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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

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

2018
May
14
Monday
Kim Campbell
Education Editor

New York State’s schools are considered some of the most segregated in the United States. In looking for ways to change that, education policymakers recently asked students to weigh in.   

“I have never, ever had a white classmate,” a New York City student told the state’s Board of Regents last July. “[N]ow that I’m going to college I have to, you know, adapt. I’m sure it’s a whole different ball game.”

This week, student voices will again be heard on the subject. Thursday marks the 64th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision banning segregation. The student-led group Teens Take Charge is planning a day of action in New York City. They’ve invited policymakers to join them in their high schools for “A Day in Our Shoes.” 

Students face a variety of challenges when they attend racially isolated schools, as the story and graphics we’ve put together for you today explain. More than six decades after the Brown decision, the US is still struggling with how to prioritize making education equal for all students.

With segregation on the rise, we wanted to see how different communities are responding to it and what progress they are making. We will be sharing what we’ve found in an occasional series called Learning Together, which launches with our story today. We hope you’ll follow along as we explore an issue that is at the heart of a democratic society.

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Here are our five stories that look at navigating Middle East peace, tackling persistent social issues, and making the most of an economic crisis.

1. Iran weighs preserving nuclear deal without US

The nuclear deal was sold to Iranians as offering a peace dividend and paving the way for greater openness. But the returns have been minimal, and how hard Tehran will work to keep the deal alive with Europeans and without the United States remains to be seen.

Kim

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Iran hasn’t yet ratcheted up its uranium enrichment or kicked out United Nations inspectors. Instead, after President Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal, Iran launched a diplomatic offensive to save it, calling on the other parties to provide guarantees that will keep the deal alive. But does this really mean Iran considers the nuclear deal worth keeping? The answer depends upon whom you ask in Tehran; on what guarantees are possible from the European Union, Russia, and China; and to what degree they are willing to oppose the White House. Inside Iran, the effort to preserve the nuclear deal without the US is requiring a recalculated weighing of economic, political, ideological, and military benefits. “From the perspective of the leadership in Tehran, Iran and Europe against the US is a much better scenario than the US and Europe against Iran,” says an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “There is a tipping point beyond which sustaining the deal becomes politically impossible,” he says. “Tehran will do everything in its power to drive a wedge between the US and the rest of the international community.”

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Iran weighs preserving nuclear deal without US

President Trump’s decision to withdraw unilaterally from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal last week sparked fireworks in Tehran.

Hard-line Iranian lawmakers – who always opposed the deal anyway because of the limits it imposed on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions – clustered around the dais in parliament and torched copies of a US flag and the text of the deal as they chanted “Death to America!”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made clear that Mr. Trump’s decision was, in his view, further proof that the US could never be trusted to keep its word.

But Iran has not yet ratcheted up its uranium enrichment, nor dusted off mothballed centrifuges, nor kicked out United Nations inspectors. Instead, Iran has launched a diplomatic offensive to save the deal, calling on the other parties to provide guarantees within two months that will keep the deal alive.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was in Beijing over the weekend and in Moscow Monday, lobbying to save the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He meets Tuesday with European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and British, French, and German foreign ministers who are to present proposals.

Mr. Zarif tweeted that he held “good and substantive” meetings in Beijing and Moscow, and “will soon determine” how the remaining parties will “guarantee Iran’s benefits … and preserve this unique diplomatic achievement.”

So does this flurry of diplomacy indicate that Iran considers the nuclear deal worth keeping, even without the United States?

The answer depends upon whom you ask in Tehran, and on what guarantees are possible from the European Union, Russia, and China. To what degree are they willing to oppose the White House’s stated aim of re-imposing sanctions on Iran – making them even more painful for Iran than Obama-era measures – to force Iran to negotiate a more comprehensive deal that includes limits on ballistic missiles and support of proxy forces in the region?

Wedge between US, Europe

European leaders are grating noisily at the US bid to impose secondary sanctions against their companies to compel their citizens to stop doing billions of dollars of business with Iran.

But inside Iran, the effort to preserve the nuclear deal without the US is requiring a recalculated weighing of economic, political, ideological, and military benefits every bit as complex, and controversial for hardliners, as the original deal itself.

“From the perspective of the leadership in Tehran, Iran and Europe against the US is a much better scenario than the US and Europe against Iran,” says Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“Diminished dividends are better than deprivation, but there is a tipping point beyond which sustaining the deal becomes politically impossible,” says Mr. Vaez.

“The extreme isolation of 2011-2012 was Iran’s ‘never again’ moment,” he says. “The leadership learned that US sanctions are [only] as effective as they enjoy the support of other countries. Tehran will do everything in its power to drive a wedge between the US and the rest of the international community.”

European leaders agree with the assessments of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has certified 10 times that Iran is in compliance with the deal. It was required to fill the core of a heavy-water power reactor with concrete; reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent; dismantle nearly 15,000 centrifuges; and accept the most intrusive inspections regime ever negotiated.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire of France – whose Airbus stands to lose $19 billion in sales under secondary sanctions – said Europe should not accept the US as the “world’s economic policeman” and called on fellow Europeans to resist.

“Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?” he asked.

Thomas Peter/AP
Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, Sunday, May 13, 2018.

Ms. Mogherini, speaking late last week, said “bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times.” After speaking with President Hassan Rouhani, she said: “We are determined to keep this deal in place.”

Still, John Bolton, the hawkish US national security adviser, said Sunday that even allies would be targeted if they did not comply. “Europeans are going to face the effect of US sanctions,” he said.

And while Europe wrestles with the US over sanctions, Iranian leaders are grappling with their own political issue with Europe, as part of a Western alliance that imposed EU sanctions right alongside the US during the Obama presidency.

Ayatollah Khamenei set the tone when he spoke the day after the withdrawal decision by Trump, whom he said had uttered “indecent” words and told 10 lies during his speech.

European countries had to provide “enough guarantees,” or “keeping the nuclear deal with them would not make any sense,” Khamenei said.

“I do not trust the Europeans either. Do not trust them!” he said. “If you want to continue with them, demand practical guarantees, otherwise they will act the same way the Americans did.”

Hard-liners: Rouhani was duped

Hard-liners have pounced on Trump’s decision as proof that the centrist Mr. Rouhani – who banked on the economic fruit of the nuclear deal to rejuvenate Iran’s stagnant economy and to fulfill his promise to reengage positively with the West on Iran’s terms – had been duped by Iran’s decades-long foes.

The powerful chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, for example, issued a statement calling upon Rouhani to “come out in honesty and frankness and express apology to the nation over the damage the JCPOA has done to the country.”

Ayatollah Jannati dismissed chances that Europe would stand up to the US, charging instead that Europe had “never spared any measure in countering the Islamic Republic,” and that “superficial differences” with the US now amounted to no more than a “division of labor” to harm Iran.

The country’s immediate path is likely to follow the cautious lead of Rouhani, who said Iran would speak with “friends and allies” before returning to “industrial [uranium] enrichment without any limitations.”

“The new development will open new avenues for Iran’s regional diplomacy,” says Kayhan Barzegar, head of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran. A foreign policy based on the JCPOA will now focus on “dialogue with European powers to keep their channel of interactions open.”

Still, skepticism of Europe’s role is echoed among opponents of the deal in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

“There is little hope that diplomacy could create any breakthrough,” said Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the IRGC deputy commander. “We have made progress whenever we have confronted the enemies.… Europe will never give up submission to US policies. The new pressure is an economic war on Iran.”

Ordinary Iranians know the result – an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement, on top of the damage done by previous sanctions, and the fact that the Trump administration did little to enable Iran to bank and do business with the West, as required by the JCPOA and practiced to a degree by the Obama team.

Ralf Hirschberger/dpa/AP
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, right, and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, take a stroll in the park of Villa Borsig in Berlin, Monday, May 7, 2018. Before President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, the two foreign ministers said they would hold on to the agreement, regardless.

Protests erupted and spread across 80 cities in Iran late last December over the poor state of the economy, mismanagement, corruption – and lack of a peace dividend from the nuclear deal. Rouhani said the economy needed “major surgery.”

Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 25 percent of its value in recent weeks, with further drops expected.

“We can’t bear this one. My husband and I have been debating leaving Iran,” says Shima, a mother of two who teaches French in Tehran. “We have never been this close to a state of war. But in our case and with Trump’s decision, the dollar rate will crazily go up even further and that means our savings will sharply lose value. Our immigration plan will definitely be at risk.”

“I don’t know how Iran will proceed with the Europeans,” says Elaheh, a student of Persian literature at Azad University in Tehran. She says she was “never hopeful” about the nuclear deal, but says she already faced a “bleak prospect” because government inefficiency pushed up the jobless rate.

“The Europeans will not sacrifice the tremendous business and political interests they share with the US over the tiny ones they do with Iran,” she says.

An I-told-you-so tone

One reformist newspaper asked in its headline if Europe was “regaining authority.” Another said Trump’s “trampling all legal and international rules” was Iran’s “biggest winning card.”

But hard-line newspapers such as Kayhan adopted an I-told-you-so tone and said Iranian negotiators have been “duped” into believing Europe can make a difference.

“Both sides [the US and Europeans] are pursuing the same goal: To push Iran toward a new deal, to draw more concessions from Tehran in exchange for a bunch of empty promises,” Kayhan wrote in an editorial Sunday.

“Iranian hardliners could not have wished for a better ally than President Trump, who has done everything in his power to discredit Iranian proponents of better relations with the West,” says analyst Vaez of ICG.

“The promise of the JCPOA proved to be a colossal failure for Rouhani, but if he manages to extract a new chapter in Iran’s relations with Europe, he will go down in Iranian history as a successful leader,” says Vaez.

“The economy will inevitably suffer, but if the deal is preserved until the Trump administration is history, this period could be considered [only] a rough patch,” he says.

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. Why escalation of Israel-Iran clash may be kept in check

Recent military strikes between Iran and Israel underscore rising tensions that some say could point to war. But a broader calculus by key regional players could check escalation.

Kim

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All the Middle East talk in recent days has been about the danger of war between the region’s two preeminent military powers: Israel and Iran. But while it’s almost certain that last week’s Israeli air attack on Iranian positions in Syria will not be the last such response to Iran’s growing military presence there, the chances of a wider conflict will depend on political considerations: in Israel, Iran, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. At least for now, the political signs seem to suggest such a war may well be averted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in his strongest position for months, buoyed by US support for his determination to contain further military strengthening by Iran and its Hezbollah militia allies across Israel’s northern border. In the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians’ immediate focus is on whether the other signatories – the Europeans, China and Russia – will prove willing, or able, to keep it in place. Russia has used its intervention in Syria to gain a strategic foothold in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s and does not want to find itself mired in a wider war at a time when it hopes to play a central role in shaping Syria’s political future. One unknown factor: the future direction of America’s Middle East policy.

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Why escalation of Israel-Iran clash may be kept in check

The only certainty in the wake of last week’s Israeli air attack on Iranian forces in Syria – Israel’s largest military operation there in decades – is that it won’t be the last.

That’s down to simple military calculus: the Israelis are determined to prevent a new order of threat from Iran and its Hezbollah militia allies across its northern border. If Iran persists in trying to establish bases of operation in Syria, and in trying to provide more advanced and accurate missiles to Hezbollah, the chances of Israel not responding with force are approximately zero.

But will this mean all-out war, as headlines worldwide predicted darkly after the Israeli attack? That will depend not so much on military calculations as political ones: in Israel and Iran and, no less importantly, Russia. On that score, the early signs seem to suggest such a conflict might well be averted.

Given the instability and tension in the region, especially after President Trump’s withdrawal from the international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program, there is always the danger of stumbling into a war through miscalculation or inertia. But at least for now, the key players have reasons for caution.

Netanyahu more secure

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself more secure politically. After months of being dogged by corruption allegations, he has been dealt a pair of diplomatic triumphs by Mr. Trump. One is largely symbolic, though important domestically: today’s formal move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Successive US administrations have assumed the city’s final political status would be resolved only as part of an eventual peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The other boost has more strategic implications. It is Trump’s embrace of the central focus of Netanyahu’s longstanding political narrative: that Iran is the main, “existential” threat to Israel and the wider Middle East. Trump has not only withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement. He has stated openly that the Iranians must be prevented from deepening their hold in Syria and southern Lebanon. The US response to last week’s Israeli air strike was full-throated support, holding the Iranians responsible for provoking it.

As long as Israel is free to respond as it did last week, to what it described as an Iranian missile attack on its positions on the Golan Heights, and to prevent a further Iranian-Hezbollah buildup in Syria, Netanyahu is likely to feel little need, and even less incentive, to risk a wider conflict.

Iran, at least for now, also has incentive to tread carefully. Under the nuclear agreement, a system of limits and inspections aimed at keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon was traded for a loosening of economic sanctions. Tehran’s immediate interest is to see whether the remaining signatories – the Europeans, China, and Russia – prove willing, or able, to keep the agreement in place, salvaging at least some of the economic benefits.

Russia leery

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reasons of his own to be leery of a widened Iranian-Israeli war. Iranian and Hezbollah support was indispensable to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the early stages of the civil war. But it was Russian forces, arms, and above all air power that turned the tables in his favor. Russia has gained a major strategic foothold in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s, and Putin is determined to be at the center of defining a post-civil war arrangement. The last thing he will want is to find his forces mired in a wider war, involving Iran, Israel, and conceivably the Americans, who retain a special-forces presence in Syria as well.

Like the old Sherlock Holmes clue – the dog that didn’t bark – the Russians provided evidence of their thinking during last week’s Israeli attack. Alerted by Mr. Netanyahu beforehand, Putin stood by and let it happen. Just as significantly, since Assad’s current defenses have proven no serious impediment to Israeli air operations, a Russian spokesman retreated from earlier suggestions that Moscow might give the Syrians an upgraded anti-aircraft system.

What about the US?

There does remain, however, what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld memorably dubbed a “known unknown.” It’s the future direction of America’s Middle East policy, especially with a reshaped national security team under John Bolton. As recently as last year, Mr. Bolton was still advocating regime change as the answer to Iran’s nuclear program. That, of course, would almost surely mean putting a significant number of American troops on the ground, something his boss has so far publicly opposed.

But there is another military option: a short, sharp US military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. When a series of hard-hitting statements from President Trump raised concerns last year that he might be contemplating a similar strike against North Korea, the president’s top defense and intelligence advisers cautioned against it, warning that even a “successful” attack could risk hundreds of thousands of lives in South Korea within hours.

That kind of danger is not in play with Iran, according to military experts familiar with US weapons capabilities and attack plans. Operationally, they agree such a strike is not only possible, but would carry little risk to US personnel, or of any major, immediate Iranian response.

Yet the key question, if the US did launch such a strike, is what would come in the days or weeks that followed.

Before the nuclear agreement, Israel itself was considering a similar, though potentially riskier, attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. At the time, the Israeli intelligence assessment was that Iran would respond mainly through Hezbollah, with large-scale missile attacks from southern Lebanon. Israel’s missile-intercept capability has become far stronger in recent years. But it’s not foolproof. Iran now has a presence of its own in Syria. Hezbollah is there, too, not just in Lebanon, and has tens of thousands of missiles at its disposal.

All of that could yet create the circumstances for the kind of wider Iran-Israel conflict that, at least for now, seems likely to be avoided.

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3. Fifty years later, an MLK-era campaign to help the poor revives

Why relaunch an antipoverty campaign 50 years after the first one was derailed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination? Organizers of the new Poor People's Campaign, which launches Monday, say they see the same problems, compounded by a tendency today to see poverty as a personal moral failing.

Kim
Charles Tasnadi/AP/File
Mississippians made themselves at home during May 1968 in 'Resurrection City,' an expanse of tents set up during an extended occupation of the National Mall in Washington. In foreground is Michael Lee, age 3. In background, from left: Francis Nunn of Crenshaw, Miss.; Jerry Davis, 7; and Edith Maydukes of Marks, Miss. Hometowns of the children were not available, but the adults said they were from Mississippi.

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Bernard Lafayette was a national coordinator of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. When King was assassinated, Mr. Lafayette mourned his friend. And he watched the movement falter, and fade. But he didn't give up the dream. On Monday, Lafayette, now in his late 70s, returns to train a new generation. In another era of upheaval and dissonance, Lafayette and the Poor People's Campaign are back. Starting on Monday, thousands of Americans will begin a 40-day campaign of protest and civil disobedience. The challenge is substantial: Even as the United States has grown wealthier since 1968, inequalities remain stark. Median white household wealth is $171,000 in the US today, 10 times that of median black wealth. More than 40 percent of the US is either poor or low-income, according to the campaign’s new study, The Souls of Poor Folk. Lafayette says that despite new challenges and what he calls a positioning of poverty as a personal moral failing, rather than a social ill, the project ultimately has the same objective as the original campaign. “Politicians usually just looked at statistics about poverty, and we wanted them to see people,” says Lafayette.

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1. Fifty years later, an MLK-era campaign to help the poor revives

For all its aspirations toward justice for all, the encampment known as Resurrection City became more a symbol of lost hope than empowerment.

The base camp was the emblem of the Poor People's Campaign of 1968, the sprawling camp on the National Mall lost its chief architect, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4. After a police crackdown on the remaining campers in June of that year, the camp and its populist struggle against economic inequality faded into the whir of Woodstock and war.

Bernard Lafayette, of Tampa, Fla., was a national coordinator of the Poor People’s Campaign. He mourned his friend, Dr. King. And he watched the movement falter, and fade. But he didn’t give up the dream.

On Monday, Mr. Lafayette, now 77, returns to train a new generation.

In another era of upheaval and dissonance, Lafayette and the Poor People’s Campaign are back to remind Americans that, as one 1968 brochure read, “Poor people are kept in poverty because they are kept from power.” Starting on Monday, thousands of Americans will begin a 40-day campaign of protest and civil disobedience.

Lafayette says despite new challenges and what he calls a positioning of poverty as a personal moral failing, rather than a social ill, the project ultimately has the same objective as the original campaign.

“Politicians usually just looked at statistics about poverty, and we wanted them to see people,” says Lafayette.

The challenge is substantial: America, after all, has since its founding shown a tendency to downplay the depth of US poverty as more the price of personal shiftlessness than the result of national prerogatives. No matter the campaign’s impact, poverty experts say, its existence is already a powerful signal of how the moral ground has shifted.

“People concerned with poverty programs, with economic justice, are today being accused of aiding and abetting poor people – that this sort of governmental concern with poverty is somehow immoral itself,” says University of North Carolina law professor Gene Nichol, whose UNC Poverty Center was shut down in 2015 by a state legislature unwilling to spend money to study the effects of policy on the poor. “The moral high ground is now tough love for poor people.”

Changing that narrative is both a moral and economic imperative, says one of the chief organizers, the Rev. William Barber II of North Carolina, founder of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement. “Morality is not merely inspirational, it is pragmatic.”

The new campaign will lack several hallmarks of the original, including the camp and a mule cart procession to Washington from the poorest town in the poorest county of the poorest state: Marks, Miss. Today's movement is patterned in part on the experience of the Moral Monday protest movement in North Carolina, where hundreds of people have been arrested in protest of what they see as Robin-Hood-in-reverse policymaking by mainly Republican lawmakers. The group has not announced what acts of civil disobedience are in the works, but says arrests are expected.

“If it’s necessary, I’ll go out there and I will go to jail again,” says Lafayette.

Wealthiest country in West, highest poverty rate

Even as America has grown wealthier since 1968, inequalities remain stark. Median white household wealth is $171,000 today, 10 times the median for black households.

That intransigence underscores a hard-to-swallow irony: The wealthiest Western nation has the highest poverty rate. In turn, that creates a domino effect of tragedies, including alarmingly high infant mortality rates, especially among the poor – and especially among African-Americans.

The wealth gap has remained virtually unchanged since 1968, and may get worse, some economists worry, given the recent tax cuts aimed at businesses and the wealthy. The national push to reverse illegal immigration and reignite a drug war that disproportionately impacts poor people also may exacerbate poverty rates. Organizers say that national leaders have found success in sowing the discord of a zero sum game, which Mr. Barber and others say leaves many poorer Americans so busy fighting for scraps that they forget to look up.

The campaign’s new study, The Souls of Poor Folk, highlights a wide range of problems: More than 40 percent of Americans are either poor or low-income. There were 187,914 state and federal inmates in 1968 but 1.45 million in 2016, and people of color account for 66 percent of inmates but only 39 percent of the total population. The number of citizens who have lost their right to vote as a result of felony convictions has tripled, from 2 million in 1968 to 6.1 million in 2016.

Such facts underscore why “it is more important to reach out today than it was in 1968,” says Carlos Santacruz, a Detroit-based activist who is coordinating for seven states in the new campaign. Mr. Santacruz added that he felt it was important to reach poor whites and connect them to the same cause as blacks and Latinos. “We’ve become a highly segregated, highly racialized country where the common narrative is that if you’re suffering then someone else is benefiting.”

How much that remains true will determine the arc of a campaign that is expected to last 40 days and is intended as a first step. The campaign hopes to draw 25,000 to 30,000 participants, with each week featuring a different theme, from institutionalized racism to ecological devastation. There will then be a mobilization in Washington, D.C., on June 23rd. After gathering input from the national network, the group will release a set of policy goals in June.

“We are not calling that the culmination,” says the Rev. Liz Theoharis, one of the chief organizers. “We see this not as a moment but as a movement.”

The reawakening of King’s most radical project comes as the issues surrounding some of the civil rights movement’s greatest achievements – the triumph of the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act – are back in the spotlight. Columbia University historian Jelani Cobb calls this moment “the signal phase of the civil rights struggle.”

Barry Thumma/AP/File
An aerial view of Poor People's Campaign tents, called Resurrection City in Washington, May 1968.

How to define a ‘decent life’?

A 1968 Poor People’s Campaign brochure sought wages high enough to support a “decent life.” Wages continue to be the top concern for America's poor, according to UNC’s Dr. Nichol, whose new organization, the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund, found that persistently low wages in particular means many Americans “don't have a chance to carve out a life that is not at the edge of destitution.”

North Carolina, for example, made it illegal for municipalities to raise the minimum wage, narrowed child-care subsidies, cut Medicaid, and pushed people off food stamps, Nichol says.

“We have many problems in the US, but it is not inaccurate to say that poverty amidst great wealth is the largest one,” he says. The vast gap “is literally impossible to square with our self-declarations and our commitments.”

Nevertheless, in an age when panhandlers can afford iPhones but not rent in America’s largest cities, the meaning of a “decent life” can sometimes blur. Soaring housing prices that have pushed poor families further toward the margins – exacerbating segregation by income – make it easier for many to dismiss the struggles of America’s working poor.

Another challenge in sustaining a national movement that Mr. Santacruz says could last a decade is more practical: People on the ground have competing priorities closer to home.

Take activist Callie Greer, who is deeply involved in several social justice organizations in Selma, Ala. One she founded, Mothers Against Violence, needs immediate attention – after a killing and retaliatory violence put the group in crisis mode.

Ms. Greer says she knows the danger of “getting caught up in your own bubble and not seeing the bigger picture of the campaign,” so she plans to participate in the 40 days “as much as possible” without neglecting the crisis in her own community.

Intended to be an exercise of independent groups from Native American activists to the NAACP, the campaign intends to leverage the organizing prowess of Ms. Leohanis and Barber’s national stature.

To be sure, the campaign is in part a pushback on state and national policies and a corrosive political atmosphere that has contributed to US polarization. Yet Barber says that it is “very clear that this is not about Donald Trump.”

Instead, a “deep commitment to empirical evidence” and a higher moral calling is the key to help empower poorer Americans and sway opinions of wealthier Americans. The mission “is intrinsically political but it is not partisan and we reserve the right to challenge all parties,” Barber says.

“We need to shift our moral narrative because the lack of one has disabled our ability to see living wages and guaranteed incomes and health care as moral issues,” Barber says.

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Learning together

An occasional series on efforts to address segregation

4. As desegregation stalls, voluntary efforts aim to take up the slack

Segregation persists in education, despite being an issue that a majority of Americans say should be addressed. Steps taken by schools and districts to combat it reveal the challenges left to overcome – and the possibilities for felling it.  

Kim

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With US schools becoming more segregated by race and income, many educators and civil rights advocates are concerned. Pressure from the courts and the government has waned in recent years, they say, allowing racial isolation and unequal access to education for minority students to creep back. Housing discrimination and wealthier towns seceding from larger school districts have also contributed to segregation’s resurgence. The debate over what to do about it is complicated. Not everyone agrees that integration should be the top priority for boosting equity. Undaunted, some areas are prioritizing integration – often based on socioeconomic factors rather than race – and are having some success. Their approaches range from adjusting attendance zones to giving students choices, such as crossing district lines for school. Beyond academics, students of all backgrounds gain from attending desegregated schools. Among those benefits, explains Jenn Ayscue from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, are that “they have friends in other racial groups, there are less stereotypes, there’s improved communication, improved critical thinking skills, and … better economic outcomes.”

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As desegregation stalls, voluntary efforts aim to take up the slack

Nationally, school segregation has been on the rise. With less pressure from courts and the federal government in recent decades, it’s increasingly up to local communities to get creative if they see integrated schools as key to promoting equity, improving academic outcomes, fostering a less divided society, or all of the above.

After the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the subsequent wave of desegregation orders, black and white student integration increased – until it peaked in 1988. Hundreds of school districts still have open desegregation orders, either through the courts or federal civil rights agreements, but many are no longer actively monitored, researchers say.

“We’ve lost much of that progress,” says Halley Potter, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation in New York, which advocates for reducing inequality. Add to the mix the growing Hispanic segment and many immigrants, and “we’re in danger of becoming a country where we have an incredibly diverse population overall, but with even greater siloing of neighborhoods and schools.”

Many reasons for resurgence

The reasons for segregation’s resurgence are complex – ranging from housing discrimination and neighborhood patterns to restrictions the Supreme Court has placed on the use of race in integration plans. Some wealthier towns have also been seceding from larger school districts, leaving high-poverty areas to fend for themselves.

In many places, the political will for integrating schools isn’t strong, although 64 percent of Americans say school segregation is an important issue, the Center for American Progress reports

Integration “is important … [but] it shouldn’t be the top priority,” says Gerard Robinson, executive director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, a research and education initiative supported by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Charles Koch Foundation, and Koch Industries. 

School systems can improve students’ opportunities through better use of technology, private-school scholarships, and public schools that have academic admissions criteria but do not consider race, he notes. “To make integration, or what I call color-coding classrooms, the driver … is not going to get you the kind of opportunities you want,” says Mr. Robinson, who once headed up Florida’s and Virginia’s education departments.

The US Department of Education had been slated to distribute $12 million in grants to support voluntary socioeconomic integration, but after the change of administration in 2017, it canceled the program. The department did not respond to the Monitor’s request for comment.

More attention for economic factors

Economic factors now receive even more attention than race in many discussions of voluntary integration. That’s partly because it’s considered a proxy for race given the legal restrictions districts face, but it's also in response to growing income inequality. Race and economics combine in a sort of double disadvantage for some students, civil rights advocates say, with recent years showing a significant rise in the percentage of public schools that have high concentrations of low-income black and Latino students. (See related graph.)

Separate and unequal

SOURCE: US Government Accountability Office analysis of Department of Education, Common Core data, April 2016 report
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Among these schools, “disparities in education … are particularly acute,” concluded a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office.

“Segregation is associated with a lot of harms, whereas desegregated schools are associated with a lot of benefits,” says Jenn Ayscue, research associate at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Beyond academics, students of all backgrounds gain from attending desegregated schools. Research shows “they have friends in other racial groups, there are less stereotypes, there’s improved communication, improved critical thinking skills, and … better economic outcomes,” Dr. Ayscue says. 

New study identifies integration efforts

Swimming against the tide, at least 60 school districts across the United States are trying – voluntarily – to ensure their schools don’t reflect racial and economic segregation in their city or region. Among the examples: 

  • Cambridge, Mass., uses a “controlled choice” plan – giving choice to parents, but also granting assignments by balancing schools with students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • The Dallas Independent School District has long boasted selective magnet schools, which have special features designed to draw students from a variety of neighborhoods. But in recent years it has added themed schools with no admissions criteria. Enrollments are monitored so that impoverished neighborhoods are represented in those schools in balance with middle-class and wealthier neighborhoods, and the schools strive for a culture of equity and inclusivity. 
  • New Haven, Conn., offers an interdistrict magnet program and transportation to encourage a mix of urban and suburban students.

Other districts adjust attendance zones or allow transfers to reduce segregation. Some, like San Jose, Calif. and St. Lucie County, Fla., combine several strategies.

The 60 districts were identified for a groundbreaking study by Erica Frankenberg and co-researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which they presented at the April meeting of the American Educational Research Association. (The study did not include interdistrict programs or court-ordered desegregation plans.)

These districts, on average, have reduced economic segregation, based on a close look at the distribution of students who receive free or reduced price lunch (FRL) in the schools.

In 2000, the schools were 15 percent less economically diverse than the districts. By 2014, that had declined to 13.2 percent. (Anything below 10 percent is considered low, while above 25 percent is extremely high, says Dr. Frankenberg, co-director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights.)

As a group, the districts did not reduce racial segregation between 2000 and 2014.

However, that doesn’t mean the policies had no effect. School levels of racial segregation were lower than residential segregation: 13.7 percent vs. 22.4 percent in 2014. School levels also stayed virtually flat during the years studied, even as residential segregation rose for the first 10 years.

The findings are less surprising when considering that only 13 of the 60 districts use racial factors in their integration plans. That’s allowed in certain circumstances, if race isn’t the only characteristic or if the district considers the racial composition of an area, such as a neighborhood.

These 13 districts did show less racial segregation in schools – about 9 percent, compared with 13.5 percent in districts that did not consider race. 

“There is this assumption among policymakers and educators that race-neutral plans are indistinguishable from race-conscious plans,” Frankenberg says, so the new finding may shift that discussion.

It’s also important to bear in mind that some districts may do a good job of mixing students in their schools, but if the whole student body is more than 75 percent black and/or Latino, because white families don't live there or are opting for private or charter schools, those students can still be racially isolated. That is why some advocates call for more interdistrict plans. 

Districts in the Penn State study that adjust attendance zones or offer controlled choice showed lower rates of school segregation than the group overall, as did districts combining multiple strategies – which affect a larger portion of students than, for instance, a small number of magnet schools.

Charter school impact

But “controlled choice” for integration refers to a distinct set of policies, not the broader “school choice” movement. The charter sector in particular – autonomous public schools that parents can opt in to via lottery – faces vocal critics who say it has tended to exacerbate segregation.

More than 1,000 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, an Associated Press analysis found last year. That’s about 17 percent of charter schools, compared with 4 percent of traditional public schools that show similar racial isolation.

Some charters do intentionally integrate, by weighting lotteries or reaching out to diverse families, for instance. And some have produced high achievement and graduation rates among low-income minority populations. Pointing to such examples, charter advocates see the movement as key to today’s fight for civil rights.

For advocates convinced of the benefits of students of different backgrounds learning together, desegregation is just the first step, but integration means something more.

“With desegregation, we’re really talking more about who is enrolled in the school and … getting students through the front door…. Whereas with integration, we’re talking more about … students of different races meaningfully interacting with one another once they’re inside the school,” Ayscue says.

Whether they are creating open access honors courses or requiring anti-bias training for staff, a small but growing number of schools are directing their energies toward figuring out how to truly integrate.

Next in the series: An integrated Montessori charter school in St. Louis where everyone's challenged to undo racism.

Separate and unequal

SOURCE: US Government Accountability Office analysis of Department of Education, Common Core data, April 2016 report
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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5. Art from money: Venezuelan artists get creative with devalued bills

Economic crises like Venezuela's upend lives, but that doesn't mean creativity disappears. Some Venezuelan artists are making a point – and art – out of the country's now near-worthless currency.

Kim
Manuel Rueda
Jesus Campos finishes making a purse made entirely of Venezuelan bolívar bills May 4 in his apartment in Cucuta, Colombia. The artist used 800 bank notes, 100-boíivar bills and 20-bolívar bills.

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Inflation has been a challenge in Venezuela for years, but over the past 12 months the bolívar has become more valuable as an art and craft material than as something in the bank. Just look at Jesús Campos, who can sell a purse crafted out of hundreds of folded bolívar bills for about $10 – when the notes alone wouldn’t have been enough for a cup of coffee. Another artist in Venezuela is using the currency as his canvas and selling his painted bolívares online. The government has acknowledged money isn’t stretching as far anymore, but President Nicolás Maduro places the blame on “mafias” trying to take down Venezuela’s socialist movement. He’s vowed to slash some of the zeros off prices – and wages – by June. Few economists see that as an effective solution. “We might be able to count prices easier,” says one Caracas-based economist of the government’s plans. “But if inflation continues at the same rate, those new bills will soon become useless.”

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Art from money: Venezuelan artists get creative with devalued bills

In a windowless apartment on the outskirts of this Colombian border town, Jesús Campos puts the final stitches on his latest creation: A violet and khaki handbag made exclusively from Venezuela’s rapidly depreciating currency.

The bag is made with 800 Venezuelan bolívar bills that have been carefully folded in rectangles and woven together in a geometric pattern. They are so tightly packed that water can’t get through, and the bag feels similar to fake leather. 

In Venezuela, the bolívar bills used to make this purse wouldn’t be enough to purchase a coffee, says Mr. Campos. In Colombia, he can fetch around $10 for the handbag – enough to buy two pounds of chicken and three pounds of rice.

“I never thought our currency would be so useless that I’d be working with it” as a material, says the young artisan. He moved across the border to Colombia with his wife and children earlier this year in search of a more stable life.

“Now the only way you can give bolívares value is by turning them into art,” he says.

Campos’ handmade bolívar accessories – he also makes wallets and belts – are a shining example of the resourcefulness of some Venezuelans, desperate to make ends meet. But they’re also a dramatic indicator of just how steep inflation is – and how worthless the country’s currency has become.

Economists in Venezuela and the US estimate that over the past 12 months, the inflation rate has soared to more than 16,000 percent, with prices for some goods doubling every 18 days.

A carton of 30 eggs, which cost 5,000 bolívares at the beginning of last year, now sells for approximately 2 million. A pound of chicken will set you back more than 1 million bolívares in Venezuela, or about 40 percent of the current monthly minimum wage.

This type of hyperinflation makes Venezuela’s currency a problem for merchants: It requires bags full of 100 or even 1,000 bolívar bills to pay for simple household items. 

“Sometimes I buy the bills up from people who can’t use them anymore,” Campos says. “But sometimes Venezuelans who are coming into Colombia see my work, appreciate it and give me a bunch of bills for free.”

José Luis León, a graphic designer in the Venezuelan city of San Cristóbal, draws Japanese comic-book characters, scenes from Star Wars movies, and images depicting Venezuela’s most emblematic tourist attractions on bolívar notes of all sizes, including the recently issued 20,000 bill.

Manuel Rueda
Jose Luis Leon displays one of his recent pieces, drawn on Venezuelan bolivar bills, in San Cristobal, Venezuela, on May 5. The wave was inspired by the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Mr. León then posts pictures on Instagram with a hashtag that translates to “Devalued Venezuela.” 

“If I give you one of these bills, you will go out there and do nothing with it,” León says in his studio, where he spends long nights working on his drawings. He frames finished products in wood and glass cases.

“When I get a bill and turn it into art … it tells you the story of what this country is going through,” he says.

León has received international recognition for his work, selling pieces to Venezuelans living in the United States, Colombia, and as far away as Switzerland. The work sells for anywhere from US$2 to $100. 

The bills are transformed into pop art, political protest, or simply souvenirs for Venezuelans who have left the country. It all depends on how he decorates them with his markers and paint.

“Having one of these bills is like having a little piece of our country with you,” León says.

Printing to plug the deficit

Venezuela’s inflation stems from years of economic mismanagement, says Antonio Ecarri, director of the Arturo Uslar Pietri think tank in Caracas. Former President Hugo Chávez, who rode a wave of sky-high oil prices during most of his time in office, spent heavily on social programs in and outside the country, but did little to build up the nation’s coffers.

Nicolás Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, inherited the same spending patterns, but within two years of his presidency, the price of oil dropped by half. 

As a result, Venezuela has turned to printing more money to keep up with government expenditures and plug a growing deficit, Mr. Ecarri says.

Venezuela’s total money supply rose by 5,000 percent over the past 12 months, says Caracas-based economist Asdrúbal Oliveros, fueling inflation to levels that have become so “crazy” that many businesses now conduct transactions in euros and US dollars.

Some see a solution in this, with analysts like Ecarri suggesting Venezuela adopt the US dollar as its official currency. The strategy has worked for several developing countries dealing with high inflation, from Ecuador to Montenegro.

It takes “away this possibility of politicians going to the central bank and telling it to turn on the press,” says Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at John Hopkins University, who helped Ecuador to dollarize in 2001. 

But some say dollarizing an economy that’s heavily dependent on oil exports is not the best solution.

Mr. Olivares says that if Venezuela stops printing its own money, it would not be able to use monetary policy to increase imports or boost domestic consumption. That would make the country vulnerable if oil prices fell.

“Dollarization isn’t the only way to stop inflation,” Olivares says. “Other countries have done it with serious adjustments, that include putting public spending under control.”

But as President Maduro heads into elections on May 20 – a vote that’s been decried by governments around the region as undemocratic – his focus on solutions lies elsewhere. Maduro blames “mafias” trying to overthrow his government with destabilizing the economy.

He’s ordered the inspection of thousands of supermarkets and promised to nationalize stores that increase prices “like crazy.”

In March, Maduro announced that the government will strike three zeros off all prices – and wages – by next month. He also said the central bank will issue a new set of bolívares that will have fewer zeros on them.

“We might be able to count prices easier,” says Oliveros of the government’s announced plans. “But if inflation continues at the same rate, those new bills will soon become useless.” 

It would give artisans like Campos and León more raw material to work with, though.

“My plan now is to make a shirt and some pants out of bolívares, and go to tourist areas to sell my purses,” Campos says of his future business plans. “The only way we will stop doing this is if the bolívar regains its value.” 

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The Monitor's View

Mixing sports and sports gambling is no game

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Today the Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law that had effectively banned all states except Nevada from legalizing sports betting. The court had no opinion about sports gambling itself. It merely reasserted a constitutional restraint on federal power over the states. But before states rush to permit, regulate, and tax sports betting they may want to first weigh the original reasons behind the now-defunct ban: to maintain sports as a public display of talent, effort, and teamwork. That’s the very opposite of a belief in chance. Like society itself, the world of sports relies on each person’s desire to understand the causality of events and make the best of them. Sports should not be sullied by the false hopes of quick riches by gamblers pining for a “lucky break.” Athletes know they cannot put faith in so-called fortune. Nor should governments. The uncertainties around legalized sports gambling in the United States are very high. But one certainty remains: Sports must remain pure in purpose – as a contest of what athletes give in a game, not what betting can take from it.

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Mixing sports and sports gambling is no game

In a big decision May 14, the Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law that had effectively banned all states except Nevada from legalizing sports betting. The court had no opinion about sports gambling itself or about any possible new ban on interstate sports gambling or on individuals who wager on sports. It merely reasserted a constitutional restraint on federal power over the states.

So before states rush to permit, regulate, and tax sports betting – as about 20 states have been poised to do – they may want to first weigh the original reasons behind the now-defunct ban.

The big reason given back then by Congress was to maintain sports as a public display of talent, effort, and teamwork – the very opposite of a belief in chance. The integrity of athletes lies in their ability to master the circumstances of a game.

In sports, unforeseen circumstances are not considered luck but rather a challenge to test the skills of athletes. Sports should not be sullied by the false hopes of quick riches by gamblers pining for a “lucky break.”

Like society itself, sports rely on each person’s desire to understand the causality of events and make the best of them. Athletes know they cannot put faith in so-called fortune.

Nor should governments. If states now boost sports betting by legalizing it, what message are they sending about athletics – in fact, about any physical or mental endeavor?

According to Bill Bradley, a former NBA star and the then-senator who sponsored the 1992 law, placing bets on players makes them no better than roulette chips. “It makes the game – which is a game of high-level competition and excellence – into slot machines, and I don’t think that should be what we do in this country,” he told NPR. Sports have a dignity that defies those who want to see games turning on a twist of fate.

Mr. Bradley also gives a second reason for governments not to push wagering on sports. Should gambling be allowed on Little League games or middle-school athletics? Even New Jersey, which led the case against the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, did not want betting on its local teams.

Up to now, most major professional sports leagues were opposed to lifting the federal ban. They feared athletes might throw a game or simply rig a play at the behest of gambling syndicates, as is often the case in many parts of the world. If games were seen as, well, gamed, fans might flee. Now after this ruling, however, leagues might be tempted by the possibility they could get what is misnamed an “integrity fee,” or a percentage of gambling revenues from each game. States, too, appear tempted to gain tax revenue from sports gambling – although they should first look at how little Nevada has actually gained from sports betting in comparison to other types of gambling.

The uncertainties of legalized, regulated sports gambling in the United States are very high. But one certainty remains: Sports must remain pure in their purpose as a contest of what athletes give in a game, not what betting can take from them.

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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.

Safe in an emergency

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It’s one thing to believe that God is always present, but at a moment when a car crash seemed inevitable, today’s contributor had to know it.

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Safe in an emergency

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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While traveling with a friend, I was driving on a single-lane mountain road that had a sheer drop-off on one side and a wall of stone on the other – no shoulder for pulling over on either side. As we rounded a blind curve, we confronted both a flock of sheep crossing the road and a large truck barreling toward us. With no space to veer out of the way, some kind of collision seemed inevitable.

In my practice of Christian Science, I had already experienced how prayer is a quick aid in emergencies. So my reaction in this situation was a quick and simple prayer: “God!”

That single-word prayer wasn’t a curse or a fearful reaction. Behind it was a vigorous affirmation of the presence and power of God and His care for us all. Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy, through studying the Bible and proving its practicality through healing, came to a multifaceted understanding of the nature of God as the all-seeing, all-knowing divine Mind that governs us as His spiritual expressions, moving in harmony with each other. And she taught that the honest yearning to better know the reality of what God is and does for His creation enables us to see more of His care in our lives.

Mrs. Eddy’s primary text on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” affirms: “Harmonious action proceeds from Spirit, God.…

“… God’s being is infinity, freedom, harmony, and boundless bliss. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ ” (pp. 480, 481).

Christ Jesus sometimes referred to this spiritual consciousness of liberty as the kingdom of heaven and other times as the kingdom of God, always with us in either case – God’s supreme government present within us all. He explained: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21).

In that moment on the road I glimpsed something of God’s kingdom; I felt a deep and sudden spiritual awareness of God and of His creation as reflecting, expressing, and experiencing God’s harmony at every moment. This broke through the fear. And as inexplicable as it seemed under the circumstances, I’m grateful to report that there was no crash, and the people and sheep were unharmed.

As God’s precious children, we all have the capacity to experience the kingdom of God here and now – to feel God’s goodness, power, presence, and harmony – in any situation. No emergency is required to propel one there; we can turn to God at any time and experience a better, broader sense of health and harmony. But should we find ourselves in an urgent situation, turning instantly to God with a heartfelt affirmation of His loving care for us all can bring the help and protection we need.

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Viewfinder

A widening clash

Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
Palestinian demonstrators take cover May 14 during a protest against the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba – the 1948 Palestinian exodus – at the Israeli-Gazan border in the southern Gaza Strip. Dozens of Palestinians were reported killed.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 15th, 2018 )

Kim Campbell
Education Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when we will have a story about the volcanic eruptions in Hawaii that examines people's relationship to nature in places where they aren't in control of the land under their feet.

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May 14, 2018
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