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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
20
Thursday
Kim Campbell
Education Editor

What should it cost to go to college?

For students interested in attending Rice University in Houston, it may not cost much at all. The school announced this week that it will return to its roots and offer free tuition to students whose families have an income below $130,000.

Rice based its decision on factors including its endowment (more than $5 billion) and recent discussions with alumni. But the national climate also played a role. “I think this issue of affordability is really central now,” the school’s president, David Leebron, told me this week.  

Rice joins other schools that offer free tuition to students based on need and residency. Others, like St. John's College, which rolled out a $17,000 drop this month, are reducing prices. Free college has been on the radar for years as funding for higher education has decreased and student loan debt has increased. A majority of Americans favor the idea but question whether it is affordable.

Observers note that Washington could make it a reality (using an extreme model), but a German example shows mixed results. Graduation rates are another consideration, as they are low for low-income students in the absence of campus support. Help beyond an open checkbook is often needed for success, and schools with more resources tend to fare better at that.

Rice already has supports in place as it prepares for its expanded financial aid to kick in next fall. The school was built on the tuition-free model, which it followed from 1912 to 1965. (My own Oklahoma-born dad was able to pursue his interest in physics in 1955 because of that policy.) In the announcement this week, Dr. Leebron put the motive for the new initiative this way: “Talent deserves opportunity.”

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Here are our five stories for your Thursday. 

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1. What 'pink wave'? Why GOP women candidates are minding the gender gap.

More women than ever are on the ballot in November. And how they are running their campaigns speaks to the growing differences in the makeup of the parties.

Kim

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At a Bruegger’s Bagels in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Lena Epstein chats animatedly about embracing pregnancy on the campaign trail. “I’m deeply proud of [that],” says Ms. Epstein, who could become the first woman to represent Michigan’s 11th District. “I’m an example that a woman can be a wife, a mother, and a leader, too.” But then she adds quickly, “I don’t want this to be about gender. I want this to be about my preparations, my qualifications.” It’s an example of the delicate balancing act many Republican women candidates are facing this cycle. In this Year of the Woman 2.0, in which a record 262 women are on the ballot, they’re not riding the same wave of female enthusiasm – much of it sparked by the #MeToo movement and opposition to President Trump – that’s currently energizing the left. While Democratic candidates promote their gender and champion women’s issues, most Republicans downplay it, sticking largely to conservative tropes like taxes and gun rights. “They aren’t going to win any applause for talking about sexual harassment, because their voters don’t care about that issue,” says Melissa Deckman, who teaches politics and public affairs at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.

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What 'pink wave'? Why GOP women candidates are minding the gender gap.

The woman approaches the table with a tentative smile. “Are you Lena?” she asks.

“I am!” Lena Epstein, candidate for Michigan’s 11th congressional district, beams and gives her a hug.

“I heard you talking about your values and I knew that it had to be you,” the woman tells Ms. Epstein. “Keep it up.”

The exchange is warm, unscripted, personal. It radiates the optimism that has infused the 2018 campaign cycle, especially among women candidates. The latest count by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) shows that a record 262 women won nominations for the US House and Senate. Many, like Epstein, are first-time candidates.

But while Epstein may technically be part of the Year of the Woman 2.0, her candidacy isn’t exactly riding the wave of female enthusiasm that’s sweeping the country. That’s because she’s a Republican.  

Epstein is one of 60 GOP women running for Congress – a figure slightly above average compared with previous cycles for Republicans. The massive uptick in Democratic women on the ballot, however, means that they represent roughly one-fifth of all female candidates this year.

At the same time, pollsters are projecting the gender gap among voters may hit a record level this year. Fifty-six percent of women now identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while 37 percent ally with or lean toward the GOP, the Pew Research Center reports. A Quinnipiac poll released in July also showed that among women, Democrats were ahead on the congressional ballot by a 25-point margin.

President Trump is part of the calculus – his history of making off-color remarks about women and boasting about sexual misconduct has alienated many women voters. But the numbers are indicative of broader trends around voting patterns among men and women. As Democrats brand their party as the champion of issues affecting women and minority groups, more women voters and candidates flock to them. This year, white men are the minority among Democratic candidates for the first time, paving the way for a shift in what is still a mostly-white, mostly-male Congress. But as women become more and more monolithic in their vote, it means their political influence will increasingly ebb and flow with the Democratic Party’s fortunes.

“You can’t draw attention to your identity on the Republican side, but among Democrats that’s ... valued, and expected,” says Rosalyn Cooperman, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va. “Party culture becomes a very important way of understanding some of those differences.”

Many Democrats – including Epstein’s opponent, former Obama administration official Haley Stevens – are embracing, if not emphasizing, issues such as the #MeToo Movement and paid family leave. “I’m proud to represent the values and the policies that women care about that have long been ignored,” Ms. Stevens says, noting that the 11th district has never had a woman represent it in Congress.

Republican women, on the other hand, tend to double down on the party line about rejecting identity politics. It’s yet unclear how GOP women candidates will respond to the sexual assault allegation that has surfaced against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But in general, they tend to stick to conservative concerns like taxes and gun control, working to broaden their support without losing core voters in a party that is becoming increasingly white and male.

For Epstein, that means highlighting her economics degree from Harvard University, her entrepreneurial pedigree as co-owner of Vesco Oil, and her work as Mr. Trump’s campaign co-chair in Michigan in 2016.

“They aren’t going to win any applause for talking about sexual harassment because their voters don’t care about that issue,” says Melissa Deckman, who teaches politics and public affairs at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.

Party attitudes are reflected in the recruiting, campaigning, and funding structures surrounding women candidates. Maggie’s List, the Susan B. Anthony List, and Value In Electing Women (VIEW PAC) – all political action committees meant to help Republican women – have together received about $1.5 million in donations this cycle. By contrast, EMILY’s List, whose goal is to recruit, train, and fund Democratic women who support abortion rights, has collected just under $4 million.

Viral campaign ads this campaign season have shown Democratic candidates switching into heels at a subway station, talking about dealing with “handsy men,” and breastfeeding on camera. The message from Republican women has centered more on how being a woman is incidental to their qualifications – or strengthens their convictions and conservatism. That means more guns and in Epstein’s case, more attention to her business background.

While women candidates from both parties are shown stepping out of fighter jets, Democrats tend to emphasize the barriers they overcame on their way to the cockpit. Republicans – with the rare exception – concentrate on combat experience.

“It’s, ‘My womanness makes me man enough,’ ” says Kelly Dittmar, a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and CAWP scholar. “They just deal with gender and the performance of gender differently than their Democratic female counterparts.”

SOURCE: Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

That doesn’t mean Republicans won’t ever talk about gender – or don’t want to see more women elected. At a Bruegger’s Bagels in Bloomfield Hills, a suburb northwest of Detroit, Epstein chats animatedly about her family and her pride at embracing her pregnancy while on the campaign trail. “It was … something that I’m deeply proud of,” she says. “I’m an example that a woman can be a wife, a mother, and a leader, too, in the private sector and seeking public office.”

But then she adds quickly: “I don’t want this to be about gender. I want this to be about my preparations, my qualifications.”

The tactic may work in her race. The 11th district has been a safely Republican seat since at least 1990, and Trump’s victory in Michigan – narrow though it was – gives Epstein reason to align herself with the president, as well as with traditionally conservative principles.

Stevens, her Democratic opponent, seizes every chance to turn the conversation to jobs and manufacturing. And for all that she’s willing to talk about diversity in politics, she holds up moderate Democrats such as Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan as models.

“I’m focused on the Midwest,” says Stevens, who served as chief of staff on the Obama-era task force charged with stabilizing the auto industry in the wake of the Great Recession. “I’m running to be the best advocate for our regional economy, particularly as it relates to … advanced manufacturing and new technologies.”

Still, the 11th district race serves as a window into how differently Republican and Democratic women view the role of gender, and how they present themselves to their voters. Epstein talks frankly about her Jewish faith and celebrates her family’s diverse political views; she grew up in a household of Democrats and independents. But those attributes are clearly less important to her constituents than her conservative credentials.

Picking at a salad, the woman who approached Epstein for a hug says she admires her impressive career – and the fact that she has the president’s approval. “I don’t care what sex [a candidate is], I don’t care what race,” she shrugs. “If she was a guy, I would have approached her … because she believes in individuality, and people taking care of themselves, and respecting themselves, and pulling themselves up.”

SOURCE: Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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2. Why both Iran and US have taken hits from nuclear deal withdrawal

On the world stage, the use of economic or military might is value-neutral only in rare instances. More often it catalyzes opposition, resentment, or active resistance. Yet it is still used. 

Kim

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When President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed economic sanctions, angering some allies, he isolated both countries, Iran economically and the US diplomatically. But at least according to some foreign policy experts, the downsides for the United States, while not ideal, are less than expected and much less serious than those Iran is only beginning to feel. One reason for the Trump administration’s success in targeting Iran is the brute strength, relatively, of the US economy even as its slice of the global economic pie continues to shrink. This also offers a hint as to why the administration has shaped up as an avid user of economic sanctions to influence a range of adversaries. Supporters of the administration’s approach say it is simply presenting international companies with a choice between doing business with the US or with Iran. As former Sen. Joe Lieberman said in a TV interview, European businesses “are exiting Iran because if you give them a choice … between doing business with Iran, $500 billion GDP, and doing business with America, $21 trillion GDP, it’s an easy choice.”

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Why both Iran and US have taken hits from nuclear deal withdrawal

As President Trump prepared to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal last spring, a debate flared over who would wind up more isolated as a result of such a move: Iran, or the United States.

Four months after Mr. Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 seven-nation accord, the evidence is increasingly clear that not just one of the two principal antagonists of the landmark agreement is isolated, but that both are – though in different ways and to different degrees.

Simply put: While Iran’s growing isolation is economic, for the US the repercussion from exiting the nuclear deal has been diplomatic.

And at least for some foreign policy experts, the downsides for the US of being the odd man out among world powers are much less serious than the economic impact they say Iran is only beginning to feel.

“There are two dimensions to the isolation question, the market dimension and the political dimension, with the first dimension clearly the more critical of the two,” says Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. “I see Iran as the much more isolated of the two, in terms of the market for sure,” he says. “In terms of the other dimension, I see the US far less isolated politically than anyone predicted.”   

That US actions have delivered a gut punch to Iran’s economy is clear. Iran is increasingly cut off from global markets as more and more (mostly European) companies cease operations in the country rather than run afoul of re-imposed US sanctions. The Iranian currency, the rial, has collapsed against the dollar, and mounting shortages of food and other basics have led to panic-buying and protests.

And the pummeling is almost certain to intensify in November, experts say, when a second round of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and gas industry takes effect.

The success the Trump administration has had in targeting the Iranian economy – and in persuading many multinational companies to flee Iran – underscores the prevailing weight of the US economy, even as its slice of the global economic pie continues to shrink. Moreover, that success offers a hint at why the Trump administration, hardly a fan of traditional diplomacy, is shaping up as an avid user of economic sanctions to influence (or attempt to influence) countries as diverse as Russia, North Korea, Myanmar, and Venezuela.

Vahid Salemi/AP
An Iranian salesclerk shows off his goods to Kiana Ismaili, center, while she shops with her mother at a kitchenware shop ahead of her wedding, at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Sept. 6, 2018. Fear over the economy and the declining value of the Iranian rial has brought many to the bazaar in recent days to buy what they can before their savings further dwindle away.

But even as the economic strangulation of Iran tightens, the US is finding that abandoning the nuclear deal has also left it alone on the diplomatic stage – not the ideal position to be in as it seeks to rein in what it calls Iran’s “malign activities” across the Middle East.

A US setback at UN

The Trump administration discovered last week how deep its diplomatic isolation on Iran runs when it had to backtrack on plans to have Trump chair a session of the United Nations Security Council focused on Iran during the president’s participation in the annual UN General Assembly next week.

By all accounts, Trump was itching to preside over a high-drama take-down of the Iranian government and what the administration sees as its subversive and destabilizing activities from Iraq to Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.

But soon enough, the White House realized that such a Security Council session risked more than anything exposing the fissures between the US and other world powers – including allies France and Britain – over the US pullout from the nuclear deal.

Good-bye Iran session.

Trump will still chair a Security Council meeting while in New York, but the topic will now be nonproliferation writ large. It’s an issue all powers are broadly committed to, and one that will presumably allow Trump to tout before his Council colleagues the progress and reduced international tensions his approach to North Korea has delivered.

Moreover, US officials say, the new topic will also provide Trump with the opportunity to underscore not just his firm stand against the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, but also the united front the US and two other Council members, France and Britain, have formed to back up with force their insistence on no-CW-use in Syria.

Despite that show of unity with the US, however, the European powers, both individually and collectively as the European Union, remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal and are actively working to convince Iran not to pull out and cause the deal’s collapse.

Not only do the Europeans believe, unlike Trump, that the deal is working as intended to roll back Iran’s nuclear program. But some European officials say the US effort to further undermine the agreement by imposing secondary sanctions to force the hand of European and other international companies is an unacceptable assault on European sovereignty – especially coming from a US administration that has reasserted the inviolability of national sovereignty in its relations with the world.

$500 billion GDP vs. $21 trillion GDP

On the other hand, supporters of the administration’s aggressive stand against the deal say the re-imposed US sanctions are not telling other countries what to do, but simply presenting international companies with a choice: Do business with the US or deal with Iran, but you can’t have both.

“The fact is though even our allies in Europe seem to be clinging to that bad agreement, their businesses are exiting Iran because if you give them a choice, as President Trump and [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo have now forced them to make, between doing business with Iran, $500 billion GDP, and doing business with America, $21 trillion GDP, it’s an easy choice,” said former Sen. Joe Lieberman on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures.”

The Trump administration’s political isolation was underscored by revelations from former Secretary of State John Kerry – while promoting his new memoir – that he has continued to meet with various world leaders since leaving the State Department, including with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Mr. Pompeo rebuked Mr. Kerry for the “unseemly and unprecedented” contacts with Iranian officials in public remarks at the State Department last Friday – a day after Trump took to Twitter to blast Kerry for what he called “illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime.”

The president added, “He told them to wait out the Trump Administration!”

In any case, that is what other world powers are advising Iran to do, with Russia, China, and India making the case by continuing to invest billions in Iran’s oil and gas infrastructure.

Impact on ‘malign activities’?

Less clear is the impact of the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal on Iran’s “malign activities,” which after all was a primary goal of the US action.

Trump himself has sent mixed signals on how he thinks the US campaign to rein in Iran is doing. In June, just a month after exiting the deal, Trump said at a White House press conference that “Iran is not the same country that it was a few months ago.… They’re a much, much different group of leaders.” But then came this month’s reference to Iran’s “very hostile…Regime.”

Also this month the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, suggested to reporters that Iran’s behavior hasn’t changed much, saying, “President Trump is very adamant that we have to start making sure that Iran is falling in line with international order … and we continue to see them engage in things that are not helpful, whether it’s in Lebanon, whether it’s in Yemen, whether we’re looking at Syria.”

The US also lashed out at Iran last week for recent rocket attacks by Iranian-backed militias in the proximity of US diplomatic compounds in Iraq. Administration officials see Iran’s activities in Iraq as part of a continuing policy of funding extremist groups throughout the Middle East – with some regional experts speculating that the mounting US hostility toward Iran is prompting hardliners in the country to double down on the regional activities the US seeks to curtail.

Mr. Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies says that while the US may differ with its European allies on some of the means of addressing Iranian behavior in the region, it is not alone as it seeks to rein in Iran’s provocative and destabilizing actions.

“The reality is that the French, the British, and the Germans as well are all constantly pushing on the Iranians over their missiles and funding of extremists and proxies,” he says. “They are on the same page with us in viewing Iran’s malign activities as a critical concern.”

That leads him to conclude that the US isn’t as alone after pulling out of the nuclear deal as many had predicted.

“The original idea was that the US would end up isolated and the sanctions would not work,” Dubowitz says. “Clearly that has not happened.”

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3. Embrace of US end to Palestinian aid marks a major shift for Israel

Israelis love to disparage the UN refugee agency for Palestinians as a political arm of the Palestinians. But the Israeli government’s support of President Trump’s new policy flies in the face of the view of its own security establishment.

Kim

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The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East – established to care for Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war – has long been a punching bag for Israeli politicians. But embracing the new US policy to end $350 million in annual aid actually marks a shift for Israel. It upends a 50-year-old accommodationist policy that considers UNRWA’s social welfare work – for all its political warts – to be a stabilizing force. The policy change has sharpened a debate in Israel that pits the political goal of rolling back Palestinian demands for a “right of return” for refugees against the security interest of preventing violence in the territories. By some expert accounts, weakening UNRWA could encourage radicals in Gaza, where unemployment is around 50 percent, and weaken the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. “The instability risked by the UNRWA cut could … create more friction with the civilian population,” says Peter Lerner, a reserve Israeli military spokesman who also worked with the agency that liaises with UNRWA. “The military will have to deal with counter-terrorism, and it will divert focus from Israel’s biggest threats: Iran and Hezbollah.”

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Embrace of US end to Palestinian aid marks a major shift for Israel

When the Trump administration announced last month it would immediately cut all US aid for the UN refugee agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately hailed it as a “praiseworthy” and “important” decision.

Established to care for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East has long been a punching bag for Israeli politicians. They denounce it as a political arm of the Palestinians that perpetuates demands for a return of millions of registered refugees to Israel.

But embracing the new US policy to end $350 million in annual aid actually marks a shift for Israel. It upends a 50-year old accommodationist policy supported by the defense establishment, which considers UNRWA’s social welfare work – for all its political warts – as a stabilizing force among some 2.1 million registered refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.

“This is a pretty big change in policy. It was done over the objections of the security establishment,’’ says Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University and the founder of NGO Monitor. “For many years there has been discussion among members of Congress of cutting the budget to UNRWA, and each time the Israeli government has said, ‘Don’t do that, we are in favor of the status quo.’ ’’

The policy change toward UNRWA has sharpened a debate in Israel that pits the political goal of rolling back Palestinian demands for a “right of return” for refugees against the security interest of preventing unrest and violence in the Palestinian territories. That is especially so in impoverished, Hamas-ruled Gaza – scene of many deadly confrontations this year and three recent wars – where more than half of the population of 2 million are eligible for UNRWA assistance.

According to UNRWA, which operates in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, the population of Palestinian refugees and their descendants numbers more than 5 million. When Israel conquered the Palestinian territories in the 1967 Six-Day War, it actually signed an agreement with the United Nations allowing the agency to continue to administer schools, food assistance, and other social services in refugee districts. The subsequent relationship has been described as an “uneasy marriage of convenience.”

“Every single Israeli government has permitted UNRWA to operate. When it is so enmeshed in Palestinian society, ordering an abrupt aid cut can lead to catastrophic consequences for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” says Peter Lerner, a reserve Israeli military spokesman who also was the spokesman for the army agency that liaises with UNRWA.

Weakening UNRWA would encourage radicals in Gaza, where unemployment is around 50 percent and most residents rely on food assistance, and weaken the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank.

“The instability risked by the UNRWA cut could require the IDF to mobilize more forces in the West Bank and create more friction with the civilian population,” Mr. Lerner says. “The military will have to deal with counter-terrorism, and it will divert focus from Israel’s biggest threats: Iran and Hezbollah.”

A headline from Israel’s Walla! news website framed the issue in starker terms: “The Security Threat from the Cut to UNRWA: When Hundreds of Thousands of Hungry Gazans Run to the Border Fence.”

On Wednesday, thousands of UNRWA staff demonstrated in Gaza City to protest cuts to the organization’s activities.

In Gaza’s refugee camps, garbage collections have been cut back and officials have warned of environmental fallout from the cuts to UNRWA.

President Trump “can’t come and say that I will delete your dream of return,’’ says Hassan Jaber, a journalist who lives in Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp. “The next generation will continue fighting, until they achieve their right of return. We don’t want to make war with Israelis, but we want our rights.”

Defunding US aid to UNRWA is part of a larger policy to pare back financial assistance in order to pressure the Palestinian leadership on the moribund peace process. In recent months, the US has cut aid to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, ended support for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, and most recently, programs for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.

According to some Israeli analysts, Israel’s support for UNRWA’s role had become an orthodoxy that calcified Israeli thinking on how to handle the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Preserving UNRWA because of its service-provider function is a “cash register approach,” said Einat Wilf, a former Labor member of parliament and a leading UNRWA critic who co-authored a Hebrew book entitled “The War of Return.”

Wilf and other Israelis argue that UNRWA has perpetuated the refugee issue by preventing Palestinians’ resettlement outside of Israel, recognizing subsequent generations as refugees as well, and cultivating claims for millions of Palestinians to return to ancestral homes inside Israel.

The UN agency has “cultivated a Palestinian nationalism that is single-mindedly focused on this idea of return and of undoing Israel – of going back to before 1947,” Wilf said in a recent interview with the Israel advocacy organization, the Israel Project. “We need to say enough, call it quits, UNRWA is not a force a for good. UNRWA is the radicalizing force.”

The emotion-laden issue of the Palestinian refugees has been one of the symbolic wedges preventing a resolution of the conflict. In the 1950s and 1960s, Israeli officials secretly explored resettling Palestinian refugees in North Africa and South America. During the heyday of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the sides mulled a compromise solution to resettle some refugees in their host countries, some in the West Bank, and to allow a symbolic number to live in Israel as part of family unification.

Dahlia Schiendlin, an Israeli-American public opinion expert, says many Israelis aren’t familiar with UNRWA, but among those who are, it is seen as an agency set up exclusively for the Palestinians and that makes compensation demands of Israel that no other country has to deal with.

UNRWA's image among Israelis suffered more damage after several of its schools were used by militants during the 2014 Gaza war to store rockets and other weapons. 

Supporting the Trump administration’s anti-UNRWA policy marks a new approach for Israel’s government on the refugee issue.

“It’s part of the strategy of the Netanyahu administration to downgrade the national claims of the Palestinians, and roll them back to a humanitarian issue,’’ says Ehud Eiran, a political science professor at Haifa University. “The hope of the government is that UNRWA disappears and in the eyes of the Palestinians, the international community no longer views them as refugees, and this will change their consciousness.”

But some Israeli analysts expressed doubt that this strategy would have the desired effect. While UNRWA has an interest in perpetuating the refugee issue, the agency would continue to receive support from other countries, and the agency would not collapse, says Shlomo Brom, a former Israeli military director of strategic planning.

“It will cause an economic and humanitarian crisis on top of the existing crisis, and in the West Bank, it will make the situation of the PA worse than it is already,’’ Mr. Brom says.

“It’s taking a risk to give a mortal blow to the existence of the Palestinian refugees, but I doubt this will go away. It’s a strong narrative. It’s part of their identity.”

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4. As Canada legalizes cannabis, concerns rise to temper enthusiasm

Legalization of marijuana is only the first step of introducing it to society as a recreational substance. Many issues, like how it will be sold and what effect it will have on communities, remain. Part two of two. 

Kim

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Legalization of recreational pot has many towns buzzing with the possibilities, from job creation to tourism potential. Given the hype around the “green rush,” it’s easy to overlook the many mixed feelings surfacing about legalization. Among the most conflicted are mayors worried about the pace of change, even as they face criticism for being old-fashioned or failing to learn history lessons from prohibition. While support for legalization of recreational cannabis has grown since Canada legalized it for medicinal use in 2001, polls also show significant doubts about how ready the provinces are to implement the law and whether it will have its intended effect of undercutting the black market or keeping the substance away from kids. “This whole cannabis legalization is going to create challenges. And I’m not so sure it’s the best thing for society right now,” says Randy Woroniuk, mayor of Gimli, Manitoba. “We have other challenges, and introducing another mind-altering substance I don’t think, in my mind, is conducive to a better society.” 

This is the second part of a two-part package exploring how Canada’s legalization act affects communities across the country. Part one explored how communities are capitalizing on the legalization of cannabis by using it to generate new jobs and taxes.  

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As Canada legalizes cannabis, concerns rise to temper enthusiasm

At a coffee shop off the pretty main street of Oakville, an affluent community just southwest of Toronto on Lake Ontario, Mayor Rob Burton points to the table to his right where a mother and two young boys laugh together over a computer screen. On the patio outside, young mothers have parked their strollers as they sip on lattes.

“This is a family town,” says Mr. Burton.

And that’s why he says if he is re-elected this fall, he plans to initially ban retail cannabis shops in Oakville, after cannabis becomes legal for recreational use next month. This very chain, Second Cup, announced plans to convert some of their locations into cannabis retail stores.

As marijuana emerges from basement growing rooms and underground sales, towns are grappling with how to regulate a substance that has been illegal for most people’s lifetimes.

Legalization of recreational pot has many towns buzzing with the possibilities, from job creation to tourism potential. Given the hype around the “green rush,” it’s easy to overlook the many mixed feelings surfacing about legalization. Among the most conflicted are mayors worried about the pace of change, even as they face criticism for being old-fashioned or failing to learn history lessons from prohibition.

Support for legalization of recreational cannabis has grown since it was legalized for medicinal use in 2001, with up to two-thirds of respondents supporting it. But polls also show significant doubts about how ready the provinces are to implement the law and whether it will have its intended effect of undercutting the black market or keeping the substance away from kids. More abstract are nagging concerns that it’s the wrong priority to be focusing on.

“This whole cannabis legalization is going to create challenges. And I’m not so sure it’s the best thing for society right now,” says Randy Woroniuk, mayor of Gimli, Manitoba, a resort and retirement town. “We have other challenges, and introducing another mind-altering substance I don’t think, in my mind, is conducive to a better society.”

Sara Miller LLana/The Christian Science Monitor
Oakville Mayor Rob Burton wants cannabis retail stores banned from his community, which he calls a "family town." He says the town is better off opting out during this experimental stage, but may opt in later.

Worried about the unknowns

Mayor Woroniuk's experience navigating the situation shows how fraught the debate is on the local level.

When municipalities in Manitoba voted in December on whether they’d allow retail cannabis stores in their jurisdictions, the Gimli town council was the first to say no – “with caveats,” Woroniuk says. Chief among concerns were questions about how much it would cost the town and what they stood to gain.

He says the hate mail was relentless. “I was accused of being too religious to make a proper decision, because I go to church every Sunday.”

Eventually the province clarified the process for distribution and sales, and Gimli, like municipalities around the country, decided to allow storefronts to open after all. But Woroniuk remains unconvinced about the path of legalization. “If they were going to do something, they should have just decriminalized it, they shouldn't have legalized it, [but] made it a parking ticket-type offense if you have so much,” he says.

Each province sets its own rules on distribution and sales. Cannabis will only be available online in Ontario on Oct. 17, with private retailers coming into the market in the spring. Councils can’t ban the use of marijuana, but they have a window in which they can say no to brick-and-mortar stores.

The mayor of Markham says he will opt out of allowing sales in his city north of Toronto. So has the mayor of neighboring Richmond Hill, though he says he is awaiting information about how the “opt-out” clause will work in Ontario before commenting further.

Dan Malleck, an expert in alcohol regulation and prohibition at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, says that the language he hears today about cannabis has many parallels with prohibition in 19th century Canada, where municipalities or cities could vote themselves “dry.” He says many such places saw little decrease in drunkenness, and some even saw increases.

He says the “family town” argument resonated then. And it does today because of the perception of cannabis “as an especially morally problematic substance that will damage the family,” he says.

‘We'll watch them work it out’

But just like prohibition did, bans will fail if a vast majority don’t support them. And support for legalization generally suggests that the public won't approve of a ban on retail stores. “Our historic understanding is not a perfect comparison, but certainly it has a lot of the same elements of popular will, and people who want it are going to get it anyway,” Dr. Malleck says. “This just encourages illegality.”

Caryma Sa’d, a cannabis lawyer from Toronto, says she thinks that many town councils are comprised of members who adhere to old schools of thought about “reefer madness.” “I think that is hard to shake,” she says, “and is the source of this gut reaction to ban it, or to opt out.”

In Oakville, Burton rejects comparisons to prohibition. He says cannabis is going to be legal, thus he abides by the law. He says there are simply too many unknowns for municipalities, including details such as who will decide where stores go or what the operating hours will be. He says the town is better off opting out during this experimental stage.

“I think my residents will be happy to stand back, watch them work it out, … and when they have it all settled, we’ll opt in. Maybe with a referendum,” he says.

Oakville resident Colleen Sullivan says she has mixed feelings about legalization but is sure she doesn’t want cannabis retail stores in her town, which this summer was voted the best place to live in Canada. “People come to live in Oakville for a reason. It’s 45 minutes from the city,” she says on her way to shop on the main street, where flower pots hang from the lampposts.

She’s not alone in worrying about how legalization might affect the town’s quality of life. A DART Insight survey released in June found that 53 percent of Canadians fear the impact that marijuana will have on their community.

Ms. Sullivan says she is not naive; she knows kids can access drugs whether there is a retail store in the town or not. Still, she thinks it's better not to make it easier than it already is – especially in an affluent area where kids have disposable income. “That stuff can stay in the city,” she says. “We’re here to get away from that.”

This is the second part of a two-part package exploring how Canada’s legalization act affects communities across the country. Part one explored how communities are capitalizing on the legalization of cannabis by using it to generate new jobs and taxes.  

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5. Liberal arts watch: Colleges appeal to students with ‘purposeful work’

Is college meant to prepare students for jobs or to help them be better thinkers? Liberal arts colleges in the United States, increasingly defending their content, have found a way to do both.

Kim
Steven Senne/AP/File
Nam Luu speaks with fellow Connecticut College students in the library’s cafe and study space in New London in 2016. The school, a participant in a ‘purposeful work’ conference of liberal arts institutions this spring, engages students in career planning during freshman year.

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How to parlay a history major into a well-paying job has long been an issue for colleges to contend with. But a confluence of events, from the recession of 2008 to changing views about how to prepare for a life of work, are forcing liberal arts schools to defend their offerings as never before. Some schools have decided to incorporate “purposeful work” into their culture. Helping students connect coursework and more meaningful career goals is one way to change perceptions, administrators reason. And, they say, it fits with the search for purpose that many of today’s students indicate they want. Alex Cullen, an English and environmental studies major at Bates College, took a course in the spring taught by a freelance writer on science journalism and communication. Journalism may not end up being her calling, but she says her experience is helping her plan for her future. “You can learn something in the classroom a million times, and it might be interesting there or sound interesting,” she says, “but you’re not really going to know how you feel about it until you're ... out there in the field performing the work.”

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Liberal arts watch: Colleges appeal to students with ‘purposeful work’

Across the United States, liberal arts colleges are facing steep challenges.

Fewer students are convinced that a generalist approach will land them a job after graduation, experts say, and for low-income students, that perception is especially pervasive. Enrollment in liberal arts programs has fallen since the 1960s and several colleges have recently considered slashing majors or even closing.

But a growing number of institutions are responding by helping students explore career aspirations in ways that feel meaningful. The efforts go by different names, but many campuses have settled on the term “purposeful work” because of its emphasis on finding deeper fulfillment – not simply a job offer – after graduation.

“Everybody’s talking about this,” says Philip Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “[P]urposeful work is a way to frame the liberal arts experience in a way where students not only attain the intellectual growth of working across multiple disciplines but … they make meaning of it. They’ve got to show that they can use it, that they have the work experience.”

Some studies suggest that with enough time after graduation, liberal arts graduates tend to fare about as well in the job market as those from more specialized programs. (Though, other research suggests graduates end up earning less.) One of purposeful work’s primary aims is to help students understand that they can pursue whatever academic interests they have and still find success in their post-college lives.

“It’s about bringing to consciousness in our students and in the broader public ... the power of liberal arts in preparing students for life and work,” says Clayton Spencer, president of Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, a leader in the movement. Put another way by Dr. Gardner, “A ‘purpose’ means you have a goal in mind.”

Ms. Spencer theorizes purposeful work could help students find meaning in their post-graduation lives sooner. And it’s increasingly something students are asking for outright, says Mark Peltz, dean of careers, life, and service at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

“[W]hat is also important to these students is a sense of purpose. What am I doing and why am I doing it?” says Dr. Peltz. 

More meaningful career development has been a popular idea among liberal arts colleges for more than a decade. But it began to pick up steam in the years following the recession: “2008 made it almost unavoidable,” Gardner notes.

With rising financial concerns from families, colleges felt greater pressure to offer more of an assurance that employment awaited students. “It’s all about that first job. They’ve got to be able to sell that first job,” he says.

But a tension arose at that time. Most liberal arts colleges firmly believe that the power of education goes beyond securing a first job and is more rooted in developing a fulfilling career, says Gardner. Out of that conflict in thought emerged purposeful work. The approach disrupts the older view of career planning and academic development as separate priorities. And unlike in the past, when the process was often relegated to upperclassmen, now students are exploring future aspirations from their very first moments on campus.

One ‘purposeful work' model

Bates offers five-week courses in the spring that bring students of all years together with working professionals, including farmers, bankers, and entrepreneurs. Alex Cullen, an English and environmental studies major, took a course in the spring taught by a freelance writer on science journalism and communication. In it, Ms. Cullen, now a junior, explored potential applications of her academic interests through producing podcasts and crafting 3-D designs of a museum exhibit on coral bleaching.

“You can learn something in the classroom a million times and it might be interesting there or sound interesting but you’re not really going to know how you feel about it until you’re ... out there in the field performing the work,” she says. Ultimately journalism didn’t quite feel like Cullen’s calling – but even that knowledge is helping her plan her future.  

Bates also funds and coordinates longer-term work experiences. James Lee, a biochemistry major, received funding to shadow a doctor in South Korea for the summer after his freshman year and two years later found an internship at a medical technology company through a college career network.

Six months after graduation, 76 percent of alumni are in full- or part-time jobs, according to data from the school.

Elsewhere, too, colleges are embracing this approach. The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, brings freshmen to school weeks before class begins to plan out their semesters and summers with counselors – with an eye toward life and work goals. Lisa Kastor, director of career planning, says she’s spoken with more than 15 other institutions adapting the college’s approach.

At Grinnell, administrators match every freshman with an exploratory adviser who helps them consider their post-graduation lives. Connecticut College and the University of Iowa also engage first-year students in career planning, and participated in a purposeful work conference at Grinnell this spring.

About 81 percent of students participated in programming at Grinnell’s Center for Career, Life, and Service in the past year, school data shows. By comparison, in 2016, only 6 percent of college students said they regularly consult the campus career office, according to a report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Public universities also taking note

The conversation around purposeful work has spread to other institutions that teach liberal arts. At the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, dropping enrollment has caused administrators to recommend cutting 13 majors. Greg Summers, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, says liberal arts colleges have influenced steering efforts at his regional university.

“I think [we are] getting at the same thing,” he says. “We’re trying to work really hard on our general education curriculum so that students who don't choose to major in those disciplines are still getting a robust experience in that 40 credits that comprise our gen ed. But we’re also ... working hard to get our faculty to think about the professional focus of liberal arts majors.”

Even within small colleges, the potential to help level the socio-economic playing field is one of purposeful work’s major draws.

“If you’re first generation to college and your parents may not have been professionals, you may not have been exposed to the array of opportunities ... not to mention how you begin to develop the set of experiences and the set of connections to get you there,” says Spencer, the Bates president.

Bates student Lee, now a senior, emphasizes that his own professional development experience wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the college. Through purposeful work, he realized that he’s especially interested in working on the business and industry sides of medicine. His reasoning echoes’ his school’s goals more broadly.

“When I work in industry, I can see where the research is being applied,” he says. “Sometimes when you’re working in a lab, it’s very easy to lose track of what the bigger picture is. But when you’re working on the front lines, all of the research that you’re doing is applicable.” 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the 13 majors at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are not yet cut.

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The Monitor's View

The prospect of no people living in extreme poverty

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Fewer than 1 in 10 people now live in “extreme poverty,” says a new World Bank report. Just four decades ago, more than 4 in 10 people lived at such an income level, which the Bank defines as less than $1.90 a day. Many experts now ask if a zero level of extreme poverty could soon be possible. Indeed, so many countries have lifted people out of the worst of living conditions that the world may have crossed a mental threshold. The anticipation of future poverty has long exacerbated current poverty, notes one poverty expert. As more of the poor learn that their plight is not inevitable, attitudes shift, encouraging change. Solutions to poverty are both well known and widely disputed, but the World Bank focuses on what it calls “human capital,” or raising up education and health standards, with a special focus on women and girls. With each new report on the material progress of the poor, the world must also celebrate something deeper: A rise in expectations among the poor about their future is really a realization about their latent capabilities.

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The prospect of no people living in extreme poverty

For the first time in recorded history, fewer than 1 in 10 people are living in “extreme poverty,” according to a new World Bank report. Just four decades ago, more than 4 in 10 people lived at such an income level, which the bank defines as less than $1.90 a day. This progress has been so steady that many experts now ask if a zero level of extreme poverty could soon be possible.

The reason for such speculation is that so many countries have lifted people out of the worst of living conditions that the world may have crossed a mental threshold. As more of the poor learn their plight is not inevitable, attitudes shift. According to poverty expert Esther Duflo at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the anticipation of future poverty has long exacerbated current poverty. Yet with more reports of progress, the task of alleviating poverty gets easier.

The current goal of the World Bank and many other aid agencies is to have only three percent of people living in extreme poverty by 2030. About half of the world’s countries have already achieved that rate. Much of the progress over the past quarter century has been in Asia, especially China, India, and Indonesia.

In 2000 the world’s countries agreed on a goal to cut poverty to half of the 1990 level by 2015. This collective effort spawned so much innovation and cooperation that the goal was reached at least five years early. Someone now escapes extreme poverty every 1.2 seconds, according to one estimate.

Much of today’s poverty is now concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. While its rate has fallen to 41 percent from 54 percent since 1990, the actual number of people in extreme poverty has risen because of high population growth. And just two countries in Africa, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be home to 44 percent of people living in extreme poverty by 2050 if trends continue, according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Earlier this year, Nigeria overtook India to become the country with the world’s highest number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the Brookings Institution, even though its population is about one-seventh that of India.

Solutions to poverty are both well known and widely disputed, but the World Bank focuses on what it calls “human capital,” or raising up the education and health standards of the poor, with a special focus on women and girls. “There’s so much desire to have access to education, to make sure that your children are not underfed,” says the bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim.

With each new report on the material progress of the poor, the world must also celebrate something deeper. A rise in expectations among the poor about their future is really a realization about their latent capabilities. Awakening those capabilities will help humanity more quickly achieve the goal of no people living in extreme poverty.

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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.

Finding comfort beyond ‘comfort food’

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Today’s contributor was freed from a binge-eating habit and regained a normal weight as a void in her life was filled by a clearer sense of God’s love.

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Finding comfort beyond ‘comfort food’

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Ten tablespoons lined the bottom of my kitchen sink. As a young mother and doctoral student, I had developed the habit of turning to ice cream to comfort me in times of stress (which were numerous). Every time I felt anxious, fearful, or angry, I would reach for a tablespoon and have another bite of the delectable confection.

One evening as my husband and I looked at pictures of our young daughter’s birthday party, my husband commented that I had become quite overweight. Wow, that hurt! I knew his intentions were loving, but my first reaction was anger and resentment (more ice cream, please!). As I looked more closely at the picture, though, I could see that he was right.

I realized that the real culprit was anxiety, not ice cream. Merely controlling my intake of food wasn’t enough. I needed to get to the root of the problem. I did want to change my eating habits, but more important, I worked to change the kind of thinking that led to the overeating.

I found one idea particularly helpful and taped it by the phone on my wall: “Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can.”

This statement, which Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote at the beginning of the 20th century (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 17), reminded me of God’s great love for His children. Christian Science explains that God, divine Love, created each of us in His spiritual likeness. As God’s expression we are valuable and competent, able to really feel, know, and act in a manner consistent with our innate worth.

Praying with these ideas helped me feel more genuine love for myself. One result of this was that I became more kind and patient with myself and others. And as I recognized and expressed more of my value as God’s beloved daughter, I developed confidence in my ability to experience God’s peace, joy, and balance in my life.

I found that when I felt nervous or upset, pausing to feel God’s great love stilled the storm of swirling emotions. Instead of reaching for a spoon, I began to reach out to God, Love, the source of our being and the reason for our existence. When I felt stymied, I would think, “God, I don’t know what to do, but You do. Show me.” My seeking thought was receptive to the loving inspiration God sent in answer to my prayers.

With this change in my thinking, I was able to lose the weight. And I’ve continued to turn to God, our Father-Mother, rather than to ice cream or any other “comfort food” when I feel stressed. This has brought healing and solutions many times.

When it seems there is a void in our lives, gaining a clearer sense of our relation to infinite Love helps us realize that God has already filled us from within with His comforting, healing peace.

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Viewfinder

Defiance

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
A Shiite Houthi militant stands guard at a Sept. 20 rally in Sanaa, Yemen, attended by fellow Houthis. The event marked the day of Ashura and the fourth anniversary of the militants’ takeover of the Yemeni capital. The country has been mired in a civil war since the Iranian-backed rebels took control of a broad swath of territory in 2014. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries intervened militarily in 2015, beginning an assault on the Houthi-controlled capital.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 21st, 2018 )

Kim Campbell
Education Editor

Thanks for joining us. We'll be back tomorrow with a story about the effect a new TV documentary, “America to Me,” is having on the national discussion about race and equality in schools. 

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September 20, 2018
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