Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

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

Yvonne Zipp
Deputy Daily Editor

Amid the tragedy of the fire at London’s Grenfell Tower comes news of neighbors heroically rescuing neighbors. Among those alerting residents to the danger and helping them to safety were Muslims, awake in the early morning hours in observance of Ramadan.

“Muslims played a big part in getting a lot of people out,” Andre Barroso told Britain’s The Independent about the blaze that killed at least 12 people and injured about 75. “Most of the people I could see were Muslim. They have also been providing food and clothes.” 

Places of worship have been busy: Nearby St. Clement’s has offered shelter, while Sikh gurdwaras also were collecting food, clothing, and other necessities to help victims, many of whom escaped in just their pajamas. On Wednesday, donations poured in to nonprofits, fire stations, and a crowdfunding site.

Residents have repeatedly warned about safety concerns in the 24-story high-rise. A just completed £10 million ($12.8 million) renovation included a central heating system and cladding to make the building’s exterior more attractive – but not the sprinklers that are mandatory in new high-rises. Authorities will investigate both the fire's cause, as well as the adequacy of safety measures.

On Wednesday, residents described Grenfell to reporters as a place where all nationalities and faiths were welcome. This morning, that sense of community may have saved lives.

1. After ballpark shooting, a call for civility, courage

It's no secret that Americans have turned demonizing political opponents into the new national pastime. Indeed, three-quarters of Americans surveyed in a new poll describe incivility as a "national crisis." This morning, on a baseball field, that crisis boiled over into a mass shooting. The question now is whether politicians and citizens alike will be willing to pull back and see the humanity in one another.

Capitol Police kept watch in Washington today following an early morning shooting at a congressional baseball game in nearby Alexandria, Va., in which five people were wounded, including House majority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Police identified the suspected gunman – who was killed in a shootout with police – as James T. Hodgkinson III, age 66, from Illinois.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

The 30 Sec. ReadDemocrat or Republican? That’s a question the shooter reportedly asked before opening fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday morning. It’s a question that’s increasingly informed how Americans see each other. Now, as members of Congress take stock of this attack – which targeted Republicans but for many felt like an attack on the institution – they are urging Americans to take a different view. Rep. Martha McSally (R) of Arizona, who represents the district where former Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011, called today an important wake-up call. “We have more that unites us than divides us, but somehow we are turning each other into the enemy and that’s very toxic,” said Representative McSally, who has received death threats recently. She called on Americans to consider how they’re engaging with those who hold opposing views and vowed that members of Congress would continue their work undeterred. “We are out there representing our 700,000 people that each of us represent.... We are not going to run and hide. We can’t let acts of violence stop us from what we’re doing.”


1. After ballpark shooting, a call for civility, courage

Rep. Ryan Costello, shortstop on the Republican congressional baseball team, was two minutes late this morning, and so he missed his ride to a practice that turned into a shoot-out as a gunman wounded five people before he was shot and later died.

The congressman from Pennsylvania, his eyes welling with tears, said what he cared about most was the well-being of the people who were hurt. And then, answering a reporter’s question about what healing message Americans might take from this, he said simply:

“We’re all good people” in Congress – Democrats and Republicans trying to help the country in their own way. In today’s political climate, though, elected officials aren’t given the benefit of the doubt, he said. “It’s almost as if we’re not living, human beings. It’s like we’re bad creatures.”

That plea for a recognition of everyone’s humanity was a sentiment that echoed throughout the Capitol building and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House on Wednesday. It was voiced by members of both parties as a way to talk constructively with each other rather than spiral down into violence. Although the motives of gunman James T. Hodgkinson III, from Belleville, Ill., are unknown, he was a virulent anti-Trumper.

Party labels were shattered as lawmakers united around their common humanity and American-ness, and celebrated individual qualities – such as the heroism of two Capitol Police who helped bring down the shooter and were themselves injured. They denounced violence and appealed to each other and the public for more listening and less yelling.

“It’s a wake-up call to Americans, to all of us – those of us in leadership, those of us in our communities. We can have sincerely held different beliefs. Let’s have conversations about those,” said Rep. Martha McSally (R) of Arizona, who has received death threats for her views. She holds the seat of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who was severely wounded by a gunman in 2011.

Members of Congress were unnerved, emotional, and even trembling as they talked with reporters on Wednesday, and some still wore their baseball jerseys and cleats. House votes were cancelled. And yet they responded as one, with both Republicans and Democrats holding hands in prayer in a private meeting of House members on Capitol Hill. The announcement that the congressional charity baseball game would go on as planned Thursday brought a standing ovation.

“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” said Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, after he gaveled the full House into session, concluding that “it is humanity that will win the day.” His Democratic counterpart, minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California, similarly described the attack as “an injury in the family” that she prayed would “take us closer to e pluribus unum.

Republican or Democrat?

Before gunman Mr. Hodgkinson opened fire on a team of Republicans practicing for Thursday’s scheduled congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Va., a man who fit his description asked two congressmen leaving the scene about the label of the players – Republican or Democrat? The answer – Republican – was apparently his cue.

Witnesses said the gunfire lasted about 10 minutes. Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana, the House majority whip and third-ranking Republican, was wounded, along with a congressional staffer, a former congressional staffer, and the two members of the Capitol Police. Scalise is reported to be in critical condition.

Mr. Hodgkinson, shot by two members of Capitol Police serving as Rep. Scalise's security detail, was transported to the hospital but died of his injuries. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont posted a statement saying that Hodgkinson, a one-time home inspector, had apparently served as a volunteer on his presidential campaign.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Senator Sanders said. “Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”

From the White House, President Trump decried the shooting and called for all Americans to come together and pray for the victims.

“We may have our differences but we do well in times like these … everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because above all they love their country,” said Trump.

'What is going on out there?'

Members such as Mr. Costello and Ms. McSally have grave concerns about the ratcheting up of political tensions in America. Costello cited the types and velocity of calls and angry town halls over the last few months, and says he approaches public events with “an extra set of eyes.”

He’ll plan to go to an event, but not commit to it publicly and instead just pop in. He asks not to be put on certain invitations. The lanky lawmaker, who holds a swing district outside of Philadelphia, has his staff “look out in front of me” before he walks into certain situations.

He has held a town hall – with registered attendees and law enforcement present – while passing up a “fake town hall,” where he was invited to a hostile situation (and then chastised for not showing up), he said.

McSally has faced death threats. About a month ago, the FBI arrested the suspect, who will be arraigned later this week.

“Somehow you ... think it’s OK to leave multiple messages and say you want to put a bullet between my eyes? What is … going on out there, that people can take sincerely held different beliefs about things going on in the country, or policy or whatever, and somehow turn it into such vitriol?”

The concern is not just among Republicans. Rep. Joe Crowley (D) of New York says he’s worried about his staff.

“We have a district office. I dunno if security is up to par. Is it ever up to par? Can you really prepare for everything? The answer is ‘no.’ ”

In Congress’s history, 7 killed

Wednesday’s shooting is already sparking a discussion about improving protection for members, most of whom don't have security details.

Since the founding of Congress in 1789, only seven of the 12,000 people who have served as a federal senator or representative have been killed in attacks, according to figures compiled by the Congressional Research Service.

Dueling in the antebellum period caused at least three of the fatalities. In perhaps the most famous such incident, California Senator David Broderick was shot and killed by California Chief Justice David Terry in 1859. Slavery was behind the men’s dispute – Terry favored it, and Broderick did not. Public reaction against the shooting virtually ended gun duels in the US.

The most recent serious attack on a sitting lawmaker before today was the wounding of Rep. Gabby Giffords (D) of Arizona on Jan. 8, 2011. A gunman opened fire at a congressional event in Tucson, killing a congressional staff member and six others. Rep. Giffords and 11 others were wounded.

Baseball as metaphor

Several lawmakers spoke of the unifying nature of Wednesday morning’s activity – baseball – as a kind of metaphor for what America can be. It’s the “national pastime” and when members of Congress play for charity there’s a lot of backslapping and good will between the opposing Democrat and Republican teams.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the manager of the Republican team, spoke for many when he faced a bank of television cameras in the Capitol complex, still wearing his uniform and cap, his young son at his side – also wearing a baseball uniform.

“The heroes are the police officers who” – his voice cracked and he paused to collect himself – “who attacked the shooter, and in doing so, quite probably saved many, many lives,” he said.

Visibly shaken, he went on to add, “This is a charity baseball game. We’ve played it for almost 100 years. It’s for a very good cause…. It’s what, in some ways, what democracy is all about.”

(Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the political affiliation of former Rep. Giffords.)

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2. How the president’s style affects delicate work of diplomacy

Does disruption work in foreign policy? The Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi looks at the case of Qatar.


The 30 Sec. ReadWhen Saudi Arabia and its allies broke off ties with Qatar, citing its support of “extremists” and Iran, it created a diplomatic crisis in a sensitive region. It was also a concern for the United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet, overseeing Gulf security, in Qatar. President Trump’s top foreign-policy advisers quickly made it known that the United States would press for a rapid diplomatic resolution. But that appeared to be contradicted by Mr. Trump, who accused Qatar of “high level” sponsorship of terrorism and suggested his recent trip to Saudi Arabia had prompted the get-tough move. It’s not uncommon for presidents and their advisers to disagree, and that can serve a purpose. Think “good cop-bad cop.” But most foreign-policy experts say it can also cause unnecessary confusion and setbacks for US interests. Duke University’s Peter Feaver says the problem with such dissonance in the foreign-policy arena is that it has consequences. If you don’t take that into consideration, he adds, “you can get into trouble.”


2. How the president’s style affects delicate work of diplomacy

When President Trump chose a Rose Garden press conference to blast away at Qatar as the guilty party in the Gulf Arab states’ sudden falling-out last week, it was a fresh example of the shoot-from-the-hip and mixed-messaging diplomacy that Americans – and the world – may have to accept as the new normal.

There may have been nothing unique about Mr. Trump taking a decidedly tougher and less diplomatic approach to Qatar than his top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Administrations use ambiguity and contradictions – carrots and sticks, good cop–bad cop – all the time to address complex crises and advance US goals.

Nor would it have been the first time a president used a foreign-policy matter to distract the public from the domestic news of the day, experts say, noting that the big news at home as the president skewered Qatar over terrorism financing was the congressional testimony of former FBI Director James Comey.

What stands out about Trump’s foreign-policy commentaries – whether of the Rose Garden variety or like the recent presidential tweets on missiles and trade that upended relations with South Korea – is how public, off-the-cuff, and seemingly disconnected from the consensus of the administration’s foreign-policy team those pronouncements are.

And while some degree of dissonance – some may call it “disruption,” others disarray – can serve a purpose, most foreign-policy experts say it can also cause unnecessary confusion and setbacks for US interests.

“What’s especially different here is how President Trump uses social media, in his case Twitter, to change the subject,” says Peter Feaver, an international relations expert specializing in civilian-military affairs at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

“The problem when you do that as president and in the foreign-policy arena [is that] it has real-world consequences that have to be dealt with. If you’re doing it merely for short-term news impact, without contemplation of the secondary and tertiary foreign-policy effects,” he adds, “you can get into trouble.”

For others, the principal drawback of the “unique” pattern Trump is setting on foreign-policy making is how the president’s – the boss’s – stark and unvarnished pronouncements supersede the more nuanced and diplomatic approach of the administration’s foreign-policy team.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, where three or four different people, and one of them the president, say different things about the same issue,” says Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Wilson Center in Washington who has worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations. “It can’t be just that it’s a new administration. I’ve witnessed six or seven administrations,” he adds. “This is unique in the way the foreign-policy apparatus and messaging are structured.”

A short diplomatic bench

Another factor some see undermining the administration’s foreign-policy clarity is the fact that the “apparatus” Dr. Miller speaks of is still bare-bones more than four months into the Trump presidency.

“What’s unusual here is that the Trump team is facing this significant diplomatic challenge before they’ve got their roster on board,” Dr. Feaver says. “It’s like attempting to do a difficult synchronized swimming maneuver, with half the team not yet in their bathing suits and others not even named to the team yet.”

The impact a short bench can have on keeping the diplomatic cogs turning was particularly salient to some analysts who noted that Mr. Tillerson was experiencing the effects of an incomplete “team roster” even as he was testifying to Congress this week (a House committee Tuesday, a Senate committee Wednesday) on his plans to reorganize the State Department – and eliminate as many as 2,300 positions.

But in a cacophony of voices, of course it’s the president’s that will be most heeded. The problem Miller sees is that in the case of the Gulf-Qatar rupture, it’s the president’s unnuanced position that is the least helpful to resolving a rift among key US allies.

Trump’s comments on the crisis “reflect a far too black-and-white vision of the region,” he says, “and there are real risks to American credibility and policy in going down that road.”

Qatar has been an outlier among the Gulf Arab states for decades. In response to Saudi Arabia, which treats it as little more than a Saudi province, its foreign policy seeks to get along with most everyone in the region. That includes the Iranians, but also the US, which has about 10,000 troops in Qatar – the US Central Command's forward operating base is at the huge al-Udeid Air Base, which is critical to both the fight against ISIS and the US effort in Afghanistan.

But Qatar has also served as a base for extremist Islamist political groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, while wealthy Qataris have funded Islamist opposition groups in Syria, including some thought to maintain ties to Al Qaeda. Qatar is also home to the Al Jazeera news network, a particular bête noire for the Saudi regime.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar, citing its support of “extremists” and Iran. The group imposed a de facto blockade on the tiny desert nation, which depends heavily on imports.

The 'MMT' team

Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, quickly made it known that the United States would press for a rapid diplomatic resolution of the rupture – with State Department officials in particular noting that the US wished to avoid a scenario that pushed Qatar closer to Iran.

But that approach appeared to be contradicted by Trump, who accused Qatar of “high level” sponsorship of terrorism and also suggested that his recent trip to Saudi Arabia had prompted the get-tough move against Qatar.

So, says the Wilson Center’s Miller, while Trump’s team was developing a nuanced approach to the crisis that would serve America’s varied interests in the region, the president was drowning out those efforts with a single-minded strategy based on Saudi Arabia. Not coincidentally, he adds, the Saudis had just given Trump the warmest reception of his recent five-country overseas trip.

“What we’re seeing is that whatever the ‘MMT’ team may be recommending and promoting,” says Miller, referring to General McMaster, Mr. Mattis, and Tillerson, “the fact is that so far it’s the president’s view that has prevailed.”

Wednesday, Secretary Mattis signed a previously approved sale of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar for $12 billion. Qatar said the deal was for 36 warplanes.

What the Qatar crisis demonstrates is how US Middle East policy is becoming linked ever closer to Saudi Arabia. “Policy is now driven by the president’s need to hang the American hat on the Saudi hook,” Miller says. “But there are numerous reasons why that would an ill-advised regional strategy.”

And while the Qatar crisis may be the stand-out of the day, experts say it’s not alone in illustrating Trump’s impulsive foreign-policy approach.

Advice versus intuition

Another example, Duke’s Feaver says, is how a Trump tweet threw off the careful diplomacy the administration was beginning to fashion with South Korea for dealing with the North Korea crisis.

“The administration did have a first-order strategy on North Korea that involved reassurance and compellence across the region and included the deployment of THAAD in South Korea,” he says, referring to the anti-missile batteries the US has committed to deploying.

“But then the president sets off a dispute with the South Koreans by way of a tweet that mixed together who would pay what part of the THAAD deployment … and the unrelated question of renegotiation of the Korean Free Trade Agreement,” Feaver says. “The result was that the president dominated the news cycle that day – but everyone else [on the foreign-policy team] is still dealing with the fallout from that one Twitter blast.”

What’s new, Feaver says, is not that when the president speaks, people listen. Rather, it’s that Trump seems to disregard the counsel of his top foreign policy aides in favor of his own intuition.

“Every president has always had a huge megaphone, of one form or another,” he says. “What’s striking here is the degree to which Trump appears to be his own communications director – and how quickly an idea that occurs to him turns into a tweet, without the normal collaboration across the team to ascertain that it’s really what the administration wants to say.”

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to correctly characterize the US military's presence in Qatar.]

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3. ‘Zero waste’: A city’s push to prove that less is more

Yankee thrift goes 21st century with Boston’s decision to become a zero waste city – moving from a disposable society and harking back to the days of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” (No word yet on what happens to boxes of string too short to be saved under the city’s plan.)


The 30 Sec. ReadEach year, Americans generate 258 million pounds of garbage. And only a little more than half of what’s recyclable actually gets recycled. In Boston, Mayor Martin Walsh wants to flip that equation on its head. In May, he took the first step toward making Boston a zero waste city, calling for proposals to eliminate the city’s net trash output entirely. The benefits of such an endeavor could be enormous, both for the city and for the greater global community. Less trash piling up in dumps means lower landfill disposal fees for the city and less heat-trapping methane in the atmosphere. Cities like San Francisco and Austin, Texas, are already leading the way, but Boston is likely to run into some city-specific challenges. That’s all part of the process, says Boston environment chief Austin Blackmon. “The whole point of this project is to see those not as challenges, but also as an opportunity,” he says. “We want to show that despite challenges [zero waste] is still possible.”

SOURCE: United States Environmental Protection Agency
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

3. ‘Zero waste’: A city’s push to prove that less is more

Boston has big plans for its trash.

In May, Mayor Marty Walsh took the first step toward making Boston a zero waste city, calling for proposals to eliminate the city's net trash output entirely.

“In Boston we’ve been leaders in sustainability for many years now,” says Austin Blackmon, the city's chief of environment, energy and open space, who jointly leads the city’s Zero Waste Advisory Committee. “But as far as the progress we have made on zero waste, we haven't done as much.”

Nationwide, more than more than 65 percent of the 258 million tons of trash generated annually is recyclable, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Nationally, only 35 percent gets recycled. And in Boston that rate is even lower, at 24 percent.

Landfill diversion promises big benefits for communities and the environment, advocates say. Where cities have to pay to dispose of trash in landfills, they can instead sell recyclable materials for a profit. And less trash rotting in municipal dumps also means less air and water pollution.

“We’re excited to move forward with zero waste, which is not only good for our environment and the health of our residents,” says Mr. Walsh, “but also has substantial economic benefits in cost savings for the city and in creating good local green jobs.”

‘Cities are taking the lead’

Boston can learn from the trials and errors of other US cities who have already adopted zero waste goals, such as Minneapolis; Oakland, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; San Diego; Los Angeles; New York; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco. City-level solutions are likely to become more prevalent as the Trump administration backs away from Obama-era environmental regulations and commitments, such as the Paris accord.

In the wake of President Trump’s declared intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris global climate accord, some 300 US mayors committed to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.” Boston was one of the first cities to sign onto the commitment, followed by not just the usual suspects along the East and West Coasts, but also numerous towns and cities throughout conservative America.

“Regardless what is happening at the national or international level, you have seen post-Copenhagen and post-Paris, cities are really driving the sustainability initiatives,” says Mr. Blackmon of Boston’s Zero Waste Advisory Committee. “Cities are taking the lead.”

When it comes to zero waste initiatives, San Francisco is leading the way. After reaching California’s mandated 50 percent landfill diversion rate by 2000, and a record-setting 80 percent rate in 2012, San Francisco aims to be free of trash by 2020.

Guillermo Rodriguez, the policy and communications director for the San Francisco Department of Environment, says there is no “silver bullet” to achieve large scale waste reductions – it takes “lots of little things” from policy initiatives to public awareness campaigns. However, he says Boston can look forward to an indirect benefit of these efforts: community.

“In San Francisco, zero waste has become a core value of the city,” says Mr. Rodriguez. From business executives to local residents, “It is this one rallying cry we [all] have.”

Seeing opportunity in the challenge

The benefits of local waste diversion efforts are likely to reach far beyond city limits. Landfills are the third-largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping atmospheric heat. The US has already reduced methane emissions substantially in recent years due to landfill diversion efforts. Between 1990 and 2014, the amount of trash sent to landfills decreased by 21 percent, leading to an almost 18 percent decrease in landfill methane emissions, according to the EPA.

Like San Francisco, a zero waste program in Boston has value beyond numbers, says Alex Papali, a co-coordinator of Zero Waste Boston.

“Zero waste programs offer a way for people to make a difference in their community,” says Mr. Papali. And unlike other sustainable initiatives that require a certain economic standing or understanding of technical issues, zero waste “is easy to access, it is mainly a behavior shift.”

Becoming a zero waste city is an important part of Boston’s goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the city faces some Beantown-specific challenges. For one thing, Boston is home to nearly 160,000 students, many of whom have permanent residency elsewhere. That may complicate habit-shifting programming. And with 60 percent of Boston residents renting apartments, Pay-As-You-Throw programs may be difficult to implement.

The city’s age may also play a factor. Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the nation’s oldest cities, with some of the oldest infrastructure. It will be difficult for residents to fit trash, recycling, and compost bins on the city’s narrow sidewalks while still meeting safety codes.

“The whole point of this project is to see those not as challenges, but also as an opportunity,” says Blackmon. “We want to show that despite challenges [zero waste] is still possible.”

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the mayor's recent expansion of the city's greenhouse gas reduction goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The amount of annual trash generation has also been corrected.]

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4. What an Uber fix could mean for modern entrepreneurial culture

Lots of Silicon Valley tech firms have tried to change their work culture, with varied results. But perhaps none has faced as steep an uphill climb as Uber, which might literally need to change the face of its company, the Monitor's Laurent Belsie writes.

A sign marks a pick-up point for the Uber car service at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Travis Kalanick, the company’s chief executive, announced Tuesday that he would take some time off. The firm has been scrutinized under his leadership for mismanagement and deep concerns about its work culture.
Seth Wenig/AP

The 30 Sec. ReadThe company Uber has been exploring a future in which human drivers may ultimately be rendered obsolete, as passengers hail rides in driverless cars. But now Uber’s own organization is looking driverless in a not-so-futuristic sense. Chief executive officer Travis Kalanick is stepping down for an indefinite time, and other top spots are unfilled as the company faces pressure from the public and its own board to fix a culture rife with allegations of sexual harassment and other ethical lapses. It’s not just the future of Uber – and the question of whether Mr. Kalanick will ultimately stay on – that’s at stake. It’s also the future of “frat-boy” style behavior that critics say is too common in the tech industry overall. Uber’s board has embraced a new independent report by former Attorney General Eric Holder. Next up will be filling top management positions. Having women in some of those, says Shiva Rajgopal of the Columbia Business School, can “serve as a significant deterrent against a permissive culture towards sexual harassment.”


4. What an Uber fix could mean for modern entrepreneurial culture

Beset by scandals and challenges on every side, Uber resembles a huge army where the troops have survived while the officer corps has been decimated.

The international ride-hailing service, with 12,000 employees, is currently operating without a chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, or head of engineering. They have either resigned or been fired. On Tuesday, a billionaire board member resigned after a sexist remark at an all-employee meeting. Chief executive Travis Kalanick is also stepping down for an indefinite time.

So what Uber desperately needs is a reputable leader who can right the ship and begin to dismantle the rule-breaking, sexist culture that grew up around Mr. Kalanick. If nothing else, the chaos at the top illustrates the limits of Silicon Valley’s frat-boy culture when it comes to running a modern corporation. It also is a test of corporate redemption – for Uber and, possibly, for Kalanick himself.

All this may augur for a woman to lead the turnaround as a very visible sign that the company is changing.

“Women in leadership positions serve as a significant deterrent against a permissive culture towards sexual harassment,” says Shiva Rajgopal, the incoming vice dean of research at Columbia Business School. “You rarely hear of such issues at Yahoo where Marissa Mayer was the CEO…. [Facebook’s Mark] Zuckerberg has [chief operating officer] Sheryl Sandberg to temper the frat-boy culture.”

Uber has begun to get a taste of change. While board member David Bonderman resigned Tuesday after joking at an all-employee meeting that adding a woman to the board would mean more talking, Arianna Huffington – the lone woman on the eight-member board – has emerged as a key spokeswoman for the company.

“Even one instance of harassment – sexual or otherwise – is one too many…. No brilliant jerks will be allowed,” she told employees Tuesday. “From the crucible of the last few months, a new Uber will emerge fueled by empathy, collaboration, and putting people first.”

A Valley of riches ... and controversy

Putting that promise into practice will take effort, and many see Uber as just the most visibly troubled edge of a Silicon Valley culture in need of ethical overhaul. As The Christian Science Monitor and others have reported, the prosperous tech industry has faced mounting pressure in recent years to improve its hiring and treatment of women.

Firms such as Google and Facebook now annually issue updates on staff diversity, in an industry where employment skews white and male. And a few firms are attempting to chart a new course that seeks to balance start-up drive with a culture of inclusiveness and respect. Yet a 2016 LinkedIn survey of venture capitalists and tech-company founders revealed what LinkedIn senior news editor Caroline Fairchild called “a massive gap between attitudes toward diversity and prioritizing any action” between women or nonwhites and white men in the poll.

In the poll, nearly eight in 10 founders said their startups are also not supporting initiatives to increase workforce diversity. A separate survey of senior-level women in the industry, conducted in 2015 and titled “Elephant in the Valley,” found 60 percent saying they’ve experienced unwanted sexual advances and 66 percent saying they felt excluded from social and networking opportunities afforded to men.

So although Uber is an extreme case, it’s being watched partly because action there is symbolic of a wider need.

Ms. Huffington announced Monday that Nestlé executive Wan Ling Martello will join Uber's board, bringing the female representation to 25 percent.

A range of missteps

The hand of Uber’s board seems to have been strengthened as the string of missteps and revelations have begun to take its toll on the company's business. Only 40 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Uber in the latest Morning Consult Brand Intelligence survey, down significantly over the past week and Uber’s lowest rating since the survey began in 2016. Its main competitor, Lyft, has narrowed its gap with Uber in US downloads of their competing apps over the past year.

The most recent string of problems for Uber began in January when an Uber tweet appeared to undermine a pro-immigration taxi strike in New York and sparked a #deleteuber campaign among consumers. In February, a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, published a blog charging that her claims of sexual harassment were ignored by the company. Other employees began reporting transgressions that management overlooked.

A few days later, autonomous car company Waymo sued Uber, saying Uber manager Anthony Levandowski (a former Waymo employee) had stolen key technical documents.

In March, a New York Times report said Uber had used a program, Greyball, to keep government regulators and investigators from hailing rides in cities where it was operating illegally. The Department of Justice is now investigating Greyball.

This month, an internal investigation found 215 claims of inappropriate behavior that led to the firing of 20 employees, including some executives. Uber also fired an Asia-Pacific manager who obtained the medical files of a woman in India, because he thought her claims of rape by an Uber driver might be false.

On Tuesday came the biggest revelation of all: The board released to employees the independent report it had commissioned from former Attorney Gen. Eric Holder. Among his 47 recommendations: a board oversight committee, a rewrite of Uber’s cultural values, less alcohol at work events, and a prohibition on intimate relationships between employees and their bosses.

‘I also need to work on Travis 2.0’

Making such reports public and firing key people are difficult but key moves if Uber hopes to right the ship, say management professors and researchers of corporate scandals. But a big question remains: Will Kalanick lead the turnaround?

“It would certainly be simpler to change the organization if he was gone,” Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School, writes in an email. “We've seen bigger corporations drop CEOs for far less.”

In an email to employees Tuesday, Kalanick said he was stepping aside for an unspecified time: “If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.”

The board, which has already voted unanimously to implement all of Mr. Holder’s recommendations, said it would appoint an independent board chairman and, upon Kalanick’s return, would hand some of his duties to the chief operational officer.

Despite its long list of woes, Uber retains formidable resources. Its valuation is nine times that of Lyft. It operates in more than 70 countries and 460 cities, compared with US-focused Lyft, which operates in 350 US cities.

But the optics are important, especially for the employees of the company, its drivers (whom the company considers independent contractors), and its customers.

“It’s very hard to change culture without changing leadership,” says Ed deHaan, a professor of accounting at the University of Washington’s business school who has researched how companies recover from scandal. “They need to make it very visual to the employees and customers that they're doing this…. The biggest message is getting an outsider.”

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5. How to fight poverty? Some propose major role for marriage.

Lonnie Shekhtman got the idea for our final story of the day from a conference she attended at the Heritage Foundation on conservative methods of helping people out of poverty. She went to Chattanooga, Tenn., to see how it works.


The 30 Sec. ReadIt’s no secret that a strong and lasting marriage takes work. The same holds true for societal efforts to promote marriage. Government-backed counseling programs have found it’s hard to buck a long trend of decline in marriage rates. But tackling that issue remains important, experts say, because the decline has been concentrated among the poor and less educated. And children of married parents are less likely to end up poor. What can be done? Options that might help include removing marriage penalties embedded in the earned income tax credit, and perhaps a national public-awareness campaign, like one that has already helped reduce teen pregnancies. And Julie Baumgardner, president of First Things First in Chattanooga, Tenn., says she’s not giving up on programs like the counseling effort she runs. “The question is: Do we want to sit here and do nothing?” she asks. “Or do we want to make an attempt to help people do what they’re trying to do?”


5. How to fight poverty? Some propose major role for marriage.

At the Maclellan Shelter for Families, Gena Roberts Ellis stands in front of about two dozen residents, blending humor with what she views as an urgent mission: helping these families stay intact.

The jovial and freckled Ms. Ellis holds the group in rapt attention as they eat boxed dinners and then settle into rows of chairs set up for a weekly parenting workshop in Chattanooga. A family with two teenagers sits in a corner. A young couple in the front row holds hands; behind them, another couple bounces a newborn baby.

Ellis uses the analogy of a car’s fuel gauge to describe how kids change the family dynamic and why parents need some personal time.

“When we parent on ‘E,’ we’re really not parenting,” Ellis says to nods of agreement from the audience.

For 20 years the organization Ellis works for, First Things First, has been trying from every angle to help lower divorce rates and raise marriage rates in this Southern city with higher-than-average poverty. Staff lead dozens of local workshops that range from teaching high-school girls about healthy relationships, to couples counseling at churches, to classes in jails, for fathers in trouble for missing child-support payments.

The effort is rooted in research suggesting that, despite diverging opinions on the value of marriage in modern society, kids who grow up with married parents are more likely to go to college and far less likely to end up poor.

But across America, it’s proving remarkably difficult to successfully promote more and stronger marriages. Here in Tennessee, for all the couples First Things First may have helped along the way, the effort hasn't reversed what appear to be deeply rooted trend lines. The rate of people marrying in Hamilton County, which includes Chattanooga, declined between 2009 and 2014, and nationally the trend has been downward since the early 1980s. Some positive news, here in Tennessee and nationwide, is that the divorce rate has been declining, yet it remains considerably above 1960s levels. [Editor's note: This paragraph has been updated to correct an inaccuracy on divorce rates.]

This doesn't mean efforts to support and promote marriage are useless, but it suggests that programs like First Things First are at best a partial response. Experts are promoting a range of options, from lowering welfare penalties for joint incomes to building a national public awareness campaign to illuminate the positive effect that marriage has on children.

“There’s a surprising degree of agreement that the country needs marriage,” says Ron Haskins, a senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “The problem is that nobody really has a good agenda.”

Marriage rates in the United States have been declining for decades, particularly among the poor and less educated, despite considerable federal- and local-government promotion efforts. But historically, the idea of the federal government telling people to marry has been contentious, and now it has fallen out of favor even among many former supporters.

Ideas that might help

“I’m a fanatic about marriage, but I will admit that we haven’t demonstrated impacts to a degree that we know how to do this,” Dr. Haskins says.

Still, he and other social-policy experts see other strategies that could be pushed, to try to make marriages stick. 

One of the simplest, says Angela Rachidi, a poverty expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, would be to lower the marriage penalties embedded in federal welfare benefits. She and many others point out, for example, that the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal tax rebate for lower-income people, is reduced when people marry and join their incomes.

“It’s probably not the government’s role to encourage marriage, but it shouldn’t be in the business of disincentivizing it,” Dr. Rachidi says.

Other marriage and poverty scholars, such as Isabel Sawhill, recommend that Americans focus on preventing unplanned pregnancies among young women by offering easy access to affordable birth control. She knows that’s a politically polarizing idea, but for her the rationale is compelling.

“Fifty percent of all babies born to the youngest generation are born outside of marriage, and overwhelmingly they’re unplanned,” says Dr. Sawhill, a senior fellow in economics at the Brookings Institution. “If we don’t like the idea of unwed parenthood or single parents, then we need to empower these women to be able to use effective forms of contraception.”

There’s also an opportunity, she says, to influence young people to wait until they’re married to have children. It’s an approach that worked for teen pregnancy, points out Sawhill, who helped found The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The 21-year-old public-awareness effort has contributed to a 55 percent decline in teen pregnancies over the past two decades, and a 64 percent drop in teen births, the nonprofit reports.

The idea is also popular among a bipartisan group of scholars who – inspired by successful teen-pregnancy and anti-smoking efforts – proposed in 2015 a national public-awareness campaign about the positive effects of stable marriages on children.

“In the same way that leading institutions advise us to abstain from smoking, eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, read to our children, volunteer, give to charity, wear seatbelts, and finish school, they should advise young people to postpone having a child until they have a stable partner and are ready to be parents,” wrote the group. “For the overwhelming majority, that means marriage.”

Daunting economics

For now, the data on marriage are foreboding. About half as many less-educated, low-income American women marry as do their educated, elite counterparts. Today, 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock, up from 5 percent in 1960.

Against this backdrop, researchers wrestle with chicken-or-egg questions: If more marriages might help reduce poverty, it’s also possible that less poverty would make more Americans marriageable. So, some experts say another way to promote marriage is to help more people get access to education and career opportunities.

The poverty trap for children of single parents was one thing that Chattanooga’s First Things First was trying to avoid when the organization was founded in 1997 by the city’s business leaders. “It’s not that single parents aren’t good and aren’t trying, but there’s only so much to go around when you have one human being,” says Julie Baumgardner, the group’s president and CEO.

Community leaders were alarmed by the local divorce rate, says Ms. Baumgardner, which at the time was 50 percent above the national average. “These businessmen said, ‘This is going to affect our ready-to-work workforce, and ultimately it’s going to impact us as a community,’ ” she says.

First Things First is among the many local efforts that received grants during the biggest federal attempt to stem the marriage decline, under former President George W. Bush. But the Bush-era programs that have been evaluated – from ones in Orlando, Fla., to Wichita, Kan., and the Bronx, N.Y. – were found to have had little to no effect on marriage rates or family stability. (First Things First was not among those evaluated.)

Though the outcome was discouraging for marriage advocates, they hope for lessons that can inform better marriage programs in the future.

Baumgardner, for one, simply refuses to give up. She says: “The question is: Do we want to sit here and do nothing and let things happen as they will, or do we want to make an attempt to help people do what they’re trying to do?”

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The Monitor's View

Americans expand the idea of giving – and goodness


The 30 Sec. ReadCharitable giving in the United States keeps rising. And in the past decade, another type of giving – impact investing – has taken off, too. This involves people putting their values into action through the financing of for-profit companies involved in social causes, from reforestation to prisoner rehabilitation – while accepting smaller returns than they might through other investments. Those involved include social entrepreneurs and traditional grant-giving foundations. Another kind of investor appears poised to jump in: In a survey last year one-third of institutional investors planned to boost portfolio allocations to impact investing over the next three years. Most of all, this approach – in all its forms – is expanding notions of how to achieve the public good.


Americans expand the idea of giving – and goodness

For the third straight year, Americans have hit a record high in their giving to good causes. Last year, according to a Giving Institute survey released June 13, donations or grants by individuals and philanthropies totaled $390 billion. The biggest increase, or 6 percent, went to animal-welfare and environmental groups.

Yet these measurements of altruism have a new problem. More people are not limiting the idea of supporting good causes to only charities, churches, or other nonprofits. In the past decade, another type of giving – called “impact investing” – has taken off. This involves people putting their values into action through financing of for-profit companies involved in social causes, from reforestation to prisoner rehabilitation – while also accepting smaller returns than other investments.

An estimated one-third of affluent families now hold impact investments, according to Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and U.S. Trust. And in a survey by the Global Impact Investing Network, the size of this market reached more than $113 billion last year.

The type of impact investors varies widely. They include social entrepreneurs, who apply business practices to pursue a social cause, such as sustainable farming. Or they can be traditional grant-giving foundations that direct part of their endowments toward worthwhile causes, such as solar-panel innovations. Or they can be wealthy families that invest in bonds that finance housing for the homeless.

But one type of investor could greatly increase this type of doing good. In a survey last year by Greenwich Associates and American Century Investments, one-third of institutional investors planned to increase portfolio allocations to impact investing over the next three years.

Defining what is “social good” is not always clear in such investing. Yet many nonprofits, such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, are establishing metrics for these investors to follow.

For now, the trend at least breaks up old thinking about what is a nonprofit and a for-profit organization. Most of all, it expands notions of how to achieve the public good and challenges the idea that goodness itself has limits.

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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.

Support for teens’ mental health


The subject of mental health, especially as it relates to teenagers, has become increasingly prominent in media and entertainment. It’s an important and challenging topic to address. Contributor Ingrid Peschke explains how ideas from the Bible that speak to God’s infinite love and care for each of us have helped her to better support her own teens. For example, the book of Jeremiah assures us of God’s love: “ ‘I have loved you with a love that lasts forever’ ” (31:3). The desire to express God-inspired kindness and love nurtures qualities such as respect, honesty, and unselfishness. We all have the innate ability to feel the tender presence and goodness of divine Love in our lives.


Support for teens’ mental health

The new Netflix original TV series “13 Reasons Why” prompted educators and mental health professionals to issue strong warnings to parents and schools. The series chronicles the life of a fictional high school student and the 13 reasons she feels led to her suicide. Many are worried vulnerable teens will watch the show without the help of a responsible adult to process the difficult themes, which include portraying suicide as almost inevitable, even romanticized, according to critics.

As a parent of teens, I’ve given a lot of thought to providing an open environment for discussing concerns in their lives. Our talks tend to veer in the direction of faith, since love for God and the Bible have provided an invaluable anchor for my children’s spiritual and character education.

As a Christian Scientist, I’ve learned to cultivate a habit of turning to prayer for guidance in supporting my children’s mental health and helping them see that when pressures come up in their lives, no matter what they’re facing, they are always loved – not just by me, but by the divine source of their life – and that there is a way to find healing. I love the spirit of these ideas: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1). And “[The Lord] said, ‘I have loved you with a love that lasts forever. I have kept on loving you with a kindness that never fails’ ” (Jeremiah 31:3).

We can each express God’s kindness and love by striving to see and emphasize the good, true, spiritual identity of the teens we care about and helping them see the good in their peers, too. This can nurture qualities such as respect, honesty, unselfishness, kindness, discernment – including in the way they talk about and portray themselves and their peers on social media.

One of the key lessons I’ve shared with my children from my experience is based on what Christ Jesus proved in his life, showing us how Love overcomes hate and light defeats darkness. Dark thoughts never have their source in God, who is good. We all have the innate ability to recognize and choose to accept the good and loving thoughts from God that are always present to guide us, and to feel the tender presence and protective power of that goodness in our lives.

Beyond my family, I’m making an effort to prayerfully stand up for all young people’s right to feel safe and confident about their life and to know they’re not alone in thinking through these tough issues. There are many more than 13 reasons why life is worth living.

A version of this article ran in the May 12 issue of The Huffington Post.

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A community response

Sandwiches were shared among residents displaced by a fire that engulfed the 24-story Grenfell Tower in West London overnight. The number of people killed was still being tallied today, and the cause of the fire remained under investigation. (See the editor's intro at the top of this issue.)
Victoria Jones/PA/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( June 15th, 2017 )

Yvonne Zipp
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for spending time with us today. Come back tomorrow, when Fred Weir in Moscow will be looking at new “e-democracy” tools for overcoming the notorious inertia of Russian bureaucracy – and promoting direct communications between government and society.

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