Monitor Daily Intro for April 20, 2017

Bill O'Reilly's departure from Fox News was a reminder of how a corrosive environment where harassment goes unchecked or powerful figures go uncensured drags everyone down. But superficial change in the heat of public scandal is unlikely to sustain itself. More important are actions that match words. Tomorrow, we'll share some views from companies that are setting high standards for behavior as they build thriving workplaces.

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Latin America: Can Trump ‘lead from behind’?

Could the US become more of a collaborator in Latin America? It's long favored the stick over the carrot. But Venezuela's deepening woes may open the door to flipping that approach – and that could help shape a fresh template for resolving such crises.

Ariana Cubillos/AP
An anti-government protesters holding an inverted national flag faced down state security forces in Caracas, Venezuela, April 19. Opponents of President Nicolás Maduro called on Venezuelans to march against the embattled socialist leader.

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The Trump administration could help pull Venezuela back from the brink of dictatorship and economic ruin. If so, regional experts say, it will be with help from Venezuela’s neighbors, who might hold more sway in Caracas than the US. “Venezuela is a good example of a crisis that will test the Trump administration’s intentions for addressing cases where democracy is under threat,” says Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But, he cautions: "Latin America is where the US most needs to avoid unilateral steps." The sudden urgency follows an increasingly violent turn that antigovernment protests are taking in Venezuela. Dr. Carothers notes that President Trump may have an opportunity that President Obama did not have. “The Obama administration was very cautious on Venezuela to avoid stoking anti-American sentiments,” he says. “But especially now with new governments in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru ... there’s an opportunity for this administration to step up its multilateral game plan."

Latin America: Can Trump ‘lead from behind’?

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Lilian Tintori (C), a wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, carries a sign that reads "No more dictatorship" during the so-called "mother of all marches" against Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 19, 2017.

The Trump administration, which is showing some unexpected glimmers of interest in promoting human rights and democracy, may have an opportunity to do both, right in America’s backyard – with increasingly volatile Venezuela.

But if the United States is to play a role in pulling back from the brink of dictatorship and economic ruin what was once South America’s most prosperous country, it won’t be with America’s big stick, regional experts say.

Instead, it will be through cooperation and partnership with Venezuela’s steadily more concerned and outspoken neighbors and Latin America’s solid democracies – which just might hold sway with a government in Caracas that rejects US pressures as same-old “yanqui” imperialism.

“Venezuela is a good example of a crisis that will test the Trump administration’s intentions for addressing cases where democracy is under threat,” says Thomas Carothers, an international expert on democratization and US foreign policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “But of all the regions where this is an issue, Latin America is where the US most needs to avoid unilateral steps in favor of solidarity and partnership with the region’s democracies.”

Moreover, President Trump may have an “opportunity” to press for a reversal of Venezuela’s antidemocratic spiral that President Obama did not have, Dr. Carothers says. Why? Some key South American powers have recently exchanged populist or corruption-plagued governments for more stable and regionally active ones, he says.

“The Obama administration was very cautious on Venezuela to avoid stoking anti-American sentiments,” Carothers says. “But especially now with new governments in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru, and with increased attention to Venezuela’s crisis from Mexico, there’s an opportunity for this [Trump] administration to step up its multilateral game plan and work with others on Venezuela.”

One reason for the sudden urgency in outside efforts to encourage political resolution in Venezuela is the increasingly violent turn that almost daily antigovernment demonstrations are taking. On Wednesday, Maduro sent Army troops to the streets to quell what organizers touted as the “mother of all protests.” One person, a teenage boy, died after being shot near the site of the protests, but the source of the gunfire was in dispute.

For Washington, working with allies and partners to support democracy and human rights in their region is not new, but the practice has spread as more countries adhere to democratic norms and universal rights. As one example, the US worked with a strengthened ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) as a partner in its efforts to cajole Myanmar (also known as Burma) to transition from military dictatorship to emerging democracy.

Venezuela has been gradually closing democratic avenues and concentrating powers in the executive since the socialist firebrand Hugo Chávez rose to power in 1999. But where President Chávez survived on charisma and high oil prices (Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves) his hapless successor, Nicolás Maduro, has foundered under the oil-price collapse and an economy in free fall.

Venezuela’s sovereignty-sensitive neighbors looked the other way as Mr. Maduro strong-armed his way to increasingly authoritarian rule, packing the country’s Supreme Court and disregarding the National Assembly, which the opposition won in a landslide last year.

Signals from Trump administration

But the neighborly indifference has suddenly given way to regional activism – to Maduro’s surprise as much as anyone else’s, it seems.

After Venezuela’s Supreme Court last month grabbed legislative powers from what it considers a “rebellious” National Assembly, a regional uproar led by the long-somnolent Organization of American States prompted Maduro to reverse the court’s decision. Neighboring countries have stepped up pressure on Maduro as street protests have expanded and complaints of chronic food shortages have turned into reports of widespread hunger and steep rises in infant mortality.

It’s that environment of increased regional activism that analysts say the Trump administration could seize upon to address Venezuela’s crisis.

Already Mr. Trump and some members of his team have demonstrated somewhat keener interest in human rights issues than many foreign policy experts anticipated.

Trump surprised many by launching airstrikes in Syria over the use of chemical weapons, saying the “civilized” world could not leave such barbarity unanswered. And this week Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called a UN Security Council session with the sole purpose of reviewing the state of human rights globally – something the council had never done before.

On the other hand, the Trump administration skipped a session in March of the well-regarded Inter-American Human Rights Commission – the first time in two decades the US had missed a commission hearing.

Some analysts say that the way Trump proceeds on Venezuela could offer a template for how the administration will move on other crises that challenge US leadership and values, but are not at the level of national-security risk posed by North Korea or Iran.

Regional awakening

So far, the administration has not done much on Venezuela, but that may be changing.

Shortly after taking office, Trump decreed that sanctions be imposed against Venezuela’s vice president, Tareck al-Aissami, whom the US Treasury has declared a “narcotics kingpin” in a cocaine smuggling ring. In February, Trump received at the White House the wife of jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo López – tweeting out a photo after the meeting and saying Mr. López should be released “immediately.”

But some see an uptick in attention on the horizon. Next week Trump will host Argentine President Mauricio Macri for a meeting the White House says will focus in part on “the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.” Last month Trump addressed Venezuela with Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski during his White House visit. And this week State Department officials are in Peru with an agenda that includes discussion of Venezuela.

Still, some experts say they’ve seen little of substance. “You might say there’s been some new toughness towards Venezuela, but that’s mostly a matter of style and tone,” says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. “What we haven’t seen yet is any sign of a real strategy.”

What is cause for hope, Dr. Shifter says, is the same awakening among Latin American democracies that Carnegie’s Carothers cites. “The good news is that Latin American governments are starting to wake up to the horror happening in Venezuela, and are wanting to do something about it,” Shifter says. “That’s a development the US should be able to work with.”

Caracas rejects 'interventionist' call

Carothers says the US should broadly stick to two avenues for addressing Venezuela. One is to use America’s bully pulpit, “to speak up at regular intervals and especially forcefully when bad things happen,” like usurping the National Assembly. The other is to make the issue a priority of US relations with the region’s democracies.

No one is overly optimistic that Maduro will listen to his Latin neighbors and move to bring Venezuela’s crisis to a close any time soon. On Tuesday his foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, rejected as “interventionist” a call from 11 Latin American countries for Venezuela to “ensure the right to peaceful protest” and release a timetable for delayed regional elections.

But Shifter says strengthened relations between the US and the region and sustained evidence the Trump administration values multilateral cooperation could be a key to addressing the humanitarian stain that Venezuela has become in the region.

“I think there’s a chance to pull Venezuela out of this tragedy if these influential neighboring countries can really come together to increase pressure on the government and try to assist with some sort of transition and political resolution that includes elections,” Shifter says.

“The US should be working behind the scenes to bring about and support this coalition of countries,” he adds, “but it shouldn’t be leading the charge. That for sure won’t work.”

What a Georgia election says about the suburbs

Georgia's Sixth District race was played as a referendum on President Trump. But the election also spoke to a strong constituency for candidates who are focused on shared values over political differences. Atlanta's suburbs are diversifying, but their residents could be modeling a bedrock American value: creating communities that work, regardless of individual political bents. 

David Goldman/AP
A woman heads to a yoga class in East Atlanta, Ga., in Dekalb County. The county is a Democratic stronghold, with large African-American and Hispanic populations and a significant number of white liberals, many of them from elsewhere.

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Georgia held an attention-getting special congressional election earlier this week for a seat vacated by the appointment of Tom Price to become Health and Human Services secretary. Many eyes were on young Democrat Jon Ossoff in this Republican stronghold. While Mr. Ossoff did not breach the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a June runoff, he did score an easy plurality over 17 other candidates. What the election really shows: A suburban values shift toward walkability and sustainability is creating opportunities for moderates who respect suburban traditions while also seeking not to exclude people by race or wealth. “The suburbs are not just composed of wealthy conservatives, even though such communities do exist,” says Brian Miller, a Wheaton College, Ill., sociologist. The difference, he says, is that “there are now a variety of populations – with a variety of concerns.”

What a Georgia election says about the suburbs

Marvin Gentry/Reuters
Georgia's Sixth District congressional candidate Jon Ossoff speaks to his supports at his Election Night party in Sandy Springs, Ga., April 18.

Her peach-emblazoned “I voted!” sticker peeling from her shirt, Jessie Bragg anxiously awaited the result of the Georgia Sixth District  congressional election, glancing at a map on her phone showing the depth of support for Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, in one of the country’s traditionally conservative districts.

“Georgia has never been so blue!” the Millennial barkeep exclaimed, holding her phone up.

Mr. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, won 48.1 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s special election. While he did not breach the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff in June, he did surge to an easy plurality in the district – the place where Newt Gingrich catapulted into national politics with a 1979 win.

The Sixth has been no-man’s land for Democrats ever since. A decade ago, Tom Price, whose exit to become Health and Human Services secretary left a vacant seat sought by 18 candidates Tuesday night, won 91 percent of the vote. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney won by 22 percentage points over President Barack Obama.

Yet given Tuesday’s election result, a shift has clearly happened. Last November, President Trump won there by less than 2 percentage points. And last year, a mystery Democrat named Rodney Stooksbury managed to get almost 40 percent of the vote in the congressional race without spending a dollar – or releasing a campaign photo. And while Ossoff failed to garner the 50 percent necessary to win outright, he moves into the June run-off in the strongest position a Democrat has seen in the Sixth since Jimmy Carter was president.

In part seen as a referendum on President Trump, Ossoff’s out-of-the-blue campaign also offers a mirror on how changing suburban values are coming to a head in unexpected ways.

In the past decade especially, Atlanta suburbs like Cobb, Dekalb, and Fulton, parts of which make up the Sixth, have become younger, more diverse, more place-focused, and more urbane than their dad’s suburbs. A values shift toward walkability and sustainability is creating opportunities for moderates like Ossoff who respect suburban traditions while also seeking not to exclude people by race or wealth.

“The suburbs are transforming because they’re conforming to what people want, and what people really want is an interesting place to live,” says Lynn Richards, president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, in Washington. “The suburbs are a location, like the mountains, which makes it hard to define the wide diversity of communities outside cities as a monoculture. But today, many are delving into urban villages and nodes, experimenting with a broader range of transportation, and demanding sustainability. And if that’s where people are moving, then, yes, political thought will also change.”

Make no mistake: The Georgia Sixth is still firmly conservative, and Ossoff now faces an uphill climb against former secretary of state Karen Handel, an establishment Republican whose more traditional suburban values – including her conservative stances on social issues – stand in sharp contrast to Ossoff.

As early as 2008, the Brookings Institution identified suburbs like Atlanta’s northern tier as fertile ground for finding new voters. And that transformation is now beginning to play out, experts say, fueled by a surge of activism both on the left and right.

Part of the equation is Millennials, who bought 32 percent of homes in 2014, up four percent over 2012. The listing firm Trulia, using US Census data, found that those Millennials were more likely to buy in close suburbs like Chamblee, Brookhaven, and Roswell, close to shopping, good schools and nature, than in Atlanta.

And the Sixth District, like many suburban areas, has become increasingly diverse, largely without ensuing white flight. The Atlanta suburbs have been gaining immigrants and African-Americans at some of the greatest rates in the country, according to Brookings. Nationwide, 72 percent of black and foreign-born residents now live in suburbs.

“How we shape our spaces really does matter,” says Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor of urban design at Georgia Tech University. “If you build a suburb where public spaces are compelling, streets are vibrant, and there are places to go and hang out, you feel better about your neighbors.”

Brookhaven, which retains the ethos of an “old money” Atlanta getaway, now encompasses part of Buford Highway, where beef cheek tacos await. These days, forget the wood-paneled pizza shop. The Chamblee, Ga., suburbs now are about bulgogi to go.

The new suburban appeal resonates not just for younger Americans in search of authentic experiences, but older ones as well, ranging from empty nesters who want a more urban lifestyle without having to move to the city to Gen X divorcees who are trying to juggle jobs, social lives, and two households without being stuck in Atlanta traffic all day.

“The suburbs are not just composed of wealthy conservatives, even though such communities do exist,” says Brian Miller, a Wheaton College, Ill., sociologist who studies the suburbs. The difference is that “there are now a variety of populations with a variety of concerns.” That means “local and national elections may [now] depend on reaching voters in middle suburbs who might go either way depending on the candidates, economic conditions [and] quality of life concerns.”

Ossoff’s appeal, it seems, came largely from an “I’ll work with anyone to solve problems” plea that, as one ice-cream loving analyst pointed out, came off as more French vanilla than wild cherry.

He vowed to hold “Trump accountable” – but mostly about rooting out government waste – and ignored gun issues. Whether his message about putting shared values over political differences will resonate in the runoff is an open question. But Ossoff called his big night “a story about this community at this moment in history."

Indeed, “making a place more urban is not about making it turn more Democrat,” says Professor Dunham-Jones, author of “Retrofitting Suburbia.” “There are a lot of Republican new urbanists who feel very strongly about urbanism and totally defend it on conservative grounds.”

But such suburban shifts, it turns out, may have a moderating effect. After all, Republicans in the Sixth District voted for Sen. Marco Rubio in the presidential race, over Mr. Trump. And on Tuesday, far more Republicans voted for Ms. Handel, who ran a low-key campaign and distanced herself from Trump, rather than three runners-up, all Republican men, including state Sen. Judson Hill.

In that way, for a night at least, the Atlanta suburbs were a lesson in moderation in a politically fraught nation.

For her part, Ms. Bragg felt pretty good about Ossoff, who struck her as “a regular person, like me.”

She had no plans to vote originally, but a piece of campaign mail from Ossoff caught her attention just as she was about to throw it away. After reading about his plan to cut through partisanship to focus on infrastructure and trade problems, “I actually got excited to vote for him. And that’s coming from somebody who has lived in the ’burbs all her life.”

Social media’s moment of self-examination

Many people, especially young ones, are taught to think before they act (or share). That can be a tough ask in a social-media age that often moves quickly and carelessly. Without clear red and green lights, it can be hard to know how best to move in a way that doesn't injure others. Some mutually supporting guide wires that challenge 'anything goes' could help avoid everyone avoid a race to the bottom.


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The internet has long provided a stage for troubling acts. But the airing on Facebook this week of a video the death of Robert Godwin Sr., a retired foundry worker, was shocking for its brutality and immediacy. The way Mr. Godwin’s death was recorded – then uploaded to the world's biggest social media platform – is stirring a reexamination of the role that technology should play to ensure our digital public squares are free of violence, hatred, and other abuses. Facebook and other social media companies are still figuring out the right balance for how to monitor for offensive content while persevering users’ ability to upload and share material that may shock some but that's politically or socially valuable. Overall, the public is increasingly demanding that tech giants do more to to deal with inappropriate, harmful, and criminal content. "Overwhelmingly, the public is saying to do something about it," says the founder of an online safety and security firm. "The community is fed up with it."

Social media’s moment of self-examination

Stephen Lam/Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke during the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, Calif, this week.

Can civility survive on an unfiltered internet? Is it a sad-but-inevitable feature of our connected world that we’ll occasionally witness the worst of humanity as well as the best?

Those are some of the hard questions that surfaced this week after the death of Robert Godwin Sr., a retired foundry worker and grandfather, aired on Facebook. Indeed, the video was shocking and startling for its brutality and immediacy. In the span of less than about a minute, a gunman whom police identified as Steve Stephens held up his smartphone camera to Mr. Godwin, and filmed his murder on a Cleveland street.

Of course, all acts of senseless violence are troubling, and the internet has long provided a stage for heinous acts. But the way Godwin’s death was recorded – and uploaded to the world's biggest social media platform – is stirring a reexamination of the role technology should play in an effort to keep our digital public squares freer of violence, hatred, and other abuses.

Godwin’s killing is “an act that hits us hard in the gut,” says Andrea Weckerle, founder of CiviliNation, a group that promotes more civil discourse on the web and and works to prevent online harassment. "This particular situation is one [that] almost everyone can agree is horrifying."

But it’s something that Facebook should have anticipated, too, since rolling out Facebook Live, its real-time video streaming feature. Around the time of its launch last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook Live was meant to support "the most personal and emotional and raw and visceral ways people want to communicate."

Godwin's murder wasn't streamed live, but the alleged killer did use that platform minutes later to confess to the killing. Mr. Stevens has since taken his own life.

"I would be amazed if the brilliant people at Facebook could not anticipate that someone would use it in this way," says Ms. Weckerle. Therefore, she says, the company needs to rethink how it monitors for the worst kinds of images and videos surfacing on the platform.

“They’ve got to put much greater resources behind monitoring,” she says. “I would love to see these organizations invest as heavily in that as rolling out new functionality on their platforms.”

Seeking a balance

Facebook and other social media companies are still figuring out the right balance for how to monitor for offensive content while preserving users’ ability to upload and share material that may shock some but that others find politically or socially valuable.

Weckerle says civility on the web doesn't have to mean everything becomes "pink ponies and rainbows. We are talking about giving people a chance to participate and to feel safe to express themselves online."

During the company's conference for software developers this week, Mr. Zuckerberg admitted that Facebook needs to do more to remove offensive and criminal content. "We have a lot of work and we will keep doing all we can to prevent tragedies like this from happening."

Facebook does search for – and remove – offensive content on a daily basis. According to Justin Osofsky, the company's vice president of global operations, Facebook wasn’t notified about the Godwin murder video until an hour and 45 minutes after it appeared. Twenty-three minutes later, it disabled Mr. Stephens’s account.

Mr. Osofsky said in a blog post that the company is “constantly exploring ways that new technologies can help us make sure Facebook is a safe environment. Artificial intelligence, for example, plays an important part in this work, helping us prevent the videos from being reshared in their entirety.” He noted that humans are also an integral part of monitoring, noting that “thousands of people around the world review the millions of items that are reported to us every week in more than 40 languages.”

But that’s not good enough, says Carrie Goldberg, a New York attorney who specializes in computer harassment cases, especially ones involving online sexual abuse.

“Listen, social media isn’t intrinsically bad,” she says. “People do bad things on it because social media provides a built-in audience. But that does not absolve these companies from preemptively implementing procedures and security measures that would make it more difficult to act unconscionably.”

For instance, she noted, Facebook recently instituted a photo-monitoring system designed to prevent the sharing of intimate photos posted without the subject’s permission – a problem commonly referred to as “revenge porn.” But all too often, Goldberg and other experts note, social media companies are slow to act to implement new policies and procedures to deal with inappropriate, harmful, and criminal content.

“These companies can’t be reactionary and wait on horrible things to happen in order to create change,” she says. “They have to want to do better and if they don’t understand and embrace that, lawsuits and tighter laws are going to make them.”

The public's role

Law enforcement and government officials regularly request that social media companies remove criminal content or information that threatens national security (and often companies voluntarily take down questionable material). The companies themselves are not liable for the content users post under the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Yet, there is mounting political pressure to hold internet companies responsible. One bill in Congress would pave the way for state prosecutors and victims of sex trafficking to bring cases against websites that may help facilitate sex trafficking.

Overall, the public is increasingly demanding that tech giants do more to clean up their sites, says Hemanshu Nigam, the founder of an online safety and security firm called SSP Blue that provides content monitoring services to tech companies. "Overwhelmingly the public is saying to do something about it," he says. "The community is fed up with it."

His firm employs about 350 human monitors who work 24/7 to review content posted to social media and dating sites that Mr. Nigam would not name for confidentiality reasons. Typically, he says, moderators or content filtering systems will end up removing about 2 percent of the content posted on the site he moderates.

Inevitably, however, offensive content will slip past the moderators and software filters at Facebook and other massive social media sites, or criminals will find other digital platforms on which to broadcast their acts.

“That’s the reality of these systems. They are huge and there’s so much content,” says Kate Klonick, a resident fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. And in many ways, she says, the nature of the internet means we all may have to confront uncomfortable and disturbing images on our Facebook or Twitter feeds, she says. “You are going to get the good with the bad."

As for the case of the Godwin video, she says, it's not Facebook's fault this tragedy occurred, or that the killing was posted to their platform. But it is holding "a mirror up to ourselves and making us realize that it’s not that great all the time."

Points of Progress

What's going right

States claim rising role in police reform

It can be easy to miss the progress for the protests. States have stepped up as a key actor in addressing policing practices – and they're providing a voice that may prove particularly effective in pushing for reform. 


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A number of US states are taking a hard look at judicial reform in the wake of the national debate around policing and police violence – particular in communities of color. In 2015 and 2016, 34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, resolutions, or executive orders that changed policing policies and practices, according to one report. That’s almost four times as many as were passed between 2012 and 2014. In recent years it has been left to individual departments to enact reforms they deem necessary. In some cases the federal Department of Justice has stepped in. The emerging role of states in policing reform is critical, experts say: States can strike a balance between being close enough to the streets to understand specific local issues and solutions while also having the authority to pass laws that affect policing agencies statewide. 

States claim rising role in police reform

Patrick Semansky/AP
In this April 23, 2015 file photo, members of the Baltimore Police Department stand guard outside the department's Western District police station during a protest in response to Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore.

The week that Freddie Gray died in a Baltimore hospital in April 2015, while the city burned and protesters across the country demanded police reforms, legislators in Colorado were gathered to deliver just that.

The Colorado lawmakers were grappling with 10 bills aimed at instituting reforms of law enforcement policies and procedures, ranging from restrictions on the use of chokeholds to the collection of data on officer-involved shootings.

Half of Colorado’s “Rebuilding Trust Package” – as Democratic lawmakers there dubbed it – failed that week, but Gov. John Hickenlooper went on to sign five of those bills that year, followed by two more (refashioned from failed 2015 bills) in 2016.

And Colorado is only one example of states taking a serious look at judicial reform in the wake of the national debate around policing and police violence – particularly in communities of color. Nevertheless, these legislative efforts have largely been overshadowed by the protests that have precipitated them.

In 2015 and 2016, 34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, resolutions, or executive orders that changed policing policies and practices, according to a report released by the Vera Institute of Justice. That’s almost four times as many as the 20 passed between 2012 and 2014, a Vera spokesman says.

In recent years, it has been left to individual departments to enact reforms if they deem them necessary, or – when especially troubled departments are either unwilling or unable to change – to the US Department of Justice, typically via a court-ordered “consent decree” that requires departments to implement certain reforms.

The emerging role of states in policing reform is critical, says Jim Bueermann, the president of the Police Foundation and the former chief of police in Redlands, Calif., since they can strike the perfect balance between being close enough to the streets to understand specific local policing issues and solutions, while having the broad authority to pass laws that affect every policing agency in their state.

“States are the sweet spot between the federal government passing laws and the 17,000 communities [with law enforcement agencies] passing laws,” says Mr. Bueermann.

Creating consensus

If enough states legislate reforms, he says, it could contribute to a national consensus on what constitutes good policing policies.

“If you get 50 states to develop a national coherence around what constitutes good policing,” he adds, “we would take a quantum leap forward in helping people understand the values of policing, the challenges police face every day, and police departments would better understand how they have to reform their own operations.”

Ever since black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, public scrutiny of police conduct has simmered at a high heat, boiling over into protests and riots after new controversial incidents. After Mr. Brown, there was Tamir Rice (in Cleveland) in November 2014, then Walter Scott and Mr. Gray (in North Charleston, S.C. and Baltimore, respectively) in April 2015, then Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (in Baton Rouge, La., and Minnesota, respectively) in July 2016.

With each incident, pressure mounted on state legislatures to act, says Ram Subramanian, who co-authored the report for the Vera Institute.

“Given the events since Ferguson, I’m not that surprised that states have done the things they’ve done in last few years,” he adds.

Red state reforms

While states long have passed laws around policing and law enforcement, he notes, the volume of legislation is a real departure. “It seems like there was a clear issue that had surfaced,” he says, “and a critical mass of state legislatures felt like they needed to respond in some way.”

Reforms that legislators have passed include the following:

• banning the use of chokeholds (in Illinois)

• mandating data collection on traffic stops and officer-involved shootings

• developing guidelines for body-worn cameras

• creating requirements for crisis intervention training

• increasing transparency in investigations into the use of lethal force

California has passed the most legislation, with nine different bills being sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk in 2015. But even deep-red states chipped in with significant reforms. Tennessee passed laws that require law enforcement agencies to report on law enforcement-related deaths and prohibit racial profiling. Nebraska passed a law that changed the procedures for investigations into fatal police encounters, and ordered police departments to develop policies on the use of body-worn cameras.

Six states also passed laws establishing “blue alert” systems – similar to Amber alerts, they are designed to coordinate action to identify, locate, and apprehend a person suspected of killing or seriously injuring a police officer – in 2015 and 2016, joining 21 others that had already done so.

Waiting for federal action

This is all coming as President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions begin to reverse the Obama administration’s legacy of aggressively investigating and reforming police departments. Mr. Sessions has ordered a review of all federal consent decrees – years-long, court-ordered reform agreements made between the Justice Department and individual agencies – and last week the Justice Department tried, unsuccessfully, to delay the implementation of a consent decree in Baltimore.

Indeed, in recent years, before the current wave of state-legislated reforms, states had been more than happy to wait for the federal government to swoop in with reform programs when necessary, says Bueermann, but that seems to be beginning to change.

States had “in many cases abdicated their responsibility in the hope that the federal government would step in,” he adds.

Only time will tell whether the legislation being enacted will actually be successful. Bueermann describes what states are doing as building the plane while it’s taxiing down the runway for takeoff. But he does believe states have reached a tipping point when it comes to policing reform.

All this legislation “needs to be accompanied by sufficient financial resources to do an adequate scientific evaluation of whether or not that legislation was effective,” he says.

The good news, he adds, is “we now have enough state legislatures who are recognizing that there is a need for police reform, and that they have a role to play in that.”

SOURCE: Vera Institute of Justice
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

In nature, ‘helping behavior’ may run deep

Leadership is synonymous with solo drive and power – or is it? That image, glorified in college essay applications, is getting a rethink. More people are valuing communal skills that drive progress by building connections and prioritizing caring values. And it turns out some of Earth's smaller creatures might have some relevant pointers for humans.


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Humans use empathy as a trigger to rescue one another. Now, scientists have found evidence that a much simpler organism has evolved a different mechanism to answer calls for help. In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, researchers describe how an African ant – one called the Matabele, after a warrior tribe – will scramble to pick up fellow ants injured in raids on termite colonies and then carry them back the nest where they can recover. It's a behavior – instinctive and chemistry-based, scientists say – that pays off for the colony. The finding adds to a growing body of research suggesting that “helping behavior,” already seen in some mammals and birds, may not require complex emotion or cognition, and may be far more widespread in nature than previously thought. 

In nature, ‘helping behavior’ may run deep

Courtesy of Erik Frank
After a raid, a Matabele ant carries an injured mate back to the nest.

The Matabele ant, an African termite-hunting ant named for a famed warrior tribe, appears to have evolved a soldier's creed of its own: After the battle, leave no ant behind.

In a paper published last week in the journal Science Advances, researchers describe how Megaponera analis ants, a species of large ant known for marching in columns and raiding termite colonies, will, after the battle, pick up injured comrades and carry them back to the nest where they can recover.

The paper is the latest in a growing body of research that suggests that this form of helping behavior, previously observed in some mammals and birds, may not require complex emotion or cognition, and may, therefore, be far more widespread in nature than previously thought. While researchers are reluctant to attribute this behavior to emotions such as empathy or compassion, the idea of ants rescuing each other deepens our understanding of the level of cooperation found among some of Earth's smallest creatures.

"Here we have an example of an individual saving another individual," says lead researcher Erik Frank, a doctoral student at the University of Würzburg in Germany who conducted his research in Ivory Coast's Comoé National Park. "We can be quite certain that the ants don't know why they are doing what they are doing. It's a very instinctive behavior."

It's a behavior that pays off for the colony. Our classic conception of worker ants, who are sterile, is that they are essentially disposable, but Mr. Frank and his colleagues calculated that the practice of rescuing nest mates results in a colony size that is a 28.7 percent larger than it would be had the ants left their fellow soldiers for dead.

"These injured ants are able to recover from their injuries," says Frank. "They are essential for the safety and the betterment of the colony."

When a Matabele ant is injured, as often happens during battles with Pseudocanthotermes spiniger termites, a gland near her mandibles will release two smelly chemicals – dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl trisulfide – that prompt other ants to carry her back to the nest. Indeed, the researchers found that slathering uninjured ants with these chemicals will trigger the rescue behavior, supporting their hypothesis that the ants were acting on pure instinct, not more complex emotions.

Courtesy Erik Frank

"While humans use empathy as a mechanism" to rescue one another, Frank says, "these ants have evolved a different mechanism."

"This kind of rescue behavior has not been known before, though helping is common in ants," says Bert Hölldobler, a sociobiologist and an evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences and one of the world's top experts on social organization among ants.

As Dr. Hölldobler notes, researchers have found many other types of helping behavior among the insects. In 2009, scientists observed Cataglyphis cursor, an ant native to the Mediterranean regions of France, rescuing relatives that had become trapped. When the experimenters ensnared these ants with nylon threads, their nest mates would bite through the nylon thread to free them.

"The colony as a whole is stronger as a result of this behavior," says Karen Hollis, professor emerita of psychology at Mount Holyoke College who worked on that study. "They need these nest mates"

Dr. Hollis, who was part of the ant-entrapment study, says that rescue behavior among ants can be explained through kin selection, an evolutionary strategy in which an organism will reduce its own chances of reproduction to help a relative who shares its genes.

Kin selection acts on all levels of biological complexity, even single-celled protists in cellular slime molds (CSM), individuals who sacrifice themselves so that their relatives may find nutrients.

As a result, says Hollis, "rescue behavior is more common than we thought," citing studies that found that dolphins help other injured dolphins to the surface for air, capuchin monkeys defend each other during intergroup battles, rats free other rats that are trapped, even when there is no reward for doing so, and Mexican jays raise their young cooperatively.

"The more we study rescue behavior in ants and other animals, the more we are going to realize that it's not just limited to the species we've observed so far," says Hollis.

Frank says that helping behavior, like all other evolutionary adaptations, tends to arise wherever it is needed. "If it is beneficial for the species, or the individual, or the colony, it will evolve. It will exist," he says.

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Why North Korea may be a threat to itself

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In a survey of recent North Korean refugees, two South Korean economists found that the preferred currency among North Koreans is the American dollar. This is a sure sign of a thriving underground market, despite the official line of a state-run economy. As in other countries with a high level of illegal business, there are also indications of rising corruption. North Korea’s regime could be rotting from within as more of the party elite pursue self-enrichment. A black market – in which many North Koreans are doing business with each other rather than with the state – further weakens the regime’s hold. Perhaps the pre-Trump policy of “strategic patience” by the US toward Pyongyang needs to be revived. Just ask North Korean refugees. Many know the center cannot hold.

Why North Korea may be a threat to itself

North Korean woman and child wash vegetables in the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Korea, April 17.

As the Trump administration continues to rattle a saber at North Korea, it should take note of a new survey by two economists at South Korea’s central bank. In interviews with hundreds of recent North Korean refugees, they found the United States has already invaded the country in one big way: The preferred currency among North Koreans for buying food, goods, and services is the American dollar, not the local currency.

This is a sure sign of a thriving underground market despite the official line of a state-run economy. Some experts even estimate the informal economy now exceeds the official one. As in other countries with a high level of illegal business, there are also indications of rising corruption. Officials either take a cut of the gray economy or seek bribes to look the other way. A recent report in a South Korean newspaper told of farmers paying $300 to buy membership in the ruling Workers’ Party in order to gain official benefits.

North Korea’s regime, in other words, could be rotting from within as more of the party elite pursue self-enrichment. An increasing number of high-level members of the Workers’ Party have defected. And since taking power in 2011, third-generation dictator Kim Jong-un has overseen an unusual number of purges of top officials, including his uncle.

A black market first sprung up in socialist North Korea in the mid-1990s during a massive famine. People had to grow their own food. Many began to sell the excess in local markets. In addition, the regime devalued the country’s currency in 2009, forcing people to use the dollar (as well as the Chinese yuan). Then in 2012, it made circulating foreign currency a crime punishable by death. Yet even that law is largely ignored.

This trade in goods and services has made it difficult for Mr. Kim to pursue his economic policy. Last year he said North Korea would follow twin goals: building its nuclear and missile program while improving economic development. But these days many North Koreans are doing business with each other rather than with the state. This weakens the regime’s hold over the population.

For years, the party warned that it is an “old trick” of the US and other “imperialists” to infiltrate North Korea. Well, the infiltration is in the form of US dollars, used by the people to bypass a regime that has bungled the economy. Perhaps the pre-Trump policy of “strategic patience” by the US toward Pyongyang needs to be revived. Just ask North Korean refugees. Many know the center cannot hold.

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.

Standing on ‘holy ground’ this Earth Day

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This Earth Day, many are praying for answers to today’s environmental challenges. Prayer can bring inspiration and lead to actions that bring healing to the world. A look at the story of Moses, and his encounter with God at a burning bush, inspired a concerned writer to consider how we “live, and move, and have our being” in Spirit, God. Moses was told to remove his shoes because he stood on holy ground. The writer suggests how we too may be receptive to inspiration that helps us shed materialistic views and make wiser choices in our day-to-day lives. Through prayer and prayer-inspired action, we can see the holy spiritual nature of God in a way that helps preserve our environment.

Standing on ‘holy ground’ this Earth Day


“Take off your shoes!” This phrase came to me as I thought about global warming. It seemed an odd idea at first, but I recognized it as part of the Bible story in which Moses sees a burning bush, so I looked up the passage.

In Exodus 3, the story begins with Moses going about his daily work shepherding the family’s flocks. As he moves the livestock across the desert, he comes to “the mountain of God,” where he sees a bush burning but “not consumed.” Pausing to look more closely, he hears God asking him to take off his shoes because he’s standing on holy ground. Then Moses hears God’s direction to lead the Israelites out of slavery, with the assurance that God, the great “I AM,” will always be with them.

I found this account to be a wonderful inspiration in regard to caring for the earth. Moses’ journeys to “the mount” seemed symbolic to me of the need to start lifting my thoughts higher, to God – our creator, or Spirit, to use some common biblical terms. From this “mount” I could begin to see a healing, spiritual view of creation.

When Moses pauses at the bush, he perceived an “angel of the Lord” in the flames. I found it interesting that Moses neither ran away in fear nor hurried on about his business. This spoke to me of how important it is to pause to pray and consciously watch for angels, which the founder of this publication, Mary Baker Eddy, describes as “God’s thoughts passing to man; spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect; the inspiration of goodness purity, and immortality, counteracting all evil, sensuality, and mortality” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 581).

What follows in the story of Moses is that he hears God asking him to remove his shoes as he is standing on “holy ground.” Today, as in Moses’ time, removal of shoes at sacred sites is an action of respect and recognition of a location’s holy nature. Yet further on in the Scriptures, Saint Paul says, “We live, and move, and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28) – that is, entirely in Spirit. That would mean we are always in the presence of that which is spiritual and holy, because Spirit is not confined to location, but is everywhere. This isn’t to say that evils such as corruption and destruction are from God. These are not the fruit of the Spirit, which the Bible describes as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22, 23). Waste and destruction come from a limited, material sense of being.

I saw this removal of shoes as a metaphor for shedding this material view of life. We honor and recognize the spiritual nature of creation by both attending to those “angel” thoughts and by removing whatever beliefs or notions would keep us from being conscious of life in Spirit. The more “shoe shedding” we do in thought and prayer, the more aware we are of being on “holy ground” and the easier it is to perceive God’s answers to our prayers.

In Moses’ case, he hears God’s direction to lead his fellow Israelites out of slavery. Initially Moses resists but is repeatedly reassured that God, the ever-present “I AM,” will always be with him and there will be whatever human help is needed at hand, too. I found it reassuring that even in facing as daunting an issue as slavery, God, Spirit, enabled the children of Israel to transcend all apparent material limitations.

So in prayers for our planet’s health, realizing we and our world are spiritual and thus sustained by Spirit can bring inspiration and healing. For example, we might be inspired to make wiser choices about what “stuff” we actually need and its related production and disposal methods. We might also see such mindful prayer bring healing to our environment. I am encouraged by the many healings published in the Christian Science Sentinel, including one related to a North Sea oil spill (see “Environmental tragedy is not inevitable,” Feb. 21, 1994).

This Earth Day I’m remembering Moses and knowing that we, too, can reach that mount of prayer, shed harmful views, and listen for God’s guidance of how to free our planet from the challenges at hand. Even global warming need not daunt us when we realize we are forever on “holy ground” and that our planet, as well as all creation, is never apart from the “I AM.”


Still partners in space

Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters
Still partners in space: The Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft – carrying the crew of Jack Fischer of the US and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia – blasts off on its mission to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 20.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

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