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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
September
10
Monday

Last weekend underscored several shifts in long-held perspectives.

In progressive Sweden, people are grappling with the anti-immigrant, anti-EU message many voters sent Sunday. Some 84 percent of Swedes gave each of the two centrist political blocs about 40 percent support. But the far-right Sweden Democrats pulled in 17.6 percent – a jump from its 2014 share of 12.9 percent. Now, amid what could be a protracted struggle to form a government, politicians must acknowledge the fallout from 2015, when Sweden took the most, per capita, of some 1.6 million migrants who surged into the EU.

In Afghanistan, the issue is talking with the enemy and whether anyone can win on the battlefield. Deadly violence crescendoed Sunday, underscoring the gaps in official narratives in the 17-year war. The Taliban control or contest more territory than they have since 2001. But a fresh narrative is emerging: Defense Secretary James Mattis met Friday with President Ghani about moving toward peace talks with the Taliban.

A brighter shift came in Japan. It enthusiastically embraced Naomi Osaka, who beat Serena Williams Saturday to become the first Japan-born tennis player to win a Grand Slam title. Why is that noteworthy? Her mother is Japanese and her father is Haitian-American. Three years ago, when Ariana Miyamoto, a  half-Japanese, half-black contestant, was crowned Miss Universe Japan, critics grumbled she didn’t look truly Japanese. But yesterday, one older woman told The New York Times that “I think Japanese society is changing to become more generous.”

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Now to our stories for today, several of which challenge current thinking about land rights, prisoners' rights, and venerable cultural symbols. 

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1. Whose land? The high court murder case that could split a state in half

A Supreme Court case may veer into Native American sovereignty and state control over people and resources. Fundamentally, it’s about different perceptions of justice, and finding common ground.

Amelia
Paul B. Southerland/The Oklahoman/AP
An eagle feather hangs from the hat of Sonny Gouge of Oklahoma City, Okla., as he beats a drum during a sunrise ceremony in 2005 in Oklahoma City. A 1999 murder case in what was originally Muscogee (Creek) Nation land is testing where tribal control ends and state control begins.

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Nothing in the convicted murderer’s appeal seemed to get much traction except one detail in the case: The location of the 1999 crime is on private land that belonged in part to a Muscogee (Creek) Indian. Last year, a federal appeals court ruled in Patrick Murphy’s favor, upholding his claim that Oklahoma didn’t have jurisdiction to try him. Essentially, the court decided in its 126-page verdict that the Creek Nation was still sovereign because Congress had never formally dissolved the territory. The end result could be a major expansion of tribal and federal jurisdiction. Exactly how federal authority would be exerted if the state were to lose control remains ambiguous. In its brief to the US Supreme Court, the Department of Justice warns of severe shortages in field resources. Then again, the dispute may not end with justices in robes. Law professor Lindsay Robertson of the University of Oklahoma notes that Congress could still get involved. “I suspect what will happen at the end of the day is federal legislation that recognizes some form of shared jurisdiction,” he says. For all the heated talk of policing gaps and courtroom chaos, all sides are already cooperating on tribal justice. “Everybody has an interest in law and order.”

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Whose land? The high court murder case that could split a state in half

Set beside a gravel county road, the painted cross stands chest-high in a small circle of bricks, brushed by tall grass and black-eyed Susans and daisies. The lettering on the pockmarked crossbar is faded but still legible: George Jacobs. 

This lonely roadside ditch is where Mr. Jacobs died one night in August 1999 after being stabbed and beaten by Patrick Murphy. That same night, Mr. Murphy confessed to the assault on his girlfriend’s former partner and the father of her child. He was arrested and tried and convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. 

Murphy’s appeal took a while, as capital cases do, and his defenders tried to stay the verdict on grounds of mental incompetency as well as faulty trial procedures and execution protocols in Oklahoma. None seemed to get much traction, but one detail in the case stood out: the location of the crime. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
A cross dedicated to George Jacobs sits at the site where he died in 1999 near Vernon, Okla.

Murphy is Native American, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the fourth-largest tribe in the United States. So was Jacobs. And the ditch where he bled to death is private land that belonged, in part, to a Creek Indian, potentially placing the crime scene in Indian country, as defined by US law. If so, Murphy should never have been tried in state court. Instead, his crime was a matter for federal prosecutors, who in major criminal cases act in concert with tribal authorities. 

Last year, a federal appeals court ruled in Murphy’s favor, upholding his claim that Oklahoma didn’t have jurisdiction to try him. And if it didn’t have jurisdiction, it couldn’t execute him. 

Had the court’s ruling applied only to crimes committed on similar small patches of land owned by individual Indians or the tribe, it might have gone largely unnoticed. The reason is that 96 percent of the Creek’s original territory – a land mass set aside in the late 1800s – is now in non-Indian hands. 

But what the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled went much further. Not only did Oklahoma not have jurisdiction over Indian-on-Indian crimes on tribal properties, but it also didn’t have jurisdiction anywhere within the historical boundaries of the Creek Nation, an 11-county area twice the size of Delaware. Essentially, the court decided, the Creek Nation was still sovereign because Congress had never formally dissolved the territory.

In Oklahoma, the verdict came down like a thunderbolt. If the Creek could assert their treaty rights, so could other tribes in Oklahoma with similar treaties, with the end result being a major expansion of tribal and federal jurisdiction at the expense of state authority. For a state forged in 1907 from the annexation of Indian lands, it represents both a practical problem and a reawakening of century-old ghosts in the form of tribal sovereignty. 

“The government tried in every single way to abolish our treaty and our mission, and they haven’t successfully done that,” says Sarah Deer, an expert on Indian law at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and a Creek Nation citizen. “This could lead to a restoration of our original boundaries.”

This fall the US Supreme Court will hear Royal v. Murphy, Oklahoma’s appeal against the verdict, setting up a ruling that will be closely watched nationwide. 

For Murphy, the case is a matter of life and death. Federal courts can impose death sentences, but not in cases of Indians whose tribal governments oppose the practice. 

For Oklahoma, the stakes are also high. If the lower court ruling stands, fully 43 percent of the state could ultimately become Indian territory – including, maybe, lucrative oil and gas lands. 

Yet a ruling could affect far more than Oklahoma. It could embolden sovereignty claims by Native Americans across the country.

Where does tribal control end and state control begin?

AP
In 2000, Patrick Murphy was convicted of murdering George Jacobs and sentenced to death. Mr. Murphy is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, as was Jacobs.

***

Thirty miles north of the unincorporated town of Vernon stands the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Council House, a stately 19th-century brick building in a leafy downtown square. For the Muscogee Creek – Creek is a name given them by European colonists – this is where the Trail of Tears ended for Native Americans forced out of the rich soils of the Southern cotton belt in the 1830s.

At the time, the vast plains west of the Mississippi River seemed ideal for a homeland. The Creek later established their capital in Okmulgee, named for the tribal town of Ocmulgee (“boiling water”) in Russell County, Ala. In 1867, they adopted a new constitution with a bicameral legislature based on the US Congress, with which it had signed treaties to codify its sovereign rule. 

Four other tribes – Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole – also received land holdings in sections of what was called Indian Territory. Their adoption of the economic and political norms of white settlers had already afforded them the nomenclature of the “Five Civilized Tribes” – Indians whom a white-majority nation could deal with. But it would not be enough to secure their sovereignty. 

Karen Norris/Staff

“It did not matter how far these ‘civilized’ tribes had already come on the road to assimilation because they occupied over twenty million acres of valuable land sitting almost dead center in a nation bent on economic development,” wrote Kent Carter, the former director of the National Archives at Fort Worth, Texas, in a 1997 journal. 

Starting in the 1870s, Congress began to end communal land holdings by Indians. From that time on, land was to be “allotted” in individual parcels to tribal members and the remainder sold to white settlers. The discovery of oil on the lands only added to the pressure to divide reservations into allotments, a process Teddy Roosevelt praised as “a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass.” 

The Creek strongly resisted allotment but were forced to let settlers claim much of their reservation. By then, Oklahoma Territory was pressing to be admitted to the Union. In 1905, Indian leaders proposed separate statehood for Indian country. Instead, their territories were absorbed into Oklahoma, the 46th state, setting the stage for the dismantling of tribal governments. 

Today the checkerboard parcels still privately owned by Indians can only be found by painstakingly consulting land registries and GPS coordinates. It’s a plot of land here, another there, some rural, some urban. Many are diluted holdings, others the result of disputed inheritances. 

“We have this idea in America of what a reservation looks like,” says Peter Astor, a lawyer with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. “It’s easy to miss in Oklahoma because reservations don’t look like reservations out West.”

Yet the question remained: Had Congress actually formally abolished these original reservations? Were they still part of Indian country and so under federal, not state, authority? 

Over the past half-century, Native Americans have moved to reconstitute tribal governments and to regulate their own affairs. The legalization of gaming has provided additional resources for them to rebuild institutions, from schools and museums to family courts. Many tribes have also begun to excavate the broken promises of state and federal governments of the past. 

“These rights have been waiting to be enforced,” says Lindsay Robertson, a law professor who directs the Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. 

***

A short drive from the old council house, a complex of modern buildings has risen to house the legislative, judicial, and executive offices of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (MCN), an entity that now employs 4,000 people and has an annual budget of $310 million. 

Kevin Dellinger joined the MCN in 1996 as an assistant to the attorney general and has since moved up to become AG. “The tribe was smaller then,” he says. As more Creek descendants enrolled and MCN began developing its land holdings for casinos and other ventures, his workload grew. 

When Jacobs died in that roadside ditch in 1999, nothing passed Mr. Dellinger’s desk. A tribal police officer was present at Murphy’s arrest, but beyond that it was a state matter to prosecute his crime. At that stage, Dellinger had no inkling of the broad ripples that the murder case would cast in the waters of crime and punishment in Indian country.

Murphy went on trial for murder. His defense lawyer, faced with his client’s confession, witnesses to the attack, and the grisly details of how Jacobs died, claimed Murphy was too intoxicated to have had criminal intent. The defendant said he had drunk beer all day and couldn’t remember any details. “It’s all news to me, because I was pretty well drunk,” he told the court. 

Unmoved, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in April 2000. He was sentenced to death. Nobody stopped to ask if Murphy should be tried in another court. It took four years and a more thorough investigation by federal public defenders to uncover a critical oversight. 

The location of the crime scene was flat-out wrong. A state detective had entered coordinates more than two miles south of the cross marking Jacobs’s death. This meant he had died in a ditch on land allotted to a Creek member who had sold off most but not all of the rights. To be precise, a Creek descendant still owned 1/12th of the mineral rights beneath the soil. 

Was that sufficient grounds to determine that the crime took place on restricted tribal land? In 2005, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled no. “Common sense tells us that this issue has more to do with surface rights than underground minerals,” it said. 

But Murphy’s lawyers had another argument to make: Not only had Jacobs died on Creek land, but the entire territory was Creek. That argument eventually made its way in 2015 to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (one of the judges that heard part of it was current US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; he has recused himself from the Supreme Court’s review). 

Last August the circuit court issued an exhaustive 126-page verdict that concluded the Creek reservation had never been formally “disestablished.” Therefore the murder of Jacobs had taken place in Indian country. 

Dellinger, who filed a supporting brief to the court, had been waiting for its verdict.

“I was slightly surprised. No, very surprised,” he says. 

Lindsay Dowell, his first assistant, interrupts. “You were only slightly surprised? I was shocked.”  

“Very surprised,” repeats Dellinger, nodding. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Kevin Dellinger stands outside the court building.

Dellinger has a graying ponytail and mottled cheeks. He wears a pinstripe suit and speaks in the firm, cautious tones of a corporate lawyer. As a child he moved around the United States with his father, a troubleshooter for a food manufacturer, then finished his schooling in Tulsa and became a lawyer. His grandmother was Creek, and her grandparents came on the Trail of Tears. 

“If they could see where we are today, I think they would be amazed. We’ve got a functioning government,... and we provide programs for our people,” he says. The Murphy ruling is a victory for tribal sovereignty “that reinforces what we’ve always believed, what our boundaries are.” 

He adds: “We’re both citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and citizens of the state of Oklahoma. We want both to be successful.”

***

Politicians in Oklahoma are far less sanguine. Whether the Creek can police and prosecute their own people within their newly expanded jurisdiction if the Murphy ruling is upheld is hotly contested. 

Business groups also worry that a shift to more tribal control would allow the Creek to regulate and tax private enterprises, such as oil-and-gas producers who operate on their lands. (Experts on tribal law say this is a red herring because civil regulatory powers aren’t at stake in the case.)  

While major crimes in Creek territory – murder, rape, child abuse – would be federal matters, other Indian-involved crimes and misdemeanors would be handled by Dellinger, who has only one full-time criminal prosecutor (he’s hiring another). And law enforcement would need to respond to 911 calls unsure of whether it could become a state, federal, or tribal case. 

The MCN Lighthorse Tribal Police has 47 officers who are cross-deputized with dozens of other police departments and with state and federal agencies to allow for arrests of tribal suspects. But the Lighthorse police chief has said he would need at least 200 deputies to patrol the reservation if tribal jurisdiction were recast. 

Nor does the complexity end at the Creek’s boundaries. Other tribes in Oklahoma, some with even larger reservations, are eyeing their own sovereignty claims if the Supreme Court rules for the Creek. All this creates “intolerable uncertainty over who has authority to prosecute offenses in Eastern Oklahoma,” argues the state in its brief to the high court.

Then there are the past convictions and pending trials that could be overturned. Defense attorneys are already filing “Murphy” motions for tribal clients to challenge convictions on grounds the state didn’t have jurisdiction. Oklahoma’s prisons house 3,000 Indians. While the number who might appeal their convictions is unknown, a wave of challenges could overwhelm courts and, some say, trigger a surge of early releases.

“We need to be prepared,” says Eddy Rice, the sheriff of Okmulgee County. “We need to protect our public because the potential is for these criminals to be out on the streets.” 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Stanley Johnson, a sergeant with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Lighthouse Police, escorts an inmate to tribal court in Okmulgee, Okla. Tribal authorities take a more rehabilitative approach in dealing with offenders.

***

“All rise for the Judge,” says the bailiff. 

Inside a low-ceiling courtroom, a heavily tattooed man in black prison clothes and handcuffs is led to the bench where his court-appointed attorney and a state prosecutor are waiting. The Muscogee Nation seal and flag are displayed prominently in the room, which lies within a mound-shaped building that also houses the chamber where the tribe’s governing council meets. 

Judge Gregory Bigler peers down at David Wilson, the defendant. He was arrested on a warrant after going missing on a charge of intoxication and disorderly conduct on restricted tribal land and is hoping to post bail. The judge asks why he didn’t show up the last time. Transportation issue, the lawyer says. “My truck broke down,” Mr. Wilson mumbles. 

“If I let him out again, how do I know he will have transportation next time?” 

As Mr. Bigler considers the requests, Wilson raises his cuffed hands in prayer, his eyes shut. Bigler sets bail at $350, then gavels the hearing to a close. Wilson calls his mother to ask for help, but none seems forthcoming, so a Lighthorse officer returns him to the county jail to be booked at MCN expense. 

The Creek have their own courts and police force, but no prisons or jails. That omission speaks both to the constraints on the justice system – Bigler is the sole criminal judge – and to a less punitive approach toward offenders. All this could lead to a shift in how minor offenses are handled if the state loses jurisdiction.

“There’s a much greater focus on making a community whole and making an individual a functioning member of the community,” says Casey Ross, who runs the American Indian Law and Sovereignty Center at Oklahoma City University. 

To some extent, prosecutors are limited in what they can do: Tribal courts can only impose sentences of up to three years in prison. The Creek also pay attention to what happens after incarceration and were the first tribal government to create a reintegration program for ex-felons in 2004. The program blends traditional cultural values and hands-on vocational training.

“At the Nation, justice doesn’t just mean punishment,” says Dellinger.  

Restorative justice is a good fit for the Creek and other tribal courts, adds Ms. Deer, the law professor. “I don’t think tribes should be locking up their people and throwing away the key,” she says. “That’s not part of our heritage.” 

Still, as an advocate for better protection of Native women from sexual and domestic abuse, Deer wants to see violators punished. By restoring the Creek’s boundaries, the Murphy ruling puts the onus on federal courts to handle serious crimes, which she thinks is good. 

“We would rather have the federal prosecutors at the table because they do have a trust responsibility to our people,” Deer says.

***

Yet exactly how federal authority would be exerted if the state were to lose control remains ambiguous. In its brief to the high court, the Department of Justice warns of severe shortages in field resources, noting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation currently has the equivalent of seven agents in the state’s eastern half. 

The US attorney’s office for the northern district of Oklahoma has 18 criminal prosecutors who file around 200 cases a year in federal court. One in 4 of them originates in Indian country, including on the Creek reservation. 

In February, the head of that office, Trent Shores, held consultations on the Murphy ruling with Dellinger and lawyers for other large tribes. The US attorney’s office has a tribal liaison officer – who, like Mr. Shores, is of Native descent – to work through jurisdictional issues.

“We will continue to rely on and enhance our relationships within the law enforcement community so that we can fulfill our oath to enforce federal law and uphold our federal trust responsibilities to Indian country,” he says.

Complications could arise over the identity of offenders. Tulsa is the most populous county overlapping Creek territory and has the largest Native population. Last year, county prosecutors filed 13,000 criminal cases, of which 564 involved a tribal victim or defendant. Tulsa District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler says he isn’t concerned that cases in the future could be initiated by tribal and federal prosecutors rather than his office. Instead, he worries about what happens when a victim’s identity is unknown. 

“You can invest a lot of time and money and resources into a case, and then at some point someone figures out – stop the press – this person should be in federal jurisdiction,” he says. 

Kevin Wolf/Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian/AP
Four Native Americans examine the 1790 Treaty of the Muscogee (Creek) Nations and the United States at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington in 2015.

***

Oklahoma State Penitentiary is the state’s oldest prison. It opened in 1908, a year after statehood, in McAlester, just south of the Creek reservation. For the past 19 years, Murphy has been on death row there. He has limited contact with other people: His meals are pushed through a slot in the door, and he is allowed out to exercise for an hour a day. 

Lawyers for Murphy say he keeps up with tribal news and with his case, though not all its legal details due to his mental limitations. During his first trial he was baptized in jail, and his Christian faith is said to help sustain him. A model prisoner, he is let out to clean other cells. 

Murphy understands the importance of his case, not only in sparing his life but also in helping his tribe, according to his attorneys. Now it’s up to the Supreme Court to decide where to draw the line in Indian country and whether the Creek are the rightful authority. 

It’s a decision that will reverberate outside Oklahoma with other Native groups pressing for greater self-rule – those that have their own boundary disputes and their own histories of promises and reversals. 

“Every case that goes up to the Supreme Court involving tribes has the potential to be a big deal,” says Gregory Ablavsky, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School. 

For Deer, the broader implications for tribal rights are clear, but so is the potential for a setback. “If we lose this case, it will feel like 1906 again when statehood interceded with our sovereignty,” she says. “It will be devastating.” 

Then again, the dispute may not end with justices in robes. Mr. Robertson of the University of Oklahoma, who is a former special counsel to the Oklahoma governor on Indian affairs, notes that if the court were to uphold the Murphy ruling, Congress could still get involved. After all, it was Congress that signed the treaties with the Creek on which the dispute turns, and it has the power to amend them. 

“I suspect what will happen at the end of the day is federal legislation that recognizes some form of shared jurisdiction,” he says. For all the heated talk of policing gaps and courtroom chaos, all sides are already cooperating on tribal justice. “Everybody has an interest in law and order,” he says.

Karen Norris/Staff
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2. Amid debate on prison reform, rising voices from the inside

When it comes to conditions inside prisons, should prisoners have a voice? That's one of the questions raised by a three-week strike by inmates in more than a dozen states.

Amelia

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Two prison riots, decades apart, inspired a multistate strike by prisoners seeking more humane living conditions. The strike was timed to end on the anniversary of Attica and was sparked by a riot this year in South Carolina in which seven people died and dozens were injured. “We just want everybody to remember the horrific conditions that brought these deaths about,” an inmate named Eddie told reporters on a press call Sept. 1. Actions ranged from hunger strikes to workplace stoppages and commissary boycotts. Criminal justice reforms in recent years have focused on reducing prison populations. The actual conditions inside prisons have been largely overlooked, experts and advocates say. About 800,000 prisoners are put to work daily, doing everything from cleaning for as little as 4 cents an hour in Louisiana to volunteering to fight wildfires in California for $1 an hour, plus $2 a day. “A number of states have done things to improve their justice system … but that doesn’t really address the conditions of confinement, medical care, phone calls, visitations for prisoners,” says Alex Friedman of the Human Rights Center. “Things prisoners have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, there hasn’t been a lot of mobilization on those issues.”

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1. Amid debate on prison reform, rising voices from the inside

Debate over criminal justice reform in the United States in recent years has tackled everything from the death penalty to bail reform to restoring voting rights after a prisoner has completed their sentence. But the debate has largely sidestepped the actual living conditions inside American prisons.

Over the past three weeks, prisoners in more than a dozen states have tried to change that.

  • Hunger strikes took place from California, Washington, and Texas. On Aug. 21 a video began circulating of an inmate in California saying he was on hunger strike. An advocacy group identified the inmate as Heriberto Garcia, incarcerated at Folsom State Prison in California, and said last week his strike “continues.” At a prison in Texas, two prisoners undertook a hunger strike to express solidarity with prisoners across the US demanding an end to what they call state-sponsored slavery. “I feel great. But very hungry!” one told prison reform advocates.
  • 200 immigrants at a detention center in Tacoma, Wash., reportedly took part in solidarity with the prisoners.
  • Some 100 prisoners at Hyde Correctional Institute in Fairfield, N.C., assembled in the prison's yard carrying signs reading “Parole,” “Better Food,” and “In solidarity,” according to the Guardian.

Two separate prison uprisings, decades apart, inspired the strike: 1971’s Attica prison rebellion, in which more than 1,000 prisoners took over the New York prison demanding more humane living conditions; and a deadly riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina this year, which sparked inmates’ decision to take political action this summer.

The national strike comes on the heels of a particularly tense period in US prisons, which experts say are more restive now than any time since the 1980s. It also comes as President Trump and Senate Republicans have decided to postpone prison reform legislation until after the midterms. While support for criminal justice reform more generally has been gaining momentum, particularly on the right, conditions inside prisons themselves are mostly a mystery to the general public. Efforts by inmates in the past to draw attention to them have seen mixed success. But prisoner advocates and inmates say that, if the US wants to finally remove a decades-old strain of brutality from its prison system, their voices need to be part of the debate. 

“A number of states have done things to improve their justice system, mostly along the lines of trying to reduce prison populations, sentencing reforms, early releases, things of that nature, but that doesn’t really address the conditions of confinement, medical care, phone calls, visitations for prisoners,” says Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center. “Things prisoners have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, there hasn’t been a lot of mobilization on those issues.”

US prison officials largely downplayed the strike. “We’ve been aware of all these outside agitating groups that have been trying to instigate our prisoners,” Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, told Mother Jones. “Thankfully they haven't listened.”

Prisoners, too, largely remained quiet about their efforts to the outside world, concerned about reprisals.

“I don’t think that prisoners know what a publicity stunt really is,” a prisoner named “Eddie” said in a conference call with reporters Sept. 1, underscoring that striking prisoners often face sanctions. “We just don’t really have time for games. You know, everything we do has been real.”

Organizers say protesters numbered between the dozens to hundreds in 14 states, many of them in the South, as well as Nova Scotia, Canada. Actions included hunger strikes, the hanging of protest signs in cell blocks, commissary boycotts, and work stoppages. Among their 10 demands, organizers called for improvements to poor living conditions; wages for prison labor, which can be less than $1 an hour; and the restoration of voting rights.

“The most recent demands are important because they are so pointedly calling attention to the injustice of very specific policies in this country that have caused prisons to become so overcrowded and brutal,” says Heather Thompson, author of “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.”

Evidence of a broader shift?

Criminal justice reforms in recent years have focused on reducing prison populations, primarily focusing on minimizing sentence lengths and curbing recidivism. The actual conditions inside prisons have been largely overlooked, experts and advocates say. In Texas, for example – a state that has spent the past decade reforming its system – prison officials spent more money fighting a lawsuit to install air conditioning in one prison than it would have cost to install in the first place. (The state has also slashed phone call rates in its prisons, it should be noted.)

In that way, the prison strike, experts say, is a part of a broader bid to shift standards of punishment in the US.

“The standard theory of riots and disturbance is that misery breeds revolt,” writes Purdue University sociologist Bert Useem, co-author of “Prison State,” in an email. “This theory does not do well when judged by the historical record. The current mobilization by inmates and their allies ... should not be taken as a sign that things are ‘bad’ behind bars. They are raising the bar for what inmates see as fair. And, naturally, prisons are failing this rising standard.”

AP/File
Inmates of Attica state prison, right, negotiate with state prisons Commissioner Russell Oswald, lower left, at the facility in Attica, N.Y., Sept. 10, 1971. Forty-three people died in the largest prison uprising in US history.

The US incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any other country, according to the Sentencing Project: 670 people per 100,000 are behind bars. That’s compared with 434 per 100,000 for No. 2, Rwanda. Long prison sentences and high recidivism rates are endemic. Crime waves of the 1980s and early 1990s led to an explosion in prison growth. The US prison population skyrocketed from 400,000 in 1988 to 1.4 million in 2012, the peak. About 800,000 of the 2.3 million are put to work, doing everything from cleaning, farming, and mowing for as little as 4 cents an hour in Louisiana to volunteering to fight wildfires in California for $1 an hour, plus $2 a day.

The US is now more than two decades into dramatic declines in violent crime, as well as a shifting understanding of drug addition – as seen in marijuana decriminalization and empathy for those caught in the opioid epidemic. And there is evidence that the US may be more willing to listen to advocates for prisoner rights – and, critically, prisoners themselves.

“It is essential for prisoners to have a voice in the political sphere in order for us to see substantial changes in our criminal justice system,” says Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, one of the chief organizers of the strike, in an email. “The lack of humane conditions for prisoners is directly influenced by people’s ignorance to the conditions that prisoners are forced to live and work in.”

That cultural arm’s-length is compounded by a lack of transparency into how prisons operate. Prisoners in Ohio are demanding, among other things, less restrictive access to media interviews. Tying those complaints to a broader solidarity movement – cross-racial, cross-ethnic, and cross-gang – is new, criminal justice experts say.

Varied effects of reform

Some states have taken the lead on improving prison conditions. North Dakota has revamped its prisons along a Norwegian model, going from a more punitive model to a rehabilitative one. In the process, the state has dramatically reduced prison populations and punishments like solitary confinement. Utah and California are trying out a low-security prison-model that looks more like a college campus than a modern-day Alcatraz.

Ironically, a bipartisan criminal justice reform effort may have exacerbated the current wave of prison protest. In 2010, in a bipartisan bid, South Carolina lawmakers rewrote state sentencing laws to reduce prison populations. They also dramatically cut the prison budget.

The result at Lee Correctional Institution was a growing disparity between guard numbers and prisoners – a 1 to 44 ratio – and statistics that showed the rate of people killed while incarcerated rising dramatically in South Carolina. As conditions in prisons worsened, the number of inmates killed in 2017 quadrupled from only two years earlier in the state.

That number spiked this spring when rioting engulfed Lee. Authorities lost control of the prison for at least seven hours. Dozens were injured and seven died. The coroner said some of the victims could have lived if medical help had been administered earlier.

“They bled and died,” Eddie told reporters during the press call. “And we just want everybody to remember the horrific conditions that brought these deaths about.”

The lack of safety guarantees for prisoners at some prisons became the fuel for the protest, underscoring a sense among prisoners that they are captives of a system that treats them as “subhuman,” according to former Texas inmate Lewis Conway.

Mr. Conway spent eight years in a Texas prison for manslaughter after stabbing a man to death during a dispute in 1991. His voting rights restored after 12 years of parole, he is now running for the Austin City Council. He knows what it feels like to be in a separate class – his campaign is unprecedented in Texas. While his opponents and the Austin City Clerk aren’t disputing his candidacy, the Texas secretary of State’s office has questioned its legality.

To him, the plight of prisoners is society’s plight, where “as soon as you start to solve baseline problems [like employment for ex-cons], it begins to help conditions with other problems.”

From Attica in 1971 to Pelican Bay in 2010, he says, prisoners have been able to glean concessions without reporters on the scene.

“There is a way in which the conversation about [criminal justice reform] goes up against basic demands that prisoners have been putting forward – food without maggots, more potable water, fair wages,” says Toussaint Losier, co-author of “Rethinking the American Prison Movement,” and an Afro-American studies professor at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst. “What stands out to me about this kind of prison organizing is that we see it happening in places like Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Texas that are not epicenters of this kind of [justice reform] politics.”

It is unlcear whether prison activism is reaching beyond the razor wire. Some Democrats, including New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have spoken out. South Carolina gubernatorial candidate James Smith told USA Today after the Lee riots that conditions in South Carolina prisons are “deplorable.”

And the protests have shown that prisoners can successfully join with outside advocates. Some 500 people showed up in solidarity outside San Quentin late last month.

“The forces for reform in corrections are great and [are] making a difference,” writes Professor Useem, in West Lafayette, Ind. And “if things are improved today, might they not be improved even more tomorrow?”

An earlier version of this story said Mr. Friedmann worked at the Human Rights Center, not the Human Rights Defense Center. It also misspelled his name.

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

3. A bold bid in the Middle East to rewrite the diplomatic rulebook

The US is taking a dramatically new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We thought it was worth examining what might transpire by taking key Palestinian demands off the table. 

Amelia

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The details have not been announced. But the thrust of the Trump Administration’s Middle East plan to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace seems clear: Rewrite the diplomatic rulebook. That has meant targeting major Palestinian demands: sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the “right of return.” The US president says he seeks to take those issues “off the table.” And broadly, by moving from superpower mediator to dictating negotiating terms, the administration aims to remove the Palestinians’ effective veto power on a peace deal. It seeks support from Arab oil states like Saudi Arabia to ramp up pressure on the Palestinians and to help fill the funding void left by its abandonment of UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing social services for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Since the Gulf Arab states’ main preoccupation now is Iran – on which they see eye-to-eye with President Trump and Israel – the timing would seem propitious. The Palestinian leadership has rarely been weaker. Still, that doesn’t mean the new US approach will necessarily bring peace closer. The power of the narrative of exile-and-return from 1948 remains strong in the Arab world.

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A bold bid in the Middle East to rewrite the diplomatic rulebook

It’s an undeniably bold idea. And given the multiple diplomatic failures of the past quarter-century, its logic is clear. Yet so is the risk that it, too, will fail, adding fuel to one of the most combustible regions on earth and ending the prospect of negotiated peace altogether.

Full details of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace policy have yet to be announced, but its driving principle is not in doubt: that because past administrations haven’t delivered Israeli-Palestinian peace, it’s time to rewrite the diplomatic rulebook.

Leading the effort, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has targeted the main obstacles as Palestinian demands for sovereignty over the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Old City, and a “right of return” for the roughly 5 million descendants of refugees from the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. The solution, in the president’s words: Take those issues “off the table.”

First, Jerusalem: site of the ancient Jewish temple, but also sacred to Muslims and Christians. Past administrations believed its status should be resolved in a final land-for-peace agreement. Since Israel holds the land on which a Palestinian state would be established, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was seen as an important carrot in a negotiating process sure to require compromise on both sides. Yet Mr Trump has preemptively recognized it as Israel’s capital.

As for the right of return, Washington is ending its financial support for UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing education, health, and other services for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Leaked Kushner emails, revealed by Foreign Policy last month, suggest that’s part of a plan to reject the Palestinians’ continued status as refugees, except for the some 50,000 original exiles still alive.

Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Children attend a back-to-school ceremony at a Palestinian refugee camp al Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, Sept. 2. The US is seeking support from Arab oil states like Saudi Arabia to help fill the funding void left by its withdrawal of support for the the UN agency, which oversees education, health, and other services for the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

Mr. Kushner shares Israel’s view that for decades the refugee issue has been perpetuated for political reasons, with the “right of return” intended to challenge Israel’s existence as a majority-Jewish country.

By jettisoning past US policy – moving from superpower mediator to dictating negotiating terms – the administration hopes to remove the Palestinians’ effective veto power on a peace deal. It drove home that point with this week’s announcement by the State Department that it would be closing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, citing the Palestinians’ failure to move toward resuming “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

It is seeking support for this tougher tack from Arab oil states like Saudi Arabia, both in order to ramp up political pressure on the Palestinians and help fill the funding void left by its abandonment of UNRWA.

Since the Gulf Arab states’ main preoccupation now is Iran – on which they see eye-to-eye with President Trump, and Israel as well – the timing would seem propitious. The Palestinian leadership has rarely been weaker. Yasser Arafat’s successor as Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, faces an increasingly right-wing Israeli government with no evident interest in reaching a two-state deal. His writ has ceased to run in Gaza, where the Islamist group Hamas holds power.

Still, that doesn’t mean the new US approach will necessarily bring peace closer.

However weak Mr. Abbas’s position, the power of the narrative of exile-and-return from 1948 remains strong in the Arab world. That’s one reason for the failure of the last serious drive for peace: President Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit 18 years ago, with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat. Despite US efforts to enlist Arab pressure on Arafat, he felt able to reject proposals that would have given the Palestinians sovereignty over all East Jerusalem except for the site of the Jewish temple, and a refugee arrangement allowing the return of a small number alongside a compensation-and-aid package for others.

One sign the new US bid for Arab support could prove equally tough is that the Saudis joined other Arab states in publicly rejecting Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And challenging the status of the 1948 refugees’ descendants is likely to embolden radical Islamists in Gaza and on the West Bank, especially as prospects dim for Palestinian leaders to resume peace talks after their core demands have been rejected by Washington.

It’s not yet clear how Kushner will address other unresolved issues from past peace efforts: demarcation of a final border between Israel and the West Bank, the future of Jewish settlements, and the question of Palestinian statehood. Yet Israel’s current government appears to be hopeful that, as on Jerusalem and refugees, it can count on US support in setting aside talk of two states in favor of Palestinian self-rule under continued overall Israeli control of the West Bank.

That would further reduce any incentive for the Palestinians to enter negotiations. It would also alter the demographics of Israel, with the risk of further instability in the longer run. There are already about as many Arabs as Jews in the area comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, with population trends pointing toward an eventual Arab majority. As one of Barak’s negotiators remarked during the 2000 Camp David summit, making Israeli control permanent in majority-Palestinian areas could amount to “accepting the right of return through the back door.”

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4. Finland used the swastika before the Nazis. Why do they still do so today?

The symbols we choose to represent ourselves are always laden with meaning. But when a symbol we legitimately see as virtuous is fairly viewed by everyone else as villainous, should we make a change?

Amelia
Gordon F. Sander
A blue swastika, the insignia of the Finnish Air Force, is visible on a Finnish fighter plane from the World War II era in the Finnish Air Force Museum in Jyväskylä, Finland.

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Teivo Teivainen, a professor at the University of Helsinki, often finds himself explaining the numerous swastikas on wartime monuments around the Finnish capital to baffled foreign students. The Finnish swastika pre-dated Germany's Nazi Party. The historically innocuous symbol was introduced to the Finnish military in 1918 during the country’s civil war and became the emblem of the Finnish Air Force. While it no longer appears on Finnish aircraft, the service uses it to this day. For Finns like Professor Teivainen, this is worrisome, especially at a time when a conflict with Russia doesn’t seem far-fetched. Should war break out, he says, Finland would be forced to turn to their NATO partners. “How do you think people in the German parliament or French cabinet or the Dutch general public, for whom the swastika means only one thing, might feel?” But for most Finns, their swastika doesn’t need changing, says Eddy Hawkins, an American journalist who has studied the subject. “It’s perceived as different: a different symbol from that which was used by the Nazis, a different history and a different meaning.”

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Finland used the swastika before the Nazis. Why do they still do so today?

When guests, particularly foreigners, enter the soaring hangar of the Finnish Air Force Museum and find themselves confronted by a menagerie of aircraft adorned with swastikas, they are often taken aback.

“We hasten to explain to visitors, our swastika has nothing to do with the Nazi swastika,” says Kai Mecklin, museum director and a former pilot in the Finnish Air Force (FAF). “The Finnish Air Force adopted the swastika as its logo long before Hitler and the Nazis did.”

And while the FAF’s practice of putting swastikas on its aircraft ended decades ago, it is still easy enough to find swastikas on FAF shoulder badges and at the Finnish Air Force Academy.

For Mr. Mecklin, like many Finns, that is as it should be. “To us the swastika is a symbol of freedom and independence,” he says. But some see the persistence of the swastika in Finnish culture as problematic, particularly with Finland situated between two regions for whom the swastika symbolizes not freedom, but its Nazi opposite. And as Finland’s far right becomes increasingly restive, it could force Finns to change the way they consider the symbol’s place in their modern society.

Finland’s adoption of the swastika predates its association with National Socialism. Mecklin tells the tale of how in 1918, the Swedish count Eric von Rosen had a swastika painted on the wings of an aircraft which he donated to the Finnish White Army, which was then fighting against Soviet-backed Red Guards to establish an independent Finland – a battle which the Whites ultimately won.

The swastika became the official symbol of the Finnish Air Force, and remained so until Finland and the Soviet Union – which had just fought a successful war with the United States to eradicate Nazidom – signed a postwar armistice. As part of the new relationship it was understood that Finnish military aircraft would no longer carry the swastika.

But the swastika can still be found in the emblem of the FAF and at least one Finnish army unit today. And Teivo Teivainen, a professor at the University of Helsinki who often finds himself explaining the numerous swastikas on wartime monuments around the Finnish capital to baffled foreign students, argues that needs to change.

What particularly bothers Professor Teivainen is how the armed forces’ continued use of the swastika could create difficulties for Finland if and when a war breaks out with Russia, and Finland is forced to turn to their NATO partners. “How do you think people in the German parliament or French cabinet or the Dutch general public, for whom the swastika means only one thing, might feel?” he asks.

“Let’s say a decision needs to be made very quickly in, say, a Dutch cabinet meeting, and someone flashes a picture of the swastika as the official Air Force symbol of Finland, would this be likely to increase the Netherlands’ kinship with us?” says Teivainen.   “There’s always the chance it will send the wrong signal.”

The question of when, where, and how the swastika should be seen in public has become more sensitive with the rise of a small, but increasingly vociferous, right-wing movement in Finland.

Spearheaded by the so-called Finnish Resistance Movement, which the government is currently seeking to ban, the Finnish far right does not use the swastika as its logo. But there’s always the chance that a swastika pops up at a movement rally. If that happens, the question of the Finnish armed forces’ use of the same symbol as Hitler’s Nazis – even if the Germans adopted it later, in the 1920s – could become an explosive one.

Finnish aviation historian Carl-Fredrik Geust writes that such concerns are overblown. “The reason why we still have our FINNISH swastikas in use – and very limited use, mind you – is due to our unique respect for historical traditions and memories – and not just our own.” He points out that even though Finns in general have no love lost for Russia, Russian tourists are still astonished to find a statue of Czar Alexander II in Helsinki’s Senate Square.

“Tradition means something to us,” writes Mr. Geust.

He also points out that the swastika has been used as an ornament and magical symbol since ancient times, and that many Western countries used it as a symbol of good luck during the beginning of the 20th century. It was for that reason that von Rosen, who many consider the godfather of the Finnish Air Force, decided to paint the swastika on the plane he gave to the Finns.

(While von Rosen’s introduction of the swastika to Finland had no relation to National Socialism, van Rosen himself in later years did. In 1923, his sister married Hermann Göring, and he had ties to Swedish national socialist parties in the 1930s.)

Whether the swastika brings the Finnish Air Force, which celebrated its centenary this year, good luck or controversy remains to be seen.

In the meantime, as far as Finnish authorities are concerned, the question is a closed one. “At present time the Ministry of Defense has no plans to restrict or review the use of the swastika,” says Kristian Vakkuri, the ministry spokesperson.

The same, it would seem, goes for the Finnish people. “If they think about it, or are asked about the swastika, it’s perceived as different: a different symbol from that which was used by the Nazis, a different history and a different meaning,” says Eddy Hawkins, an American journalist who has studied the subject. “But most people don’t think about it.”

Maybe they ought to, says Teivainen.

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5. A brighter future: Solar power charges rural education in Uganda

Globally, some 14 percent of people lack access to electricity. Electrifying entire nations can be difficult where infrastructure is lacking. In Uganda, rural residents are making their own light, thanks to solar power.

Amelia

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Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa. In rural areas away from the grid, only 10 percent of residents have access to any electricity. That's been a major hurdle for students who have long relied on candlelight and tadoba kerosene lamps to study at night. But slowly, solar power is transforming rural communities like the village of Bwengure as individual families have installed solar panels of their own. It has become more common to see refrigerators in small markets and electric lighting in schools, hostels, and hospitals. For students at the Trinity Senior Secondary School in Bwengure, a little light has made a big difference. The school's director has noticed marked improvement from his students, especially when comparing the boarding students who can study by electric light with the commuters who still rely on tadobas at home. The new electricity is not only improving studies, he says. Now students can gather around a television to watch the evening news and enjoy movies on the weekends. It has offered them a connection to the broader world.

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A brighter future: Solar power charges rural education in Uganda

When Charles Barigye first opened Trinity Senior Secondary School in the Uganda’s Bwengure village in 2015, there was no chance of connecting to the electrical grid. The school was six miles from the electrical wires connecting the town of Mbarara to Ibanda, the closest hook up.

So the school’s boarding students studied by the flicker of candle-light, until one burnt a girl’s mattress. The school tried kerosene lanterns. But these were dim, expensive, and produced a foul odor.

But everything changed when Mr. Barigye installed the school’s first solar panel. For 500,000 Uganda Shilling (about $130), he was able to install a 30-watt unit on the girls’ dormitory, providing the students with electric lighting for the first time.

“The light is brighter, and the girls are safe as there are no longer dark spots,” says Barigye.

Since then, he has added panels piecemeal, 30 watts here, 50 watts there.

The difference has been felt throughout the school, as students, teachers, cooks, and parents all say they have seen a fundamental change since Barigye brought light.

Barigye says he has noticed particular improvement in his boarding students. And they are rapidly outpacing the commuter students who may not have access to any electricity at home.

“There is a sharp difference between the day scholars and boarders and this I attribute to attention,” he says. “There can’t be attention when there is no light.”

Empowering the disconnected

Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa, with just 20 percent of residents connected to the grid.

Some households have off-grid connections, like Barigye’s school, but estimates suggest that three-quarters of Ugandans have no electricity access. In rural areas, like Bwengure, that figure is closer to 90 percent.

The most common source of lighting in rural communities is still a tadoba, a tin kerosene lamp made locally. These lamps put out little light and have been identified as a major source of indoor air pollution in rural homes.

But slowly, solar power is transforming rural communities here in Bwengure and the greater Mbarara District, as individual families have installed panels of their own. It has become more common to see refrigerators in small markets and electric lighting in schools, hostels, and hospitals.

“Solar energy has the highest energy potential in Uganda after hydro,” says Noah Asinge, the information and partnerships officer at Uganda National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Alliance, a body that brings private renewable dealers together. 

Located on the equator, Uganda is in a prime location to harness solar energy. Hydroelectric power remains the major supplier to the national electrical grid, but in recent years, two 10-megawatt solar farms have come online as well.

In recent years, Mr. Asinge says, the government and a host of nongovernmental organizations have launched programs to help bring solar power to Uganda’s rural communities.

Asinge says alliance members are working with the World Bank, the Rural Electrification Agency, and Power Africa Uganda Electricity Supply Accelerator to increase solar access.

Patrick Muinda, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education and Sports, says they have been able to install solar systems in 560 secondary schools and technical institutes with support from the World Bank.

The Energy for Rural Transformation Project has been running since 2010. Mr. Muinda says the systems provide lighting in classrooms, dormitories, and labs. A new phase is planned to add enough battery storage capacity to run computer labs.

The addition of electric light alone, however, can make a huge difference for students.

The power of light

Edmond Nuwahereza a student at Saint Andrew Senior Secondary School Rubindi in Mbarara District, says access to lighting added hours to his day, enabling him read in the morning and evening.

A solar installation at home has paid off big, according to Shibaton Karungi, a student at Trinity Senior Secondary School. She was always a decent student, ranking 36th out of 90 students, even when she had to squint by lantern light. Since transitioning from tadoba to electric light, however, she is now 12th in her class.

“It is bright,” she says, smiling she recalls the dim light of the tadoba.

For her father, the investment in solar panels was a step toward living a modern life.

“I wanted to have modern lighting in my house,” he said. “The light is enough.”

Dorcus Nisiima of St. Benedict Secondary School in Kagongi, Mbarara District, also attributes improvements she has seen in her schoolwork to the addition of solar power at home. Her father, who runs a local hangout at his home, had installed solar to power a sound system and to light the kitchen where he prepares pork for the revelers.

Dorcus says the lights have enabled her to study in the dead of night after everyone else has gone to sleep.

Back in Bwengure, Barigye says solar is not only helping his students study. Now students can gather around a television to watch the evening news and enjoy movies on the weekends. It has offered them a connection to the broader world.

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The Monitor's View

In China, a great leap forward in corporate governance

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The history of many countries can be marked by a transition away from hereditary succession in business and politics, or the belief that leadership traits flow through bloodlines. Jack Ma, of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, is a true innovator. But his legacy may be defined by this: In announcing his succession plan Monday, Mr. Ma did not name a family member. Rather, one of the world’s biggest e-commerce companies will be led by Daniel Zhang, an 11-year Alibaba veteran chosen for his “professional talent.” The company’s future will depend on developing “droves of talent,” Ma said. In a society with a long tradition of suspicion toward those outside the family circle, he has built an “architecture of trust” with his half-billion customers. China now produces a new billionaire almost every other day. Many have rejected nepotistic privilege in favor of systems based on merit and integrity. They swim in a talent pool, not a gene pool. As many countries have discovered as they progress, it is better to share a kinship of qualities than rely solely on one’s progeny.

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In China, a great leap forward in corporate governance

On Monday, China’s wealthiest individual, Jack Ma of tech giant Alibaba, announced his successor at the company he founded 19 years ago. Notably, in a country where 70 to 80 percent of private enterprises are still family run, Mr. Ma did not name a family member. Rather, one of the world’s biggest e-commerce companies will be led by Daniel Zhang, an 11-year Alibaba veteran chosen only for his “professional talent.”

The history of many countries can be marked by a transition away from a reliance on hereditary succession in both business and politics, or the belief that traits of leadership flow through bloodlines and family pedigree. Ma is a true innovator in many ways, most famously for building an innovative online shopping market worth more than the economies of most countries. But his legacy may lie in showing how China as well as much of Asia can produce founders of successful organizations not inclined to pass the reins of power to relatives.

“Alibaba was never about Jack Ma,” he stated in announcing his succession plan.

Instead, the former schoolteacher who came from humble origins is stepping back from day-to-day operations because he has built a corporate culture based on innovation, transparency, and accountability. “For the last 10 years, we kept working on these ingredients,” he stated.

The company’s future will depend on developing “droves of talent,” he said. And in a society with a long tradition of suspicion toward those outside the family circle, Ma has built an “architecture of trust” with customers, who number over half a billion. Chinese now readily rely on Alibaba’s online payment system, its ratings of products and services, and other trust-building mechanisms pioneered by the company.

Ma’s success reflects the first wave of entrepreneurs set free in 1992 when Communist Party patriarch Deng Xiaoping opened China for business. Ma also represents a trend away from family-run firms in many Chinese societies such as Taiwan and Singapore. Joseph Fan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has found such companies lose 60 percent of their value on average when a founder hands the baton to a son or daughter.

China’s rapid growth now produces a new billionaire almost every day. Many of them, like Ma, have rejected nepotistic privilege in favor of systems based on merit and integrity. They swim in a talent pool, not a gene pool. As many countries have discovered as they progress, it is better to share a kinship of qualities than to rely solely on one’s progeny in business.

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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.

Suicide prevention, and beyond, through God’s love

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Today’s contributor shares how a friend was freed from recurring impulses to kill herself as she grew conscious of her innate value as a child of God.

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Suicide prevention, and beyond, through God’s love

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, and this year’s theme is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide.”

That’s a vital goal. Having lost a family member to suicide some years back, I feel deep compassion for anyone struggling with such aggressive urges – and gratitude for those involved in preventing them from being acted on.

Yet prevention is just one part of what’s needed. Everyone deserves freedom from the darkened mental states that can sometimes spill over into the urge for self-destruction. Each of these, in its own way, would seem to turn on its head the sense of our inherent worth that can be found within all of us, even if it feels as if it has been drowned out.

But the drone of depression and doubt that contradicts this better sense of ourselves can’t continue to do so when we begin to realize we have a choice of what thoughts we listen to. We can listen for that sense of worth because it comes to us from a source that, although often unknown or unacknowledged, is constantly communicating to us. It’s the voice of God, divine Love, our creator, described in the Bible.

For instance, if we listen for Love’s voice today, we can hear, in some form appropriate for us, what the prophet Zephaniah heard and conveyed to the people of Jerusalem: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

At every moment the radiant love of God is still ever present and valuing us, His offspring. Even when it doesn’t feel that way, this is our real being. In contrast, the material details that seem to be our lot in life are ultimately not a true depiction of either our life or our worth. But to feel that confidence and freedom we need to better understand the Life and Love that is God, as a friend learned after living with recurring suicidal urges for some years.

The pivotal point was when she learned of her relation to God through Christian Science. But she had a glorious glimpse of this along the way when she intuitively discerned there was more to her than her troubled life, and then felt the presence of an unfailing and infallible love supporting her.

A little later she found out that an acquaintance was a Christian Scientist. That impelled her to read and reread the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” The spiritual, healing ideas in Mary Baker Eddy’s book, based on the life and teachings of Christ Jesus, had a profound effect. She once told me, “As I read, the room seemed to be filled with pure light. I was held in that ‘secret place of the most High’ that the Bible talks about (Psalms 91:1) and felt as if I was being spoken to directly in my heart of hearts.”

Up till then she’d still had repetitive impulses to kill herself. But she lost all faith in self-destruction as a means of change as she grew conscious of her purely spiritual identity and relation to the Divine.

That led to her full freedom from further suicidal desires and brought to light an enduring joy that enables her to touch and uplift the lives of others. From this vantage point she recently shared her story on Facebook, concluding, “There is a way to give up what appears to be our challenged life along with all the regrets and fears and bad choices we associate with it. But it’s not through death. It’s by finding the true sense of Life as God.”

We’re never left alone to work out of darkened thinking. God’s love is with us, lifting us out of the mental states that would veil the true view of how loved, worthy, and capable we are.

Every moment can be a moment of yielding to this true view of ourselves, and as this happens, we can sing, along with the Psalmist, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (Psalms 118:17).

Adapted from an editorial published in the Sept. 10, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Gathering strength

NASA/AP
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station Sept. 10 as it threatens the US East Coast. Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely dangerous major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 11th, 2018 )

Thanks for reading the Monitor today. Please come back tomorrow as Ryan Lenora Brown looks at a case concerning the Chagos Archipelago – and what role international bodies have in sorting out colonialism’s messes. 

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