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2018
March
01
Thursday
Marjorie Kehe
Deputy Weekly Editor

Pretty much everything about the Nowzad "Conrad Lewis" animal clinic and shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan, is a miracle.

The mere existence of an animal shelter is a curiosity in Afghanistan, where animal welfare is often a low or nonexistent priority.

Funded entirely by contributions, the Nowzad clinic offers veterinary services and also takes in stray and injured dogs, cats, donkeys, and other animals.

But what may be the most unusual thing of all about the clinic is that it is run by three 20-something Afghan women, all trained veterinarians. Their ultimate goal, they say, is to change views in their country about both animal welfare and gender equality.

A special service the Nowzad clinic offers is to help foreign soldiers who have fallen in love with stray dogs and cats ship those animals home. According to the group’s website, it has assisted in the rescue of more than 900 animals from war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Kuwait, and Libya, and has successfully reunited them with soldiers in their homes in the United States, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.

But now they’ve moved on to a new project as well: turning street dogs rescued from war zones into service dogs to help vets with PTSD. The fact that the dogs, too, have endured conflict heightens the bond the soldiers feel with them, they say. Seven of their rescued service dogs are now at work in the US.

“We hope that this is only the beginning!” the group says on its website.

Now, here are our five stories for today.

1. A wary Congress sizes up Trump’s calls for action on guns

On Wednesday, President Trump stepped forward and seemed ready to take charge of the debate over gun control. But some legislators worry: Are they being manipulated like characters in a "Peanuts" comic strip?

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In a freewheeling televised meeting at the White House Wednesday, President Trump called for a comprehensive gun bill that would be “very powerful” on background checks, keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, and harden schools. Mr. Trump derided lawmakers for being afraid of the powerful National Rifle Association, suggested raising the age for buying certain firearms to 21 – and even appeared to offer support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long-standing crusade to ban assault weapons, prompting a visibly gleeful reaction from the California Democrat. But after last month’s immigration debacle, when efforts to secure legal status for young unauthorized “Dreamers” failed after the president abruptly switched from a bipartisan stance to a more hard-line position, members of both parties are openly wondering if the same will happen with gun reform. “My concern is that this is Lucy and the football,” says Sen. Chris Coons (D) of Delaware. If the president stands firm this time, he has an opportunity to change history and make a significant contribution to solving America’s long impasse over guns, Senator Coons says. But if he turns “180 degrees” again, he will “lose all credibility.” 

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A wary Congress sizes up Trump’s calls for action on guns

On an issue as tough for Congress as guns, it’s hard to imagine lawmakers doing much without strong presidential leadership. Republicans in particular will need plenty of political cover if they are to go up against the gun lobby, their traditional ally.

That’s exactly what President Trump seemed to promise them in a freewheeling, televised meeting at the White House on Wednesday. He derided lawmakers for being afraid of the powerful National Rifle Association – while painting himself as a strong leader.

“It’s time that a president stepped up,” he said. Over the course of the meeting with members of both parties, Mr. Trump called for a comprehensive gun bill that would be “very powerful” on background checks, keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and harden schools.

Most notably, Trump repeatedly suggested raising the age for buying certain firearms to 21 – and even appeared to offer support for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s longstanding crusade to ban assault weapons, prompting a visibly gleeful reaction from the California Democrat.

But after last month’s immigration debacle, when efforts to secure legal status for young, undocumented “Dreamers” failed after the president abruptly switched from a bipartisan stance to a more hardline position, members of both parties are openly wondering if the same will happen on guns.

“My concern is that this is Lucy and the football,” says Sen. Chris Coons (D) of Delaware. He describes Trump’s stance on guns as an “eerie reminder” of his early approach to immigration.

That, too, began with a televised free-flowing meeting with lawmakers of both parties. In that meeting, Trump said he would sign whatever deal congressional negotiators brought him. He would, he promised, “take the heat” on immigration reform.

Yet when a bipartisan deal emerged in the Senate, Trump blasted it and threatened to veto it. In the end, nothing passed.

If the president stands firm this time, he has an opportunity to change history and make a significant contribution to solving America’s long impasse over guns, Senator Coons says. But if he turns “180 degrees” again, he will “lose all credibility” – and his ability to work with Congress will be severely hampered.

“From the Republican point of view, if the president got behind a measure it would be easier for Republicans to say ‘yes,’ ” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina told reporters Tuesday. “Whether he follows through ... I don’t know.”

A GOP House member, Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, echoed that view: “What did he say ... sometimes you have to take the NRA on? Well, let’s see if that’s what he does.”

The White House is expected to issue guidelines for new legislation by the end of the week, but the NRA is already panning many of the ideas put forth by the president.

While Wednesday’s meeting “made for great TV, the gun-control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe,” NRA public affairs director Jennifer Baker said in a statement.

A tipping point?

Unlike last year, when the president relied on special parliamentary rules to unify his fractious party around a GOP-only agenda, this year’s issues – from immigration to guns to infrastructure and spending – will require Democratic support, since any measure will have to clear a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate. Trump on Wednesday boasted that getting to 60 on guns should be “so easy,” but as the failure of immigration reform showed, getting controversial issues through the Senate is an exceedingly difficult needle to thread.

And it’s unclear whether the ground is shifting on the gun debate. Democrats, as well as some Republicans who have taken a moderate stand on the issue, sense a tipping point. They are seizing the moment to re-introduce bipartisan proposals that have failed in the past – most prominently, on universal background checks that would extend to gun-show and online purchases.

Such a bill, authored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania, has never been able to pass the Senate. But supporters are encouraged by the strong public support Trump offered for the measure this week.

“It does feel as though the atmosphere has changed,” Senator Toomey told reporters after the White House meeting. “It does feel to me as though there are members who were not willing to do something in the past, that might be willing now. And I know for a fact that there are individual senators who voted against Manchin-Toomey, for instance, who have told me that they are reconsidering.”

GOP leaders, for their part, are expressing caution. House Speaker Paul Ryan told his conference at their weekly confab Tuesday morning to be “respectful” of each other and continue to “talk through this” and “not be overly aggressive” because members’ districts differ, Rep. Chris Collins (R) of New York told reporters.

In the Senate, majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky has been pushing a narrow bill with widespread bipartisan support dubbed “Fix NICS.” It provides carrots and sticks to motivate compliance with existing reporting requirements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Republicans call it a first step – though one of their own members put a hold on the bill.

That political caution is born of experience. In 1994, Democrats famously lost control of both houses of Congress – and while several factors were at play, the “single most important” was the narrow passage of the Assault Weapons Ban, says Patrick Griffin, then-President Clinton's legislative director.

At the time, the Democratic leadership in the House had opposed the ban as too politically risky. They left it to the president and his team, led by Mr. Griffin and then-chief of staff Leon Panetta, to do the heavy lifting to build support. After it passed, rural Democrats took a beating at the hands of the NRA and its voting members. For lack of support, the ban was allowed to expire 10 years later.

“The Assault Weapons Ban would not have happened without Clinton’s aggressive leadership – to his detriment,” says Griffin. “Nothing is going to happen without [Trump] providing the cover for his colleagues, no matter how minimal the bill is.”

A slow and steady build

But for all the conventional wisdom that nothing has changed – or could change – some on the Hill see it differently now.

Instead of rural Democrats on the line, it’s now suburban Republicans in swing districts who may have to worry. Their educated constituents, particularly moms, want action on this issue. The passionate and energized students of Parkland, who visited with leaders in the Capitol on Wednesday, are the voice of a new generation demanding change – and they are at or near voting age.

Unusually, businesses are also cutting their ties to the NRA. This week, two big gun retailers, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, announced they would not sell guns to anyone under age 21. Dick’s also announced it would no longer sell high capacity magazines or assault-style rifles (Walmart stopped selling rifles such as the AR-15 in 2015). And states are taking steps, such as establishing “red flag” policies to help prevent people who could be a danger to themselves or others from getting guns.

“It’s been a slow and steady build,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut on the Senate floor Wednesday. The senator, a gun-control activist since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in his home state, never tires of reminding people that 97 percent of Americans support universal background checks – while the NRA remains opposed.

Still, nothing will change unless the president leans on his Republican colleagues, say Democrats, who believe Trump’s support for the Second Amendment will make it easier for Republicans to join him.

As Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer put it Thursday: "The $64,000 question is, when the NRA starts coming down on him, will he resist?”

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2. Gun issue opens window on CEOs’ shifts on politics of social issues

In the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida, some prominent companies have backed away from support for the National Rifle Association. The response highlights a trend of CEOs engaging – willingly or grudgingly – on social issues.

US corporations and conservatives have a lot in common. They support free enterprise, low taxes, and limited government. But on social issues, from gay rights to global warming, they have often parted ways over the past 30 years. There are many reasons, such as CEOs or employees with strong views. There is also a business case for taking a stand: It’s more important to connect with young adults, who represent a huge market and pool of potential employees, than with older social conservatives, whose buying habits are more established. Of course, business leaders sometimes just don’t want to anger either side on a tense issue. But today, the rise of social media and polarized politics have increased the pressure, often from Millennials especially, for corporations to take a stand. Will public pressure force a policy change on guns? “This could be the tipping point,” says Matthew Patsky, head of Trillium Asset Management. “But every other time when we saw what we thought was a tipping point on the gun debate, we’ve seen the [National Rifle Association] and its allies push back and nothing has happened.”

SOURCE: Media-General, Associated Press, Gallup, J. Walter Thompson survey October 2016, ThinkProgress.org
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Jacob Turcotte, Mark Trumbull, Laurent Belsie/Staff
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3. Israel’s Netanyahu hangs his survival on a mantra: No one else can lead

Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on corruption charges? As Israelis wait for an answer from their attorney general, Mr. Netanyahu has announced plans to stay in office no matter what. This piece looks at why he just might succeed.

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Who cares about a little corruption? In a nutshell, that seems to explain how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel may be able to tough it out in office, despite police recommendations he be indicted. The long-serving premier is facing mounting corruption scandals. For months, headlines focused on gifts of expensive champagne and cigars, a case his supporters have dismissed as trifling. More significantly, Mr. Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a leading Israeli newspaper a reduction in competition in exchange for more favorable coverage. Yet the political survivor has managed to cultivate an image as the one person who can lead Israel, and his base hails him for providing both prosperity and security. “Netanyahu’s genius and fortune is that Israel is very divided between many parties, and there is no other challenger who can form a coalition,” says the author of an upcoming book. Adds a political strategist: “Supporters … see him as a wheeler and dealer doing what it takes to stay in power.” Because they share his policy goals, “they don't have a big incentive to push him out.”

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Israel’s Netanyahu hangs his survival on a mantra: No one else can lead

Political operative Tzion Bouskila says his phone has been ringing lately with calls from Israeli Cabinet ministers and lawmakers from Likud, Israel’s ruling party.

They’re anxious, he says, to know how news of mounting corruption scandals involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing in his working-class town of Netivot, a long-time party stronghold.

“They want to know what the pulse is on the street,” says Mr. Bouskila, who heads the Likud party’s branch there. “And I tell them support just keeps rising and rising … and they themselves should support Netanyahu with all their might.”

So far they seem to be listening, remaining loyal to Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s master political survivor, despite the most serious challenge yet to his four terms in power.

As Israelis await the attorney general’s decision on possible corruption indictments, Netanyahu has vowed to stay in office regardless. It’s a sign, his critics argue, that he is disregarding democratic norms and that his lasting imprint on the country could be how he oversaw the erosion of the country’s core democratic institutions.

But for his followers, it’s a promise that he will continue to deliver the prosperity and security they say he has proved he can provide. He is currently in reach of becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister – surpassing even the country’s first, David Ben-Gurion.

“I feel a deep obligation to continue to lead Israel in a way that will ensure our future,” Netanyahu said on live television, his eyes focused on the camera, just minutes before the police announced their recommendation to indict him in two separate cases of alleged bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Since then, more charges have surfaced, and a top aide has agreed to turn state’s witness in a potentially more significant case that alleges Netanyahu used his power to trade favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

Throughout, Netanyahu has criticized the police, casting doubt on their true motivations, and has portrayed attacks against him as unpatriotic, even undermining Israel itself.

His critics, meanwhile, describe the corruption allegations, in particular those related to possible meddling with media coverage of him, as the most insidious evidence that Netanyahu is a leader bent on quashing dissent and destroying Israeli democracy.

Standing by their champion

In his previous role as attorney general, Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz indicted Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert for corruption. In remarks about the current scandals that were recorded and leaked, the justice said he was distressed that Israeli leaders are not setting an appropriate personal example, which has led to a “leadership crisis.”

Nevertheless, recent polls show, Bouskila and his fellow Likud faithful, who constitute some 25 percent of the electorate, continue to stand by Netanyahu – enough to keep in him office should new elections be called. The core of Likud is largely drawn from towns that are predominately Sephardic, religious, and staunchly anti-establishment. And even though Netanyahu arguably is a member ofthe elite himself, his loyalists still see him as a champion of the underdog.

“Netanyahu has learned how to use his base to devastating effect by learning how to build a coalition around it,” argues Anshel Pfeffer, author of the upcoming book, “Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.”

“Netanyahu’s genius and fortune is that Israel is very divided between many parties and there is no other challenger who can form a coalition,” he says. “Netanyahu is not popular, but he is the only person who can operate in this landscape.”

Mr. Pfeffer says part of Netanyahu’s tactical brilliance politically has been to appoint coalition partners – not members of his own party – to the most powerful Cabinet posts. That makes those partners less likely to bolt when times get tough, a bet that has paid off now as his Cabinet has rallied, offering a solid wall of support.

Members of his own party, meanwhile, argue that there are still no indictments, and that it’s the partisan media and the left who are conspiring to overthrow someone they see as the only figure capable of leading their embattled and complicated country.

No successor has been groomed

This is precisely the message Netanyahu has pushed for years, as he has crafted an image in the same media he is now accused of trading favors with to get positive coverage.

By design, analysts say, no successors have been groomed or are even waiting in the wings within the Likud. Bouskila is filled with adulation.

“Look at how well the economy is doing, other countries would love to have our growth rate,” he says, “it’s good for businesspeople, industry and regular people. Look at our security and diplomatic situation – among the best we have ever had.

“And there’s something about his personality, he travels the world and commands respect. And have we ever had an American president with such a strong connection to Israel?” Bouskilla asks, citing President Trump’s cozy ties with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has his hands full fighting four corruption cases simultaneously. For months headlines focused on the cases of pink champagne and cigars that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received in exchange for allegedly helping the business interests of two wealthy friends.

But it is the media-related case, for which police also have recommended an indictment, and a further related one that may prove most damaging. Both center on the alleged peddling of business favors for the owners of influential news outlets in exchange for positive coverage.

In one, Netanyahu has been heard on tape telling the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth, once the most widely read newspaper in the country, that he would convince American billionaire Sheldon Adelson to reduce the circulation of his own Israel Ha’Yom – a pro-Netanyahu free daily that is now the most widely read. The alleged payback for Netanyahu was kinder coverage, and for Yedioth, a boost in sales.

The right-left divide

Still, Netanyahu has already established a dominant image. Dahlia Scheindlin, a pollster and political strategist, says that in focus groups she often hears the same refrain, even from those who do not support him: “There is no one else.”

“They say he is a strong leader, that there is no one else of his leadership stature,” says Ms. Scheindlin. “That he stands up for their interests, looks like a tough guy, talks tough. They like it when he stands up to the world.”

She and fellow pollster Mitchell Barak argue that because the corruption Netanyahu is accused of is not a classic story of piles of money, but instead revolves around complicated infractions, it is harder to anger his base.

“Supporters … cannot look at him and say ‘I hate you – you stole my money.’ They see him as a wheeler and dealer doing what it takes to stay in power.” Because they share his policy goals, “they don’t have a big incentive to push him out,” Scheindlin argues.

That mindset is likely further exacerbated by the right-left divide here.

Mr. Barak, who worked for Netanyahu in the early 1990s when he was deputy foreign minister, says his supporters can be explained simply:

“At the end of the day Israelis vote on one issue, and that is on the security/peace issue. If you are right of center, it’s security, and you want someone who will protect and defend Israel, and minimize terror attacks, and fight for defensible borders. And from that point of view Netanyahu is delivering the goods, so who cares about a little corruption?”

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4. Indians rethink college abroad as home earns a new degree of possibility

Until very recently, many ambitious young Indians felt that there was little choice when it came to college. If they wanted a world-class career, they believed, they needed to study in the US. But now, suddenly, their own schools are looking much more attractive.

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When Sheikh Safwan started thinking about college, he considered heading to the United States. Today, though, he’s a sophomore at Ashoka University in his native India – an experiment in building an American-style liberal arts institution. For many Indian students who make a similar choice, he says, cost and visa red tape are huge factors – as is the so-called Trump effect, which some experts blame for a dip in the number of new foreign students arriving in the US. But there’s something else, too: “a growing sense of opportunities at home,” as Mr. Safwan says. That kind of thinking is bolstered by a daily buzz in some media, and can-do Prime Minister Narendra Modi, touting the idea that “India’s time has come.” It’s a reversal of the push-pull dynamic that immigration experts have long cited to explain migration patterns. Instead of feeling pushed away by a lack of future opportunities and pulled to the US by a big welcome mat and bright career options, Indian students increasingly seem to sense a slamming US door and the tug of brightening horizons at home.

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Indians rethink college abroad as home earns a new degree of possibility

When a study last fall showed the number of new foreign students arriving in the United States dipped slightly in 2016 – the first time in years – some analysts attributed the decline to the “Trump effect.”

The nationalistic and anti-foreigner undertones of then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had weakened the international draw of the Made-in-America college education, experts said.

“We like to say that ‘things are in the air,’ and that’s the situation here,” says Sheikh Safwan, a sophomore at Ashoka University who thought seriously about heading to the United States himself. “There’s just this growing perception of uncertainty about the US, that it’s turning inward and that Trump’s direction is to discourage foreigners and put Americans first.”

The new US administration is just one reason more Indian students are staying home, however. “I can’t emphasize enough how much the cost of getting an education in the US is a discouragement,” says Mr. Safwan, a political science major, and visas are a major factor, too.

But so is “a changing perception about India,” he adds.

Ashoka is India’s fledgling experiment in building an American-style liberal-arts institution, with a mushrooming campus rising from farm fields in New Delhi’s neighboring Haryana state. Here, “there’s a growing sense of opportunities at home,” Safwan explains, heading out of the university’s main library to get to a morning class.

Indeed, what comes through from conversations with students is much more than a tarnishing of America’s attractiveness to foreign students. The bigger message is an awareness of their country’s growing potential – and a sense that the kinds of opportunities many young Indians once associated almost exclusively with the US are now increasingly available at home.

“I know I want to do something that helps build a better future for my country, and I think I can do that getting my education here,” Safwan says.

Shifting appeal

It’s a reversal of the push-pull dynamic that immigration experts have long cited to explain migration patterns: Now instead of feeling pushed away from India by a lack of future opportunities and pulled to the US by a big welcome mat and bright career options, Indian students increasingly seem to sense a slamming US door, and the tug of brightening horizons at home.

“Five or 10 years ago the US was pretty much the only option for students like us who wanted world-class interdisciplinary studies and a foot in the door to an attractive career, but now there are more options within India and in Asia,” says Kriti Krishan, one of Ashoka’s 300 Young India Fellows, a highly competitive program to train “change agents” for a new India.

Ms. Krishan’s friend Raashi Raghunath, another Young India Fellow, says it’s her sense that the bloom is off the once-pervasive attraction of a life and career outside India.

“The diasporic urge has subsided to some degree,” Ms. Raghunath says. “Twenty or 30 years ago it was the ultimate Indian dream, but now you can have that same lifestyle at a lower cost and without the separation from home. We all know of people who went to study abroad but then found they can get a better job staying here now.”

To some extent, that optimistic vision is a rarity – more the mindset of top-school students getting a multidisciplinary education than the reality of college-graduate employment today. India’s traditional universities send about 5 million graduates into the job market each year, and economists and education experts warn that the usual rote-learning model most have experienced leaves them ill-prepared for the 21st-century economy. Many, including hundreds of thousands of engineers, end up with jobs well below what they thought their degree promised.

But the mood seems brighter at Ashoka. Seated at an outdoor study table on a chilly morning, Taghunath and Krishan discuss the waning “Jhumpa Lahiri effect,” referring to the London-born American writer and daughter of Indian immigrants to the US who is known for her novels about the struggles of Indians adapting to life in America.

“People were really attracted to the lifestyle and possibilities that Jhumpa Lahiri wrote about,” Raghunath says. “But it seems Indians aren’t so fascinated by that any more. I feel that now more Indians think they can make those changes here.”

'Making India great again'

That kind of thinking is bolstered by a daily buzz in business publications, among some economists, and not least from the country’s can-do prime minister, Narendra Modi, touting the idea that “India’s time has come.”

Print and television headlines trumpeted the news when the London-based Center for Economics and Business Research announced its recent projection that India would leapfrog the United Kingdom and France in 2018 to become the world’s fifth-largest economy. More chest-thumping followed when the IMF issued a report estimating that, after a slowdown in 2017, India would rev up in 2018 and reclaim (from China) the mantle of the world’s fastest-growing economy.

To be sure, many students at Ashoka say they still like the idea of spending some time in the US, or the UK, or perhaps another overseas destination (Australia, New Zealand, or Singapore are frequently mentioned) before wrapping up academic careers. And indeed, the Institute of International Education study showing a drop in new international students entering the US in Fall 2016 also showed an overall increase in Indian students in the US, as thousands of graduates decided to stay on past their studies for internships or other post-graduate positions.

Still, preliminary numbers for Fall 2017 showed an even bigger drop in new foreign students arriving in the US: down 7 percent, compared to a smaller 3 percent decline in new foreign students a year earlier.

Some Indians long in the US are making a point of informing their home country about the shifts they see underway – echoing student Safwan’s feelings of “things in the air” about its dimming attraction.

In a recent opinion column in the Hindustan Times, provocatively titled “Trump is making India great Again,” the Indian-American technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa says that the American president’s “tirades against immigrants” are only the latest factor in the US encouraging entrepreneurs from countries like India to go home. Green-card limbo has left about 1.5 million skilled workers and their families in uncertainty, he estimates, with about one-third of them Indian.

Highlighting that Indians created 15.5 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups – more than the next four immigrant groups combined – Wadhwa says the US risks losing its high-tech edge if Indians and other foreign entrepreneurs opt to return home. Noting further that more and more he hears from Indian engineering students in the US that their “ultimate goal” is to return to India to work in high-tech, Wadhwa concludes, “America’s loss is India’s gain.”

Important impressions

Still, not everyone agrees that the US’s attraction for Indian students is about to flicker out.

Ashoka’s vice-chancellor, Pratap Mehta – who returned to India after an academic career in the US that included teaching at Harvard and NYU Law School – says he believes the concerns he hears about study in the US are exaggerated.

“I’d say the perception is jumping ahead of the actual situation, but certainly this perception of a less accessible, less welcoming society [in the US] is there,” Dr. Mehta says. “We hear of an anti-research sentiment taking hold under the Trump administration, of opportunities closing up for foreign students, and it all adds up to a sense that the excellence of a society that we took for granted may not be as secure as we thought,” he adds. “And to some degree we see young people developing a perception based on what they’re hearing, and acting on it.”

The degree to which that perception is taking hold becomes clear back at the outdoor study table where students Krishan and Raghunath are chatting. In their eyes, they explain, it’s India’s bright future that accounts for the US’s diminished attraction – but another student at the table, who’s clearly been eavesdropping, suddenly speaks up.

Yanking out his computer earbuds, the young man glares at the women and blurts out, “Why don’t you say what it really is? It’s Trump, it’s as simple as that.”

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5. Science at home: Making experiments the new bedtime stories

Many parents are not comfortable doing science-related activities with their children, a new study reveals. Some educators are doing their best to turn that trend around.

Vanessa Schatz/Courtesy of Science Galaxy
The annual Girls & Science Event at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (shown here in March 2017) is facilitated by groups like Boulder-based Science Galaxy. Researchers and others are hoping to guide parents on how to talk about science at home, suggesting activities such as observing nature and discussing it.

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Ask mothers and fathers what subjects they feel comfortable helping their children with at home, and not many will raise their hands for science. A new study released today makes that point: 90 percent of parents reported doing learning activities with their children daily, but less than half the parents surveyed said they do science-related activities daily with their children. Researchers and others are hoping to address that by providing more support for parents – especially those with lower income or education levels. Advocates emphasize that it’s less about having all the answers and more about engaging the curiosity of children. Science, they argue, should be a core skill or habit akin to that of literacy. “It’s not just memorizing facts or knowing what photosynthesis is,” says Shelley Pasnik, one of the authors of the study. She notes that participating in science-related activities with young kids might be as simple as having them observe a tree outside or play around with a ramp. “Young children have the capacity to engage in scientific thinking,” she says, “and we want to cultivate it for preschoolers and see it grow throughout their lives.”

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Science at home: Making experiments the new bedtime stories

On a recent Saturday, Sage and Aven Davis – aged 8 and 5 – are eagerly experimenting with oil, water, glitter, glow sticks, food coloring, and AlkaSeltzer to make “lava lamps.”

Sage’s is glowing a bright green, while Aven’s has turned to a muddy brown – “like chocolate,” she says happily, shaking the container to make it fizz. Eventually, when the lamps are finished, they move on to a project that allows them to create electrical devices from everyday items like fruit and playdough.

The family is one of dozens that came out to a Boulder, Colo., event sponsored by Science Galaxy, a local organization that encourages kids and their parents to come together around science, curiosity, and critical thinking.

And while Melissa Davis and her husband brought their kids to the Science Galaxy event for some more formal science projects, Ms. Davis says science is a big part of activities at home too.

“My son is really into geodes because of Minecraft, and elements,” she says, referring to a popular video game in which players build with various elements. “He understands smelting. Through video games he was introduced to the terms, and now he has the periodic table of the elements on his wall. We just kind of spur them on according to their own interests.”

That attitude toward science – making it as much a part of integrated family life with young kids as reading to children at bedtime – is getting increased focus from some educators. A new study released today examines, both quantitatively and qualitatively, just how families with preschool-age children incorporate science learning into their lives, and what barriers keep them from doing so more.

“Science isn’t present in young children’s classrooms in the same way that literacy is, and parents don’t have the same sort of awareness,” says Shelley Pasnik, one of the authors of the study and vice president of Education Development Center (EDC), which led the study with SRI International, funded by the US Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program. “It’s still acceptable to say I’m not a math person or I’m not a science person.” The question, she says, is “how to define science as a core skill or a core habit that all people need and all people can develop.”

Phillip Yates/Courtesy of Science Galaxy
Hands on learning at a Science Galaxy Event in Boulder, Colo., in September 2017. The local organization encourages kids and their parents to come together around science, curiosity, and critical thinking. A new study suggests that parents need more support to feel empowered to incorporate science at home.

One barrier that emerged in the study was the lack of expertise some parents feel when it comes to science. But Ms. Pasnik – who is also the director of EDC’s Center for Children & Technology – and others are encouraging them to think less about the importance of knowing the answers and more about the habits of mind and curiosity they can encourage.

“It’s not just memorizing facts or knowing what photosynthesis is,” says Pasnik, noting that science with young kids might be as simple as observing a tree outside or playing around with a ramp. “It’s, can you come up with a testable question, and the difference between a guess and a prediction… Young children have the capacity to engage in scientific thinking, and we want to cultivate it for preschoolers and see it grow throughout their lives.”

The push for more support

In the survey, 90 percent of parents reported doing learning activities with their children daily, but less than half the parents surveyed said they do science-related activities daily with their children.

Some parents talked about cooking with their children, observing nature outside, or answering “why” questions as examples of science, but other parents said they were confused by the idea of science, that they didn’t like it, and that their children were too young.

Just over half of the survey respondents said they felt “very confident” in their ability to help their young children learn age-appropriate science skills, compared with about 75 percent who felt that way about reading and math skills – and those numbers dropped for parents with less education.

It’s one reason educators are pushing for more supports and tools to help parents – and especially parents with lower income or education levels – feel confident and engaged in their children’s learning.

Aaron Morris, director of family and community learning for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), has been working to develop “two-generational” science workshops for low-income families with just that goal in mind.

In one series, PBS held workshops around the “ScratchJr” programming app they had created along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University, for both kids and their parents. “We teach them the basics of coding in a light and fun and age-appropriate way,” says Mr. Morris. “We’re looking to inspire and get kids excited about STEM learning, but even more important is our effort to support parents in supporting their kids’ learning.”

Morris says most parents still don’t know how to think through math and science learning, and there isn’t always a clear message from educators, the way there is about, say, reading with children every night.

“When we do coalesce around a message, it will come back to talking with your kids,” says Morris. “It’s about asking questions and helping your kids make observations and engaging in out-loud thinking…. These skills and habits of mind are something three-year-olds are already developing.”

He’s currently developing other two-generational workshops around life science, space, and other PBS Kids apps. Families who have gone to the workshops have reported leaving with new ideas of things to try at home and a renewed interest in engaging in science with their kids. “But anecdotally, the thing we’re seeing that’s the most exciting is joy,” says Morris.

Combine literacy and science

For parents already feeling overwhelmed by the number of different things they’re supposed to be doing with their children – in addition to work and all the necessities of life – it can also be important to underscore that science education doesn’t have to stand on its own, says Susan Friedman, senior director of content for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“Literacy and reading and enjoying children’s books can overlap with science exploration,” says Ms. Friedman. “Playing with blocks and developing inclines with a ball – that’s math and science… Something like cooking can be everything together: math, reading the recipe, science in terms of the properties of materials changing. That would make things a little easier for parents.”

NAEYC offers a variety of tools and ideas for parents on its website, emphasizing science as fun, everyday activities that can be as simple as experimenting with water at bathtime; tapping into children’s innate sense of wonder using everyday toys like tops, eyedroppers, or balls; or using playdough.

Back at the Science Galaxy event in Boulder, Bracken Christensen’s four-year-old daughter Exie is most excited about the large ball mazes she and a friend are creating out of connecting pipes, constantly changing different elements to see what will happen.

“I’m making a very conscious effort to make her comfortable around this,” says Mr. Christensen, noting that historically, science and engineering have been fields less welcoming to women. He and his wife keep science-focused books around, using Exie’s interests – most recently volcanoes and the solar system – to guide them, and he’s done some early sequential programming games with her.

“I want to make sure she has early exposure to [science],” he says, “and that it’s part of her world.” 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that EDC and SRI International led the study, which was funded by the US Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program. 

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The Monitor's View

Prepare to meet the Parkland generation

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A pair of mass events this month, led by the remarkable teen leaders in Parkland, Fla., will be the first large-scale glimpses of the 70 million teenagers who have been dubbed Generation Z. Some of their habits already mark them. They mostly expect to work for themselves someday. They are also the first to know instinctively how to brand themselves on social media. Yet there is one stereotype that the events could defy. According to a poll by the nonprofit Barna Group, a strong minority do not believe there can be a consensus on truth. What’s true for someone else, they say, may not be “true for me.” Leading a public cause and getting results, however, requires a commitment to truth and truth-telling. Perhaps in these protests, Gen Zers can show such a commitment. The Parkland shooting has galvanized this generation. The members of Gen Z are now enraged. But they are also engaged in creating solutions. That’s a truth they can hold onto together, one that could be the mark they leave on history.

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Prepare to meet the Parkland generation

During two mass events in March, the news media will be shining a spotlight on the next generation of Americans, or the 70 million teenagers who have been dubbed Generation Z. Be prepared to see what drives the “Gen Zers.”

On March 14, millions of teens are expected to follow the call of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and walk out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the people killed on Feb. 14 at the school. Such an act of empathy is exactly the value taught to this generation, as today’s teens often express a desire to volunteer.

On March 24, the Parkland teens have called for young people to gather in Washington and other cities and demand tougher gun laws. This is a generation, after all, that grew up with easy access to information on a smartphone and that is accustomed to efficient and quick solutions in the Digital Age. It is also a generation that seeks “safe spaces,” according to pollsters, whether that safety is sought in a school or in not being afraid of harassment and harsh judgment.

These two events, led by the remarkable teen leaders at Parkland, will be the first large-scale glimpse of this age group, which is the most ethnically diverse in US history. Some of their habits already mark them. Pollsters, for example, find Gen Zers are the first who prefer to take a smartphone to bed. They mostly expect to work for themselves someday. They are also the first to know instinctively how to brand themselves on social media, as many Parkland students have done.

Yet there is one stereotype of Gen Zers that the two events could defy. According to a poll by the nonprofit Barna Group, only 34 percent of teens strongly believe that lying is morally wrong – far fewer than in recent generations. And a strong minority do not believe there can be a consensus on truth. What’s true for someone else, they say, may not be “true for me.”

Leading a public cause and getting results, however, requires a commitment to truth and truth-telling. Perhaps in these protests, Gen Zers can show such a commitment – and that each generation should not be neatly categorized or believe any false claim made about them.

Only two or three times in American history have children been on the frontlines of social change. The Parkland shooting has galvanized Gen Z, perhaps becoming the singular incident that defines them, as 9/11 did for Gen Y and the Kennedy assassination did for boomers. The members of Gen Z are now enraged at the reasons for this killing. But they are also engaged in creating solutions. That’s a truth they can hold onto together, one that could be the mark they leave on history.

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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.

Seasonal illness – a ‘rumor’ about our true health

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Today’s column explores how understanding sickness to be a false report about what we truly are as God’s spiritual and whole creation brings healing.

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Seasonal illness – a ‘rumor’ about our true health

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Rumors can seem pervasive. Defined by one dictionary as “a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth,” they are often spread unwittingly, like the game of “telephone,” in which a message becomes increasingly misheard and therefore incorrectly repeated as players pass it along. But when we are alert to the truth, this keeps us from believing and further reporting misinformation.

There’s another type of “hearsay” out there than who said what to whom. It pertains to our health and well-being. Through gaining in my spiritual understanding of God, I’ve learned that there’s more to us than our fleshly sense of ourselves, and that disease itself, seasonal or otherwise, is a “rumor,” a false report, about that deeper identity. Sickness sure seems real and powerful. But I have found that the Bible, and especially Christ Jesus’ healing works, point to the fact that our real identity and substance are spiritual – made in the likeness of God – and that wholeness and purity, not illness, is therefore the reality of our being.

For instance, in the Gospel of Luke, we read that Jesus went to the home of one of his disciples, Simon. There he found Simon’s mother-in-law sick with a fever, and he was asked to help her. So Jesus “stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose” (see 4:38, 39).

It was pretty obvious to those present that this woman was very ill. But Jesus understood that everyone’s true nature is the creation of God, divine Spirit, and therefore whole and unblemished. Because this real identity is entirely spiritual, any material report is a false report about what we truly are. With God, good, as our creator, health is the spiritual fact of our being. This is the understanding that enabled Jesus to heal Simon’s mother-in-law and so many others.

Following Jesus’ example, we can have the courage today to affirm our God-given health and to stand up to false “rumors” about our well-being.

Recently I started to have flu symptoms. Keeping firmly in thought the spiritual fact that God, Spirit, is All, I immediately challenged those symptoms as a rumor – misinformation from an unreliable source – hence not an indisputable fact about my identity. I prayed to understand that God is good, is present, and is the only real cause and effect. Only what was coming from God, divine Love, could be true about me or anyone. This includes God’s infinite care for each of us, His children. And I knew we can experience this truth about ourselves in our daily lives.

Affirming these facts helped me reject mental tugs in the other direction. When I heard news reports or saw a commercial on TV discussing the predominance of the flu, I acknowledged that just as the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law had no foundation in spiritual reality, neither did the flu – for me or anyone. Only information coming from God, Spirit, is true, to be believed.

I am grateful to say those symptoms disappeared very quickly, and I was feeling 100 percent again.

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy points out the power of standing “porter at the door of thought,” and goes on to say, “Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously” (p. 392). We all have the ability to stand up to “hearsay” that suggests the inevitability of ill health, no matter what season it is. God, divine Love, keeps all Her children well, strong, and active, always. Therefore health and wholeness are the reality of what we are. Acknowledging the constant goodness and power of God, we can say each day, “I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalms 42:11).

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Viewfinder

Power projection

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Journalists watch as Russian President Vladimir Putin gives his annual state of the nation address in Moscow March 1. Mr. Putin set a slew of ambitious economic goals, vowing to boost living standards, improve health care and education, and build modern infrastructure in a state of the nation address. He also boasted of Russia’s having tested powerful new nuclear weapons systems.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris, with apologies to Charles Schultz. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 2nd, 2018 )

Marjorie Kehe
Deputy Weekly Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story from Congo about the Catholic Church’s leading role in pressing an embattled president to step down – a bold political stance that might be surprising elsewhere in the world, but that isn’t to most Congolese today. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 01, 2018
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