2018
September
27
Thursday
Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Today, all eyes in the United States are on Capitol Hill and the increasingly contentious Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The stream of accusations suggesting a pattern of sexual misconduct in Mr. Kavanaugh’s youth has exposed a deep rift in American perceptions of responsibility, gender roles, and morality.

We’ll have more on that divide in a bit. But first, at times like these, when it seems the nation is being torn in two, it can be fruitful to take note of what binds us together.

For all of our differences, there are, in fact, many areas where Americans can agree. Matt Carmichael, director of editorial strategy for Ipsos North America and editor of the pollster publication GenPop, recently compiled a list of 118 areas where Americans share common ground.

Some may seem trivial: Most Americans like Tom Hanks, for instance. They value hygiene and trust the Weather Channel.

Others may be surprising given how partisan rhetoric has become: Three-quarters of Americans think Congress should enact stricter gun control laws and most say Congress should do more to reduce humanity’s influence on climate change.

And while many of today’s debates can be traced to clashing values, there are many ideals that Americans collectively hold dear, including responsibility, taking care of others, self-reliance, and being an active member of one’s community.

As Ipsos political pollster Chris Jackson told Mr. Carmichael: “The struggle towards these shared ideals is what makes us American, not all the times we fall short.”

Now on to our five stories for today, selected to highlight an effort to heal divides through infrastructure and the opening of a pop cultural window into the evolution of politics and the press in recent decades.

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1. At fraught hearing, dueling narratives and a fresh battle of beliefs

The testimonies of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh may well be the most watched television event of the year. But for many Americans, offscreen discussions of character and morality occurring all over the United States are taking center stage.

Noelle
Win McNamee/Reuters
Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, with her attorneys Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich, on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 27.

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It was, as one person said, “a national moment.” Viewers across the country watched from their living rooms and on their phones, from college campuses and the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. For many Americans, particularly women, it seemed to represent a kind of watershed moment, a breaking of the dam. One woman called in to C-SPAN to detail her own rape. In Washington, Christine Blasey Ford delivered a deeply personal testimony in raw and vulnerable tones. A defiant Judge Brett Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied her accusation, while saying he bore her personally no ill will. That did not hold true for members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “You have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy,” he said, adding that the tenor of the hearings could have consequences long beyond his own nomination. “When the whole nation is watching and so many larger issues are being touched upon – abuse, sexual abuse, and women’s abilities to tell their stories ... I just think this is a very powerful moment for the whole country," says Kelly Brother, a graphic artist in Memphis, Tenn., who says he is registered as a Republican but identifies as an independent. “It’s unfortunate that all of this has gotten to the point where it’s going to have devastating personal consequences for Ford and Kavanaugh.”

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1. At fraught hearing, dueling narratives and a fresh battle of beliefs

The stairwell. The living room. The bedroom. That the bed was on the right side of the room, and the bathroom in close proximity. That she made eye contact with the friend of Brett Kavanaugh, who had pinned her to the bed, hoping that his friend would help her.

Christine Blasey Ford testified on Thursday that she remembered all those details about that summer evening in which she alleges a drunk, teenage Kavanaugh groped her and tore at her clothes, with the music turned loud and Mr. Kavanaugh’s hand over her mouth muffling her yells for help.

But the strongest memory, she told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, was “the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, her voice cracking. “Their having fun at my expense.”

It was deeply personal testimony, delivered in raw and vulnerable tones. And it seemed to strike a chord – not only with the senators and others in the room, but with viewers across the country who watched it in their living rooms and on their phones, from college campuses to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. For many Americans, particularly women, it seemed to represent a kind of watershed moment, a breaking of the dam.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of people watching your testimony right now,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D) of New Jersey.  “You are opening up to open air the hurt and pain that goes on across this country.”

One woman called into C-SPAN to detail her own rape.

“It makes me almost want to cry,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Professor Blasey Ford. “Her honesty and her humanity are just unbelievable.” That Blasey Ford could describe sitting in the parking lot of Walmart trying to figure out how to find a lawyer makes her credible, she added.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, sharply criticized how Democrats handled the hearing process, not sharing the allegations with the committee and leaking it at the last minute. During the questioning of Kavanaugh, he shouted that “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” excoriating the other side. “Boy, you all want power. God, I hope you never get it.”

Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster who says that Blasey Ford came across as credible, points out that even before the hearings started, Democrats had decided they were against Kavanaugh. “Now they’re playing this game of, ‘you need to be open.’ ” He called it “hypocritical” showmanship.

In emotional testimony, a fiery Judge Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied Blasey Ford’s accusation, saying “I am innocent of this charge.” “This confirmation process has become a national disgrace," he said telling the Senate, “You have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy.” Kavanaugh said the tenor of the hearings could have consequences long beyond his own nomination, with good people unwilling to accept government positions. “You sowed the wind. For decades to come, I fear the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”

But he stressed that he bore Blasey Ford personally no ill will, and became overcome with emotion when talking about his 10-year-old daughter praying for her.

“The truth is that I have never sexually assaulted anyone – not in high school, not in college, not ever. Sexual assault is horrific.... I've never done that, to her or to anyone,” he said, urging the committee to look at the record of his life promoting the equality and dignity of women. If confirmed, he says, he would be the first justice in history to have all women law clerks. “That is who I am. That is who I was.”

Watching history unfold

Members of the public who were eager to watch history unfold had lined up as early as the night before, hoping to get a seat in the room. Those who didn’t get in started watching on their phones in the hall. Many women wore teal-colored clothing, in reference to Anita Hill’s outfit during her testimony against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Outside the entrance to the Dirksen building, a small group of about 40 listened quietly as the hearing was blasted over a megaphone.

Saul Loeb/AP
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Bill Huff, a software salesman from Atlanta, was in Washington taking his daughter on college visits, but pushed off their plans to try to attend the hearing. He said he hopes the proceedings will send a positive message to his daughter. “I hope she takes away from this experience ... that women are created equal and should be treated with respect,” he said. “That the world of the future doesn’t have to be the world of the past.”

Jeotsna Grover, a physician from Riverside, Calif., who is in D.C. with her husband, decided to come show solidarity with Kavanaugh – a man they feel is being unfairly maligned. He has been previously vetted by the FBI, and “They have found no gaps in his character,” she says. “I think he is the right person – and I think politics has intervened.”

Carol Edwards, from Dublin, Ohio, is part of a group of women who have been trying to share their stories with senators and have been part of demonstrations this week.

“I will admit that I was very predisposed to believe Dr. Ford ... I was very impressed by her testimony. I thought she was extremely heartfelt,” says Ms. Edwards, a self-described survivor who arrived early this morning to show support for Blasey Ford. “She seemed so very fragile and so very strong all at the same time and so gracious to other people in a situation where much of the time I felt she was being victimized.”

“In seriousness, I really am trying to be as fair as I can. I guess I would say of his testimony, he’s very passionate about it. He’s clearly very upset,” she says of Kavanaugh. “Maybe his family has gone through hell, too, they probably have, and that’s wrong. No one should be treated that way, but he doesn’t get a free pass because he is getting the same kind of treatment, perhaps, that she’s getting.”

Outside the Dirksen building, Americans were also riveted to what one called a national moment. "When the whole nation is watching and so many larger issues are being touched upon – abuse, sexual abuse, and women’s abilities to tell their stories ... I just think this is a very powerful moment for the whole country,” says Kelly Brother, a graphic artist in Memphis, Tenn., who says he is registered as a Republican but identifies as an independent. “It's unfortunate that all of this has gotten to the point where it’s going to have devastating personal consequences for Ford and Kavanaugh.”

“I think this serves a beneficial larger purpose, which is bringing these issues to the fore and allowing more women to come forward and to tell their stories. Of course it didn't work in the presidential election – that is the glaring contrast in all of this,” says Mr. Brother, who said he got choked up several times during Blasey Ford's testimony. “But down the road it might. Down the road, people might ask more of these types of questions when people of power and authority are under consideration for leadership posts.”

Character and the country

The question of the character of a public servant was on many Americans' minds in the days leading up to Thursday's hearings. This week, Maggie Seymour, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve after a decade on active duty, found herself wondering about the lack of rational discourse on matters of character and morality. “Is the point of the discussion only to win? The point should be the truth,” says Ms. Seymour, a fellow with High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a nonprofit policy and research organization in Washington. “You should enter the discussion with an open mind and a willingness to consider all available information. There should be a little empathy and humility.”

In Georgia, one Republican was contemplating questions of fairness.

“This is not about party. All we want to see is a very real sense of fairness and the kind of objectivity that we used to pride ourselves on in the United States,” says Dennis Brown, a county commissioner in Georgia’s Forsyth County.

And he, like many Americans, is aware of the potential longer-term impact on the country that Kavanaugh spoke about Thursday.

“It absolutely affects people's trust," says Mr. Brown. “Any time a citizen is impacted by government in some small way, they may not take action right then, but they vote and keep up with the issues, and they pay attention. Every time it just chips away a little bit more at their perception that things are impartial and fair and balanced and transparent. Like a dollar bill is not backed by gold, they wonder, what backs up the full faith and confidence of the government?”

Staff writers Martin Kuz in Sacramento, Calif.; Rebecca Asoulin in Boston; and Patrik Jonsson in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.

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2. With new missile defense for Syria, Russia shifts its relationship with Israel

Despite working closely with Israel's traditional enemies, Syria and Iran, during Syria's civil war, Russia has managed to maintain a good relationship with Israel. But it could be about to sour.

Noelle

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When a Syrian-operated missile defense system first downed a Russian reconnaissance plane, killing 15 Russian military personnel, amid an Israeli airstrike in Syria, there were a few days of confusion in Moscow. Vladimir Putin initially sounded ready to blame the fog of war. His Defense Ministry insisted the attacking Israeli F-16's had “set up” the Russian turboprop by hiding behind its radar signature, making it an easy target for the Syrian missile. But President Putin has now backed his Defense Ministry and decided to supply Syrian forces with advanced S-300 antiaircraft systems that will threaten future Israeli incursions into Syrian airspace. Until now, Israel has courted Moscow to avoid conflict in Syrian skies. The “deconfliction” mechanism, which reportedly includes a hotline between the militaries, has allowed Israel to target weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah or Iranian-allied forces in Syria. But the complicated understanding has now somewhat evaporated. Some suggest a new arrangement will be needed. “This changes the rules of the game. We will feel much less confident in attacking Syria,” says Alon Liel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry director general. “Israel needs Russia very much and won’t risk a conflict.”

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1. With new missile defense for Syria, Russia shifts its relationship with Israel

Russia has just taken a huge gamble in Syria.

It will greatly strengthen Moscow's hand in determining the endgame in the seven-year-old civil war if it works. But it might lead to wider conflict if other powers accustomed to intruding into Syrian airspace with relative ease, particularly Israel, decide to challenge the move.

The Russians have indicated that they will effectively impose what is known as A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) over the entire Syrian theater by supplying Syrian forces with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft systems. The missiles will be integrated into a single, computerized air defense network and supported by Russian-provided electronic jamming measures. It's not quite a “no fly zone,” since the Russians would be required to announce and enforce something like that directly.

Experts say the system, which Moscow claims will be up and running within two weeks, will be under the nominal control of Syrian forces, but will almost certainly have a Russian finger on the trigger. If the move is implemented, it will compel the Israelis – who have launched 200 airstrikes against Syria in the past 18 months – as well as other active powers such as Turkey and the US-led coalition, to consult much more closely with Moscow if they wish to pursue their separate military objectives in Syria, or risk taking losses.

Deconfliction

The Russians have been mulling this move since 2013, when they first acceded to Israeli requests to suspend a planned sale of the S-300s to Syria in order to preserve “regional stability.” What prompted them to change their minds was the Sept. 17 “friendly fire” shootdown of a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane by an old Soviet-made Syrian S-200 missile, killing 15 Russian military personnel, near Russia's Khmeimim airbase in Syria during or – depending on whom you believe – immediately after a major Israeli airstrike on a nearby Syrian military base.

There were a few days of confusion in Moscow. Vladimir Putin, who has maintained a very close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, initially sounded ready to blame the incident on the fog of war. His Defense Ministry, however, insisted the attacking Israeli F-16s had “set up” the lumbering turboprop Il-20 by hiding behind its radar signature and making it an easy target for the Syrian missile, which is so old it lacks any ability to distinguish friend from foe. Two starkly different narratives about what happened still remain in play, but the Kremlin has clearly decided to accept the version offered by its own Defense Ministry.

“Putin is not only president, he is also commander in chief of the armed forces,” says Alexander Sherin, deputy chair of the Russian State Duma's defense committee. “The military are obliged to explain these things to the Russian people, so possibly they just sound tougher. Maybe the president was a bit more diplomatic. But everyone agrees this is a step we had to take a long time ago. We cannot allow Syrian airspace to be turned into a public thoroughfare.”

Until now, Israel has courted Moscow to cultivate understandings on “deconfliction.” The mechanism, which reportedly includes a hotline between the militaries, allows Israel to target weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah or Iranian-allied forces in Syria, even as Russia maintained overall control in Syria in a loose alliance with Iran. The arrangement that Mr. Putin previously had with Mr. Netanyahu acknowledged that Israel has legitimate security concerns, particularly in Syria's southwest, where the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights meets Syria proper.

Russia claims it has obliged Israel by helping to roll back Iranian-linked forces from that area. It has also allowed Israel to pursue other prongs of its strategy to contain Iranian influence in Syria: blocking the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah that would substantially erode Israel’s advantage, and preventing the entrenchment of Iranian and Iranian-allied forces in Syria that could serve as a front of conflict.

It is a complicated understanding, heavily dependent on mutual goodwill, which has now somewhat evaporated. Some suggest a new arrangement will need to be worked out, where Russia has the upper hand.

“This changes the rules of the game. We will feel much less confident in attacking Syria, which will make the life of the Iranians easier,’” says Alon Liel, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “Israel needs Russia very much and won’t risk a conflict.”

A difference-making weapon?

The late-version S-300 system that Russia plans to install in Syria, to cover the country's entire airspace, is not a Russian top-of-the-line air defense weapon. But it is a relatively recent member of a class of long-range, multi-target-capable anti-aircraft systems developed over decades by the Soviet Union and Russia that have no counterparts in the US arsenal. That's only because the US, historically, has no need of a weapon to defend against massed air attack.

But although the S-300 has never been tested in combat against modern Western aircraft, most analysts agree it would be foolish to discount it.

“The S-300 can prevent uninvited air strikes in Syria,” says Konstantin Sivkov, an expert with the official Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences. “These other countries, like Israel, will have to change their tactics, and perhaps that will lead to further stabilization of the situation. If not, Syria could become the detonator of World War Three, God forbid.”

Israeli defense analysts say Israel has been preparing for the S-300's deployment for over a decade, and that it may not prove as significant an obstacle to Israeli operations as the Syrians and Russians might hope. But at the very least, Israel will need to be more circumspect in pursuing its goals in Syria. That might involve giving Moscow more advanced warning of a strike and holding fire in case planes are attacked by new advanced air defense systems supplied by Moscow for fear of endangering Russian personnel.

Israel will have to “be more careful than ever,” says Eyal Zisser, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University. “If you see a Russian airplane, don’t gamble that the Syrians will miss. It’s not in Israel’s interest to get into a conflict with a superpower like Russia.”

‘It's a big poker game’

It seems most likely that the close Putin-Netanyahu relationship will re-assert itself, and a new modus vivendi will take hold. But not necessarily.

“We shouldn’t be confused: The very important friendship between the leaders ultimately doesn’t outweigh [geopolitical] interests,” Mike Herzog, a former military adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in an interview with Israel Army Radio. “And the Russians have their own interests, and they’re not identical to Israeli interests. Let’s not forget they fought alongside Iran to save Assad.”

It seems certain that the long-running, bitter, multi-sided war in Syria has entered a new phase, perhaps a more dangerous one. Russia is hoping this gambit will ratchet down the free-for-all air war over Syria, and force the various players to step back and mediate their interests in the region through Moscow. If it works, a Russian-authored Syrian endgame might be within sight. But if it doesn't?

“It's a big poker game,” says Alexander Golts, an independent Russian military expert. “We don't really know how effective the S-300 would be in blocking Israeli incursions or thwarting US cruise missile attacks. So, it's a bluff. But is anyone prepared to call it?”

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3. It’s broken, so who should fix it? Manufacturers, consumers may disagree.

In a throwaway culture of increasingly complex goods – from smartphones to tractors – a battle pits consumer freedom against manufacturer control of sensitive parts and technology.

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Here’s a test: How quickly can you replace the battery in your smartphone? If it’s a few seconds, you probably own a phone that’s several years old. If it’s minutes – or looks so complicated you’d never want to attempt it – you probably have a newer phone and a problem. Phones, computers, medical equipment, and even tractors are getting so sophisticated that they’re increasingly difficult to repair. That complexity has sparked a backlash and concern about growing amounts of electronic waste. The right-to-repair movement is pushing legislators in 18 states to pass laws that would make electronics and machinery easier and cheaper for consumers and independent repair shops to fix. The push follows a similar initiative around cars five years ago. But farm equipment and smartphone manufacturers are working to head off public pressure with plans of their own, which could turn out to be far more limited than what right-to-repair advocates are pushing for.

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It’s broken, so who should fix it? Manufacturers, consumers may disagree.

Two miles from Apple’s sprawling campus in Cupertino, Calif., Cupertino iPhone Repair is doing a bang-up business repairing iPhones and other Apple products. 

Its secret to success: It repairs the electronic gadgets faster and more cheaply than Apple itself. It’s challenge: The shop can’t use any Apple parts and has to tell customers that if it repairs their unit, Apple will probably refuse to service it, even under warranty.

“They don't want to service those phones,” says Lakshmi Agrawal, co-owner of Cupertino iPhone Repair. “They just try to sell the new phones.”

It’s not just smartphones. As computers, medical equipment, even tractors become more computerized, manufacturers are making it increasingly difficult for customers to repair their products. Their restrictions have spawned a backlash among consumers, advocates, and independent repair shops that insist they have a right to repair. 

The standoff pits companies, which are anxious to protect their proprietary software from hackers, against some of their customers, who want repairs to be cheaper and easier. The current system discourages repair outright, they charge, or make it so expensive that consumers buy new products and throw away the old, exaggerating an electronic waste problem that is growing large. 

“People say I’m anti-Apple. I’m not. I love my iPhone,” says Nathan Proctor, who heads the right to repair campaign for US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), a Denver-based nonprofit advocacy organization. But “it’s my phone and regardless of why they think I shouldn't be able to fix it, I bought it, I own it, and I just want to keep it working.”

So far this year, 18 states have considered right-to-repair bills, although none has passed. At the same time, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, and the National Corn Growers Association are petitioning the US Copyright Office to renew its exemption that allows farmers to modify software to diagnose and fix their machines. The farm groups also want to expand the exemption to include independent repair shops.

They point to what happened to car repair after a 2013 Massachusetts law, which gave owners and independent shops access to the same diagnostic and repair data that dealers and authorized repair facilities have. The following year, two industry trade groups agreed to take the Massachusetts model national and fully implement it by this year.

Feeling the pressure, national farm equipment manufacturers and dealers organizations in February agreed to implement their own version of right to repair by 2021. How far-reaching the agreement will be in practice is not yet known. The groups, for example, make a distinction between the right to repair and the right to modify software.

“Allowing untrained individuals to modify equipment software can endanger operators, bystanders, dealers, mechanics, customers, and others,” Ken Golden, a spokesman for Deere & Co., wrote in an email. “This software helps ensure the equipment meets safety, emissions, and other standards and regulations.”

Medical equipment manufacturers make the same argument. Untrained repairers could damage highly sensitive and expensive machines. That is why they use digital codes and passwords to lock away this software. The software is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to hack or steal proprietary software. 

But these same practices also create a closed loop where only the company and the dealers it authorizes can fix the machinery.

That closed loop is often highly profitable. By one estimate, the maintenance market for medical equipment should reach $2.2 billion worldwide by 2020. And it either keeps repairs in the hands of a few authorized shops, who pay the company for that privilege, or discourages repairs at all, sometimes denying access to parts or making them so expensive that repairs are not economical.

“It’s gotten harder to repair computers than when we started,” says Roger Jermyn, owner of Plug-n-Play PC, an independent repair shop in Waltham, Mass. “As computers have come down in price, it’s actually less likely they're going to be repaired.” Rather than pay $750 for a new part, customers typically choose to buy a new $1,000 machine.

Smartphones, however, are going up in price, with the newest Apple models topping $1,000. They may make consumers even more reluctant to upgrade their phones on a frequent basis – and putting more pressure on Apple to change its ways.

“We throw away 416,000 phones every day,” says Mr. Proctor of US PIRG. “And one-third of the world does not have access to cellphones. We can't just have a completely one-way ‘make-use-toss’ system, given limited planetary resources.” [Editor's note:  This paragraph was changed to correct the number of phones disposed of daily.]

The problem isn’t limited to Apple. Other smartphone makers have also made their models more difficult to repair. The 2010-era Samsung Galaxy S5, for example, has a pop-off plastic back that allows access to change the battery and the memory within seconds. Today’s S9, by contrast, requires heating the metal back to loosen the adhesive, a suction cup to help pry it off, the removal of 15 Phillips-head screws, and two other parts before the battery can be removed.

These difficult-to-remove lithium batteries are, in turn, making it difficult and dangerous for recyclers to reclaim the parts. As reported two weeks ago by The Washington Post, these batteries are causing fires in recycling trucks and centers.

Apple, which has never taken a stand on right-to-repair, has responded to such problems by expanding its repair network to some 5,000 authorized service providers worldwide, lowered the cost of battery replacement, and simplified screen repair. It has pioneered “Daisy,” a system to robotically disassemble iPhones to recover more parts than traditional shredding methods, and initiated a credit program for customers who give back Apple computers when they no longer use them.

Last year, the company announced its commitment to create new products using only recycled or renewable materials. That commitment is still years away and, to the dismay of right-to-repair advocates, remains a closed loop completely under Apple’s control.

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4. How ‘deck parks’ restore community ties in neighborhoods divided by highways

Highways may be built to connect, but they can also divide. This piece looks at a community- and state-supported initiative that’s about much more than infrastructure.

Noelle

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In 1956, the city of St. Paul, Minn., approved the construction of Interstate 94. It would run through Rondo, an African-American community. To build each stage St. Paul bulldozed blocks of homes and businesses. Rondo still feels the aftermath, says Marvin Anderson, who was a child there at the time. He describes community members left “without a sense of home.” Today Mr. Anderson is the executive director of ReConnectRondo – a nonprofit pushing to revitalize the region. What that could mean: further restoring that sense of home by way of a structure called the Rondo Land Bridge. The grassy installation would extend over several blocks of I-94, merging the divided north and south sides of the neighborhood with public green space and new homes. Decades after developers pushed highways through US neighborhoods like Rondo in the name of progress, many are now reexamining how this development has contributed to urban inequality. “[G]iving a community where there’s a large population of people of color an opportunity to create a new vision,” said a representative from the Urban Land Institute after a visit, “it’s a huge opportunity.”

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How ‘deck parks’ restore community ties in neighborhoods divided by highways

When Marvin Anderson walks along the tree-lined streets of Rondo – his childhood neighborhood – in St. Paul, Minn., the memories come rushing back. “That’s what I miss about it ... the smells of the food, hearing laughter ... in the barbershop, over a soda fountain,” he says.

Mr. Anderson was born in this primarily African-American neighborhood in 1949. As a child, he thrived on Rondo’s culture of openness, in which black residents felt free from discrimination, says Anderson, now the executive director of ReConnectRondo – a nonprofit pushing for infrastructure that would revitalize the region.

But in 1956 the city approved the construction of Interstate 94 through the middle of Rondo. To build each stage, St. Paul bulldozed blocks of local businesses and homes – including several apartments Anderson’s father owned. 

The neighborhood still feels the aftermath, says Anderson. “The destruction of Rondo has created ... a wandering group of people ... without a sense of home,” he says.

Along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Anderson and ReConnectRondo have been seeking to rebuild that sense of home by advocating for the Rondo Land Bridge. This grassy installation would extend over several blocks of I-94 and merge the divided north and south sides of the neighborhood with public green space and new homes. 

Decades after developers pushed highways through US neighborhoods like Rondo in the name of progress, many are now reexamining how this development has contributed to urban inequality. (It’s also part of the discussion around new development. Early this year, the Monitor looked at the effect of infrastructure development on communities in Denver.) From St. Paul to Dallas to Pittsburgh, city halls are backing “deck parks” or “cap parks” – built above highways – that reinvigorate local urban life and pay homage to displaced communities. 

“Some of the history around where highways were placed was clearly directly connected to structural and institutional racism,” says Lyneir Richardson, executive director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers University.

Deck parks are nothing new, but while some over the past decade were used to cap main arteries of urban wealth, more recent park plans are emerging in outer neighborhoods with more people of color.

“[G]iving a community where there’s a large population of people of color an opportunity to create a new vision ... it’s a huge opportunity to create wealth and ... increase health outcomes,” says Dr. Richardson, who visited Rondo as part of a consulting team from the Urban Land Institute.

Another planned deck park in Dallas’s Oak Cliff neighborhood seeks to rejuvenate this black and Latino community situated around Interstate 35.

“There was a 100 percent overlap between less-valued land and places where minority communities lived,” says Kathryn Holliday, associate professor of architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington. “So when you start choosing where you put a highway, those are the places where they went.”

The park is part of the Southern Gateway redevelopment project, which broke ground in February and seeks to address some of the highway’s pollution and pedestrian disruption.

The project won’t singlehandedly fix urban inequality, says Dr. Holliday, but to city planners, reducing the environmental effects of a major highway here is crucial.

“The sense that we’re going to get green space where there would otherwise be noise, pollution, and high-speed traffic is seen very much as a positive,” says Kevin Sloan, professor in practice of architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington, and an Oak Cliff resident.

And in Pittsburgh, where Interstate 579 cuts off the predominantly African-American Hill District from downtown, local community advocates and architects are now proposing a deck park that would celebrate the historical neighborhood.

Part of the park’s goal is to help Hill District residents cultivate a sense of belonging in their city, says architect and local resident Lakeisha Byrd, who serves on the design team. The design includes signposts commemorating local historical figures and illustrations of a fictional young black girl the team named Keisha. 

“Keisha really connected to ... wanting some ... type of representation in the park that young people could relate to,” Ms. Byrd says.
From above, she explains, the park’s shape resembles an abstracted sankofa bird – a Ghanaian image that symbolizes reconciliation with the past and present. 

“It really [signifies that] as you’re moving forward you’re also looking back, pulling what you learned from the past with you,” she says.

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5. With echoes of past, ‘Murphy Brown’ reboot tackles Trump-era culture wars

As it returns to prime time, “Murphy Brown” is poised to be as prescient now as it was 30 years ago, capturing the national zeitgeist and offering commentary on the current political climate. 

Noelle
David Giesbrecht/Warner Bros./AP
Joe Regalbuto, Candice Bergen, and Faith Ford star in ‘Murphy Brown.’ Politics, sexual harassment, and the role of journalism are expected to be central when the sitcom returns Thursday to CBS.

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“Murphy Brown,” the iconic show starring the eponymous fictional TV journalist as she took on America’s culture wars from 1988 to 1998, parachutes into 2018 with a widely anticipated remake on CBS Thursday night. It lands in an era altogether different, yet similar. The original “Murphy Brown” flourished before Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, “fake news,” and President Trump. The sitcom famously incorporated the headlines of the day into plot lines, blending fact and fiction. Now those blurred lines are part of everyday reality. In many ways the show’s original segments are eerily suited to this era. In one episode spinning off the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill Senate hearings, Murphy Brown is summoned to Capitol Hill, echoing the Senate standoff over confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh. In another, Murphy throttles a network executive with his own tie after he makes a pass at her co-worker – a precursor to the #MeToo movement. Andrew Leo, a Pittsburgh salon owner, says the show was ahead of its time. “She is so current now. She said all those things years ago that women are saying now.” 

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With echoes of past, ‘Murphy Brown’ reboot tackles Trump-era culture wars

Watching old clips of “Murphy Brown” can often feel equal part prescient, equal part dispiriting, as if past and present are seamlessly connected despite a gap of more than 20 years.

There’s the one episode, spinning off the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill Senate hearings, where Murphy is summoned to Capitol Hill about a leaked confidential Senate report. “May I respectfully remind you of the importance of the press in a democratic society?” Murphy answers the senator grilling her in a Southern drawl. “Without the press, Watergate, the Savings and Loan debacle, Iran-Contra may never have come to light.”

“So?” he responds deadpan.

There’s the episode where the fictional TV journalist interviews an “average American,” in this case Betty from Idaho, who bemoans the Italians who have “taken over” and that “black people moved in next door.” Her on-air goodwill tested, Murphy asks Betty, “Has anyone ever accused you of being a bigot?”

And there’s the time Murphy throttles a network executive with his own tie after he makes a pass at her coworker, Corky. “If you don’t swear not to hit on Corky or anyone else in this company again you will be coughing up things you ate as a child,” she roars.

They are all vintage Murphy Brown the character, a hard-hitting, often caustic journalist played by Candice Bergen, and “Murphy Brown” the feminist sitcom, which stepped headfirst into the maelstrom of America’s culture wars from 1988 to 1998.

Now as the iconic show, which garnered 18 Emmy awards over 10 seasons, parachutes into the year 2018 with a widely anticipated remake that CBS launches Thursday night, can it resonate in today’s America?

Some see the revival as part of the risk-free reboot craze among money-conscious, ailing networks in an era in which viewers are live-tweeting “Game Of Thrones,” not gathering around a watercooler. And pioneering as “Murphy Brown” may have been on television when she emerged in the ’80s, many strong, irreverent women have taken on American politics and culture head-on since then – from Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep” to Robin Wright in “House of Cards.”

Still, Joy Press, author of “Stealing the Show,” which documents the revolution of female-centric television, says Murphy Brown in 2018 easily finds her place among that lineup. “It’s not just that she was a strong woman but that she was untethered. She was allowed to be really sharp and nasty and critical because she was so funny,” says Ms. Press. “I think that there is an enormous hunger right now to have a woman on television speaking truth to power and expressing the sort of rage, the kind of anger and kind of misery of the current political moment.”

Art imitates life

The sitcom famously incorporated the headlines of the day into plot lines. Blending fiction and reality became its trademark in 1992 when then-Vice President Dan Quayle derided Murphy’s single motherhood as a symbol of America’s decline in family values. The writers brought that speech right back into their story line.

Now those blurred lines are part of everyday reality. One in fact expects the Trump administration to weigh in on the fictional news portrayed in the new sitcom. But the speed is dizzying, the news itself overtaken not by the next cycle, but within the seconds it takes to send a tweet.

The return of a powerful journalist also comes amid the legitimacy crisis facing the mainstream media. If Murphy Brown convulsed American politics in the ’90s, her critics still listened to what she had to say. Washington is said to have emptied out on the nights it aired. In September 1992, Mr. Quayle watched the season premiere with a group of moms, some of them single, a few months after dissing the character’s parenting choices in a stump speech.

In many ways the show's original segments are uncomfortably suited to this era, the parallels almost eerie. There is the Senate standoff over confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court amid sexual misconduct allegations. There are two bifurcated Americas, which see everything from the presidency to Sunday Night Football exclusively through their own lens. And then there’s the #MeToo movement that’s shaken institutions, not sparing CBS.

‘Ahead of her time

Today, though, those sides are less apt to hear one another. The original “Murphy Brown” flourished before the financial crisis, when divides between the “haves” and “have-nots” hardened; before the politicization of immigration and 9/11; before #BlackLivesMatter; “fake news”; and #MeToo – and above all, before President Trump took over the White House.

Ms. Bergen and series creator Diane English admit they wouldn’t have considered a relaunch if Hillary Clinton were president, making the show easy to dismiss as yet another liberal venture. For the cast, it's almost a mission of resistance. They promise to take on gun control, immigration, and sexual harassment, among many of the issues that have resurfaced.

Laura Grindstaff, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in American media, race, gender, and inequality, says the revival seems almost perfectly tapped into the national zeitgeist. “The Trump administration has brought to the surface a kind of conversation that I think many of us thought we wouldn’t have to have anymore,” she says.

Yet it also runs the risk of telling those stories through one narrow lens. The mostly white cast doesn’t reflect society, nor even the media. In terms of #MeToo, it is the middle-class, white woman who has a voice today, even though minority and low-income women are often far more vulnerable. Dr. Grindstaff says she hopes the producers use their platform to spotlight the complex reality of gender inequality. “Murphy Brown is not the story of women in the workplace, it’s a story of a woman in the workplace,” she says.

That the story is told through the eyes of a woman over age 70, however, has many fans buzzing. If some have dismissed the character as a “relic” who won’t stand up in this hot-blooded, fractured, fast-paced era, others say Murphy Brown was ahead of her time – and now can claim her rightful position as pioneer.

Andrew Leo, who has owned and operated hair salons in Pittsburgh, says he remembers the chatter when the show first aired. “I remember women saying, ‘I wish there really were women like that.’ She was so ballsy, so everything. And now here we are. The #MeToo movement,” he says. “This is Murphy Brown territory. She is so current now. She said all those things years ago that women are saying now.”

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The Monitor's View

Brazil’s WhatsApp election campaign

Two ways to read the story

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As Brazil prepares for an Oct. 7 presidential election, voters have decided to vent their frustrations over crime, corruption, and a stagnant economy. Many are doing that online. The use of social media has greatly altered the public discourse in an election seen as the most consequential since the first democratic election in 1989. Brazil has become a test case of what happens when citizens take charge of distributing information about candidates. The most popular platform is WhatsApp. The encrypted messaging service is designed to reach people a user already knows. In Brazil, that means voters are often connecting with like-minded voters rather than persuading those with whom they disagree. One result: political silos of intense anger. With a long history of elected leaders lying to them, Brazilians might be excused for their internet eruption. In a democracy, voters claim a right to choose their leaders. But they in turn must choose to use the contest of ideas and candidates. It is not clear if social media is the best alternative to rescue a divided society.

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Brazil’s WhatsApp election campaign

 If voters anywhere deserve to be distrustful of politicians, it is in Brazil. Two presidents have been impeached in recent years, a third is in prison for corruption, and more than 100 other politicians have been fingered for corruption. Crime is up. The economy is stagnant. And only 13 percent of voters are satisfied with their democracy.

Yet as Brazil prepares for a presidential election on Oct. 7, voters have decided to vent their frustrations – not so much in protests or large rallies as on social media. The use of social media has greatly altered the public discourse in an election seen as the most consequential since the first democratic election in 1989. Brazil has become a test case of what happens when citizens take charge of distributing information about candidates, replacing the role of journalists and political parties.

The South American giant is a world leader in social media use, according to a Euromonitor survey. While it is Facebook’s third biggest market, the most popular platform is WhatsApp, used by more than half of Brazil’s 210 million people. The encrypted messaging service is designed to reach people a user already knows. In Brazil, that means voters are relying on WhatsApp to connect with like-minded voters rather than persuade those they disagree with.

The result is the creation of political silos of intense anger. “Today, separating rationality from emotion is becoming almost impossible in Brazil,” writes Portuguese journalist Manuel Serrano. “Reason is increasingly unable to moderate political debate.”

Emotions are so high that an attacker tried to kill the leading candidate, Jair Bolsonaro of the far-right Social Liberal Party, on Sept. 6. From a hospital, Mr. Bolsonaro now campaigns over social media to his 8.5 million followers. But in a sign of how much fake news dominates social media, of the 1.7 million mentions on Twitter about the attack, more than 40 percent doubted that it happened.

The polarization of Brazil led a former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to make a public appeal for voters to use the campaign to build cohesion. He asked that people talk to all members of society, not only those they agree with. In addition, Brazilian news organizations as well as Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) have been working to counter fake news and hate speech that appears on social media.

With a long history of elected leaders lying to them, Brazilians might be excused for their internet eruption in this campaign. When political institutions fail voters and create distrust, the public sphere – which is now largely social media – can serve as a warning system. A society must then create new ways to mediate differences between citizens.

In a democracy, voters claim a right to choose their leaders. But they in turn must choose to use the contest of ideas and candidates by ensuring they have an overarching conception of the collective good. Traditional media and political parties may have failed Brazilians. But it is not clear social media is the best alternative to rescue a divided society.

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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.

Good that lasts

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“What if genuine goodness isn’t as fragile as it can seem?” Today’s contributor explores the idea of God as the source of limitless spiritual good for all.

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Good that lasts

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When a friend feels hopeless about the possibility of future goodness in life – when he or she feels sure that good times are permanently over and done with – is there some kind of encouragement that might help? Optimism is nice, but there are times that call for more than optimism.

I’ve found a good starting point for working through and beyond those discouraging feelings is to consider this: What if genuine goodness isn’t as fragile as it can seem?

Nelson Mandela said, “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” This points to a real and lasting goodness that doesn’t come from an economy, a mortal body, an environment, a season of the year, and so forth – and therefore is not vulnerable to fear, lack, resentment, variable economic trends, envy, illness.

Where could such an unalterable goodness originate?

Christian Science explains that true goodness is everlasting and spiritual, because its origin is God, the ever-present divine Mind. God is utterly, purely good. To know that good actually originates in God is to know a fuller contentment and fearlessness. The Christian Science Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, points out in “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” that, “According to the Scriptures, – St. Paul declares astutely, ‘For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things,’ – man is incapable of originating: nothing can be formed apart from God, good, the all-knowing Mind” (p. 71).

We are each specifically created to show forth the nature and content of God’s pure goodness. God never changes or dissipates, and neither does the rich goodness that God is expressing in His spiritual creation. Because our true, spiritual identity is indivisible from God, time can’t sever us from His goodness. Circumstances and trends can’t, either. To affirm this is powerful prayer.

A friend of mine has a business that, some time ago, was failing because of economic conditions in his country. Steadily over time, he based his prayers on the idea that God is the only provider of true goodness, and that he, his employees, and his customers were all the blessed beneficiaries of this spiritual goodness. He consistently identified himself and everyone as constant recipients of an overflowing divine goodness.

My friend made an effort to devote more of his thoughts to the presence of God’s goodness, rather than getting mired in negativity. As his active love for and acknowledgment of God, good, grew, so did his awareness of that good around him. Solutions and opportunities arose in unexpected ways that benefited the business, employees, and customers alike. Today, his business is thriving.

Christ Jesus stated, “There is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). This statement has such far-ranging significance for each of us. Only God provides genuine goodness – goodness that is spiritually permanent – and He does this unceasingly.

This is grounds for more than just optimism. Even as the world changes rapidly around us, we can discover through prayer that in spiritual reality, we keep only the good – God’s goodness, which lasts forever – and see more of that goodness day by day.

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Viewfinder

Waiting for justice

Luis Echeverria/Reuters
Indigenous people of the Ixil region hold a vigil outside a courtroom in Guatemala City Sept. 26 during the trial of former military intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in the bloodiest phase of a 36-year civil war.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 28th, 2018 )

Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when environment reporter Amanda Paulson explores efforts to connect the dots between climate change and the severity of storms like hurricane Florence.

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 27, 2018
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