby James Moore, who had been convicted of shooting a supermarket employee during a 1980 robbery, was not intellectually disabled and thus could be executed.

Some may argue, however, that the biggest civil rights victory of the term came in a case the Supreme Court declined to hear at all.

Last month, the court refused to take up a challenge from the North Carolina to a lower court decision that had found unconstitutional the state’s restrictive voter identification law, a decision that prompted Dale Ho of the American Civil Liberties Union to declare that “an ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

'The story this year'

With so few landmark legal decisions, some experts believe that the larger significance is in terms of personnel – namely, the arrival of Justice Gorsuch.

Three months into his tenure, the new justice has already begun to make his presence felt – and his voice heard – on the bench. He began his first day with vigorous questioning of lawyers during oral arguments, and last week he authored a dissent that turned a pedestrian case about employment grievances among federal employees into a cheery, conversational treatise on textualism and the appropriate role of the judicial branch in government.

“Here is a dissent in some obtuse statutory personnel case, and Gorsuch’s dissent could be readily understood by any college freshman,” says David Garrow, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “He is so transparent, so consistent, so articulate.”

“To me Gorsuch is the story this year, without question,” he adds. “I think he’ll go down in history as one of the court’s greatest justices, and perhaps its best writer since [Justice Robert] Jackson.

Next term could be historic

While this term may have been a relatively uneventful one for the Supreme Court, it seems that it is poised to make up for it next term.

Besides the travel ban case, which will be argued in October, the court will also hear a major case on partisan gerrymandering, a religious liberty case involving a Colorado cake-shop owner who refused to serve a gay couple, and a case that asks whether the Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a warrant before searching and seizing historical cellphone records. It also includes several cases from this past term that the justices have decided to re-hear, including whether immigrant detainees who have been held for more than six months are entitled to bond hearings.

“Next term’s going to be a blockbuster,” says Vladeck. “The number of major constitutional cases the court is going to hear next term is going to put recent terms to shame.”

This is partly because, he adds, “both directly and indirectly, lawyers, litigants, and the court itself have sort of shaped the procedures in these cases to push them into next fall.”

The travel ban will see the Trump administration's first foray to the Supreme Court. The legal implications for the travel ban specifically may be diminished since the court allowed parts of the ban to go into effect this week, but its symbolic importance – in terms of how courts should be expected to handle such an unorthodox presidency, and in terms of a potential broader recalibration of judicial deference to the executive branch – will be tremendous.

And the partisan gerrymandering case, Gill v. Whitford, is expected to bring a landmark decision no matter how the justices align.

“We just can’t overstate the importance of that case given the state of politics today and where we are with partisan gerrymandering at the state level. It’s going to be an enormously important decision one way or the other,” says Professor Schwinn.

By Henry Gass
Staff writer
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Special Report

2. How helping whistle-blowers could cut health-care costs

There is another side to reining in health-care costs beyond what we see unfolding in Washington this week. There are the stories of those who stand up to fraud and secrecy in the industry to hold corporations to account. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadHow can health care become more affordable? As Republicans in Congress work to establish a replacement for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, lawmakers are searching for ways to cut down on the exploding cost of health care. Fighting health-care fraud is one way to do that. In that fight, whistle-blowers have become an essential source of inside information that is helping federal agents lift a veil of corporate secrecy that has long facilitated billions of dollars in illicit profits from inflated billing and other scams against the US government. Since January 2009, whistle-blower lawsuits under the False Claims Act have helped the government recover $19.6 billion, according to the Justice Department. Whistle-blowers receive 15 to 30 percent of recovered monies in such fraud cases, incentivizing an increasing number of employees to speak out. But critics say it’s also driven a gold-rush mentality, and many of the cases they bring forward are “worthless” – and can waste a company’s time. In the full story, we profile a whistle-blower at a Florida hospital who finally hired a lawyer after months of trying to address fraudulent practices internally.

The high cost of making good

SOURCE: US Department of Justice
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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2. How helping whistle-blowers could cut health-care costs

Elin Baklid-Kunz never wanted to be a whistle-blower.

But working as the compliance officer at a Florida hospital, it was her job to identify and correct potential violations of US health-care laws.

Through conducting audits and studying regulations, she uncovered billing and other discrepancies. Each time she presented her findings to senior managers, however, they ignored her.

“I just thought if I worked harder they would see how bad this was and do something about it,” says Ms. Baklid-Kunz in an interview. “But as long as it cost them money [in reduced revenue and profits], they wouldn’t make any changes.”

As Republicans in Congress work to establish a replacement for former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, lawmakers are searching for ways to cut down on the exploding cost of health care. Fighting health-care fraud is one way to do that. In that fight, whistle-blowers have become an essential source of inside information that is helping federal agents lift a veil of corporate secrecy that has long facilitated billions of dollars in illicit profits from inflated billing and other scams against the US government.

Baklid-Kunz was among an increasing number of American workers struggling to decide whether to “blow the whistle” on their employer.

Many such workers stay silent, hoping that their jobs, incomes, and careers in the health-care industry remain secure. Others, like Baklid-Kunz, decide to speak out.

These whistle-blowers aren’t just motivated by their personal sense of honesty and ethics, or by their fear of being caught up in a criminal investigation.

There is a federal law specifically designed to incentivize citizens to come forward and expose fraud.

The False Claims Act authorizes any person to sue a company on behalf of the government and to receive 15 to 30 percent of a resulting financial recovery in a fraud case.

As a result of that incentive, “blowing the whistle” has become a growth industry. One measure of that growth is the amount of money paid out to whistle-blowers. In the past 16 years, annual payments to whistle-blowers in health-care fraud cases increased from $90 million in 2000 to nearly $527 million in 2016.

“Our biggest cases almost always include or require a whistle-blower, an informant – a human who can tell us what is happening [behind closed doors at a firm],” says Gary Cantrell, deputy inspector general for investigations at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.

Among major whistle-blower cases:

  • In April 2016, the pharmaceutical companies Wyeth and Pfizer agreed to pay $784.6 million to resolve charges of overbilling in a lawsuit initially filed by two whistle-blowers, a former hospital sales representative for a competing drug company and a New Orleans physician. The share of the settlement for the whistle-blowers and their lawyers topped $98 million.
  • In November 2013, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries agreed to pay $2.2 billion to resolve allegations made by whistle-blowers that the companies marketed various drugs for off-label uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The whistle-blowers and their lawyers were in three states. Those in Pennsylvania received $112 million, those in Massachusetts received $27.7 million, and a whistle-blower in California received $28 million.
  • In July 2012, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay $3 billion to settle criminal and civil cases alleging that the company marketed several prescription drugs for off-label uses not approved by the FDA. The whistle-blowers who uncovered the activity included two Glaxo sales representatives, a marketing development manager, and a regional vice president. The lead whistle-blower eventually received $7.7 million after his lawyers were paid.
  • In January, Shire Pharmaceuticals agreed to pay $350 million to resolve allegations that the company violated federal kickback laws when it provided free medical supplies, sports tickets, vacations, and other gifts to physicians and clinic staff to induce them to use a bioengineered bandage developed and sold by the company. The federal government intervened in the case after six whistle-blower lawsuits were filed. The share of the recovery for the whistle-blowers and their lawyers has not yet been set.

Since January 2009, whistle-blower lawsuits under the False Claims Act have helped the government recover $19.6 billion, according to the Justice Department.

Thou shalt not commit fraud

Patrick Burns, executive director of Taxpayers Against Fraud, says he believes that encouraging even more whistle-blowing can help build a culture of integrity in the health-care industry.

“Most places are fairly honest. Most people were raised up believing that the Ten Commandments weren’t the Ten Suggestions,” Mr. Burns says. “But you do find companies that have a deeply entrenched culture of fraud.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that there is no credible threat to the corporate officials and managers who preside over companies that engage in overbilling, illegal marketing, and other health-care scams.

Under the current system, companies can buy their way out of trouble, Burns says. In many cases, large settlements are paid but few corporate officials lose their jobs or are otherwise held personally accountable.

When a major settlement is announced, members of the public see the amount of the payment and believe it is a significant punishment for the company. Burns and others say that is not so.

“The people who pay the costs are nameless, faceless stockholders,” he says. “If the fraud isn’t caught, it is nameless, faceless taxpayers.”

Regardless, Burns says, “the people who designed and operationalized the fraud inside [the company], they got their personal bonuses, their promotions, their stock options. Those are never clawed back,” he says.

“It is not complicated,” Burns adds. “We need to recover America’s stolen billions. I’m all for fines, but if all you do is fine a company and don’t force a change in management, if nobody goes to jail, nobody loses their job, then you have failed.”

Burns notes that there is one important exception to the rule about job loss.

“The only person who is guaranteed to lose their job in a massive health-care fraud is the whistle-blower,” he says. “They may lose their job, their marriage, their house; they will certainly lose their sense of confidence and trust. And they will be whipsawed and beaten by the process for anywhere from two to 12 years.”

Burns adds, “Some whistle-blowers come out of this with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Bounty hunters

Not everyone is a fan of creating more incentives for whistle-blowing.

Although whistle-blowers have helped make major cases, some federal agents complain that the promise of a potential multimillion-dollar bounty has triggered a gold-rush mentality among whistle-blowers and their lawyers who are trying to parlay some piece of information into a major payout. It falls to federal agents to evaluate the various allegations.

“Most of the potential whistle-blower cases are [worthless],” says Mike Cohen, a longtime health-care fraud investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General’s Office. “What we look for is the cream.” 

Gabriel Imperato, a lawyer who defends corporations from whistle-blower lawsuits, agrees with critics who say it has become too easy to file a whistle-blower lawsuit. He is managing partner in the Fort Lauderdale office of the law firm Broad and Cassel. He is also a current board member and past president of the Health Care Compliance Association.

“What I see happening as I defend these cases one after the other, I see 30 to 40 percent of the allegations have some merit. I see almost 60 percent of the allegations have no merit,” Mr. Imperato says, “yet the organization ends up having to address all the allegations in the context of a third-party lawsuit involving not only the whistle-blower but the Department of Justice.”

That legal process – regardless of the merit of the allegations – is expensive and time-consuming, Imperato says.

He suggests that one way corporations can help insulate themselves from whistle-blower lawsuits is by promoting an open and ethical workplace.

“If the organization has a culture that welcomes internal reporting of noncompliant activity and employees have confidence that such reports will be addressed, employees are less likely to go external with their whistle-blowing,” he says.

A good citizen

Not all would-be whistle-blowing crime fighters are looking for a big payout.

Last year, health care fraud investigators in Miami got a call from a woman who had seen something suspicious at work. “I think there is something wrong here and I think you should do something about it,” she told a federal agent.

It was a tip that quickly developed into a solid investigative lead.

“We will end up getting multimillions of dollars back,” says Brian Martens, assistant special agent in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s office in Miami Lakes, Fla.

Eventually the case was reported in a local newspaper. The woman saw the story and called the agent back to thank him.

“She was just a good citizen,” Mr. Martens says. “Had this woman actually taken this to a law firm and [filed a whistle-blower lawsuit], she’d probably be looking at $300,000 to $1 million maybe.”

The $50 million sweet spot

For whistle-blowers looking for a jackpot, Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud has some bad news.

“If you come to me with a $5 million fraud it is going to be hard for me to find a lawyer for you because there is not enough money in it,” he says.

Eighty percent of False Claims Act cases are declined by lawyers, he says.

“The sweet spot starts at $50 million and up,” Burns says.

“If you take 100 False Claims Act cases that settle, half of them will settle for less than $3 million, which means the whistle-blower will make around $200,000,” he says.

“Only the top ten cases really bring in huge amounts of money,” Burns adds.

In some cases someone who exposes a $100 million fraud may end up making less money than if she had remained silent and kept her job and her steady salary. That’s because the amount of recovery can be reduced based on how much value the government places on a person’s contribution to the case and the number of other whistle-blowers sharing in an award.

In addition, lawyers receive their fees from the same award pool as the whistle-blower. Finally, whatever is left for the whistle-blower is subject to taxes.

“What the big print giveth, the little print taketh away,” Burns says. “And there is a lot of little print between taxes and lawyers and multiple whistle-blowers.”

The making of a whistle-blower 

Baklid-Kunz, the hospital compliance officer, spent months resisting hiring a lawyer to file a lawsuit against her employer, Halifax Hospital Medical Center.

She had worked for the Daytona Beach-based hospital system for 15 years and loved her job. She simply wanted the company to comply with Medicare and Medicaid laws and regulations.

Rather than take action to resolve the problems Baklid-Kunz uncovered as the company’s compliance officer, she says she was given a promotion and moved to a different area of management in the hospital.

But in her new role she discovered that the problems she’d identified had not been addressed. She confronted the new compliance officer. “How do you sleep at night?” she asked. “He looked at me and said, ‘Your loyalty is to this hospital and not to the government, and if you even think about becoming a whistle-blower you should resign.’ ”

After multiple failed attempts to convince managers to bring the company into compliance, Baklid-Kunz reluctantly filed a civil lawsuit in 2009, charging the hospital system with engaging in a series of frauds against the US government. Two years later, the federal government joined her lawsuit against the hospital system.

The case focused on an incentive pay arrangement that rewarded certain doctors with larger financial bonuses if they referred more of their patients to the hospital for various services. Baklid-Kunz maintained that the arrangement created a financial conflict that might interfere with a doctor’s obligation to act solely in the best interests of his patients.

The federal judge in the case agreed with Baklid-Kunz and government lawyers, ruling in a pre-trial decision that the arrangement violated a federal law that makes it illegal to grant added compensation to a doctor based on his or her patient referrals.

The issue was one of an array of problems raised in Baklid-Kunz’s lawsuit, and was the main issue argued by the government.

After nearly five years of litigation, the company agreed to settle the case for $85 million. Of that amount, Baklid-Kunz and her lawyers were awarded $20.8 million.

As part of the settlement, Halifax Hospital was not required to admit any wrongdoing, and the company has not made any such admission.

But also as part of its settlement, Halifax executives signed a five-year corporate integrity agreement that requires company officials to certify each year that they are “in compliance with all applicable Federal health care program requirements.”

A cost of doing business 

Baklid-Kunz says the $85 million settlement was merely a cost of doing business for Halifax Hospital.

“If Halifax had gone to trial and lost at trial – we weren’t talking $85 million, it could have been $1 billion,” she says, referring to the full range of allegations in her lawsuit.

“This is a small cost of doing business when you think about all the overpayments that were made,” she says.

A Halifax board member and a company lawyer voluntarily resigned as a result the litigation, she says. But that was all.

“No one went to jail, they all had their jobs, it didn’t really turn out that bad for them,” she says.

To the disbelief of Halifax managers, after the settlement Baklid-Kunz showed up for work. Under the law, they could not fire her for acting as a whistle-blower. But they did make her life in the workplace as difficult as possible, she says, stripping her of all responsibilities. 

“The chief financial officer one time told my friend that he didn’t know if he should line my office with gold or dog [excrement],” she says.

Undeterred, she spent her days at work studying health-care regulations. “I didn’t want to leave because I hadn’t done anything wrong,” she says. “But my attorney advised me that it is not good to be in such a hostile environment.”

Today, she works as a consultant and expert on health-care regulatory issues. In addition, she often talks to students about ethics and honesty in the workplace.

“You don’t really need to know all the laws, but you need to know what your values are and to decide in advance what is okay for you and what is not,” she says she tells them.

“If you go out in the workplace and you don’t have your values straightened out, at some point [in your career] you are going to be in a room where people will try to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do.”

She tells students they need to set their own moral compass prior to any such meeting.

After the many years of frustration and litigation, Baklid-Kunz says one of her greatest achievements is that she sleeps soundly at night.

“I know I’m not going to change the world, but I’m certainly going to try,” she says. “I would want someone to do what I did – not for the money but because it is the right thing to do.”

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Overlooked

Stories you may have missed

3. In South Sudan, preparing children for a conflict’s consequences

In South Sudan, where almost half of all residents are under age 14, children are more than the future, they are the present. Those helping them say these lives can still be shaped by promise, not just blighted by the legacy of war and hunger.

Mark
Refugee children who arrived unaccompanied by their families played inside a World Vision tent as they waited for child-protection specialists at the Imvepi reception center in northern Uganda June 9. About 9,000 such children are reported to have crossed into the country since July.
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Ben Curtis/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadSouth Sudan is a doubly young country: It won independence from Sudan just six years ago, and 45 percent of its population is younger than 14. It is also a country at war. For four years, factions loyal to the president have fought supporters of his former deputy, leading to widespread displacement and hunger. More than 270,000 children are believed to be malnourished, and 2 million have been internally displaced or fled the country, according to UNICEF – including 75,000 who have crossed into neighboring countries without their families. As nongovernmental organizations respond to the immediate crises, however, they are also mindful of their impact down the road. A generation raised amid violence will likely face particular challenges, from psychological recovery to education to economic productivity. Some workers – like Cathy Groenendijk, the founder of a children’s shelter in Juba – take hope from the children they’ve seen succeed. She says: “Once they go through that period and survive they will be the best social workers and changers…. They are a hope for me.” 

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3. In South Sudan, preparing children for a conflict’s consequences

Beatrice was only 11 years old when her parents died within months of each other, leaving four children between 2 and 12.

Instead of going to school, she began selling eggs and homemade alcohol in the local market, trying to provide for her siblings.

“It was not easy for me to care for them,” Beatrice – whose name has been changed for privacy – says today, 11 years later. But she had to “make sure that [we got] at least one meal a day.”

Becoming a breadwinner and caretaker would be challenging enough for any elementary-school child. But Beatrice’s task was all the harder because of where it happened: South Sudan, where children bear the heaviest burden from decades of war.

The country itself is young, having split from Sudan only in 2011. But years of conflict in Sudan, and a four-year civil war within the brand-new nation, have severely damaged the social and institutional fabric in ways that endanger basic human rights, particularly children’s. And a generation raised amid violence and fear faces particular challenges down the road, from psychological recovery, to education, to economic productivity.

“Their childhoods have been interrupted, which could have long-term negative consequences on the child’s emotional, cognitive, and social development,” says Sampathi Perera, a child protection specialist at UNICEF.

Those problems aren’t unique to South Sudan. Nearly 110 million children around the world live in conflict zones, and almost 1-in-4 of those are out of school, from Syria to the Central African Republic. But South Sudan boasts some of the grimmest statistics – and they may prove especially consequential in a country that is doubly young. Not only is South Sudan just six years old, but 45 percent of the population is age 14 or younger.

“The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said in a statement last month.

Aid organizations are racing to address South Sudan’s most immediate needs, primarily hunger. But many are trying to design programs with an eye to these children’s more long-term well-being, as well – particularly those who, like Beatrice, are orphaned or separated from their families.

Child-friendly spaces

On the outskirts of Juba, a mesh wire fence encircles rows upon rows of white tents, one of the many Protection of Civilians sites scattered across South Sudan. Narrow dusty roads cut through the makeshift homes of families recently forced to take refuge.

Amid white flimsy tents is a “Child-Friendly Space,” the core of aid organizations’ response to children who make it to the camp. Kids are offered an array of activities, including reading, music, and sports, in a bid to channel their energy positively and keep them out of harm’s way.

Four years after the start of the civil war, which has pitted factions loyal to President Salva Kiir against supporters of his former deputy, Riek Machar, more than 270,000 children are believed to be malnourished, and 2 million have been internally displaced or fled the country, according to UNICEF. Seventeen thousand minors have been used as fighters, more than 3,000 have been abducted, and more than 1,000 sexually assaulted. Nearly three-quarters of children are out of school, the highest rate in the world.

And from malnutrition to recruitment, those traveling without parents or guardians are especially vulnerable. More than 75,000 children have crossed into neighboring countries without their families, according to UNICEF.

For traumatized children who arrive at refugee and displaced-person camps, child-friendly spaces are a bridge toward early recovery. But they’re not a long-term solution, and don’t reach all vulnerable children. While some make it to Protection of Civilians sites with their families, others are separated earlier on, meaning they face the highest risk of abuse and exploitation. 

In 2014, 23 NGOs came together with Save the Children and UNICEF to establish a Family Tracing and Reunification program in the country, registering families in a country-wide database.

“[It is] one of the most effective child protection programs in South Sudan,” says Ismahan Ferhat, the child protection technical advisor for Save the Children. “Almost 5,000 children who were separated from their families due to the conflict were reunited with their parents or primary caregivers.”

When home is not the answer

But returning a child to family does not always ensure a safe environment, particularly as South Sudan’s ongoing conflict takes its social and emotional toll.

“Society has changed. The wars have dismantled the social fabric in the community,” said Cathy Groenendijk, founder of Confident Children out of Conflict [CCC], a children’s shelter in Juba.

Sixteen-year-old Grace, for example, lives today at CCC. Before moving in, however, she attacked a man who attempted to rape her sister after breaking into the family home. Their mother, whom Grace describes as alcoholic, was too intoxicated to react.

“She didn’t even know what happened,” says Grace, whose name has been changed for privacy. “I told her [what happened], and she told me I was lying.”

Similarly difficult memories are common.

“Some of the problems [arise] from what the children have seen, especially those involved in the conflict,” said Ms. Groenendijk, a no-nonsense woman who teaches love and discipline in equal measures. After experiencing abuse, some children “become violent, so you have to talk to them to teach them to think before they act.”

CCC aims to create a home-like environment, helping traumatized children learn to be children again in order to improve their chances of a happier, more stable future. It’s a place to sleep, but also provides psychological support, healthy food, and education, as well as activities like choir and sports.

Boys and girls are responsible for keeping the bedrooms neat – and other than a handful of cuddly toys peppered across the bunk beds, the rooms are immaculate. In the courtyard, tiny children jump up and down on a trampoline, while others bathe in large basins. Older girls finish the day’s homework in the computer room before helping out with the younger lodgers.

That sense of normalcy is sorely needed by many South Sudanese children, advocates say. More than one million children are thought to be in need of psychosocial support, according to Ms. Ferhat of Save the Children. Without attention, that trauma may mean problems for others, as well.

After all they’ve experienced, some of these children “are likely to adapt survival mechanisms that would probably be at ought with socially acceptable norms,” says Panther Alier Akuei, the country director of the nonprofit Smile Again Africa Development Organization, citing concerns about future crime.

Looking toward the future

But some say not enough funding is directed toward child protection in remote areas, resulting in too many children falling through the cracks.

“Unfortunately, I have not seen any rise in projects that support children in this country for the last few years,” says Mr. Alier. “Most projects tend to shy away from going into hard to reach areas,” he explains, reluctant to send staff to areas where “their lives are in danger.”

But advocates say they take hope from some children’s success – for each individual’s future, but also the country’s. Some of the children at CCC, for example, have managed to complete secondary school in neighboring countries, like Uganda, and are considering careers in medicine.

“Do you know what it means to live out there [on the street]? Once they go through that period and survive they will be the best social workers and changers. They will be spread around South Sudan doing a good job,” says Groenendijk. “They are a hope for me.”

Grace, now a bubbly teenager, is set to finish middle school this summer and hopes to become a social worker. “I would like to help children like me. [I’ll] make two centers, one for boys and one for girls to protect both of them,” says Grace. “Because they are both important.”

By Sofia Barbarani
Contributor
( 1267 words )
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4. What it takes for school diversity to really work

A new educational study offers a lesson in desegregation: For it to really flourish, ethnic and racial divides have to be rousted out of every level of a school, from classrooms to the expectations of teachers and administrators. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadA recent survey of middle school students confirms what many advocates of integrated schooling have long suggested: Students who attend schools with a relatively equal balance of ethnic groups reported feeling safer, less lonely, and less vulnerable to bullying than their counterparts in schools with a clear ethnic majority. But reaping the benefits of a diverse student body takes more than simply enrolling students from different ethnic groups in the same school, the researchers found. There needs to be diversity within each classroom as well. Close examination of desegregated schools often reveals persisting ethnic and racial divides. Advocates point to in-school policies such as academic tracking, which sorts students into different classes or curriculum based on academic ability, as perpetuating “secondary segregation” in even the most diverse schools. Successful integration, researchers say, requires a conscious effort from schools to not only avoid such systems, but also to create an equitable and accepting environment through changes to curriculum and school culture.

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4. What it takes for school diversity to really work

A stroll through the hallways of West Hertel Academy, a public elementary and middle school serving Buffalo’s west side, can feel like a quick walk around the world.

The flags of Burma, Somalia, and other far-off countries line the walls, welcoming students and parents with a touch of home. Signs for the bathroom and other facilities include at least five languages each – a small fraction of the 50 spoken across the student body. 

At West Hertel Academy, where more than a third of students are non-native English speakers and roughly 9 in 10 come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the challenges involved in creating a harmonious, cohesive student body are significant. But new research has found that children at diverse schools like West Hertel reap unique social and personal benefits that those at more homogeneous schools don’t. 

A recent survey of middle school students by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that students of all races and ethnicities can benefit from diversity in the classroom. Of 4,302 sixth-grade students surveyed, those attending schools with a relatively equal balance of three or more ethnic groups reported feeling safer, less lonely, and less vulnerable to bullying than their counterparts in schools with a clear ethnic majority. 

But the findings of the study, published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, also underscore the importance of what experts say is a crucial, yet oft-overlooked, requirement for successful integration: diversity within the classroom. Students in more diverse schools reported better relations between ethnic groups and were more likely to feel that teachers treated all students fairly and equally – but only when the diversity of individual academic classes reflected that of the entire student body. 

As educators and lawmakers grapple with how best to combat the increasing resegregation of American schools, much attention has been paid to increasing the overall diversity of student bodies. But a closer look inside desegregated schools often reveals persisting ethnic and racial divides. Advocates point to in-school policies such as academic tracking, which sorts students into different classes or curriculum based on academic ability, as perpetuating “secondary segregation” in even the most diverse schools, often separating students by race and putting students of color on less advanced tracks than their white peers. 

Successful integration requires a conscious effort from schools to not only avoid such systems, but also to create an equitable and accepting environment through changes to curriculum and school culture, says Lee Teitel, faculty director of Reimagining Integration: The Diverse and Equitable Schools Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

“One of the key things that we’ve learned is to pay attention to what happens inside the schools, because it’s not always enough to get diverse bodies in the building,” says Mr. Teitel, who was not involved in the study. “It doesn’t automatically lead to the good outcomes that you’re looking for.” 

Creating school where kids feel that they ‘fit’

The authors of the new research attribute the well-being of students at more diverse schools to a broader sense of acceptance and equality among peers. 

“We presume that in these types of environments, there is a good balance of power among the groups and ... students do not feel intimidated or threatened by students from other ethnic groups,” says Jaana Juvonen, professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study. “There are also likely to be multiple norms for behavior and looks, hence it is easier for any one student to find their niche and feel that they ‘fit in.’ ” 

Simply bringing students of different races and ethnicities together under one roof is “a place to start,” says Amy Stuart Wells, professor of sociology and education at Columbia University Teachers College. “You’ve got to get kids into the same building before you can work on these other things.” 

But, she and Teitel say, efforts shouldn’t end there. 

Historically, Professor Wells says, policymakers have focused primarily on that first step of the integration process – increasing the overall ethnic diversity of schools – with little consideration given to what happens inside schools after they’ve been desegregated. In recent years, however, the issue of integration within schools has begun to gain more traction in the research and policy spheres, in part due to the changing demographics of city schools as whites return to urban areas.

In 2014, the US Department of Education penned a letter to the country’s school districts calling attention to persisting disparities in US schools and noting that “students of color are less likely than their white peers to be enrolled in [advanced courses and gifted and talented programs] within schools that have those offerings.” A Department of Education investigation into tracking practices in New Jersey’s South Orange-Maplewood school district that same year found that black students held only 18.7 percent of spots in the district’s Advanced Placement classes, despite accounting for 51.5 percent of the district’s high school enrollment. 

“There’s kind of this renewed emphasis on integration and diversity in the US,” Wells says. “If we don’t tackle these issues of integration, these schools won’t be stable and they won’t be sustainable over time.”

Changing the mindset of a school

Successfully integrating a school typically involves structural shifts such as de-tracking, adjusting curriculum, and rethinking approaches to discipline that disproportionately affect students of color, Teitel and Wells say. But it also requires less tangible changes in school culture, among both students and educators. 

West Hertel Academy in Buffalo has experienced both the challenges and the rewards of trying to bring about those less tangible changes. 

The school has in recent years stepped up its efforts through the professional development of teachers, honest conversations about issues of diversity among faculty and staff, and collaboration with parents and the outside community, according to principal Cecelie Owens.

“It really is all about ... changing the mindset [of the school] to do what’s best for the kids,” Principal Owens says. “When you know better, you do better.”

Among the student body, West Hertel has worked to foster an environment of inclusiveness through schoolwide projects and regular events celebrating different cultures, adds Rebekah Barbera, a fifth-grade ENL (English as a New Language) teacher at the school. 

They note that progress has been slow – as experts say it often is – but noticeable. 

“It takes time,” Owens says. “But this is 2017. Things are different. We can’t keep responding the same way we did 15 or 20 years ago.” 

( 1027 words )
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5. In Portugal, harshest set of summer blazes may force action

For a Monitor correspondent in Portugal, forest fires were so common growing up that she sometimes ate dinner in her beachwear because of the heat. But this year's fires have been different, she writes, leading to conversations about how residents can embrace long-ignored solutions. 

Mark
Firefighters worked to put out a forest fire near Gois, Portugal, June 20. Officials are still debating whether arson or lightning set off the blazes, which scorched tens of thousands of acres and killed more than 60 people. As of Monday, June 26, the fires were said to be largely under control.
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Rafael Marchante/Reuters
 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe fires ravaging Portugal, leaving 64 people dead, shocked people, but they are not a surprise. “Everyone knows we have to deal with fires when summer arrives,” says Rodrigo Silva, from the village of Nodeirinho, one of the hardest hit last week. “But never like this,” he adds. Portugal is one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, with most of that land privately owned and highly fragmented. Rural communities used to fight the fires together – and work to maintain the forests to reduce the threat of fire. But in the past 50 years, rural populations have dwindled, leaving these plots of land overgrown and neglected. At the same time, large parts of central and northern Portugal became covered with eucalyptus, imported to feed the paper mills. That has left the forests a tinderbox. Experts say that now is the time to implement change this. Paulo Castro, an expert in forest fires, says the only way to avoid another tragedy is by “fostering the repopulation of rural areas with incentives to agriculture, prioritizing native trees and circumscribing eucalyptus trees to the areas around paper factories.”

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5. In Portugal, harshest set of summer blazes may force action

To my family, summer meant only one thing: fire.

Every year, the fire would destroy another piece of forest, the piece that hadn’t burned the year before. Every year, it would move closer and closer to villages where my relatives grew up, closer and closer to the houses of third cousins I had never seen. On some August evenings, the nearby fires generated so much heat that we covered the chairs with bed sheets and ate in our beachwear.

But this year was worse. Fires swept through the center of Portugal in the past week, killing 64 people. “No one could have predicted these many people would die, but those who know the land know that this territory has been anxiously expecting a tragedy for decades,” says Paulo Castro, an expert in forest fires.

And now, experts say that it is the time to implement the solutions everyone has been debating for decades: dealing with the fragmented ownership of the forest, closer enforcement of laws meant to prevent fires, and restrictions on the growth of eucalyptus trees, which have supplanted more fire-resistant domestic species.

Forty-seven people were killed on Estrada National 236-1 by the forest fire, earning the highway the moniker 'road of death.'
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Catarina Fernandes Martins

“Everyone knows we have to deal with fires when summer arrives, but never like this,” says Rodrigo Silva, from the village of Nodeirinho, one of the hardest hit. Eleven of its 30 residents were killed.

Many of those killed were trapped in their cars on a highway surrounded by forest. Mr. Silva and his family tried to escape using the same road. But by the time they were ready to jump in the car, his house was filling up with smoke as flames roared through the forests that surrounded it. Along with other neighbors, he and his family took shelter around a tank full of water near the house. They waited in the dark and watched as everything around them burned, taking turns soaking their clothes and faces. In the end, they survived what Prime Minister Antonio Costa called “a level of human tragedy that Portugal has never seen before.”

A week after, my dad and I drove that road. As we traveled, he showed me how close the eucalyptus trees stand to the road, even though “the law forbids it,” he says. It was easy to imagine those highly flammable trees becoming arches of flames. He tells me the story of how, 50 years ago, his whole village, awakened in the middle of the night by the church bell, would gather to fight the fire.

“It was an event. We used to draw the fires with pine sticks. Of course fires were not as dangerous because back then a lot of people lived in the country and they kept the forests clean,” he says. 

Portugal is one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, but only 1.6 percent of that land is owned by the state – the lowest percentage in Europe. Most of that land is highly fragmented. In the past 50 years, rural populations have dwindled (one out of nine people now live in coastal cities), leaving these privately owned plots of land abandoned and neglected.

At the same time, large parts of central and northern Portugal became covered with eucalyptus, a sap-rich, fast-growing tree, native to Australia. It sucks up scarce groundwater but is considered highly profitable because it provides raw material for the paper industry. Eucalyptus trees have destroyed native species like oaks, chestnuts, and cork – which are more resistant to fire – and now cover a quarter of total forest land.

For decades, environmentalists and forest experts have called for the planting of oaks, chestnuts, and cork trees and for restrictions on eucalyptus. Efforts to circumscribe eucalyptus to specific areas have been blocked by Portugal’s paper industry lobby.

Dina Duarte and João Viola of Nodeirinho, Portugal, are trying to plant new flowers and trees to bring back the green.
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Catarina Fernandes Martins

“The laws are good but no one is following the law,” says Dina Duarte, a civil servant whose backyard in Nodeirinho was destroyed by the fire. Ms. Duarte lost four close relatives, but she says the village is so small that everyone is, in fact, “a close relative.” 

Mr. Castro, the forest fire expert, says the only way to avoid another tragedy is by “fostering the repopulation of rural areas with incentives to agriculture, prioritizing native trees, and circumscribing eucalyptus trees to the areas around paper factories.” 

João Branco, president of Quercus, an environmental campaign group, adds another solution. “We need to proceed with re-parceling the land that’s highly divided,” he says. He also stresses the need to limit the growth of eucalyptus. “Before we do those two things there’s no point in even discussing emergency responses to fires.”

Back in Nodeirinho, Duarte, the civil servant, talks about the bursting sprouts of the tilia tree already growing in her backyard. “Maybe these sprouts mean an end to the fire season,” she says. “This needs to end. We can’t go on fearing the summer.”

By Catarina Fernandes Martins
Correspondent
( 841 words )
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The Monitor's View

Renewable energy at a ‘tipping point’

 

The 30 Sec. ReadFossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – still generate roughly 85 percent of the world’s energy supply. But the move to renewables such as wind and solar is picking up momentum worldwide. Some growth stems from a commitment by governments and businesses to fund cleaner energy sources. Another part of the story is renewables’ plummeting upfront costs. While the rest of the world – notably China and Europe – takes the lead, the United States is also seeing a remarkable shift. In March, for the first time, wind and solar power accounted for more than 10 percent of the power generated in the US, reported the US Energy Information Administration. The pace of change in energy sources appears to be speeding up – perhaps just in time to have a meaningful effect in slowing climate change.

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Renewable energy at a ‘tipping point’

Should the world promote economic growth or fight climate change? That model of “either/or” thinking may be losing its validity faster than even some experts have imagined.

While fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – still generate roughly 85 percent of the world’s energy supply, it’s clearer than ever that the future belongs to renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The move to renewables is picking up momentum around the world: They now account for more than half of new power sources going on line.

Some growth stems from a commitment by governments and farsighted businesses to fund cleaner energy sources. But increasingly the story is about the plummeting prices of renewables, especially wind and solar. The cost of solar panels has dropped by 80 percent and the cost of wind turbines by close to one-third in the past eight years, reports the International Renewable Energy Agency.

In many parts of the world renewable energy is already a principal energy source. In Scotland, for example, wind turbines provide enough electricity to power 95 percent of homes.

While the rest of the world takes the lead, notably China and Europe, the United States is also seeing a remarkable shift. In March, for the first time, wind and solar power accounted for more than 10 percent of the power generated in the US, reported the US Energy Information Administration.

President Trump has underlined fossil fuels – especially coal – as the path to economic growth. In a recent speech in Iowa, a state he won easily in 2016, he dismissed wind power as an unreliable energy source.

But that message did not play well with many in the Hawkeye State, where wind turbines dot the fields and provide 36 percent of the state’s electricity generation – and where tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are being attracted by the availability of clean energy to power their data centers.

Prominent Republican politicians in Iowa are backing the growing industry. The state’s senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, has pledged his strong commitment to wind power, as has the new GOP governor, Kim Reynolds. Other red states in the heartland, such as Kansas, the Dakotas, and Texas, are experiencing a wind-powered boom as well.

The question “what happens when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine?” has provided a quick put-down for skeptics. But a boost in the storage capacity of batteries, and a dramatic drop in their cost, is making their ability to keep power flowing around the clock more likely.

The advance is driven in part by vehicle manufacturers, who are placing big bets on battery-powered electric vehicles. Although electric cars are still a rarity on roads in 2017, this massive investment could change the picture rapidly in coming years. China, whose cities are choked by air pollution, may lead the way.

“Renewables have reached a tipping point globally,” sums up Simon Virley, who studies the world’s energy markets for the international accounting firm KPMG. He sees renewables competing on price with fossil fuels in more and more places around the world.

“I think [the shift to renewable energy is] happening much faster than most well-educated business people in America understand,” adds British investor Jeremy Grantham, cofounder of the Boston-based asset manager firm GMO, in Britain’s Financial Times recently.

While there’s a long way to go, the trend lines for renewables are spiking. The the pace of change in energy sources appears to be speeding up – perhaps just in time to have a meaningful effect in slowing climate change.

What Washington does – or doesn’t do – to promote alternative energy may mean less and less at a time of a global shift in thought.

By The Monitor's Editorial Board
( 604 words )
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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.

The true power – grace

 

Throughout history and still today, reports of shady or even inhumane actions to further leaders’ political ambitions seem unending. But it’s also notable that the most lasting stability and progress come from a spirit of humility and grace. Christ Jesus expressed these qualities so powerfully that many around him were healed and reformed. And through a deeper understanding of our relationship to God, divine Love, we come to see that such qualities are inherent in each of us. “I will put my spirit within you,” we read in the Bible (Ezekiel 36:27). We all have the capability to express the wisdom and grace that inspire good leadership and promote progress in our lives and in the world around us.

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The true power – grace

Egotism and intransigence – even inhumanity – have too often accompanied the pursuit of political goals around the world. However, long-term stability and progress for nations have usually been the result of humility, compromise, and grace, which one dictionary defines as “courteous goodwill.”

For instance, while there’s certainly still progress to be made in South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela’s example of humility, strength, and grace toward both adversaries and supporters illustrated what can be accomplished when dogmatism or vengefulness are resisted.

Jesus Christ was a consummate model of these qualities, as is evidenced by the still ongoing ethic of his teachings after 2,000 years. In the face of wrongdoing, he had the integrity and strength to stand up to both religious figures and highly positioned government officials.

And through his understanding of God as infinitely good and powerful, he did so with a quiet grace that assured positive results, bringing reformation and healing where they were needed.

Is it possible and feasible today for us – including figures of authority, or even governments themselves – to express qualities of grace and still be strong and effective?

Yes, it is possible. We can follow Jesus’ example and achieve needed solutions today.

As a keen student of Jesus’ life and words, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, once wrote, “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 4). The desire to live these qualities promotes peace.

And the good news is that these spiritual qualities of leadership and wisdom are available to and inherent in each of us, because we are all truly the spiritual creation of God, divine Love itself. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God assures mankind, through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27).

All of us, including those holding the levers of power, have the natural ability to express the spirit of God, which includes the attributes of genuine justice, mercy, and wisdom. And when we embrace and express these qualities, opposing tendencies fade away.

Oppressive and negative inclinations are not from God, so they do not belong to any of us. As God’s creations, we express only the wisdom, strength, and goodness of God.

The grace God continually bestows on us promotes peace and stability. Each of us is free today to experience the power of grace that inspires good leadership in our family, community, country, and world.

By Blythe Evans
( 428 words )
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Viewfinder

Fast news day

A news assistant ran from the building with press materials Monday after the US Supreme Court granted parts of the Trump administration’s emergency request to put its travel ban into effect, even as the legal battle continues. The court is expected to take it up in October.
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Yuri Gripas/Reuters
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In Our Next Issue

( June 27th, 2017 )

Come back tomorrow for more on the high court’s big day. We’ll be looking closely at two major religious-liberty cases at the center of US culture wars – one decided Monday on public funding, and one to be decided in the next term on same-sex marriage. 

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