2018
August
31
Friday

The line between protected criticism and true threats still holds.

The FBI on Thursday arrested Robert Chain in relation to more than a dozen calls to The Boston Globe in August, including death threats over the newspaper’s leadership in calling on newspapers nationwide to speak out against President Trump’s frequent targeting of the media. The FBI found 20 firearms in Mr. Chain’s Encino, Calif., home.

"You're the enemy of the people," Chain told Globe employees on one call, echoing comments from Mr. Trump. He then added, very much on his own, that he would threaten the Globe “as long as you keep attacking the president.”

But as his arrest shows, the system to rein in this sort of threat still is working. “Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but threatening to kill people takes it over the line and will not be tolerated,” said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office.

Importantly, it is a Trump administration appointee who is leading the prosecution against Chain – and counseling political temperance. “In a time of increasing political polarization,” said Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Massachusetts, “and amid the increasing incidence of mass shootings, members of the public must police their own political rhetoric. Or we will.”

Now to our five stories for your Friday, including the last of our Siberian Crossroads series.

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1. Can John McCain memorials be a healing moment?

Ever combative, John McCain has been viewed through widely different lenses since his passing. But his memorials come at a time when the higher ideals he openly strove for are seen by many as a needed balm.  

Arthur
Kevin Dietsch/Reuters
Vice president Mike Pence sits with Cindy McCain, wife of late Sen. John McCain, during ceremonies honoring Senator McCain inside the United States Capital Rotunda in Washington Friday.

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John McCain was a passionate believer in bipartisanship – in his view, putting country over party. His death has been marked by both praise and censure, but it has also seemed to mark the end of an era. Yet this week of memorials doesn’t have to be a eulogy for bygone practices, political observers say. McCain would be the first to say that he didn’t always live up to his ideals. But he also knew how to apologize and learn from mistakes, say friends. And he knew how to face defeat and reconcile with his opponents. The “McCain code” was honor, courage, integrity, and duty, said friend and former Vice President Joe Biden. The growing tribalism in America means that a true moment of national unity around McCain’s death might not be possible. But “there’s a longing for a sense of coming together with purpose, and I think that’s what John McCain symbolizes,” says one Republican consultant who worked with him. “If nothing else, the celebration of his life allows us to take a moment to reflect on where we’re going, especially as we head into a competitive political season.”

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Can John McCain memorials be a healing moment?

In his final years, John McCain became an increasingly polarizing figure.

A passionate believer in bipartisanship – in his view, putting country over party – the storied Republican senator from Arizona found himself more and more at odds with the times and with the president of his own party. Even after Senator McCain’s death, his feud with President Trump persisted – as seen both in the senator’s posthumous farewell letter and Mr. Trump’s refusal at first to engage in the rituals of presidential respect for a major public figure.

Most telling, perhaps, were the bitterly negative comments about McCain on social media, amid the praise. To some, McCain’s willingness to cross the aisle made him a traitor to the conservative cause, including last summer, when his vote killed the repeal of Obamacare. To supporters of his bipartisan ways, if not always his policy views, McCain’s passing marks the end of an era.

But this week of memorials doesn’t have to be a eulogy for bygone practices, political observers say.

“There’s a longing for a sense of coming together with purpose, and I think that’s what John McCain symbolizes,” says Kirsten Fedewa, a Republican consultant who worked on presidential campaigns both for and against McCain. “If nothing else, the celebration of his life allows us to take a moment to reflect on where we’re going, especially as we head into a competitive political season.”

This pause in the nation’s midterm campaign frenzy also presents an opportunity to think about the larger principles that shaped McCain’s life, both in his military service – including 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam – and his decades in the Senate.

At Thursday’s memorial service in Phoenix, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke of the “McCain code” of honor, courage, integrity, and duty that his longtime friend strived to live by.

“It wasn’t about politics with John,” Mr. Biden told the assembled, including about 25 United States senators of both parties. “He could disagree on substance, but the underlying values that animated everything John did, everything he was, come to a different conclusion. He’d part company with you if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.”

'I have made mistakes'

McCain would be the first to say that he didn’t always live up to his ideals. “I have made mistakes,” he wrote in his farewell letter. He could also be caustic, and worked to keep his famous temper in check. But he also knew how to apologize, and learn from mistakes, say friends.

McCain also knew how to face defeat and reconcile with his opponents. The fact that McCain asked former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to deliver eulogies at Saturday’s memorial service at Washington National Cathedral is telling. Both men had thwarted his drive to become president – President Bush in the 2000 GOP primaries and President Obama in the 2008 general election.

“McCain was not close to either one,” says Lorne Craner, a former McCain foreign policy aide, whose father was held captive in Vietnam with the future senator. “He and Obama had some pretty rough spats when they were in the Senate together. That he would invite those two who had defeated him solidly says a lot.”

The fact that McCain requested in advance that Trump not attend any of the memorials also spoke to his deep antipathy for the president, who continued to disrespect McCain publicly even as he neared death.

This abiding schism between two larger-than-life figures, both fighters by nature, no doubt helps explain some of the negativity on social media by Trump supporters after McCain died. And on a larger scale, the growing tribalism in America means that a true moment of national unity around McCain’s death isn’t really possible, says Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

Still, “I think the memorial services will be healing for the millions of Americans who are not stuck in this tribalism,” Ms. Lukensmeyer adds. “The vast majority of us are not in this game, and not stuck in this way.”

Indeed, even as Trump initially declined to put out a statement honoring McCain after he died, and hesitated before ordering flags at half-staff through his interment Sunday, other top administration officials issued immediate tributes, including Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

On Friday, Mr. Pence represented the Trump administration during a ceremony honoring McCain, as he lay in state in the US Capitol rotunda. “The president asked me to be here, on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect,” Pence said, before quoting from a Christian hymn “Faith of Our Fathers.”

McCain’s legacy now fully belongs to history. And how it will resonate long term with younger generations remains to be seen. For now, the extensive coverage of McCain since his death seems to have captured attention across the board.

“People are going to talk about him for a very long time,” says Tracy Webb, a 30-something nurse’s assistant in Phoenix. “It didn’t matter what side he was on. If he felt like something needed to be fought for, he went for it.”

Mr. Craner, the former McCain aide, was in the Midwest dropping his son off at college when the senator died. On Sunday morning, he says, “all the kids were talking about McCain.” 

“They admired him because he was a rebel,” Craner says. “They’re young, they appreciate rebels and that he had principles. Many were young Democrats, and they appreciated that he would cross the aisle.”

Sperling Fellow David Sloan contributed to this report from Washington.

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Democracy under strain

2. What happens when politics gets thrown to the courts

With lawmakers increasingly unable or unwilling to tackle volatile issues, resolution is often left to the judicial branch. But forcing the Supreme Court to settle controversial political questions isn’t always ideal. Second in the Democracy Under Strain series.

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As President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begins his Senate confirmation hearings next week, the court itself seems on the edge of becoming as ideological and polarized as the rest of America’s querulous political culture. The nomination and confirmation process is the most visible symbol of this. Today both parties, but particularly the GOP, run rigorous vetting programs to ensure the ideological bona fides of possible court picks, and nominees endure a harrowing Senate questioning process. The upshot is that the court’s seats are divided along a partisan basis. Understandably, Supreme Court justices have not been eager to be portrayed as political actors. Chief Justice John Roberts, at his 2005 nomination hearings, compared himself to a baseball umpire, calling balls and strikes. Yet a year later, he told an interviewer that he was worried about the steady march of polarized 5-to-4 court decisions. Now, if Judge Kavanaugh gets confirmed, the US may be in for a period when the court veers further to the right than the ideological position of a majority of US voters. That could last for a generation and affect abortion rights, gun rights, affirmative action, and other hot-button issues. This puts the court in a precarious position. If its conclusions veer too far outside the mainstream, the voter backlash could be severe, and the court’s own image and prestige might suffer. “I do think that the Supreme Court should be extremely cautious in taking sides on political questions,” says Manisha Sinha, a professor of American History at the University of Connecticut. Whenever possible, “those things should be settled by the ballot.”

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What happens when politics gets thrown to the courts

On February 23, 1857, Supreme Court Justice Robert Cooper Grier (my multi-great granduncle) wrote President-elect James Buchanan one of the most infamous letters in the history of American jurisprudence.

In it, Justice Grier outlined for the incoming US chief executive the decision reached by the court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, a case in which an African-American slave had sued for his freedom on the grounds that he had lived for years in regions of the country where slavery was illegal.

Mr. Buchanan had been meddling in the case for some time. Via another justice who was a close friend, he was pushing for a broad decision that might legitimize slavery and, he thought, end the national uproar over the issue for good.

Grier was a key lobbying target. He was a Pennsylvanian and, like Buchanan, a Democrat. If Grier voted to deny Mr. Scott his freedom, the decision would appear less sectional, Buchanan thought. Grier agreed.

The February 23 letter let Buchanan know, in confidence, what the court would announce in early March, and how Grier and others would vote. It ended with a coda hinting at the writer’s understanding of its clandestine and explosive nature.

“We will not let any others of our brethren known any thing about the cause of our anxiety to produce this result, and though contrary to our usual practice, we have thought due to you to state to you in candor & confidence the real state of the matter,” Grier wrote.

Announced on March 6, 1857, the Dred Scott decision remains the Supreme Court’s most shameful hour. It held that black people of African descent could never be US citizens – and that the US government had no right to regulate slavery in federal territories.

It helped tear the country apart. Rather than rendering the slavery question a matter of settled law, Dred Scott infuriated Northern abolitionists, split the Democratic Party, emboldened Southern slave owners, and boosted the new Republican Party. Three years later, the Civil War began.

What does Dred Scott have to say about today’s Supreme Court decision-making? After all, its conclusions have been rejected, its reasoning repudiated, and it is no longer legal precedent of any kind.

But it is an extreme example of a judicial truism: the highest court in the US is, indeed, affected by politics. It is both a legal and political institution, and as such, the Supreme Court is sometimes asked to make national political decisions.

When other branches of government are deadlocked, or unwilling to address a controversial issue, justices sometimes get cases where established legal guidelines are of little help. Slavery was such an issue in the 1850s. Many of the tough policy questions of today – abortion, gerrymandering, money in politics, the Affordable Care Act – might, in their own way, qualify today.

Yet punting all the toughest issues up to the court can create problems of its own. If its conclusions veer too far outside the mainstream, the voter backlash can be severe and the court’s own image and prestige might suffer. It remains perhaps the most popular branch of the US government – 53 percent of Americans currently approve of the way it is doing its job, according to Gallup. But Chief Justice John Roberts in public appearances has worried about the fragility of this position and possible perceptions that the court is just another political entity. 

“When you have a volatile political question, I am not sure the Supreme Court is the best place to settle those questions,” says Manisha Sinha, a professor of American History at the University of Connecticut and an expert on the history of slavery, abolition, and the Civil War.

Kavanaugh hearings

As President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begins his Senate confirmation hearings, the court itself seems on the edge of becoming as ideological and polarized as the rest of America’s querulous political culture.

The nomination and confirmation process may be the most visible symbol of this. Today both parties, but particularly the GOP, run rigorous vetting programs to ensure the ideological bona fides of possible court picks. Once chosen, the nominees endure a harrowing Senate questioning process.

Did this begin with the tough Democratic interrogation of Republican nominee Robert Bork in 1987, and his ultimate rejection by the Senate? Was it turbo-charged by GOP majority leader Mitch McConnell’s blockade of Democratic nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, who didn’t even get a Senate hearing?

Both sides have their grievances. The upshot is that the court’s seats are divided along a partisan basis, with the most liberal appointee of a Republican president sitting figuratively to the left of the most conservative Democratic appointee.

“The court is partisan in the sense that party identity and ideology are linked together,” says Neal Devins, a law professor at William & Mary and coauthor of the upcoming book “The Company They Keep: How Partisan Divisions Came to the Supreme Court.”

That wasn’t always the case, of course. Prior to the 1980s, justices had a way of evolving on the branch, migrating in their views one way or another. Thus, Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointed to the bench by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, grew substantially more liberal over time. Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, appointed by Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1962, became more conservative.

This migration was in part a byproduct of the social and professional worlds in which the justices moved, according to Professor Devins. For much of the 20th century, those worlds were dominated by a center-left ideology, as represented in the big newspapers and television networks that largely controlled news. Washington was filled with officials who had attended elite, center-left schools. That meant the movement was more towards the left than the right.

“The drift, so to speak, was tied in to the fact that justices were tied to a center-left world. They were seeking approval by their communities,” says Devins.

Today, that social and political context looks very different. The rise of right-leaning media has provided conservatives with their own news environment. Conservative think tanks and legal societies and other professional groups have thrived in Washington since the days of Ronald Reagan. 

The communities that GOP-appointed justices inhabit are no longer ruled by liberal Georgetown cocktail parties and the evening news at six, making culturally induced drift less pronounced.

Already the Republican side of the court’s judicial split may be more ideological than its Democratic counterpart.

“The Democrats on the Supreme Court are not the most liberal ideological Democrats we have ever had,” says Devins. “But the Republicans may be the most conservative.” 

An uptick in 5-to-4 decisions

Understandably, Supreme Court nominees and Supreme Court justices throughout US history have not been eager to be portrayed as political actors. They prefer more neutral analogies. Chief Justice Roberts, at his 2005 nomination hearings, compared himself to a baseball umpire. “My job is to call balls and strikes and not pitch or bat,” he said.

Yet a year later, he told an interviewer that he was worried about the steady march of polarized 5-to-4 court decisions. Prior to 1940, less than two percent of court decisions were decided on a one-vote margin. Since then, the percentage has risen to around 16 percent. Since Mr. Trump’s first appointee, Neil Gorsuch, arrived at the court, it’s ticked up to around 20 percent.

Admittedly, that’s a crude measure of polarization. It doesn’t say which justices joined on which side, or account for the percentage of unanimous decisions, which is typically around 40 to 45 percent per term.

But 5-to-4 decisions are more likely to be overturned by later Supreme Court verdicts. They often involve contentious, high-profile cases, where the winning side may not be quite as confident in its position, or the losing side as resigned to its loss. Just look at the 2012 5-to-4 decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, with the deciding vote cast by Justice Roberts himself. Democrats remain unsure Obamacare will survive. Republicans still talk about taking another stab at appeal.

In a famous 1957 journal article, the Yale political theorist Robert A. Dahl described the unique position the Supreme Court occupies in American governance. To call it just a legal institution, one that simply applies neutral principles of law to the facts of cases, actually underplays its significance, according to Professor Dahl.

“For it is also a political institution, an institution, that is to say, for arriving at decisions on controversial questions of national policy,” he wrote.

The problem is that for many issues facing the high court, there is no clear precedent or statute bearing on the question before justices. The Constitution, on many matters, is at best unclear.

At that point, justices rely on their own values, beliefs, and priors to render judgments. What is that but a political decision?

“All political scientists and most lawyers accept this,” wrote Dahl drily in 1957.

Today, it remains the case that not all lawyers accept that formulation, let alone all Supreme Court justices. But members of the court are really a kind of hybrid – part politician, part government official. Yet unlike other politicians, they don’t have to run for reelection. Their appointments last for a lifetime.

Despite all this, the court retains legitimacy in the eyes of the public, says Eric J. Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University.

“They have more faith in the court than in Congress or the presidency. It’s kind of schizophrenic,” says Professor Segall, author of “Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices Are Not Judges.”

But there’s something to be said for a third branch of government with a mantle of legitimacy that helps the nation handle its most divisive issues, Segall adds. Not that the court hasn’t veered off track. The Dred Scott decision was clearly out of bounds and inflamed a tragic, human issue instead of ending it. Some of the Warren court’s liberal rulings were clearly outside the national political consensus of the time, Segall says.

Now the US may be in for a period when the court veers further to the right than the ideological position of a majority of US voters. That could last for a generation, and affect abortion rights, gun rights, affirmative action, and other hot-button issues.

Maybe term limits for justices would be a way to help ensure voter satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s direction, Segall muses.

“The notion that we would staff our highest court based on death and strategic retirement is insane,” he says. “Every other country has rotation systems.”

A stain on the Court’s record 

The Dred Scott decision pleased rich slave owners in the South no end, but it destroyed the reputation of the Supreme Court in the north. The decision seemed so patently political, non-judicial in the extreme. In holding that Dred Scott had no rights as a citizen, and therefore no standing to sue, the decision simply ignored the legal precedents of hundreds of African-Americans who had sued for their freedom or for other reasons and had their cases accepted into the US court system.

“What one can say is that [the decision] basically adopted the most extreme pro-slavery interpretation of the Constitution,” says Professor Sinha of the University of Connecticut.

It was an extreme position on something that evoked extreme passions. That combination proved tragic. The Civil War probably would have occurred anyway. But Dred Scott remains a stain on the Supreme Court’s record.

Justice Grier, for his part, occasionally tops lists of the worst Supreme Court justices of all time. Despite his pro-slavery vote, he was a Union man who sat on the Court through the war, and wrote a key decision that legalized President Abraham Lincoln’s seizure of vessels bound for Confederate ports.

“I do think that the Supreme Court should be extremely cautious in taking sides on political questions,” says Sinha. Whenever possible, “those things should be settled by the ballot.”

Check out the Democracy Under Strain Series.

Previous article in this series: A system under strain: Is US democracy showing real cracks?

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3. In Detroit, historic foreclosure rates lead to a search for solutions

“We haven’t seen this many tax foreclosures in American history since the Great Depression,” says one scholar, regarding Detroit. Yet some signs of hope are emerging.

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Detroit once led the nation in homeownership. Now the city has flipped to being majority renters rather than owners. One reason is that, even as Detroit begins to bounce back economically, tens of thousands of residents each year have bright orange foreclosure notices tacked to their front doors. A 1999 state law enables properties to be taken over and auctioned if the owners are delinquent on taxes. As the city has emerged from bankruptcy, officials have acknowledged the problem and are working alongside nonprofits and some in the private sector in efforts to fix it. Some signs of progress: A door-knocking campaign raises awareness about foreclosure risks and options such as a tax exemption for homeowners in poverty. A lawsuit by watchdog groups has nudged the city to mail notices about the tax exemption to homeowners with houses worth less than $95,000. And efforts such as one backed by Quicken Loans are aiding some residents. “It feels real good,” says Pearlie Mack, a proud homeowner again thanks in part to Quicken’s help.

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In Detroit, historic foreclosure rates lead to a search for solutions

Pearlie Mack was a homeowner for years, until a series of difficult-to-prevent disasters.

First, an electrical fire left her West Side Detroit home in ashes in 1998. So Ms. Mack, who serves meals for a living at a Detroit public school in her neighborhood, took the insurance money and purchased a new two-family flat. When a tree branch fell and knocked a hole bigger than a sofa in her roof, she didn’t have the insurance to cover that. No longer able to own a home, she was forced to rent.

Last summer, a bright orange foreclosure notice was tacked on the front door of the house she rented. Her landlord had lost the home, but had continued to charge her $500 a month in rent.

To say stories like Mack’s are commonplace in Detroit is an understatement. But what makes her tale unusual is that it comes with a happy ending: Thanks to a program now wrapping up its second year, Mack was able buy the home she rented from the county.

“It feels good, it feels real good” she said with a laugh earlier this month. “If I had to move, it would have been a big difference. I would have had to save some money to look and find me a house to move in, and rent a U-Haul – that’s a headache, finding another school for my granddaughter to go to….” Her voice trails off as she thinks of all the problems moving again would have caused.

Each year, tens of thousands of residential structures, mostly homes, fall into tax foreclosure due to a state law amended in 1999 that destabilizes an already stressed housing market. A mortgage is so difficult to get in Detroit that the number issued has remained under 1,000 annually since 2006 – although the situation is brightening in certain neighborhoods.

The problem facing the gradually revitalizing city is one few Western cities could imagine, housing experts say. Detroit used to have the highest rate of home ownership in the US. Today, the tax foreclosures have turned the city from one of majority homeowners to majority renters for the first time in 50 years.

“We haven’t seen this many tax foreclosures in American history since the Great Depression,” says legal scholar Bernadette Atuahene, who has studied the issue closely. The people most likely to be foreclosed upon, she adds, are the poorest of the poor.

More than 145,000 residences were foreclosed and auctioned off between 2005 and 2017 in Wayne County, with the vast majority of those falling within the city of Detroit. The tally is stunning, given the city has less than 700,000 residents. Often it involves homes that repeatedly end up back in tax foreclosure. Many are stripped of their copper and appliances, making this issue one of Motown’s most intractable problems.

Alex Kellogg
Corey Nantambu, a Detroit native, works at the Detroit Medical Center. After her landlord lost the home she rents to foreclosure, she's hoping to buy the home herself with help from the United Community Housing Coalition.

Thanks to legal action, private funding, boots-on-the-ground activism, and the collective efforts of elected officials, there is reason for hope. The home Mack now owns was withdrawn from tax foreclosure by the city, and she was then able to buy it, thanks to a nonprofit-run program backed by Detroit-based Quicken Loans through its $1 million community fund.

Nudge from a lawsuit

On the legal front, in July the city settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that alleged the city made it too difficult for residents to learn about, and qualify for, a property tax exemption based on poverty. The result, says the ACLU legal director of Michigan, is that thousands of poor Detroiters paid property taxes they didn’t owe because they didn’t know they were exempt – and thousands lost their homes to foreclosures when they couldn’t pay.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city now will mail a notice about the exemption every year to all homeowners with houses worth less than $95,000. “Most Detroiters didn’t even know about it – it was almost like a secret,” says Michael Steinberg. “It’s a critically important victory for thousands of Detroiters who would otherwise have lost their homes for inability to pay taxes that they should never have had to pay, and it’s a win for the city of Detroit, which will have far fewer abandoned properties in its neighborhoods.”

But housing advocates stress that are many reasons the issue may not disappear any time soon.

Catch-22 in county budget?

“The situation has improved, but not in the ways it’s being communicated entirely,” says Jerry Paffendorf, co-founder of Detroit-based Loveland Technologies, which sells professional mapping services to municipalities. Mr. Paffendorf has studied the foreclosure crisis issue closely for years.

“Wayne County has codified into its budget needing all this delinquent tax money,” points out Paffendorf. “It creates this horrible catch-22. If you need that money, how in any sense is it right and fair to collect it by pushing people out of their homes?”

“It’s the kind of thing, just like with [the] Flint [water crisis], where you’d be hard pressed to imagine these kinds of decisions being made on behalf of majority white communities. It just feels unthinkable, right?” he says.

Quicken’s fund allowed 80 renters like Mack, whose landlords were delinquent on their taxes, to be assisted in 2017. More than 500 homes have been saved from foreclosure this year, with additional funding from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

“They were very helpful, I mean, they put the money up because the city didn’t have it, to make this project go,” says Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree, a longtime Detroiter, of Quicken Loans. “But for their contribution, their funding, it wouldn’t happen.”

Quicken Loans declined to be interviewed for this story. Critics say the firm’s impact on Detroit has been mixed. It’s one of the largest employers in downtown Detroit and the largest mortgage company in the country after surpassing Wells Fargo earlier this year. But the US Justice Department is suing the company, saying it showed "reckless disregard" of government regulations when making loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration and “created a fraudulent scheme of knowingly representing” that certain FHA-insured mortgages “were underwritten with due diligence and were eligible for FHA insurance,” when they were not. Quicken’s owner denies the charges and has vowed not to settle.

Other major lenders in Detroit at the time of the housing crisis have since gone out of business.

Alex Kellogg
A tax foreclosure notice in Detroit. Tens of thousands of notices are sent each year in Wayne County, In a lawsuit settlement in July, the city agreed to notify legions of residents about a property-tax exemption for homeowners in poverty, which could save them from foreclosure.

“The mortgage crisis just decimated the city’s collection of block clubs,” says Victoria Kovari, general manager in the department of neighborhoods and a member of the Tax Foreclosure Prevention Working Group. Block clubs are neighborhood organizations and served as a key part of the city’s social fabric. She says foreclosures “created a huge amount of blight.” 

Still, Quicken is a key partner of Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration, and can be credited with helping revitalize its downtown by relocating its headquarters to the city from the suburbs.

Since his election in 2013, Mr. Duggan can boast that he has turned on thousands of street lights, gotten the buses running on time for the first time in years, and helped the city exit a historic bankruptcy in which it was remarkably saved in part by its virtually unparalleled collection of artwork.

Progress, but still a tide of foreclosure notices

According to the county, owner-occupied foreclosures in Detroit are down 89 percent in the past two years, while foreclosures of all homes are down 78 percent. Advocates on the ground question these numbers.

“It’s entirely likely that more homeowners are in foreclosures than what their numbers show,” says Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition. He points out that 40,000 homes were up for foreclosure at the beginning of this year, mostly unoccupied properties, but still many thousands of occupied ones, too.

The final number of foreclosure notices dropped thanks to canvassing by his nonprofit, city council members, state legislators, and others. But Mr. Phillips argues such a figure remains an appalling starting point.

“40,000 is nothing to be jumping up and down about, and that’s roughly the number they have in foreclosure for next year,” says Phillips of the county.

SOURCE: Loveland Technologies, using data from Wayne County Treasurer's Office
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The United Community Housing Coalition holds multiple workshops a week aimed at keeping those living in foreclosed properties in their homes. The city partnered with UCHC to hold more than a dozen additional workshops in each of the city’s seven council districts as well. The nonprofit provides financial support to those losing their homes, people who are already homeless, and others.

The group reports helping more than 3,000 people buy their homes from foreclosure over the years – Detroit’s only nonprofit working at such a scale.

“UCHC has been a critical partner in all of this,” says Ms. Kovari, who works for the city.

But due to $8.8 billion in Trump administration cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in the coming weeks HUD will cut $1.1 million from UCHC’s budget. That amounts to roughly 40 percent of its budget, according to The Detroit Free Press.

Assistance, one door-knock at a time

Also, housing advocates point out a key reason for the foreclosure decline: As people have left the city, fewer are left to foreclose upon. City council members, state legislators, and nonprofit groups knock on thousands of doors each year to let people know they are behind on their taxes and at risk of foreclosure. This year alone, Sabree points out that his office knocked on more than 5,000 doors. Sabree knocked on many himself, even in the powerful Michigan winters.

“People aren’t paying attention, and that’s part of the reason why that this is going on. It’s not just because they don’t have the money,” he says.

Door-knockers like Sabree help walk people through the process of getting up to speed on their taxes, when that’s possible.

Key tools and programs make that easier than it used to be: As of two years ago, you can pay everything from your local energy bill to your back taxes at 50 locations in Detroit: from Rite Aid drug stores to community centers to local retail outlets.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority, a public entity which has acquired a huge swath of the city since its inception, now operates an Occupied Buy Back Program as well. It allows eligible applicants the opportunity to buy a home back once it’s been foreclosed and handed over to the land bank.

Launched in 2015, the program assisted 180 people last year and nearly 150 more this year.

The county earns tens of millions of dollars by charging high-interest rates on unpaid back taxes and an annual auction of foreclosed properties, although it would argue it is making money off people who are not following the law.

Some people are choosing between paying the heat bill and paying their taxes, Sabree notes. But the issue is even more complex for others.

Tianna Hodge’s predicament

A trip to the county courthouse downtown regularly shows a long line of people winding toward a series of windows. In that line are dozens of people paying fines for everything from shooting craps on street corners to driving without car insurance, often because they can’t afford it.

For those without a car in one of the last metropolitan regions without a functioning mass transit system, it can take literally hours to get your children to school.

Sabree says he has seen people in foreclosure who simply refused to pay their taxes for years.

Tianna Hodge admits she knew she was behind on her taxes, and that it’s not the first time she’s been in this predicament. A Detroit native, Hodge makes $70,000 a year working for the US Postal Service. Her West Side neighborhood was mostly Jewish, then like many such American communities it became black, and now it’s becoming low income as homeowners disappear and renters replace them.

“I was afraid to show the housing coalition my taxes,” says Hodge, who has lost a home more than once to tax foreclosure despite her income. “But whatever needs to be done for me to keep my house, that’s what I’m going to do.”

SOURCE: Loveland Technologies, using data from Wayne County Treasurer's Office
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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Siberian crossroads

4. The lake that transforms Russians into environmentalists

Environmental protections are often reactive, coming only after pristine areas have succumbed to pollution and degradation. But on Siberia's Lake Baikal, care for nature has always been a way of life.

Arthur
Ilya Naymushin/Reuters
A general view shows Cape Burkhan and Shamanka Rock at Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake.

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Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake, is the only natural feature in Russia that has its own law. But it's easy to see why, given its pristine beauty and the importance it holds for those who live in the republic of Buryatia. Set in a rift valley at the very heart of Asia, the lake's forested mountainsides plunge precipitously into crystal-clear waters and long stretches of lonely, rocky shoreline. It is also the engine of an ecosystem hosting scores of unique plant and animal species. That makes determining how to sustainably take advantage of its bounty a challenge. The Kremlin has plans to expand the system of national parks around the lake and for more comprehensive rules against industry in the entire Baikal watershed. “This was a totally closed zone in Soviet times. There were no boat tours or any other developed tourism here. So it's all new,” says Maria Tsivilova, who runs a lake tour service out of the coastal village of Turka. “It's complicated to find a balance between enjoying the lake and preserving it. But I think we will eventually get it right.”

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The lake that transforms Russians into environmentalists

Almost everyone in the Russian republic of Buryatia describes themselves as an environmentalist.

It is the presence of the unspeakably beautiful Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake, that has shaped that attitude.

Legend has it that Genghis Khan, who once ruled here, decreed that there should be no hunting, fishing, or even walking around the shores of the lake. The native Buryats, some of whom still practice a version of his Tengrist faith, continue to regard Lake Baikal as a sacred place. The lake was even the inspiration for the Soviet Union's first environmental movement, when plans to build a pulp and paper mill on its shore in the 1970s were stymied by an unprecedented, emotion-charged public outcry.

Today, the lake is the only natural feature in Russia that has its own law, passed in 1999, which bans many types of industry, including mining, and chemical-based farming in a buffer zone around the lake that includes most of Buryatia. And that makes Baikal a double-edged sword for the economically stagnant republic. The region's beauty and largely untapped resources give it a high potential for job growth – tourism is frequently mentioned. But legal protections, remoteness, and ecological fragility are all major obstacles.

“It's a paradox for us, because this is one of the most economically undeveloped regions in Russia,” says Natalya Tumureyeva, head of the local chapter of the liberal Yabloko Party. “It's no secret that there's a wealth of resources here, and despite all the laws there is a lot of exploitation of forests, fisheries, and minerals that goes on illegally.... Most people here would be willing to pay a price to protect the lake, but laws need to be properly explained to people and fairly enforced.”

Balancing enjoyment and preservation

It's not surprising that such an awesome natural wonder should be the object of intense passions, as well as political struggle between those who want to exploit its resources and beauty for economic gain and those who seek to preserve it in its pristine condition.

Set in a rift valley at the very heart of Asia, the lake's forested mountainsides plunge precipitously into crystal-clear waters and long stretches of lonely rocky shoreline. It is also the engine of a unique ecosystem that has scores of plant and animal species to be found nowhere else.

While its surface area is comparable to that of Lake Erie, its average depth of almost half-a-mile makes Baikal the most voluminous by far, containing a staggering 22 percent of all the Earth's unfrozen freshwater supplies. In 1996, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site. And it remains protected from developers: Only a decade ago, President Vladimir Putin interceded with economic planners to reroute a controversial oil pipeline away from Baikal after local ecologists mounted a furious campaign against it.

Maria Tsivilova, who runs a tour service out of Turka, complains about constant inspections of her boats by various government departments, and the stringent rules that require her to seal up all waste in special containers and ship them out of the area, or face hefty fines for any violation. Nevertheless, she keeps on board each boat a barrel full of pure lake-water scooped from over the side, and encourages guests to drink as much as they like.

“This was a totally closed zone in Soviet times. There were no boat tours, or any other developed tourism here. So it's all new,” she says. “It's complicated to find a balance between enjoying the lake and preserving it. But I think we will eventually get it right.”

Perhaps new initiatives will come from Moscow. Mr. Putin, recently re-elected, has identified a range of economic and social priorities. People here have not failed to notice that he mentioned Lake Baikal twice in his May decrees, outlining the key plans for his next term.

“There is a lot of attention now on finding a path to environmentally-sound economic development around Baikal,” says Andrei Borodin, chief of the Baikal Volunteer Corps, which started as a spontaneous public initiative during forest fires in 2015, and has since brought many local politicians, academics, and activists into a permanent council that works closely with local government.

“Putin has ordered his government to draw up a full program to improve the environment around Baikal. The draft already exists, and it is called ‘A Great Lake for a Great Nation,’ ” he says. “You may laugh at us for the sloganeering, but it's a sign of seriousness. We can't do anything in this country without it.”

‘There is so much to do’

The draft calls for major expansion of the system of national parks on both sides of the lake, and much more comprehensive rules against industry, mining, and logging in the entire Baikal watershed.

“The presidential project sounds hopeful, but realizing it will not be easy,” says Svetlana Budashkayeva, chair of Health of Buryatia, a public organization that helps convalescent patients, and specializes in “medical tourism,” which stresses activities in nature, like hiking, swimming in the lake, and bathing in the mountain hot springs that can be found near Baikal.

“A lot of financial resources will be required to do it properly,” she says. “We would need to change the sewage systems, not only in lake-shore communities but in big cities like Ulan-Ude. Somehow, despite all the rules, phosphates are seeping into the lake and threatening its ecological balance. And there is the threat of climate change; small rivers are drying up, the water table is falling, we have much dryer weather in summer. There is so much to do.”

There is also an urgent need for regeneration of the nearly 6,000 square miles of forests destroyed in the wildfires three years ago. Mr. Borodin says there is a growing fear that climate change is playing a role in the unprecedented droughts, heatwaves, and subsequent fires that have struck the region.

“We decided that we couldn't rely entirely on government alone to prevent a recurrence of those huge fires, so we have established our organization on a permanent basis. We have also reached out to groups like Greenpeace to bring international experience,” he says. “If our goal is to protect Baikal, we need a comprehensive approach to the entire surrounding environment. We want to cooperate more with government and business, and to design educational programs to teach local people to deal sensibly with sewage, garbage, and other activities that affect the ecology. We have our work cut out for us.”

Tourism to Baikal

The republican government has established a “special economic zone” at Turka, to promote environmentally-friendly and well-regulated tourist and other economic activities.

Ms. Tsivilova's boat tours operate from here. Nearby a local developer is building a “yurt village” on the lake shore, and renting out these hardy, traditional circular Mongol tents, mostly to weekend guests from Ulan-Ude, about 2 hours drive away. A local company will gather and process forest herbs, berries, and pine nuts from the surrounding mountains, which are in great demand – especially in nearby China.

Fred Weir
A group of Mongolian tourists bathing in Baikal on the beach at Gremyachinsk, near one of the few tourist centers, on the eastern shore of the lake.

Down the coast, near a long stretch of sandy beach, a group of Russian investors have built a hotel complex called Baikal Riviera. Set back on a hill overlooking the lake, it's one of a handful of facilities that has been designed to meet all the stringent new regulations. Even their lakeside banya – the Russian-style steam bath – is banned from using any shampoos, massage oils, or other chemical preparations. They offer a range of accommodations for about 150 people, with very modern standards, and seem to be full in summer. Even a few Western European guests are in evidence.

Daria Popova, the manager, says that Lake Baikal is a frozen wonderland in winter, and they have big plans to develop activities for the whole year.

“It's complicated. We have great nature, but infrastructure around Baikal is still very sparse. I'm afraid most foreigners will regard this as adventure tourism, though we would like to make it a more normal thing,” she says. “The point is, it is perfectly feasible to have a great time while doing no damage to the lake.”

Still, the gap between intentions and reality can be wide. A case in point is threat to the omul, a prized and high-priced species of fish found only in Lake Baikal. Illegal fishing and the drying up of the rivers where it spawns have driven down stocks disastrously. Last year the government placed an emergency ban on all fishing of the species. Yet, omul is still visibly on sale almost everywhere, even in Ulan-Ude shops.

“We have a long way to go,” says Borodin. “But there is a growing understanding at the top levels of government, here and in Moscow, that something has to be done to secure the ecology of Lake Baikal for future generations. We are in action mode, and we have a lot of hopes.”

Karen Norris/Staff
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5. Four August movies worth seeing

Monitor film critic Peter Rainer’s top picks for August include the revealing story of an immigrant family's generation gap and a touching exploration of what happens when a British woman opens a bookstore in an unlikely spot.

Arthur
Courtesy of Kino Lorber
Maria Mozhdah stars in 'What Will People Say.'
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Four August movies worth seeing

A documentary about families in which the parents and children are very different and a romantic comedy based on a Nick Hornby novel were two of Monitor film critic Peter Rainer's highest-ranked movies to have been released this month.

‘What Will People Say’ presents a cultural divide with urgency

Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), in the extraordinary new film “What Will People Say,” is a 16-year-old girl who lives on the outskirts of Oslo with her tightknit Pakistani immigrant family. When her boyfriend sneaks into her bedroom at night and they engage in some chaste smooching, Nisha’s father, Mirza (Adil Hussain), walks in on them, and assumes the worst. Her father kidnaps her and takes her to live with his extended clan in Pakistan. 

Iram Haq, the writer-director, is a Pakistani woman who grew up in Norway and endured an experience similar to Nisha’s when she was 14. This may explain why the movie has such bite and urgency. In a sense, “What Will People Say” is a real-life terror trip but with human ghouls and goblins. Except that Haq does something quite complicated and, given her own past experience, almost heroic: She gives Mirza and his family their due. 

Although I thought that, given the film’s overall humanistic temper, they were portrayed perhaps a shade too unfeelingly, it is always clear from scene to scene why Nisha’s family members act as they do. (The film would have been stronger if Nisha had demonstrated some conflicted, deep-set attraction to the ways of her ancestors as well.) 

Although the role may not have been written with great depth, Hussain’s performance as Mirza is richly layered. Clearly he loves his daughter and he is aghast both at her supposed wrongdoing and, even more so, by the indignities he is capable of committing against her. In the end, he is as riven as she is. Grade: A- (This movie is not rated.)

‘The Bookshop’ evokes nostalgia for all things literary

Based on the 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald and written and directed by Isabel Coixet, “The Bookshop” is set far enough in the past – 1959, in the English coastal town of Hardborough in Suffolk – to evoke an instant nostalgia for all things literary. If nothing else, it makes you want to stock up on Penguin paperbacks.

Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) loves books and decides to convert the run-down home she owns and occupies into a bookshop, the only one within many miles. It’s a daring enterprise since the coastal inhabitants – a mix of working-class and upper echelon – are apparently not big readers. The one notable exception is Edmund Brundish (Bill Nighy), a crusty widower who has essentially been a recluse for decades.

For a movie that is about a collection of oddballs, it can sometimes feel rather generic. But the eccentricities issue from real adversity. Florence’s chief adversary is Violet Gamart, played by Patricia Clarkson, the town’s reigning society matron. She can’t abide anybody else acting as any kind of arbiter of taste, least of all someone who does not occupy her social stratum.

Coixet is rather heavy-handed in making her classist points. It also doesn’t help that the community is so sketchily filled in that it’s never clear whether a bookstore would indeed serve its people or engender new readers. But the acting in the film mostly triumphs over these defects. Clarkson’s is a remarkably pure performance, affirming once again the actor’s truism that a scoundrel should never be played as such. They all think they have their reasons. And Nighy is quite touching. Grade: B+ (Rated PG for some thematic elements, language, and brief smoking.)

'Far From the Tree' chronicles very different children, parents

Author and psychologist Andrew Solomon’s bestselling 2012 book “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity” chronicled some 300 case histories of families in which a child and the child’s parents were vastly unalike. Director Rachel Dretzin focuses on six families, in addition to Solomon’s story, and each one is compelling in ways that initially may seem disparate but gradually cohere into a thesis. Dretzin and Solomon are promoting that old inspirational chestnut about triumphing over adversity.  

Besides Solomon, we also encounter Jack, who was born severely autistic, and Loini, who felt isolated by her dwarfism until she attended a Little People of America convention and connected with her “tribe.” Married couple Leah Smith and Joseph Stramondo are also of that tribe, seem joyful together. Jason was born with Down syndrome. Most problematic in the movie is Trevor, who at 16, for no apparent reason, stabbed to death an 8-year-old boy. The family’s attitude toward Trevor is extremely complicated. His mother asks, “How can you stop loving your child?” It is the core question posed by the film.

In their own very different ways, the parents in this movie have achieved a measure of acceptance and even uplift from their predicament. That the parents, and many of their children, were no doubt chosen for displaying this uplift skews the sample. But Solomon is on a good-news crusade here. Grade: B+ (This movie is not rated.)

Rom-com 'Juliet Naked' is indeed romantic and comedic

“Juliet, Naked,” directed by Jesse Peretz and adapted from the 2009 Nick Hornby novel, will never be mistaken for a classic, but it’s rather sweet and unprepossessing. Unusual for a rom-com these days, it actually manages to be both romantic and comedic.

Annie (Rose Byrne) lives with her boyfriend, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), in an English coastal town. Dutiful to a fault, she tolerates Duncan’s fixation on an obscure ’90s rocker, Tucker Crowe. Annie finds her mettle when she thinks a demo by Crowe is mediocre and says so on Duncan's fan blog. This sacrilege has the unintended effect of drawing out the actual Tucker Crowe, who agrees with her. An email “courtship” ensues.

If all this sounds a bit twee and Nora Ephron-ish, you would not be wrong, but Peretz and the screenwriters – Evgenia Peretz, Jim Taylor, and Tamara Jenkins – keep things refreshingly funky. And when Tucker, played by Ethan Hawke, enters the picture, lured to London on a rather contrived pretext, the dual elements in this rom-com cohere. 

Hawke is perfect casting because, as an actor, he already carries the superannuated Generation X vibes that define Tucker. Byrne is such a quicksilver presence that it is not always believable that Annie would often be so lacking in self-esteem. But her somewhat generic British reserve plays well opposite Tucker’s shambling Americanness. They fulfill one of the central tenets of the rom-com genre: Opposites attract. But the attraction is tentative and slow-growing, and this saves the movie from slickness. We seem to discover them as they are discovering each other. Grade: B+ (Rated R for language.)

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The Monitor's View

The women activists for peace in Syria

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After seven years of war in Syria, so many men have been killed or left the country that women are now a dominant presence in many parts of Syrian society. This is especially true in Idlib, the last province still largely controlled by opposition forces and home to more than a million people who fled the war from elsewhere. With the Assad regime now preparing to take the province by force, the women of Idlib are playing a role in what happens next. Civil activists led by women are standing up to jihadist militant groups that control many places in Idlib. Getting rid of the estimated 10,000 militants would remove the main excuse given by the Syrian regime to attack the province. It might also influence ongoing negotiations among major powers, such as Russia and Turkey, aimed at ending the war. The women-led shift against the jihadists could give Turkey more leverage to dictate a peaceful outcome for Idlib. As Syrian tanks prepare to take Idlib, peace for Idlib – and all of Syria – could be in the hands of women who have learned from experience that war is not the way to settle a country’s differences.

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The women activists for peace in Syria

After seven years of war in Syria, so many men have been killed or left the country that women are now a dominant presence in many parts of Syrian society. This is especially true in Idlib, the last province still largely controlled by opposition forces and home to more than a million people who fled the war from elsewhere.

Now, with the Assad regime preparing to take the province by force, the women of Idlib are playing a role in what happens next. According to reports from Idlib, civil activists led by women are standing up to jihadist militant groups, such Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), that control many places in Idlib. Getting rid of the estimated 10,000 militants would remove the main excuse given by the Syrian regime to attack the province. It might also influence ongoing negotiations among major powers, such as Russia and Turkey, aimed at ending the war.

Turkey, which shares a border with Idlib, commands 12 observation points around the province. It has also been trying for more than a year to weaken the hold of the militants in order to prevent the Assad regime, along with Russia war jets, from attacking Idlib. Yet much of the resistance to HTS and other militants is being led by civil activists – many of them women. 

“The women-led organizations offer a vision of a more equitable and democratic society in Syria and offer a powerful counter-argument to the conservative vision offered by HTS and other Islamist groups,” states a recent report, “Idlib Lives – The Untold Story of Heroes.” The report was done by the Syria Campaign, an independent advocacy group, and Peace Direct, an international antiwar organization.

“Facing attacks from all sides, civil society in Idlib continues to operate with remarkable effectiveness and determination,” the report says. “In areas best known internationally for massacres, there are untold stories of hundreds of groups providing the services civilians need to survive.”

HTS has lately faced open protests in Idlib, a sign of its weakening hold on the province. In 2017, a survey found 73 percent of people in Idlib reject the HTS-affiliated governing bodies.

This women-led shift against HTS could give Turkey more leverage to dictate a peaceful outcome for Idlib. “It is important for all of us to neutralize these radical groups,” Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said last week.

As Syrian tanks prepare to take Idlib with the aid of Russian air forces now gathering in the region, peace for Idlib – and all of Syria – could be in the hands of women who have learned from experience that war is not the way to settle a country’s differences.

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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.

You can never be obsolete

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A more spiritual view of employment brought practical solutions after technological advances forced today’s contributor to shift gears with her career.

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You can never be obsolete

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Changes in the job market as a result of advances in technology may make us question our individual worth. If machines can do all the work better and faster, what are we good for? And if we’re facing the need to find new employment or a whole new line of work, we may wonder: Am I too old to learn a new skill? How can I find the money to pay for training? Will anyone want to hire me?

Reassuring answers to questions such as these can seem out of reach as long as we’re looking at employment only from a material perspective. But I’ve found in Christian Science a radically different way to think about the various aspects of life, including employment – one that doesn’t include accepting the limits imposed by a merely material sense of life, but involves accepting the idea that each of us is God’s spiritual idea, always beloved and in our right place.

I’ve found ideas in the Bible invaluable in understanding our innate worth. Christ Jesus said of our value to God: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

Jesus taught that the basis of our being, our reason for existing, is to wholeheartedly love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s also the requirement to experience God’s promise of loving care, protection, and provision. Our enduring “job,” then, is to love God and express His love. Indeed, this is our only real career. We exist to shine forth with His glory.

This divinely bestowed purpose can never be lost. It’s untouched by the limits associated with a material sense of existence, for there are no limits on divine Love or its expression. God, Love, is ageless, doesn’t wear out, and will never be obsolete.

Whatever our human circumstances, spiritualizing our sense of employment is itself a kind of employment that can bring healing, as both my husband and I experienced when we made midcareer transitions.

Initially my husband ran a family-owned business. It was very successful for many years, but then the product they made was no longer popular. Eventually the business closed.

As we both prayed to know the proper steps to take, an idea from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, brought a wonderful sense of comfort and peace. It says: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (p. 494).

We felt our needs being met step by step as my husband was able to earn his PhD and move into a new career in higher education. He is now a college professor. The full transition took more than 10 years, but all along the way, as we were learning more about loving God and our neighbor, different jobs came our way that met our financial requirements.

The beginnings of my own transition to a new career happened about midway in my husband’s career change. I had started out as a computer programmer, but because of advances in technology, there came a point at which I needed to retool. I opened my thought to becoming a Christian Science practitioner, someone who helps others find healing through prayer. The complete way forward wasn’t clear at that time, but as I prayed and learned more about God’s loving, caring nature, I felt inspired to pursue this path and am now in this full-time healing ministry.

During these transitions, we incurred a large credit-card debt. I was greatly helped by pondering this line from the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Science and Health gives a spiritual sense of the Lord’s Prayer, in which this line is interpreted as “And Love is reflected in love” (p. 17). My prayer was to see divine Love expressed all around me.

Not long afterward, the debt was paid in a way we couldn’t have foreseen. This experience continues to inspire our family when working out financial concerns.

Divine Love is always revealing to each of us unique opportunities to express the qualities of God. Listening for Love’s direction on how to express love to benefit others results in rewarding employment. We may not know what our future employment will look like, but we can be certain that as we employ ourselves in living our divine purpose, divine Love will consistently meet our need. Divine Love is never obsolete, and we as Love’s expression are always needed.

Adapted from an article published in the May 29, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Paradise found

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
In the shade of an apple tree. On a vast lawn in the sun. In the cool breeze by a marble fountain. Sharing a blanket on the grass at the edge of a pond. These are some of the places to find readers on a summer day in New York’s Central Park, where, along with the in-line skaters, bicyclists, and joggers, they are out in (quiet) full force. Most of them prefer actual books, but they also read on Kindles and iPhones. No matter how they consume their picks, readers here agree on one thing: Weather permitting, the beauty and peace of Central Park is a reader’s paradise. Above, Brittany Banks stakes out a spot on the lawn of the East Meadow as she reads 'Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting your Perfect Mate,' by Patti Stanger.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 4th, 2018 )

Thank you for accompanying our exploration of the world today. Please come back next week for our look at the start of the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. They are apt to revolve around the issue of presidential power, which has been growing for decades with no pushback.

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 31, 2018
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