2019
October
22
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Today’s five hand-picked stories cover a U.S. immigration policy that favors self-sufficiency, the changing role of the world’s superpower, parsing the presidential quid pro quo, innovation under the sea, and books that delve into sexism, activism, and forgiveness. 

Let’s start with a ball of yarn. 

As Meredith Wills pulled on that yarn, she produced the best theories about how major league baseballs were “juiced” to fly farther. Now, on the eve of the 2019 World Series, the balls are suddenly being dejuiced.

You see, Dr. Wills is a knitter, a fan of the game, and has a Ph.D. in astrophysics. The confluence meant she had disassembled a bunch of baseballs and used the yarn from inside the balls to knit vintage-pattern Colorado Rockies socks. She kept the outer stitching or laces. In 2017, she calculated those laces were 9% thicker than in past years. That meant less drag and a burst of home runs. 

This year, baseballs started flying out of the park again – with a home run surge of 21% over 2018. Major League Baseball denies any changes. But Dr. Wills took some ball measurements, and found the baseball maker, Rawlings, had doubled production to serve the major and minor leagues. To keep pace, Rawlings dried the balls faster which made leather smoother, Dr. Wills told “The Lead” this week. The balls flew farther, much farther. 

As the World Series opens tonight, the game’s integrity is again falling short, and so are the fly balls. But Dr. Wills and her two cats are on it, she says via Twitter. I’m counting on a knitter’s ingenuity, a scientific mind, and a pure love of the game to tell us what’s really going on.

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The Explainer

1. Was there a quid pro quo with Ukraine? Three questions.

The quid pro quo question at the heart of the House investigation received new urgency and a new dimension Monday after explosive testimony by the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.

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A key part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump involves three Latin words: quid pro quo, literally “this for that.” Did President Trump withhold aid from Ukraine to pressure it to launch an investigation that might benefit him politically?

Democrats charge that the president abused his office by improperly leveraging U.S. foreign policy to try to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and to pursue a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016.

President Trump’s defenders insist that while the president may have asked the Ukrainian leader for help with certain matters, it was entirely appropriate and there was no quid pro quo. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney recently complicated that argument by seeming to say there was a quid pro quo, but that’s a common feature of foreign policy – an assertion he later tried to walk back.

On Tuesday, explosive testimony from William Taylor Jr., the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, added a new dimension and new urgency to the quid pro quo question. Mr. Taylor told House impeachment investigators that President Trump did withhold Ukraine aid and a promised White House meeting for Ukraine’s leader until Ukrainian officials publicly promised to investigate the Bidens, father and son.

If true Mr. Taylor’s assertions would directly contradict the president’s “no quid pro quo” stance, while calling into question the accuracy of several impeachment witnesses who have stated they were unaware of such pressure.

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Was there a quid pro quo with Ukraine? Three questions.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 5:45 p.m. on Oct. 22 to include testimony from senior U.S. diplomat William Taylor Jr.

A key part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump involves three Latin words: quid pro quo, literally “this for that.” Did President Trump withhold aid from Ukraine to pressure it to launch an investigation that might benefit him politically?

Democrats charge that the president abused his office by improperly leveraging U.S. foreign policy to try to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and to pursue a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016.

President Trump’s defenders insist that while the president may have asked the Ukrainian leader for help with certain matters, it was entirely appropriate and there was no quid pro quo. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney recently complicated that argument by seeming to say there was a quid pro quo, but that’s a common feature of foreign policy – an assertion he later tried to walk back.

On Tuesday, explosive testimony from William Taylor Jr., the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, added a new dimension and new urgency to the quid pro quo question. Mr. Taylor told House impeachment investigators that President Trump did withhold Ukraine aid and a promised White House meeting for Ukraine’s leader until Ukrainian officials publicly promised to investigate the Bidens, father and son.

If true Mr. Taylor’s assertions would directly contradict the president’s “no quid pro quo” stance, while calling into question the accuracy of several impeachment witnesses who have stated they were unaware of such pressure.

What did Mr. Taylor say?

Mr. Taylor was acting ambassador for the U.S. in Ukraine. His Tuesday testimony occurred behind closed doors, but news organizations obtained copies of his 15-page opening statement, which was apparently based on copious notes and memos for the record from Mr. Taylor’s files.

In short, he said that the quid pro quo was real, and drew a line directly from President Trump to the mysterious withholding of American military aid intended to help Ukraine defend against Russian incursion on its territory.

“I said on September 9 in a message to [Ambassador to the European Union] Gordon Sondland that withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be ‘crazy’. I believed that then, and I still believe that,” Mr. Taylor said in his opening statement.

Mr. Taylor said that Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and political appointee who donated to the Trump campaign, informed him of the reasons for the unusual hold in a phone call. Everything was dependent on a public statement by Ukraine of an investigation into Biden-related matters, Mr. Sondland said, according to Mr. Taylor.

The president wanted Ukraine in a “public box,” Mr. Taylor was told. Presumably this would help ensure the investigations really occurred. It might also have been a means, by itself, of throwing doubt on the honesty of former Vice President Biden and his son.

“Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman,” Mr. Taylor said in his statement. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”

A diplomat with five decades of experience, Mr. Taylor described a situation in which there were two channels for Ukraine policy, “one regular, and one highly irregular.” The latter consisted of Mr. Sondland, special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

What happens now?

Democrats who heard Mr. Taylor’s testimony described it as a possible inflection point in their impeachment inquiry. Republicans were tight-lipped about what the diplomat had said.

There is sure to be a fight over Mr. Taylor’s credibility, and over the question of whether his statements really describe a direct line from the Oval Office to Ukraine, or simply his mistaken impression of what the circumstances were in this case.

One possible line of defense: GOP lawmakers are likely to describe Mr. Taylor as a bureaucrat disgruntled by the fact that the Trump administration was sapping the bureaucracy’s power and implementing new policies on its own, of which the career State Department hierarchy simply disapproved.

Democratic House investigators are almost certain to try and speak again with Mr. Sondland. In his previous appearance, compelled by a House subpoena, Mr. Sondland had said that President Trump had told him there was no quid pro quo in this instance, but he was not certain of the truth of that assertion. He also said that he did not recall having discussions with any State Department or White House official about former Vice President Biden or his son.

Would a quid pro quo be an impeachable offense?

It may all come down to Mr. Trump’s intent.

In many circumstances it is perfectly proper for a high U.S. official, even a president, to ask foreign countries for assistance with an ongoing law enforcement investigation, according to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

“Such calls can shortcut bureaucratic red tape, particularly if the evidence is held, as with this case, by national security or justice officials,” Mr. Turley wrote in an October 2 column in The Hill.

It may also be appropriate in some circumstances for a president to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival, as President Trump appears to have done by urging the Ukrainian president to investigate the activities of former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter Biden. As Ohio State constitutional law professor Edward Foley points out in Politico, it all depends on what the rival may have been doing, and whether the president has the nation’s broader interests at heart.

In 1804, former Vice President Aaron Burr contacted the British government, looking for foreign support to cut the western portion of the U.S. away to form a separate country. President Thomas Jefferson, who detested Mr. Burr, eventually had the former vice president tried for treason. Probing this alleged deal was clearly in the country’s interest.

“Jefferson as president would have been acting responsibly if he had requested Britain’s assistance in the investigation of Burr,” Mr. Foley writes. 

In his dealings with Ukraine, including his call to investigate Mr. Biden and his son, was Mr. Trump acting for the good of the nation, or the benefit of himself? The impeachment inquiry will be tasked with answering that question. Evidence may include public statements and private discussions among staff members about possible quid pro quos.

To determine intent, lawmakers will have to judge what they believe was in Mr. Trump’s heart, as well as his actions.

“That is a tricky – but not impossible – bar for Congress to clear,” writes Mr. Foley.

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. When a superpower decides it no longer wants the job

The U.S. is the world’s top economic and military power. But its stature has been rooted in diplomatic leadership, making its voice matter even where it hasn’t intervened directly. Now, that is changing.

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What happens when a superpower decides it no longer wants to be a superpower?

The United States remains the world’s preeminent economic and military power. Yet its superpower status has been rooted in political and diplomatic leadership. That’s changing under the Trump administration.

In Syria, former President Barack Obama decided against significant U.S. military involvement, but drew on America’s superpower toolbox to assemble 70-plus countries to take on the Islamic State group. Militarily, the U.S. allied with Kurdish fighters.

The situation settled into a delicate balance of power. But Turkey’s president wanted the Kurds out of northern Syria. Fewer than 2,000 U.S. soldiers blocked that goal – but it was enough. Once the U.S. signaled a pullout, Turkey surged in, and Syrian troops surged northward. Diplomatic roads now lead through Russia. 

In Asia, the U.S. has left the Trans-Pacific Partnership and questioned U.S. troop deployments in South Korea. That’s made tamping down escalating tensions between Japan and South Korea uncharacteristically more difficult. In Europe, there’s concern over President Donald Trump’s questioning of NATO and the superpower commitment it represents.

Mr. Trump seems to enjoy broad support in avoiding major military operations. But the strong bipartisan criticism regarding Syria suggests growing worry over a more fundamental disengagement.

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When a superpower decides it no longer wants the job

The upheaval and terrible violence in Syria are just one sign. The same thing is happening elsewhere: not only in the Middle East, but as far afield as Eastern Europe and East Asia.

We are seeing the beginnings of an answer to a question with potentially critical implications: What happens when a superpower decides it no longer wants to be a superpower?

The United States remains the world’s preeminent economic and military power. Only one other country, China, harbors realistic ambitions to displace it from that position. And the U.S. is not suddenly going to shrink into the geopolitical equivalent of Nepal, or Luxembourg, or Paraguay.

Yet its status as a superpower has been rooted in something more than mere economic or military muscle. It has rested on political and diplomatic leadership, and on a web of alliances around the world, formal and informal, that has magnified U.S. influence. The result: Even in areas of conflict where Washington has not directly sought to intervene, its mere presence has exercised a major influence. Its voice has mattered, and it has been listened to. 

That’s what is changing under President Donald Trump, with Syria providing the most dramatic evidence.

In Syria, it was Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who decided against significant U.S. military involvement in the country’s civil war. But in his determination to roll back the so-called Islamic State, President Obama did draw on America’s superpower toolbox. The U.S. was critical in assembling an international partnership of more than 70 countries to take on the Islamic State group. And militarily, it forged a battlefield alliance with Kurdish fighters, backing them with money, weapons, training, and a small contingent of special-forces troops.

With ISIS beaten back, at least territorially, the situation in Syria until this month had settled into a delicate balance of power. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian forces, was gradually moving to control more of the country. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, to the north, continued his monthslong public insistence that northern Syria be cleared of the US-allied Kurds.

In pure military terms, there was little to stop Turkey: fewer than 2,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground. But for Mr. Erdoğan, and for Mr. Assad and Russian forces as well, it was not the troop numbers that forestalled any advance. It was the insignia on their uniforms: the potential price of taking on the whole range of measures available to the U.S. as a superpower. It was the U.S. presence that mattered.

Once the Trump administration signaled it no longer cared to remain, Mr. Erdoğan’s army, reportedly backed by jihadist irregulars, surged into Syria. Mr. Assad’s troops pushed northward as well into the roughly one-third of the country controlled by the U.S.-backed Kurds. And while what comes next is uncertain – Iran also has forces in Syria – one thing is clear: All diplomatic roads now lead through Russia, where Mr. Erdoğan has now traveled for talks with President Vladimir Putin. 

Washington’s fairly low-key response to last month’s Iranian attack on key Saudi oil facilities was seen in the region as conveying a similar message, prompting the Saudis to explore their own options for de-escalation with Tehran, and also to welcome Mr. Putin for talks.

But it’s not just in the Middle East that the absence – or at least the quieting – of America’s voice seems to be having an impact. In Asia, Japan and South Korea, two of Washington’s key allies, have been locked in a political battle, escalating into a trade war. At issue is a deeply felt enmity dating from Japan’s often-brutal colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the last century.

That’s not something any outside power can simply wish away. But the U.S. has, over decades, played a critical role in damping down such crises between allies. That’s now made more complicated by a similar retreat from engagement in Asia: first, at the start of the Trump administration, by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an alliance set up with U.S. backing to balance the expanding influence of China; and more recently, by calling into question the value of continued U.S. troop deployments in South Korea.

In Europe, there’s similar concern over Mr. Trump’s questioning of the importance of the NATO military alliance, and of the implications that might have, for instance, in Ukraine, where Mr. Putin has annexed Crimea. At issue, as in Syria, is not whether there should be U.S. forces on the ground to forestall further advances there or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It is the deterrent importance of America’s superpower commitment, its political and diplomatic presence, and its voice.

The longer-term question is whether there might be a return to American superpower engagement. Mr. Trump seems to enjoy broad support on at least one issue: That in the wake of the long and still-unresolved war in Iraq, the U.S. should steer clear of major military operations overseas. But the strong bipartisan criticism of his pullout from Syria, especially over the evident gains for Messrs. Erdoğan, Assad, and Putin, suggests that the effects of a more fundamental disengagement could be causing alarm.

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3. Trump policy stirs debate: How ‘self-sufficient’ must immigrants be?

A difference in core values is central to the heated debate over immigration. Conservatives espouse the ideal of self-sufficiency, while liberals embrace interdependence.

David
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Immigrants are sworn in as new U.S. citizens in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 2019.

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To the president’s supporters, it’s common sense. An immigration system that favors skilled workers can boost the U.S. economy and reduce a rising taxpayer tab for federal safety net programs.

“The president … believes the American immigration system, first and foremost, is set up to work for America. That means economically and for the people [already] here,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters Wednesday at a Monitor Breakfast.

But this ideal of self-sufficiency might not be so simple to put into practice. 

Across America, many help-wanted ads are for low-skilled jobs, not for the college graduates favored by the president. A rule finalized recently by Mr. Cuccinelli could sharply limit the pool of immigrants available for low-wage work. It seeks to block green cards for people deemed likely to enroll in welfare programs.

“We have an economy that is full of jobs that fill vital needs but are not paying very well and often do not provide health insurance,” says Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a labor expert at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington. “And so people get these supports from the government to supplement their work.” 

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Trump policy stirs debate: How ‘self-sufficient’ must immigrants be?

President Donald Trump’s recasting of United States immigration policy isn’t just about letting fewer newcomers into the country. It’s also about redefining who is worthy to enter.

His administration’s stated criterion: those who are self-sufficient.

To the president’s supporters, it’s common sense. Favoring the skilled can boost the U.S. economy. And favoring the industrious will reduce a rising taxpayer tab for federal safety-net programs. Nations like Australia and Canada have already gone down this path toward a merit-based system for immigrant visas, they say.

“The president has made no secret of the fact that he believes the American immigration system, first and foremost, is set up to work for America. That means economically and for the people [already] here,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters Wednesday at a Monitor Breakfast.

It’s an objective that resonates with voters like Tammy Waddell, who has a horse farm about an hour’s drive north of the nation’s capital and who calls the nation’s current immigration situation “out of control.”

But this ideal of self-sufficiency might not be so simple to put into practice. For one thing, it’s not easy to draw bright lines between “desirable” and “undesirable” immigrants.

Mr. Trump’s policies are reducing the number of available workers in an already tight job market. Across America, many help-wanted ads are for low-skilled jobs, not for the college graduates favored by the president. A rule finalized recently by Mr. Cuccinelli could sharply limit the pool of immigrants available for low-wage work. It seeks to block green cards to people deemed likely to enroll in federal welfare programs. 

Matt Orlando/The Christian Science Monitor
Ken Cuccinelli, acting head of the agency that oversees legal immigration, has announced rules that would winnow out many green-card applicants based on their likelihood of drawing on federal support. Here he speaks at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington on Oct. 16, 2019.

“It’s a very misleading definition of self-sufficiency,” says Elizabeth Lower-Basch, an expert on income and benefits at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington. “The vast majority of working-age adults who receive Medicaid [or food assistance] are in fact working.”

The ‘economic value’ of immigrants

The new restrictions, based on whether someone is likely to become a “public charge,” build on federal laws and guidelines going back as far as 1882. The Trump administration has created a more detailed and restrictive rule tied to U.S. law. Last week, judges in several federal courts blocked it from going into effect. 

Critics say the rule would amount to revising the land-of-opportunity ideal embodied at the base of the Statue of Liberty, where the famous words of poet Emma Lazarus say: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Backers of the policy, including Mr. Cuccinelli, defend a heightened focus on the “economic value” of immigrants. And he notes that the new criteria are aimed at family or employment immigrants, not those who seek access to the U.S. on a humanitarian basis as refugees or asylees.

“We continue to provide … the most long-term permanent relief in the world. So our position as the No. 1 most generous country in the world is not at any risk,” he asserted at the Monitor Breakfast. Still, Mr. Cuccinelli also discussed Trump administration plans to roll back the volume of entrants in those humanitarian categories.

What does the economy need?

Some economic-policy experts argue that curtailing the number of immigrants – and screening them in ways that narrow ethnic and socioeconomic diversity – could backfire economically. The current demand is for low-skill workers and the outsize contributions that immigrants make to the formation of new businesses.

“We have an economy that is full of jobs that fill vital needs but are not paying very well and often do not provide health insurance,” says Ms. Lower-Basch. “And so people get these supports from the government to supplement their work. Whereas ‘public charge’ was really written about people who ... were going to entirely rely on the government and not support themselves at all.”

Recent Trump actions seek to screen out applicants who can’t show they’ll be able to buy health insurance – putting up a major obstacle for many would-be immigrants.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Immigrant-rights organizations, including CASA and the Service Employees International Union, rally at the Capitol in Washington Sept. 9, 2019, calling on Congress to create a path to permanent status for Temporary Protected Status holders and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals recipients.

That could be a problem for the economy, say some employers, who complain of a shortage of workers in general or who say not all skilled immigrants come with money and college degrees in hand. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports programs to attract both high- and low-skill immigrants. In a recent blog post it cited an “ominous” decline in the number of people coming from overseas to study at U.S. universities – often a path toward employment. “Concerns about our nation’s immigration system” were viewed by many as a key reason. 

Many economists say immigrants pay taxes that outweigh the public benefits they receive, contribute to innovation in ways that can be stunted by policies that restrict their diversity, and don’t erode opportunities for native-born residents.

Still, public opinion remains sharply divided, at a time when immigrants account for nearly 14% of the U.S. population, not far from prior-century peaks seen around 1910.

Maryland shows the variety views

In rural Frederick County, in Maryland, the county sheriff is seeking to collaborate with federal officials against unauthorized immigrants. Residents have formed opposing camps over whether the need is to combat racism and xenophobia or to uphold the rule of law.

To Ms. Wadell, the principle of self-sufficiency goes hand-in-hand with limiting immigration to those who apply and are accepted through legal channels.

“Be legal and work, and I don’t have a problem,” she says, as she and her husband fill their truck with gas before heading home to care for their horses. In her view, many immigrants rely on welfare programs at the expense of taxpayers.”

In the city of Frederick, not far from the Pennsylvania border, some see it differently.

“It’s a huge myth that immigrants are coming here to get public assistance,” says Michael Haverty, who works at a music and arts shop. “It’s also a big myth that … you stay on public assistance forever.” 

For him, a reference point is his own family heritage. “My ancestors came here in the 1840s from Ireland in our darkest chapter,” Mr. Haverty says. They worked their way from poverty into mainstream U.S. life, he says, as immigrants have been doing ever since. 

A few storefronts down, Jorge Ovando is adjusting an umbrella and cleaning a table outside a Peruvian restaurant. He is on a visa from Peru, aiming to earn money for a business degree and to polish his English language skills.

Mr. Ovando notes that his own job was created by a fellow Peruvian who started at a bottom-level restaurant job and worked his way up to a supervisory job and then opening this small cafe.

The question of self-sufficiency

But some experts say there’s good logic behind the Trump administration’s heightened focus on self-sufficiency.

“In welfare policy in general, one of the touchstones of the Trump administration has been to expect more individuals to work or participate in constructive activities,” says Matt Weidinger, a poverty expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. 

The Trump administration’s attempted shift toward a more merit-based system “is not a question of who is intrinsically a better human being,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for less immigration. “We want immigrants that we expect to be able to thrive – and in a modern post-industrial knowledge-based economy, that means having a certain level of education and arriving with a certain knowledge of English.”

The Trump administration’s goal is not only to enforce the new criteria. It also wants to emphasize employment more (and family ties less) in selecting legal immigrants.

But one question is whether that overlooks the value of interdependence. In the current economy, many people contribute as workers even while receiving some public support.

For example, the public charge rule, if it passes muster in court, would mean that “legal immigrants with disabilities will be unable to apply for and receive needed services to find and maintain employment,” Stacy Cervenka of the American Foundation for the Blind wrote recently. She calls that “entirely contradictory to DHS’s professed intention to ensure that immigrants are self-sufficient.”

As divisive as the issues are, many on both sides of the political spectrum say America’s immigration challenges ultimately will require bipartisan legislative answers. Mr. Cuccinelli said “there’s only so much we’re going to do by regulation and rule without Congress’s participation.”

Mark Greenberg, an expert at the Migration Policy Institute, takes the point a step further. “There’s a strong argument,” he says in an email, “that if there’s going to be a major shift in policy about who gets admitted to the country, that decision ought to be made by Congress – not by giving immigration officials broad discretion to implement a complex test without safeguards to prevent arbitrariness.”

Staff writer Sarah Matusek contributed to this report from Boston.

Editor's note: One sentence has been updated to remove a reference to the coming vacancy in the role of acting secretary of Homeland Security. 

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4. Latest weapon against lionfish? Meet the Roomba of the sea.

Invasive species are a common, and often intractable, problem. One entrepreneur’s solution may offer other lessons for hard to reach places.

David
David J. Phillip/AP/File
With its striking appearance, the exotic lionfish, shown here off the coast of the Caribbean island of Bonaire, is a popular aquarium fish. But when released into the wild, the fish became a menace to native fish species and the reefs they rely upon.

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Scientists call it “the perfect invader.” Stunning in aquariums, lionfish are the bane of the oceans, an invasive species that dominates and destroys reef ecosystems. With no natural predators and difficult to catch by line or net fishing, lionfish populations first exploded off the Florida coast, and have now expanded to South America. 

Now, a surprising new invention may help clear the seas of this species: a submersible robot. The Guardian is a 20-pound remotely operated vehicle equipped with cameras, lights, and two paddles that can deliver a 20-volt shock to a lionfish. Once stunned, the lionfish are vacuumed into a water-filled chamber. From there, the exotic fish may land on restaurant menus – or at your local Whole Foods. 

“The issue is that lionfish can be found all the way down to a thousand feet. … There’s no diving you can do to reach that depth,” says Adam Cantor, director of engineering at Robots in Service of the Environment, iRobot’s nonprofit, which developed the Guardian. “That’s where we come in. … By catching lionfish where they are breeding and hibernating you make sure that they never make it to the shallow reefs and therefore can’t devastate those native populations.” 

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Latest weapon against lionfish? Meet the Roomba of the sea.

If you can’t beat them, eat them. That is the common wisdom of many scientists, conservationists, and fishermen who dream of ridding the western Atlantic of invasive lionfish, a stunning aquarium fish that, when introduced in the wild, dominates and destroys reef ecosystems. However, catching lionfish has never been simple; they are not easily targeted by line or net fishing. Now, a surprising new invention may bring lionfish hunting to the masses and help clear the seas of this invader: a submersible robot.

With its striking stripes, diaphanous fins, and mane of colorful but poisonous spines, the exotic Indo-Pacific lionfish makes for a popular aquarium fish. But when released into the Atlantic in the 1980s (presumably by aquarium aficionados who tired of the voracious pet), the fish thrived and became a menace to native fish species and the reefs they rely upon. Lionfish populations first exploded off Florida’s coast; now, lionfish have expanded their range throughout the Bahamas and the Caribbean all the way down to South America. 

“A number of characteristics make the lionfish the perfect invader,” says Stephen Gittings, a coral reef ecologist and NOAA’s chief scientist for the National Marine Sanctuary System. “They can eat fish up to half their body size and a single lionfish can eat dozens of fish in a day. Since no native species prey on lionfish, you’re not losing very many of them over the course of time so they just dominate and take over.”   

What’s more, a single female lionfish can lay up to 2 million eggs a year, which are impervious to predation since they are housed in an inedible sac. Once lionfish are established in an area it is very difficult to get rid of them and they can quickly destroy much of a reef’s biodiversity. Lionfish can strip a reef of 90% of its juvenile fish species in as little as five weeks.

Reef Roomba to the rescue  

Colin Angle, the co-founder of iRobot, which produces the automated vacuum known as the Roomba, is an avid diver. When diving in the Bahamas a few years ago, Mr. Angle spotted a beautiful fish wreathed in a mane of colorful spines. He took pictures of the fish, which he showed the dive boat’s captain. The captain took one look at the photo and spit over the side of the boat in a show of disgust. It was, of course, a lionfish. 

Determined to use his access to technology to tackle the lionfish problem, Mr. Angle directed his nonprofit, Robots in Service of the Environment (RSE), to develop a submersible robot that could descend to great depths to gather lionfish. From this, the Guardian was born.  

The Guardian is a 20-pound submersible remotely operated vehicle equipped with cameras and lights – and two paddles that can deliver a 20-volt shock to a lionfish. In a boat above, a human driver with a laptop guides the Guardian toward lionfish, and can push a button that activates the paddles to stun the fish. Once stunned, they are vacuumed into a water-filled storage chamber that can hold up to 20 fish. When the chamber is filled, the Guardian returns to the surface with its catch. 

“We’re providing the low-cost scalable robot that can hunt and capture lionfish and effectively bring the ability to hunt lionfish to anyone,” says Adam Cantor, director of engineering at RSE. “We provide the hardware and software needed to capture these fish to local everyday fishermen and tourists at a reasonable cost. People can have some fun and at the same time protect the reef.”

Lionfish. It’s what’s for dinner.  

Lionfish aren’t just pretty – they happen to make a tasty and nutritious meal. A spearfishing diver can bag a dozen or more lionfish in a day and sell the catch to local restaurants or retailers such as Whole Foods. Many coastal communities now hold derbies that pull in thousands of lionfish over the course of a few days.

“The issue is that lionfish can be found all the way down to a thousand feet and they breed between 200 and 400 feet deep and aggregate there. There’s no diving you can do to reach that depth,” says Mr. Cantor. “So that’s where we come in. As you go deeper, it’s much more cost-effective to use the robot. Also, by catching lionfish where they are breeding and hibernating you make sure that they never make it to the shallow reefs and therefore can’t devastate those native populations.”  

The Guardian is currently priced at $1,000, and RSE plans to put it on the market next year. Lionfish sell for over $5 a pound and a single machine can catch up to 20 fish per dive. 

“I think absolutely there’s a market for it. There’s a ton of lionfish down deeper that we can’t get to,” says Andy Lowe, a professional diver and lionfish hunter. “The thousand-dollar price point is very good, but for me to personally consider buying one I’ll need to see it get a lionfish off a reef at depth. If it can do that it’s got great potential.”

How many people purchase the Guardian to hunt lionfish remains to be seen, and without consumer buy-in, the impact of the Guardian will be limited. RSE plans to expand the scope of the Guardian’s work to include other underwater jobs like inspecting pipelines and the hulls of ships or conducting underwater surveys. It views the Guardian as the first of many future projects.

“In the background, we are looking at other environmental issues that robots could help resolve,” says Andrew Doucette, communications lead at RSE. “There are several invasive species around the world that we think robots could help with like pythons in Florida or the urchins in California but we might not always be underwater. We could end up doing something in the Sahara Desert, I don’t know.”

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Books

5. No tricks, all treats: The 10 best books of October

Our autumn cornucopia includes a new Marlon Brando bio that reveals the actor as constitutional activist. We review a historical look at the women of Disney who challenged sexism behind the scenes of animated films. We have a novel about five Depression-era librarians delivering the wonders of literacy in rural Kentucky, and a novel about the role of grace and forgiveness in a land of hatred. Keep reading!

David
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No tricks, all treats: The 10 best books of October

When daylight hours grow shorter and shadows begin to lengthen, many people turn naturally to indoor pursuits – like reading a great book. Our selections this month run the gamut from incisive fiction to dynamic biography.

1. Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Steph Cha has written a gripping novel of two Los Angeles families caught up in racial tensions, murder, and injustice. With honesty and empathy she traces the downward spiral of generational violence and argues for love, grace, and forgiveness to counteract the landscape of hatred. 

2. Grand Union by Zadie Smith

In her first collection of short stories, novelist Zadie Smith explores the complexities of modern life. Writing from an array of perspectives, she directs her keen eye toward shifting social mores, as she examines gender roles, class, race, and relationships. The author’s talent shines through each story.  

3. The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
“The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes, Pamela Dorman Books, 400 pp.

This compelling novel is inspired by the Depression-era rural traveling Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. It follows five remarkable women who band together to face adversities while bringing the wonder of books and literacy to their neighbors. It’s an epic feminist adventure that candidly paints a community’s soul-searching with great humor, heartache, honesty, and love.

4. Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Jokha Alharthi offers insight into the lives of two families living in Oman during an era of economic and social change, from the early 20th century to present day. She reveals that things aren’t always how they appear, from the real nature of the grandfather’s business to the remarkable power women wield when the patriarchy dictates that they have none.

5. Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson

Christine Coulson’s sublime collection of short stories was inspired by her 25 years working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Shaped by her sparkling imagination, the stories bring to life both the artworks and the lives of characters that work and dream in the museum. 

6. Crusaders by Dan Jones

Dan Jones writes about history with relish and wonderment, as shown by his chronicle of the holy wars. “Crusaders” balances insights on religion, war, and politics with a trove of oddities and absurdities. His tale is steeped in scholarly research and lively writing. Were it not for the violence inherent to his subject matter, you might call it divine.

7. The Contender by William J. Mann 

Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
“The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando” by William J. Mann, Harper, 718 pp.

Marlon Brando is known not only for his roles in award-winning films such as “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Godfather,” but also for his social protests. William J. Mann’s biography probes Brando’s enigmatic persona in an illuminating manner. Seen as one of the pioneers of method acting, Brando eschewed labels as quickly as he did compliments. Yet his social activism has become a model for many artists today.

8. Dominion by Tom Holland

An accomplished and gifted author details some of the events and people that made Christianity the most powerful force in the Western world. Even as church pews empty, Christian moral teachings and values – including respect for the dignity of every human being and compassion and love toward others – continue to spread. A welcome and optimistic book.   

9. Artificial Intelligence by Melanie Mitchell

Computer scientist Melanie Mitchell elegantly separates the truth from the hype in this lucid, cleareyed book. She offers a fascinating account of the history of the field while also assessing its current state and future promise.

10. The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt

Nathalia Holt tells in unprecedented detail the story of the women who’ve worked behind the scenes at the Walt Disney Studios over the decades. They fought against sexism and discrimination to make immortal animation classics such as “Fantasia.”

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The Monitor's View

Canada’s breach over oil exports

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In many Western democracies, the politics of climate change is opening old fractures that require as much attention as climate change. Now it is Canada’s turn to deal with its own rupture over carbon issues.  

After an election on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a possible rebellion in two big energy-rich provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which contain the world’s third-largest proven reserves of oil. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the election but lost its majority in the House of Commons. It also lost big in western Canada. The results mean the Liberals will be forced into alliances with smaller – and greener – parties eager to prevent the export of oil from the two provinces.

The country’s old east-west divide has been revived, requiring the young prime minister to heal this national breach before it grows. One solution lies in helping Alberta better use its oil revenues to diversify its economy – as Norway has done with its petroleum wealth – lessening the need to extract oil for global markets. Weaning Canada off fossil fuels will take political patience and a renewed interest in harmony among its provinces.

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Canada’s breach over oil exports

In many Western democracies, the politics of climate change is opening old fractures that require as much attention as climate change. In France, for example, rural folks dependent on cars for a living rioted last year over a government hike in gas prices, forcing President Emmanuel Macron to retreat and then revamp how he governs. Now it is Canada’s turn to deal with its own rupture over carbon issues.

After an election on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a possible rebellion in two big energy-rich provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which contain the world’s third-largest proven reserves of oil. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party won the election but lost its majority in the House of Commons. It also lost big in the western Canada. The results mean the Liberals will be forced into alliances with smaller – and greener – parties eager to prevent the export of oil from the two provinces.

Until now, Mr. Trudeau has tried to balance Canada’s interest in being a leader on climate change with its vast oil wealth. In a grand political bargain last year, he was able to impose a national carbon tax while at the same time promising to rescue a proposed project to expand an oil pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast.

Now that pipeline may not be built as a result of the election, raising talk in Alberta of splitting the province from Canada. The country’s old east-west divide has been revived, requiring the young prime minister to heal this national breach before it grows. One solution lies in helping Alberta better use its oil revenues to diversify its economy – as Norway has done with its petroleum wealth – lessening the need to extract oil for global markets. Expanding a pipeline may then become unnecessary.

Weaning Canada off fossil fuels will take political patience and a renewed interest in harmony among its provinces. Climate change is urgent, but not as urgent as Canada keeping its unity in order to deal with climate change.

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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.

Wrapping our prayers around the immigration crisis

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Strongly held convictions about immigration crises around the world can polarize and divide people. But prayer that seeks God’s answers brings less stridency and more listening, opens the door to wise and balanced solutions, and lifts thoughts from fear to love.

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Wrapping our prayers around the immigration crisis

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I live in a city in the United States close to the Mexican border where immigration has long been a part of daily community life. I’ve benefited from the influx of business resulting from international trade and have enjoyed friendships with those who have come from other countries. But I’ve also been saddened by the tragedies that have occurred, the illegal drug runners flying unmarked planes low over pastures, and the increasing divisiveness the immigration issue has engendered.

This issue and other world problems call for prayers that make a difference. At first, praying about the immigration crisis just seemed too complex to me. But the urgency of the situation was brought home to me when violence took the lives of innocent people in El Paso, Texas, where I also have family. I knew I needed to pray about the crisis, but where to start?

To help me glimpse a more spiritual perspective on immigration, I turned to the Bible – which in a sense can be seen as one long immigration story of a people moved by their search to understand God. In their quest for a homeland, the children of Israel initially searched for a physical place. Centuries later, Christ Jesus revealed that the true “promised land” of God wasn’t a piece of real estate but a heavenly concept. He said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21).

Everyone has equal ability to enter into this promised land, which includes peace, harmony, freedom, and fulfillment. No one is left out. It’s not a change in location but a change in thought that ushers us into God’s kingdom. An understanding of the abundance and ever-presence of God’s goodness helps to open thought to inspiration that can be acted upon to meet every human need.

After college, I worked at an emergency shelter for teens in crisis. One evening when I got to work, I found that a young woman from Mexico had been placed in our care until relatives could be located. Staff had tried since early in the day to console her, but she would not talk to anyone or stop crying.

I prayed to recognize that God, divine Love, was present and could meet this young woman’s need for comfort. Later, when I was supervising the girls at bedtime, the young woman motioned for me to come over and asked if I would pray with her. She knew the Lord’s Prayer, so we began to pray in her native language, “Nuestro Padre ...” – “Our Father ...” (Matthew 6:9). The prayer was an acknowledgment that her heavenly Parent, who transcends borders and languages, was wrapping her in divine Love.

That was the end of the crying and a turning point in enabling this young woman to feel happy and welcome at the shelter.

Jesus taught that, more than anything else, it is divine Love that brings us into the promised land and enables us to feel at home and experience this freedom wherever we may find ourselves. It’s not people but evil thoughts – hatred, anger, racism, and divisiveness – that are denied entrance into the kingdom of God. Clearing these out of our thinking enables us to discern Christlike intuitions that alert us to danger and bring safety.

“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy explains how to do this: “Stand porter at the door of thought” (p. 392). We all have the ability to overcome fearful, hateful thoughts. The Bible assures us, “perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18).

How prayer plays out practically in human experience can’t be outlined. For some, it may open doors to a new experience in a new country. For others, it may mean finding new purpose, strength, and safety right where they are.

Strongly held convictions about the immigration crisis can polarize and divide people. But prayer that seeks God’s answers doesn’t promote one political agenda over another. Instead, it brings less stridency and more listening. It enables intelligence rather than emotion to guide us so wise and balanced solutions can be found. And prayer that lifts thought from fear to love fosters a world that is increasingly moved by Love, not fear. We can join the writer of Ephesians in declaring, “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (2:19).

Adapted from an editorial published in the Oct. 7, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Imperial tradition

Kazuhiro Nogi/AP
Japan's Emperor Naruhito leaves at the end of the enthronement ceremony where he officially proclaimed his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in an elaborate series of rituals known as "Sokui no Rei." He is the 126th emperor of Japan in a line stretching back 14 centuries.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 23rd, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about a carpet market in Morocco, for women only.

Also, a quick note: Last Thursday’s profile of Edit Schlaffer misstated when she created a program for mothers in the global fight against extremism. It was nine years ago.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 22, 2019
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