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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
October
10
Wednesday

Youths in Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, and India are more optimistic about their futures than those in Germany, Great Britain, France, or Sweden. From a certain perspective, those poll results might seem somewhat surprising. After all, rates of violence, personal wealth, and political corruption are much better in Germany or Sweden than Mexico or India. 

So why are people who are, by many measures, in a worse situation actually more hopeful? The simple answer is that they see positive change. Sociologists have found an effective way to measure hope: Do you expect your life to be better than your parents’? Overwhelmingly, the people in Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, and India are saying yes. Those in the West are less sure. 

The past 300 years have provided a fairly universal roadmap for how countries can escape widespread poverty. The progress is astounding. The past two years, however, have shown that there is not yet a similar roadmap for how developed countries can keep growing in a way that inspires hope across all groups. 

That, it seems, is the challenge of today. Experiments from Brexit to universal income are part of the attempt to find an answer, and the political upheaval in the West in many ways merely underscores the need to take a step forward. 

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Now, here are our five stories for the day, which look at the larger lessons from a journalist’s disappearance in Turkey, a shifting sense of identity in Quebec, and a heaping plate of self-worth.

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1. Conflict exhaustion or democracy renaissance? The age of in-your-face activism

Democracies aim to turn political passions into protests and activism. Living through such a time, however, draws on civic reservoirs of patience and goodwill.  

Mark
Alex Brandon/AP
Protesters chant as Capitol Police officers make arrests outside the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine on Capitol Hill Sept. 24, over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. Senator Collins cast the deciding vote to make Kavanaugh the 114th justice.

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On the day before the Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building plays host to both opponents and supporters of the beleaguered justice. Alison Turkos, a rape survivor who spent the days leading up to the vote confronting senators in and around Washington, says she has no intention of slowing down her activism. It’s the only way to get lawmakers to listen, she says. Laura Murphy, who came to the Capitol to rally behind Justice Kavanaugh, calls the harrying of lawmakers shameful. Liberal protesters, she says, have no respect for authority or civil discourse. Welcome to the new normal: a potent mix of public outrage, political polarization, and broadband-speed publicity combining to create a deeply partisan protest culture that is seeping into every corner of American life. American democracy was always built to allow space for dissident and minority groups to air their grievances. The question now is whether the current period of highly charged political engagement will result in a stronger democracy or further split people apart. “Seeing people be politically involved is a very good thing,” says Diana Mutz, a politics professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s just unfortunate that the grounds of consensus have become so small.”

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Conflict exhaustion or democracy renaissance? The age of in-your-face activism

They showed up at restaurants. They rallied outside senators’ homes. They dogged officials at elevators and airports, they crowded hallways and offices on Capitol Hill, and they broadcast everything in real time on social media.

And although in the end Brett Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court justice, the activists who protested for weeks ahead of his confirmation have shown few signs of slowing down or changing their strategy.

Already Republicans are accusing them of promoting anarchy by employing “mob tactics” against conservative officials. Activists say they only want to hold those elected to represent the people accountable for their decisions and are using every tool at their disposal to do so.

Somewhere in the middle are the bewildered casualties – like the the D.C. restaurant where protesters confronted Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas last week, or the Virginia community where one restaurateur declined to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Average citizens are finding themselves suddenly caught in the center of pitched partisan battles.  

Welcome to the new normal: a potent mix of public outrage, political polarization, and broadband-speed publicity combining to create a reactionary and deeply partisan protest culture that is bleeding into every corner of American life. “It feels like a political crisis on a day-to-day basis,” says Diana Mutz, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics.

We’ve seen some of this before. The country is only about 50 years removed from the turmoil and rioting that marked the civil rights movement – a chaotic era that ultimately affirmed fundamental rights for women, African-Americans, and other disenfranchised communities. American democracy was built to allow space for dissident and minority groups to air their grievances.

But social media has propagated and intensified what in the 1960s would have been covered almost exclusively by daily newspapers and nightly news programs. It has encouraged the public to participate in politics in new and exciting ways, even as it further drives a partisan wedge between them. 

The question, political analysts say, is whether the current period of highly-charged political engagement and high-profile protests will result in a stronger democracy – or further undermine the nation’s institutions and split its people apart.

“Seeing people be politically involved is a very good thing. Seeing them care enough to do these kinds of things is very positive,” Professor Mutz says. “It’s just unfortunate that the grounds of consensus have become so small … that we’re all experiencing a sense of sheer conflict exhaustion.”

'I don't know what else to do'

The Thursday before the Senate voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Alison Turkos took the 6 a.m. train from Brooklyn to Washington. For the next 30 hours, she all but slept on Capitol Hill: One minute, she was at the offices of Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine to urge the lawmaker to vote against Kavanaugh; the next she was chanting with fellow protesters on the steps of the Supreme Court.

One video shows Ms. Turkos confronting Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia – the only Democrat to vote to confirm Kavanaugh – at an elevator, asking him why he was supporting the nominee. “How do you know how I’m going to vote?” he responds before disappearing into the lift.

On Friday morning, Turkos sits on a bench at the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. Her sharp black blazer and bright red lipstick project strength, but Turkos – a rape survivor – admits to feeling broken. She’s devastated that the senators put Kavanaugh on the bench. She questions putting herself through the agony of retelling, and reliving, her own trauma.

Jessica Mendoza/Christian Science Monitor
Alison Turkos of New York wears a pink button supporting Christine Blasey Ford, the Palo Alto University professor who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault in testimony during his confirmation hearings, at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

“But I don’t know what else to do,” Turkos says.  “The only option that’s left is for me to come to them.”

Her experience, echoed by other activists, is central to the strategies that organizations like the Center for Popular Democracy have been honing for the past year. Their idea is to train people, mostly women, to create situations where they can confront their elected officials about their concerns and broadcast the exchange to the world.

Called “bird-dogging,” the tactic draws from civil rights-era civil disobedience strategies and is meant to both hold lawmakers accountable in public spaces and empower individuals to stand up to authority.

“What you see is women who are tired of being ignored and using tactics that refuse to allow people in power to make decisions that impact our lives without looking in our eyes and recognizing us as human beings,” says Jennifer Epps-Addison, the center’s co-executive director.

From a big-picture perspective, this blend of sit-ins, street marches, and in-your-face confrontations – all amplified by social media – could be a good thing, political observers say. It motivates people, and when people are motivated, they participate in the processes that strengthen a democracy. Some exchanges, like the one between Sen. Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona and a pair of activists at an elevator, even seem to lead to direct change. The senator later agreed to give a “yes” to advancing Kavanaugh to a full vote only on the condition that the FBI conduct an investigation on the sexual assault allegations against the judge.

But Senator Flake, who is retiring, is the exception, not the rule.

“Most people, if they’re confronted in a way that they don’t expect or in a way that they don’t feel is appropriate, they’re not receptive to the message,” says Laurie Rice, a politics professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “Their guard goes up. It’s, ‘How dare you do this?’ ”

Both sides dig in

Minutes before Turkos walks into the Hart Building’s foyer, Laura Murphy wanders in, wearing a navy T-shirt that proclaims, in big block letters, “I stand with Brett.” Her take on the events leading up to the justice’s confirmation? “It’s shameful,” she says. “I see a lot of disrespect for authority. I don't see civil discourse.” 

She adds that the antagonism from liberal activists has only served to fire up Republicans ahead of November’s elections, when Democrats are expected to turn out in record numbers in a bid to retake the House. Conservatives, Ms. Murphy says, “are going to come out and vote in the midterm elections. They don’t like what they see on the side of the left.”

Jessica Mendoza/Christian Science Monitor
Laura Murphy shows her support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh with a shirt and button as she's being interviewed on Oct. 5, 2018, at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington.

That surge underscores one short-term consequence of confrontational activism, especially when magnified by social media: Both sides tend to dig in their heels, further shrinking the odds of meaningful conversation or compromise. Some conservatives warn that by harrying public officials, protesters are endangering the very notion of representative government. “The only way that we have any power is if our members of Congress are free to act according to the wishes of their constituents,” writes political historian Jay Cost for the National Review.  

Lawmakers themselves have spoken out. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted in defense of Senator Collins, whose decisive vote in support of Kavanaugh was met with everything from disappointment and derision to vulgar calls and violent threats. Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s wife, Kelley, wrote in a CNN op-ed that she now keeps a loaded gun by her bed after violent encounters with protesters, including at a D.C. airport last week. Majority leader Mitch McConnell described Republican senators as being “literally under assault” during the hearings.

The Republican response has in turn further enraged the other side. Ms. Epps-Addison, who was among the protesters who confronted Senator Paul at the airport, says it’s not activists’ job to make lawmakers or even fellow citizens feel comfortable. Not when there are people suffering because of the decisions public officials make.

“Maybe they do feel attacked,” Turkos says of senators. “But guess what? I feel attacked. And if the worst attack you’re going to feel is me approaching you in an elevator, that’s the greatest thing for you.

“I have been kidnapped and raped,” she adds. “You don’t know what that’s like.”

'People don't feel heard at all'

As yet, there’s hardly incentive for anyone to back off. With the midterms a month away, candidates and supporters are doubling down on their positions. They’re using social media to boost the us-versus-them mentality, and – because the most extreme, emotional, and moralistic proclamations are often the ones with the biggest payoff – pushing the narrative that democracy itself is at stake. 

Other observers point to the fact that political participation on the upswing is ultimately strengthening, if painful, for the country.

“People are engaging. Wherever you fit on the political spectrum, we’re seeing a renaissance of democracy,” says Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland and author of the coming “American Resistance,” a book on Trump-era activism. “That’s got to be good.”

But it’s a political culture that leaves little room for the kind of patience or self-reflection that lead to thoughtful decisions or compromises. The pace of technological development, and therefore political churn, has made it impossible to stop and ask what the standards of our interactions with one another should be, much less set those standards. Which then leads to more shouting, less listening, and more division.

“People don’t feel heard at all,” says Deana Rohlinger, a professor of sociology at Florida State University. “’Til [our leaders] can figure out ways in which people they’re representing feel empowered, we can expect a lot more interruptions at dinner and confrontations in the elevator.”

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. Saudi journalist saga shows signs of world’s changing stance in ‘Arab Winter’

In the wake of the Arab Spring, many Western powers have accepted the rise of strongmen leaders in the interest of stability. But Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance could point to the dangers of where that approach leads. 

Mark
Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
A security guard enters the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul Oct. 9. Turkey said it will search the facility as part of an investigation into the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a missing Saudi contributor to The Washington Post, a week after he vanished during a visit there.

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Western powers face a diplomatic challenge if Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who disappeared last week, was indeed killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Turkey has been leaking details of what it describes as a Saudi hit job. The disappearance carries a chilling message: that the vision of democracy and accountability that ignited the Arab Spring in late 2010 has been defeated. So far the US and most other Western powers seem to have concluded the new “Arab Winter” is not without advantages, including the familiarity and stability of strongman regimes. The question now is whether Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance will carry a lasting political cost for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. He has been praised for instituting eye-catching reforms. But he has also jailed hundreds, making it clear any reform will come from above. Saudi Arabia is not the only country in the region where authoritarianism is again thriving. Egypt is under the iron rule of a field marshal turned president. Syria’s Assad is poised to reclaim his hold on the country. In other countries, too, the Arab Spring is a distant memory, with top-down rulers again operating pretty much as before.

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Saudi journalist saga shows signs of world’s changing stance in ‘Arab Winter’

On one level, it’s a mystery story, and very possibly a murder mystery. But the disappearance of one of Saudi Arabia’s leading dissidents carries a chilling message with wider echoes: that the vision of democracy, accountability, and free expression that ignited the “Arab Spring” street rebellions of nearly a decade ago has been beaten back and defeated.

So far, the United States and most other Western powers enthusiastic about the Arab Spring seem to have concluded that the new “Arab Winter” is not without its advantages. Having seen Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood thrive on the back of the pro-democracy protests, they have in effect opted for stability and the familiarity of dealing with strongman regimes.

The question now is whether the still-unexplained disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi consulate in Turkey will carry a lasting political cost for Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish officials have not yet formally blamed Riyadh. But they’ve been leaking details of what they describe as a Saudi hit job, saying Mr. Khashoggi was murdered, dismembered, and his body taken out of the country. The Saudis have called the reports “baseless.”

If Khashoggi was indeed killed, the US, in particular, faces a diplomatic challenge. Turkey is a NATO member. When Russia tried to murder a former military intelligence officer in Britain with nerve gas this year, Washington joined NATO allies in denouncing and sanctioning the attack. Interestingly, though both Britain and the US have come under criticism for downplaying human-rights issues because of the commercial importance of Saudi arms purchases, the Khashoggi disappearance has prompted a strong public response from London, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warning the Saudis of potentially serious implications if it turns out that Khashoggi was killed.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
A member of the Turkish-Arab journalist association holds a poster with the photo of missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, during a protest near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Oct. 8. Mr. Khashoggi went missing on Oct. 2 while on a visit to the consulate for paperwork to marry his Turkish fiancée.

The White House, at least initially, has been more circumspect. That could yet change. Over the past year or so, however, both President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have established a personal relationship with Salman, touting him as a visionary force for political reform.

Since becoming heir apparent last year, he has indeed made some eye-catching changes. Some are symbolic, like allowing movie theaters to open and women to drive cars. Others are more potentially far-reaching: reining in the religious police and trying to moderate his country’s rigid strain of Islam.

Yet he has also jailed many hundreds of people, even including women’s rights campaigners who, while welcoming the end to the driving ban, have sought deeper reforms. The crown prince’s message has been stark: Change is something that, if and when it happens, will come from above. If you disagree, be quiet. Or face the consequences. Khashoggi’s disappearance may well be intended as the exclamation point.

Saudi Arabia is not the only country where authoritarianism is again thriving. In Egypt, the Arab Spring toppled the 30-year presidency of Hosni Mubarak. Since 2014, it has been under the iron rule of former Field Marshal Abdel Fatah el-Sisi. In Syria, it was Arab Spring protests, met with gunfire and a wave of arrests, that led to the civil war that, seven years later, has left President Bashar al-Assad poised to reclaim his hold on the country. In other countries across the region as well, the Arab Spring is a distant memory, with top-down rulers again operating pretty much as before.

There are some brighter spots. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, has established, and at least so far sustained, a democracy. Lebanon’s more constrained form of representative government has also survived, no small achievement since it is a patchwork of religious communities and only a few decades removed from a civil war as devastating as Syria’s.

What is less clear for the Arab world – and a future challenge for outside powers – is the longer term. The most powerful catalysts for the protests of 2011 were generational, and economic. An ever-swelling population of young people was not just tired of being unable to speak out, but despondent at the prospect of making a living, much less aspiring to the opulent, frequently corrupt, lifestyle of those in power. That pressure has not gone away. In fact, the ability to prey on that disillusionment is one reason Islamist groups have been making fresh inroads in a number of countries.

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3. After hitting 'rock bottom' over Kavanaugh, can Senate find a way forward?

The confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh marked a failure of the Senate’s traditions of fellowship and calm deliberation. Rekindling them will depend on senators’ commitment to the task.  

Mark

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After the most vitriolic Supreme Court nomination fight in memory – in which Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed with merely 50 votes, under a cloud that has not dispersed – lawmakers on both sides agreed the process had hit “rock bottom.” And while some have ideas about how to avoid a repeat of this “horrible process,” as Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) put it, the overwhelming view is that even more dirt will fly the next time around. “It is grim. There’s real, real anger in the Senate now,” says Gregg Nunziata, former chief nominations counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, he adds, “we could start a conversation in the public and in the Senate on what a fair process looks like.” Mr. Nunziata points to the work of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” senators, who in 2005 negotiated a ceasefire in the filibustering of judicial nominees proposed by President George W. Bush. Some are even raising the possibility of term limits for justices, rather than lifetime appointments, so that each nomination does not seem so earth-shattering. “It’s possible. People are getting pretty desperate,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. 

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After hitting 'rock bottom' over Kavanaugh, can Senate find a way forward?

At the height of the bitter battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons sat down with his wife for a soul-searching conversation. “Is this really worth our time?” they wondered, as they discussed whether the senator should run again.

The Delawarean is not up for reelection until 2020 – but the job has grown more and more frustrating in a polarized Senate that seems unable to address big issues. And as a member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Coons had a ringside seat to a Supreme Court confirmation circus that was more vitriolic than any he had ever seen.

The next Senate also won’t include some of Coons’s closest working partners on the GOP side – John McCain of Arizona, who died in August; Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is retiring; and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is also retiring, and who agreed with Coons on the need for an FBI supplemental background check into allegations of sexual assault against Mr. Kavanaugh in his younger years.

Still, Coons, a graduate of Yale Law and Divinity Schools, concluded he could not “abandon” his post, telling an audience at the Atlantic Festival in Washington last week, “If the Senate doesn’t work, our Constitution, our republic, our nation doesn’t work.” On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said he’s focusing on how to strengthen the legitimacy of the Court and heal the Senate after it approved a justice with merely 50 votes, under a cloud that has not dispersed. Coons voted against Kavanaugh in what was an almost entirely party-line vote. 

Yet while Coons may be focused on healing, it is unclear if many of his colleagues on either side will be willing participants – or if the Senate can truly recover from a judicial nomination process that many agree hit “rock bottom.” There will be another Supreme Court nominee at some point, perhaps sooner rather than later. And while lawmakers and experts may have ideas about how to avoid a repeat of this “horrible process,” as Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski put it, the overwhelming view is that there may be even further to dig, and more dirt will fly. 

Indeed, majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky disputed the premise that the process needed fixing – and put all the blame for the ugliness of the Kavanaugh fight squarely on the Democrats. “I think we know who the culprits are here when it comes to the quality of the discourse,” he told reporters Wednesday. 

No one thought things could get worse after Democrats blocked Judge Robert Bork from the Supreme Court on ideological grounds in 1987. They did. No one thought it could get any lower after Clarence Thomas was narrowly confirmed in the wake of sexual harassment claims from his former subordinate, Anita Hill, in 1991. It did. The Kavanaugh confirmation combined both of those issues into a political civil war without the artillery.

“It is rock bottom and it will continue … until some kind of reforms are implemented,” writes historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton University in an email. Next time around, he says, Republicans will be doubly determined to be aggressive with Democrats as payback for their treatment of Kavanaugh. Democrats, for their part, believe Senator McConnell has systematically destroyed the confirmation process, most notably by refusing to give President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a vote or a hearing.

“With heated feelings like this shaping Washington, all appointees should expect rough waters ahead,” Mr. Zelizer concludes.

In the near future, these rough waters could include: an investigation of Kavanaugh, and possible impeachment proceedings against him if Democrats take the House; a Republican investigation into the leak of Christine Blasey Ford’s letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California claiming that the judge sexually assaulted her when they were in high school; a sustained vacancy on the Supreme Court if the presidency and the Senate are controlled by different parties; a refusal by the White House to share FBI background checks on a nominee with the Senate if members can’t be trusted to keep that information confidential; a poisonous spillover into federal and circuit court nominations.

“It is grim. There’s real, real anger in the Senate now, and between the senators. It’s not just politics. It’s not just playing for the cameras,” says Gregg Nunziata, former chief nominations counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and former policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida. “There’ve been many times that I’ve said it can’t get any worse – and I keep saying it.”

Still, Mr. Nunziata says the worst of the Senate warfare may be contained to the Judiciary Committee, the most polarized committee in the Senate. It handles the most divisive issues – like abortion and prayer in schools – and tends to be made up of more ideological senators. “People close to the center rarely choose to serve on the committee,” he says.

Indeed, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa has had trouble finding people to serve on the panel, though he says it’s because of the workload.

In an interview last week, Coons pointed out that the Kavanaugh confirmation fight has actually “masked” meaningful, bipartisan work that the Senate has recently accomplished – unusual speed on passing spending bills, an opioids bill, a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, and a bipartisan bill that Coons coauthored to finance international development.

The stakes in the Kavanaugh hearing were particularly high for both sides, because his confirmation meant replacing a swing justice with a reliable conservative that would tip the judicial balance on the court. At the same time, the court has become the arbiter of intensely personal issues – access to contraceptives and abortion, who can marry, surveillance of personal communications – and issues that address central questions of liberty, such as the right to bear arms.

“I think the reasons we fight so much about the Supreme Court are probably still there,” says Nunziata. At the same time, “we could start a conversation in the public and in the Senate on what a fair process looks like.”

The best time to start such a discussion is when there is not a vacancy at stake, he says. He points to the work of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” senators, who in 2005 negotiated a temporary ceasefire in the filibustering of federal judicial nominees proposed by President George W. Bush. Many members were pointedly not on the Judiciary Committee, and were considered moderates.

Only two of those senators remain in today’s polarized Senate – Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, who cast the deciding vote for Kavanaugh after a long and detailed floor speech explaining her reasoning, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who gave a fiery defense of Kavanaugh at the final hearing and excoriated Democrats for “the most unethical sham” he’s seen in his years in politics. Senator Graham could become the Judiciary chairman next year, and if that comes about, “I’m going to remember this,” he told the panel.

Some also point to a longer-term possibility to defuse the nomination process – term limits for justices, rather than lifetime appointments, so that each nomination does not seem so earth-shattering. 

“It’s possible. People are getting pretty desperate,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. Whether it would require a constitutional amendment is not clear, he says.

Coons has a far easier idea, and a first step.

“The way [to] calm down is by our getting back to work, finding things we can do together, and receding from some of the sharpness of what’s been said,” he told the Monitor.  

He gave an example of that effort in his talk at the Atlantic Festival. When he came back from Senator McCain’s funeral in Phoenix, he reached out to several newer Republican senators with whom he has a shared interest, background, or committee.

“I said, bluntly, ‘I want to come get to know you. I want to come to your state. I want to come to your home. I welcome you to mine. I’d like to go to worship together. I’d like to give a speech together. I’d like to find a way to legislate together.’ Because if there aren’t people I can work with, there is really no point in my being here.”

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4. Independence drive wanes in Quebec, but identity still entangles politics

After 50 years of separatist battles, Quebec finally appears to feel at home in Canada. But there are signs that the identity politics of the past might simply be taking new forms. 

Mark

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There are few regions of the world that have dallied so long and frequently with separatism as Quebec. The Francophone Canadian province has held two referendums on independence, in 1980 and 1995, and its political landscape has been framed by the debate. That’s what makes last week’s provincial election results so novel: Independence was barely a part of the discussion, and the half-century-old champion of independence, the Parti Québécois, didn't even win enough seats to earn official recognition and public funding. But while Quebec’s independence wasn’t a political football, old anxieties over the preservation of language and culture are taking a new shape. François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec party who takes power as premier of Quebec later this month, stirred identity politics during the campaign by tapping into worries about immigration. He promised in his platform to reduce the quota of those coming to the province by 20 percent and said if new immigrants failed to learn French in three years, they would not be allowed to stay. And he warned that if more is not done to integrate immigrants, “our grandchildren will not speak French.”

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Independence drive wanes in Quebec, but identity still entangles politics

It has been one of the world’s legendary separatist strongholds. Yet in provincial elections in Quebec this month, notions of an independent nation from Canada barely registered here – for the first time in two generations.

In fact, the Parti Québécois (PQ), founded 50 years ago this week to advocate for sovereignty, scored so badly that it lost official party status and the public funding that goes with it.

“Today many Quebecers set aside a debate that divided us for 50 years,” said François Legault, the Coalition Avenir Québec leader who takes power as premier of Quebec later this month. His upstart party’s victory not only upended decades of two-party dominance in Quebec, but also the binary “yes” or “no” choice that the sovereignty debate perpetuated.

Now, old anxieties over the preservation of language and culture are taking a new shape.

While other independence movements rumble from Catalonia to Flanders, Quebec’s election was seen as pushback against separatist reflexes. Yet Mr. Legault stirred identity politics nonetheless. Among his more controversial promises were to mandate that immigrants take a French and values test, and that public service employees in positions of authority forgo wearing religious symbols.

The election and its results show that while Quebecers may feel settled about their place in Canada, unease around migration – and what that means for their culture – have surfaced. “A lot of that anxiety has been channeled to the immigration issue,” says Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies in Montreal, “because there's a sense that immigrants are not sufficiently adopting the French language.” He says that perception is mistaken, according to official statistics.

Legault, an ex-separatist from the PQ and former airline executive, made clear he would never hold a referendum on sovereignty while in office, reflecting the political mood in Quebec.

Independence, which failed in two referendums in 1980 and 1995, doesn’t carry the urgency it once did for many voters. Valérie-Anne Mahéo, a guest researcher in the political science department at the University of Montreal, says Millennials in particular, who grew up speaking different languages and meeting people from around the world, don’t see it as a path forward.

They also grew up with strong protections for the French language put in place in 1977. “Some people say we’ve gained so much protection of the French language that it actually hindered the sovereignist movement, that now people, especially young people, do not see the French language as being threatened,” she says.

But current immigration patterns have introduced a new component to the perennial debate. And Quebec, where many refugees have crossed illegally from the US to claim asylum in Canada, is on the front lines. Of 14,125 irregular border-crossers as of August of this year, the vast majority, or 13,479, crossed via Quebec.

Legault tapped into concerns over immigration. He promised in his platform to reduce the quota of those coming to the province by 20 percent, from 50,000 to 40,000 per year. During his campaign he said if new immigrants failed to learn French in three years, with some exceptions, they would not be granted authorization to stay in Quebec – though he later toned down that message since provinces don’t have authority over expulsions. He said he worried that if more is not done to integrate immigrants, “our grandchildren will not speak French.”

Criticized outside of Quebec for ideas that seem contrary to Canada’s welcoming stance on diversity, Legault has also faced accusations of racism at home. In Montreal over the weekend, protesters gathered to condemn his policies on identity and culture. Yet some believe his ideas serve to ensure the sovereignty debate doesn’t resurface.

In an online survey by Vote Compass, published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ahead of the race, 68 percent of respondents said they’d like the Quebec government to do more to protect the French language (compared with 26 percent who said they were satisfied with what the government was currently doing).

Mr. Jedwab says the issue is often stirred up by politicians tapping into angst about language, when in reality Quebec is in the envious position of being increasingly bilingual due to the growth of second-language adoption among both anglophones and francophones. “In fact, those people whose first language is neither English nor French who are resident in Quebec are probably the most trilingual population in North America,” he says.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
At La petite G’ART, an artist cooperative housed in a former train station, painter Mary McGuire, an anglophone who moved to Quebec and had to learn French at age 18, says mandating that immigrants learn French is simply common sense. ‘You have to learn French here, or move on,’ she says.

At the fancifully decorated Bistro Le Forain in Gatineau, on the border with Ottawa, co-owner Laurent Vandeputte sees the efforts to protect French as cultural preservation. “It’s more exotic, in a world that would otherwise be all English,” says Mr. Vandeputte, who was born in Belgium and is multilingual. But he recognizes a political byproduct in training newcomers to speak French: It could “heal” insecurities that drive Quebecers to feel they need their own nation.

Down the street at La petite G’ART, an artist cooperative housed in a former train station, artists Mary McGuire and Jackie Kozminchuk say they are relieved the sovereignty issue is over – for now.

Legault’s ideas are just common sense, and to view it as nationalist is a “narrow vision of Quebec,” says Ms. McGuire, an anglophone who moved to Quebec and had to learn French at age 18. “This is an old policy, he’s just brought it out more. You have to learn French here, or move on.”

Ms. Kozminchuk, a francophone born in Quebec, says she sees French acquisition for immigrants as a win-win. “It makes it easier for everyone,” she says. “And let’s hope the issue of sovereignty is dead.”

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5. Life skills with a side of kale: Helping homeless youth, one salad at a time

One restaurant chain’s efforts to help homeless youths – many of whom have aged out of the foster-care system – shows that changing a life often begins with building a sense of belonging and family.

Mark
Laura Cluthé/The Christian Science Monitor
Erik Oberholtzer, chief executive and co-founder of Tender Greens, stands with (from l. to r.) executive chef Todd Renner and two other chefs, Andrew McWilliams and Angellica Bacal, at the Chestnut Hill Tender Greens restaurant, which opened in April. The California-based restaurant chain focuses on chef-driven seasonal cuisine and local suppliers. The organization also offers culinary internships to former foster youth.

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At first glance, Tender Greens is like any other health-forward, fast-casual restaurant: trendy industrial-chic décor, a hip red logo, and a menu laden with of-the-moment ingredients like ancient grains, pickled golden raisins, and baby lacinato kale. But behind the counter, things are different. Since 2009, Tender Greens has operated Sustainable Life Project (SLP), an internship program that teaches culinary skills to homeless people, many of whom have aged out of the foster-care system. The program offers a path to full-time employment, and it gives participants, like Josh Saurbier, a sense of family and belonging. Mr. Saurbier lived on the streets and in shelters for much of his life. He met Tender Greens CEO Erik Oberholtzer at a shelter event that would change his life. Saurbier has now been with Tender Greens for almost six years. “Erik was literally one of the first people who was there for me after my mom died, and I can’t put into words how grateful and thankful I am for that,” he says. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him.”

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Life skills with a side of kale: Helping homeless youth, one salad at a time

When Josh Saurbier’s disabled mother died in the hospital six years ago, he didn’t know what would come next. They had been homeless, sometimes living in motels, sometimes at the side of a Los Angeles freeway.

Now he was all alone.

At the hospital, a social worker handed him a number for a shelter that offers young people who are homeless a safe place to sleep. So he checked in.

At an event there a few months later, he met Erik Oberholtzer, at the time chief executive officer of the restaurant chain Tender Greens, who would soon give him an opportunity that changed the trajectory of his life.

“Erik was literally one of the first people who was there for me after my mom died, and I can’t put into words how grateful and thankful I am for that,” Mr. Saurbier says. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him.”

Saurbier is a graduate of the Sustainable Life Project (SLP), an internship program at Tender Greens designed by Mr. Oberholtzer that teaches culinary skills to young homeless people, many of whom have aged out of the foster care system. The program also offers a path to full-time employment, but maybe even more important, it gives the young participants a sense of belonging and family.

Scope of the challenge

Since it began in 2009, SLP has helped 56 young people gain traction and employment. This may sound like a small total, considering that the number of unaccompanied homeless people between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United States last year was about 36,000, according to an estimate by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Still, Oberholtzer’s vision and the commitment of the staff to the program are notable, especially given the myriad obstacles that stand in the way of young adults who are struggling to find and keep a foothold in life.

“One of the most important factors in preventing young people from returning to the criminal justice system or continuing to face additional barriers is employment,” says Lisa Small, a former senior manager of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Smart Justice program, which addresses challenges for at-risk unemployed youth. “In addition to that, we see how successful mentorship is, and the [Tender Greens] program is really that one-on-one mentorship while giving hands-on, real world work experience.”

At Tender Greens, a six-month paid internship starts with dishwashing or busing. If an intern continues to show up on time and works hard, he or she might graduate to food prep or another integral station in the restaurant. At the end of the six months, if an intern is up to standards, an offer is extended for a full-time job.

Oberholtzer co-founded Tender Greens in California in 2006 with two other fine dining chefs. They shared a vision for creating a fast-casual restaurant with a seasonally inspired menu, affordable to the masses. In food-conscious California, the restaurant – with dishes featuring ingredients such as ancient grains, pickled golden raisins, and baby lacinato kale – was an immediate hit.

Today there are 26 Tender Greens restaurants in California. The business now has its sights on East Coast development with a location in New York City and two in the Boston area – one newly opened and the second poised to launch in November.

Not part of the plan

Developing an intern program for young homeless people wasn’t part of the restaurant’s original vision, says Oberholtzer, sipping a green smoothie on the patio of the Tender Greens restaurant in Chestnut Hill, Mass. But when he volunteered for an organization that provides mentoring and life-skills training for homeless youth, he realized he could offer them structure, focus, and connection at his restaurant.

“I made a commitment to try and break cycles, not just feed the symptoms. And as I got to know these kids a bit more, it became clear that there were a few that were just on the verge of getting off the streets. They just needed a break,” Oberholtzer says.

Figuring out a program that got results took some doing. At first, the interns were excited to learn new skills and earn a paycheck, but they stopped showing up.

“One by one we’d see them finding their stride, weaving into the restaurant culture, and then something would get in the way – sometimes it was mental health, whatever led them to the streets in the first place – that pulled them back,” Oberholtzer says.

After several iterations, including a stint where Oberholtzer mentored as many as eight interns at a time through a kind of culinary school, Tender Greens has forged what it believes is a successful approach: Partner nonprofits first vet potential interns, and then a full-time intern manager, who is available 24/7 to help if someone has a crisis or simply needs a lift to work, monitors their progress.

“When I heard about Tender Greens giving at-risk kids an opportunity to have a paid internship to learn how to work in a restaurant, and if they handled it, hired them into a job full time, I was like ... this is just what the world needs,” says Kevin Faist, who manages the SLP program. Mr. Faist left a job in a youth program for Homeboy Industries, one of the largest gang rehabilitation organizations in the country, to join Tender Greens.

One of his first steps was to scale down SLP to ensure that each intern had enough attention and support.

“People need to remember that there are tons of people in this world who are one opportunity away from being successful,” Faist says. “Erik saw a need, and he grabbed it. I think if more people had that attitude, we could do some really wonderful things.”

Saurbier was used to doors being closed when he was homeless with his mother. Shelters wouldn’t take them in because his mother was in a wheelchair and unable to care for herself. Nursing homes also didn’t work out. When she died when he was nearly 20, he was too old for the foster care system, but years of caring for her full time had kept him from earning a high school diploma.

Today he has been with Tender Greens for almost six years, working his way up to sous-chef/assistant manager in California, New York, and now Massachusetts. He acknowledges he still has “personal challenges” but is quick to add that his work training new managers and sharing his story to inspire others is immensely satisfying.

“I love that feeling when you see that someone has learned something from you.... They are sustainable now, because you helped them get through a hard time” and now they are in a better place, Saurbier says.

For more, visit tendergreens.com.

[Editor's note: In July, Oberholtzer stepped aside as the restaurant chain's CEO, though he still has the title of executive chairman.]

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The Monitor's View

Why Apollo missions still inspire

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Fifty years ago this week (Oct. 11), Apollo 7 rode a pillar of fire into Earth’s orbit, marking the beginning of one of the most remarkable feats of exploration in human history: the Apollo missions that would eventually land a man on the moon. The program has been credited with kick-starting a scientific revolution, a technological path that can be traced down to today’s computers and cellphones. It also inspired. On Christmas Eve 1968, astronaut Bill Anders snapped a picture of a blue-and-white sphere emerging in the blackness of space above the lunar horizon. “Earthrise” is often referred to as one of the most famous and influential photos ever taken. In it, no national boundaries can be seen. No wars or political infighting are visible. The view also became a symbol for environmental responsibility. As more details of the historic moon missions are retold in the coming years, more of the immense meaning of these epic journeys will unfold. The Apollo missions will have another chance to perhaps inspire new achievements that will once again lift human thinking to a new orbit.

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Why Apollo missions still inspire

A half-century ago this week (Oct. 11) Apollo 7 rode a pillar of fire into Earth’s orbit. It marked the beginning of one of the most remarkable feats of exploration in human history, the Apollo moon missions. By the time the final Apollo crew splashed into the Pacific Ocean a little more than four years later, 12 astronauts aboard six Apollo spacecraft had landed on the moon. They became the first humans to leave Earth and explore another celestial body.

A just-released feature film, “First Man,” retells the story of Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who made the first boot marks in the lunar dust. His small step off Apollo’s lander in July 1969 became a “giant leap for mankind.” Only eight years had passed since President John F. Kennedy had committed the United States to land the first human on the moon by the end of the decade.

The Apollo program has been credited with kick-starting a scientific revolution that exploded in the following decades, a technological path that can be traced down to today’s computers and cellphones.

In December 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 circled the moon, conducting tests in preparation for Armstrong’s landing the following summer. It was the first time humans had ventured beyond Earth’s orbit. On Christmas Eve, in a rare moment of downtime, astronaut Bill Anders glanced out the spacecraft’s window and was awestruck by what he saw. He quickly grabbed a camera and snapped a picture of a blue-and-white sphere emerging in the blackness of space above the lunar horizon. The photo became known as “Earthrise,” often referred to today as one of the most famous and influential photos ever taken. (Two other views of Earth from space, “The Blue Marble” and “The Pale Blue Dot,” have also achieved iconic status.)

“To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together,” wrote poet Archibald MacLeish shortly after, “brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold – brothers who know now they are truly brothers.”

No national boundaries can be seen. No wars or political infighting are visible. The view became a symbol for environmental responsibility as well. This “cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl,” as Indian poet Abhay Kumar later called the planet, is the one and mutual home of all humanity, the stage for the whole human story, surrounded by a void of seemingly endless space. It merits tender, thoughtful care.

As more details of the historic moon missions are retold in the coming years, more of the immense meaning of these epic journeys will unfold to each generation. The Apollo missions will have another chance to perhaps inspire new achievements that will once again lift human thinking to a new orbit.

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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.

A walk down ‘Harmony Lane’

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“What are we buying into, harmony or turmoil?” asks today’s contributor, who during a menacing moment found safety in the idea of harmony as a present spiritual reality.

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A walk down ‘Harmony Lane’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I sat on the curb on the street corner. Crying. I was a manager for political canvasses and was out in the community working side by side with my staff.

During my career, I’d canvassed broken-down trailer parks – no problem. Inner city apartments – no problem. Rural housing, politically antagonistic territory, mansions – no problem. I’d knocked on doors in almost every neighborhood in the state. Yet this neighborhood street brought me to tears. These people had just seemed mean.

After about 10 minutes I looked up from the ground where I was and started laughing through my tears. The street sign said: “Harmony Lane.”

Well, seeing that sign reminded me to open my eyes to see the good that surely was there. I had learned in Christian Science that God, divine Spirit, creates only harmony and that as His children, or spiritual expression, we can never leave His presence. But I’ve also learned that we need to “look up” and take notice of His goodness.

Instantly, my sadness and frustration left. I stood up, went back to work, and ended successfully.

That sign has been a metaphor for me more than once over the years, prompting me to rethink what harmony is and isn’t. All day long, we’re encouraged to add our two cents to that gossip at the office, complain about our family or community leaders, or give in to pain or unhappiness. It begs the question, What are we buying into: harmony or turmoil?

The Bible introduces a different paradigm with which to evaluate life. The writers from the Bible, inspired by their own experiences and their relation to God, tell us that there is a way to witness the continuous activity of harmony, aka spiritual reality, or in scriptural language, the kingdom of heaven.

According to their ancient message, one can see “the arm of the Lord” (Isaiah 53:1) expressed in harmony. Harmony is a powerful spiritual law realized through prayer. Acknowledging, praising, honoring “the arm of the Lord” in our own lives quiets discord.

The prophet Elisha could see harmony as the spiritual reality even in dire circumstances. One time, the king of Syria sent a raiding party to capture Elisha because of the help he had been giving to the king of Israel. Elisha’s servant was understandably terrified when he saw the Syrian king’s forces surrounding the city they were in.

But Elisha knew that true harmony could not be accurately measured by what’s materially visible to the eyes. He prayed and asked God to open the eyes of his servant to spiritual reality. Then the servant saw they were surrounded by the power of God, described as an army of chariots of fire there to protect them. They were safe (see II Kings 6:8-23).

There have been many times when I’ve found that holding to the idea that harmony is God’s law brings help. Even in scary situations.

I grew up in the Detroit area during the time of racial riots. In high school, I regularly studied “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science. I was searching for spiritual insights to help heal the deep divide between races. I wasn’t blind to the violence and history of racism, but I believed wholeheartedly that we could all live together in harmony.

One evening when I was in college, I was jumped. My assailants taunted me, pulled my head back by my hair, and pinned my arms behind my back. Trust me – this situation did not in any way seem harmonious!

But somehow, in those moments, I saw something different. What I’d been reading in Science and Health helped me see all individuals, including these assailants, as created to naturally love God and others. Convinced that hate, discord, animosity, violence, and racism were not included in how God made either them or me, I voiced my sense of spiritual reality to them. I turned my head, looked into the eyes of the person holding my hair, and said, “You don’t want to do this because God loves you.” The group let go of me and walked on.

Science and Health says, “If we concede the same reality to discord as to harmony, discord has as lasting a claim upon us as has harmony” (p. 186). Let’s make the right choice. Let’s redeem our perception of each “Harmony Lane” we encounter and walk on with confidence.

Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 5, 2011, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Home, for now

Gerald Herbert/AP
Emily Hindle joins others at an evacuation shelter set up at Rutherford High School in Panama City Beach, Fla., in advance of hurricane Michael. The storm is expected to make landfall today.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 11th, 2018 )

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when staff writers Mark Trumbull and Eoin O’Carroll examine how young Americans’ evolving views of fairness are shaping their views of capitalism. 

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