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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
24
Monday

It’s a big week for the White House. Monday started with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's visit in response to reports he suggested invoking the 25th Amendment. (He'll be back Thursday to meet with President Trump.) Tuesday Mr. Trump will address the UN General Assembly, and on Wednesday chair a Security Council meeting. Thursday Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault, are expected to testify before the Senate. 

Many of these stories have spurred discussions about the assumptions we make as we approach the news. That's particularly true of the Kavanaugh nomination. But over the weekend, two very different news points underscored the merits of, at the very least, testing them.

Take Brexit, at a critical juncture in negotiations. Ned Temko's story today points to immigration as a driving concern for EU “leavers.” Yet an Oxford Economics study finds EU migrant workers contribute £2,300 more annually to government coffers than do average Britons. 

Take Pakistan, where an unlikely hero has emerged: a female member of a persecuted minority living in a conservative region. Nargis Hameedullah last month became the first Pakistani woman to medal in karate at the Asian Games. Along the way, she faced criticism and threats. "People had the mind-set that what do girls have to do with sports,” Ms. Hameedullah said last week. But she – and her family – put that assumption to the test.

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Now to our five stories. 

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1. What Kavanaugh case means for ‘innocent until proven guilty’

US Supreme Court confirmation hearings often become political spectacles. But in recent days, the Kavanaugh hearing has come to represent a collision between established legal norms and evolving social mores.

Amelia

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In the standoff over confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, two paradigms are hurtling toward each other in a clash: the age-old legal standard of innocent until proven guilty and the new #MeToo social norm that accusers of sexual assault should be believed. These two views butted heads on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, when Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington told host Chuck Todd that “it’s really important ... that we recognize when women speak out, that we should presume that they are innocent.” Her Republican colleague, Sen. David Perdue (R) of Georgia sided with the legal standards that go back to Roman criminal law in the second century. Like “any courtroom in our land,” he said, the Senate needs to get at the truth. But confirmation hearings are not criminal trials. Rather, they are meant to help the Senate make up its mind. The Senate’s mandate is to provide “advice and consent” to a president – not to interview a job applicant, which is more the president’s role, but to share in the process and to either agree or act as a check.

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What Kavanaugh case means for ‘innocent until proven guilty’

In the Senate standoff over confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, two paradigms are hurtling toward each other in a clash: the age-old legal standard that someone must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the new #MeToo social norm that accusers of sexual assault should be believed.

One standard would absolve Judge Kavanaugh; the other could doom his nomination.

These two views butted heads on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington told host Chuck Todd that “I think it's really important, in this time, in this day, that we recognize when women speak out, that we should presume that they are innocent.”

Her Republican colleague, Sen. David Perdue (R) of Georgia, however, sided with the legal standards that go back to Roman criminal law in the second century. “This is a democracy. We have a judicial system. But we also have innocent until proven guilty.” Like “any courtroom in our land,” he said, the Senate needs to get at the truth.

But the Senate is not a courtroom. A confirmation hearing is not a criminal trial. And that is where some of the confusion and debate about “burden of proof” arises, say experts.

The confirmation hearings “are not court hearings in any respect, except that witnesses retain all their constitutional rights – including the refusal to answer questions that might incriminate them,” writes former Senate historian Don Ritchie in an email.

Rather, hearings are meant to help the Senate make up its mind – and if they shape public opinion along the way, that opinion in turn further “helps the Senate make up its mind,” he writes. Its constitutional role is a political one, to provide “advice and consent” to a president – not to interview a job applicant, which is more the president’s role, but to share in the process, and to either agree or act as a check.

Beyond legal standards?

While the clash of legal with social standards is the conversation right now, it’s not an accurate one, says Lisa Graves, former chief counsel for nominations for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, when he was the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The criminal standard is “not applicable” here, she says. The consequence of believing accuser Christine Blasey Ford – who maintains that a 17-year-old intoxicated Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed at a high school party, groped her, put his hand over her mouth, and attempted to remove her clothes – is not that Kavanaugh would lose his liberty and go to jail. It’s that he would lose the opportunity to ascend to the highest court in the land for a lifetime appointment.  

“The consequences are utterly different,” she says. In the showdown hearing on Thursday morning, where Professor Ford and Kavanaugh are expected to testify, the benefit of the doubt should go to the Supreme Court, not the nominee, emphasizes Ms. Graves. “It’s the integrity of the court that is at stake, not what the nominee wants or the president wants.” The burden is on the nominee, she says, “to establish that he or she should be trusted with this enormous power.”

Over the weekend, other claims of sexual misconduct by a young Kavanaugh surfaced. The latest allegation comes from a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University. Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her, putting his genitals in her face, while at a dormitory party where she and other students were playing a drinking game. 

Ms. Ramirez described the experience as humiliating, saying he was laughing while other students taunted her to “kiss it,” and that she inadvertently touched him while trying to push him away. The New Yorker was unable to confirm the account with other eyewitnesses Ramirez named as being present.

Kavanaugh denied the account as “another false and uncorroborated accusation from 35 years ago.” Once again, “those alleged to have been witnesses to the event deny it ever happened,” he wrote in a letter Monday to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse,” he continued. “But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination – if allowed to succeed – will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service,” he said.

Graves hears that criticism, but says it is baseless. It assumes, she says, that most men would engage in these kinds of activities. “I think that many women have men in their lives – husbands, sons, friends, and most of those men probably did not whip out their genitals and shove them in a woman’s face.” It’s not like a date at a movie where a man makes a pass and is rebuffed, she says. “I don’t think this is the norm for men. I think this is abnormal.”

The fact finders' burden

While it’s true that the Senate is not a court, senators must be committed “to giving a fair hearing and witnesses due process,” says Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar at George Washington University Law School.

But that is not what they have done. The process has been “deeply troubling on both sides,” he says, with Democrats legitimately complaining about the withholding of documents related to Kavanaugh and Republicans furious that the Ford allegations were withheld until the 11th  hour. He called the politicization of this confirmation “grotesque.” 

First and foremost, he says, senators “should not be publicly stating that they believe or disbelieve these witnesses. They should be affirming that they keep an open mind as to the allegation, and that there is some standard of review.” 

There should be an opportunity for both sides to put evidence into the record, and while Democrats – and Ford’s attorneys – want an FBI investigation of her allegations before any hearing, Professor Turley questions what the FBI can do if everyone alleged to be at the high school party has already given statements that they know nothing of it. The first priority should be to get the witnesses to testify under oath, he says. 

“There are two people here, whose lives are likely to be changed dramatically by this hearing,” he says. “The senators are now in a position of fact finders, which heightens their responsibility to remain fair and neutral.”

There may be more allegations yet to come. Over the weekend, lawyer Michael Avenatti (who's also the attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels) tweeted out an email exchange he had with Mike Davis, the chief counsel for nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee, alleging knowledge of house parties in the 1980s during which Kavanaugh and others plied girls with alcohol or drugs “in order to allow a ‘train’ of men to subsequently gang rape them.” Avenatti added: “There are multiple witnesses that will corroborate these facts.”

At least on Monday, neither Kavanaugh nor Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, gave any indication of withdrawing. Indeed, they dug in. Kavanaugh wrote that “vile threats of violence” against his family “will not drive me out,” nor will the “last-minute character assassination” succeed.

In a blistering speech on the Senate floor, Senator McConnell blamed Democrats for their “despicable” smear and lack of evidence, pointing out that The New York Times decided not to publish the Yale account after looking into it, because it was unable to corroborate the story.

“I want to make it perfectly clear – Judge Kavanaugh will be voted on here on the Senate floor. Up or down,” he concluded. Notably, he was no longer promising confirmation.

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2. At UN, expectations for a doubling down on America First

Is President Trump withdrawing the US from its role as world leader? Not all agree. What is clear is his disinterest in the global order his predecessors built – and his increased confidence in his stance.

Amelia
Caitlin Ochs/Reuters
President Trump, accompanied by senior national security and foreign policy advisers, spoke to reporters at UN headquarters in New York Monday.

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At the United Nations General Assembly last year, President Trump introduced world leaders to his America First vision. Charles Kupchan, of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that was helpful because it showed “where he’s coming from – that he really does want to go back to a world of hard sovereign nations and … to take down the liberal international order.” This year, after Mr. Trump brought in new advisers, Mr. Kupchan expects a more confident president to go even further. “If anything, [this year’s speech] will have even sharper edges,” he says. What does that mean for world order? Ivo Daalder, ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama, says, “What we’ve learned in … Donald Trump’s presidency is that the word ‘leadership’ is not part of his vocabulary, nor is America as ‘leader of the free world’ a concept he’s shown much interest in.” Not everyone agrees. “Trump is trying to reassert American interests as he sees them and to recalibrate the recourse to US power,” says Prof. Robert Lieber at Georgetown University. “At the same time, he sees the US carrying burdens that are unfair.” From that standpoint, he says, Trump is getting things “mostly right.”

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At UN, expectations for a doubling down on America First

If all eyes will be on President Trump when he rises to the podium of the gold-and-green-marbled United Nations General Assembly auditorium Tuesday morning, it is in part for reasons that have been true since the UN arose from the ashes of World War II.

First, because the president of the United States leads the most powerful nation on earth. But beyond that, because the American president – also since World War II known as the leader of the free world – has for seven decades led, supported, and generally sought to strengthen the liberal order of international laws and institutions of which the UN is a part.

That order, while far from perfect, has played a role in delivering unprecedented world peace and prosperity.

But Mr. Trump, the America First president, is different from any postwar president before him in that he not only shows little interest in leading that global order his predecessors built, many international relations experts say, but indeed seems focused on dismantling it.

“What we’ve learned in the 18 months of Donald Trump’s presidency is that the word ‘leadership’ is not part of his vocabulary, nor is America as ‘leader of the free world’ a concept he’s shown much interest in,” says Ivo Daalder, who was the US ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama.

“Instead of leading in the world he talks about winning in the world, and that goes for our relations with allies as well as with adversaries,” adds Mr. Daalder, now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “There’s no conception of working with others to get them on board with America’s vision or bringing them around to our point of view.”

Moreover, Trump is likely to go farther in his UN speech this year on the theme of national sovereignty over international institutions and cooperation that he highlighted last year, some international relations experts say. One reason for this expectation is Trump is seen as “unleashed” after firing a number of national security aides who differed with him, and more confident of his intuitions in his second year in office.

Crop of new advisers

“Trump’s [UN] speech a year ago was actually helpful, because it gave people around the world a look at the new American president and where he’s coming from – that he really does want to go back to a world of hard sovereign nations and … to take down the liberal international order,” says Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Noting that Trump since that speech has brought in new advisers more in line with his nationalist ideological outlook – including national security adviser John Bolton – Mr. Kupchan says he expects the president in his speech this year to “double down” on his America First vision rather than softening it.

“It’s not that he’s a transactional president demanding a better deal,” as Kupchan says he originally thought about Trump. Instead he now sees a president “whose driving perspective is, ‘I’m tired of presiding over a country that has its lunch eaten every day because it’s taking care of others.… I want out of a global order that has put us in that weak position.’ ”

As a result, he says that “If anything, [this year’s speech] will have even sharper edges.”

Indeed Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told reporters last week that Trump will deliver a speech on a theme of “protecting US sovereignty.” Offering as evidence of the president’s focus his withdrawal of the US from numerous international bodies and accords, including the Paris climate accord and the Global Compact for Migration, Ambassador Haley said Trump rejects such international agreements for placing unfair burdens on the US and imposing mandates on the US that run counter to Trump administration policies.

The president plans to spend four days in New York, longer than last year, presiding over a Security Council session on nonproliferation and sovereignty, and holding a hefty number of bilateral meetings with world leaders.

Reasserting US interests

Not everyone agrees that Trump is withdrawing the US from its role as world leader. Rather, some see Trump favoring a muscular approach to issues ranging from nuclear proliferation and chemical weapons to global trade, based on US national interests and the might of the world’s sole superpower.

“Trump is trying to reassert American interests as he sees them and to recalibrate the recourse to US power,” says Robert Lieber, a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington. “At the same time, he sees the US carrying burdens that are unfair and beyond what we can continue to bear.”

Operating from the standpoint of those two motivating principles, Trump is getting things “mostly right,” Professor Lieber says: from enforcing the red line on chemical-weapons use in Syria that President Obama laid down but then failed to enforce; to getting the US out of a “weak” Iran nuclear deal; to pressing allies in NATO to step up on defense spending; and confronting China over its predatory trade practices.

Where Lieber most adamantly diverges with Trump is over the president’s “demonizing” of allies, including many of America’s best friends. And he says his objection to attacking allies as ferociously (or more so) as adversaries is not based on sentimentality but on hard realities.

“We’re still the most powerful nation on earth, but the margin of our power vis-à-vis others – particularly China – has eroded,” he says. “So we need allies to work with us to help us achieve our goals.”

Lieber says America’s global leadership has been based on an “enlightened self-interest” that recognized the logic of sharing in the security, economic, and other benefits of that leadership, but he adds: “I don’t think Trump grasps that concept at all.”

Look for new leadership

Even some Trump critics who disagree with his confrontational approach to American global leadership say there have been benefits from the president’s reassertion of power and his particular approach to global affairs.

Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations says it was “high time” the US stood up to China on trade – but he says that instead of “going it alone” Trump should have taken advantage of America’s economic heft and leadership to rally the Europeans, Japanese, and others to the cause. “Instead he’s picking a trade fight with everybody,” he says.

He also commends Trump for placing a spotlight on “the big question of our time, which is what are average workers in industrial societies going to do to earn a living wage?” But he says Trump’s nationalist remedies “aren’t the right answer” for an issue of global scale.

Others say that the world is not going to stop looking for global leadership and devising ways of cooperating on shared problems just because the US is pulling back from its traditional role. The risk, they add, is that the ways the world proceeds and the leadership alternatives it turns to may not be to America’s liking.

“The longer the US abdicates its global leadership, the more countervailing forces are going to strengthen or be tempted to fill the vacuum and take control,” says Daalder, who recently co-authored the book “The Empty Throne,” which looks at the consequences of the US retreat from its postwar leadership role.

On one hand, Daalder sees China and to a lesser extent Russia taking advantage of the US retreat from leadership to assert their own visions of global order – more authoritarian and less free than the US-led system. On the other, he foresees other countries and communities like the  European Union “banding together” to pursue cooperative arrangements and international accords – whether it’s the EU negotiating new trade agreements or Asian-Pacific countries proceeding on the Trans-Pacific Partnership minus the US.

Defense of multilateralism

Indeed, some experts say they expect to see signs of that “banding together” in response to Trump’s withdrawal from global leadership in the speeches that other leaders give at the UN General Assembly this week.

“What will be very interesting … will be to listen to the other leaders [because] if last year was the year of sovereignty, this in some ways will be the year of defense of multilateralism,” says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Noting that other countries are expected to use the week of high-level diplomatic encounters to meet on everything from advancing the Paris climate accord and salvaging the Iran nuclear deal to working around US aid cuts to the Palestinians, she adds, “It will be interesting to see if the US position is increasingly isolated.”

Kupchan says that what is more troubling in his view than deepening US isolation and a US retreat from leadership is how the US instead is in some ways exhibiting some of the worst tendencies that the world has looked to it to help remedy.

“With the forces of nationalism and nativism and racism and intolerance surging everywhere you look,” he says, “it’s very concerning that the United States appears to have joined the bandwagon rather than fought back against it in the manner that many people around the world have come to expect.”

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

3. Brexit tension and the two ‘i’s’: immigration and identity politics

Much of the concern about Brexit has centered on the problems it could cause the UK. But the EU also faces a powerful challenge with two issues that could shape 21st-century Europe and the rest of the world.

Amelia

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Tensions have risen in recent days over Brexit negotiations, both between Britain and the EU and in Britain’s domestic political arena. The IMF says if what transpires is a “no-deal Brexit,” the consequences would be dire for the UK. But it may be the EU that faces the greater long-term political challenge springing from the two “i’s”: immigration and identity politics. The EU worries Brexit represents a trend toward nationalistic, anti-immigration politics, wary of international organizations like the EU. Hungary and Poland are the starkest examples within the EU. But far-right parties have joined coalition governments in older member countries like Austria and Italy and have gained influence in Sweden, France, and Germany. And while immigration is rarely the main cause of economic setbacks, it has fostered an us-versus-them narrative that finds refuge in identity politics. The challenge for the EU is that its founding story lacks the visceral power of two “i” nationalism. Yet politicians know the alliance, rooted in ending centuries of European conflict, needs to make its story heard and perhaps refight a last-century political battle to win its acceptance.

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Brexit tension and the two ‘i’s’: immigration and identity politics

Crunch time is coming for Brexit, Britain’s decision to end its decades-long membership in the European Union. But whatever economic pain the British suffer as a result, it’s the EU that may face the greater long-term political challenge.

That’s due to the environment in which the negotiations on implementing Brexit are taking place, with two issues increasingly shaping events not just in Europe, but more widely in the early 21st -century world. You might call them the two “i’s”: immigration and identity politics. 

The economics of Brexit are daunting enough. Britain is due to negotiate its formal departure by next March, activating a 20-month transition before leaving. The IMF said last week that there will be “costs” for the UK even if that process goes smoothly – something far from certain, given rising Brexit tensions in recent days both between Britain and the EU and in Britain’s domestic political arena. If the terms of departure can’t be agreed, the IMF foresees a “no-deal Brexit” with “dire consequences” including lower growth, a higher deficit, currency depreciation, and a “reduction in the size of the [UK] economy.”

The deeper worry for the EU, however, is that Brexit is part of a trend toward an assertively nationalistic brand of politics, wary of international cooperation and of post-World War II international organizations like the EU.

Inside the EU, the starkest examples are Poland and Hungary, admitted in 2004 as part of an effort to draw former Soviet-bloc states into an alliance bound not just by commerce but a commitment to democracy and the rule of law. In an unprecedented, if still symbolic, move, the EU parliament has rebuked both countries: Poland for assailing the independence of the judiciary, and Hungary for its crackdown on the media, educational freedom, and minority and migrant communities.

Older member states aren’t immune, either. Over the past year, far-right parties have joined coalition governments in Austria and Italy. Similar parties have been gaining influence in Sweden, France, and Germany. They share a fierce nationalism; skepticism or outright hostility toward the EU and other international institutions; and a political relying largely on the two “i’s.”

Immigration is a genuine concern. Several million asylum-seekers and economic migrants have arrived in Europe in recent years, fleeing areas like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. This became an especially hot political topic after Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted to a major upsurge in 2015 with a program to resettle the new arrivals in Germany and other member states, something she saw as consistent with the values of the EU.

But the roots of the challenge run deeper, which is where the second “I” – identity politics – comes in. It’s also why the response by some mainstream political parties – to toughen their own immigration policies – may well not provide a sustainable answer. Immigration has touched on a wider sense of unmooring, a loss of personal control, especially in the face of an increasingly interconnected, high-tech world economy that has created not only winners but losers.

This has bred nostalgia for a time when things seemed simpler, especially for families who may have worked in industries that have since contracted or disappeared. Though immigration is rarely the main cause of the economic setbacks, it has become a powerful focus for identity politics: an “us-versus-them” narrative locating the reason, and the promised resolution, for new-world challenges in people who look different, talk differently or worship differently. In the case of the 2016 referendum endorsing Brexit, support for the “leave” cause in former mining and manufacturing areas in northern England provided one key to its narrow victory, galvanizing opposition to visa-free immigration from elsewhere in the EU.

The challenge for the EU is that it is an artificial construct, part of a postwar effort to supplant centuries of European conflict and two world wars within the space of two decades, with a commitment to cooperation, compromise, and conciliation. Its story lacks the visceral power of two “i” nationalism. Yet leading EU politicians like Chancellor Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron know that the alliance needs to find a way to get its story heard, make it compelling, and perhaps refight a last-century political battle to win its acceptance.

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4. Inside the ‘lungs of the Earth’: a visit to Amazon Camp 41

So much of the climate change story is reported from a high altitude. For this piece our writer burrowed beneath the Amazon canopy to get face-to-face with some of what’s at stake. 

Amelia
Courtesy of Luciano Lima
Diaphanous clouds settle on the towering trees of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Moisture generated in the Amazon affects rainfall all the way up into the Midwestern United States.

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It is a place that feels enveloped by the pulsing life of the planet. Fifty miles north of Manaus, Brazil, 25 miles up a dirt road, then a half-mile hike into Amazon rainforest, Camp 41 sits nestled in a dense understory of green beneath a high canopy of trees. This handful of tin-roofed structures has been home base for hundreds of ecologists conducting research over the past 39 years. Thomas Lovejoy is here. In 1979 the “godfather of biodiversity” began a research project, of which Camp 41 is part, to gather long-term data on the effects of breaking up ecorich habitat. The terrestrial epicenter of biodiversity, the Amazon also “has a tremendous amount of carbon in it,” notes Dr. Lovejoy, “[carbon that] we do not want to end up in the atmosphere.” Ominously, he and other scientists also believe it’s nearing a tipping point: If much more deforestation occurs in the Amazon, the hydrological cycle that supports it could be upset, endangering the planet. But “[t]here are hopeful possibilities,” says Lovejoy. The key, he says: It must be managed as a whole. That way, “all that great repository of biodiversity remains intact.”

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Inside the ‘lungs of the Earth’: a visit to Amazon Camp 41

We hear the high-pitched call long before we see any movement. Looking for life in the most biodiverse landmass on the planet requires a surprising amount of patience. And sharp eyes. While the piercing whistles make it clear an ornate hawk-eagle is nearby – to someone, at least, who knows the hundreds of different birdcalls found in this section of the Amazon – the thick trunks and lianas and bromeliads of the rainforest make seeing anything frustratingly difficult. 

Our eyes strain upward, searching, until finally, we’re rewarded with the sight of a magnificent black-crested bird swooping silently through the canopy to land on a branch bathed in light. We gaze in awe as it trains its own sharp eyes on the two-legged intruders in its world. 

The setting: Camp 41, a handful of tin-roofed, open-sided structures deep within the world’s largest tropical wilderness and home base for hundreds of ecologists conducting research over the past 39 years. We’re 50 miles north of Manaus, Brazil, 25 miles up a rough dirt road, and a half-mile hike into primary Amazon rainforest, a dark, dense understory of green beneath a canopy of trees more than 150 feet high.

It’s a place that feels enveloped by the pulsing life of the planet. 

Courtesy of Luciano Lima
Ecologist Thomas Lovejoy stands in front of Camp 41, part of a long-running research project on the effects of land fragmentation on biodiversity. Camp 41 is in the rainforest outside of Manaus, Brazil.

I’m here with Thomas Lovejoy, a legendary ecologist and “godfather of biodiversity,” who in 1979 began a research project – of which Camp 41 is part – to gather long-term data on the effects of breaking up eco-rich habitat.

Over the years, Dr. Lovejoy, an environmental science professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., has often brought guests – ranging from scientists to senators, CEOs to celebrities (Tom Cruise, Olivia Newton-John) – to sleep in hammocks at this iconic camp and gain an appreciation for the richness and diversity of the Amazon rainforest. On this trip, he’s come with some dozen visitors interested in conservation. As an environmental journalist, I’m tagging along hoping to get an understanding of what role this forest plays in two of the biggest environmental crises facing our planet: climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Karen Norris

Nearly 20 percent of the world’s river water flows in the Amazon basin, and it covers an area of about 3 million square miles – nearly the size of the lower 48 states. While 60 percent of the Amazon lies in Brazil, it also extends into seven other countries, plus the territory of French Guiana. It’s one of Earth’s most important environmental filters, a lush expanse that sucks carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to use in photosynthesis and thus helps prevent the buildup of heat-trapping gases.

The Amazon “is the largest terrestrial repository of biodiversity on the planet,” says Lovejoy. “And it has a tremendous amount of carbon in it which we do not want to end up in the atmosphere. On those two counts alone it adds up to a really high priority.”

Ominously, he and other scientists also believe it’s nearing a tipping point: If much more deforestation occurs in the Amazon, the hydrological cycle that supports it could be upset, endangering the entire planet.

“It’s really part of the continental climate system,” says Lovejoy. “And that’s not a very sensible thing to mess around with.”

*** 

Courtesy of Luciano Lima
Scarlet macaws fly over the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Most people have at least a vague notion of what the Amazon is. It looms large in Hollywood films and our imagination, often figuring as a sort of insect-infested jungle, teeming with venomous snakes and piranha-filled waters, a backdrop to explorers who hack away at vines with machetes while fending off beasts.

The reality is both less and more than that vision. 

Much of the Amazon is remarkably benign. In the week I spent in Brazil, sleeping in hammocks in Camp 41 and then exploring the flooded forests along the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers, I didn’t use insect repellent, barely saw a mosquito, and received nothing worse than a few chigger bites. Yes, there are snakes, but despite lots of searching, we never found one. The nutrient-poor soil in many parts of the rainforest means that, despite being the world’s most biodiverse landmass, there isn’t the abundance of life people expect. Spotting birds can be hard, spotting mammals even harder. Most of the evidence of that teeming richness is auditory.

But the abundance is there, nonetheless. The forest itself is a dense backdrop of dozens of shades of green, so thick that just 1 or 2 percent of sunlight filters down to the forest floor. It’s a finely calibrated and uniquely stable environment that allows life to flourish in complex relationships. In the area around Camp 41, one 2.5-acre area of rainforest might have 250 core species of birds and 320 different kinds of trees. Nearly every bird, insect, and amphibian has developed unique features and habits that help each play a specialized role in the system. 

Take army ants. Swarms of them rove the forest floor, eating whatever they find. A suite of bird species has evolved that follows them – not to eat the ants, but to eat all the creatures flushed out by the ants. Certain butterflies, meanwhile, follow the birds that follow the army ants, sucking nitrogen from their droppings. 

Courtesy of Luciano LIma
The sun sets over the Anavilhanas Archipelago in the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, in the rainforest near Manaus, Brazil.

“That kind of complex interaction among many species is one of the classic things that we associate with the rainy tropics in general and that reaches its real culmination in the Amazon,” says Mario Cohn-Haft, an ornithologist who works for the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus. 

Dr. Cohn-Haft first came to Brazil in the mid-1980s as an intern on Lovejoy’s fragmentation research project. Other than a few years back in the States for graduate work, he’s never left. The rich environment, the opportunity for new discoveries, and the Brazilian culture – including the Brazilian ecologist he married – all “conspired to seduce me completely,” he says.

Now one of the top ornithologists in the Amazon, Cohn-Haft exudes an infectious enthusiasm for the ecosystem that goes well beyond birds. His facility for music – he was a member of his college a capella group and occasionally breaks out into classic American songs – translates to a remarkable ability to recognize and imitate birdsongs, from the liquid coo of the plumbeous pigeon to the distinctive wail of the screaming piha. His research has been instrumental in the realization that many birds assumed to be the same species but with radically different calls are, in fact, different species.

As a guide to understanding the rainforest, Cohn-Haft is superb. On our first walk around Camp 41, he hears and then calls in – either with his own voice or using a Bluetooth speaker – dozens of birds: trogons, macaws, toucans, antwrens. But he also interjects a stream of tidbits about the forest and its inhabitants. Each section of the Amazon, he tells us, has two types of toucans that live in it, a “yelper” and a “croaker.”

He points out a passion flower and then a “hemiepiphytic” tree, which starts its life in branches before sending down roots to the forest floor. We spot termite tunnels, the trails of giant earthworms, a troop of bearded saki monkeys, a tortoise shell from which a jaguar has taken a large bite. When we see a paradise jacamar, Cohn-Haft tells us about its long, narrow beak. 

“These guys – they do these dives in the air where they predict where their prey item’s going to be, and then for the last adjustments they make this incredibly fast movement of the tip of their bills, and they can just snatch insects that other things can’t catch,” he says. 

That night, amid a chorus of loud frogs and cicadas, we use headlamps to spot spiders, huge cane toads, and an opossum high up in a tree. When we turn the lights off and allow our eyes to adjust, bioluminescent fungus on dead leaves turns the forest floor into murky constellations – an underfoot planetarium. During the night I hear a thundering cascade of rain pounding the roof above my hammock, and later the echoes of a troop of howler monkeys passing through camp, and drift off feeling part of an incredible web of life. 

Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor
Visitors travel in a motorized canoe through flooded varzea forest outside Manaus, Brazil.

***

Looking out over the forest canopy from a 130-foot high tower in the Amazon, it’s easy to see why these dense forests are critical beyond the wealth of species that reside in them. They’re also a vast carbon repository. 

Between 90 and 120 billion tons of carbon are stored in the Amazon Basin – equivalent to a decade’s worth of carbon emissions from cars, power plants, and other industrial sources. 

The Amazon’s ability to absorb more carbon than it emits (making it a carbon “sink”) has counterbalanced all the carbon emissions from the nine Amazon nations since the 1980s, according to some research, but its ability to be a sponge is declining.

For climate scientists, that makes it both an important part of climate-change solutions as well as a potential threat, should the denuding of the Amazon’s forests increase significantly. 

One of the biggest concerns: at what point the Amazon, or parts of the Amazon, might reach a “tipping point,” past which the lush ecosystem – which generates about half of its own rainfall – ceases to exist.

Models differ on the severity of the threat, and there are a number of unknown factors – including fires and drought, which have been an increasing problem in recent years. But the potential is there, especially in the eastern Amazon, says Daniel Nepstad, executive director of the Earth Innovation Institute. “It’s the area of deforestation beyond which you start to inhibit rainfall so much that ... clearing leads to more drought, which leads to more fire and rainfall inhibitions as you lose vegetation,” Dr. Nepstad says. 

Since 2000, the region has been hit by three unprecedented droughts, which led to substantially worse fires. “There’s this 90 billion-ton pool of carbon leaking out slowly with deforestation, and the potential for large belches of CO2 going into the atmosphere through forest fire is very, very real,” says Nepstad. “It’s actually happening; it’s not a hypothetical thing. Whether or not that locks us into a brand new climate in the Amazon [with half of the region dominated by grasslands instead of forest] remains to be seen, but it’s a potential.”

Early models indicated 30 or 40 percent deforestation might make the ecosystem break down and turn parts of the southern and eastern Amazon into savanna. Now, Lovejoy and others believe those other intrusions – climate change and fire – may have pushed the numbers down to 20 or 25 percent. And 17 percent of the Brazilian Amazon is already gone. Whatever the precise threshold, scientists don’t want to test it. “Nobody knew at the time of the Dust Bowl that those last trees they were cutting would push them over the edge,” says Lovejoy.

Currently, with a largely intact forest, the Amazon provides huge climatic benefits that scientists are only beginning to understand. The moisture generated in the Amazon produces rainfall in the Andes Mountains, and parts of it move south and north, down to cities and agriculture areas in southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina.

It sends rainfall all the way up to the Midwestern United States, right when farmers are planting, says Adrian Forsyth, a tropical ecologist who is the president and co-founder of the Amazon Conservation Association. “There’s this trillion-dollar subsidy of rainfall coming to agricultural and urban areas that people simply didn’t know about until recently,” he says. 

Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor
The Monitor’s Amanda Paulson examines a frog on a night hike at Camp 41.

***

Lovejoy is soft-spoken and thoughtful, with a broad smile and an understated sense of humor. In the rainforest – which he acknowledges feels like home – he always wears socks pulled over his long pants to protect against chiggers, the one species for which he says he might be hard-pressed to mount a conservation effort.

It can be easy to underestimate him at first meeting, but hard to overestimate the influence he’s had on conservation. Lovejoy was the one who, in 1980, coined the term “biological diversity.” He is an authority on extinction projections, travels as a science envoy for the US State Department, and originated the idea of debt-for-nature swaps – reducing a country’s financial obligations in exchange for protecting the environment.

In the late 1970s, Lovejoy suggested a long-running experiment in the forests around Manaus looking at the effects of fragmentation on the ecosystem. At the time, a debate was raging about whether it was better to have a single large protected area or several small ones. The supporters of patchwork protection argued that myriad smaller plots might be less susceptible to threats and support more diversity. Lovejoy, then head of the World Wildlife Fund’s US operations, saw an opportunity in a Brazilian law that required certain cattle ranchers to reserve 50 percent of their land as forest. He designed an experiment monitoring a number of isolated fragments of varying sizes: 2.5 acres, 25 acres, 250 acres. The results – though the experiment is still ongoing – have been conclusive: Bigger is better. 

“Large blocks are necessary for large predators, and when you take those out of the system, the whole system starts to unravel,” says Dr. Forsyth. 

Researchers found that a 250-acre fragment loses half of its bird species in 15 years. The carbon density of the forest, in turn, changes when the species critical to dispersing seeds leave. They also discovered significant “edge effects,” in which trees dry out and die, light and wind penetrate the trees, and the forest in effect collapses. 

“It’s pretty dramatic,” Lovejoy says. 

As we walk into one 25-acre fragment, it still looks like a dense forest, but it’s eerily quiet. No monkeys reside here. We hear some cicadas and the distinctive call of the screaming piha, but otherwise the forest seems largely devoid of life. Even the trees in these individual plots grow more slowly. “It’s imploding over time,” says Cohn-Haft. 

Ultimately, Lovejoy believes it takes at least 400 square miles for an Amazon rainforest to be stable – a finding that has influenced Brazil and other countries in their conservation efforts over the years. 

Courtesy of Luciano Lima
A white-plumed antbird is caught and banded at Camp 41 in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

***

It takes leaving the forest of Camp 41 to grasp just how diverse the ecosystems within this tropical wilderness are, even in this one small section around Manaus. 

The mighty Amazon River itself and the Rio Negro tributary are both edged by miles of várzea forest – huge swaths that are regularly flooded as their waters rise and fall by as much as 50 feet a year. The “muddy” waters of the Amazon contain large amounts of sediment and support specific trees and animal species. Certain birds – like the pearly-breasted conebill we spot one day – live only on the river islands that regularly form as sediment builds up. 

In these turbid waters, we find a few giant waterlilies, the legendary plant whose round leaves can grow to more than nine feet in diameter and support a small person. Lovejoy regales us with stories not just of the lily’s fascinating biology – it traps a certain beetle overnight in its flower before releasing it covered with pollen – but of its contributions to modern architecture. Joseph Paxton, an English gardener and architect, built the famous Crystal Palace in London in 1850 inspired largely by the ribs and girders of the lily. “Half the buildings of the modern world mimic giant water lilies,” Lovejoy says.

The ecosystem of the Rio Negro is its own separate world. The várzea forests here have different trees and consequently different birds, insects, and amphibians. The river and its tributaries are lower in nutrients and more acidic – one reason for the almost total absence of biting insects – and it’s possible to drink straight from the river. 

As we drift in canoes through the várzea forests of the Anavilhanas Archipelago, we watch red, yellow, and black wire-tailed manakins conduct intricate courtship dances among the play of light in the trees.

Off a smaller tributary to the Rio Negro is yet another ecosystem: a white-sand savanna. Oppressively hot and humid, the forest here shrinks down to shorter trees and shrubs that can withstand the sandy soil and poor drainage. These savannas are found throughout the Amazon basin and support a completely different array of species. But the diversity of these smaller worlds also contributes to the region’s vulnerability. 

“The [roughly] 20 percent deforestation is not uniformly distributed across the Amazon. It’s mostly in a few parts,” says Cohn-Haft. “Thirty years ago when I got to the Amazon, there were no bird species that anyone in good conscience would call endangered. Now some birds are critically endangered, on the brink of extinction.”

The loss of life in this teeming world is worrisome for more than just biological and climatic reasons. It also affects peoples’ pantries and medicine cabinets. Tens of thousands of different species of trees alone grow in the area, and just a handful – including cashews, pineapples, cacao – have been tapped for human use. Lovejoy points out that the venom from the bushmaster snake was the basis for a huge class of drugs for high blood pressure. 

“You’ve got hundreds of millions of people living longer and more productive lives with no clue where this idea came from, and never putting a dollar value on it,” he says. “Every species is a set of solutions to a set of biological problems, and any one of those at any time can become transformative to the life sciences.”

Courtesy of Luciano Lima
This aerial shot of a baseball diamond patch of rainforest is one of the fragments ecologist Thomas Lovejoy is studying as part of his 40-year research project.

***

I leave the Amazon in awe of its intricacy and vastness and with a new appreciation for the degree to which the magnificent diversity of life here affects the whole planet. 

The threats to that delicate balance are numerous. Brazil has created an impressive network of protected areas for both conservation and indigenous peoples and has reduced its deforestation rate nearly 80 percent since its peak in 2004. But it is now facing significant political and economic instability. Brazil’s currency has lost value, making soybean plantations, which are hacked out of the forests, more economically compelling. Conservation is often a low priority for a government in turmoil.

When Lovejoy first traveled to Brazil in 1965, one highway existed. Now numerous roads penetrate the rainforest, each leading to significant development and more deforestation. Dams create problems both by stopping the flow of critical sediment and blocking migratory fish. 

But there are also reasons for hope. In many ways, it’s remarkable that such a vast ecosystem has remained largely intact. In 1965, Lovejoy notes, one national park in Venezuela and one indigenous park in Brazil were the only protected areas in the Amazon. Now, about half the basin is protected.

“It’s the biggest roadless wilderness in the world, with fewer roads than Siberia,” says Forsyth. “It’s still there, waiting for us to protect it.”

Lovejoy also sees potential for development that could help economies thrive while not harming the forest: sustainable cities that don’t draw on the forest for productivity, ecotourism, better designed dams, transportation that relies on rivers, not roads.

“There are hopeful possibilities,” says Lovejoy. The key, he says, is that it has to be managed as a whole, “so that all that great repository of biodiversity remains intact. Because it does operate as a system.”

SOURCE: National Geographic
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Karen Norris/Staff
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5. Open mic? For new filmmakers, it’s ‘open screen’ that opens doors

The film industry is notoriously difficult to break into. But a practice that encourages new filmmakers to screen their films is opening the industry, at least a little, to newcomers.

Amelia

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Consider it an open mic night for filmmakers. By most accounts, the film industry is a dog-eat-dog world, in which connections rule and newcomers face a steep barrier to entry. A concept called open screen is changing that by inviting up-and-coming filmmakers to screen their short films to audiences at independent theaters across the country. Filmmakers are guaranteed an audience, and with it feedback that can help them hone their craft. In turn, audiences enjoy the cinematic version of a chocolate sampler box, a mix of interesting movie shorts, from documentaries about Antarctica to dramas about stolen art. In subtle ways, open screen is also changing the artistic process by allowing filmmakers to go out on a limb creatively. “It provides an inexpensive platform for experimentation,” says Ross Brown, program director for the MFA in writing and contemporary media at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, Calif., and “it opens the door for discovery of new voices and new talent.”

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Open mic? For new filmmakers, it’s ‘open screen’ that opens doors

Of all the ingredients that go into a movie – actors, lighting, costumes – one isn’t guaranteed: an audience.  

But a concept called open screen is changing that by inviting up-and-coming filmmakers to screen their short films to test audiences at independent theaters across the country. Consider it an open mic night for filmmakers. Directors are guaranteed an audience, and with it, feedback that can help them hone their craft. 

“Open Screen benefits the filmmaker by simply providing them with a live audience,” Anthony Ruiz, co-programmer of open screen events at New York's Latin American Theater Experiment Associates (Teatro LATEA), writes in an e-mail. “A test audience gives the filmmaker an instant response that is invaluable. If they lean forward in their chairs, they're interested. If they shift around a lot or start looking around the theater, they're bored. You can't fool an audience.”

In subtle ways, open screen is also changing the artistic process. It enables fledgling filmmakers to screen their works – a lifelong dream for many – without the typical barriers, like entering a film festival. It also gives them an opportunity to go out on a limb, artistically, and receive almost immediate feedback on their choices.

This concept provides a valuable testing ground for new filmmakers and gives them opportunities to advance in the industry, says Ross Brown, program director for the MFA in writing and contemporary media at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It provides an inexpensive platform for experimentation,” says Professor Brown, and “it opens the door for discovery of new voices and new talent.”

That’s because open screen events especially help screenwriters who are just starting out. For example, Brown says a new writer can benefit from watching a scene he or she wrote that seems to go on and on. “You see an actor struggle with saying those words onscreen and you're going, 'Oh my God, why did I write all of that?' ” Brown says. 

Even experienced filmmakers benefit from feedback. “That’s the reason professional movie studios have previews and sometimes recut films after they’ve been previewed,” says Brown. He worked on “National Lampoon’s Vacation” as first assistant director, and notes that after test audiences reacted poorly to the ending, producers reshot it. 

How Main Street does open screen

Patrons looking for open screen events can typically find them at independent theaters, like the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Mass., which resumed monthly screenings after a summer break. Various movies, each under 10 minutes, are aired, giving audiences the cinematic version of a chocolate sampler box. At a June open screen night, the audience watched a documentary about Palmer Station, a US research base in Antarctica; a video featuring a Freddie Mercury action figure dancing; and a film about a stolen painting.

Frank Hegyi, a filmmaker who screened the documentary about Palmer Station, was happy with its reception. “It’s always cool to see how an audience reacts to stuff, like laugh[ing] at parts you didn’t expect,” Mr. Hegyi says. 

At The Bug Theatre in Denver, Facebook blasts, prizes, and themes – like Wild West and pirates – help draw about 40 people to each open screen event, held every other month. 

And New York’s Teatro LATEA shakes up its open screen events with a hot seat segment in which filmmakers take the stage after their film airs, and, blinded by a bright spotlight so they can’t see the audience, take questions and receive feedback. 

“The audience ... feels free to speak their minds,” Mr. Ruiz says. “And this can be invaluable to the filmmaker.”

By encouraging audience engagement, open screen events also engender a more dynamic, interactive film experience. While they are fun for audiences, they are especially important for aspiring filmmakers, says Jeanine Basinger, professor of film studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. 

“It’s always a valuable process, to screen in front of audiences who don’t know you and who don’t know in advance anything about your work,” says Professor Basinger.

In a competitive industry in which connections and name recognition often rule, open screen literally opens the screen, at least a little, to more people. 

“I certainly think that this is one more door that’s opened for new talent to display themselves and their work,” says Brown.

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Viewfinder

6. Autumn shows its colors

Rebecca Naden/Reuters
A Virginia creeper covering the Tu Hwnt I'r Bont tearoom in Llanrwst, North Wales, displayed its seasonal hues as autumn officially began there Sept. 23 with the arrival of the fall equinox.
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The Monitor's View

The key to recovery from a sports scandal

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Two major sports scandals were back in the news last week. One was the serial sexual abuse of girls and women by the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar. The United States Olympic Committee admitted regret Sept. 20 for its failure to safeguard the athletes. In appointing the first woman to serve as a permanent chief executive, it has signaled changes aimed at putting the welfare of athletes first. Also on Sept. 20, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) decided to reinstate Russia’s anti-doping agency, ending a ban imposed after state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes before the 2014 Winter Olympics. WADA had originally demanded that Russian officials accept a report confirming their government’s role and that they release data from a Moscow testing lab. Instead, it opted for a compromise, allowing Russia to only point to a few guilty individuals and to merely promise access to the lab. Rehabilitation is hard work, demanding contrition. Yet it can help ensure trust and fair play in sports. Institutions involved in sports scandals must be compelled to look in the mirror with unflinching honesty.

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The key to recovery from a sports scandal

 Two of the biggest scandals in recent sports history were back in the news last week. Each in its own way continues to provide a lesson on how contrition is a necessary step toward redemption.

And no, we’re not talking about Tiger Woods winning a major golf tournament on Sunday – with full fan delight – eight years after his humble apology for sexual misdeeds.

The larger of the two scandals was the serial sexual abuse of girls and women by the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar. Several institutions were negligent or slow in responding to his conduct. But at the top of the food chain was the United States Olympic Committee, which oversees national governing bodies for individual sports.

While the USOC still faces lawsuits from affected athletes, it admitted deep regret Sept. 20 for its failure to safeguard the sex-abuse survivors. And in appointing the first woman to serve as a permanent chief executive officer, it has signaled deep changes aimed at putting the welfare of athletes ahead of winning medals or making money. 

The incoming CEO, Sarah Hirshland, held back tears in a press conference as she said that now is a time “to reflect and respect the brave survivors who have taught us all so much. A time for change and for action.” She promised that athletes’ concerns will be better heard through various channels and that the USOC will be a better watchdog over the national governing bodies.

The USOC was also involved in the creation of the US Center for SafeSport, an independent body that now adjudicates abuse allegations. And it hired a law firm to investigate how Mr. Nassar’s abuses went unchecked.

The true test of the USOC’s reforms will come when all athletes are no longer afraid to speak out about abuses by coaches and others in authority. “We have to ... get to the root of broad athlete support, not just performance support,” Ms. Hirshland said.

Now contrast that response with one made last week in the other big sports scandal.

On Sept. 20, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) decided to reinstate Russia’s anti-doping agency, ending a ban of nearly three years imposed after state-sponsored doping of hundreds of Russian athletes before the 2014 Winter Olympics.

WADA had originally demanded that Russian officials accept a report confirming their government’s role and that they release data from a Moscow testing laboratory. Instead, it opted for a compromise, allowing Russia to only point to a few guilty individuals and to merely promise access to the lab.

Athletes and others who demand the Olympics be clean of doping were rightly outraged. The decision to lift the ban “casts a dark shadow over the credibility of the anti-doping movement,” said Linda Helleland, vice-president of WADA, who voted against the decision.

WADA’s actions could soon allow the official return of Russia to the Games with only a little contrition on its part and little assurance of independent checking on the testing lab. Russia, in other words, has not fully demonstrated a compelling modesty and a clear determination to operate at the highest standards of Olympic sports.

Institutions involved in sports scandals must be compelled to look in the mirror with unflinching honesty. Rehabilitation is hard work, demanding contrition. Yet it can help ensure trust and fair play in sports. Other interests, such as national pride or money, must be seen as side benefits, not ultimate goals.

Most athletes understand the core values of competition. They, like the rest of us, must encourage governing sports bodies to follow their lead.

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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.

When cycles of ups and downs seem inevitable

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Amid global uncertainty in the face of trade wars, an understanding of God’s abundant care can help break through fears that economic chaos is unavoidable.

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When cycles of ups and downs seem inevitable

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Concerns about trade wars across the globe don’t appear to have easy answers. When we’re faced with such circumstances, which seem beyond our control, it can be easy to feel anxious or even trapped.

But I’ve been learning there is a way to find needed solutions during troubling times. For decades I have turned to the Bible for healing when faced with sickness and relationship problems as well as economic issues. Whether answers have come quickly or slowly, they have always emerged. As one passage in the Bible says: “God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22, 23, Eugene Peterson, “The Message”).

What a strong starting point for breaking the notion that we have to be subject to negative cycles, including cycles of economic slowdown or even derailment!

We can anchor our thoughts in the consistency of God’s presence as divine Love, and when we do, we begin to gain a conviction that wherever and however conflict may be asserting itself, our subjection to cycles of economic supply and demand doesn’t need to be inevitable.

Christian Science, based on and explaining the spiritual teachings of the Bible, continues to reinforce and clarify for me the idea that there is one God whose constant care never runs out. It assures me that God, Spirit, is entirely good and is therefore continuously and lovingly providing us with all that we need. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote in her most important book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “… to all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good” (p. 494).

This divine supply of good that is everywhere present can never favor some and result in harm for others, because it is everlasting and supreme, as God is. This good includes inspiration that meets our needs moment by moment in ways that could never result in a dead-end cycle of doom or loss or leave us with any sense of being condemned.

In my early adulthood I experienced intervals of a few weeks at a time when it felt like a mental shade came down, cutting off the light of inspiration and joy. I would persist in my prayer and study of Christian Science, which brought a conviction that God was always here and always caring. The dark thoughts would vanish for a time in the light of divine Love’s message of good and joy. But a question lingered: “Will these dark periods keep coming and going?”

I continued to pray to see that God’s constant goodness is not subject to ups and downs of material circumstances but is my – and everyone else’s – natural state of being as God’s child. The ever-available supply of God’s abundant goodness, expressed as greater harmony and peace, is always at hand.

These ideas helped me stop harboring hurts and fears, and finally this recurring cycle of “down” periods stopped permanently. I felt so deeply grateful for this illustration of Love’s abundance.

Christian Science emphasizes that Spirit is the one real source of goodness, to which everyone, as a cherished child of God, has equal access. Praying from this spiritual basis can lift and open our thought to recognize the boundless nature of God’s abundance and to both perceive and express the fairness and goodwill that reflect Spirit’s benevolence for all.

In a message to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul captured how such fairness and good find expression wherever supply and demand are concerned, in a generosity that is as applicable today as then. It says: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little’ ” (II Corinthians 8:14, 15, New International Version).

We may be a ways from always seeing this bighearted balance of supply and demand in all human affairs. But abiding in and living out from the solid spiritual fact that God’s “merciful love couldn’t have dried up” does make a difference. It does much to help render powerless whatever sense of apprehension or rivalry would keep us from seeing Love’s abundant provision evidenced more and more at home and abroad.

( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 25th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you'll come back tomorrow, when Stacy Teicher Khadaroo explores a central issue for many college students: policies that make it harder for them to vote. 

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September 24, 2018
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