Monitor Daily Podcast

October 18, 2018
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For Big Bird’s swan song, a standing ovation

Yvonne Zipp
Daily Editor

The gentlest of giants is taking his final bow.

Caroll Spinney, better known as Big Bird, is retiring this week from “Sesame Street.” His last day of filming is today – for the 50th anniversary episodes of the show.

Mr. Spinney, who also played Oscar the Grouch – fan of all things dirty, dingy, and dusty – has been with the show from the very beginning, when he was recruited by creator and visionary Jim Henson. It was Spinney’s idea to make Big Bird a child, who would learn alongside the children watching TV. The sweet nature of the flightless yellow bird with the big orange feet became the soul of the show.

“Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on ‘Sesame Street,’ and that’s Caroll’s gift to us,” Jeffrey Dunn, the president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop, told The New York Times.

As the sobbing audiences of grown-ups who turned “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” into the biggest bio-documentary of all time this summer know, a childlike spirit and unfailing kindness are rare and worth celebrating. Fred Rogers and Spinney were both puppeteers who thought children’s feelings were important and worth protecting.

So thank you, on behalf of generations of kids, for a half-century of sunny days.

Now, for our five stories of the day.

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Democracy under strain

Amid complaints of a rigged system, growing efforts to end gerrymandering

An era of surging activism is generating new attempts to make the process of drawing congressional maps more impartial – and to give more weight to individual votes. But can an inherently political process ever be truly nonpartisan? Third in the Democracy Under Strain series.


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Katie Fahey never envisioned becoming a political activist. But in the months following the 2016 election, she found herself leading a crew of earnest, if nonexpert, volunteers united in one cause: ending partisan gerrymandering in Michigan. The age-old practice of drawing congressional district maps to favor one political party or the other has become a hot topic of late. At least eight cases involving partisan gerrymandering are working their way through courts nationwide, and redistricting reform measures are on the November ballot in six states. In Michigan, Ms. Fahey’s group, Voters Not Politicians, held dozens of town hall meetings and stayed up nights researching and writing a ballot measure to create an independent citizen commission that would draw a new congressional map after the 2020 Census. “The main thing we kept hearing was that people wanted a fair system, an impartial system,” Fahey says. Still, some aren’t buying it. In an interview with The Atlantic, Tony Daunt, director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, dismisses the idea of truly nonpartisan redistricting, and points to Voters Not Politicians’ ties to Democratic organizations. “It’s a political process,” Mr. Daunt tells the magazine. “This idea that you can take politics out of politics is silly.”


1. Amid complaints of a rigged system, growing efforts to end gerrymandering

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Katie Fahey stands in front of a sign that says: "Your politicians don't answer to you," at the Lansing, Mich., office of the nonprofit Voters Not Politicians. The group is dedicated to creating an independent redistricting commission for the state of Michigan. "I don't want people to feel like when they show up [to vote] it doesn't matter," says Ms. Fahey, the group's executive director.

The post that changed Katie Fahey’s life came to her a couple of days after the 2016 presidential election. 

The campaign’s corrosive atmosphere and its divisive result had left Ms. Fahey troubled. She wanted to find a positive focus – and bring a sense of empowerment back to her community.  

So before leaving for the office that morning, she shot off a note on Facebook. “ ‘Hey, I want to take on gerrymandering in Michigan,’ ” she recalls writing. “ ‘If you want to help, let me know. Smiley face.’ ”

By the end of that day, dozens of people were volunteering to help. Within three months, she had organized a team, formed a ballot question committee, and started collecting signatures. Today, Fahey works full time as executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a nonprofit dedicated to creating an independent redistricting commission for the state of Michigan.

“I accidentally started a movement with a Facebook post,” she says with a grin.

It’s not surprising Fahey’s message resonated. The shock of the 2016 election, combined with the public’s growing frustration with government, has revived political activism across the country. Over the past two years, massive multi-city protests have taken place over a range of hot-button issues. Record numbers of female, minority, and first-time candidates – convinced they need to step up against injustice and apathy – are seeking office in November’s midterms.

In this activist atmosphere, redistricting reform has found new traction. For folks like Fahey, partisan gerrymandering – the practice of drawing legislative and congressional district maps to increase or maintain the power of a political party – has become a symbol of a rigged system that rewards the powerful and disregards the will of the people.

And now they’re working to fight it.

As of September, there were at least eight cases involving partisan gerrymandering working their way through courts nationwide – including one in Fahey’s home state of Michigan. Redistricting reform measures are also on the November ballot in six states, and campaigns in two more are calling on their legislatures to amend their state constitutions. In May, Ohio voters passed State Issue 1, which requires bipartisan collaboration in redrawing congressional district maps. The new process – a compromise amendment among Democrats, Republicans, and the state’s Fair Districts = Fair Elections Coalition – is set to start in 2021.

“It’s part of a larger movement nationally for people who are dissatisfied with elections in general and want the election process to be different,” says Josh Altic, director of the Ballot Measures Project at Ballotpedia. “Gerrymandering has been identified as a key element of that dissatisfaction.”

Maximizing partisan advantage

Redistricting has always been a main feature of the US democratic process. Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau must update the population count every 10 years. States – often through their legislatures – are given the chance to redraw legislative and congressional district maps to reflect the new figures. Often, the majority party will design those maps to its advantage.

The Supreme Court has not found partisan gerrymandering to be unconstitutional, although it has ruled that extreme versions of it could be. (In June, the Court once again passed on the option to define what would constitute “extreme.”)

But the Court has struck down racial gerrymandering – and the growing correlation between partisanship and race has led some to argue that partisan gerrymandering often has racial implications.    

Over the years, the practice has led to districts so engineered they’ve lost all sensible shape – and, critics say, to elections that lead to preordained partisan results. Even though North Carolina voters are fairly evenly split along party lines, for instance, the GOP currently controls 10 of the state’s 13 House districts. Democrats have done the same in Maryland, where House Republicans received 37 percent of the vote in 2016 but won only one of the state’s eight seats. 

In Michigan, a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters and a group of Democrats alleges that the state’s 2011 redistricting process was unconstitutional and the boundaries must be redrawn. “Republicans weaponized the restricting process in order to target and dilute Democratic votes,” reads a motion filed last Friday. “The results have proved durable and powerful for Republicans, but they have meanwhile undermined the most fundamental and cherished rights in our democracy.” 

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Calls to end, or at least rein in, partisan gerrymandering have been around for decades. Catherine Turcer, who heads one of the Ohio nonprofits behind State Issue 1, began her crusade in the late 1990s, when only a handful of groups saw redistricting reform as a cause worth fighting for. “You couldn’t even call it a coalition,” she says. “We had hearings ... but to even get redistricting reform on a legislative agenda was a really difficult thing.”

The struggle continued through the 2000s, as Common Cause Ohio – Ms. Turcer’s organization – helped get measures on the ballot that would reform the process at the state legislative and congressional levels. After a failed citizen initiative in 2012, Ohio voters in 2015 approved a constitutional amendment to form a bipartisan redistricting commission for the state legislature.

And then 2016 happened.

In its wake, Turcer sent out an email asking folks if they were interested in working to make elections more meaningful. “Nine hundred and eight people signed up,” she says. “I remember that number exactly.”

“We were already on this path,” Turcer adds. But after the election, “there were many, many people who wanted to push back against things they saw that were violations of norms, or things that just struck folks as wrong.”

Taking the politics out of politics?

Unlike Turcer, Fahey is relatively new to the game. She’s young – not yet 30 – and until this spring, when she quit to manage Voters Not Politicians full time, she worked as a program manager for a recycling nonprofit.  

But gerrymandering, to her, felt like the right issue to take on. It offended people’s sense of fairness, regardless of which party they were aligned with. 

In the months following her Facebook post, Fahey brought together a group of earnest, if non-expert, volunteers. There were lawyers, doctors, a retired mailman, a birthing doula, a pastor. They held dozens of town hall meetings and stayed up nights researching and writing a ballot measure to create an independent citizen commission that would draw a new congressional map for Michigan after the 2020 census.

The result was Proposal 2. Under the measure, the commission would consist of four representatives from each major party and five who self-identify as unaffiliated. They would be selected from a pool of eligible applicants by the Michigan secretary of state, with state lawmakers from each party allowed a set number of strikes, like attorneys in jury selection. Elected officials or candidates and their close relatives would be automatically ineligible. The commission would ultimately be required to draw a map that reflects the state’s racial and political diversity.

“The main thing we kept hearing was that people wanted a fair system, an impartial system, and a system that was transparent and they could participate in,” Fahey says. “We tried to take all of that very, very seriously and incorporate as much of that as we could into the final product.”

Some aren’t buying it. In an interview with The Atlantic, Tony Daunt, director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, dismisses the idea of a truly nonpartisan, impartial system. He points to Voters Not Politicians’ ties to Democratic organizations like former Obama attorney general Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which donated $250,000 to the group. “It’s a political process,” Mr. Daunt tells the magazine. “This idea that you can take politics out of politics is silly.”

The Michigan Oak Initiative, a Christian political organization, handed out flyers opposing Prop 2 at the state Republican Party Convention in August. Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, backed by the state Chamber of Commerce, fought the proposal in court. (They lost.) As of the end of September, voters favored the measure 48 to 32 percent, with 20 percent still undecided, according to an EPIC/MRA poll.

There’s also not a lot of data about how effective independent commissions actually are at preventing excessive partisan gerrymandering. Studies are mixed over whether California, one of the few states that relies on a commission to draw its maps, has been able to mitigate partisan influence over its redistricting process. Another report found that while Prop 2 could increase transparency and competitiveness, it could also make the redistricting process slower and more expensive.

Some critics question whether partisan gerrymandering is an issue worth tackling at all. There’s research to suggest that the problem is not as ubiquitous as it seems, and that voters’ own geographical sorting – choosing to live in communities with like-minded people – plays a bigger role than partisan redistricting in intensifying polarization and leading to uncompetitive elections.

And the shape of a district doesn’t always indicate how competitive it is, political analysts John Sides and Eric McGhee point out. Think Berkeley, Calif. – a district that looks “normal” in the sense that it retains the integrity of a community boundary, but is politically homogenous anyway.

“The maps are a factor,” says Tom Sutton, a political scientist who runs the Community Research Institute at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. “But another factor is turnout. How much should you focus on maps versus voter mobilization?”

A sense that the system isn’t working

Redistricting reform, in other words, comes with plenty of skepticism. The wave of interest surrounding it, however, reflects a pair of driving factors marking this political moment: a sense among the public that the system isn’t working, and also that they – regular people – can and should try to fix it.

“We’re paying attention,” says Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies civic engagement. “We are living in a moment of heightened awareness of what’s going on in this country, both right and left. That’s good. That’s how politics works.”

Nancy Wang, a law professor who was one of the first to join Fahey’s cause, says Voters Not Politicians showed her the power that average people have to hold officials – and the system – to account. “I’m not happy with either party. I’m sick of the games they play with each other,” she says. “I really never imagined that a normal person, a non-professional in this space, could do what I’m doing right now ... that we could do something other than complain.”

Back in Lansing, Fahey gets ready to leave for her next appointment. These days she’s got an assistant to help manage her schedule, and she’s already running late. But she pauses for a question about her post-election plans. If Proposal 2 succeeds, the group has its work cut out for it: They’ll have to launch a new campaign, telling Michiganders about the commission, how they can get on it, why it’s important to the state and its citizens. 

If the proposal doesn’t get enough ‘Yes’ votes, Fahey says, then that just means they’ll be spending two more years trying to get a new measure through. “It’ll be a shame because there’s a ton of momentum [now],” she says. “But it won’t stop us. It can’t.”

Previous articles in the Democracy Under Strain series: A system under strain: Is US democracy showing real cracks? and Neutral no more: Can the Supreme Court survive an era of extreme partisanship?

The Redirect

Change the conversation

An oil threat, but Saudi Arabia less fearsome than it used to be

Amid furor over the disappearance and alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia gave a verbal reminder of its power over oil markets. But using that weapon could hurt the kingdom itself the most. 


Saudi Arabia dredged up memories of its 1970s oil embargo recently, with an Oct. 14 threat that it may use oil as a weapon of retaliation to any US response over the apparent torture and killing of a Saudi journalist who was employed by The Washington Post. Pressure has been building for such a US response. And on Thursday Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he no longer planned to attend an investment conference in Saudi Arabia. It’s unclear if the Trump administration will take any action. But, if it did, could Saudi Arabia revive oil as a weapon? It’s technically possible. The world’s top oil-exporting nation has influence over global prices. Yet many analysts don’t see it as likely. If Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman restricted Saudi exports, his nation would suffer a blow to its recent reputation as a stabilizing force in global energy markets. Also, reduced oil supply would give other nations fresh impetus to diversify toward renewable and other energy sources. Already that’s been occurring. And remember that Iran and Saudi Arabia have a rivalry for influence in the Middle East. Iran faces a squeeze from Trump administration sanctions on its oil exports, and the Saudis “don’t want to give the US any reason to back away,” energy expert Samantha Gross says in a new podcast for the Brookings Institution. Using oil as a weapon would hurt Saudi Arabia more than it would hurt the US, she says. ​– Mark Trumbull

SOURCE: US Energy Information Administration; BP Statistical Review of World Energy
Karen Norris/Staff

Russia wrestles with a US-style school massacre in Crimea

In the wake of a school shooting, signs in Crimea – as in America – that society is divided between cracking down and seeking to solve underlying causes.

Pavel Rebrov/Reuters
A woman lights a candle at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a fatal attack on a college in the port city of Kerch, Crimea, Oct. 17.

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There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why a student in Kerch, Crimea, on Wednesday took two backpacks stuffed with explosives and a rifle to his college, where he killed at least 20 people and wounded 50 more before killing himself. But it’s an incident that has stirred among Russians a set of questions all too familiar to Americans. How could Vladislav Roslyakov, the shooter, have gotten a gun? Why wasn’t the shooting foreseen? Who is to blame? It’s not Russia’s first school shooting, but school shootings have been few and far between. Many Russians reserve some blame for the United States and the horrific example its long history of mass shootings sets for impressionable young Russians. Others are complaining about how easy it is to obtain a firearm in Russia – though far more rigorous than in the US – and calling for tighter controls. But no one has any clear answers. “As always, the mass media covered this terrible story in full detail, showing all the human reactions, the panic, the desperate attempts to escape,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, a criminal psychiatrist. “This has all happened before, and will happen again. I doubt such tragedies can be prevented.”


3. Russia wrestles with a US-style school massacre in Crimea

It's the kind of tragedy Americans are all too familiar with; Russians, far less so.

But the Russian public reaction to Wednesday’s massacre by a lone shooter at a school in Kerch, in the Russian-annexed Republic of Crimea, will also look hauntingly familiar to Americans.

There is an outpouring of grief, tinged with disbelief and bewilderment; frustrated appeals to the authorities to “do something;” and a lot of talk about the malign influence of the internet and video games. Despite Russia’s already rather tough gun regulations, there are also calls to crack down harder.

At the end of the day, and as is often the case in the US, there seems to be no clear explanation for why Vladislav Roslyakov, an 18-year-old student at Kerch Polytechnic College, came to school on Wednesday with two backpacks stuffed with explosives and a legally acquired shotgun-like hunting rifle, and proceeded to slaughter his fellow students and teachers. After detonating a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb in a crowded cafeteria, he wandered the halls shooting people randomly before killing himself in the school’s library. At least 20 victims are dead and 50 wounded, some critically.

It's not Russia’s first school shooting, but they have been few and far between. And the Kerch massacre is one of the worst ever, anywhere. There has never been such an event in Ukraine, of which Crimea was a part until 2014, when it was annexed by Russia.

To the credit of Russian authorities, and despite some initial confusion, they quickly rejected the explanation of terrorism, perhaps inspired by the enemy Ukraine. Rather, they publicly acknowledged that what they have on their hands is an American-style mass school shooting – even if Crimea’s leader Sergei Aksyonov continues to claim that Mr. Roslyakov must have had “accomplices.”

“We need to accurately determine all the details of this tragic massacre. And only after that, probably, the experts should predict certain actions. Because this is a very dangerous trend, of course, and a very deep analysis must be performed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

Roslyakov had been known as a bit of an introvert, who loved video games, but he was regarded as a good student and a polite young man.

“It is clear that he had long cherished this idea of going on a killing spree, and carefully planned it,” says Mikhail Vinogradov, a veteran Russian criminal psychiatrist. “He most likely suffered from a mental disorder, but neither relatives, nor friends, nor teachers attached any importance to his oddities. The worst thing is that even psychiatrists found him fit.”

Many Russians reserve some blame for the US and the horrific example its long history of mass shootings sets for impressionable young Russians. Some Russian news outlets are highlighting the undeniably eerie similarities between this shooting and the 1999 Columbine massacre in the US, with stress on how contagious that kind of viral-internet experience appears to be.

“It's hard to say how those American cases affect our teenagers, because there are no studies about this,” says Margarita Pozdnyakova, an expert with the official Institute of Sociology in Moscow. “But judging by all my experience, there is such an influence. Teenagers today have a ‘mobile psyche,’ and they absorb everything.”

Many voices in Russia are also complaining about how easy it is to obtain a firearm in Russia, and calling for tighter controls. Oleg Adamovich, a reporter for the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, underwent the procedure to obtain a hunting rifle a couple of years ago in order to write a story about it. It was not a process that Americans would find familiar.

“On the whole it takes about two or three weeks, and it is a boring bureaucratic procedure,” he says. “There is one day of mandatory study for future gun owners. Then there are medical consultations, which take a couple of days. You need to see a psychologist and a narcologist, and take a medical drug test. If everything is OK, and you acquire all the necessary documents, you may register in the queue to get your gun license.”

Russians are not permitted to own handguns or semi-automatic weapons. Even hunting rifles must be stored in a locked safe in a person’s home, subject to police checks.

Roslyakov passed through all these hoops last month and acquired a shotgun. With the right documents, he was able to purchase a large number of cartridges for it, some of which he used to manufacture his bombs.

There will be calls for tougher gun control, and some deputies in the Russian parliament are already mulling more measures to control what Russians can access on the internet. But no one has any clear answers.

“As always, the mass media covered this terrible story in full detail, showing all the human reactions, the panic, the desperate attempts to escape,” says Mr. Vinogradov. “Criminals will see this and make their own calculations, adopt new methods of killing. This has all happened before, and will happen again. I doubt such tragedies can be prevented.”

Whose Colorado? Fracking debate pits families against 'economic engine'

Depending on whom you ask, fracking has either been a boon for or a scourge on the United States. In Colorado, both visions have played out. And this November, the two perspectives face off on the ballot.

Courtesy of Erika Deakin
Erie, Colo., resident Erika Deakin jogs on a trail near her home.

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Without a doubt, hydraulic fracturing has been instrumental in moving the United States toward energy independence. To many residents and environmental groups, however, the term fracking – as it’s commonly known – remains a dirty word. In Colorado, the tension between these disparate views has come to a head in the form of Proposition 112, a November ballot initiative that would require a 2,500-foot setback from buildings and streams for all new fracking wells. The local debate is a microcosm for broader national tensions around fracking. And it raises questions about competing values and rights that can be messy to disentangle. The issues at play are “core to what we think about on a day-to-day basis,” says University of Colorado Prof. Tanya Heikkila, “from our pocketbooks to our kids’ health to, if you’re a government, how are we going to finance things. All of those are just really critical questions that we as a society have to grapple with in the end.”


4. Whose Colorado? Fracking debate pits families against 'economic engine'

When Erika Deakin and her husband bought their first home together, in Erie, Colo., they were surprised when a fracking well sprouted up just behind their house, with a drill that was so loud it kept them up at night. They were even more surprised to discover there was nothing they could do about it.

A few years later, more wells appeared, with more constant noise. But it wasn’t until Ms. Deakin, her husband, and their two young girls moved to their current neighborhood a few years later that things got really bad. Before long, two different sets of wells went in close by.

The noise “reverberated around this area of the neighborhood so loud that hundreds of us were not sleeping for days,” says Deakin. A horrible smell settled in, making it impossible to open windows – a particular hardship with no air conditioning. Decibel readers in their children’s room at night gave readings of 70 or 80 decibels. And with every complaint, they were told the companies were “in compliance.”

“If I can’t open my windows, and I can’t jog outside on the trails by my house, and I can’t sleep at night, and my daughters can’t sleep at night – in compliance with what?” Deakin asks.

Welcome to Colorado’s Front Range, where some of the state’s fastest-growing communities happen to sit atop some of its richest oil and gas deposits. It’s become a backdrop for a contentious fight over fracking that has culminated, this year, in a ballot initiative that would require a 2,500-foot setback from buildings and streams for all new wells, a five-fold increase from the current 500-foot requirement (1,000 feet from schools and hospitals). It’s a proposition that proponents like Deakin say is the only option that’s fair and safe, and that detractors say would amount to a virtual ban on new drilling in Colorado, with a massive cost to the state in jobs and revenue.

The current debate in Colorado is a microcosm for broader national tensions around fracking in the United States. A nationwide boom in hydraulic fracturing, as the process is formally known, has been instrumental in helping the United States to achieve energy independence. But the process of injecting liquid into bedrock at high pressure to extract fossil fuels has ignited numerous concerns among environmental groups and residents, that range from noise complaints and water quality issues to risks of earthquakes and explosions.

That debate has been forced to a head in Colorado, where an uptick in development of fracking wells has coincided with a population boom. This confluence has meant that more residents are living in close proximity to wells, a particular concern in the wake of a 2017 house explosion that killed two people in Firestone.

The Colorado fight is high stakes and involves big money, with industry spending upwards of $30 million to defeat the measure. It also raises questions about competing values and rights that can be messy to disentangle.

“A lot of people on one side will frame it as, ‘Oh, it’s just the industry with their spin,’ or ‘Oh, it’s just those crazy moms against fracking with their spin,’ ” says Tanya Heikkila, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. “It’s much more complex than that.”

The issues that come into play, she says, include property rights and mineral rights, what authority local government should have to regulate industrial activity, and residents’ concerns about health, safety, and outdoor living.

“It’s super core to what we think about on a day-to-day basis, from our pocketbooks to our kids’ health to, if you’re a government, how are we going to finance things. All of those are just really critical questions that we as a society have to grapple with in the end,” says Professor Heikkila.

Tension on the Front Range

Fracking tensions aren’t new to Colorado, which has more than 50,000 active oil and gas wells, and as the state’s demographics have shifted, so has the debate. In the past decade, several towns and counties enacted fracking bans or moratoria, only to have them struck down by the state supreme court in 2016. In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper struck a deal to avoid two anti-fracking ballot measures – one requiring greater setbacks and one giving local communities the ability to regulate energy development – by creating a statewide task force to study the effects of fracking. And in 2016, activists just missed getting a setback initiative on the ballot.

The tensions have been exacerbated by rapid growth in the Front Range communities north of Denver, which happens to also be where much of Colorado’s mineral wealth resides. “We’re building homes on top of historic oil and gas fields in Colorado,” says Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, noting that 7 of the 10 fastest growing communities in Colorado sit over oil and gas reserves. “That’s where you’ve begun to see this tension.”

Mr. Haley acknowledges that the industry did a poor job for years of communicating with Coloradans, but he believes it’s getting better. In some cases, he says, communities have been able to negotiate larger setbacks with drilling companies, and he believes that better technology will solve some of the other issues, like noise complaints.

But Proposition 112, as the current setback requirement is known, is a giant overreach, Haley says. “The way this is written is effectively a ban on new oil and gas development in Colorado,” he says. “I don’t think a majority of Coloradans want to run this industry out of the state. For a lot of us it is the fabric of our society.”

Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
Demonstrators urge others to vote against Proposition 112 during a rally put on by the Mayors Against Proposition 112 on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 at the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley, Colo. The event hosted mayors from several northern Colorado cities voicing their concerns about Proposition 112.

That was the theme at a recent rally against Proposition 112 in Colorado Springs, a more conservative part of the state that doesn’t have any fracking, though it does have some oil- and gas-dependent jobs.

“The fine print of the ballot measure is the half-mile setback, all across the state, not just in residential areas,” said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, speaking to about 50 people gathered to protest the measure. “The Hickenlooper administration says 85 percent of state and private land would be subject to a massive drilling ban. That's how a 2,500-foot setback becomes an effective ban on one of the state's most important economic engines.”

Speaker after speaker hit the same points:

  • Proposition 112 would hurt the state economically, affecting 150,000 jobs by 2030 and costing the state’s economy $200 billion over the next decade, and up to $9 billion in lost taxes.
  • It would cost Colorado schools and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars that oil and gas companies pay – including rural school districts where a majority of funding comes from property taxes paid by oil and gas companies.
  • Fracking is safe, and Colorado has some of the strictest regulations anywhere.
  • Both major gubernatorial candidates and Denver’s mayor, among others, have come out against Proposition 112.
  • And the proposition is being pushed by “fringe environmental activists” in Boulder and Washington who hate the energy industry.

“If this proposition goes through, we’re out of a job,” says Dan Spring, an assembly worker at Springs Fabrication, who came to the rally with several co-workers. Springs Fabrication, a metal manufacturer, has been working with Urban Solution Group, a local Colorado Springs company, on ways to keep noise levels down, he notes. “We’ve been fracking here [in Colorado] for a long time, and it wasn’t a problem until somebody made a stink about it.”

‘All we have is our voice.’

From the other side, it looks different. Colorado Rising, the main group behind the proposition, disagrees with a lot of the figures touted by the industry, including the claims of economic devastation and job loss.

Direct oil and gas jobs account for “less than 1 percent of the jobs in the state,” says Anne Lee Foster, a volunteer organizer with Colorado Rising. “Industries like tourism, technology, housing, and outdoor recreation contribute significantly more, and all of those industries are threatened by oil and gas development.”

They’re also facing a David and Goliath fight when it comes to spending. Colorado Rising raised about $700,000, most of which it spent gathering petition signatures. Protect Colorado, the industry-funded group fighting Proposition 112, has raised more than $30 million, virtually all from energy companies.

Deakin, the Erie resident, says she entered this battle reluctantly. “I’m the opposite of an activist. I’m just a working mom trying to live my life and enjoy the home I love.... The industry is spending $30 million against this cause,” and more if you count years of propaganda, she says. “All we have is our voice. And that’s very Coloradan.”

Deakin’s home is in a typical suburban development of quiet winding streets and close-spaced, well maintained houses. Off to the west, an idyllic view of snow-capped peaks rises up. And across the street from Deakin’s house is a community jogging and bike trail that leads down to an open field, where multiple active wells are visible, well within 2,500 feet of the houses.

Deakin points them out, ticking off the company names and when the wells went in.

What started as one or two wells turned into 13, then 45 wells on a pad just up the street, and another 55 slated to go in between her neighborhood and another one. “What we’re facing is an onslaught,” she says.

Periodically, she’s been asked why she doesn’t move, and it’s a question that bothers her. “I love my community,” she says. “I love my kids’ school, and I love my neighbors. I love the kids’ dance school.... I do not think that the industry should be able to drive residents out of their own communities.”

For Heidi Henkel, a mother of two who lives in nearby Broomfield, the biggest concerns are health and safety. She lists off examples of explosions and dispersion of benzene, a colorless, flammable liquid.

“We have 40 [fracking wells] being put right next to homes and schools, places where kids play,” says Ms. Henkel, founder of Broomfield Moms Active Community, which organizes around political issues affecting the most vulnerable. “Two of our schools are going to be doing active explosion evacuation drills.”

And, like Deakin, she feels powerless. “We’ve been trying to have a seat at the table, and we just don’t.”

Despite the contentiousness of this current debate, Heikkila, the CU professor, says the fracking conversation in Colorado has actually had more of a middle ground, and more ability to compromise, than in many areas.

That process was visible when the state worked to resolve regulations around chemical disclosure requirements and methane rulemaking, Heikkila says, and she hopes the parties can ultimately work through the current conflict too.

“I think this system-level conflict will always be brewing,” she says, but “Colorado does exhibit this pretty strong moderate middle and also an ability for people to come together and resolve difficult policy questions when they have come up.”

[Editor's note: A quote in this article has been updated to clarify the intended meaning behind Heidi Henkel's statement.]

To fight old cultural clichés, a Native American group opens its checkbook

As Native Americans look for better support in schools and more accurate representation in society, a new fund in Michigan is trying a partnership approach that involves give-and-take with communities. 


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Tired of waiting for culture to change on its own, a Native American tribe in Michigan is trying a different tactic: They are opening their wallets. The newly formed Native American Heritage Fund is finding plenty of recipients for its grants – and is presenting itself as a model for the rest of the United States. Funded through casino earnings, the first grants were awarded in September to seven groups ranging from cities to universities to a teen center. In Battle Creek, a stained-glass window depicting a Native American man subservient to a settler will be replaced for about $3,400. In Belding, the school district is using its $300,000-plus check to change its mascot from the Redskins to the Black Knights. “When it comes to mascot issues, when it comes to curricular issues, it’s not just a matter of whether there’s a disagreement, it’s a matter of are there the resources to make things happen,” says Jamie Stuck, tribal chairman of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, the group behind the fund. “The bottom line is we’re not just pointing out problems, we are providing solutions.”


5. To fight old cultural clichés, a Native American group opens its checkbook

Courtesy of The Native American Heritage Fund
In Michigan, Belding Area Schools Superintendent Brent Noskey (second from r.) and Executive Director Ross Hinkle (far r.) receive a grant check on Sept. 14 that will help the district pay for a change of mascot. Presenting the check are Native American Heritage Fund board members (from l.) Elizabeth Kinnart, Kimberly Vargo, Melissa Kiesewetter, Dorie Rios, and Jamie Stuck.

Carmin Barker was at first opposed to the school district in Belding, Mich., changing its mascot.

Determined to do her homework, she reached out to half a dozen Native American tribes for their input: the Little River Band of the Ottawa, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa in Ontario, Canada, among others. She even reached out to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

And then something happened that she hadn’t expected: She changed her mind.

“At the end of the day, it was good decision, as hard as it was,” says Ms. Barker, a mother of six and grandmother of four.

Belding is a small town of roughly 6,000 about 30 miles outside Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city. Conversations about changing the mascot led to some heated school board meetings. And the change seemed costly: jerseys, signage, even shirts that Barker and other parents made on their own – that she now realizes were offensive – would all have to go for good.

The change Belding Area Schools made is one some nearby districts are not yet ready to. “Change is hard,” says Barker. And yet today the issue has virtually dissolved into the ether. “Coming into this football season, it wasn’t a big deal at all…. A year later, it’s like it’s really not an issue anymore.”

The Belding school board voted to change from the Redskins to the Black Knights in the fall of 2016, and in September, it was given a grant of more than $300,000 from the newly created Native American Heritage Fund (NAHF), which organizers are calling a rare initiative. The money will help erase any record of the Redskins as a mascot forever. 

The tribe behind the NAHF – the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi – is aiming to prove a point: Be receptive to change, inclusion, and diversity, and there’s a tribe with the money ready and willing to support you with it.

First grants support cities, teens 

But the goal of the NAHF goes further than that: to improve the relationship between Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes and the communities near them. The NAHF grants were distributed for the first time in September to seven recipients – ranging from cities to universities to a teen center. About a half a million dollars was dispersed with the help of funds from the tribe’s casino in Battle Creek, Mich., one of the largest in the state. Each year, the tribe will spend $500,000 building bridges with communities across Michigan.

“We understand that there are barriers in the way of people changing, and some of them are financial,” says Judi Henckel, a spokeswoman for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.

“The bottom line is we’re not just pointing out problems, we are providing solutions,” adds Jamie Stuck, tribal chairperson of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi and a member of the tribal council for more than a decade. Mr. Stuck notes the band of more than 1,500 members operates a restaurant with a food pantry in the back, part of a partnership with a food bank, in downtown Battle Creek. It also runs three low-cost health clinics.

There are nine bands of the Potawatomi in North America: two are in Ontario, four are in Michigan, and one apiece are in Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Pieces of Potawatomi culture remain a part of our everyday American life. Chicago’s name is derived from a Potawatomi word, for example.

Stuck hopes the fund can be a model for other communities in America. “The problem is, when it comes to mascot issues, when it comes to curricular issues, it’s not just a matter of whether there’s a disagreement, it’s a matter of are there the resources to make things happen,” he says.

The creation of the NAHF required an amendment to the gaming compact with the state of Michigan, as tribal governments must get the state on board for certain decisions. Vicki Levengood, communications director for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, says in a statement to the Monitor that the fund “is an example of tribal and state government working together to proactively make positive change.”  

“The projects these grants will fund,” she continues, “especially when it involves changing a school’s Native American mascot, are vitally important for protecting the well-being of Native American students but can be prohibitively expensive for school districts to afford.”

Changes in imagery

At Lake Superior State University, in Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., nearly 10 percent of the students are Native American. The school will use its grant to further Native American imagery and events on campus. “To embrace our community like this is really important,” says Shelley Wooley, the school’s interim dean of student life and retention.

Another recipient of the inaugural Native American Heritage Fund grants is the city of Battle Creek, which received about $3,400 to assist with the removal and replacement of a stained glass window in City Hall depicting a Native American man subservient to a settler.

Kalea Hall/Battle Creek Enquirer/AP
The Native American Heritage Fund is helping remove offensive depictions of Native Americans in city buildings, schools, and monuments across Michigan. The city of Battle Creek was awarded about $3,400 to replace a stained-glass window in City Hall that depicts a Native American man subservient to a settler.

“I wholeheartedly applaud this effort,” says Rebecca Fleury, city manager for Battle Creek, referring to the work of the NAHF. “I think it is a unique model, I really do, and I applaud the willingness to take these issues head on and provide a mechanism to provide resources.”

Elsewhere, Michigan Technological University, located in Houghton, received $30,000-plus to co-create curricula with nearby Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College in L’Anse. The majority of the college's students are Native American. The joint project, called Ge-izhi-mawanji'idiyang dazihindamoang gidakiiminaan (“the way in which we meet to talk about our earth”), will include coursework in ecology and environmental science and policy.

“This funding is really helpful because there are so many people at Michigan Tech and also in the tribal community that hope to make these connections but don’t necessarily have the time with their own jobs and responsibilities,” says Valoree Gagnon, director of Michigan Tech’s University-Indigenous Community Partnerships and an assistant professor at the school.

In Kalamazoo, following months of public meetings, a work of art on display for decades – known as the Fountain of Pioneers – was removed, with a NAHF grant of $76,765 reimbursing the city for roughly half of its costs after its decision. The fountain depicted a Native American “in a posture of noble resistance,” according to the artist, but disagreement persisted over the years around its cultural appropriateness. Remains of the fountain possibly will be moved to a local museum. 

“Like anything, the context of the issue is absolutely vital to understanding it,” says Sharon Ferraro, Historic Preservation Coordinator for the city of Kalamazoo. “Times caught up with the fountain…. Society changed around it.”

She says there are many communities in Michigan discussing similar changes that could use financial assistance, such as that which NAHF offered, in the future.

Stuck, the tribal chairperson, is clearly proud of what his band has achieved. “When you can get a state and a sovereign nation on board to do something like this,” he says, “that’s pretty big.”

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Afghans choose ballots over bombs

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Millions of Afghans will vote on Saturday in an election that, despite violence and flaws in the electoral process, will reflect a popular desire for peace and democracy. More than 2,500 candidates – including some 400 women – are running, which is more than ever before. One big topic of debate: how to end the long war with the Taliban and other Islamist militants. While many candidates represent political or ethnic interests, others embody a new generation of Afghans educated since 2001 who are eager to curb corruption and ethnic divisions and to find a way to peace. Their ultimate message is the willingness of Afghans to go to the polls despite the threats and problems. Strengthening the popularity of democracy via elections can erode support for the authoritarian Taliban and build up legitimacy for participation by all Afghans in choosing their leaders. The Taliban will still try to influence the country’s nascent democracy via violence and political manipulation. But they are running against a tide toward equality and liberty.


Afghans choose ballots over bombs

Hameeda Danesh, a candidate for Parliament, visits a school, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Millions of people in Afghanistan will cast ballots this Saturday in an election whose outcome matters less than what it says about the Afghan people’s desire for peace and democracy.

More than 2,500 candidates – including some 400 women – are running for the lower house of parliament and district councils, which is more than ever before. And despite political violence and a flawed electoral process – or perhaps because of them – finding a way to end the long war with the Taliban and other Islamist militants is widely debated.

Getting to this election has been messy. The vote has been delayed three years. There are credible reports of forged voter IDs and stolen ballots. The Taliban claim credit for killing one well-known candidate and are threatening to prevent voting in the more than 40 voting districts they control. Another militant group, Islamic State in Afghanistan, also threatens to disrupt voting with indiscriminate attacks.

While many candidates represent political or ethnic interests, including warlords and political bosses, others embody a new generation of Afghans educated since 2001 who are eager to curb corruption and ethnic divisions and to find a way to peace. Thus, the voting results will send important messages.

The ultimate message is the willingness of Afghans across the country to go to the polls despite the threats and problems. One international election observer underscores this indomitable Afghan spirit by recounting his 2014 meeting with an elderly Afghan who had his ink-stained voting finger cut off by the Taliban. The Afghan was smiling broadly in the hospital, and when the international observer asked why he was smiling, the Afghan proudly held up both hands and said he had nine more fingers to give in nine more elections. 

While acknowledging the serious challenges that remain and the strong desire to end the violence, many Afghans still applaud the relative progress since the US-led invasion that ended Taliban rule in 2001. The election will severely try Afghan authorities and likely reveal serious technical flaws. Yet it will also be an important trial run for presidential elections in April.

The Oct. 20 electoral results are expected to produce a muddled parliamentary landscape. Still, Afghan leaders will need to quickly build coalitions and prepare for the presidential contest. And they need to do this while the Afghan government, the United States, and others are probing a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

That militant group has clearly signaled that it is interested in peace talks with the US. Yet it is not yet willing to sit down with the Afghan government. Rather the Taliban has intensified attacks around the country to increase its leverage, as exemplified by the killing of a renown Afghan police general and the governor of the southern province of Kandahar on Thursday in an operation apparently also aimed at the top US commander in Afghanistan.  Maintaining trust among the US and its Afghan allies while getting the Taliban to a serious negotiation will be a challenge.

Strengthening the popularity of democracy via elections can erode support for the authoritarian Taliban and build up legitimacy for the participation by all Afghans in choosing their leaders. The Taliban will still try to influence the country’s nascent democracy via violence and political manipulation. But they are running against a tide toward equality and liberty.

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.

Integrity – it’s inherent in all of us

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The more we recognize integrity as naturally expressed in God’s creation, the more equipped we are to know and do what’s right.


1. Integrity – it’s inherent in all of us

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One of my favorite words is “integrity” – not the word itself, but what it stands for.

My dad was a humble man of few words, unencumbered by a sense of ego. He owned an awning and canvas company that he operated with one employee, who helped him with sewing duties.

In the 1940s and ’50s in South Florida, whenever a hurricane approached, we usually had about a day’s notice to “button up” our homes. We would gather around the radio, staring at its wooden veneer and awaiting the latest information. My dad would keep working up until the last minutes before a hurricane struck. He filled those precious minutes taking down the awnings of his customers, a job that he performed free of charge. “They’re my customers,” he explained to my mother. “I don’t charge my customers. They’ve already paid for their awnings.” After the hurricane passed, he would return to their houses and rehang all the awnings, also at no charge.

The first time I heard my mother use the word “integrity” was when she explained this situation to my siblings and me. “Your dad has integrity,” she told us. “He does what he thinks is right.”

You can imagine my delight when I came across an article noting that the main quality Warren Buffett looks for when hiring someone is integrity. The article quotes some advice Mr. Buffett gave a few years ago on what to look for in a job candidate: “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two” (Marcel Schwantes, “Warren Buffett Says If You Hire People on Intelligence but They Lack This Other Trait, Don’t Bother,” Inc.com, Jan. 9, 2018).

Christian Science presents a deeper, spiritual meaning of “integrity” as the state of being complete, whole, and perfect. And because we are created by God, made in His image and likeness, integrity is built into our true being. Spiritual integrity stems from God’s infinity as divine Spirit and is expressed in His spiritual creation. “Integrity” is derived from the Latin word “integer,” which denotes that which is honest, sound, complete, entire, untouched, undivided, whole. We read in the book of Psalms that God “upholdest me in mine integrity” (41:12).

Clearly, humanity has work to do when it comes to acting in a manner consistent with this. But the spiritual fact of our integrity as God’s children means that nobody is beyond hope. Each of us has it in us to know and do what’s right. An openness to the wholeness and goodness of God and His spiritual creation nurtures this capacity.

Recently I discovered that a vendor had failed to send me invoices for the previous five months. I immediately pointed this out to him and wrote a check for the entire amount. I didn’t have to ponder the question of whether to do this or not, thinking about how much money I would save by keeping quiet. Paying him in full was the only course to take.

From this experience I realized more than ever that integrity – the desire to do what’s right, the discernment to know what’s right, and the ability to follow through with honorable actions – flows from the connection we all have with our common creator, God.

Regarding the importance of expressing our integrity as God’s reflection, Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, quotes the Scottish minister Hugh Blair in a letter included in her “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896”: “The upright man is guided by a fixed Principle, which destines him to do nothing but what is honorable, and to abhor whatever is base or unworthy; hence we find him ever the same, – at all times the trusty friend, the affectionate relative, the conscientious man of business, the pious worker, the public-spirited citizen” (p. 147).

The world needs integrity. The more we recognize it as naturally expressed in God’s spiritual creation, the more we experience healing and progress in our lives, our communities, and our world.

Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 3, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.


Tiny racers

Toru Hanai/Reuters
Reale Avintia Racing’s Xavier Simeon (front) and other MotoGP riders ride mini electric bikes at an exhibition event at the Japanese Grand Prix Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Motegi, Japan, Oct. 18.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Yvonne Zipp
Daily Editor

Thanks for spending time with us today. Tomorrow, we’ll have a profile of Stacey Abrams, who is locked in a tight race in Georgia and could become the first black woman governor in United States history. And Jamal Khashoggi’s final column, about the need for a free press in the Arab world, ran today in The Washington Post. It’s worth your time.

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