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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
July
09
Monday

Last week, a reader sent me a story titled “Why the media has broken down in the age of Trump.” It is by a New York Post columnist who says coverage of President Trump marks a “total collapse of standards, with fairness and balance tossed overboard. Every story,” he adds, has become “opinion masquerading as news….”

I hear this from many readers. And they have a point. The mainstream media unquestionably cover this president differently. But many in the mainstream media say there is a reason: They argue that this president is a threat to the republic, so the usual rules no longer apply. What’s interesting is that the same thinking applied in reverse during the Obama administration. Conservative outlets considered his policies a threat to the nation’s core values and reported with the same sense of alarm and dismay.

The point is not to compare the two administrations or the threat, but to recognize the gulf they reveal between America’s most politically engaged citizens. Their views of government, abortion, sexuality, race, and immigration differ so widely that each side actually makes the other feel afraid. Each side sees the other as destroying what it loves about America.

What is to be done? Perhaps, as a first step, a redefinition of what we love about America. The motto e pluribus unum is thought to come from Cicero: “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.”

~

Here are our five stories for the day, which include a poignant European anniversary, an unusual look at the principles of free trade from Africa, and the difficult conversations around a beloved book. 

1. Burgeoning dockets: inside the strained world of immigration judges

On a contentious border, the United States’ commitment to fairness, humanity, and efficiency often comes down to the herculean work of immigration judges. Their challenges are only becoming more difficult. 

Mark

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Immigration courts are not your average courts. First and foremost, they are not actually part of the judicial branch, independent from the political branches of government. They are instead part of an agency inside the Department of Justice, led by the attorney general. Rights guaranteed to respondents in most US courts, such as the right to an attorney and the right to a speedy trial, are not guaranteed. And as immigration has emerged as a key political issue, immigration courts have been used by successive presidents as a kind of first responder to implement their political and policy priorities. As a result, they are saddled with a 720,000-case backlog, and the Trump administration is using the courts to implement its own “zero-tolerance” immigration policies. Cognizant of the burden on the immigration court system, the administration is going to great lengths to try and streamline proceedings. But legal experts and former immigration judges worry that many of these changes could put an even greater strain on immigration judges, while eroding due process for the immigrants themselves.

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Burgeoning dockets: inside the strained world of immigration judges

In a federal courtroom in the border city of McAllen, Texas, two weeks ago, 74 migrants waited as Judge J. Scott Thacker confirmed their names and countries of origin. Tired and nervous, the migrants were wearing the clothes they had been arrested in, translation headsets, and ankle chains that clinked as some of them fidgeted.

After having their rights and potential punishments explained to them, Judge Thacker asked the seven rows of migrants – mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala – how they wanted to plead. “Culpable,” they all answered. Judge Hacker sentenced almost all of them, row by row, to time already served and a $10 fine.

At one point, a man from Honduras separated from his son explained why they had traveled to the United States. Thacker listened, then addressed the whole room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a [specialist] immigration judge; I am not in the immigration system,” he said. “Once you enter the immigration system you can explain your situation to them.”

In immigration court in San Antonio, a few hours north, Judge Charles McCullough is working through cases from the summer of 2017.

Over three hours, he moves smoothly through hearings for a dozen people. One man accepts voluntary departure to Mexico, but then things get complicated. One case has to be postponed because of irregular paperwork. Another sparks a brief debate over whether a US Supreme Court decision last year means it can be thrown out. His final hearing is a mother and two children from Colombia, accused of overstaying their visas. He schedules their next hearing for September.

Staff shortages and an ever-increasing caseload have been problems for years, compounded by successive administrations using the courts to achieve political and policy goals. Cognizant of the burden the immigration court system is under, and the additional strain its stated goal of having zero unauthorized immigration into the US would represent, the Trump administration is going to great lengths to try and streamline immigration court proceedings.

Unlike every other court in the country, immigration courts are part of the executive, not judicial, branch. And the judges who staff those courts are not judges in the common sense, but are employees of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a wing of the Justice Department. Thus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has significant authority to reshape how the courts operate.

The changes the Trump administration is engineering, however, have experts and former immigration judges concerned that the immigration court system could be even more burdened.

“All those weaknesses, those weak points, are being highlighted by the measures this administration is taking,” says Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in Los Angeles and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

“The immigration court system is designed to protect the … founding principles of our American democracy,” she adds. “If you don’t care, then that’s the first brick that’s being taken out of the foundation.”

One example of how that system is being strained further is the estimated 3,000 children still separated from the their families by the “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Trump administration officials told a judge Friday they couldn’t comply with a June court order to reunite children under 5 with their families by Tuesday. (Children over 5 are to be reunited by July 26.) At least 19 parents of those children already have been deported without them, according to reports.

“[A] guy that shows up here every day and does this every day has to find hope somewhere.... I’m hoping that maybe the moral outrage associated with what’s happened will be the thing that finally — the catalyst that finally makes us look hard at this immigration system that we all agree needs to be fixed,” Judge Robert Brack of the US District Court of New Mexico told “PBS Newshour.”

720,000-case backlog

On the day he retired, June 30, 2016, Paul Schmidt was scheduling cases through the end of 2022. In a system with a roughly 720,000-case backlog, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse, it wasn’t an unusual situation. The backlog has been steadily growing for decades, something Mr. Schmidt blames on recent administrations using the courts to respond to urgent political crises.

For example: When thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America traveled to the border in 2014, the Obama administration told immigration judges to prioritize those cases.

“Each administration comes in and moves their priority to the top of line and everything else goes to the back,” he says. “You have aimless docket reshuffling, and the whole system after a while loses credibility.”

The Trump administration is now doing the same thing, telling immigration courts to prioritize the cases of detained families. But what concerns Schmidt and other former immigration judges even more are changes Mr. Sessions is making to how immigration judges can hear and resolve the cases before them.

“Our immigration system and our immigration judges are under great stress,” Sessions said in a speech to immigration judges last month.

A main cause, he added, is the asylum process being “abused” by people making fraudulent claims that transform “a straightforward arrest for illegal entry and immediate return into a prolonged legal process.”

“Volume is critical. It just is,” he continued. More than 100 new immigration judges will be hired this year, he said, and called on the judges to complete “at least 700 cases a year.”

In recent months Sessions has made other changes aimed at reducing the case backlog but have raised concerns over their potential impact on due process. These changes include:

  • In a case Sessions referred to himself in January, Matter of Castro-Tum, he ruled that immigration judges can no longer exercise “administrative closure,” a mechanism used principally for docket management that allows them to suspend removal proceedings in appropriate cases
  • In another case Sessions referred to himself, Matter of A-B- last month, he ruled that immigration judges can no longer consider domestic abuse and gang violence as factors in asylum requests.
  • In Matter of E-F-H-L- – a case administratively closed in 2014 that Sessions revived and referred to himself in March – he ruled that judges are not required to hold hearings in all asylum cases
  • Starting Oct. 1, immigration judges will be required to clear 700 cases each year, and to issue decisions within a few days (potentially increasing the number of oral decisions, which take less time than written decisions). If judges clear fewer than 560 they will be given an “unsatisfactory” rating.
  • Sessions referred another case to himself in March that experts think could result in a ruling that may restrict the ability of immigration judges to use “continuances,” essentially kicking a case down the road, a mechanism judges often use so the case can be better prepared or resolved.

These changes are happening in the context of an immigration court system that has been overburdened and understaffed for years.

“Adding even more burden to the court without sufficiently staffing it up is going to mean that cases are going to take longer and longer, judges are going to be under more pressure,” says Barbara Hines, the former co-director of University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic.

And when immigration judges are under pressure to resolve cases, she adds, “that doesn’t lead to careful deliberative decisions.”

Complex area of law

Immigration judges are expected to be physically on the bench hearing cases for 36 out of the standard 40-hour work week, says Carol King, a former immigration judge. But given how complex, and sometimes traumatic, the cases are, the time judges spend off the bench is just as important.

Immigration law “has been compared to tax law as one of the most complex areas of the law, and it only gets more so as time goes on,” says Judge King. “Cases have got so complex that it’s not really feasible to issue an oral decision in many cases.”

One example is what kind of groups have qualified for asylum protections under United States law. The law covered people who showed they would be persecuted on one of five specific grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and social group. Over the past 15 years “social group” came to include populations such as homosexuals and women subject to domestic abuse. Sessions reversed those years of legal evolution with his ruling in A-B-.

Increasing the speed with which immigration judges have to clear cases could exacerbate psychological issues many judges are already dealing with.

“You’re listening all day long every day to stories of torture and persecution and other kinds of trauma,” King says. “There are some judges that get numbness and get compassion fatigue and tend to disbelieve what they hear.”

One 2009 study found that immigration judges, especially female judges, are more burned out than doctors and prison wardens. It is something King did everything she could to avoid. But it came at a personal cost.

“I kept myself hyper-aware of the dangers of that, so I don’t think I numbed out in court, but I numbed out in my personal life,” she adds. “My family life and my psychological health suffered.”

Rushing judges means they could also not give enough judicial scrutiny to the cases in front of them.

“The biggest fear is you’re going to deport a US citizen, and that person ends up being harmed when they return to their country of birth,” says Eliza Klein, also a former immigration judge.

In one of her Klein’s cases before retiring in 2015, a young man who had served several years in prison for a drug crime came to court one morning. He said he didn’t want an attorney, he just wanted to sign his deportation papers and go back to Mexico. Both his parents were US citizens, but neither he nor the government knew when they had become citizens – if the man was under 18 at that time, he would be a citizen as well.

After lunch, the government lawyers came back and told her he was a citizen. She went to the detention center that afternoon and told him she was going to drop the case.

“He started sobbing,” she says.

“If I was in a rush,” she adds, it would have been easy to just sign the order without double-checking.

Streamlining the dockets

There are immigration judges who support the changes Sessions and the Trump administration are engineering. There are judges “who are happy about it, who feel they’re being given tools that they should have been given earlier,” Judge Klein says.

In a post for the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports reducing unauthorized immigration, retired immigration judge Andrew Arthur wrote that given the fact that an asylum case “can take anywhere between two hours and several days, [E-F-H-L-] will allow those judges to streamline their dockets and complete more cases in a timely manner.”

But while some judges appreciate that the executive branch is trying to ease the challenges the immigration court system faces, other judges believe the long-term solution is to take immigration courts outside the executive branch.

“It’s inherent in the system that was created that there’s going to be a lack of [judicial] autonomy, but I think it’s gotten worse,” says Susan Roy, a former immigration judge and a former prosecutor for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which represents the government in immigration court.

“The absolute instructions to the judges are very partisan and very pointed,” she adds. “This is more than just, we want you to grant more cases or we want you to deny more cases. These are specific types of cases we want you to rule a certain way or your jobs are in jeopardy.”

Judge Roy says she’s had first-hand experience of the political pressures that can be exerted on immigration judges. She was fired from her judgeship during the Obama administration for denying too many asylum cases.

It happened at a time when more Chinese migrants were applying for asylum than any other country, due in part to claims women were being forced to get abortions due to the country’s one-child policy. A series of recent precedent decisions from federal circuit courts held that many of those applicants became ineligible for asylum, and she also worked on the detained immigrants docket, many of whom had records of violent crime that made them ineligible for asylum.

“I was following the law, and I wasn’t going to violate the law,” she says.

While immigration judges do enjoy “markedly less” judicial independence than any other kind of judge, “that doesn’t translate into blind obedience to the” attorney general, writes Jennifer Koh, director of the Immigration Clinic at Western State College of Law in Irvine, Calif., in an email.

“Immigration judges are also bound to uphold the Constitution and to follow the laws set forth by the federal appeals courts in which they preside,” she adds. When “agency policy conflicts with those sources of law, then immigration judges need to still follow those laws.”

There have been calls in the past from immigration judges and lawyers to move the immigration court system to the judicial branch. Professor Hines says that, while she would support such a change, “it hasn’t been a movement right now.”

Schmidt is hoping that movement gains momentum soon. He was having dinner recently with some immigration judges, and they were discussing what they would do if a Justice Department policy conflicted with their constitutional oath.

“Do I do what I think is right and get fired? Do I go along to get along?” he asks. “When you have folks chatting that way you know you have a system in deep, deep trouble.”

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. What US-Europe ties owe to the audacity of July 1948

Seventy years ago this month, the United States made a remarkable decision: It helped build a strong Europe not as an act of charity, but of defense. Today, a strong Europe appears very much in the balance. 

Mark

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In July 1948, the Marshall Plan got under way as an audacious bid to reconstruct a shattered Europe. The aim was to keep the USSR from encroaching beyond Eastern Europe, in part by rebuilding Western Europe into a bulwark of democratic, market-economy allies. In July 2018, as President Trump embarks on talks with NATO leaders, Britain, and Russia, the picture looks very different. He arrives in Europe unapologetically at odds with America’s allies, and ready to shake up NATO. It’s too early to say if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Truman’s postwar diplomatic and security architecture. But Mr. Trump’s view that, on security and trade, the United States would be better off dealing with European countries one-on-one represents a dramatic departure. Winston Churchill described America’s postwar engagement in Europe as “the most unsordid act in history.” Yet its architects said it was in America’s interests as well – opening an increasingly lucrative export market for US businesses and creating a NATO alliance to share security burdens. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in London recently, pointed to the risk of America “withdrawing completely” and undermining the system of transatlantic alliances. She noted: “Putin’s goal is to separate us from our allies.”

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What US-Europe ties owe to the audacity of July 1948

The differences are stark, and so are the potential implications: two weeks in July, separated by exactly 70 years and by diametrically opposite visions of America’s place in the world.

In July 1948, the first of hundreds of shiploads of American goods were docking in Europe under the Marshall Plan. The most audacious such program in history, it would, over four years, send the present-day equivalent of more than $130 billion in US aid to the shattered post-World War ll economies of Western Europe. It rescued not just the victims and eventual victors, like Britain and France. It was critical to the emergence of West Germany as an economically strong, democratic state, and also helped to lay the groundwork for what eventually became the European Union.

Most of all, along with the NATO defense pact a year later, it represented a bold assertion of American leadership of an alliance of European democracies – a defining tenet of US foreign policy, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, ever since.

July 2018 looks very different. Over the next week, President Donald Trump will hold three rounds of summit talks: with NATO leaders, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He arrives in Europe unapologetically at odds with America’s post-war allies, having denigrated NATO, opened a potential trade war with the EU, and portrayed the transatlantic partnership as a colossal rip-off of US commercial and financial interests.

It’s too early to say whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the postwar diplomatic and security architecture constructed under President Harry Truman. Some of President Trump’s toughest talk toward America’s NATO partners has been aimed at pressuring them to increase their own defense spending, also a goal of previous administrations. But his view that, on both security and trade, the US would be a lot better off dealing with individual European countries on a one-on-one basis represents a dramatic departure.

That’s why US allies in Europe are watching this week’s summitry with such interest. They’re especially uneasy about the Putin meeting, all the more so if it comes on the heels of a fractious NATO summit and a UK visit in which Trump in effect cheerleads for a “hard Brexit” as Prime Minister May seeks support for a softer approach.

Specifically, they’re worried about the prospect of a unilateral move by Trump for a rapprochement with Russia – at the cost of weakening Western sanctions over its aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea; minimizing the threat of pressure on the former Soviet Baltic republics of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania; and glossing over Russian cyberattacks and fake-news meddling in European elections.

The reason for looking back at that other week in July – in 1948 – is that it brings home what a historic shift such a go-it-alone tack would represent. It also highlights how historic the post-war US policy on Europe was when it was first put in place.

It was largely the creation of a small core of extraordinarily dedicated and self-confident diplomats: Dean Acheson and Averell Harriman; Moscow experts George Kennan and Charles Bohlen; and wartime colleagues at the War Department, John McCloy and Robert Lovett.

I’ve just been rereading a wonderful, epic tome on how these six colleagues remade US diplomacy – "The Wise Men," by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas. I was reminded not only of the complex, postwar world in which they operated, and how profoundly they changed US engagement with the world, but above all how improbable their achievement was.

Trump’s retreat from international engagement is a familiar theme in US history. It could easily have won the day after World War ll – as it did after World War l, when Woodrow Wilson failed to secure domestic support for the forerunner of the UN, the League of Nations.

Truman’s predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, faced huge opposition to the idea of American troops coming the aid of Britain at the outset of World War ll, even when Hitler had invaded and occupied much of the rest of Europe. It was an argument he won only when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Once the war was over, most Americans were in a mood – in Harriman’s phrase – simply to turn inward, “go to the movies and drink Coke.”

Informing the very different road taken under Truman was one key aim and one key assumption. The aim – articulated in the “containment” policy formulated by Kennan – was to keep Josef Stalin’s USSR from encroaching beyond the East European countries nearest its borders and into Western Europe. The assumption was that rebuilding the economies of the rest of Europe was critical not just to averting political crisis there, but to building a bulwark of democratic, market-economy allies to forestall further Soviet expansion.

Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, described America’s postwar engagement in Europe as “the most unsordid act in history.” Yet it was central to the thinking of its architects that it was in America’s interests as well. In addition to putting Europe back on its feet, the Marshall Plan opened a huge and increasingly lucrative export market for US businesses. US national security also benefited, with an integrated NATO alliance reducing the need for the American military to assume prime, direct responsibility for defense against possible further Soviet expansion westward.

The irony is that the real time for questioning the transatlantic partnership came some 30 years ago, with the collapse of the Soviets’ East European empire and then of the USSR itself. The optimistic view at the time, with Boris Yeltsin at the helm, was that a move to a wider political, economic, and security partnership integrating a post-Soviet Russia might well be possible.

But Putin’s Russia is a different prospect. NATO, which in the 1990s found itself searching for a post-cold war role, now increasingly faces European security challenges not all that different from Soviet times.

Fascinatingly, Kennan was uncomfortable with the degree to which, during the hard slog of getting congressional approval for the Marshall Plan, the Truman administration stressed the threat of Soviet Communist expansionism. He believed the more complex challenge was Russia’s pre-Soviet insecurities about its borders – a view that resonated with me during my own years as the Monitor's correspondent in Moscow in the 1980s. Containment, Kennan argued, was necessary because Russian leaders, whether czarist or Soviet, would try to push outward, but would hold the line if met with a credible check.

With Russian pressure on Ukraine and the Baltic states, and Putin’s evidently irreversible decision to annex Crimea, NATO’s European partners feel the alliance has a role in providing such a check – not just against military action but also newer potential threats such as cyber attacks.

Trump seems intent on shaking up NATO. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, at a recent event in London to promote her latest book, seemed to recognize the need to address that political impulse. “When you’re 70 years old, whether you’re an institution or a person, you need a little refurbishing,” she quipped.

Yet the key, she argued, was to recognize the risk of America “withdrawing completely” and undermining the system of transatlantic alliances, adding: “Putin’s goal is to separate us from our allies.”

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3. To understand an African trade hub’s stance, consider the noodle

With a new free-trade deal, Africa is beginning to explore the benefits of opening its national economies to work together. Nigeria, meanwhile, is exploring what happens when you choose to stay closed. 

Mark
Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
Packets of chicken instant noodles are displayed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, which has the 12th-largest instant-noodle market in the world. Some 1.76 billion servings of the starchy stuff are sold here each year.

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If you want to understand why trade is such a contentious topic for Africa’s largest economy, consider instant noodles. The noodle industry highlights the challenges of doing business in Nigeria, which entails doing everything yourself, from finding electricity to building roads. In March, many African presidents signed a historic free trade deal to eliminate the tariffs and red tape that have hindered business here. But Nigeria declined joining because of poor historical experience with free trade. “We became a dumping ground,” says Issa Aremu, a trade unionist. “So it’s guided by this background that we’re suspicious now when government comes to us with ... this new trade deal.” But by blocking foreign competition, Nigeria has little incentive to eliminate roadblocks that make business difficult here. Rather than seek protection, Nigerian manufacturers should push for government support that would make them more competitive, says Femi Boyede, a former economic adviser. “[N]ow the continent is moving ahead with free trade, and there’s only so long it will wait for Nigeria to catch up.”

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To understand an African trade hub’s stance, consider the noodle

If you want to understand why trade is such a contentious topic for Africa’s largest economy, just consider the noodles. 

The instant noodles, to be precise. 

Over the last three decades, those iconic bricks of dried wiggly dough – known locally as Indomie after a popular brand – have become a staple of the Nigerian diet. Today, in fact, the country has the 12th  largest instant noodle market in the world, with 1.76 billion servings of the starchy stuff sold here each year. And thanks to a government ban on noodle imports, almost all is locally produced – a rarity in a country that imports many of its staples

But the noodle industry also highlights the incredible challenges of doing business in Nigeria. Building a noodle factory here means more than setting up an assembly line and hiring a few workers. 

It also means finding your own sources of electricity to supplement erratic government-provided supplies. It means scoping out the cheapest providers of imported wheat for flour, since Nigeria doesn’t grow its own. And it often means building the roads to your factory, because asking the government to do it probably won’t get you anywhere anyway. 

“We have a lot of challenges,” says Olumi Ezekiel, a spokesperson for Royal Noodles in Abuja, where the air outside smells faintly of powdered chicken seasoning. “When you have all these costs, the margin of profit becomes that much lower.” 

In March, most of Africa’s presidents gathered in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, to sign a historic free trade deal designed to eliminate the tariffs and red tape that have made doing business across Africa a massively complicated undertaking. Less than a fifth of exports from African countries currently go to other African countries, while in Europe that figure is 70 percent.

But faced with the option of opening its markets to a regional trade deal with 49 other African countries, Nigeria has, at least for now, chosen to protect its local industries. It’s doing so based in part on its recent experience with open trade, and in part on the calculation that, as Africa’s largest economy, its domestic market is big enough to support its businesses.

The problem is that by walling off foreign competition, Nigeria has little incentive to eliminate the internal roadblocks that make it hard to do business here. 

“Our industries, in many cases, simply can’t compete internationally,” says Mma Amara Ekeruche, the founder of Your Nigerian Economist, an Economics blog. “In the short term, a deal like this won’t really benefit us.”  

Mr. Ezekiel agrees: “We need these protections [from government]. Otherwise how can local industry survive?”

Nigeria’s government says it didn’t sign the deal because it simply needs more time to consult with the country’s businesses and labor unions. And in the months since, it’s been doing exactly that, crisscrossing the country for conversations with workers and business associations. 

“We had to make sure we consulted all the stakeholders,” said Okechukwu Enelamah, Nigeria’s minister of industry, trade, and investment, at a recent panel discussion in Abuja. “If you don’t, they have every reason to question what you do.” (The Nigerian government did not respond to repeated requests for direct comment.)

But the country’s ambivalence to free trade also has deeper historical roots. 

In the late 1980s, after a global crash in the price of oil, Nigeria’s main export commodity, Nigeria was broke. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund were willing to give loans, under the condition that African countries tighten their belts and open their markets.

In the mid-1990s, Nigeria joined the World Trade Organization, further pushing it to open its markets to goods from the outside. At the same time, a rise in cheap manufactured goods from east and south Asia made it increasingly difficult for many African countries to compete.

“Pretty quickly, we were overwhelmed by cheap goods from overseas,” remembers Issa Aremu, a longtime trade unionist here. At the time, Mr. Aremu worked in textiles, a booming industry in Nigeria that employed half a million people. Within years, as textiles from China and other overseas markets poured into Nigeria, that number plummeted. Today, despite a revival of import prohibitions on textiles, you’d be hard pressed to find a single Nigerian-made fabric among the hundreds of samples dangling from stalls in Abuja’s main market. 

“We used to have them, but the factories have all gone overseas,” says Yakubu Muaze, a trader at Abuja’s Wuse market, apologetically, explaining that he last sold Nigerian textiles about 10 years ago. Around him, bolts of bright fabric bear “made in” tags that read Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, and China. 

“We became a dumping ground,” Aremu says. “So it’s guided by this background that we’re suspicious now when government comes to us with the proposition of this new trade deal.”  

Indeed, one of the biggest questions around the negotiations for the continental trade deal, which Nigeria’s government worked closely on, was how the deal would protect African manufacturers from dumping. Critics warned that the deal’s “rules of origin” provision had to be exacting so that international manufacturers couldn’t bring near-finished products into an African country, make superficial changes, and then say they were “made in” that country. 

Rather than clamor for protection, Nigerian manufacturers should push for government support that would make them more competitive, says Femi Boyede, a former adviser to several ministers of trade and industry. 

“There’s this lazy thinking among Nigerian industrialists that the size and population of Nigeria means they don’t need outside markets,” he says. “But now the continent is moving ahead with free trade, and there’s only so long it will wait for Nigeria to catch up.”

Corruption, meanwhile, continues to play an outsized role in trade, he notes. The country’s often-porous borders mean that even when the government does attempt to restrict goods from moving in and out, it often fails. The local textile industry, for instance, estimates that the country loses more than $300 million annually in tariffs from imported fabrics, since most of the goods enter the country illegally.

Back at Royal Noodles, Ezekiel ponders what impact the trade deal might have on his own business. It could open up new markets, he says, but then again, it wouldn’t eliminate any of the challenges that already make noodle production here so taxing. 

“To build this factory, we had to bring the road here. We had to bring the electrical grid here. And we had to bring generators for when that grid fails,” he says. “It’s hard to compete. But you have to start somewhere.”  

Soji Bamidele contributed reporting to this story.

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4. A new leaf: How literature binds stratified Cleveland

By welcoming and engaging its citizens from all corners through literature, the city is spawning discussions that could help it tackle tough social issues from homelessness to substance abuse.

Mark

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Cleveland has undergone a renaissance over the past quarter century. Its downtown is a Millennial magnet. Its economy has boomed as the city has become a hub for health-care and life-science firms. But another of Cleveland’s triumphs – its participatory brand of arts and culture – is rooted in support from philanthropies that grew out of old industrial wealth. And while many cities have nurtured literacy initiatives to build community, Cleveland’s push stands out for its ambition and scope. It uses literature to empower marginalized groups and bridge social divides. From veterans groups and workplace book discussions, to student literacy and an annual book prize, Cleveland is increasingly finding new ways to connect its diverse population over fiction and verse. For some residents that’s been transformative. Ronnea Worley, a ninth-grader, was shy when she started at Sisterhood, an after-school program that uses literary forms with social justice themes. “It was weird having people I know watching me and listening,” she says, “and I didn’t want to mess up. But once I got up there and nobody was judging me, I was able to speak louder and deliver a message.”

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A new leaf: How literature binds stratified Cleveland

At a long conference table on the east side of Cleveland, Daniel Gray-Kontar listens closely as one of his students, a high school senior, starts to read her latest poem.

large brown eyes

whisper transgressions

blue skies speak during dark times

As the student performs, Mr. Gray-Kontar – poet, teacher, academic, activist – glances down at the text on his laptop. He smiles and nods his head. “Nice!” he says. “Mmm.”

Sydney Copeland, the student, listens to his feedback. Together they go over the rhythm and flow of her performance, and Gray-Kontar, who as usual wears a black pork pie hat and sports coat, taps on the table to indicate the pace he’s seeking. For Sydney, it’s a lesson in how to make her words connect with an audience. In time, she may become one of his stars, like the three adult students representing Cleveland at this year’s National Poetry Slam in Chicago. Gray-Kontar helped bring home the title in 1994, when his poetry career was taking flight and Cleveland was just beginning to rewrite its own gritty narrative of Rust Belt decline.

Now he’s passing the torch to the city’s minority youth at Twelve Literary Arts (TLA). The nonprofit is an incubator for young poets, playwrights, and rappers of color to learn and refine their writing skills in workshops and perform it publicly. Gray-Kontar launched the organization in 2016 as a response to the fractures he saw along racial, gender, and generational lines.

“We are, or have been, one of the poorest big cities in the United States. We are one of the most segregated cities in the United States,” says the activist poet. “What better place, what better opportunity, to dream a new world?”

Many cities have nurtured book clubs and literacy initiatives to build and bind communities. Cleveland stands out for its ambition and scope in using literature to empower marginalized groups, foster economic dynamism, and bridge social divides. From veterans groups and workplace book discussions, to female-student literacy and an annual book prize, Cleveland is increasingly finding new ways to connect its diverse population over fiction and verse.

“With all the different programs and activities, the city offers real opportunities for writers,” says Elizabeth Taylor, literary editor at large at the Chicago Tribune.

Extending those opportunities to everyone, and making sure their voices are heard, are part of the challenge that literary activists here are embracing. Could it be a model for other divided cities?

Ann Hermes/Staff
Daniel Gray-Kontar, a poet, teacher, and activist, stands next to a mural outside Twelve Literary Arts, of which he is the executive artistic director.

***

Cleveland, once an emblem of urban decline, has undergone a renaissance over the past quarter century. Its downtown area, filled with microbreweries and trendy restaurants, is a magnet for Millennials. Its economy has boomed as the city has become a national hub for health-care and life-science firms.

Yet it is the industrial wealth generated in the previous century that underpins much of the city’s arts and culture philanthropy. Most prominent is the Cleveland Foundation, founded in 1914, which today has assets of $2.5 billion and supports hundreds of nonprofits in the greater Cleveland area, including TLA.

Another legacy is the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, established in 1935 by poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf, in honor of her father, John Anisfield, and husband, Eugene Wolf. It remains the only major US prize for literary works that tackles racism and diversity. Each of the four prizes pays $10,000, the same as the National Book Awards.

“There are so many book awards, but Anisfield-Wolf is really special because it recognizes more than just a great book and takes on the race question and how we address it,” says Ms. Taylor, co-editor of the National Book Review, a journal.

Past winners include Martin Luther King Jr. in 1959, and three Northeast Ohio natives: Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison. The jury committee is chaired by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who directs the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. 

In recent years, the Cleveland Foundation has leveraged the reputation of the Anisfield-Wolf award and its message of social justice. Karen Long, a former book editor at The Plain Dealer, manages the awards program for the Cleveland Foundation and also helped launch Cleveland Book Week in 2016. Throughout the year, Ms. Long makes the award books available to schools, book clubs, and libraries, as well as programs such as TLA. The foundation has funded several Anisfield-Wolf faculty positions at local universities and a student fellowship for a minority writer.

“We’ve been trying to scale up from what started as a very quiet, anonymous check-writing process into what are the ways Cleveland can be the beneficiaries of this great canon of literature and ensuring that it works year-round influencing hearts and minds,” Long says.

Contributing to the city’s literary culture, experts say, is a nationally recognized library network. The 27-branch Cuyahoga County Public Library system leads the nation in per capita circulation and visits among libraries of its size. It consistently earns a five-star rating from the Library Journal Index.

In recent years, as the downtown area has attracted a new generation of young professionals, the writing culture has become part of the city’s carefully cultivated “Cleveland cool” image. One downtown restaurant/brewery holds a monthly reading series called “Brews & Prose,” and the city now has a vibrant screenwriting community.

Other initiatives target young people, such as Lake Erie Ink, which teaches a variety of writing genres to children in after-school and summer programs, while TLA is aimed at giving voice to a greater diversity of aspiring writers. 

TLA’s offices are located in Cleveland’s Waterloo Arts District, a bohemian downtown neighborhood with art galleries, boutique shops, and cafes. Its clubhouse features colorful murals and inspirational posters related to writing and social justice, as well as bookshelves stacked with classics and new writing. Jazz seeps from the sound system.

Shortly before Gray-Kontar arrives from teaching a special program at a high school across town, students light candles and ask each other to name someone famous they would like to converse with, a ritual to shift everyone into a creative mind-set. Then Gray-Kontar enters, lighting up the room with a joyous greeting that gets all the students clapping and cheering.

The poet is mindful that Cleveland’s current writing culture is rooted in its past. “It’s important for our writers to know they stand on tradition,” says Gray-Kontar. “They stand on a very rich literary and artistic tradition in Northeast Ohio.”

***

Seated at a long table in West Side Community House, a social service agency here, 10 girls in Grades 5 through 12 break down two short poems their instructor, Ali McClain, has given them. Then Ms. McClain asks if they saw any alliteration and what the key images are. When they’re not sure what the style of the poem is, she explains free verse.

The Sisterhood is an after-school program for Greater Cleveland that uses poetry as well as other fiction, nonfiction, and memoir books with social justice themes. “We’re trying to expand their vocabulary, [get them to] think critically about what they’re reading, connect it to larger ideas, and understand what the writer is trying to do,” says McClain. 

Later in the class, the girls work their way through three poems they have written and read aloud to each other in preparation for an upcoming open-mike event for students.  

“Reading them out loud gives them a sense of confidence and pride,” says McClain. “I like to hear them read their work and be able to hear their own voice.” 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Ali McClain, a teacher with Sisterhood, an after-school writing program.

Ronnea Worley, a ninth-grader, was shy when she started at Sisterhood. “It was weird having people I know watching me and listening, and I didn’t want to mess up. But once I got up there and nobody was judging me, I was able to speak louder and deliver a message,” she says. 

“I write about the bad things going on in my neighborhood. It helps me release some of that negativity and talk about how I feel about what’s going on there.” 

McClain describes Ronnea as “smart and driven,” and her classmates appreciate her ability to “crack a good joke.” She prefers to write in free verse and loves reading contemporary poetry.

“I am thankful that Sisterhood has helped me come out of my shell, and I’ve made a lot of friends,” says the young poet.

Bulletin boards laden with colorful photos, inspirational sayings, class assignment details, and birthday wishes for one of the girls decorate the walls. “No matter what this life’s adversity may bring” is boldly splashed on one radiator cover, “Sisterhood” on the one next to it.

Originally the brainchild of social-work graduate students from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, Sisterhood started in 2009. McClain was hired in 2010. The curriculum tackles social skills, social justice, health, and other subjects, and she stresses advanced literacy and finding stories that students can relate to. They also produce a weekly blog, “So Nobody Else.” The title comes from a Sisterhood student’s maxim: “We write so no one else will tell our stories.” 

One of the poetry exercises they’re working on is called “Alternate Names for Black Girls,” a riff on a poem by male poet and YouTube star Danez Smith. McClain had the students write their ideas for girls; one suggested “more than just target practice.”

“To see what they think an alternate name, positive or negative, for a black girl is can be very chilling,” says McClain. “That’s why it’s so important that underrepresented girls can represent for themselves and tell their stories.” 

***

Among the more unusual literary ventures in Cleveland is Books@Work, which runs reading clubs in workplaces run by literature professors. All employees are invited to join, from managers to entry-level workers, even chief executives, with an emphasis on bringing personal experiences to bear on book discussions. 

Its founder, Ann Kowal Smith, developed the idea in 2009 for a project aimed at improving adult learning in Northeast Ohio. “Once an adult has left the [education] system, there’s almost nothing to get them back in,” she says. 

Books@Work has spread to businesses throughout Northeast Ohio, and to 22 states and seven foreign countries. Roughly 6,000 people have participated in the reading clubs. 

In addition to corporate clients, Ms. Smith also works with nonprofits and has developed a program for veterans at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, a rehabilitation facility for veterans who may stay for several months in an adjacent residential wing. On a recent morning, eight veterans gather in the residence’s TV room, which has couches and plush chairs. Most wear some kind of military apparel: camouflage pants, a US Marine sweatshirt, an Army baseball cap.

Today, these veterans have one thing in common: They have read “The Smiling People,” by sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. After briefly introducing themselves, their branch of service, and whether they had deployed in combat, the veterans take turns reading out loud. The story is about a man who berates his family members during a special meal he has prepared for them. The macabre twist is that he has recently murdered all of them. 

After the reading, the veterans talk about who the man was and what motivated him. A Marine veteran seated in a chair in the corner says, “He was fed up with them running his life and telling him what to do.”

“His family never did listen to him,” says a man in camouflage pants and a dark blue hoodie. “But now they have to – in his mind.”

One Vietnam-era veteran listens intently but remains silent throughout the session.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Military veterans Gloria Tolley and Gerald Bowman listen as members of Books@Work, a nonprofit that runs reading clubs in workplaces, read aloud during a session at a veterans medical center in Cleveland.

They all agree that the protagonist in the story suffered from some mental illness. Bradbury, they feel, is a wonderful author because of his ability to convey what was going on in the man’s deranged mind and create all of the conversations for the dead characters.

Walter Byers, a social worker for the US Department of Veterans Affairs, says the goal of the program is for participants to relax and to get to know other residents. Many seem energized by the discussions and unwilling to let them end after the allotted hour, so conversations spill out into the hallway. Mr. Byers says he’s thinking of extending the sessions by another half-hour. 

Today’s facilitator, Thom Dawkins, a lecturer in the English department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says the book club offers a break from structured therapy regimens.

“So not only is it low stakes, but what happens in these rooms is extremely welcoming and engaging,” he says. “By the end of the sessions, folks are opening up about big things like homelessness or substance abuse.” 

***

On a Thursday night, Gray-Kontar stands in the bar of the Medusa Restaurant & Lounge. The club hosted The People Grand Slam, the final competition to select the poets who will advance to the nationals. His adult students have won three of the four slots to represent Cleveland in the National Poetry Slam in Chicago in August.

It’s after 11 p.m. as he makes his way out to the street, high-fiving and hugging all of his poets, as well as many of the other poets and the host. It’s fairly quiet on the street, except for the groups of attendees who are standing on the sidewalk, enjoying the balmy spring evening and sharing their thoughts on the slam.

He later reflects that this could be one of the strongest teams Cleveland has sent to the finals in a long time. “I anticipate a strong showing from them and that they will continue to elevate Cleveland’s reputation as a world-class literary arts destination,” he says. 

Disturbed by the social fractures he saw in the community, Gray-Kontar chose to bring about change by cultivating youth of color. “Twelve Literary Arts serves black and brown poets who have been pushed to the margins of society,” he says. “The program is designed specifically to support writers of color – and allies of writers of color – who can become writers and teachers of writing.”

After Gray-Kontar leaves, Siaara Freeman exits the club’s front door. She’s wired from the long night of competition in front of a high-energy crowd who cheered the lines they liked and booed a few they didn’t. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Siaara Freeman, a young poet in Cleveland, performs at a local poetry slam event. Competitors are being selected to represent the city in a national poetry contest.

Her work is serious: Many poems are about the trauma of her father being murdered when she was 16. But she also showed another side on stage, opening with a poem called “Yo Mama” that had the audience roaring with laughter about shared experiences among mothers, and closed with another crowd pleaser, “Hexes for Your Exes.”

“So, my strategy was, I’m turning 28 tomorrow,” Ms. Freeman says. “I’m grown up. Don’t do this to win. If I do that, I may as well be 21 again. Do this to enjoy myself, however this works out. It will work out.”

Before tonight, Freeman hadn’t “slammed” since she was 23, but she has built a successful career as a poet. She considered moving elsewhere, but Gray-Kontar’s TLA program inspires her. He sweetened the reasons for her to stay by hiring her as one of his teachers, and now she loves the renaissance in her hometown.

"The coolest thing about Cleveland [is] ... all of the poetry and art happening here," she says.

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5. Romantic, or racist? Why perceptions shift on 'Little House on the Prairie'

When a beloved children’s classic contains racism, it raises questions about how best to respect child readers and provide them with the tools to explore themselves and the world around them.  

Mark

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When Waziyatawin’s 8-year-old daughter came home from school deeply disturbed after hearing her teacher repeat the phrase, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” during that day’s “Little House on the Prairie,” read-along, Dr. Waziyatawin petitioned the district to stop teaching the book. While her request was rejected, the Association for Library Service to Children last month unanimously decided to remove author Laura Ingalls Wilder from the name of a children’s literature award – a decision that was met with disappointment by those who argue for the literary value of the series, and relief from many who have spent years pointing out the books' racism. At the heart of the debate lie questions about how adults respect children: Should parents and teachers protect children from potentially harmful reading material, or is it possible for children to read books like the “Little House” series critically? Laura McLemore, a fifth-grade teacher in Maize, Kan., says the books are a childhood classic that convey worthy lessons. Waziyatawin says other great children’s books exist. “From my perspective it's really an issue about power and about good decisions about curriculum for our children,” she says.

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Romantic, or racist? Why perceptions shift on 'Little House on the Prairie'

In Minnesota, Waziyatawin’s daughter came home from school one afternoon shaken and deeply disturbed by that day’s read-along.  

The book? “Little House on the Prairie.” Her mom says the then-8-year-old was upset by hearing her teacher deliver the novel’s phrase, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” When Dr. Waziyatawin, a Dakota historian with a doctorate in American history from Cornell University, petitioned the Yellow Medicine East District in 1998 to stop teaching the book in third grade, her request was rejected. 

In Kansas, Laura McLemore, who was named after the Little House series’ author Laura Ingalls Wilder, dedicates herself to preserving the legacy of the author, dressing up as the fictionalized Laura character to make the pioneer-era books come alive for school kids. 

In Boston, when James Noonan, a research affiliate at Harvard Graduate School of Education, read the book to his 3-year-old daughter last year, he says he struggled to find a “middle path,” pointing out racism and talking about the perspectives of the Native characters not included in the series. “I'm not trying to censor it. I'm trying to ask important questions about it and not let Ma's perspective speak for itself,” says Dr. Noonan. 

These divergent responses reflect a still-unsettled struggle over how society should deal with books – especially ones long revered as classics – that contain racism. The “Little House on the Prairie” ​series, ​which follows the fictionalized Ingalls family as they settle in Kansas, ​has for decades been a third-grade reading staple, translated into more than 40 languages a​s well as adapted ​for TV.

Known more for their cozy depictions of pioneer life, Ms. Wilder’s novels also include instances of racism and comparisons of Native people with animals. Many Native Americans have long felt uncomfortable with the books – with National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich writing her own series, “The Birchbark House,” in response. 

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) last month unanimously decided to remove Wilder from the name of a children’s literature award, changing the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to The Children’s Literature Legacy Award. While the “Little House,” books are “deeply meaningful” to some readers, they are associated with “very real pain,” for others, the ALSC said in a statement. 

The decision was met with disappointment by those who argue for the literary value of the series, and relief from many who have spent years pointing out the books’ racism. 

At the heart of the debate lie questions about how adults can best respect children: Should parents and teachers protect children, especially children of color, from potentially harmful reading materials; or is it possible for children, with guidance, to read books like the “Little House” series critically? The emotional resonance also deepens because, to many, beloved children’s books aren’t only things you read – they also become touchstones of childhood.

Laura as ‘feisty feminist’

In teaching colonial history, adults should be honest with children, who have “an inherent sense of right and wrong,” says Waziyatawin. Books like “Little House,” “cloud” the encroachment of Native lands with a sense of righteousness that makes it difficult for children to see the injustice in those actions, she says in a phone interview. For example, rosy depictions of the Ingalls family homesteading on the land obscure the fact that they were actually squatting illegally on the Osage nation’s land. “The overall message is that [the Ingalls] are good and righteous people, and if they hate Indians, if they think Indians are expendable, or if they think Indians should be removed, then that must be a good thing.”

Dr. McLemore, the fifth-grade teacher in Maize, Kan., who dresses up as Wilder, reads the books to her students. She says the books provide an opportunity to teach lessons about American history, examine maps and other artifacts, and convey messages about self-reliance, perseverance, and resilience. She previously served as the president of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, which opposed the name change.

“When I look at the real Laura she was just a feisty, strong-willed feminist. She was basically a feminist in a time it wasn't popular to be a feminist…[saying,] ‘I'm going to make a mark for myself in the world,’” McLemore says.

“These books are worthwhile,” she adds. “They are a piece of the classical genre of children's literature. They deserve to be kept in libraries and they deserve to be kept as part of our culture. I don't believe that this award is going to change the fact that people all around the world still read and love these books.” 

ALSC is clear on the question of reading Wilder’s books: “We are not demanding that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children,” it says in a statement. “We hope adults think critically about Wilder’s books and the discussions that can take place around them.”

The decision is part of ALSC “establishing itself as an organization that truly cares about all children,” says Edith Campbell, an associate librarian at Indiana State University who works to improve representation of people of color and Native people in literature.

“[Children's] books are just a very small part of it. It's a critical part because children's books are what we use to socialize children to get them to understand what it means to be a United States citizen,” Ms. Campbell says. “And if we're telling them through these books that whiteness is what's right, what's correct, and what's acceptable and that who you are and what you bring to the table is not acceptable, we're talking about trauma and we're talking about stress.” 

Reading, and teaching, critically 

What it means to read critically is an ongoing debate. 

Native American parents have written to Debbie Reese for years about their children’s experiences of embarrassment, shame, and outrage while reading the “Little House” books as third graders. 

“Using literature to try to teach [US history of racism] is problematic,” says Dr. Reese, who runs the blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. Arguing for the teaching value of the Little House books “assumes that all the students are white and only white kids need to learn racist history through literature. And along the way everybody else who this book is about just needs to grin and bear it. They're being used for the benefit of someone else.”  

In the original 1935 version of “Little House on the Prairie,” a description reads, “There were no people. Only Indians lived there.” A concerned reader in 1952 pointed out the line to the publisher, who changed “people” to “settlers.” Other classic works of literature have been changed to excise racist content, including Hugh Lofting’s “Doctor Dolittle,” Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and the “Babar the Elephant” series.  

The barriers to respectfully teaching and reading about colonial history and Native Americans are high, say experts.

Reese, a member of Nambe Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, suggests classrooms “start with Native people in the present day…[as] most people don’t even know we’re still here.” She also catalogs best books by Native American authors on her blog. 

“The Birchbark House” series by Louise Erdrich follows a young female Ojibwe protagonist around the same time period as the Little House series. Some suggest it as a companion read to “Little House.”

As for Waziyatawin, the debate around the books is a lesson for parents and educators. 

“From my perspective it's really an issue about power and about good decisions about curriculum for our children,” she says.

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The Monitor's View

Thai cave rescue: a metaphor on climate adaptation

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The 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped by floodwaters in a Thai cave adapted to the dark isolation. They showed patience for the rescue effort. They bonded. Presumably they also learned not to ignore warnings about weather risks. Just as exemplary has been the hope expressed for their rescue. The media attention has shown how innovative solutions – some local, some global – are necessary to help people recover from a weather calamity. Perhaps this event can also provide lessons in how resiliency and bonding are necessary to prepare for the predicted effects of climate change, such as rising seas, severe storms, and extreme temperatures. Material solutions are not enough. The first task in climate adaptation is to overcome fatalism by creating community ties to build endurance and find solutions. Just as the world united in hopes of rescuing the Thai boys from a sudden flood, it might also better unite in protecting countries from other weather risks. 

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Thai cave rescue: a metaphor on climate adaptation

If ever there were a global example of resilience in the face of a weather disaster, it would be the image of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for days by flood waters in a Thai cave. They adapted to the dark isolation, showed patience for the rescue effort, and perhaps most of all, bonded even closer to endure a climate event.

They also learned, in hindsight, not to ignore warnings about weather risks, such as the sign outside the cave about seasonal flooding.

Just as exemplary has been the empathy shown for their plight as well as the hope expressed for their rescue. The intense media attention has put a spotlight on how innovative solutions – some local, some global – are necessary to help people recover from a weather calamity – and also prepare for one.

Perhaps this major news event can provide lessons in how resiliency and community bonding are necessary to deal with the predicted effects of climate change, such as rising seas, severe storms, and extreme temperature shifts. Material solutions such as sea walls, underground electric grids, and drought-resistant farming are not enough. The first task in climate adaptation is to overcome fatalism by creating community ties to build endurance and find solutions.

Under the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, most countries agreed to set goals for their efforts to adapt to climate impacts. In addition, wealthier nations pledged to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to finance the adaptation plans of developing nations.

The results of these pledges are mixed.

Many countries and local communities, especially those most vulnerable to climate change, have designed plans and begun to invest in adaptation. A good example is the tiny Caribbean nation of Dominica, which was hit hard by hurricane Maria last year. It has mobilized local people and foreign financiers in an attempt to become the world’s first “fully climate-resilient” nation. Entire towns are being relocated from coastlines, for example, in the hope of using the disaster to transform the island.

At the international level, however, the Green Climate Fund that opened in 2013 to help poor nations deal with climate change has suffered from a shortage of promised funds and an internal debate over which projects to support. Last week, its executive director abruptly stepped down, a reflection of its troubles.

Still, the “age of adaptation” may already be well under way. Just as the world united in hopes of rescuing the Thai boys from a sudden flood, it might also better unite in protecting countries from other weather risks.

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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.

Politics and geese

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When ongoing, heated disagreement hampered a group’s ability to move forward, today’s contributor experienced the unifying power of the idea that there is one God.

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Politics and geese

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It is a known fact that geese fly in a “V” formation because of the aerodynamic advantages it offers. The way the lead goose cuts through the air reduces the resistance for the birds behind him. Also, the position of the lead goose is a temporary one. As the leader tires, another goose rotates into the lead. These flight adaptations enable the whole flock to fly longer distances together than the individual geese could fly alone, but the benefits of the “V” formation would be of no use if the geese weren’t united in their purpose and intent.

In thinking about our global situation today, I’ve found this concept helpful. People worldwide yearn for some sort of stability in their lives, not the least of which is that their basic human needs can be met. Many of the huge political differences we see stem from varying opinions about how to achieve this goal for everyone. Sometimes it can feel like we’re all just a bunch of geese trying to get to a destination by flying solo and in random directions. There’s such a need for us to rally and find unity around something more basic and powerful than mere opinions and personal perspectives.

One time, a very diverse group I was associated with spent a year trying to reach consensus over an important decision about taking forward steps. The discussion was intense, often heated, always with strong differing opinions.

Wanting to see the situation resolved, I looked to the Bible for direction, because I’ve always found this a helpful thing to do. A powerful idea that shows up again and again is that there is one God. Moses made this very clear in the Hebrew Scriptures, and Christ Jesus stressed the importance of this true idea of God in the New Testament.

The Bible reveals this God as Love itself, our intelligent and good creator. People may call this God by different names, but as His spiritual creation we are all able to feel this divine presence that calls us, unites us, beyond rancor and division. Like the geese learning what works in terms of flying together, we can learn to feel the presence of divine Spirit, Love, and let it lead us.

Many people have glimpsed the power of this fundamental idea. For instance, the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, – whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes...” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 340).

In my prayers I yearned to recognize that there was a spiritual basis for unity, for a harmonious resolution to emerge. Thinking of the oneness of God, it follows that God’s creation, all coming from the one source, must be unified. And because God is all good, God’s creation must result from a single force for good. This foundation of God’s oneness and goodness expressed throughout His infinite creation means there is room for diversity without conflict.

This may not be readily apparent, because it’s rooted in the undergirding idea that true existence is not in what we see when we look around, but is spiritual. Accepting this understanding of the oneness of God and God’s creation has brought me to a place of peace where I can see that those with differing points of view are all, in reality, innately capable of acting in a way that is cooperative and calm.

The power of this oneness was shown at our very next meeting, with the vast majority – around 98 percent – voting in unison. This turned out to be a wonderful step forward for the entire organization.

In the metaphor of the geese, the flock is made up of individuals. But as they become one in direction and purpose, they attain their goal more easily and quickly. As we unite in the understanding that there is one God, the source of all good, we will give wings and velocity to the universal desire for peace and progress.

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Viewfinder

Gratitude and relief

Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Classmates at the Mae Sai Prasitsart school in northern Thailand react July 9 after hearing from a teacher that some of the 12 schoolboys who were trapped inside a flooded cave had been rescued.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 10th, 2018 )

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you’ll come back tomorrow when our legal writer, Henry Gass, looks at President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court.  

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