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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
August
02
Thursday

It seems ludicrous to think that President Trump is set to imminently declare martial law, so as to arrest and execute tens of thousands of people – ranging from Hillary Clinton to Tom Hanks – on charges involving a mix of murder, pedophilia, and Satanism.

But that is just one of the beliefs of the followers of internet pseudo-prophet Q, or “QAnon,” who leaped into the mainstream at Mr. Trump’s rally Tuesday in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Q, who claims to be a government insider, offers up alleged secrets to his followers on internet forums like 4chan and 8chan. Though Q’s information tends to be vague, “followers of Q” say it reveals an ongoing battle between good and evil, with Trump leading the former and a deep state/Hollywood liberal alliance embodying the latter. The conspiracy theory is complex and sprawling, and fed by followers’ own social media contributions to the mythos.

It could also be dangerous. As QAnon-watcher Mike Rothschild notes, Q promised July 2018 would be “the month the world discovered the truth” – a promise that appears unfulfilled. The resulting disillusionment could lead to “pizzagate”-like incidents, in which followers try to harm the conspiracy’s “villains” by themselves.

But perhaps the weight of truth is what’s needed to break Q’s followers from their conspiratorial dreams.

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Now to our five stories for today.

1. In China's shadow, US hunts new trade partners, and finds them wary

Is the United States a trustworthy partner or a retreating power? That question is on the minds of many in Asia as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touts the evolving US policy toward China and the region.

Arthur
Lai Seng Sin/Reuters
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang, Malaysia, Aug. 2, bringing a new vision of US partnership to what the Trump administration calls the Indo-Pacific region. Many in the region remain wary of US declarations of commitment.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia to sell leaders on President Trump’s vision for the region. If he is to succeed, he will have to overcome doubts about America's commitment sown by the last administration and reinforced during the 18 months of the Trump administration. Some in the region felt burned by Mr. Trump pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration. And many will want to know how they might be affected by the US trade war with China, experts say. At the same time, countries keen to fortify their economic and security standing are likely to lend an attentive ear to whatever Mr. Pompeo has to say. “America’s relationships throughout the Indo-Pacific today are characterized by mutual trust and respect,” Pompeo declared Monday. But one hurdle he’ll face, experts say, is a sense of “once burned, twice shy,” as countries that negotiated the TPP hear a new pitch from the administration that pulled the plug on US participation. “There’s a real wariness,” says trade economist Philip Levy. “This is a region that feels jilted by the US.”

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In China's shadow, US hunts new trade partners, and finds them wary

For East and South Asian countries worried about China’s growing regional dominance and looking for an alternative for economic partnership, consider your old friend the United States.

That’s the message Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has tucked in his portfolio as he travels to Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia this week to unveil the Trump administration’s vision for the US in what it calls the Indo-Pacific region.

It won’t be an easy sell. And not because countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines have any desire to see the US fade from the region. On the contrary.

But as Mr. Pompeo unsheathes his blueprint for US involvement there, the leaders and officials he meets with will be wondering if the US is a reliable partner or a retreating power.

Indeed, if President Trump’s second secretary of State is to succeed in deepening and reinvigorating US involvement in a region that encompasses more than half the globe’s population, he will have to overcome doubts about America's commitment sown by the last administration and reinforced during the 18 months of the Trump administration.

In addition to bilateral meetings in the three countries he’s visiting, Pompeo will be meeting in Singapore with his counterparts from the 10-nation ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional group.

Some in the region felt burned by Mr. Trump pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, the 12-nation trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

The TPP has since gone into effect without the US, even as the US touts Trump’s preference for bilateral trade deals over multilateral agreements – an approach that leaves smaller countries particularly wary.

Alternative to China

Moreover, many countries in the region are going to want to know first how they might be affected by the Trump administration’s escalating trade war with China, regional and trade experts say.

But at the same time, many countries in the vast Asia-Pacific region are so keen to fortify their economic, investment, and security arrangements vis-à-vis a rising and increasingly dominant China that they are likely to lend an attentive ear to whatever Pompeo has to lay on the table, these analysts say.

“The countries in the region other than China are very anxious to keep the US in the neighborhood, they don’t want to be in debt to China or for China to be the only game in town,” says William Reinsch, a longtime Washington expert on international trade now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But it strikes me that what the administration is proposing is minimal at best and isn’t about to convince anyone that we are serious about our role” in the region.

“Any proposal from [the US] will be welcome,” he adds, “but what they’re talking about is peanuts compared to what the Chinese have announced.”

China is busy implementing its trillion-dollar Belt and Road project, which aims to link East and Central Asia through massive infrastructure development and investment. But already some countries are finding that the Chinese investment model under the plan is leaving them in debt to the regional behemoth in exchange for scant economic benefit.

US pullback feared

Countries keen to see the US presence in the region fortified are also concerned that if economic ties are not strengthened, American security engagement in the region could wane as well.

Some in Washington in regular contact with officials from across the region say those officials are convinced the Trump administration aims to draw back from the Asia-Pacific region – especially militarily – and that this conviction is prompting countries from Australia to Japan and South Korea to plan for a day when a US military presence balancing China is history.

In particular, these countries worry that a major piece of any successful denuclearization deal with North Korea will be a steep reduction or even full withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula.

In Washington Monday, Pompeo was joined by a number of other cabinet-level officials as he unveiled a $113 million plan to foster public-private partnerships in infrastructure, energy, and technology across the Indo-Pacific – a region the Trump administration defines as stretching from the Philippines to India and from Korea to Australia.

Calling this first initiative a “down payment” on a much broader strategy, Pompeo told his audience at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington that the Trump administration is expanding US engagement in the Indo-Pacific region – and that regional governments and businesses welcome the expanding American role.

And while he didn’t mention China by name, Pompeo hinted that the region is hungry for an alternative to China’s development and investment model.

“Thanks to [our] history of economic and commercial engagement, America’s relationships throughout the Indo-Pacific today are characterized by mutual trust and respect,” he said. “American friendship is welcomed, and American businesses are recognized for their ingenuity, reliability, and honesty.”

A familiar ring

All true, experts in the region say. But one hurdle Pompeo will face is a sense of “once burned, twice shy” across the region as countries that negotiated the TPP with the US – some at great political cost at home – now hear a new pitch from the administration that pulled the plug on US participation in TPP.

“There’s a real wariness,” says Philip Levy, who served as senior economist for trade under President George W. Bush. “This is a region that feels jilted by the US.”

First the Obama administration promised regional leaders that if they made tough concessions on a trade agreement, it would deliver approval of the deal back home. That didn’t happen, as Mr. Levy notes. Then Trump arrived and withdrew the US from the deal.

“So the feeling across the region is that ‘When you offer sweet nothings, we swoon – and then you say, Oops, sorry, we have another place to be,’ ” says Levy, now a senior fellow on the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Pompeo arrives in the region touting an American vision of economic partnership based on such attributes as transparency, democracy, shared prosperity, free and open trade, and rules-based commerce – all qualities that the Obama administration also cited to promote creation of a vast regional trade pact. “It all has a familiar ring to them” in the region, Levy says. “It leaves them quite skeptical of the Trump administration.”

But one way in which Trump is different is his preference for bilateral diplomacy and trade deals over big multilateral talks and accords – an option Pompeo continued to emphasize in public comments in the run-up to his trip.

Reinsch at CSIS says countries in the region are “not necessarily opposed” to bilateral deals with the US. But he says they are turning wary given the rough experiences other countries are already having with the US in trade talks. “They see what’s going on with Mexico and Canada and Japan, and they’re saying, ‘Why do we want to go through that?’ ”

Mixed feelings about trade war

Beyond that, there are mixed feelings over the growing US trade war with China. For all the satisfaction some countries may feel at seeing the US push back on China over trade, there are also concerns over the regional impact if the war deepens or drags on.

“I don’t think there’s much celebrating in the region, despite widespread concerns over Chinese behavior,” says Levy. “The bottom line is that trade in the region is built on intricate supply chains” frequently involving Chinese companies at some point in production, he notes. “So actually there’s a lot of alarm that what hits China ends up affecting all.”

Yet for all the concern over issues of the moment, like the US-China trade war and bilateral versus multilateral diplomacy, what underlies it all are the doubts over the long-term US commitment to the region, analysts say.

“The big question in the region is, can the US come up with a strategy for its engagement and stick to it,” says Levy. “Pompeo is to be congratulated for taking a vision and something concrete to the region,” he adds, “but it’s hardly enough to even begin to address the concerns about the long-term US commitment.”

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2. Lines of attack: When discrediting the press becomes a campaign tactic

Antagonism between elected officials and journalists isn't new. But in the Trump era, candidates have gone from complaining about bias to delegitimizing media – a trend that has implications for democracy.

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In a recent meeting with President Trump, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger raised concerns about the dangers posed by the president’s “anti-press rhetoric.” Days later, Mr. Trump retweeted a video of supporters chanting “CNN sucks!” while the outlet’s Jim Acosta reported live from a Florida rally. Trump’s strategy of discrediting the media serves several purposes, observers say: It offers a quick way to deflect negative news reports, and it riles up the GOP base. Increasingly, it’s seeping into the playbooks of other officials. California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes recently ran a two-minute ad accusing his local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, of colluding with “radical left-wing groups” to vilify him. As the tactic becomes more common, experts say it could intensify an already stark partisan divide and contribute to a growing sense that the media can’t be trusted. “We’ve crossed a line – and I’m not sure when it happened – from criticizing media bias to delegitimizing all media,” says former conservative radio host Charlie Sykes. “If we no longer believe that there is some sort of objective truth that we can then debate and discuss, how can we run a society? How can we hold politicians accountable?”

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Lines of attack: When discrediting the press becomes a campaign tactic

The campaign ad, at first, seems unremarkable. California Rep. Devin Nunes (R), standing outdoors in a crisp blue shirt, details his service to his district and the nation.

But about 20 seconds in, the ad pivots. The House Intelligence chairman accuses his local newspaper, the Fresno Bee, of colluding with “radical left-wing groups” to vilify him. He criticizes its coverage of a scandal involving a Napa Valley winery in which Congressman Nunes is an investor, and calls the Bee’s reporting “a textbook example of fake news.”

“It’s fine for the Bee’s band of creeping correspondents to go after me,” he adds, “but it’s wrong for them to drag a family company through the mud.”

For a politician to complain about his hometown paper’s coverage is nothing new. Nunes, however, not only aggressively pushes back against what he characterizes as unfair reports, he also appears to have spent significant campaign money attacking the paper itself. The ad has aired on television and radio as well as online, and came just months after the congressman launched his own “news” website, The California Republican, paid for by his campaign committee. The congressman declined a request for an interview.

It’s an example of how much President Trump’s strategy of discrediting the media is seeping into the playbooks of other elected officials and candidates, as a way to deflect negative news coverage and energize base voters. Just this week, Mr. Trump retweeted a video of his supporters at a rally in Florida chanting “CNN sucks!” while the outlet’s Jim Acosta reported live from the event.

This came on the heels of a meeting between the president and New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, in which Mr. Sulzberger raised concerns about the dangers Trump’s “anti-press rhetoric” poses for journalists and for democracy. Trump later tweeted: “Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of fake news being put out by the media and how that fake news has morphed into [the] phrase, ‘Enemy of the people.’ Sad!”

Other Republicans have taken up the “fake news” banner:

  • Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin used the hashtag in tweets attacking the Courier-Journal, after it reported on an ethics complaint over the purchase of the governor’s home.
  • Idaho state Rep. Priscilla Giddings earlier this year called for a state version of the president’s “Fake News Awards.”
  • Former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore leveled the claim against The Washington Post last year after the paper reported that he was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Kimberlee Kruesi/AP
Idaho Republican state Rep. Priscilla Giddings sits at the Capitol in Boise on March 1, 2018. The Idaho lawmaker urges her constituents to send in submissions for her 'fake news awards' during the legislative session. Officials at all levels of government are now using the term 'fake news' as a weapon against unflattering stories and information that can tarnish their images. Experts on the press and democracy say the cries of, 'fake news,' could do long-term damage by sowing confusion and contempt for journalists, and by undermining the media's role as a watchdog on government and politicians.

The tactic is popular because it works. Voters, especially those on the edges of the political spectrum, already distrust the press, and publicly panning reporters poses little risk for officials. Thanks to social media and the internet, candidates can deliver their own narratives to voters without having to rely on established news outlets. Indeed, strategists from strongly conservative areas say politicians are often better served criticizing the media than fostering good relationships with reporters.

Still, some experts say going after the media in this way is intensifying an already stark – and problematic – partisan divide and contributing to a growing sense among the American public that nothing reported in the mainstream media can be trusted.

“A world where people don’t know what to trust or don’t believe that facts can be impartially presented – that undermines the core premises of what makes a democracy work,” says Sam Gill, an executive at the Knight Foundation who co-authored a series of reports on public trust in the news media.

‘The go-to bloody shirt’

Politicians have long had a fraught relationship with the press. What Trump has done differently, according to analysts, is that he doesn’t just say the media are presenting stories slanted against him; he insists they’re making stuff up. 

“He’s really trying to tell Americans: ‘This is false, this is manufactured propaganda, this should be ignored,’ rather than saying, ‘Here’s my side of the story,’ ” says David Greenberg, who teaches history of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. “That’s a categorical difference.”

For Trump and others, attacks on the media offer a quick way to shut down debate and discussion – and rile up the base, says Charlie Sykes, a former conservative radio host. “It’s the go-to bloody shirt,” he says. “When all else fails, attack the media. It will always be an applause line.”

Nunes’s broadside against the Fresno Bee is particularly striking because the paper has actually endorsed the congressman every year since 2003 – as the paper’s editorial board points out in an op-ed refuting each of Nunes’s claims. But for politicians like Nunes, newspaper endorsements may be of increasingly limited value. 

“Half the time when [a local publication] makes an endorsement or recommendation, it’s a condemnation for the candidate,” says Phillip Peters, a school board member and conservative activist in California’s Kern County – which, like Fresno, is heavily agricultural and far redder than the state’s coastal enclaves. “I hear people say, ‘Well this newspaper’s supporting this guy. I don’t want anything to do with him.’ ”

Some political consultants tell their clients to just avoid talking to the media as much as possible. “Why take the risk of dealing with a media corps that might not treat you fairly when you can tell your story unfiltered?” says Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican strategist in Southern California.

Of course, Democrats are also willing to undercut media credibility when it suits them. Like Nunes, Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have both put up websites meant to look like legitimate news outlets, but that are actually campaign sites financed by their supporters.

“We’ve crossed a line – and I’m not sure when it happened – from criticizing media bias to delegitimizing all media,” Mr. Sykes says. “If we no longer have shared facts, if we no longer believe that there is some sort of objective truth that we can then debate and discuss, how can we run a society? How can we hold politicians accountable?”

The push for profits

To be sure, the press holds some responsibility for its own credibility issues. The rise of 24-hour cable news and then of social media has fueled a tendency to focus on political drama and scandal, as media companies struggle to attract consumers and advertisers. “News organizations are more under threat by [industry trends] than politicians criticizing the press,” says Tim Groeling, who researches political communication and new media at UCLA.

Political polarization has also reinforced a notion that any media that doesn’t clearly reflect the values of a consumer’s political party is biased or wrong. More than half of Americans today say they can’t name an objective news source, the Gallup/Knight Foundation survey finds. Two-thirds of Republicans who say they can name an objective news outlet cite right-leaning Fox News.

“So much is driven by partisan affiliation,” says Mr. Gill. “We have a side, and we view everything – including the news – through the prism of what side we’re on, instead of determining the facts and interpreting them.”

Still, Gill notes that a major takeaway from their report is that Americans still believe the news media is crucial to democracy. And despite the verbal – and sometimes physical – assaults against reporters, local and national news outlets continue to report on abuses of power and hold officials accountable at all levels.

Some Republicans warn that antagonism toward the press, if taken too far, could backfire by alienating some voters. “When you devolve into a shouting match, that only endears you to more fringe people,” says Mr. Peters.

“The media’s never going to go away,” adds Matt Rexroad, a GOP consultant based in Sacramento. “My hope is ... if I’m fair with them, then they’ll be fair with me.”

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3. Big rigs, big opportunities: How a trucker shortage is changing the job

Freight trucking has long been economically vital but fraught with hardship. Now a driver shortage is bringing new racial and gender diversity – and a change in on-the-road lifestyles – to the work.

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Hyungwon Kang/Reuters
An 18-wheeler passes through the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel in Pennsylvania's Somerset County. Better pay and an improving job experience for drivers, including social media connections and fewer miles driven, are changing trucking as the industry faces a worker shortage.

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Moving the nation’s freight is crucial to the economy. It’s also now at the leading edge of a tight United States job market. Industry economist Bob Costello estimates that 1 in 10 big-rig jobs is unfilled. “We’ve never seen it like this,” he says. “Trucking companies are telling us that it is not all about pay. This is about work and lifestyle.” And with the laws of supply and demand as an impetus, the industry is evolving. Paychecks are going up, the job experience is improving, and more women and minorities are being drawn into an occupation often viewed as the domain of white male road jockeys. The pay boost is one big factor drawing people like Terrie Ussery, an African-American woman from Georgia, into truck cabs. But it’s also the changing culture of the road: fewer miles being driven each day, easier-to-drive automatic transmissions, and sometimes more nights spent at home or even bringing pets along for the ride. “We have to create those lifestyles that the rest of America wants,” says Ben Schill, a truck company manager.

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Big rigs, big opportunities: How a trucker shortage is changing the job

For as long as she can remember, Terrie Ussery of Savannah, Ga. has looked up in awe as the big rigs steam by, barrelling toward the horizon.

But whether she, a black woman, could ever become a king of the road in a trucking industry long dominated by white blue-collar men has just as long been the question.

On July 24, Ms. Ussery answered it herself when she took the commercial driver license test at Savannah Tech’s Effingham Campus here in Rincon.

As she waited her turn for the road test, Ussery found herself on the cusp of a life-changing moment – potentially graduating to the cab of a “reefer truck” that brings fresh food to the people.

Her decision to become a truck driver is not just a lifelong dream, but also makes her part of trend. Trucking firms are desperate to add more women and minority drivers, who make up a fraction of the fleet, to help meet a shortage of drivers that’s publicized on roadside billboards across the nation.

“I’ve had a lot of money problems, and I thank God for my family – and, yeah, my landlord – for being forgiving,” she says. “Now I’m going to finally be able to pay them back.”

Like many recruits, Ussery has been lured into the driver’s seat by both rising pay and an improving job experience – including social media connections, fewer miles, more nights at home, and sometimes even pets as highway companions. Relatively easy-to-drive automatic transmissions are now employed by half the US fleet.

Such lifestyle improvements are making the job safer, more comfortable, and less lonely. They’re beginning to transform the culture of a fragmented, low-margin industry where truckers have felt more like serfs than kings.

Trucking companies are now “on their knees, begging” graduates, says Kevin Terrell, one of Ussery’s classmates. He says another classmate just turned his nose up at a $10,000 signing bonus. Relatively cushy trucking gigs that pay $68,000 a year are going unfilled.

With 51,000 missing drivers out of an estimated 500,000 long-haulers, “We’ve never seen it like this; it is the worst,” says Bob Costello, chief economist for American Trucking Associations, in Arlington, Va. “Trucking companies are telling us that it is not all about pay. This is about work and lifestyle.”

The industry found a place in American hearts and imaginations in the 1970s and ’80s with the citizens-band radio craze and film or TV dramas like “B.J. and the Bear,” but soon truckers were stereotyped as outcasts and misfits.

And the challenges of the profession are real. Health issues are prevalent. Due to accidents, long-hauling is far more dangerous than police work. And relationships can suffer. Coupled with rising demand for freight hauling, all this helps explain the current trucker shortage.

The dynamic is already hitting the wider economy, given that truckers haul 70 percent of America’s freight by value. Unless pay and perks rise high enough, the shortage may only grow. Yet as trucking firms boost their rates, the result is higher consumer prices being charged by Amazon and Tyson Foods, among others.

Trucking companies “need workers, they need bodies, and they need to make this a career that’s attractive to people, and they’re doing everything they can to do it,” says Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group in Fairfield, N.J. “Higher wages, higher benefits, free weekends – they are competing against everybody else for workers when the supply of available workers in the ninth year of economic expansion is much lower” than in past cycles.

To be sure, truck driving has always been a “hard way to make an easy living,” says veteran Savannah Tech instructor Tom Amacher. That remains true even now.

And technology is a wild card. Some futurists say the era of driverless vehicles is just around the corner, with the implication that the trucker shortage could change to a trucker glut. But it’s possible that technology will change the human role, rather than replacing it. Industry officials note how trains and planes moved to autopilot technology, yet those conveyances are still manned by humans.

For now at least, potential paradigm shifts are being eclipsed by subtler moves by trucking companies. A typical trucker’s daily miles are down from 800 in 2000 to 500 now, in part due to a 2012 law that limits drive times before mandatory 10-hour breaks. Driver-assist technologies, including onboard radar, are already becoming commonplace. Yet safety has slipped as trucking has boomed, propelled by a strong economy and the rise of e-commerce. The number of fatal large-truck crashes rose by 13 percent between 2010 and 2016, to 12 fatal wrecks per million people, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Situated in an air-conditioned trailer on a hot dirt lot, Ace Drayage employs 50 drivers, pulling containers filled with everything from school supplies to barbecue smokers – headed to Walmart and Home Depot. Down the road is the Port of Savannah, where container trade rose by 13.6 percent in the first five months of 2018, compared to the same period a year earlier. Ace is a small company in the big picture, but indicative of the market forces. A few months ago, the firm raised rates for the first time in years after drivers started balking at trips.

The change was overdue. “It has been a good thing for us, because we’ve stayed busy and our drivers are getting paid well and are happy with what they’re doing,” says owner Stephanie Wagner.

Paper Transport, Inc., a 700-trucker firm headquartered outside Green Bay, Wis., offers free ride-alongs for friends and partners as well as what has become a key draw – pet-welcoming cabs. The company says pets help break up the stress and loneliness of the road.

What is more, every new driver receives a Galaxy tablet loaded with social media apps, some geared toward truckers, others toward friends.

“The biggest impact is lifestyle change,” says Ben Schill, PTI’s vice president. “Pay is going to be pushing $50,000 to $60,000 a year, but we have to create those lifestyles that the rest of America wants. Truck drivers are the same as the rest of us.”

Where three years ago “home-daily” routes were off-limits to rookies, they are now part of nearly every recruiting package, he says.

When Mr. Amacher, the Savannah Tech instructor, first got into the business, truckers seemed a different breed. Where once they were romanticized as hard-living highway jockeys, today the word “outlaw” is practically outlawed, he laughs.

As director of the program, Amacher says he is doing his part to increase the trucker pool by adding classes and stepping up the classwork pace. Women and minorities made up the bulk of students at Monday’s driving final test here in Rincon.

He describes one woman who, after earning her commercial driver’s license plus hazardous-materials certification, exemplifies the industry’s shifting dynamics.

“Here’s this little bitty woman driving this great big truck, pulling a great old chemical tanker,” he says. “So if someone tells me a woman can’t do it, I’m going to tell them they are full of it.”

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Learning together

An occasional series on efforts to address segregation

4. Experts on their own experience, teens take action on integration

Students see themselves being subjected to all kinds of racial and economic sorting. And they are increasingly using their perspectives to take activist roles.

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Students Bissiri Diakite (l.) and Coco Rhum, from Teens Take Charge, recorded a podcast last month in New York with Taylor McGraw (c.) contrasting their high school experiences in different parts of the city and discussing their views on school integration.

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Teenagers in New York City have something to say about integration. In the past year, they’ve interacted with politicians, conducted marches, and crafted policy proposals. While less visible than the Parkland, Fla., teens taking on gun violence, the student-led integration movement offers another example of how young activists are earning respect as experts on their own experience. Students are elbowing their way into school decisionmaking spaces – where adults are partnering with them as allies. More than just a wider mix of students in their schools, the teens are campaigning for the 5 R’s of Real Integration: addressing race in enrollment, resource distribution, relationships within schools, restorative justice, and representative staffing that more closely mirrors student diversity. “We’re the new face of integration,” says Leanne Nunes, a rising high school junior in the Bronx and director of equity at IntegrateNYC, the group that champions the 5R’s. “It’s still about desegregation, but we plan on doing it way better.”

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Experts on their own experience, teens take action on integration

No one is standing at the school door telling students they aren’t allowed in because of the color of their skin. But teenagers in the Big Apple and beyond see all kinds of racial and economic sorting of students, and they’re declaring, “Separate is still not equal.” 

Recent graduate Muhammad Deen says his Brooklyn high school, where just 1 percent of students are white, didn’t have a college counselor on staff. His Advanced Placement biology class went without a permanent teacher for months after a stray bullet flew through the school and the original teacher quit.

“Educational disparities are basically stealing the future of some of these children away,” says Mr. Deen, a member of the student-led group Teens Take Charge. “We want a seat at the table now. We’re the ones being directly affected.”

While less visible than the Parkland, Fla., teens taking on gun violence, the student-led integration movement offers another example of how young activists are earning respect as experts on their own experience. Students are elbowing their way into school decisionmaking spaces. And a growing number of adults are eagerly positioning themselves as allies in students’ quest for equity.

The New York students aren’t just seeking a wider mix of students from different backgrounds in their schools. They’re also demanding what student activist group IntegrateNYC has dubbed the 5 R’s of Real Integration: addressing race in enrollment, resource distribution, relationships within schools, restorative justice, and representative staffing that more closely mirrors student diversity.

“We’re the new face of integration,” says Leanne Nunes, a rising high school junior in the Bronx and director of equity at IntegrateNYC. “It’s still about desegregation, but we plan on doing it way better,” she says, sitting cross-legged on a stage after speaking at the Reimagining Education summit at Teachers College, Columbia University, where educators from around the country learn best practices for working in diverse environments. 

That promise gives hope to Teachers College professor Amy Stuart Wells, who has found in her research that not enough thought was given to students' experiences as schools integrated after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision. “The educators – who were mostly white, because we fired most of the black and Latino teachers [when schools desegregated] – weren’t prepared to help student grapple with issues of race,” she says.

Marches, lawsuits, conversations

Today, students are insisting that people try to understand their daily lives. On the May 17 anniversary of Brown, Teens Take Charge persuaded 28 public officials to spend a day in their shoes to inform the range of school diversity plans the city is crafting.

IntegrateNYC held a march for school integration in May 2017, billed as the first of its kind since 1964. The city had been identified in a report as one of the worst in terms of isolating students racially and economically.

About 250 students have been involved in advocacy work this year with IntegrateNYC, which helped file a class-action lawsuit in June against the school district. It alleges that black and Latino high-schoolers here are twice as likely as those of other races to attend schools that offer no team sports.

On a hot summer evening, soon-to-be-seniors Bissiri Diakite and Coco Rhum are recording a podcast in a small conference room, laying out in black and white how different their Manhattan high schools are. Holding a microphone between them is Taylor McGraw, co-founder of The Bell, a nonprofit that produces student podcasts and facilitates Teens Take Charge. 

Coco is white, as are 52 percent of students at Beacon High School, where she enjoys a variety of arts and project-based learning. The school has a relatively new building in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood and offers well-resourced classes and after-school activities, she says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Recent high school graduate Sufyan Hameed (r.) facilitates an ice breaker exercise during an ERASE Racism session at the conference 'Reimagining Education: Teaching and Learning in Racially Diverse Schools' at Teacher's College, Columbia University, on July 19, 2018, in New York.

The Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change in Harlem, where Bissiri is among the 97 percent of students who are black or Hispanic, only offers a few sports and is sometimes shy on textbooks and other supplies. But the school gets good marks for leadership, rigorous instruction, and a supportive environment.

One thing they have in common: screened admissions, which means they consider factors ranging from test scores to interviews. Screening at some middle and high schools, and the single test for admissions to “specialized” high schools, have been challenged not only by activists, but also by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.

Coco’s parents chose their Brooklyn neighborhood before she was born, because of its elementary and middle schools. Then she applied to several screened high schools. Bissiri’s school is two blocks from home. His mother, who is from Mali, told him he would stay there from middle to high school, so he didn’t think much about applying elsewhere. 

His school might raise $50 at a bake sale or $100 at an event, he says. About 70 percent of students at Thurgood Marshall are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

At Coco’s school, that figure is just 25 percent. And the Beacon Parent Association sets an annual fundraising goal of $400,000 a year to pay for everything from lab equipment to extracurriculars.

As a member of Teens Take Charge and the founder of an IntegrateNYC club at Beacon, Coco is pushing the school and Parent Association to change.

“It’s like a self-sustaining cycle,” she says, her face framed with crisp dark bangs. “Wealthy parents come to the school because it has great resources … and then make it a more lucrative school. And within that there’s this screen that [keeps out many] low-income students and students of color.” 

Bissiri agrees the inequities are obvious. But after talking with classmates, he says the focus should be on resources. Integration would be “taking a complicated problem and trying to narrow it down to a simple solution,” Bissiri says, still dressed in shiny shoes and a black tie after a day of training for his job at a bank that has a branch in his school.

When a news video circulated in April showing white parents reacting negatively to a plan to integrate schools in their Manhattan neighborhood, “a lot of my classmates were very upset” by the parents’ attitudes, he says. Because of such hostility, “one girl stated that she doesn’t want integration at all. She just wants to be with her people.”

Coco says she understands, but still believes students from different backgrounds need to learn together if racism is ever to be stamped out. “When you integrate, it can’t just be moving bodies.… No one’s culture should be lost,” she says.

Brooklyn’s District 15, where Coco lives, has held more than 80 community meetings to put together a plan aimed at integrating middle schools. Students have been at the table consistently, says Sadye Campoamor, director of community affairs for the city’s Department of Education.

Akin to the 5 R’s, the proposals address everything from school climate to student and parent engagement.

District leaders were already considering such actions as student activism ramped up, Ms. Campoamor says, but students have “played a particularly inspiring role in getting us to listen to them…. These are tough conversations – saying the words segregation and desegregation…. [We] came together and said, the time is now to explore these heavy issues in partnership.” Students are included in the city’s School Diversity Advisory Group, for instance. 

Adults on the sidelines

Adults involved with student integration activists say their role is to “de-center” themselves and help students develop their leadership skills.

IntegrateNYC grew out of a Bronx teacher’s experience taking her students to visit a majority-white school in Manhattan. Students were so interested in the inequities they saw that they started to take on an activist role.

With 70 peers from 16 Long Island high schools, Sufyan Hameed learned about the history of segregation in his community and talked about potential solutions at a forum hosted by the local group ERASE Racism. Then he helped form a task force that has put forward students’ policy priorities.

The number of intensely segregated school districts on Long Island has doubled since 2004. Mr. Hameed recently graduated from a majority-minority high school, and attending a career program at another school was “my first taste of how my district is really separated,” he tells the educators at Teachers College. 

Youth organizers “speak more powerfully and more comprehensively than most adults in this city on this issue,” says Matt Gonzales, director of the School Diversity Project of New York Appleseed, an advocacy group that works closely with IntegrateNYC. And that, he says, “has really transformed the way we talk about integration.”

This is story is part of an occasional series, Learning Together, on efforts to address segregation. 

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A letter from …

Capitol Hill

5. In Congress, it’s heads down in a tweet storm, and working away

For lawmakers, responding to the president’s tweets can be a full-time job – one that many would prefer to avoid. This week, tweet-mania drowned out congressional progress on spending bills.

Arthur

Two ways to read the story

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There are presidential tweets Republicans on the Hill can ignore. Then there are the tweets they wish they could ignore but that wind up dominating the news cycle. On Wednesday, lawmakers were confronted with a barrage of questions about President Trump’s tweet that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It not only sent reporters scurrying, but it also drowned out a genuinely positive narrative for lawmakers: that they are actually getting stuff done. Responding to the president’s clearly stated position this spring that he will never again sign another gargantuan, all-in-one spending bill, senators have been working diligently – and cooperatively – to pass more bite-sized packages before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. But as senators streamed in and out of the chamber for votes, the media swarmed them with questions about the president’s tweet. “I am not going to comment, because I don’t know what it means, because – you know what? I haven’t paid attention to news this morning,” said GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She added: “The news that was important to me was passing these appropriations bills.”

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In Congress, it’s heads down in a tweet storm, and working away

Sen. Lisa Murkowski had just walked off the Senate floor on Wednesday when she found herself in a tight reporter scrum, a cluster of phones and digital recorders held toward her face.

A reporter explained that the president had just tweeted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and asked the Republican senator what she thought the tweet meant.

“I am not going to comment, because I don’t know what it means, because – you know what? I haven’t paid attention to news this morning,” the Alaskan said.

The reporter interrupted: “Can I read it to you?”

Senator Murkowski, ignoring him, went on: “...because the news that was important to me was passing these appropriations bills.”

As she started to move down a hallway off-limits to media, she could be heard saying, “I’m so tired [of]…” But then the reporter called after her that he had read the tweet to Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, and that Senator Collins gasped and said, “It’s unbelievable.”

Murkowski turned. Looking at the scrum, held back as if by an invisible cordon, she remarked exasperatedly: “Well then, Susan is probably right.”

Before this era of an unfiltered president with a digital megaphone, reporters might have been asking Murkowski about the unusual speed and bipartisanship with which the Senate is passing spending bills these days – including a package on Wednesday where Murkowski played a key role. Instead, it once again became a day in which lawmakers found they could get no message across, aside from their reactions to President Trump’s Twitter feed. 

There are tweets Republicans on the Hill can ignore; then there are the tweets they wish they could ignore, but that wind up dominating the news cycle. This one – which some Democrats argued amounted to obstruction of justice – not only sent reporters scurrying, but also drowned out a genuinely positive narrative for lawmakers: they are actually getting stuff done.

Responding to the president’s own clearly stated position this spring that he will never again sign another gargantuan, all-in-one spending bill, senators have been working diligently – and cooperatively – to pass more bite-sized spending packages before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky has cut the August recess short to get this work, along with more nominations, done (with the politically convenient side effect of keeping Democrats, who have more seats than Republicans up this cycle, off the campaign trail).

Funding the government is one of lawmakers’ most basic jobs. If they were doing it properly, they would pass 12 separate bills to fund each of the government agencies, rather than create the usual showdowns – and sometimes shutdowns – over one massive, indecipherable bill that’s used for political leverage. Senator McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York have been meeting daily to move the spending bills along, and Republicans got buy-in from the White House to clear nine of the bills before the September deadline.

But then a tweet tornado hit. Mr. Trump tweeted on Sunday that he would be willing to shut down the government if Democrats don’t agree to funding border security – including a wall. Shutdown chaos is the last thing Republicans want just before an election. But they were forced to field reporters’ queries about it all week.

As senators streamed in and out of the chamber for votes, the media swarmed them with questions: Do they think the president really wants a shutdown? Would a shutdown hurt Republicans in the midterms? What do they make of Trump calling for Mr. Sessions to end the Mueller investigation right as the trial of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was getting under way?

A typical response from Republicans was, “you’ll have to ask the president what he means” – along with insisting they’re just focused on getting their work done. 

Sen. Thom Tillis (R) of North Carolina stopped briefly to talk to reporters. Should legislation protecting the special counsel (which Senator Tillis has co-sponsored) now get a vote on the Senate floor? “No,” Tillis responded. “[Trump] wants to see the investigation closed. He didn’t say anything in the record that I’ve reviewed this morning that said he wants [Mueller] fired. There’s a difference.”

Indeed, the president’s lawyers and spokesperson later described Trump’s tweet as an opinion, not an order, because Trump used the word “should” instead of “must,” writing: “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now…”

But Tillis’s careful response revealed the degree to which the senator – or an aide – must have studied the tweet itself. Which points to a sifting that frequently takes place: Tweets to worry about, tweets not to worry about; tweets a Republican can let slide; tweets a Republican is going to have to comment on.

Either way, it was clear Tillis would have preferred not to deal with such questions at all. Within seconds, the lanky politician turned and strode into the chamber.

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The Monitor's View

Choosing a world order in Zimbabwe

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In many ways, Zimbabwe’s election, eight months after the ouster of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, was a contest between the world order designed by the West and the emerging one of a rising China. Wednesday’s postelection crackdown was a clear signal that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had not delivered on a promise to Western countries of a credible election. Zimbabwe may be further poised to embrace China and its proposed world order, essentially: Don’t worry about democracy or human rights, let’s just keep doing business. The West was offering loans and investments if Zimbabwe held a fair election and began to tackle corruption. China preferred the current regime, which would allow it to further exploit the country’s resources. China has been the country’s biggest investor in the past decade. Yet popular resentment against Chinese influence led the opposition candidate to take an anti-China position. This week’s protests were partly a statement about China’s antidemocratic approach. As events play out, the ideals of democracy may still prevail. At the least, the final result should not be decided with bullets.

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Choosing a world order in Zimbabwe

On Wednesday, when troops in Zimbabwe opened fire on thousands of people protesting a marred election two days before, it was a shot heard round the world. The violent crackdown was a clear signal that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had not delivered on a promise to Western countries of a credible, corruption-free election.

Instead, Zimbabwe, like many African countries, may be further poised to embrace China and its proposed world order, which is essentially this: Don’t worry about democratic credentials or human rights, let’s just keep doing business without meddling in each other’s internal affairs.

In many ways, Zimbabwe’s election, which came eight months after the military ouster of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, was a contest between the current world order, designed by the West after World War II, and the emerging one of a rising China.

The West was offering loans and investments from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other international creditors if Zimbabwe held a fair election and started to tackle corruption.

China preferred the current regime, no matter what, which would allow it to further exploit the country’s abundant minerals and rich farmland while bringing Zimbabwe into its newly created international organizations. Both Mr. Mnangagwa and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, leader of the armed forces, had visited China in the run-up to the election.

Zimbabwe’s postelection problems are still unfinished. Mnangagwa’s ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, was declared the winner in the parliamentary race by the distrusted electoral commission. The results of the presidential contest have been delayed, raising suspicions among supporters of his main opponent, Nelson Chamisa. In the meantime, foreign observers found plenty wrong with the election process.

Zimbabwe remains a test case of the two views of world order, not only because of this election but because its economy is in desperate straits. It does not have its own currency and must rely mostly on US dollars. Its people somehow endure with hyperinflation and high unemployment, a result of mismanagement and corruption under Mr. Mugabe.

For a decade, China has been the country’s biggest investor. Yet popular resentment against Chinese influence led the opposition candidate to take an anti-China position in the campaign. This week’s protests about the election were also a statement about China’s antidemocratic approach to the rest of the world.

As events play out in Zimbabwe, the ideals of democracy may still win out, reinforcing the success of the postwar order. At the least, the final result should not be decided with bullets but in a peaceful consensus that affirms basic freedoms.

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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.

Is it really possible to be blameless?

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When unjustly blamed for something she didn’t do, today’s contributor relied on what she knew about the innocence of God’s creation, and harmony prevailed.

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Is it really possible to be blameless?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Who’s to blame?

That’s the question that frequently emerges right away when a wrong or upsetting circumstance occurs. Is there a way to get out of the dark spiral of blaming – or of being blamed?

Of course, wrong actions and mistakes have to be recognized and corrected, and some kind of restitution might need to be given if it is warranted. But an atmosphere of blame can arise even when no one is truly at fault. I’ve learned, however, that there is a way to move forward from being the victim of such unjustified blame. It comes through gaining the understanding that man, as created by God, is actually blameless. This healing truth of the spiritual nature of man (meaning all men and women) is spoken of in the Bible. The book of Ephesians states: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (1:3, 4).

Not long ago, I found myself in a situation where someone was convinced I had made a mistake, when I actually hadn’t been responsible for it. I was even able to prove I hadn’t done anything wrong, yet the blame continued. I really wanted to correct this uneasy situation and avoid unpleasant and unfair consequences.

At the time, though, I felt it would be unwise to attempt to resolve this situation through speaking with the individual involved. Although the right words at the right time can have a healing effect, I felt the atmosphere was too negatively charged to attempt that conversation.

But I knew I could pray. As a student of Christian Science, I had seen so often how prayer can be an effective way to bring resolution to discordant situations, and I felt sure it could lift the cloud of blame in this case, too. So I began to pray to see more clearly what I knew to be spiritually true about myself and the other person. I saw that we were both blameless as innocent ideas of God, created and governed by divine Love. To be blameless means to be free from fault, irreproachable. Although I was mistakenly being perceived as being at fault and reproachable, I knew that healing would be found by affirming and understanding the spiritual fact that man, in the likeness of divine Truth, God, is pure and innocent both of blame and of wanting to blame others.

In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” author Mary Baker Eddy explains, “Truth is affirmative, and confers harmony” (p. 418). And that is what took place. It became very clear to me in light of these powerful spiritual truths that both I (who seemed to be the blamed) and the other person (who seemed to be the blamer) were blameless. I saw that a child of God could not express a mistaken intention, misinterpret actions, or put blame on anyone unjustly. I was grateful for this healing inspiration, and soon after I was delighted to realize there was no further blaming occurring and harmony had been fully restored in that situation.

Any downward spiral of negativity involving blame can be replaced by this prayerful realization of man’s blamelessness – and blessedness. Furthermore, seeing others in the light of their true, spiritual being as God’s beloved children enables us to perceive as innocent and blameless even those who have done wrong. Such prayer doesn’t excuse wrongdoing, but it makes a separation between the wrong action and the true nature of the individual, which is a step toward healing and reformation. Each of us can perceive the present harmonious state of our true being in God, where the material mentality behind all blaming, which the Bible calls “the accuser” (Revelation 12:10), is forever silenced. As a hymn in the “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603” states:

“You are God’s purpose, His great design.
Beautiful, blameless, His child divine.”
(Peter B. Allen, Hymn 565)

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Viewfinder

Finding respite

Juan Medina/Reuters
Migrants rest aboard the Proactiva Open Arms rescue boat – operated by a nongovernmental organization – after they were rescued Aug. 2 in the central Mediterranean Sea. For the fifth straight year, at least 1,500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean, according to the United Nations. Some 55,000 migrants have reached Europe so far in 2018.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( August 3rd, 2018 )

Thank you for accompanying our exploration of the world today. Please do come back tomorrow, when we will be launching a five-part series on the Siberian republic of Buryatia: a crossroads where Cossack and Mongol, Orthodox Christian exile and Buddhist have mixed to create an altogether different sort of Russia.

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 02, 2018
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