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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
June
13
Wednesday

What voices do you want at the table?

In very different parts of the globe, a few efforts are disrupting verbal as well as violent disputes by diversifying those voices, and in the process disrupting conventional thinking about where leadership can come from.

Just yesterday, in the US state of Maine, citizens affirmed support for “ranked choice” voting, which lets voters list multiple candidates in order of preference. Maine thus became the country’s first state to adopt a system that proponents say disincentivizes stark partisanship and rewards speaking to a broader audience.

In South Sudan, a very different kind of election selected Rebecca Nyandier Chatim as head chief of the Nuer ethnic group in a UN-protected site in the capital. In a war-torn country rife with gender-based violence, her candidacy was backed by her male predecessor as well as by a group of young men, versed in human rights law, who said they don’t want women “treated as resources.”  

And then there’s Laghman province in Afghanistan. After four years of a violent dispute over land, both sides decided to talk. They established a "jirga," or mediation council, and took the unprecedented step of authorizing women, who were deeply affected by the violence, to attend as representatives. A peace deal resulted. And in a move whose symbolism could be understood in any country, the warring parties decided to restore a green space between their villages that had been destroyed by the conflict.

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Now to our five stories, which delve into important questions around equity, activism, and human rights.

1. Seattle flip on big-firm ‘head tax’ reignites a social-responsibility debate

Seattle just dropped a controversial plan to ease homelessness by taxing large local firms like Amazon. But the underlying question lingers: Should big employers be tasked with helping to reduce inequality?

Amelia

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In May the Seattle City Council approved a levy of $275 per worker at its largest firms. The logic was that companies like Amazon are straining the city’s housing market, fueling a rise in homelessness. In Silicon Valley, Cupertino and Mountain View are considering new taxes on their own large employers to deal with housing and transportation problems. Some supporters add that income inequality nationwide is being driven partly by a growing gap between high- and low-paying firms. So should large or successful employers face a special tax? One month later, leaders in Seattle decided to reverse course, under pressure from opponents saying key employers could move elsewhere. “Even if you think you should be taxing richer firms, don’t do it on a size basis,” argues economist Robert Atkinson, coauthor of “Big Is Beautiful.” Seattle residents say the City Council decision leaves a vital job unfinished. “Affordable housing is the ground on which I can build a good life,” says YMCA employee Cooper Moore, who has experienced homelessness. “And I want others to be able to do that, too.”

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1. Seattle flip on big-firm ‘head tax’ reignites a social-responsibility debate

Dozens of US cities have been courting Amazon as a job-creating tenant, but Cooper Moore has a different viewpoint, having watched how the retail giant has changed his home city of Seattle.

“If a company comes in and disrupts the livability of the city, then a responsible government looks to that entity to provide a solution,” says Mr. Moore, who works at a YMCA and is concerned about Seattle’s high number of homeless residents.

The Seattle City Council essentially agreed – until this week, that is.

It’s a tale with cautionary lessons for cities around the country. In May, the council passed a tax on large employers – those with annual revenue above $20 million – and asked them to pay a $275-per-employee “head tax” to help finance solutions for homelessness.

But amid rising opposition, not just from the companies but from residents concerned about the negative signaling of a “tax on jobs,” council members voted 7-to-2 Tuesday to reverse their decision and abandon the per-employee tax.

Nevertheless, Seattle and other vibrant metro areas still face a conundrum: The very success in creating wealth that comes with high-paying jobs can also widen income gaps and deepen costly social challenges.

In Silicon Valley, some cities are considering similar taxes for similar reasons, even as Seattle’s about-face hints at the difficult politics to be navigated.

Before the council members reversed themselves, says Mardig Sheridan, a Seattle management consultant and film producer, “The message they just sent out to the whole country, to businesses, is: If you come here, we’re going to punish you – for hiring people.” 

As a self-described center-left Democrat in this staunchly liberal city, he’s not denying the community’s housing challenge.

“This isn’t about not wanting to help the homeless,” Mr. Sheridan says in his home office. “When you start telling business, ‘The more people you hire, the more we’re gonna tax you,’ it’s absurd.”

Among the observable impacts that successful employers like Amazon have on a community is inflation of the local real estate market. Experts in Seattle calculate that for every $100 that the average rent increases, homelessness rises by 15 percent.

Similar tensions have surfaced in Silicon Valley, where the city council in Google’s home town of Mountain View also supported a head tax on large employers ​– opting to put the idea before voters this fall.

The idea is also being studied by officials, and viewed favorably by voters, in Cupertino, where Apple is based. The prospective tax revenue in those locales would go toward needs including public transportation and affordable housing.

Along with the aversion that can arise to any tax, the proposals raise a pointed issue: Amid America’s array of revenue-raising vehicles, should some be based on a corporation’s size or success?

It’s a debate marked by two opposing values.

On the one hand, some research suggests that income inequality has risen as workers throughout the economy increasingly have been segregated into higher-paid or lower-paid firms. And in places like Seattle, residents see first-hand how some large employers affect land prices and congestion. To many, that argues for some special tax on large or elite firms.

On the other hand, economic development experts caution against such a direct tax on jobs or success, in an era when employers are mobile and revenue arguably can be raised in other ways. Adding to the controversy, the West Coast head-tax proposals have targeted large employers, regardless of whether they’re a high-paying Google or a lower-paying grocery chain like Safeway.

“I support progressive income taxes 100 percent. That to me is the fair way to do it. Individuals wherever they work have to [pay] it,” says Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, D.C.

More progressive than a “per employee” tax would be a levy on individuals based on income, or on firms based on the dollar value of their payroll.

“Even if you think you should be taxing richer firms, don’t do it on a size basis,” says Mr. Atkinson, co-author of “Big is Beautiful,” a new book arguing that, too often, government policies are stacked against large firms – which are often leaders in innovation and productivity – rather than being size-neutral.

Already, Boeing is one big Seattle-area employer that in recent years chose to disengage from the region of its roots, partly because of the hold that local labor unions had over payroll costs. The relocation of the firm’s headquarters to Chicago was a warning shot to the region.

The Seattle tax would have affected some 500 to 600 large employers here. Amazon, which is looking to make its next big expansion in some other city, has already grown into a dominant presence in Seattle’s downtown.

As Amazon’s payroll has reached an estimated 45,000 new employees here, prices of homes, condos, and rental units, not to mention other services and products, have inflated at rates outpacing other parts of the country.

Illustrating just how dire the housing crisis is nationally, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in its annual report released Wednesday that someone working a full-time minimum wage job could not afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

Moore, the YMCA employee who has more than once found himself homeless and living on the street, says that’s an urgent issue for the city. He now resides in subsidized housing downtown, where his rent is $834 a month, including utilities.

“I’m passionate about this because affordable housing is the ground on which I can build a good life, and I want others to be able to do that, too,” Moore says. Without the tax, he predicts, “we will continue to see a displacement of the working class in this city.”

This facet of Seattle’s housing crisis has led some developers and self-styled “urbanists” to call for a rezoning of the entire city, a controversial plan that would eliminate protections for single-family neighborhoods and encourage higher population density as quaint craftsman bungalows give way to blocky apartment buildings. Currently, however, some 92 percent of new construction falls in the luxury-unit category, with nowhere near enough low-income housing in the pipeline to meet demand.

Sarajane Siegfriedt, a housing activist and retiree, rejects the arguments that the canceled tax would have discouraged hiring, arguing that even lower-margin businesses like grocery chains could have afforded the $275 per worker. “It’s not a tax on jobs. It’s a tax on very large businesses.”

In the shadow of Silicon Valley, John Powell takes a similar view as director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I'm not at all anticorporate,” he says. But “there has to be a way of taxing people and corporations who can afford it” in order to meet society’s needs.

“Whether at the city level, the state level, or the federal level, or all of the above, there has to be some mechanism for making sure society is not just for the rich,” says Mr. Powell, pointing in part to recent federal tax cuts on corporations. Businesses rely on public infrastructure like roads and schools for their growth, he notes, and they can also put a strain on that infrastructure in places like Mountain View or Seattle.

Where some say this week’s vote in Seattle showed entrenched corporate influence stopping a good idea, others say the city pulled back from the brink of an unwise tax.

“I imagine that officials in Cupertino and Mountain View and anywhere else considering a tax like this are paying close attention…. Seattle residents seem to get that this is a tax on job creation,” says Jared Walczak, a policy expert at the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation in Washington.

And while aimed only at large companies, that doesn’t mean just the high-paying jobs that have fueled a real estate boom. “It's the same amount whether you are a barista or grocery clerk or a coder, and those very different jobs with very different skill sets,” Mr. Walczak says.

Some experts say the need may not be for taxes first, but for other steps to meet local needs, such as congestion pricing on clogged roadways, or rezoning that does a better job expanding affordable housing.

Seattle has already been trying that as its housing and transportation challenges have grown. But some residents say more needs to be done.

“Seattle has some 11,000 homeless residents, but it also has an abundance of creative, passionate people, as well as some of the world’s most innovative corporations and visionary nonprofits,” says Arlene Plevin, an English professor who commutes by ferry from Seattle to Olympic College in Bremerton. “With those kinds of resources, we ought to be able to solve even this complicated problem of housing people who can’t afford homes.”

Cort Odekirk, who manages a team of software developers at ChangePoint, also wishes to see more collaboration and initiative.

“In a perfect world, those big companies would have said, ‘Oh, we’ve hyper-inflated the economy. We should reach out and come up with some initiatives,’ ” he says. But “I don’t think companies would ever – on their own – fess up and say, ‘We have a homeless problem.’ ”

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2. World Cup: For Russia, it’s about national honor and getting things done

A soccer game's about more than soccer when it doubles as the world's most popular single sporting event. The stakes are high for host Russia, which sees a moment to spotlight its modernity.

Amelia
Dmitri Lovetsky/AP
An Iranian fan dances in front of a cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 13. Iran will face Morocco in the 2018 soccer World Cup match in the city on June 15.

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On Thursday, the FIFA 2018 soccer World Cup gets under way with a match between host Russia and Saudi Arabia in Moscow. At least half a million visitors from all over the world will visit Russia to attend the quadrennial event. It is just the latest example of Vladimir Putin's policy of the past decade to invite the world to come and experience familiar events amid Russian venues. He wants to spotlight the country's achievements and make the visible case that it has become a “normal” place worthy of full inclusion in the global landscape. Another aim is to mobilize Russia's oligarchic capitalists to build public infrastructure, saddling them with Kremlin oversight. And Russia has invested enormous amounts of the public's money into realizing these goals. “These events were conceived to demonstrate Russian engagement with the world and to generate a positive image of the country in the eyes of foreigners,” says Andrei Kortunov, head of the semiofficial Russian Council for International Affairs. “There are many different, interlocking goals for focusing on these big projects; it's very much a Russian way of getting things done.”

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World Cup: For Russia, it’s about national honor and getting things done

The latest of the Vladimir Putin-era mammoth global events – and possibly the last such to be hosted by Russia in the foreseeable future – is about to kick off in Moscow.

On Thursday, the FIFA 2018 soccer World Cup gets underway with a long-awaited match between Russia and Saudi Arabia in Moscow's newly renovated Luzhniki Stadium. At least half a million visitors from all over the world will visit Russia to attend the quadrennial event, the globe's foremost professional sporting competition.

But it's an international showcase that's under shadow, primarily due to accusations levied at the host country.

The current edition of the cup is still dogged by accusations that Russia obtained its hosting rights through corruption. It has survived persistent calls for a political boycott due to Russia's alleged malign global behavior. And it has weathered a storm of bad press, warning visitors about everything from price-gouging, to being roughed up by Cossacks, to getting targeted by Russia's notorious soccer hooligans. Ironically, many of the most dire warnings emanate from Britain, whose own soccer hooligans are every bit as infamous as the Russian ones.

Despite all that, the cup is happening. Barring the unpredictable, Russia 2018 is likely to be successful. And for Mr. Putin, who has made a conscious policy over the past decade to invite the world to come and experience familiar events amid Russian venues, it should at least partially satisfy an even more important goal. The efforts around the cup – upon which, like the Sochi Winter Olympics and other events before it, the Kremlin spent enormous amounts of the public's money – are meant to bolster Russian infrastructure, stir national pride, and spotlight the country's modernity to the world.

“These events were conceived to demonstrate Russian engagement with the world and to generate a positive image of the country in the eyes of foreigners,” says Andrei Kortunov, head of the semi-official Russian Council for International Affairs. “There are many different, interlocking goals for focusing on these big projects; it's very much a Russian way of getting things done.”

‘No bears wandering around our streets’

Everything seems ready for the World Cup, which will unfold over June and July in 11 Russian cities from the Urals to the Baltic Sea.

Russia has spent at least $12 billion on new stadiums, transport links, hotels, and other infrastructure. Most construction targets have been met, and despite some controversy and charges of corruption, the costs appear to have been kept under control. The Kremlin insists that investment will pay off after the games end in terms of more tourism and improved quality of life for local inhabitants – a claim that has proven partially true in previous cases, such as the Sochi Olympics.

The threat of hooliganism, terrorist attack, or disruption by political activists has been largely neutralized by the introduction of special security regimes in most cities. People who live or work near a World Cup stadium will be required to have a special pass to navigate police cordons to reach their homes or offices. No-fly zones for drones and aircraft have been introduced around all venues for the duration of the games. Searches will be conducted on buses and trains headed for cities where games are taking place, and draconian controls on alcohol sales and consumption will be enforced. About 450 known hooligans have been identified by police, forbidden by court orders to attend any games, and placed under surveillance.

“Basically, all the efforts of our force structures will be directed at maintaining order and security during this period,” says Ilya Artemyev, an expert with the Sova Center in Moscow, which tracks extremist activities. “They have brought in extra police, as well as National Guard, to saturate the designated areas.” Russian paramilitary Cossacks have also been enlisted to patrol the streets of venue cities.

“I am sure the impact of these games will be positive,” says Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow. “This is the kind of thing Russia does well. It's a question of national honor. And considering all the bad press we have gotten, the expectations of visiting fans will not be that high. They will see that everything is peaceful and orderly, that the trains, planes, and hotels all work fine, and that there aren't any bears wandering around the streets of our cities. They will go home saying, ‘hey, the press coverage of Russia is wrong,’ and that will be enough.”

A Russian tradition

Putin has an array of goals in his approach to high-profile mega events. He wants to spotlight the country's achievements and make the visible case that it has become a “normal” place worthy of full inclusion in the global economic, political, and touristic landscape. Another aim is to mobilize Russia's oligarchic capitalists to build public infrastructure – especially in far-flung cities outside the Moscow-St. Petersburg orbit – saddling them with hard deadlines and tough Kremlin oversight. Fostering national pride and fresh habits, such as friendly service and volunteerism, is a frequently mentioned goal.

The method of making capital political decisions to galvanize productive forces and make them speed up their activities is rooted in Russian history. In Soviet times, the announcement that a Communist Party leader was going to visit some remote city would send local officials into a frenzy of painting buildings, repaving roads, and meeting long-postponed economic goals. It's not a coincidence that the term “Potemkin Village” was coined by Russians.

The results so far have been mixed.

Russia spent billions to prepare the provincial city of Kazan to hold the 2013 Summer Universiade athletic competition. They turned out to be the biggest-ever in the history of the games, attracting more than 10,000 university athletes from 160 countries and also helped to put Kazan, which had been mostly an unknown backwater, on the map.

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, to which Putin had attached his personal prestige, were estimated to cost as much as $50 billion and were meant to be Russia's big coming out party on the world stage. It didn't work out that way. The Western media mercilessly ripped Russian preparations for the games, though it later became clear that many of the criticisms were overblown. More seriously, as the games wound down a street revolt in Kiev unseated Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, pro-Western forces took power, and Russia reacted within weeks by annexing Crimea and throwing support behind pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Four years of escalating Western sanctions, geopolitical tensions, and international scandals have followed. Few people today think that the Sochi Games generated any goodwill for Russia.

“It isn't that we did a bad job of hosting the Games, or that it was a bad idea to begin with,” says Mr. Kortunov. “It's that other things intervened and turned our relations with the world in ugly directions.”

Some argue the global attitude to Moscow may be changing due to Western disunity, Russian resilience in the face of sanctions and isolation, and the hard-to-estimate impact of President Trump on international perceptions.

“Something is changing in the West. Their anti-Russian unity is faltering, while we have been steadfast. There are reasons to hope that the difficult period of the past four years is ending,” says Mr. Mukhin. “People are realizing that Russia has been strong and consistent, and that it's here to stay. They should come to terms with it, and that means getting to know it better. I believe a successful World Cup is going to create new openings for Russia.”

More big state-led projects

There seem to be no more big global events on Russia's horizon, though the Urals city of Yekaterinburg is bidding to host Expo 2025 with Kremlin backing.

However, the big state-led projects that have punctuated the Putin era seem set to continue. Russia recently finished building an 11-mile road bridge across the Kerch Strait, to join the Russian mainland with recently annexed Crimea, at a cost of around $4 billion. The Russian government is reportedly contemplating construction of an even longer bridge to connect the hydrocarbon rich island of Sakhalin in the Far East to the Russian mainland.

“Even if you put aside the international dimension, it's clear that people in the Kremlin like big projects that express national goals and capacities,” says Kortunov. “The system favors large-scale, high profile construction projects that consume a lot of funding and can be monitored by the Kremlin. I'm sure we'll see more of it, because it's a habit already.”

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3. Tom Steyer’s push to impeach: a costly bid for an unripe option?

Democratic leaders don’t want to talk about impeachment. But billionaire Tom Steyer is tapping into a growing willingness of many Americans to question the legitimacy of their presidents. 

Amelia

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To anyone who watches cable news, Tom Steyer’s intense tone and demeanor are familiar. He’s been on TV since last October in an eight-figure ad buy calling for President Trump’s impeachment. So far, nearly 5.4 million people have signed his petition. Now in the middle of a 30-city, self-funded “Need To Impeach” tour aimed at activating anti-Trump forces, Mr. Steyer doesn’t offer wonky explanations of the emoluments clause or the minutiae of how to impeach and expel a president. He’s working to motivate the anti-Trump “base” and inspire alienated citizens to start voting again. The effort is downright Trumpian – a billionaire with strong views, a blunt message, and a taste for big rallies and engaging with voters. In a Monitor interview, Steyer expresses frustration with his own party leaders, who have been trying to tamp down impeachment talk. His strategy of going straight to the people to inspire an uprising that he hopes will force Democratic politicians to act also has a Trumpian feel. “The politicians – there’s nothing that’s going to get them to move,” Steyer says. “It’s basically got to be the American people who say, ‘He’s got to go.’ ”

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Tom Steyer’s push to impeach: a costly bid for an unripe option?

Tom Steyer takes the stage to the strains of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a-Changin’ ” – surely an intentional choice, as we are in Minnesota – Dylan country.

But the song’s message, a call to action from an earlier era of social foment, may be more aspirational than actual. Mr. Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire, is in the middle of a 30-city, self-funded “Need To Impeach” tour aimed at activating anti-Trump forces. And even with polls showing that most Democratic voters support the idea of impeaching President Trump, party leaders think talking up impeachment now is a terrible idea.

It’s too soon, they say. Such talk divides the country even further, and risks dividing Democrats. And it would be a gift to Republicans ahead of the November midterms. Overall, public support for impeachment appears stuck at about 40 percent. But the former Democratic mega-donor is undaunted.

“We think that impeachment is the biggest political issue in the United States of America,” says Steyer, speaking recently before a town hall of more than 300 people in Minneapolis. “We think that impeachment is the tool that the framers of the Constitution gave the citizens to get rid of a reckless, lawless, and dangerous president.”

To anyone who watches cable news, Steyer’s intense tone and demeanor are familiar. He’s been on TV since last October in an eight-figure ad buy calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment, and urging Americans to sign his Need To Impeach petition. So far, nearly 5.4 million people are on board.

The effort is downright Trumpian – a billionaire with strong views, a blunt message, and a taste for big rallies and engaging with voters. At his events, Steyer isn’t out to offer wonky explanations of the emoluments clause or the minutiae of how to impeach and expel a president. He’s there to motivate the anti-Trump “base” with broad strokes, and inspire alienated citizens to start voting again.

“Partly, it’s taking a page from Donald Trump’s own playbook,” says Kevin Mack, the lead strategist for the $40 million Need to Impeach campaign.

Steyer himself, in a Monitor interview, channels a bit of Trump-style populism in his frustration with Washington and his own party establishment. His strategy of going straight to the people to inspire an uprising that he hopes will force Democratic politicians to act also has a Trumpian feel.

“The politicians – there’s nothing that’s going to get them to move. The only people who matter in this are the American people,” Steyer says.

“And that’s probably right, because you’re throwing out an elected president,” he continues, leaning hard on the word “elected.” “So if you’re going to throw him out, it’s basically got to be the American people who say, ‘He’s got to go.’ ”

Steyer bristles at suggestions that it’s “too soon” or that he’s “normalizing” impeachment. He is reminded that every president since Ronald Reagan has faced calls for impeachment by House members, if not actually been impeached, as with Bill Clinton. But Steyer is unfazed. The danger isn’t normalizing impeachment, he says, it’s normalizing Trump’s behavior.

It’s “a normalization of lawlessness,” says Steyer, whose website lists what he calls Trump’s eight impeachable offenses.

Also being “normalized” is a willingness by Americans to question the legitimacy of their presidents, as well as the institution of the presidency and of democracy itself. George W. Bush won his first term only after a Supreme Court intervention, and without winning the popular vote. Trump, too, lost the popular vote. Mr. Clinton won twice with a plurality of the vote. Barack Obama faced questions about his citizenship throughout his presidency.

Growing political polarization feeds into the lack of consensus about government. Last October, the Pew Research Center reported that the nation’s partisan divide on political values, which had reached record levels under President Obama, had grown still wider in Trump’s first year.

The concept of a “loyal opposition” is increasingly foreign. Since Trump’s election, lawn signs saying “Not My President” and “Resist” are common in neighborhoods dominated by Democrats.

On the question of timing, Steyer argues that the “evidence” speaks for itself – that Trump is already so impeachable that it’s not even necessary to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation into possible collaboration between Trump associates and Russia in the 2016 campaign, as well as possible obstruction of justice.

“Mueller is a criminal prosecutor,” says Steyer. “Impeachment is a political act.”

Town hall as therapy session

A half hour before Steyer’s Minneapolis town hall, the line outside the Machine Shop – a historic, newly renovated event space – snakes around the corner. It’s an older, largely white crowd, and most are fully on board with the drive to impeach. Security is tight.

Inside, a buffet of hors d’oeuvres awaits. Judy Kahm, a retired researcher at the University of Minnesota, is newly activated in politics. “I wasn’t involved until the women’s march,” says Ms. Kahm, wearing a T-shirt for a local Democratic candidate and fully supportive of impeachment.

But her friend Lynn Levine, enjoying some guacamole, is on the fence about Steyer’s approach, and came to hear him out.

“I have issues with Trump being impeached,” says Ms. Levine, a retired school psychologist. “There will be a backlash. Plus, we get Pence,” she adds, referring to the vice president. “I think he’s more dangerous, because he looks normal.”

Levine skips over the fact that impeachment by the House doesn’t remove a president from office, but leads to a trial in the Senate. Conviction – and removal from office – requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 out of 100 senators, a bar that has never been cleared.

But few here are sweating the details. Many also aren’t aware that the Democratic leadership in Washington does not support Steyer’s campaign. Not that it matters: This town hall is as much therapy session as pep rally, a chance to gather with like-minded people, air grievances about Trump, and get marching orders for the midterms. One man wears a red hat that says “Make Red Hats Wearable Again” – a spoof on the red “Make America Great Again” hats worn by Trump supporters.

During the Q & A, audience members vent about the president’s immigration policies; attacks on the press, the justice system, and the intelligence community; the minimal pushback on Trump’s actions by Republicans; the role of money in politics. Minorities and young people are among the most vocal, a departure from the crowd’s overall cast.

“I’m from Ethiopia,” one man says. “Today, Ethiopians see the US government as the enemy. How we can engage and work with you?”

A girl from St. Paul speaks up: “What can young people do?”

Such questions set up one of Steyer’s core points – that getting the nation back on track requires leaders to be “close to the American people … listening in the communities.” His existing grassroots organization – NextGen America, which he launched in 2013 as NextGen Climate – provides the ground troops for his effort to help Democrats retake the House in November and amass the majority needed to impeach Trump.

While Need To Impeach has a staff of 41 people, NextGen is close to 500, says Mr. Mack, the strategist. Steyer has pledged to spend $30 million on NextGen, which targets millennials.

“It’s the largest age cohort, the most diverse in American history, the most progressive cohort,” Steyer tells the crowd. “They’re very knowledgeable, very passionate, not lazy. And they don’t believe in the system.”

Measuring the impact

Voters are divided on whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, with 39 percent saying “yes” and 42 percent saying “no” in the May Harvard-Harris poll. An additional 19 percent said he should be censured by Congress. Those numbers have barely budged in the past year.

Which raises a question: Has Steyer’s seven-month-old campaign had any impact? As a successful hedge-fund manager, he’s all about metrics and performance. But poll numbers are not his main bottom line: Inspiring Democrats to turn out in the November midterms is at least as important.

Steyer sees plenty of opportunity with his 5.4 million petition-signers, a number that Mack defends, saying it’s regularly “scrubbed” for double-signers and other mischief. Mack has run surveys of signers, and reports that more than 60 percent of them are infrequent midterm voters. Among signers who live in the 75 most competitive congressional districts, 67 percent are infrequent midterm voters. Those are votes that could tip close races toward Democrats, he says.

“When you dig down and ask them survey questions – like, ‘Why sign a petition but not vote?’ – they’re very clear about three things,” Mack says. 1.) “No Democrats run in my area.” 2.) “The Democrats that do run are so conservative they don’t really represent my views.” 3.) “Congressional Democrats just don’t stand for anything anymore.”

In other words, they think the system is broken. The swamp has won. They sound like the mirror image of Trump supporters, who had given up on politics and voting but were lured back in by a charismatic figure with a compelling message. The real metric that Steyer is aiming for is not just a Democratic takeover of Congress, but to win as big a Democratic majority as possible, adding fuel to his impeachment drive.

In the interview, Steyer expresses frustration that “Democratic leaders don’t want to have this conversation” about impeachment. “They think it will divide the Democratic Party, it will embolden Republicans to come out and vote,” he says. “They’re reliving 1998. I get that.”

That’s the year Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. In the ‘98 midterms, Democrats defied the historical norm and gained five seats. But Steyer says Trump’s offenses far surpass those of Clinton or even President Richard Nixon, who resigned as impeachment loomed. And there’s never a good time to do something this difficult and unpleasant, Steyer says.  

“If you never stand up for principle, because it’s inconvenient, awkward, and politically poor tactics,” Steyer says, “then you never stand up for what’s right.”

A church-going Episcopalian, Steyer brings a hint of religion to his campaign. On the back of his left hand, he often draws a Jerusalem cross – a reminder of his wife and four children, and to stay true to his beliefs.

Presidential aspirations?

Steyer’s future, it’s easy to surmise, may include running for president. His town-hall tour has already taken him to early caucus and primary states (Iowa, South Carolina) and key general election battlegrounds, Ohio and Florida. On Wednesday, he appears in Reno, Nev., another early caucus state, and a swing state in the general election.

It would be another Trumpian move for the Californian – a wealthy political donor with no government experience – to go for the big job. A veritable caucus of billionaires is already generating buzz around 2020, including Steyer, Oprah Winfrey, outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and investor Mark Cuban.

Steyer had openly considered running for Senate or governor of California this cycle, but opted out. When asked by the Monitor about running for president, he keeps his options open: “What I have said, which is true, is we are totally focused on Nov. 6, 2018.”

Even if Democrats retake the House, Steyer knows the road to impeachment would be tough. At the Minneapolis town hall, a woman named Cindy asks if “we can get some famous people, movie stars, rock bands” to join the effort.

“I don’t think we’ve done a great job of mobilizing famous people, but it would be helpful to have them speak up,” Steyer responds, noting support from the rapper Common.

On the Minneapolis stage, Steyer wasn’t joined by any prominent political figures – such as Minnesota Rep. and deputy Democratic National Committee chair Keith Ellison, in whose district the town hall took place; or Richard Painter, a former Republican White House ethics chair and now a Democrat running for the US Senate from Minnesota. Impeaching Trump is part of Mr. Painter’s platform.

Steyer has gotten some positive, if symbolic, reinforcement in Congress. In both December and January, Rep. Al Green (D) of Texas sponsored procedural votes on impeachment. The first went down to defeat 364-58, the second 355-66. Both times, only Democrats voted yes.

Republicans are warning that a Democratic takeover of the House would lead to Trump’s impeachment – which they see as a coup – and hope to spur GOP turnout with that message. Former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon calls the midterms “an up or down vote on impeachment.”

“Trump is on the ballot in every congressional district,” he told CNN on June 3. “This is not going to be some Democratic congressman versus Republican congressman. This is going to be Donald Trump versus [House Democratic leader] Nancy Pelosi and Tom Steyer.”

Congresswoman Pelosi has called on Democrats to stop the impeachment talk, calling it “a gift to the Republicans.” But Democratic pollster Celinda Lake sees how Steyer’s impeachment message could help the party.

“There is what I call the ‘revolutionary base,’ those who are vehemently anti-Trump and very, very progressive; some feel there’s no point in voting,” says Ms. Lake. “I think the impeachment effort could mobilize some of those voters.”

As the Minneapolis town hall winds down, Levine, the retired psychologist, walks by the press seats and says she “might change her mind” on impeachment.

“I think we might be better off with [Vice President] Pence than Trump,” she says on the phone later, citing Steyer’s arguments on Trump’s alleged financial malfeasance in office.

And she likes Steyer’s passion. Add another signature to his petition.

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4. Kenya court case could herald shift on gay rights across Africa

In some countries, the language of human rights has been criticized as Western lecturing. But a shift in attitudes may be under way toward LGBT Africans, and it's being driven from within.

Amelia

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For decades, African opponents of LGBT rights have often argued that homosexuality is a Western import. In 2015, for example, when then-President Barack Obama criticized Kenya’s record on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, he faced a swift backlash. Gay sex is criminalized in more than 30 African countries today, although in many cases those laws were created during the colonial era. Kenyan LGBT activists hope they are on the verge of a major shift, however, with a court case challenging the country’s anti-homosexuality law. It’s part of a wider groundswell, they say, chipping away at legal prohibitions across the continent and pointing to growing acceptance within Africa, not just outside it. “It used to be that lawyers in Africa had to rely on legal precedent from North America or Western Europe in making their cases,” says Wendy Isaack, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. Now, she says, a growing body of African court decisions in favor of LGBT rights are “giving a lot of momentum to these cases.”

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1. Kenya court case could herald shift on gay rights across Africa

When Kenyan feminist blogger Peps was growing up in Nairobi in the first years of the 2000s, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people didn’t exist.

At least, it didn’t seem like it. There were no out gay people on her favorite TV shows, or in her neighborhood, and being gay simply wasn’t a topic of conversation with her family.

“It was mentioned once in a while in high school, but I never thought of myself as gay,” she says. “I just thought maybe everyone felt like that.”

Now, however, Peps, who asked that she be identified by her nickname, lives in a different world. She is 24 and working in a Nairobi advertising firm, out to friends and family, and runs a popular blog where she writes candidly about love, romance, and health. But despite the increasing openness of the city and country around her, she knows that LGBT Kenyans like her enjoy few legal rights. Even in her relatively accepting social circles, if the wrong person discovers Peps’ sexual orientation, it could have dangerous consequences. “It’s a constant fear,” she says. “I don’t know anyone’s intentions.”

But LGBT advocates hope they are on the verge of a major legal victory. In February, Kenya’s high court heard arguments in a case challenging the country’s colonial-era anti-homosexuality law, which prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” – or put more simply, gay sex – as a felony punishable with up to 14 years in prison. The case is expected to be decided later this year.

It’s part of a wider groundswell, in which lawyers and activists are using increasingly receptive courts to slowly chip away at legal prohibitions against homosexuality across the continent. (Homosexual sex is still explicitly criminalized in more than 30 countries in Africa.) In coming months, a court in Botswana will also hear a case challenging its “carnal knowledge” law, and activists hope the two cases will help spark change elsewhere – in part, because they point to legal acceptance of LGBT rights within Africa, not just outside it.

“It used to be that lawyers in Africa had to rely on legal precedent from North America or Western Europe in making their cases” in favor of LGBT rights, says Wendy Isaack, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. Now, however, she says there is growing body of African court decisions that legal teams can point to when they challenge laws that criminalize or discriminate against LGBT people. “That’s a really important development, and it’s giving a lot of momentum to these cases.”

Domino effect?

For decades, one of the most commonly made arguments against LGBT rights in Africa has been that being gay is “not African.”

“The gay rights movement is part of a confusion coming from the West [around] the issue of sexuality,” says Charles Kanjama, a lawyer for the Kenya Christian Professional Forum, the core group opposing the decriminalization case there. “It attacks part of our core identity.”

In 2015, when then-President Barack Obama bluntly criticized Kenya’s record on LGBT rights during a trip to East Africa, he met swift and widespread backlash. “There are some things that we must admit we don’t share, [that] our culture, our societies don’t accept,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the time. “It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.”

But as African courts rule in favor of LGBT rights, the case that being gay is a Western import will become harder and harder to make, activists argue.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these different cases are happening at the same time – these movements cross-pollinate each other,” says Anthony Oluoch, a Kenyan human rights lawyer and the programs manager for the Pan Africa ILGA, an LGBT-rights group based in South Africa. “The age of the movement is different in different countries, but there are great strides being made across the continent.”

In Kenya and Botswana, activists followed similar tactics in the lead-up to challenging the law prohibiting gay sex. In both countries, they started small, pushing for the right for nongovernmental organizations that work with LGBT communities to officially register with government bodies. There were other cases, too. In Botswana, for instance, activists last year won a case to allow a transgender woman to legally change the gender on her identity documents from male to female. And in Kenya, an appeals court ruled in March that subjecting men in police custody to rectal examinations to “prove” they were gay violated their human rights.

“It’s an incremental approach, testing the waters,” says Tashwill Esterhuizen, a South African human rights lawyer who has been involved several cases for LGBT rights in Botswana, including the current challenge of the anti-homosexuality law. “That way when a judge hears a decriminalization case, in some ways the scene has already been set.”

Slow shifts

And though the courts are mostly looking at the legal arguments presented, Mr. Esterhuizen says the fact that societal acceptance of gay rights is growing in many parts of Africa may help to sway their decisions too.

“There’s definitely a shift happening in Botswana’s society,” he says. While many oppose homosexuality, he says that the LGBT community has become more visible in recent years, which has created a growing tolerance. As evidence, he points to the fact that this month, a pan-African conference of LGBT organizations was held in Gaborone, the country’s capital. “That public opinion could play a role [in the court case].”

Anti-homosexuality laws in both Kenya and Botswana stretch back into both countries’ colonial pasts, under a British legal system that mass produced “carnal knowledge” laws around the world in the 19th and early 20th century. Today, more than half the countries with anti-homosexuality laws first acquired those statutes as British hand-me-downs.

“[Critics of LGBT rights] like to say that homosexuality is a Western import,” says Njeri Gateru, head of legal affairs and the acting executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) in Kenya, which lodged the current court challenge there. “No, homophobia is the Western import.”

Her own office is a testament to its power in contemporary Kenya. Inside, the place is homey and welcoming, with rainbow curtains fluttering in the breeze and walls decorated with a playful arrangement of red, blue, and yellow handprints. But the doors are sheathed in metal bars, and panic buttons are hidden throughout the office, so that staff can quickly alert private security.

For Peps, a single court judgment won’t eliminate the kind of fear that makes NGLHRC bar its doors, or makes her write under a pseudonym and never post photos online that show her face. “It won’t change the minds of many Kenyans, but at least it starts us off on the journey to being our true selves,” she says.

“But there will still be other battles we’re fighting.”

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. She shares climate know-how with kids in a coastal city

Environmental challenges can often seem bigger than one person can handle. But Magdalena Ayed is showing how each person – schoolchildren included – can have a role in addressing issues.

Amelia
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Magdalena Ayed founded Harborkeepers, which has led cleanup initiatives along the wharf to clear storm debris.

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This year alone, four nor’easters have walloped the Boston region with heavy rain, snow, and storm surges. Here in East Boston, encroaching water has presented notable challenges. And for a variety of reasons, its residents don’t always have access to resources and knowledge to protect themselves, Magdalena Ayed says. So since last year, Ms. Ayed and her nonprofit, Harborkeepers, have been working to lift their neighbors’ environmental consciousness to a new level. Through her work, which includes harbor cleanups, workshops in schools, and live coverage of floods on social media, she’s been raising awareness about the challenges and helping to empower residents as they adapt to a changing environment. For example, at a neighborhood school, Ayed discussed how trash and debris that collect in storm drains can prevent floodwater on the street from dissipating. Then the students went outside to clear the campus. “Magdalena has really brought a lot of attention to the need to clean our harbor, our waterfront, and to be good stewards of the natural resources around us,” says Massachusetts state Rep. Adrian Madaro, whose district includes the neighborhood.

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She shares climate know-how with kids in a coastal city

On a sunny day in early May, Magdalena Ayed leans over the fence above a pebbly beach in East Boston. It looks much better than it did just weeks before, says Ms. Ayed, when she and a group of volunteers cleaned the area of trash. But even so, a few plastic bottles dot the ground, and the sea wall, which protects this neighborhood from the fluctuating tides of Boston Harbor, is leaning precariously out over the lapping waves. “If we didn’t advocate for this [area], it would stay like this for 20, 30 years,” says Ayed, who is the founder and director of Harborkeepers, a local environmental nonprofit.

Like other cities up and down the East Coast, Boston has faced a number of extreme weather events this year. Four nor’easters walloped the region with heavy rain, snow, and storm surges, and high tides have exceeded the harbor’s 12.5-foot tidal level eight times so far in 2018, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here in East Boston – a dense, immigrant-heavy community across the harbor from downtown – encroaching water presents notable challenges. The neighborhood is one of the most flood-vulnerable sectors of the city, according to a 2017 study from the Climate Ready Boston initiative. Even under moderate projections for sea level rise, floods with a 1 percent likelihood today are expected to become four to five times as likely in East Boston in the next 50 years.

But since East Boston is a working-class neighborhood that’s isolated from the rest of the city by the harbor, its residents don’t always have access to resources and knowledge to protect themselves, Ayed says.

So starting last year, Ayed and her nonprofit have been bringing environmental consciousness straight to her neighbors. Through her work, which includes harbor cleanups, workshops in schools, and live coverage of floods on social media, Ayed has been raising awareness about the challenges and helping to empower residents as they adapt to a changing environment.

“Magdalena has really brought a lot of attention to the need to clean our harbor, our waterfront, and to be good stewards of the natural resources around us,” says Massachusetts state Rep. Adrian Madaro, whose district includes the neighborhood. “It gives us an opportunity for East Boston residents to take ownership of our community.”

Ayed, who was born in Argentina and grew up in New Jersey, moved to East Boston 12 years ago. By appearance alone, the community stands out. Streets here are lined with Dominican barbershops and Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants that host late-night mariachi shows.

When Ayed noticed that flooding began to worsen here a few years ago, she looked for opportunities to respond.

And in 2015, Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled the Climate Ready Boston initiative to help the city protect itself against changing environmental conditions. As part of the effort, Boston enlisted community leaders for environmental stewardship training. Ayed joined the group and afterward began incubating plans for a new organization that would bring the city’s momentum on climate advocacy to East Boston, focusing on the neighborhood’s vulnerability – and its potential for collaboration.

“If you’re talking about gentrification, there’s a whole bunch of East Bostonians who are embracing it and a whole other cohort who are concerned about it.... Climate change, though, and extreme weather events and sea level rise, it’s almost like a great equalizer. Everyone is going to be impacted by this,” says Representative Madaro, a Democrat.

Teaching the community

Given the neighborhood’s large immigrant population, East Boston’s schools are a critical place for teaching the community about the environmental health of the waterfront and how to prepare for extreme weather events like flooding, says Elizabeth Thomas, a former school administrator who has lived here for 35 years.

“The schoolchildren often are the ones who are the translators of information to and from their parents,” she says.

Twice a week, beginning in January, Ayed and her colleague Kannan Thiruvengadam, an East Boston resident and director of the nonprofit Eastie Farm, have been visiting local schools to lead workshops on pollution and flooding.

In late March, at the Donald McKay K-8 School, Ayed and Mr. Thiruvengadam opened a workshop with a simple question: “How would you describe Boston’s climate?”

Shouts of “cold,” “rainy,” and “wet” echoed around the room. One girl simply responded “odd.”

The questions turned to recent Boston weather and the storm water that had collected in the parking lot outside. The class refers to it as “Lake McKay.” Ayed then highlighted how trash and debris that collect in storm drains can prevent floodwater on the street from dissipating. Afterward the students, each armed with a trash picker, ventured outside to clear the campus.

Since last year, Harborkeepers has led a series of cleanup initiatives along the wharf to clear storm debris. In 2017, it collected more than 1,000 pounds of trash. This year so far, the figure is close to 650 pounds.

Enthusiasm for the initiatives has been strong. “We went down to one park.... After I left that day I was like, ‘Wow, this is fantastic; we cleaned up this whole park,” says Elizabeth St. Andre, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “It made me feel fantastic. Now I’ve been trying to get more involved in the environment.”

Ms. St. Andre isn’t the only resident who has been galvanized by Ayed’s efforts.

“At the beginning people would say, ‘Forget it, you’re never going to get people to come and clean for free,’ ” Ayed says. “And the funny thing is, we’re getting people requesting to come and help us saying, ‘I want my group to come and help clean.’ ” Harborkeepers events, including education efforts and ocean stewardship activities, have reached more than 550 people, she says.

Before major flooding hit Boston on March 2, Ayed posted several videos on social media instructing residents how to prepare their homes for extreme weather. When the storm hit, she recorded the flooded streets and overflowing water drains.

“It is utterly important to document these things because we don’t want to have to rely on others to do it,” she says.

One vulnerable spot along the water’s edge is a parking lot behind Shaw’s, the neighborhood’s sole supermarket. As Ayed traversed through wind and rain that day, she captured a picture of the store’s loading docks inundated with nearly a foot of water.

The reaction from her friends and neighbors was powerful. Now, when the harborfront floods, a network of volunteers is ready to record the scene and tell residents how they can protect themselves.

“Magdalena posts a lot about weather and the storms and what to have for safety kits,” St. Andre says. “And so I was ready.... She’s very precise.” Harborkeepers’s social media platforms, in both English and Spanish, have amassed about 2,000 followers.

Unity and resolve

Many in East Boston are quick to mention how removed they feel from the rest of the city. “We have a community here that is surrounded by water. We are essentially an island,” Ayed says.

But through her work, she has discovered a curious kind of unity and resolve out of that isolation. “We share the flooding. We share the lack of access to the [subway] or whatever it may be,” she says. “We’re all in the same space.”

For more, visit harborkeepers.org.

Three groups responding to natural disasters

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.

Globe Aware promotes sustainability and cultural awareness. Take action: Volunteer to rebuild roofs that were damaged by hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Operation USA aids children and families in the wake of natural disasters and other challenges. Take action: Donate money to assist families in Texas who were affected by hurricane Harvey’s flooding.

SBP, which got its start in St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina, works to reduce the time between disaster and recovery. Take action: Help fund the rebuilding of homes in New Orleans, where a tornado hit last year and Katrina struck in 2005.

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The Monitor's View

Why Russians may bare their teeth at the World Cup

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High-profile sports competitions are often not just about the athletics. They are also designed to leave a “legacy” for residents in a host country, such as new infrastructure or a boost in tourism and national prestige. But sports events can also reinforce universal values, such as the spirit of volunteering or just being welcoming. Russia's public-transport workers have reportedly been trained to smile – a public behavior that’s not typically encouraged there – at the estimated 1.5 million foreign spectators attending the 31-day, 11-city World Cup soccer tournament. Even FIFA, the international soccer governing body that organizes the World Cup, is trying to change behavior during the matches. It has set up an “anti-discrimination monitoring system” at the matches in Russia. If fans become too unruly and rude, referees can stop a game. “We hope equality and understanding will be the prevalent story of Russia 2018,” says an official at one soccer watchdog group. At the least, this World Cup may be remembered for its smiling Russians.

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Why Russians may bare their teeth at the World Cup

 Travel, it turns out, can both broaden the mind and the mouth. In Russia, which is hosting the World Cup starting Thursday, public transport workers have been trained to smile at the estimated 1.5 million foreign spectators attending the 31-day, 11-city soccer tournament.

This behavioral modification in cheerfulness – smiling in public is often frowned upon in Russia – is just one way the country is using the mega sports event to not only improve its tarnished image but teach Russians to act differently.

Authorities have also instituted an alcohol ban on certain trains, taught English to taxi drivers, and barred hundreds of well-known soccer hooligans from the games. Russians in the 11 cities are being asked to be courteous to the guests and also pick up litter. And a former soccer player, Alexei Smertin, has been hired to be an inspector for racist chants during matches.

Many countries that have hosted the World Cup or Olympics have tried to change local customs or import new ones. For the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China set up no-smoking sections and removed dog meat from restaurants. In the 1964 Olympics, Tokyo shooed away its organized criminals, or yakuza.

High-profile sports competitions are often not just about the athletics. They are also designed to leave a legacy for residents in a host country, such as new infrastructure or a boost in tourism and national prestige. But sports events can also reinforce universal values, such as the spirit of volunteering, or new public behavior, such as smiling in public.

Just by the nature of the events, both hosts and foreign fans often learn to try on different identities, rising above differences over race, religion, or nationality. The crossing of cultural barriers helps build trust and openness.

Even FIFA, the international soccer governing body and organizer of the World Cup, is trying to change fan behavior. For the first time, it is setting an “anti-discrimination monitoring system” at the matches in Russia. If fans become too unruly and rude, referees on the pitch can stop or suspend a game.

“We hope equality and understanding will be the prevalent story of Russia 2018,” says Piara Powar, executive director of the Fare Network, an umbrella group trying to combat inequality in world soccer.

At the least, this World Cup may be remembered for its smiling Russians.

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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.

Lessons from a rearview mirror

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The idea that there’s a divine basis for growth and progress freed today’s contributor from the pull of disturbing memories.

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Lessons from a rearview mirror

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Progress is a built-in desire for each and every man, woman, and child. Often that progress appears as better health, a deeper sense of peace even in troubled times, or greater productivity and satisfaction. But sometimes harmful past experiences may dominate our present outlook so much that negative results seem inescapable, and new and better experiences can’t even be imagined.

There’s a way out of such hopelessness, though, through a different approach to reviewing our lives. I’ve found a helpful life metaphor in driving a car. It goes like this: When you learn the basics of driving, you gain the habit of glancing back in the rearview mirror to orient yourself. Good drivers know that this occasional look back is important; you need to see where other cars are in order to travel safely. But no one drives looking backward all the time. Or even a lot of the time. Drivers have to see where they’re going down the road in order to move forward to their destination.

We best move forward in our lives in the same way. Periodically glancing back to learn important lessons and to solidify the gains we have made in our goals, skills, or understanding can orient us. But what has become clear to me from my own experience is that turning our thought in a different direction – a spiritual direction – is what impels lasting momentum and progress.

I began to learn of this invigorating and transforming perspective after difficult years in my youth left me searching for a greater sense of self-worth and peace. For years during and after that period, I was constantly looking back in regret and felt stuck in what seemed like an inescapable sense of self-blame.

It was the practical theology of Christian Science that helped me. It enabled me to see God as a merciful and divine Mind who creates each of us as the spiritual expression of His limitless good. Each individual is the needed and valued creation of the same God, the same divine Father-Mother. In acknowledging this, we come to realize that it’s natural to experience more health, peace, and joy. Such progress is a divine right we universally share, under divine impulsion. And no one owns it more than another. When we support and acknowledge this ability to move forward regardless of past failures, then opportunities for fresh starts and healing surface.

I saw I had a choice: I could honor and accept my right to look forward, striving to view an ever-expanding horizon through the lens of everyone’s God-given worth and boundless capacity for growth, or I could limit myself by taking extended hopeless, backward looks in the rearview mirror of life. I chose the spiritual view, and while the growth continues, the disturbing memories and sense of rejection are gone, and joyful, more meaningful, and healthier living has resulted.

Unrestricted progress belongs to everyone. It’s more than a human hope. It is a God-given right. And gaining this spiritual viewpoint changes lives.

Adapted from the May 16, 2018, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Viewfinder

Indian pastoral

Anupam Nath/AP
A farmer carries bundles of grasses on a buffalo cart in Mayong village near Gauhati, India, June 13. More than 70 percent of India's 1.25 billion citizens engage in agriculture. Monsoon rains have begun for the season in several pockets of the country.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 14th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, we'll look at the rising number of suicides in the US. While celebrity suicides garner massive attention, the problem strikes hardest in rural, poor areas where health services are scant.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 13, 2018
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