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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
22
Friday
Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

In a week that seemed to be all about separation, it’s not a mere distraction to think about unity.

The United States promotes its own “world championships” in sports, but most of the rest of the world comes together for the World Cup, a truly global showcase for soccer. (There’s an alternative confederation for international entities not recognized by soccer’s governing body.)

You don’t need to tune into matches to hear highlights: With a header against Morocco Wednesday, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo passed Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás to become the top goal scorer in international play for a European nation.

The World Cup is not all glistening. There's controversy around how Russia landed its host role. A Deutsche Welle reporter was assaulted while on air. But other stories sing. Some 99.6 percent of Icelanders who were watching TV last Saturday were tuned to the nation’s first Cup match. Fans of Senegal’s and Japan’s teams celebrated wins by cleaning up stadiums. A Peruvian broadcaster narrated that country’s first Cup game in 36 years in Quechua, a language he’s working to preserve.  

Then there’s this: A day before Russia and Saudi Arabia kicked off this year’s Cup, a program called Football for Friendship brought young players from 211 countries together in Moscow, creating 32 teams – coed and multinational – for stadium play and, well, unity. It was all about, as Russian pro Aleksandr Kerzhakov said, “the message they bring back home, where they are trying to change the world for the better.”

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Now to our five stories for your Friday, highlighting the need for resilience around democracy and human rights, for workforce pragmatism on American farms, and for political neutrality at an Idaho fiddle fest.

1. Cell signal: What high court ruling may mean for future of digital privacy

What expectation of privacy do consumers have in an increasingly technological world? New technology is forcing more answers – and reinterpretation of the Constitution.

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The US Supreme Court ended the week with a decision that updates privacy protections for the digital age. In a 5-to-4 decision the justices ruled in favor of Timothy Carpenter, the robber who argued that using location data from his cellphone providers to pinpoint his whereabouts and convict him violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The ruling, called “narrow” by the court, will afford more protections to citizens. But it may also create confusion in lower courts and in law enforcement, legal observers say. Officials now have to sort out what kinds of information individuals give to third parties merit constitutional protection, and what kinds don't. Before today’s decision, that determination was clearer. “It’s a gigantic decision for Fourth Amendment jurisprudence,” says Christopher Slobogin, director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt Law School. “It is in large part a result of the court’s realization that technology is changing the relationship between the government and its citizens.”

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Cell signal: What high court ruling may mean for future of digital privacy

In a 5-to-4 decision today, the US Supreme Court updated privacy protections in the digital age, ruling that historic location data collected by from individual cellphones is protected by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Given the routine advancement in communications technologies, especially in recent years with the proliferation of smartphones, the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches by the government has been one of the most routinely reinterpreted constitutional amendments. The decision this morning – in which Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four left-leaning justices – continues that trend, and reinforces suspicions the high court has voiced in the past about how rapid technological advancements could implicate personal privacy.

Chief Justice Roberts was careful to detail the narrow parameters of the majority’s decision in his 27-page opinion. Nevertheless, four separate dissenting opinions totaling 92 pages suggests that lower courts now have a significant task ahead of them tackling the many questions the decision is likely to raise.

“It’s a gigantic decision for Fourth Amendment jurisprudence,” says Christopher Slobogin, director of the Criminal Justice Program at Vanderbilt Law School. “It is in large part a result of the court’s realization that technology is changing the relationship between the government and its citizens.”

“If read broadly, [the decision] could have a huge impact on law enforcement,” he adds, but “the majority is careful to limit its decision, and lower courts can draw distinctions between this case and other cases.”

'Seismic shifts' in technology

The case concerns the arrest and conviction of Timothy Carpenter, who led a string of cellphone store robberies in Michigan and Ohio in 2010. Law enforcement was able to place him near the scenes of the robberies when they occurred in part by collecting 127 days of Mr. Carpenter’s cell-site location information from cell towers operated by MetroPCS and Sprint – information they were able to obtain under a law requiring them to show only that the data was “relevant and material” to the ongoing investigation. 

Carpenter argued that such a vast swathe of data was protected by the Fourth Amendment – thus requiring law enforcement to show probable cause that he was involved in a crime before being able to seize it. Lower courts had ruled against him in part because the data had been seized from a third party, and because he had “voluntarily” given it to them by using his cellphone. Today, five Supreme Court justices instead agreed with Carpenter.

The specific facts of the case are important because the majority opinion refuses to look beyond them. 

“Our decision today is a narrow one,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. Essentially: the decision expands Fourth Amendment protections to a week or more of cell-site location information and no further. The questions of whether such information collected for a shorter period, or in real time, for example, were left for another day.

Roberts nevertheless voiced serious concerns about “the seismic shifts in digital technology” presented in the case, and about both the current and future potential for abuse if the government is able to collect a week or more of a person’s location data without having to show probable cause.

Comparing a modern cellphone to an ankle monitor in how precisely they each track the users’ movements, he wrote that the government is able to “travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts,” adding that with 400 million devices in the country constantly pinging their location to cell towers “this newfound tracking capacity runs against everyone,” not just those under investigation.

“This case is not about ‘using a phone’ or a person’s movement at a particular time,” he added. “It is about a detailed chronicle of a person’s physical presence compiled every day, every moment, over several years.”

Significantly, the decision factored in how the technology has advanced since Carpenter’s arrest in 2010. Back then, investigators were only able to place in a sector ranging from one-eighth to four square miles. Today, wireless carriers can pinpoint a phone’s location within roughly 50 yards.

That could pave a way for the Fourth Amendment to be expanded to protect other kinds of data, says Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported Carpenter in the case.

“There is a lot of this case that could apply to third-party tracking of other parts of our lives,” she says. “It recognizes that we can have a reasonable expectation of privacy in records we share with third parties” – records such as emails and smart meters in homes. 

Impact on law enforcement

The four dissenting justices voiced several complaints and concerns. Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, wrote that the court should have maintained “relevant Fourth Amendment precedents and principles,” such as constitutional protections not extending to personal information held by third parties or given up voluntarily by an individual.

Furthermore, Justice Kennedy added, the decision “will undermine traditional and important law enforcement practices; and will allow the cell phone to become a protected medium that dangerous persons will use to commit serious crimes.”

Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., agrees. The fact the high court has written a decision based in part on how technology could evolve in the future means “the specter of whether the government’s going to go after all our information” has taken precedence over “sophisticated [police] work.”

“What we wind up with is a choice between a conceptual or a pragmatic Fourth Amendment. And I’d say the conceptual fourth amendment is winning,” he adds.

Unanswered questions

The Fourth Amendment has always been interpreted somewhat conceptually, however. Originally it only considered “houses, papers and effects” subject to these kinds of privacy protections. In the 19th century, after the postal service was established, it was expanded to include the contents of mail, and in the 1970s it was expanded again to include the contents of telephone conversations. 

For the short-term, the Supreme Court has kept its decision narrow to try and avoid significant disruption. Requiring law enforcement to get a probable cause warrant only if they want to collect a week or more of location data is one example of that. Police could – and currently do, according to what Professor Slobogin says cops have told him – collect just a few days-worth of location data and use that to prove probable cause and get a warrant for longer surveillance. 

Other unanswered questions will have to be hashed out over time in the lower courts, however. 

As Kennedy queried in his dissent, limiting the decision to just long-term cell-site location data means the court has also “held that individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in financial records” or records of who a person calls – information that “dwarfs what can be gathered from cell site records.” 

For now, however, the high court has taken a notable step by acknowledging the new challenges technological advancements are posing for individual privacy.

“You didn’t used to be able to carry your entire life in your pocket, and now you can,” says Slobogin.

“Roberts is realizing technology is changing the name of the game,” he adds, “and it’s high time the court made this recognition.”

Staff writers Peter Grier and Harry Bruinius contributed reporting to this story. 

Correction: Chapman University is located in Orange, Calif.

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2. Amid populism, ‘crisis overload,’ a weakening of voices for human rights

Champions of human rights are vacillating under pressure from a new generation of populist and authoritarian leaders. That could affect not only embattled minorities but, more broadly, rule of law. 

Jorge Silva/Reuters/File
Rohingya refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before walked after they received permission from the Bangladesh Army to continue on to refugee camps in Bangladesh last October.

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Not that long ago, Western governments took human rights seriously enough to send their soldiers into Kosovo to protect civilians from the threat of ethnic cleansing. But attitudes have changed a lot since then; last year the Myanmar Army expelled 700,000 Rohingya from their homes and there has been not so much as a UN Security Council resolution condemning it. Human rights are under attack by populists around the world who make scapegoats out of minorities or foreigners, and “Western powers have done a poor job of standing up to them,” says Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch. But even though ordinary citizens in a number of countries report a sense of “humanitarian crisis overload,” and traditional champions of human rights such as the United States are ignoring many abuses, courageous individual human rights defenders are still working at the local level around the world. 

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Amid populism, ‘crisis overload,’ a weakening of voices for human rights

It is 70 years since Eleanor Roosevelt diplomatically steered the United Nations toward adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thus making such rights a key operating principle in world affairs.

And in the struggle to secure them since then, millions upon millions of people have won greater freedoms, better schooling, more reliable health care, and broader opportunities to be who they dreamed of being.

Yet nowadays, the top UN human rights official lamented last month, “human rights are sorely under pressure around the world – no longer a priority: a pariah."

“The legitimacy of human rights principles is attacked. The practice of human rights norms is in retreat,” added Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Governments from Myanmar to Syria, from Hungary to Egypt, and from Turkey to the Philippines are trampling on hard-won rights and “Western powers have done a poor job of standing up to them,” says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. And as strong-man populists strengthen their hold on power by weakening the rule of law that underpins human rights, they will get away with it unless traditional rights champions defend their values more vigorously, activists fear.

Indeed, in some cases it is those powers themselves who have flouted international norms. The United Nations has castigated both the US administration and European governments for the way they are turning back or imprisoning refugees and economic migrants.

Major shift over 20 years

Time was, humanitarian concerns could move armies; NATO intervened in Kosovo in 1998 to forestall a threatened bout of ethnic cleansing by the Serbian government. And they could sway justice; the International Criminal Court (ICC) was created the same year to prosecute and punish crimes against humanity that the world had not been able to prevent.

Twenty years on, the picture is very different. The Myanmar Army expelled 700,000 Rohingya from their homes last year, yet there has been no UN Security Council resolution condemning the outrage and no case brought to the ICC,  let alone any action to defend the Muslim minority. China has blocked all diplomatic initiatives.

Likewise, abuses committed by the Syrian government during its savage war against rebel forces have gone unpunished and untouched by UN condemnation, because Russia has protected President Bashar al-Assad from criticism and prosecution.

Hosam Katan/Reuters/File
Residents walk amidst debris at a site damaged by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad, in the al-Sukkari neighborhood of Aleppo May 1, 2015.

And indiscriminate attacks by Saudi-led forces battling rebels in Yemen, which have killed uncounted numbers of civilians, go equally unremarked; Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Washington’s.

Governmental inaction is matched by public indifference. A recent survey of 11,000 people in 12 countries by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, an NGO commemorating those who saved Armenians during the 1915 genocide, found that 61 percent of respondents reported “crisis overload” and being unable to keep up with the bad news. Only 36 percent thought that protecting children and 24 percent thought protecting women were pressing humanitarian priorities.

Protecting those who violate rights

Out of strategic interest, the United States has often protected allies who violated human rights. And Democratic administrations have generally proved more sensitive to human rights than Republican ones. (Emblematic moments: Jimmy Carter introduced the annual State Department report on global human rights; George W. Bush ignored the 3rd Geneva Convention in authorizing the waterboarding and other ill-treatment of detainees after 9/11.)

But Donald Trump, who pulled the United States out of the UN Human Rights Council this week, seems to attach unusually little value to human rights.

He has not yet named an assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor. After his summit with Kim Jong-un he brushed aside North Korea’s uniquely appalling human rights record as “rough” but no worse than in some other countries.

Meeting last November with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, widely believed to be the architect of an anti-drug campaign involving thousands of extra-judicial killings, President Trump said he had “a great relationship” with Mr. Duterte and did not bring up the issue.

At home, meanwhile, Trump’s policy on immigration runs counter to international law on a number of counts, notably his declaration this week that “the United States will not be a refugee holding facility” despite a US legal obligation (under the 1967 Protocol to the 1951 Refugee Convention) to give asylum to people fleeing persecution or war.

Europe behaves no better on this front. The European Union is paying 6 billion euros to Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has assumed almost dictatorial powers, to keep migrants out of Europe even if they are seeking asylum. The EU is also paying to help the Libyan coastguard to intercept and return to Libya boatloads of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.

On Wednesday, the Hungarian parliament passed a law criminalizing individuals and organizations that help refugees claim asylum. Last week the Italian government refused to let a boat full of migrants land in Italy.

Demonizing minorities

Turkey and Hungary – along with Russia, Poland, Venezuela, Egypt, India, and the Philippines – are ruled by the sort of populist, authoritarian governments that have “found a route to power by demonizing minorities and then claim to speak for the majority when they undercut checks and balances such as independent civil society and a free press,” says Mr. Roth.

Countries such as the United States and Britain, meanwhile, “have absented themselves,” he charges, “because they are preoccupied with their own populist agendas, so they lose credibility and interest in promoting human rights elsewhere in the world.”

This leaves chauvinist nationalists, populists, and authoritarians of all stripes freer to undermine human rights and the rule of law that might set limits on their power. That is “disturbing and disheartening,” says Michael Lynk, who teaches law at Western University in London, Canada.

“In a world divided by religion and ideology and wealth, the only common language that we have all bought into is human rights and international law,” he says. “When we weaken the architecture of that law by not obeying it, or weaken human rights by flouting them, we weaken the bonds that tie us together across national boundaries.”

Though the international picture seems bleak, there have been some imaginative successes. In the face of Russia’s refusal in the UN Security Council to allow any resolution critical of Syria, tiny Liechtenstein cobbled together a coalition in the General Assembly – where no nation enjoys a veto – to create an International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to investigate and preserve evidence of war crimes in Syria.

A French prosecutor is gathering such evidence in Geneva, pending such time as a tribunal might be able to consider it.

And unseen by most people are the small, grassroots groups fighting to defend and extend human rights, from LGBT activists in Mongolia to anti-slavery campaigners in the Gulf states. “You don’t hear about the web of local human rights organizations around the world that are dealing with issues at their level,” says Eric Stover, director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley. “Advances are being made in local efforts.”

In the Western world, where human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have long taken public support for granted, a number of recent elections have shown that populists can rally a lot of people around hostility to human rights for minorities.

“We have to remind people that when you let governments pick and choose who gets rights today, it may be just unpopular groups who lose them,” says Roth. “But tomorrow it could be you.”

SOURCE: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. In run-up to Turkish vote, signs of a resilient drive for democracy

Turkish President Erdoğan has tried mightily to consolidate power, imprisoning foes as "terrorists" in authoritarian fashion. But the democratic impulse in the country is still strong.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Under tight Turkish police security, supporters of the opposition, mainly the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, dance as they campaigned this month in Istanbul for their presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş. He has been imprisoned and frequently accused of being a 'terrorist' by ruling-party officials.

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For years Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has presided over intense crackdowns on civil society and opponents of all stripes. The goal was to consolidate power, including the creation of a custom-made, all-powerful presidency that was narrowly approved in a referendum last year. In snap presidential and parliamentary elections Sunday, Turkish voters will determine whether 16 years of rule by Mr. Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) will continue. Polls show Erdoğan may be vulnerable to a runoff, and his party’s majority rule in parliament threatened by the small, mainly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). To keep the party below the 10 percent threshold, the AKP and Erdoğan have been pulling out all the stops: imprisoning presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş and nine of 59 HDP deputies, attacking party offices, and painting the party as terrorists. Belgin Sunal, an HDP activist in Istanbul, is not Kurdish, but says she is “honored to be part of a cause against such injustice.” She says: “When you have this fascist thing going on in the country, you need an ‘other,’ and now that’s us.”

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In run-up to Turkish vote, signs of a resilient drive for democracy

Even by Turkey’s high standards of political theater, the scene inside Edirne prison was a spectacle.

State broadcaster TRT set up a makeshift studio so that imprisoned Kurdish presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş could make a 10-minute address to the nation, as allotted by election law.

Turks vote Sunday in a landmark election that will determine whether 16 years of rule by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) will continue.

Polls show that in the presidential race, Turkey’s authoritarian leader is vulnerable like never before and could be forced into a second-round runoff without a guaranteed victory.

And in the concurrent parliamentary vote, the AKP could lose its majority – ironically because of the small, pro-Kurdish party led by Mr. Demirtaş, whom Mr. Erdoğan accuses of being “leader of the terrorists” with “blood on his hands.”

If, despite the daunting array of obstacles placed in the way of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), it can once again reach the 10 percent threshold of national votes required to enter parliament, it would deprive the AKP of unfettered rule.

Such a result may restore a degree of faith in Turkey’s democratic process, which has been increasingly tarnished by years of manipulation by Erdoğan and the AKP. But it would be a blow to their plans, in a snap election that is meant to abolish the post of prime minister and usher in the start of a new, all-powerful presidency with sweeping powers that has been custom-made for Erdoğan.

The fact that such an outcome can even be possible, after Erdoğan has presided over years of intense crackdowns on civil society and opponents of all stripes, says something about the resilience of the democratic impulse in Turkey.

Potential kingmaker

“The only reason I am still here is that the AKP is scared of me,” Demirtaş said June 17. The charismatic human rights lawyer-turned-politician, now the potential kingmaker of Turkish politics, wears a suit and tie in the prison TV studio.

Though he has been forced to run his campaign from his jail cell over social media, the HDP still polls 10 percent support. If the HDP wins at least 60 seats in the expanded 600-seat parliament, it will be a natural coalition partner for the opposition, and force the AKP to find its own coalition to govern.

“They think tying my hands here and going from square to square spreading accusations about me is being courageous,” said Demirtaş. Imprisoned since November 2016, he denies all charges, and told Turks they should “absolutely” vote.

Umit Bektas/Reuters
Supporters of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party hold masks of their jailed presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş at a rally in Ankara, Turkey, June 19.

The new presidential system was narrowly approved in a national referendum last year. If Erdoğan wins, a five-year term would keep him at the helm at least until the 2023 centennial of the Turkish Republic.

But Erdoğan indicated for the first time Wednesday that AKP victory in the parliamentary vote might not be inevitable. He said in an interview there could be a “search for a coalition” after voting day.

Blocking the way may well be the HDP, which first entered parliament in June 2015 with just over 13 percent of the votes, to claim 80 seats in the 550-seat assembly. Another vote in November 2015 resulted in 10.75 percent of the vote, yielding 59 seats.

Keeping the HDP below the 10 percent barrier would almost certainly guarantee continued one-party AKP rule, because if the HDP – or any party – does not reach that threshold, then the seats in the districts it wins are automatically given to the runner-up party in those districts. In many cases for the HDP, that means the AKP would collect the seats.

“The HDP is the most important element in this election. Everything comes down to us,” says party activist Belgin Sunal in Istanbul. Electoral rule changes and insecurity in the mainly Kurdish stronghold of the HDP in southeast Turkey mean that “having a fair election will be very difficult. The AKP knows this and are taking advantage of it.”

Intimidation tactics

The scale of the obstacles put in the HDP’s way indicates the outsize importance of this small opposition party, which under Demirtaş’ co-leadership broadened its Kurdish base enough for its success in June 2015.

Since then, HDP lawmakers have been arrested and thousands of local officials detained. From 2016, several hundred local HDP offices have also been attacked and sometimes burned.

In the first five weeks of campaigning, starting in late April, 136 party officials were detained and 14 of them arrested, according to HDP officials. They also report a multitude of intimidation tactics, especially in Kurdish regions. At a recent HDP rally in Istanbul, police openly filmed the crowd.

Nine of the HDP’s 59 lawmakers remain behind bars.

HDP lawmaker Garo Paylan, the first member of parliament of Armenian descent in decades, who is running for a seat in Diyarbakir, the cultural capital of Turkey’s Kurds, said he first thought reports of pressure he heard were “exaggerated.”

“But I saw with my own eyes [that] state officers, local officials were campaigning with AKP candidates, and police and gendarmerie were all campaigning together,” says Mr. Paylan.

“They were going to the villages, and just saying, ‘You should vote for the AKP because we are going to keep governing the country,’ ” he says. “In city centers, people are going to vote for us, most of them. But in the countryside people feel more vulnerable.”

One root of the anti-HDP campaign is Erdoğan rewriting the narrative of the war in southeast Turkey, by conflating the HDP with the Kurdish militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose bloody war against the state for nearly four decades resumed in 2015.

Entire urban centers have been destroyed in fighting by the Turkish military and dug-in Kurdish militants. And an ongoing state of emergency, declared after a failed coup in July 2016, has enabled authorities to easily spread the fight to a crackdown on HDP officials.

The terrorist label

During the current campaign the HDP has rarely made it onto broadcast media, much of which is controlled by the AKP. It is also subject to hostile reporting that takes its cue from Erdoğan’s “terrorist” charge.

“How quickly do you forget that HDP is ruled by murderers?” read one headline in the pro-government Sabah newspaper, for example.

“When you have this fascist thing going on in the country, you need an ‘other,’ and now that’s us,” says Ms. Sunal, the HDP activist, who says she is not Kurdish but is “honored to be part of a cause against such injustice.”

“They stamp us with the label of terrorist, and conflate us with the PKK [fighting] up in the mountains, and that label is all people see,” she says.

Soner Çağaptay, a Turkey expert at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “The New Sultan: Erdoğan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey,” wrote in an analysis Wednesday that Erdoğan jailed Demirtaş because he felt threatened.

“Blessed with charisma, Demirtaş is a long-term threat to Erdoğan, as he has proven even from his jail cell,” he wrote.

Lost in the melee have been HDP policy positions, and the party’s message of unity between Turkish citizens of all ethnic backgrounds.

Citizens voting for other parties are not enemies of HDP, Demirtaş tweeted Wednesday, saying the AKP is causing great damage by “insisting on … a language that encourages enmity to your neighbor.”

But, he added, “Anyone who does not vote for me and the party is [still] my brother.”

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4. US farmers, desperate for help, increasingly turn to Mexico

In the era of “America First,” there is vocal opposition to immigrants taking jobs from Americans. But many farmers in Trump country find they have no choice; no one is responding to their job ads.

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Gary and Patty Bartley, western Michigan farmers for 38 years, oversee 120 acres of orchards that produce about 4.8 million pounds of apples a year. Last year, a shortage of pickers forced them to leave some crops rotting in the field.

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What does US immigration policy have to do with the blueberries you buy? Well, if it weren’t for foreign farmhands, some growers would have to watch their fruit and vegetables rot in their fields. Just ask Gary and Patty Bartley, prizewinning farmers in Michigan who left $200,000 to $300,000 worth of crops unharvested last year because not a single person applied for their job ads. The strong economy that has caused labor shortages in many industries has sharpened an already chronic problem in agriculture that dates back to 9/11, when heightened security concerns resulted in tighter border control. Farmers are hoping Congress will implement a more efficient guest-worker program, but such proposals are usually tied to sweeping immigration reform legislation that is almost impossible to get passed. “We’ve been held hostage to comprehensive immigration reform a couple times,” says Fred Leitz, a Michigan farmer who recently served as president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. “I’ve seen that movie. I know how it ends.” So there’s been a spike in Michigan growers bringing up Mexican farmhands over the past few years. Though expensive and cumbersome, it’s still better than leaving their crops for the birds.

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US farmers, desperate for help, increasingly turn to Mexico

The apple trees were heavy with fruit, and the rows and rows of tomatoes,  squash, and hot peppers were ripe for picking. But in the end, Gary and Patty Bartley, prizewinning farmers in western Michigan, had to leave $200,000 to $300,000 worth of their crops to rot in their fields last year. 

They couldn’t find enough people to pick everything.

That was not for lack of trying. They had urged their domestic migrant workers to return, but only 12 did – about a third of the crew size they needed. The Bartleys placed ads in papers out of state and advertised all season with the Michigan state workforce development agency. Not a single person applied. 

So this year they did something their lawyer had told them they should never do: enroll in an expensive and cumbersome visa program known as H-2A to bring up workers from Mexico.

Since the Michigan Farm Bureau set up a for-profit affiliate four years ago to provide guidance navigating the red tape, the number of Michigan growers using the program has jumped from four to 50. And the Bartleys’ lawyer, seeing the decline in migrant workers, changed her mind and became the lawyer for the affiliate, Great Lakes Agricultural Labor Services.

The challenge is that H-2As make a significant dent in farmers’ profits. The program costs $1,600 to $1,800 per worker in fees, plus the grower must provide free housing, linens, equipped kitchens, and regular transportation to buy groceries and other supplies.

“Nobody goes into H-2A because it’s fun or it’s cheap or it’s just a good time,” says Bob Boehm, program manager for Great Lakes Ag. “We’re trying to create an option where they can keep farming.”

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Two workers from Mexico help plant stakes in western Michigan fields farmed by Gary and Patty Bartley. They brought the workers to their farm through the expensive H-2A visa program, which they’re using for the first time this year.

The strong economy that has caused labor shortages in many industries has sharpened an already chronic problem in agriculture that dates back to 9/11, when heightened security concerns resulted in tighter border control. The domestic migrant workforce has been thinning out as parents approach retirement age, and their children pursue more lucrative work opportunities. And since many migrant laborers came to the United States illegally, they’re worried about crossing state lines and getting caught, especially since some states are more aggressive about cracking down on undocumented workers.

Another challenge: a tax-filing change in 1996, which critics of illegal immigration say has allowed undocumented immigrants to receive thousands more in tax credits than they pay in taxes each year – at a cost of $1.5 billion annually. With more benefits, immigrants may be less likely to work.

Farmers are desperate for the labor situation to be addressed. The H-2A program may be an increasingly popular stop-gap measure, but it’s not a long-term solution.

Growers are keeping a close eye on Congress as the GOP leadership puts forward immigration reform bills this week.

“I think the opportunity is there, we just need them to rise to the occasion,” says John Kran, national legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

How Congress could help

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R) of Virginia, former chair of the Agriculture Committee and the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee overseeing immigration issues, put forward a bill this week that included an H-2C visa program that would streamline the process for getting guest workers and eventually replace the H-2A program.

Representative Goodlatte’s bill, which was wide-ranging and more conservative than a "compromise" bill still under consideration, lost on a 193-231 vote in the House on Thursday. But Paul Schlegel, managing director of public policy and economics at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, says his understanding is that the GOP leadership will put forward a separate bill later this summer that will deal only with agriculture.

That would be welcome news for farmers, whose need for guest workers has repeatedly gotten lumped in with stickier immigration issues.

“Everyone wanted to attach the farm labor problem to the immigration bill, because we’re the attractive piece. Everybody loves farmers,” says Fred Leitz, a Michigan farmer and former president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers. “We’ve been held hostage to comprehensive immigration reform a couple times…. I’ve seen that movie, I know how it ends.”

Goodlatte’s H-2C proposal, which could be revived in future legislation, would have capped the number of visas for migrant workers at 450,000, though current H-2A workers and domestic migrant workers who were improperly documented would not count against that cap. The H-2A program has been growing rapidly, especially in Michigan, Florida, New York, and Washington state, says Mr. Kran. Last year, the US issued 200,000 H-2A visas, and the increasing demand makes farmers apprehensive about setting an inflexible cap.

Smiling, and ready early

Lupe Blanco, the daughter of migrant workers, first came to the Bartleys’ farm to visit her sister, who was working as the supervisor. With the exception of that first winter, Mrs. Blanco has never left.

Now she and her husband, who arrived as a teenager with nothing but a garbage bag, are the supervisors.

She says the H-2A workers who have arrived so far have been great. She tells them to be ready at 8 a.m., and they’re there at 7:45 a.m. with a smile on their faces.

“They know how to do pretty much everything,” she says, talking in the on-site laundromat near the 14-foot trailers where the workers live. “Ten to 15 minutes to teach them and boom! They’re like a speedy bullet.”

Mr. Bartley, a mechanical engineer, helped to develop farming applications for technology like facial recognition, so each worker’s hours and productivity levels are precisely measured. The teams with the greatest productivity are given bonuses, which can raise the standard $13.06 per hour pay to as much as $20 per hour.

They range in age from 19 to 30, and some work on family farms back home during the winter season.

The Bartleys, who had planned to start scaling back their operation five years ago, are hoping that this new source of labor will help them regain the equity they have lost in recent years so that they can finally retire. 

“We don’t want to get rich,” says Bartley. “We just want to make a living and pay our bills.”

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5. No politics, please: Idaho fiddle fest favors deepening musical bonds

Dwindling numbers and stylistic differences threaten the future of a beloved fiddlers' festival in Idaho. The solution may lie in something musicians intrinsically know: Simply listening can bridge divides. 

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Every June, Vi Wickam packs his fiddle and drives from Loveland, Colo., to Weiser, Idaho. He’s one of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 musical pilgrims that journey each year to the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest and Festival, now in its 66th year. “I’ve been coming here for years, and I’ve never seen a fistfight ... never seen a fight over religious views or political views,” says Gary Eller, director of the Idaho Songs Project. “You put your politics aside for a week. There’s still a place in the world where people can be civil.” Not that there isn’t conflict. Disagreement over what constitutes oldtime music – traditional dance tunes like Appalachian bluegrass or the elaborate Texas style – has driven a wedge between musicians at Weiser. As the number of contest entrants dwindles, the festival’s future is uncertain. The two sides can help save the festival for each other, and perhaps, teach us about listening and bridging divides, says Mr. Wickam. “When you play music with somebody, you have to have a spirit of listening. And that is conversation. That musical conversation creates a level of connection that would take years to create with just words.” 

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No politics, please: Idaho fiddle fest favors deepening musical bonds

Every June, Vi Wickam packs his fiddle and drives from his home in Loveland, Colo., to this small Idaho town. “I think it’s my twelfth year,” he says. “I came every year when I was in high school. Then I stopped for about ten years.”

Mr. Wickam, a champion fiddler, sits in the cafeteria of Weiser High School, smiling and trading good-natured “little pokes” with friends he’s not seen for 51 weeks. 

“When I was a kid,” he says, “I just came for the contest.”

“That’s because you didn’t know any better,” quips Vivian Williams, now 80, herself a fiddler and a seven-time contest winner in various divisions.

“Yeah,” Wickam admits. “Now I come for the jamming, the friends, the camaraderie – and the four minutes of adrenaline when I’m competing. 

He’s one of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 musical pilgrims that journey each year to this National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest and Festival, a competition now in its 66th year. This week, some 165 entrants, ranging in age from 6 to 87, are competing for trophies and cash prizes. The divisions include everything from Small Fry to the Senior Senior Division, where fiddlers 70 and older still garner ovations for their hoedowns.  

“I’ve been coming here for years, and I’ve never seen a fistfight, never seen an out-of-control drunk, never seen a fight over religious views or political views,” says Gary Eller, director of the Idaho Songs Project. “You put your politics aside for a week. There’s still a place in the world where people can be civil.”

“There’s something truly wonderful here that I’ve never seen at other festivals,” adds Mr. Eller. 

Not that there isn’t conflict. “The contest is just an excuse for all of us to get together,” says Ms. Williams – “and also something to argue about‘What were those judges thinking?!’ People always complain about the judging. It’s a tradition.” 

The other discord here, not a minor quibble, is: What constitutes oldtime music?

“Oldtime is not one thing,” insists Williams, an ethnomusicologist. “It’s regional: There’s Appalachian, Missouri style, Texas style, Canadian, Northern Missourian, Metiś, and others.”

Most of those fiddle styles never win contests. The credit – or blame – falls on Texans.

Williams points to legendary Texas fiddler, Benny Thomasson: “When he was a young man, in the 1920s, he thought he was a pretty hot fiddler, and he went to a contest – and lost,” she says. “So he went back home, tail ‘tween his legs, and figured out what to do to win: Play fancy with more variations.”

She credits other legendary Texans, such as Major Franklin and Eck Robertson, with turning fiddle contests into celebrations of the Texas style.

“It’s very impressive, and fiddlers were picking it up because it was so cool, and judges were giving lots of points because it was so cool,” says Williams, who plays traditional dance tunes instead of the Texas style. “But Texas style has come to dominate the contests.”

It also drove a musical wedge between musicians here at Weiser. To understand these aesthetic differences, it helps to understand the geography of the festival. 

The official contests happen in the high-school auditorium. Beside the school is Fiddletown, the wealthier side of Weiser’s demographic. Just beyond Fiddletown is The Institute, a lush, grassy campground and the former site of a trade school which plays host to music workshops, dances, and other events.

Further out, literally and spiritually, is Stickerville, which came into existence in the 1980s when spillover musicians were exiled to a field infested with Goat Head, a low-creeping weed whose curved thorns found homes in many a mandolin player’s bare feet. The acreage, mostly free of Goat Head now, is an amalgam of tents, folding chairs, ice chests, Coleman stoves – and some of the top players of stringed instruments in the US.

Stickerville is also home to the anti-contest, anti-Texas-style musicians. Many of the 300 to 500 campers here never venture to the auditorium.

“I’m not interested in the contest,” Seattle guitarist Rich Levine says. “This here, in Stickerville, is the best music there is.”

Though he admits there’s great music in the competition, he says “it’s more eclectic over here: old-timey, swing, Québécois, Missouri style.” He points across the Stickerville landscape: “Over there, there’s western swing. And Chuck Holloway – we call him Chainsaw Chuck – around midnight he starts texting friends, and they show up and play bluegrass till dawn.”

Claudia Anastasio, a fiddler and guitarist from Church Point, Louisiana, says, “There are some really good Appalachian oldtime players down in Stickerville, but there’s no way they would enter the contest because the judges aren’t looking for that.

“They have their own contests in Stickerville,” Ms. Anastasio says, “and if a Texas-style player goes down there, they’d lose.”

Monday night jams in Fiddletown

Around 10 o’clock on Monday night, after the judges had crowned Paul Anastasio swing-fiddle champion, Wickam, Williams, and Mr. Anastasio cluster in the lobby with friends and relatives, laughing and passing around congratulations. 

It’s still early by Weiser standards, and defending Senior Senior champion Williams is antsy. Like a dog needs to scratch, the Seattle octogenarian needs to jam. So, after a large, pink, huckleberry ice-cream cone, she gets into her friend’s red Jeep and heads out in search of music.

The most tempting tunes call her toward Fiddletown, so, lugging her black fiddle case, she trundles down a steep path, crosses a dry irrigation ditch, and follows her ears past half a dozen massive RVs. 

Old-timey music draws her to the camp of Rod Anderson, who will be one of her accompanists when she defends her Senior Senior title later that week. Situated between two RVs, six musicians sit jamming in a circle, while a few feet away sit five others gabbing, drinking homemade beer, and nibbling on gigantic apple fritters.

When the musicians recognize Williams, they insist she join the jam, and she pulls her fiddle from its case and finds a seat. These tunes are in her wheelhouse.

“You’ll never meet more happy people than here,” says Mary Cooper, a Spokane, Wash., fiddler. “I think it’s the music. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad. It’s so non-judgmental here.” 

Jeff Lincoln, a guitarist who lives near Boise, Idaho, nods and says, “A friend of mine said, ‘Weiser’s like a family reunion – if all of your relatives are smart and funny.’ ”

“So many of us have been coming here for so many years,” Mr. Anderson adds. “You come, you play guitar for these kids, and the next thing you know, you're playing guitar for their kids.”

An hour later, Wickam wanders in with fresh energy and more repertoire, so the jam heads in a new musical direction. No one thinks of sleep, only what to play next.

“What else do we almost know?” Williams asks, and the tunes keep coming: “Chief Sitting Bull,” “Red Wing,” “Silver and Gold,” “President Garfield,” Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Peter Barnes Jig.” 

Jamming continues past midnight, 1 o’clock.

At 1:50 a.m. the bass player calls it a day and the musicians pack up. “That was just what I needed,” Williams announces. 

The future of Weiser

This year’s roughly 165 contestants signal a disturbing trend: down 15 from last year. Overall contest entries are down from 289 in 2010 to 180 in 2017. Some wonder if Weiser is on the slow slide toward extinction.

“Hopefully, it can continue to exist,” says Bruce Campbell, general chairman of the event since 1980. 

Both Wickam and Williams believe the two sides – the contest aficionados and the Stickerville musicians – can help save the festival for each other.

“There really are two worlds here: the jamming world and the contest world,” Wickam says. “The jamming world would not exist without the contest world. And if it wasn’t for the contest, you wouldn’t have this extreme collection of music and musicians coming here.”

Recently, contest organizers started inviting winners of a nearby banjo competition to help kick off the festival by performing in the auditorium. Williams says she sees this as the start of a rapprochement.

“Anything that builds a bridge between those ‘nasty old hippies’ and those ‘nasty old contest people’ is great,” she says, chuckling.

Both Williams and Wickam see how much everyone has to lose: “It’s family,” Wickam says. “It’s the musical family that I see once a year, and it feels like I never left. 

“There’s a musical bond,” he goes on. “When you play music with somebody, you have to have a spirit of listening. And that is conversation. That musical conversation creates a level of connection that would take years to create with just words.” 

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The Monitor's View

A nonviolent movement challenges Pakistan’s military

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In Pakistan, people are so afraid of speaking against the military or intelligence services that they often use code, such as tapping a shoulder to indicate decorative brass. While the country has a facade of democracy, the generals keep a tight hold. Yet that fear may be starting to break. Since January, Pakistan has seen the rise of a group of young people who rely on peaceful tactics to protest military abuses against ethnic minorities, especially the Pashtuns. No group has so openly challenged the military’s grip as has the Pashtun Protection Movement, known by its Urdu initials, PTM. Its courage, nonviolence, and appeal to constitutional rights have begun to inspire millions. Will the PTM succeed in freeing Pakistan’s stunted democracy? Campaigns of nonviolent resistance have been shown by scholars to be more effective than their violent counterparts. At the least, PTM shows a model for domestic dissent for other countries living under the thumb of a military. Nonviolent protest based on basic rights can expose and often defeat the violence that props up a regime. Peace has its own natural following.

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A nonviolent movement challenges Pakistan’s military

In countries where military figures still hold the reins of power through fear, such as Egypt or Thailand, public criticism of the regime comes mainly from abroad. In recent days, for example, the United Nations has accused Venezuela’s security forces of hundreds of arbitrary killings. It also demanded Myanmar’s Army be held accountable for mass violence against the minority Rohingya.

In Pakistan, people are so afraid of speaking against the military or its intelligence services that they often use code, such as tapping one’s shoulder to indicate decorative brass or by referring to “the establishment.” While the country has a facade of democracy, the top generals keep a tight hold on politics, the media, and dissent.

Yet that fear may be starting to break.

Since January, Pakistan has seen the rapid rise of a group of young people who rely on peaceful tactics to protest military abuses against ethnic minorities, especially the second-largest group, Pashtuns. In the country’s 70-year history, no group has so openly challenged the military’s grip like the Pashtun Protection Movement, known by its Urdu initials, PTM. Its courage, nonviolence, and appeal to constitutional rights have begun to inspire millions of others far beyond Pakistan’s minorities to speak out.

“The impact of the PTM movement is reflected in how it has triggered a wider debate surrounding the role of the military in politics and citizen rights,” according to journalists Sarah Eleazar and Sher Ali Khan in a CNN report.

The PTM’s main demand is for an accounting of thousands of missing persons either held or killed by the military during its 15-year campaign against the Taliban and other military groups in the country’s remote regions. At PTM rallies, mothers hold up pictures of their missing loved ones, a powerful image that may have helped prevent violent repression of the group.

Leading this civil rights movement is Manzoor Pashteen, a 24-year-old tribal leader and trained veterinarian who has witnessed many of the military’s atrocities. He has been likened to a 20th-century pacifist Muslim, Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Widely known as Bacha Khan, Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a close friend of Mohandas Gandhi in the nonviolent struggle for independence from the British Raj.

Mr. Pashteen has been harassed by security forces to keep him from making public appearances or using social media. The suppression only serves to show how worried the top brass is about this movement’s purely peaceful struggle and its appeal to conscience.

As Gandhi himself said of the use of moral action against abusive power: “We should meet abuse by forbearance. Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop.”

Will the PTM succeed in freeing Pakistan’s stunted democracy? In a study of insurgencies from 1900 to 2006, scholars Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts.

At the least, PTM provides a model of domestic dissent for other countries living under the thumb of a military. Nonviolent protest based on basic rights can expose and often defeat the violence that props up a regime. Peace has its own natural following.

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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.

Holy, healing awe

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Setting aside quiet moments to experience God’s presence and peace brings healing and inspiration.

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Holy, healing awe

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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There’s a beach on the Oregon coast that’s very close to my heart. I went there every summer as a child, and now I get to play there with my son. I’ve spent so much time in that spot just sitting and watching the ocean, feeling in awe of the infinite freshness and newness that each wave and every unique sunset represents.

This attitude of awe is one I strive to cultivate in other ways, too. In particular, I love to be in awe of God. To just be still and appreciate Him, to reflect on His limitless goodness, to be inspired. It’s not so much thinking about Him, but more that I practice letting a holy awareness of Him be all that I know.

In that place of stillness, healing happens. One time I felt so ill that stillness was the last thing that seemed possible. And yet, like a beam of light breaking through the clouds, I suddenly felt a total assurance that God was with me. No sense of process – not like God would be with me soon, once I figured out how to get better. Just a clear sense of gratitude for God and His continuous goodness. I peacefully fell asleep, and when I awoke, I was well.

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes that spiritual understanding “is not intellectual, is not the result of scholarly attainments; it is the reality of all things brought to light” (p. 505). It’s God, divine Spirit, that imparts this understanding and assurance – to each one of us! We just need to be willing to pause and be receptive to it.

In this holy place of awe, there’s no room for fear or concern. Instead we become more conscious of a divinely maintained harmony. Today, each one of us can take every opportunity to be in awe of God – and to feel our inclusion in that harmony.

Adapted from the June 5, 2018, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Viewfinder

Brainy bird

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Research assistant Emily Lydic gets up close and personal with Athena, an African grey parrot. When Irene Pepperberg, a research associate in psychology in the Harvard Animal Studies Project, began her work 40 years ago with an African grey named Alex, grant reviewers didn’t share her belief that a bird could come close to having cognitive abilities similar to those of humans. But over the years, Dr. Pepperberg and her parrots have proved them wrong. 'I think that something we all have to learn is that there are really, really intelligent creatures that live in a world that is so different from ours. They see in the ultraviolet. They fly,' Pepperberg says. 'Their worlds are so different, and yet we can have this commonality and communication.' Click the button below for more images of the project’s work.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 25th, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

See you next week. On Monday, in his "Patterns" column, Ned Temko will look at how the politics of immigration is driving a global trend toward nationalism. Have we been here before? A crucial EU summit tackles the issue next weekend.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 22, 2018
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