Monitor Daily Podcast

September 05, 2018
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When voters show up

Last night, I voted in the Massachusetts primary. It’s always engaging, though most fun when there’s a waiting line of chattering voters. Last night, in my town, there wasn’t. And that generated a running commentary from my visiting son, who has lived for years in countries where voting is difficult, dangerous, or just not possible. How, he asked as we voted, can people claim they care about how they’re governed, demand their views be taken seriously, and not bother to vote?

The United States trails its peers, ranking 26th out of 32 industrialized nations in participation. It’s not for lack of exhortations. Jesse Jackson raised the problem at Aretha Franklin’s recent funeral: “We have long lines to celebrate death, and short lines for voting,” he admonished the audience.

Some point to structural barriers, or doubt a vote can change anything. Yet in Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley trounced a 10-term incumbent of the Seventh Congressional District in the Democratic primary, a major upset that positions her to become the first African-American woman to represent the state in the US House (no Republican is running).

Why? Her supporters showed up.

One of them was college student Elisabeth Bastien. When a volunteer heard she was casting her first vote, she announced it excitedly to the polling station. Everyone clapped. Ms. Bastien loved the experience, from seeing candidates to hearing voters opine: “It’s cool to feel part of a group that can implement change.”

Now to our stories for today, including a deeper look at the challenges of getting voters to the polls in poor and underserved communities, and a bright spot in war-torn South Sudan: girls and the sport of boruboru.

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Why Woodward book poses real challenge to White House

Some books about the Trump White House can be faulted on several fronts. But the latest comes from Bob Woodward, a highly experienced journalist whose track record means its contents are harder to dismiss.


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For a president so interested in cable news, Donald Trump may be finding his biggest problem is another form of media: books. Leaked stories about a new book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward have exploded across cable news this week and sent the White House scrambling to reply. Excerpts in The Washington Post include multiple accounts alleging top aides have questioned the president’s intelligence and demeanor. It comes after other books have also painted an image of White House chaos. Mr. Woodward’s book may offer a preview of how history books will treat the current presidency. That does not mean they will necessarily be as critical, but they will draw similarly on wide-ranging interviews with insiders. The story of the Trump presidency may be less and less under the president’s control from here. Woodward’s approach of shaping seamless narratives – partly using anonymous sources – has its critics. But historian David Greenberg says that “pound for pound, year after year, nobody has taught us more or brought more information to bear on what is happening at the highest levels of government.”


1. Why Woodward book poses real challenge to White House

President Trump appears intensely interested in how he is portrayed on cable news. As a former reality show star, he’s involved in decisions about who is dispatched to defend the White House on television, what they’re supposed to say, and general strategy for fighting negative broadcast stories. He’s so detail-oriented in this area that reportedly he’s decided to film some recent statements in the Rose Garden because he believes the lighting outdoors makes him look better.

That makes it ironic that some of the biggest media crises of his presidency have had their roots in a much older, slower, denser medium: books.

The pattern began in July 2017, with “Devil’s Bargain,” the book by journalist Joshua Green that portrayed now-fired aide Steve Bannon as a key strategist behind Mr. Trump’s election. Then this spring came fired FBI Director Jim Comey’s memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” which questioned Trump’s honesty. Both were No. 1 New York Times bestsellers.

This year a string of books also has portrayed purported dysfunction in the White House itself. Journalist Michael Wolff gained remarkable access for his “Fire and Fury,” though critics have faulted what some say is Mr. Wolff’s sloppy reporting. Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant and White House aide fired for allegedly abusing her office, weighed in with “Unhinged,” a gossipy tell-all unexpectedly supported in parts by secret tape recordings. Both these reached the top Times bestseller spot, as well.

But it’s the third book in what’s now a “chaos trilogy” that the White House might find the hardest to counter in the public marketplace of ideas. Veteran reporter Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House” does not even come out until next Tuesday. But leaked stories about its contents, including multiple accounts alleging top aides have questioned the president’s intelligence and demeanor, have exploded across cable news and sent the White House scrambling to reply.

Woodward is a preview of how some history books might treat the Trump presidency after it is over. That does not mean they will necessarily be as critical, but they will draw on the same sort of sources – wide-ranging interviews with former and current officials. The story of the Trump presidency may be less and less under the president’s control from here.

Woodward’s approach of shaping seamless narratives has its critics. But “pound for pound, year after year, nobody has taught us more or brought more information to bear on what is happening at the highest levels of government,” says David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University and author of “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.”

White House response

In some ways the White House response to the preliminary news gust from Woodward’s forthcoming book reflects the book’s theme of a White House that is chaotic every day – riven by factions, dismissive of the man in the Oval Office, constantly one step behind events.

Administration spokespeople were slow to respond to this week’s initial Washington Post story on the book’s contents, which includes accounts of top aides calling Trump “moron” and “idiot,” sometimes with profane adjectives attached. The Post also released tape of a Trump-Woodward phone call from August, in which the president says no one ever told him that Woodward wanted to interview him. Trump then semi-contradicts this, saying that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had told him, but he had received no official notice of the request from communications staffers.

On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday, however, the White House geared up, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly issuing statements forcefully denying their use of derogatory words about their boss, and calling the book “fiction.”

But White House aides weren’t saying that the White House is in fact a “smooth-running machine,” as Trump sometimes insists. Woodward’s book attributes some of its more hair-raising scenes, such as Mr. Kelly’s rants about his boss, to interviews with multiple (unnamed) officials who were present at the time. That’s difficult to completely refute. By Wednesday afternoon, White House reporters noted a slight change in the tone of official statements, implicitly accepting some internal strife.

“Almost everyone agrees that my Administration has done more in less than two years than any other Administration in the history of our Country,” tweeted Trump on Wednesday. “I’m tough as hell on people & if I weren’t nothing would get done. Also, I question everybody & everything-which is why I got elected!” 

If nothing else, it is apparent that dozens of former and current Trump staffers did talk to Woodward. Many seem to have sat for hours. If past practice is any guide, Woodward taped many of those interviews, says Dr. Greenberg, who was an assistant to the journalist for three years in the early 1990s.

Trump’s core supporters won’t believe Woodward’s book, or may not care if the stories actually are true. Trump critics are quick to believe the worst. In that sense, “Fear” probably won’t change many minds in a country already divided over the Trump presidency.

But in general, Trump is not known for assiduous adherence to the facts, given the many fact-checker tabulations of his misstatements. Woodward, however, is a brand known for dogged reporting since Richard Nixon was in office.

Woodward a digger for detail

Woodward isn’t interested in analytical writing, theorizing, or other abstract aspects of journalism, says Greenberg. He’s a “just the facts, sir,” reporter.

“One thing I think Woodward does really well, because he is interested in information, is that he will ask questions like, ‘When did you meet so-and-so? What was the first thing you said when you met them?’ and so on,” says Greenberg.

Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Obama all cooperated with Woodward to some degree in books about their presidency. All had some complaints about particular incidents or depictions. Some officials, such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have battled publicly with the author over their portrayals.

Going forward, the questions “Fear” has raised for Trump include: Can he disprove any of it? Will anyone else quit? Will more stories come out? On Wednesday afternoon, The New York Times published an opinion story purportedly written by an anonymous senior Trump official. In the piece, the official says they are indeed working to contain the worst instincts of a president they feel is erratic and unsuited for the job.

“Many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office,” the story says.

Blue wave euphoria? Why it hasn’t reached this corner of Baltimore.

Democrats hope the record number of women and minority candidates will fire up the diverse base. But in hard-hit, minority communities, convincing people that their vote can actually bring change is a tall order.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Democratic candidate for US House of Representatives Ayanna Pressley addressed supporters after winning the party’s primary in Boston Sept. 4, defeating a 10-term incumbent. Candidates who speak to the party’s younger, more liberal, and more diverse base have won with upsets in races across the country.

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On a hot August afternoon in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, Neal Carter unlocks the door to an empty row house along a street that saw rioting after Freddie Gray’s funeral in 2015. “Most people here see this every day," says Mr. Carter, gesturing to the wreckage inside. "So sometimes it’s hard to even think about hope.” The grim mood stands in contrast to the nationwide narrative about Democratic excitement ahead of the midterms. A record number of women, minority, and LGBTQ candidates who speak to the Democratic Party’s younger, more diverse base have stunned incumbents in primary races. Headlines this week have celebrated Massachusetts' Ayanna Pressley, who beat 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano and is now set to become the first black woman to represent the Bay State in Congress. But places like Sandtown highlight just how big a challenge it will be to generate similar enthusiasm on a statewide scale. To win by appealing to the Democratic base instead of hewing to the middle, candidates need first to convince those constituencies that their votes will make a difference – even when there's a history of evidence to suggest otherwise.


2. Blue wave euphoria? Why it hasn’t reached this corner of Baltimore.

In April 2016, one year after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, church elder Clyde William “C.W.” Harris climbed to the roof of his office building in West Baltimore and refused to come down. He would stay put, he announced, until at least 500 people voted in the city’s mayoral primary, set to take place in just over a week.

“I stayed on the roof for four nights and five days,” Mr. Harris, pastor at Newborn Communities of Faith, says with a note of pride.

This year, Harris may need to do more than hold a rooftop vigil to get his congregants to the polls. At stake in November’s midterms is the chance to elect Maryland’s first black governor and a window for Democrats to retake a majority in Congress. But turnout requires hope, and in the swath of Baltimore that Harris both serves and calls home – the same community where Mr. Gray was arrested and died three years ago, and where the violent protests that followed took place – hopes are not at their highest.

For Harris's neighbors, the 2016 elections not only replaced a beloved president in Barack Obama; it also brought an unpopular candidate to the White House. The adjacent and almost entirely black neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester, Upton, Druid Heights, and Penn-North went heavily for Hillary Clinton. In two precincts here, President Trump received no votes at all.

Locally, residents say that new leadership in City Hall and at the police department has led to little change for the better over the past three years. None of the officers who arrested Gray were convicted, and all six were put back on duty last November. Incomes are still low, unemployment is still high, and drugs are everywhere. At the parking lot of Avenue Market, where Harris sits in his pickup describing the plight of his neighborhood, a man in a nearby car nods frantically at his steering wheel – a symptom, Harris says, of fentanyl use.

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
C.W. Harris stands before shelves of art supplies used by young people in Jubilee Arts, one of the programs he founded under his nonprofit, Intersection of Change, on Aug. 29 in Baltimore. 'We have for years been the caboose, the tail end of all the struggles, the forgotten community,' says Mr. Harris. 'I understand the reason why folk aren’t voting.'

“We have for years been the caboose, the tail end of all the struggles, the forgotten community,” he says. “I understand the reason why folk aren’t voting.”

The grim mood in this corner of Baltimore stands in contrast to the nationwide narrative about Democratic excitement ahead of the midterms. A record number of women, minority, and LGBTQ candidates who speak to the Democratic Party’s younger, more diverse base have stunned incumbents and moderates in primary races across the country – from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th district to Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial primary. 

This week the headlines belong to Ayanna Pressley, who beat staunch liberal and 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano by 18 points. Running unopposed in November, she is now set to become the first black woman representative Massachusetts has ever sent to Congress.

Those victories have bolstered a growing school of thought within the party that, strategically, it makes more sense for Democrats to work on generating higher turnout among the base rather than trying to appeal to moderate swing voters. As with Ms. Pressley, many upsets have come in Democratic strongholds where the primary – not the general election – is where the winner is decided.

But pulling off a win on the strength of the minority vote in a congressional district primary is a far cry from doing it statewide.

In Florida, Mr. Gillum is facing a candidate who is as far right as he is left, in a swing state that’s been run by Republican governors for nearly two decades. Stacey Abrams, a moderate who could become the first black woman to lead Georgia, is also facing an uphill climb in the ruby-red state. Ben Jealous, the progressive gubernatorial candidate here in Maryland, is facing a GOP incumbent who remains popular with state Democrats. Governor Hogan is running 14.5 percentage points ahead of Mr. Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, in the Real Clear Politics rolling average of polls.

Places like Sandtown-Winchester highlight just how big a challenge it will be to generate Democrat enthusiasm on a statewide scale. To win by appealing to the Democratic Party’s liberal, majority-minority base instead of hewing to the middle, candidates need first to convince those constituencies that their votes will make a difference – even when there's a history of evidence to suggest otherwise.

“If I was a candidate, I would be showing the receipts, like, ‘During Freddie Gray, this is where I was. During hurricane Harvey in Houston, this is where I was,’ ” says Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies race and inequality, in a phone interview. “There better be proof that you can bring hope and leverage your power in times of struggle.”  

Voter turnout

Among the most persistent narratives following the 2016 election was the drop in black voter turnout and its devastating consequences for the Clinton campaign. The 7-percentage-point decline between 2012 and 2016 is the largest on record for black voters, the Pew Research Center reported. In Maryland, where African-Americans make up 30 percent of the population, turnout soared during early voting – and then slumped on Election Day to 66 percent, the lowest the state has seen in a presidential year since 1992.

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
The spot where Freddie Gray was arrested before he died from injuries sustained while in police custody in 2015 is marked by a mural in Baltimore.

Maryland (and Baltimore County) still went to Mrs. Clinton. But the broader issue of black voter turnout led to questions, and criticisms, about the Democratic Party’s ability to retain a constituency that has supported it since Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

“A lot of Democrats ask for black votes during a campaign but don’t do a good enough job listening to black voices once they’re in office,” notes former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau in an episode of his podcast, “The Wilderness.” “It’s understandable why people of color would lose faith in a political system that continually fails them ... especially when it sometimes seems like the party that’s supposed to represent them takes them for granted.”

Sandtown-Winchester reflects that reality. Households in this 72-block neighborhood earn roughly 60 percent of Baltimore’s median income of $41,800. In 2017, the homicide rate was more than twice that of the city. Drug and alcohol abuse was the third leading cause of death. Everywhere, crumbling buildings and “abandominiums” stare out at a shrinking population.

On a hot August afternoon, Neal Carter unlocks the door to an empty row house along a street that saw rioting after Gray’s funeral in 2015. Mr. Carter, a local entrepreneur and community advocate, plans to restore the space and rent it out, as he has with half a dozen or so other properties in the neighborhood. But for now, the place is a gutted mess: Wooden beams trail from the ceiling to the pitted floor, and a pile of what looks like ash or dirt blocks a hallway.

“Most people here see this every day,” Carter says, gesturing at the wreckage. It’s his answer to a question on how his neighbors are feeling about creating change by casting votes. “They see this every day, so sometimes it’s hard to even think about hope.”

Some candidates understand the need to address that sense of despair – and have drawn from their own experiences to do so. “When I was growing up, my mother and I felt voiceless and invisible, but she made sure I knew that on Election Day we were powerful,” Pressley said during her speech accepting the Democratic nomination.

Still, Sandtown is a reminder that not every black vote is guaranteed, even when the candidate is also black.

“We’re not a monolith although we vote monolithically. There is an apparatus that low-income blacks do not feel a part of,” says Mr. Perry of the Brookings Institution. “If you want to see a strong [turnout], you have to speak very plainly about community needs and not shy away from saying that black people” – and poor black communities in particular – “need x, y, and z.”

In the ring

No one knows those needs better than the community itself.

On Pennsylvania Avenue, just steps from the building where Harris, the pastor, held his rooftop protest, Calvin Ford has been running a boxing gym for about 15 years. A Baltimore native, Mr. Ford spent his own youth as a lieutenant for the Boardley-Burrows drug organization in the 1980s. Today his students often show up to the gym hungry, without clothes, or with stories about relatives dealing drugs or friends getting killed. He sees the Upton Boxing Center as a place where those kids can work through trauma, find stability, and engage in community issues.

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Calvin Ford shows off the training area at Upton Boxing Center on Aug. 29, 2018, in Baltimore. 'A friend of mine told me the reason why politics don’t pay attention to your kids is because they don't vote,' says Mr. Ford, who sees the gym as a place where kids can work through trauma and engage in community issues. 'If I start bringing them guys that can teach them about politics and that show them how politics works, then that gives them a voice.'

“A friend of mine told me the reason why politicians don’t pay attention to your kids is because they don't vote,” Ford says. “If I start to train the kids to start talking like that, if I start bringing them guys that can teach them about politics and that show them how politics works, then that gives them a voice.”

It’s folks like Ford – and the work they do – whom candidates will need to tap into if they want to revive the black vote in November, both analysts and activists say. “It’s important that whoever’s running for office take time, energy, and effort to meet the people where they are,” says Nykidra Robinson, founder and executive director of Black Girls Vote, a Baltimore nonprofit. “It’s going there and talking to people who are in need of help and in need of hope.”

The No Boundaries Coalition, also headquartered on Pennsylvania Avenue, focuses specifically on voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, making sure that people have what they need to get to the polls and understand how their vote could affect their lives. In 2016, the organization helped boost turnout in the neighborhood from 7 percent in 2014 to just under 30 percent, the local NPR station reports.

Harris also plans to “take souls to the polls” on Election Day. The pastor has applied for a $5,000 municipal grant to rent vans to bus people to and from polling stations on Nov. 6. If the funding doesn’t pan out, he says, he’ll lean on the goodwill of volunteers. “We will express ourselves nonviolently by pushing down that lever,” he says.

“So many people died in the struggle to have the right to vote,” Harris adds, as he watches as a small group of volunteers hand out bananas, granola bars, and chicken soup to a gathering crowd outside Avenue Market. “We need to honor that. For us to ignore that – sitting down, not going to the polls – is unacceptable.”


After Brazil fire’s cultural toll, some hope for a wake-up call

The fire at Brazil’s National Museum would be a severe loss to science and art at any time. But today, many Brazilians look at the rubble and see a painful symbol of corruption and austerity.


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At the turn of the 21st century, Brazil was Latin America’s rising star. Its economy was soaring, its middle class was growing, and its international role was gaining heft. But over the past several years, the nation has stumbled. Brazil moved into an economic recession and implemented strict austerity measures. A sitting president was impeached and a former president imprisoned. The massive “Car Wash” investigation, meanwhile, revealed that political elite were siphoning off billions of dollars. So when Brazil’s National Museum caught fire on Sunday, destroying up to 90 percent of its collection, many felt the country’s realities had been thrown into sharp relief. Experts had warned the museum was at risk, but years on end brought more budget cuts. But if the fire is a warning, will the government heed it? “My greatest fear is that this isn’t a wake-up call, but an affirmation in a country where the past doesn’t seem to matter very much and confidence in the government and institutions is very low,” says Thomas Trebat, director of Columbia University’s Global Center in Rio de Janeiro.


3. After Brazil fire’s cultural toll, some hope for a wake-up call

As a girl, Cecília Pereira’s family made a habit of picnics at the National Museum. Formerly a palace for Portuguese and Brazilian royalty, the majestic museum-grounds were a reprieve from the poor Rio neighborhood where Ms. Pereira grew up, just 15 minutes away.

“I always wanted to go,” says Pereira, now a master’s candidate studying botany. She finally entered the museum as an undergraduate, blown away by displays like the bones of a giant, prehistoric sloth, or the five-ton meteorite that greeted visitors in the main entrance.

On Sunday, the National Museum burned fiercely enough to obliterate up to 90 percent of its contents – including ancient Egyptian mummies, rare indigenous artwork, and the 11,500-year-old “Luzia,” the oldest human skeleton discovered in the Americas.

Pereira says she can’t find the words to describe her – and the country’s – loss.

What sparked the museum blaze is still unknown. But the initial, emotional outcry, followed by a sinking acceptance of the tragedy, underscores the dramatic dive Brazil has taken over the past several years, from up-and-coming to mired in corruption and scandal.

At the turn of the 21st century, Brazil was Latin America's rising star. Its economy was soaring, its middle class growing, and its international presence gaining more heft. It was investing more heavily in education than almost any other OECD, or industrialized, country. Long gone, it seemed, were the days of extreme income inequality and a harsh right-wing dictatorship: Brazil was modernizing and leaving its past behind.

But over the past five or so years, the nation started to stumble, moving into an economic recession and implementing austerity measures that hit the poor and middle classes hardest. The political elite, meanwhile, were skimming billions of dollars into their pockets. This week, the blaze that engulfed Rio’s natural history museum, charring thousands of years of history and culture, threw Brazil’s political and economic realities into stark relief. The disaster has left Brazilians wondering whether the country will see the fire as a wake-up call, or watch as more institutions and national gains suffer amid widespread corruption and political paralysis.

Alexandre Macieira/Riotur/AP
This undated handout photo provided shows Indigenous decorated pottery from South America on display at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Flames tore through the museum Sunday night, and officials have said much of Latin America's largest collection of treasures might be lost.

“My greatest fear is that this isn’t a wake-up call, but an affirmation in a country where the past doesn’t seem to matter very much and confidence in the government and institutions is very low,” says Thomas Trebat, director of Columbia University’s Global Center in Rio de Janeiro.

“There’s a sense that Brazil should be one of the great countries in the world,” Mr. Trebat says. But, instead, people feel “we’ve fallen behind,” and are questioning their power to do anything about it.

Recession roller coaster

Experts have been warning that the National Museum was a fire risk for over a decade. But its budget kept slipping amid austerity policies meant to speed economic recovery: from roughly $130,000 in 2013, to about $84,000 in 2017. In the first few months of 2018, it had reportedly received only $13,000. Many say a sprinkler system is one investment that could have helped slow the reach of the fire.

“We thought that there might be a problem, that it could have caught fire at any moment, but we also couldn’t stop working,” says Thaiana Garcia, who researched crustaceans in a museum lab.

For Ms. Garcia, the lack of investment isn’t just about the recession. “The government places a higher value on science from elsewhere, rather than what we produce here in Brazil,” she says. “The first money they take away is the money for universities and museums.”

Brazil has been on a roller coaster of political and economic crises over the past several years, with the impeachment of a sitting president and the imprisonment of a former one. Large-scale anti-corruption protests swept the nation in 2013, and the economy officially entered a historic recession the following year. Unemployment hit about 14 percent last year, according to government data. Hope that the temporary administration of President Michel Temer could put Brazil back on its feet economically has fizzled out.

High-profile corruption scandals have swept the nation – and reached out to implicate leaders across Latin America. Now in its fifth year, the sprawling Operation Car Wash investigation has shaken the nation, uncovering a series of kickbacks through which politicians siphoned off billions of dollars. Last May, Brazilians gaped as they listened to leaked audio recordings of President Temer appear to endorse meatpacking giant JBS to continue bribes to senior politicians. Last September, a former minister was arrested after his fingerprints were found on bags with more than $16 million in cash – enough to fund the museum for more than a century, based on recent years’ budgets.

“People are tired of corruption,” says Maurício Canêdo, a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation’s economics school. “But people are also tired of poorly used public resources, whether that's related to corruption or simply to spending priorities that are different to what they believe they should be."

Science on a shoestring

None of the scandals are directly linked to the museum’s funding. But all the same, for many scientists, the constant swirl of corruption stands in painful contrast to their institutions’ drastic budget cuts. Academics and researchers panicked last year when funding for science and technology research was gutted by 44 percent. It had already been slashed by more than half over the previous five years. Last month, the body in charge of Brazil’s academic research said it would be forced to cut 200,000 research grants if it didn’t receive further funding, threatening a knock-on effect for key economic sectors, like agriculture.

“The fire is a tragic metaphor for what the Temer government represents in Brazil,” says Waldeck Carneiro, a Rio de Janeiro state representative for the country’s main opposition, the Workers Party (PT).

Sixty-two percent of young Brazilians would leave the country if given the opportunity, according to a recent Datafolha poll.

Despite finally emerging from recession, Brazil’s growth is predicted to remain sluggish, and austerity attitudes may not change anytime soon. “If there’s no money, well, patience,” right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro, a frontrunner in next month’s presidential election, told Brazilian media when asked about reallocating funding to prevent similar disasters.

The fire exposed Brazil as a nation that “doesn’t value its past, isn’t proud of its past and doesn’t look to figures of the past for inspiration and guidance,” says Trebat, pointing to residual effects of colonialism. “Maybe that’s a good thing in some respects, but it points to a general lack of self-esteem and confidence in what the country has been and what it could be.”

Looking ahead

Many are putting their hopes into next month’s presidential election. However, nearly 40 percent of the electorate support imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as “Lula,” who has been ruled ineligible to run – suggesting that, even if a replacement candidate is provided, the vote may not be the salve they are craving.

“If you’re always having to start over, which is the situation people constantly find themselves in [in Brazil], you aren’t going to get anywhere,” Trebat says.

But those who love the National Museum aren’t ready to give up hope. The outcry from the international academic community, along with colleagues’ solidarity, has given Pereira a sense that all is not lost.

The cause of the fire is under investigation and there are calls to rebuild the museum – though with so much of the collection gone, many say it can never be truly restored.

“We are in mourning for the loss of history, [but] I hope this will mean more effort to better protect national heritage,” she says. “The museum didn’t die. It resists, it endures.”



Diversity or discrimination? What’s at stake in Harvard admissions lawsuit

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Should college admissions be race-neutral? Increasingly, it’s a question being pushed to the courts to decide, with the latest test coming from a lawsuit against Harvard University. Last week, the US Department of Justice submitted a brief in support of the plaintiff, a group that opposes consideration of race and argues that the school discriminates against Asian-Americans. Harvard disagrees, defending its “whole-person evaluation” and saying that, in pursuit of diversity, it legally treats race as one of many factors in admissions. Asian-Americans have weighed in on both sides. The case of Students for Fair Admissions Inc. (SFFA) v. Harvard is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 15. Ultimately, it could end up at the Supreme Court, which is likely to be more conservative than in 2016, when it upheld narrowly tailored race-conscious admissions in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 4 to 3. If so, supporters of SFFA hope a decision in its favor would strongly curtail, or completely prevent, the consideration of race in college admissions. 


4. Diversity or discrimination? What’s at stake in Harvard admissions lawsuit

With potentially big implications for campuses nationwide, the latest battle over affirmative action – Students for Fair Admissions Inc. (SFFA) v. Harvard – has been playing out in United States District Court in Massachusetts. On Aug. 30, the US Department of Justice threw its weight behind the plaintiff, which claims that the Ivy League university treats Asian-American undergraduate applicants unfairly. The case highlights the tension between those who see civil rights as best promoted by acknowledging race and those who see any attention to race as discriminatory. A trial is scheduled to start Oct. 15.

Q: What is the lawsuit about?

It boils down to this question: Is race too strong of a factor in admissions to one of the nation’s most prestigious universities?

SFFA claims Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans. It accuses the university in Cambridge, Mass., of “racial balancing” – keeping roughly the same distribution of racial groups year after year despite changes in application rates and qualifications.

Instead of considering race as only one small part among many factors in a holistic review – as the US Supreme Court has allowed – Harvard treats “race or ethnicity as a dominant factor,” SFFA says, holding Asian-Americans to a higher standard.

The lawsuit is widely seen as the latest tactic in ongoing attempts to unravel race-conscious affirmative action. The president of SFFA, a nonprofit membership organization, is Edward Blum, the man behind two prominent Supreme Court cases – one in 2016 that failed to overturn affirmative action at the University of Texas and one in 2013 that successfully overturned part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Supporters of affirmative action vigorously defend it as essential to diversity on campus and to the educational mission of institutions that use it.

Q: How has Harvard responded?

Harvard denies it conducts racial balancing or discriminates against Asian-American applicants. It also challenges SFFA’s statistical analysis of admissions data. 

Harvard defends its “whole-person evaluation,” saying race is one of many factors considered in pursuit of diversity. Beyond test scores and grades, for example, it assesses extracurricular commitments, athletic abilities, personal qualities, and socioeconomic status.

Over the past decade, the percentage of Asian-American students in the admitted class has grown by 29 percent, Harvard notes, and is currently about 23 percent.

Q: What are the potential ramifications of the suit?

It could end up at the Supreme Court, which is likely to be more conservative than in 2016, when it upheld narrowly tailored race-conscious admissions in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 4 to 3. If so, supporters of SFFA hope a decision in its favor would strongly curtail, or completely prevent, the consideration of race in college admissions. 

SFFA is also pursuing a federal case against affirmative action at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a state case against the University of Texas, Austin. 

In the US, there has been “a chilling effect on universities using race-conscious policies for a while now,” because many schools fear an expensive lawsuit, says Colorado State University education professor OiYan Poon, who joined more than 500 social scientists in filing a brief on behalf of Harvard. 

Q: How have other groups weighed in on the lawsuit?

Both sides have requested summary judgment – in which the judge would decide the case on the information submitted so far, rather than proceeding with a trial. 

In response, hundreds of groups and individuals – including current and former Harvard students, universities, higher education organizations, and civil rights coalitions – have contributed to friend-of-the-court briefs defending Harvard and the consideration of race as part of a holistic process. 

Asian-American groups in this camp say they refuse to be pitted against the interests of other minority groups, and they accuse SFFA of attempting to use Asian-Americans as a wedge to further an agenda that mainly would benefit whites.

“Low-income Asian-Americans and applicants from underrepresented Asian-American subgroups benefit from the consideration of race,” and from diversity on campus, Nicole Gon Ochi, supervising attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Los Angeles, told reporters on a call July 30. 

On SFFA’s side, five economists and scholars jointly defended the SFFA’s statistical model. They say lower “personal” ratings of Asian-Americans – one of several categories in Harvard admissions – indicate bias.

Among other briefs on behalf of SFFA was one jointly filed by the Asian American Coalition for Education – representing about 150 groups – and the Asian American Legal Foundation. 

They say Asian-Americans’ experience today parallels the 1920s, when anti-Semitism contributed to Harvard admissions changes that reduced the percentage of Jewish students.

Q: How has the Trump administration gotten involved?

The US Department of Justice filed a statement of interest  in the case Aug. 30, siding with SFFA. It argues that there should be a trial because Harvard has failed to show that it does not discriminate against Asian-Americans. It also accuses Harvard of not seriously considering race-neutral ways to achieve a diverse student body.

The DOJ is also investigating a federal civil rights complaint, filed by 64 Asian-American associations, that challenges Harvard’s admissions policy. 

During President Trump’s tenure, the US Department of Education and the DOJ have rescinded Obama-era guidance that interpreted how colleges and schools could implement race-conscious policies legally based on the Supreme Court’s rulings. Many conservatives say the guidance overstepped, while supporters of affirmative action say removing it will make it more difficult for schools to use policies upheld by the Court.

Boruboru: South Sudan’s newest spectator sport is one for the girls

Think you're good at dodgeball? See how long you last in boruboru, a traditional playground game. Formal leagues are giving girls who grew up amid the civil war more opportunities to dive, dodge, and throw.

Esther Ruth Mbabazi
A player dodges the ball during a match between the New Generation and Rock City teams in Juba, South Sudan. Through the games, the Boruboru National Association aims to inspire girls to have the courage to strive for their dreams, and to be resilient.

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Picture if dodgeball met gymnastics on the clay courts of the French Open. Then picture if a couple of Major League Baseball pitchers showed up. Now picture that the athletes throwing and acrobatically evading those fastballs are girls ages 10 to 18 living in a country that has been at war with itself more often than not. This is boruboru, South Sudan’s most beloved playground game. And today, it’s South Sudan’s newest spectator sport. The capital city’s first official league got off the ground in 2015, blending the game’s traditional improvisation with hard-and-fast rules. Lithe, fluid dodgers take quick turns being pelted by two opposing players, and avoiding their hits is no simple thing – knowing how to handstand comes in handy. At a recent Saturday game, many spectators in the three-deep crowd are men. But the stars are girls, finding strength and sheer fun and community in a country where women have often been war’s targets. “This sport is only for us,” says Peace, age 14. Her team, New Generation, plays in highlighter-yellow uniforms that read "Women can change the world."


5. Boruboru: South Sudan’s newest spectator sport is one for the girls

Imagine dodgeball, in all its elementary school gym class glory.

Now take away the light-up sneakers squeaking over slippery wood floors. Take away the dozen balls whizzing back and forth overhead like a manic game of pinball. Take away the shrieking 8-year-olds and the grumpy, exhausted PE teacher.

Replace them with three barefoot girls on a sandy pitch on the outskirts of South Sudan’s jumbled capital city. Imagine two of the girls lined up on either side of the pitch with a small ball, winding up again and again like they’re getting ready to pitch a 90-m.p.h. fastball. Now imagine their target, a frantic blur of a girl between them, diving and flipping away from the ball like she’s mid-floor routine at the Olympics.

On second thought, maybe it isn’t dodgeball you need to imagine.

This is more like if dodgeball met gymnastics on the clay courts of the French Open, and then a couple of Major League Baseball pitchers showed up just to hang out.

This is boruboru: South Sudan’s most beloved playground game, and more recently, its newest spectator sport.

Esther Ruth Mbabazi

It’s also, for some, a quiet battlefront in the global fight for gender equity in sports. Like roller derby, softball, or synchronized swimming, this game belongs first and foremost to the girls. And they’re not about to share it.

“There’s a boy I know who said to me, if I was a girl I would play too,” says Peace, age 14, whose team, New Generation, plays in highlighter-yellow uniforms that read WOMEN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD. “I didn’t reply to him. I just kept quiet. Because I knew he can’t play. This sport is only for us.”


A version of boruboru has been played by girls across east and southern Africa for centuries. In Uganda it’s called okwepena. In Malawi it’s fulayi. In Kenya it’s kati. But the basic concept is the same. You need some kind of ball (balled up socks work well, as do bundled plastic bags or a rolled-up banana leaf), a few someones to throw, and at least one someone to duck. That’s it.

“There aren’t any instructions, or any hard rules. You would just find an open space and you played,” says Joyce Nosha, recalling her childhood boruboru games.

But in 2015, she was walking through her neighborhood in Juba when she saw a crowd huddled around a small dirt field. When she got closer, she realized they were watching a game that looked a little like boruboru. But it was a kind of boruboru she had never seen – with teams and rules and referees’ whistles blowing shrilly every time a player stepped out of bounds. The dodgers, meanwhile, moved like dancers, lithe and fluid. Ms. Nosha couldn’t look away.

When she asked another spectator what was going on, they explained to her that this was the city’s official boruboru league. She signed up the same day.

That league had been formed earlier that year by a hodge-podge of social workers, activists, and lifetime NGO-types, who were looking for a way to support young girls growing up in a society where the odds often seemed stacked against them, amid a civil war that has often made women deliberate targets.

“When we look at the civil war, we see that young girls have not been given an opportunity to participate in the public life of this country,” says Abdallah Michael Charles, the executive director of the Boruboru National Association, which runs the league in Juba.

The founders of the BNA had particular sympathy for the challenges of growing up during a war. Like most South Sudanese of their generation, they had been raised far away from their homeland, in Congo and Uganda and Sudan, scattered by the five decades of brutal civil war against northern Sudan that preceded the country’s 2011 independence.

And boruboru had followed the South Sudanese into this mass exile. It was played beside water pumps in refugee camps and on the narrow streets of South Sudanese neighborhoods in Khartoum, Kakuma, and Kampala. It found a home in villages and cities and settlements for this displaced – anywhere, really, with a critical mass of girls and something that could be shaped into a small ball.

“Even before we had a nation, this was already our national sport,” says Mr. Charles.

Rock City showdown

But when the BNA went to turn boruboru into a league game, it encountered a particular challenge: they had to take a game known and beloved for its improvisation and give it standardized rules.

“We looked at the rules of all the kinds of dodgeball played all over the world,” says Thomas Titus Bazia, who helped design boruboru’s rulebook. “The final version was about 50 percent the old style of play and 50 percent conventional sporting rules,” he says.

Here’s how those conventional rules go: There are four 20-minute periods. In each period, the team on offense fields two throwers, while defense fields a single dodger. The object is to hit the dodger as many times as you can in 20 minutes, anywhere except on her head. Dodgers, meanwhile, have to, well, dodge – avoiding as many of those hits as they can. (The dodgers swap out every minute or two of play.)

Today, Juba’s boruboru league has more than 50 teams and about 825 players, ranging in age from 10 to about 18. (Smaller girls tend to be ace dodgers, while the older girls have the stronger arms for throwing.)

On a recent Saturday afternoon in the Rock City neighborhood of Juba, a low-slung jumble of houses backing up against a cascade of rocky mountains, the players from New Generation – Peace’s team – bobbed and hopped through a warm up. Then they headed out to the pitch to take on the local favorites, appropriately called Rock City.

Nearby, goats roamed across a heap of uncollected garbage, munching mechanically on banana peels and discarded chip bags. On the next field over, a men’s soccer game was in full swing, nearly drowning out the thump of Rihanna’s “Work” crackling out of the speaker beside the boruboru pitch.

But as the game began, a crowd slowly gathered.

“This is more beautiful than soccer,” said Susan Nighty matter-of-factly when asked why she wasn’t watching that game instead. And anyway, boruboru made her feel nostalgic for her childhood in Yei, a South Sudanese market town often called “Little London” for its cosmopolitanism. “Some of my happiest memories are about boruboru,” she said. “It reminds me of a more peaceful time in my life.”

By the end of the second period, the crowd was three deep, wrapped all the way around the pitch. They watched as Nosha, the referee, rebuked one thrower for hitting an opposing player on the head (a one-point penalty). And they cheered wildly as a New Generation dodger avoided a hit by doing a handstand over a low-flying ball.

A group of men in their twenties huddled near the pitch, watching as the players jogged off for a half-time drink of water. They explained that they often came to watch because of the quick pace and impressive athleticism.

One of them, David Tomuresuk William, confessed that he enjoyed the game so much that it had ignited in him a great dream.

One day, he said, he hoped to start a boruboru league for boys.

“People say this sport is just for girls,” he said. “But I really think boys could be talented at it too.”

Silvano Yokwe contributed reporting. Support for the reporting of this story was provided by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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A year later, Puerto Rico says ‘Come on down’

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The looming anniversary of hurricane Maria, whose damage to the US territory of Puerto Rico is estimated at more than $90 billion, has brought with it sober assessments of what went wrong. An independent study published late last month raised the death toll to 2,975, far more than the original estimate. But with power finally restored and hotels reopening – and new ones being built – signs for “help” have been replaced with ones that say “welcome.” One thing Americans might do this winter is visit. Even a trip to lounge on the beach would pump money into the economy. In true “citizen scientist” fashion, visitors might take a snorkeling trip that includes collecting data on native species. Or plant trees or help clean up the coastline. At the same time, Puerto Ricans themselves are leading the way in restoring their island home. Brad Dean, the head of a new nonprofit that helps visitors plan their trips, predicts a comeback story. “[It] isn’t about what Maria did to Puerto Rico,” he says. “It’s about what people achieved after Maria.”


A year later, Puerto Rico says ‘Come on down’

A year ago a group of neighbors in the small Puerto Rican city of Humacao desperately signaled for help.

They made a sign visible from the air: “S.O.S. Necesitamos agua/comida,” “We need water/food.” Their effort symbolized the urgency of the situation in the United States territory, which had been pummeled by hurricane Maria. 

Recently the neighbors put up a new sign for aerial view that read “Bienvenidos,” or welcome. It signaled “Tourists, please visit us.”

Power has finally been restored to the entire island, though the grid is hardly as stable and robust as would be desirable. Most hotels have reopened or will soon, and new ones under construction will join them in the coming months. 

“[W]e’re ready to turn the page,” Humacao resident Janet Gonzalez told CBS News in August. The photo of their cry for help had spread virally worldwide. Now the neighborhood hopes “our new positive message spreads just as fast,” she says.

The looming anniversary of the Sept. 20, 2017, megastorm, whose damage is estimated at more than $90 billion, has brought with it sober assessments of what went wrong. An independent study published late last month raised the death toll to 2,975, far more than the original estimate of 64, making Maria one of the nation’s worst natural disasters. That total included deaths that occurred up to six months after Maria but were attributed to the storm, with its widespread power outage and the difficulty of reaching remote areas with relief supplies.

“We never anticipated a scenario of zero communication, zero energy, zero highway access,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has said. He will form a commission to study how to respond better, including whether to establish a registry of vulnerable people who would need urgent help if a future disaster struck.

A Sept. 4 report from the US Government Accountability Office found that more than half (54 percent) of the federal emergency workers sent to Puerto Rico were not fully qualified for the positions they held. 

“Federal, state, and territory officials noted that the shortages and lack of training led to confusion...,” the GAO report said, while also noting a paucity of workers who spoke Spanish as another key problem.

In a response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised to learn from its inadequate response to Maria and improve its future practices.

One thing Americans might do this winter is visit the island. A sunny beach would be a welcome respite to many and pump money into the local economy.

Tourists ready to be of even more help have plenty of choices, points out an article on the Travel & Leisure website. In true “citizen scientist” fashion they might take a snorkeling trip that includes collecting data on native species or a kayak expedition after dark that could study the effects of light pollution. Other programs let visitors plant trees or clean up the coastline.

At the same time, Puerto Ricans themselves are leading the way in restoring their island home. 

“We believe [Puerto Rico is] going to yield one of the best comeback stories in tourism history,” says Brad Dean, chief executive of Discover Puerto Rico, a new nonprofit group that helps visitors plan their trips. “The story isn’t about what Maria did to Puerto Rico. It’s about what people achieved after Maria.”

A year after the disaster the signs at last are pointing toward progress.


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.

Humility as a superpower

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A sense of humility that brings to light a greater sense of God’s love and power allows us to see more good, more solutions, and more possibilities.


1. Humility as a superpower

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Humility has recently been recognized as “the new smart” – an essential approach to thriving in the workplace in an increasingly technological age. It has also been referred to in numerous books as the key component of successful leadership. In an article on corporate leadership around the world, The Economist reports, “If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility.” And it is hinted at in the “overview effect,” which describes the transformative shift experienced by astronauts when first viewing Earth from space, leading them to feel an intense awe over the interconnectedness of all things.

Many are facing times of great transition because of rapid innovation, changing politics, and their own personal changes. I’ve found that key to moving successfully through these shifting currents of thought is letting go of a personal sense of ego and its related fears. People from all walks of life can access a humility that empowers them with an openness and a selfless expectancy of good. In Christian Science, humility brings to light a greater sense of God, Love, being completely in control. This leads to a more permanent peace through an intelligent understanding of our universal unity with God and with one another.

Christian Science is based on the words and works of Christ Jesus, whose model of humility, self-knowledge, and love shows the healing that results from putting God first. His instruction to his disciples is just as relevant today: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). The genius of humility is how it moves thought toward God, divine Spirit, allowing us to turn down personal ego, let go of self-preoccupation, and see that the kingdom of heaven, or God’s reign of harmony, is right at hand.

My first aha moment with humility came when I started kayaking and racing on white-water rivers. With a great respect for the power of a river, I knew that I had much to learn. I realized I could never “conquer” a river’s rapids (the very idea seemed absurd) and knew that either a personal sense of bravado or its flip side of fear and doubt would cloud my ability to think clearly and wisely. So I got self out of the way, and as I did so I was alert, receptive, and ready to be fully engaged with the river. It was as exhilarating as it was humbling and inspiring.

This experience became a bedrock lesson in practicing Christian Science, as the premise of healing in this Science is to discern and yield to the power of God, recognizing that healing is the effect of the power and grace of an all-loving God, the divine Principle, not a personal achievement.

Yet true humility doesn’t dismiss the brilliance and distinction of an individual. Rather, it recognizes that these are natural consequences of our spiritual origin in God. One’s identity is never diminished or absorbed by God’s allness, but is maintained and sustained by God in all its original radiance. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, explains: “The infinite Principle is reflected by the infinite idea and spiritual individuality.... The human capacities are enlarged and perfected in proportion as humanity gains the true conception of man and God” (p. 258).

Humility lets God’s love shine through, and this can bless and enrich not just oneself, but others. In the consciousness of divine Love that humility brings, we are safe, alert, and receptive, allowing us to see more good and new opportunities.

Humility as a superpower? Yes! And in the exercise of humility, each of us can be empowered to move safely and confidently through the shifting currents of thought, glorifying God as Love and staying open and receptive to new possibilities.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Aug. 27, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.



(Almost) ready to learn

Vietnamese students adjust to the routine as they participate in the annual new school year ceremony at Doan Thi Diem secondary school in Hanoi, Vietnam, Sept. 5.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Tomorrow, Patrik Jonsson will look at Florida's “stand your ground” law. Floridians are grappling anew with what constraints, if any, should be placed on the use of force in self-defense.

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