2019
January
25
Friday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

About 1,000 jobs suddenly gone.

Journalism just felt that sting, from across several outlets. But those weren’t the jobs people were talking about before today’s announcement that government would temporarily reopen.

Most journalists would agree: Federal workers toiling without pay deserved the attention this week. Systems were getting strained

The FBI did have agents up early today to arrest longtime Trump associate Roger Stone on charges including obstruction, even though that agency had seen paychecks stop. The White House said his arrest had nothing to do with the president. (Read this deep profile of Mr. Stone by the Monitor’s Warren Richey, from November.)

Journalists had been anticipating action related to the Mueller probe and preparing to do their job as relayers of real-time information. It’s when media’s function turns to analysis that it gets complicated. Speed doesn’t help. Plenty of people – not just journalists – felt singed by their own hot takes on those Covington, Ky., teens. (We sent a writer to Covington. Her story is below.)

So where does the media stand with the US public? It has often seemed as though the travails of journalists were as likely to be hailed as lamented. And the travails part picked up this week with those deep cuts. But the week also delivered this: Despite concerns, engagement with news has surged, according to an Edelman report. Other studies have noted that trust in media is creeping up, especially where transparency around operations exists. Where people are doing their jobs.

Now to our five stories for your Friday.

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1. As new ‘caravan’ enters Mexico, a different welcome awaits

On a day when US policy moved to keep asylum-seekers on the Mexican side of the border, we look at the action on Mexico’s own southern edge. What do immigration practices say about nations?

Jose Cabezas/Reuters
A woman walking with other migrants from Honduras to the United States holds her daughter as they wait at the Mexico-border-bridge in Tecún Umán, Guatemala, Jan. 19. This migrant caravan faces a very different reception from Mexican officials than previous caravans.

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This past October, as one of the largest-ever “caravans” of migrants prepared to cross from Guatemala to Mexico, dramatic scenes were broadcast from the border. Mexico’s then-president, Enrique Peña Nieto, sent 200 police in riot gear to the border, and security forces blocked off the pedestrian border bridge, creating an anxious crowd that seemed poised to end in a stampede. Today, another large caravan is making its way into and across Mexico, but its arrival looks starkly different under a new administration. Government workers hand out educational materials and explain options that await migrants in Mexico, including year-long humanitarian visas that allow them to work. Others learn how to claim asylum in Mexico, an increasingly popular option. “You can tell that there’s really been a change in terms of Mexico’s immigration policy, which is now focused on human rights,” says Pierre-Marc René, a spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency in Mexico. Advocates hope the new approach will keep migrants out of the shadows, reducing their vulnerability to abuse from officials, gangs, or traffickers. But its effects, and risks, remain to be seen.

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As new ‘caravan’ enters Mexico, a different welcome awaits

Marlin Yanina Alcántar Lobo is sprawled on a foam mattress in a municipal hall on the Guatemala-Mexico border after a grueling five-day walk.

Traveling with her two young children, Ms. Alcántar is getting the rest she can while waiting for volunteer medics to tend to her 9-year-old daughter’s scraped leg. She’s poised to walk thousands of miles farther north with a group of more than 2,000 migrants and asylum-seekers that trickled out of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, starting Jan. 15.

They left with the mantra “En Honduras nos matan” (In Honduras we’re killed), referring to the political instability, organized crime, and violence that touches nearly every corner of the country. The so-called caravan has been joined by hundreds from El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling together, like groups before them, in hopes of maintaining safety in numbers.

This past October, when one of the largest caravans to date was in Alcántar’s position, preparing to cross into Mexico, the situation was starkly different. Under pressure from the US government, then-President Enrique Peña Nieto sent 200 police in riot gear to the border, and security forces blocked off the pedestrian bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala, creating an anxious crowd of migrants that seemed poised to end in a stampede. Helicopters flew above the Suchiate River, whipping up the water as people tried to cross.

Today, the United States continues to debate a southern border wall and put pressure on its southern neighbors to halt migration north. A new US policy goes into effect Friday that will block non-Mexican asylum-seekers from entering the US, requiring them to wait weeks or months in Mexican border cities before pleading their cases in the US. Mexico, meanwhile, has made a dramatic change in its approach to caravans arriving at the border. Government workers hand out educational materials and give talks about the options that await migrants in Mexico, including year-long humanitarian visas to allow them to work, or applying for asylum.

Past policies, like Mr. Peña Nieto’s Plan Frontera Sur, aimed to formalize southern-border migration, but the focus on detention meant many migrants chose to enter clandestinely rather than risk an encounter with a Mexican border agent. The seemingly basic steps this year, under new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have big implications, allowing migrants to enter and travel (or remain) in Mexico without being pushed into the shadows because of their lack of papers. In theory, this could mean fewer abuses by officials, gangs, or traffickers.

“You can tell that there’s really been a change in terms of Mexico’s immigration policy, which is now focused on human rights,” says Pierre-Marc René, a spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency in Mexico.

Many are applauding the government’s new approach as more humanitarian. But plenty of questions remain, including consequences for people who stay in Mexico, if it will provide further protections to migrants, what will happen to visa-holders when their permits expire, and what it means for local employment.

“[T]his caravan is going to be very telling about the Mexican government’s reaction” to the large groups of migrants that are increasingly moving through the region, says Néstor Rodríguez, an immigration expert at the University of Texas at Austin.

“This is really important because Mexico is really in the middle, between Central America and the US, so staying in Mexico creates a second option for those who are really in danger and can’t get into the US,” he says.

Marco Ugarte/AP
Central American migrants who have received humanitarian visas clean a public sports stadium, which is being prepared as a shelter migrants crossing into Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on the border with Guatemala, on Jan. 21, 2019. Thousands more are waiting for humanitarian visas, which give permission to be in Mexico for one year and work legally.

‘A complete change’

So far this year, 10,341 Central Americans have requested a one-year humanitarian visa that can be obtained in three to five days, according to the Mexican government. Humanitarian visas are renewable and allow immigrants free movement throughout the country and formal employment. Fewer than 50 have applied for asylum, a process that takes up to three months. Asylum status is a first step toward obtaining permanent residency.

Applicants must remain in Tecún Umán, on the Guatemalan side of the border, while Mexican authorities process visa requests. Those who enter Mexico through illegal border crossings rather than official immigration checkpoints can still apply for humanitarian visas at a later point, but risk deportation.

“This is a complete change in policy [and is] in contrast with other countries also facing immigration challenges,” says José María Ramos, an immigration expert at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Colef), based outside Tijuana.

In the US, foreigners can apply for asylum at ports of entry or once they’re already inside the country. Because of recent trends of “metering,” or limiting how many people can ask for asylum at formal entry points into the country, many migrants choose to risk crossing on their own, intentionally handing themselves over to officials once on the US side of the border. That may change in coming weeks, as the US’s so-called remain-in-Mexico policy goes into effect.

The road ahead

A growing number of Central Americans view Mexico as a final destination. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 40 percent of those traveling with the previous three caravans requested asylum in Mexico.

“If we can stay in Mexico, at least we’ll have a job and a safer place to live,” says Honduran migrant Heidy Marleny Castro, who is traveling with two of her children, ages 8 and 13. They had tried to enter Mexico this past fall but returned to Honduras after waiting for three days at the bridge.

Not everyone in Mexico is on board with the work visas and the possibility of more employment-seeking migrants in the country. On Jan. 22, the Chiapas chapter of Mexico’s employers’ association (COPARMEX) issued a statement expressing its “outright rejection” of the caravans arriving on the southern border, and its concerns around the new immigration policies.

“Receiving such a huge number of undocumented aliens can lead to an increase in insecurity, violence, illegality, and even disease,” the statement said. Before assisting immigrants, COPARMEX said, the López Obrador administration should assist displaced indigenous people in Chiapas and should offer jobs generated by new government construction projects to locals rather than Central American migrants.

But many in the caravan, such as Alcántar, say their intentions are still set on reaching the US. Often it comes down to family already there or a skepticism around Mexico’s about-face on migration policy.

Almost 4,000 people have died or gone missing while migrating through Mexico over the past four years alone, the UNHCR said in an interview. Although the humanitarian visas could help make migrants less vulnerable to trafficking or gang recruitment, the results remain to be seen. This past fall, some state governments in Mexico provided transportation and other protections to the caravan as it crossed the country, speeding the migrants’ passage through their territory. In others, though, migrants continued to walk through sometimes dangerous territory or extreme conditions. It is unclear whether the new federal policies will change state approaches.

In 2018, President Trump threatened to cut aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador if they didn’t halt their citizens from fleeing north. If the leftist Mr. López Obrador’s government actively encourages states to shuttle migrants across the country, even if under the banner of safety and security, Mr. Ramos from Colef says Washington could accuse Mexico of encouraging illegal immigration.

With many members of the previous caravan still stuck in Tijuana, vying to lodge asylum requests or cross the border into the US, another key challenge for the Mexican government will be preventing overcrowding and unrest along the northern border in coming weeks.

“Most of them won’t qualify for asylum in the US and will wind up stuck in Tijuana,” says Ramos, citing the high bar for arguing asylum cases. “While these immigrants await a resolution from US authorities, the challenge for the Mexican administration will be to assign the necessary budget to offer them health care, education, and employment” – a tall order, he says.

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2. What it’s like to live in a town the whole country is yelling about

Covington Catholic High School isn’t even in Covington, Ky. It sits just outside the city limits. That fact seems emblematic of a US where an insatiable appetite for outrage doesn’t take time to examine the view from its downtown streets.

Christa Case Bryant /The Christian Science Monitor
MainStrasse in Covington, Ky., is chock-full of tidy brick row homes filled with unique shops and restaurants, and reflects the city’s broader effort to attract Millennials and the creative class as the former steel town strives to reinvent itself.

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Covington, Ky., has dealt with tough times before – facing bankruptcy as recently as 2010. But after years of careful planning, the city had been feeling a sense of momentum again. Then, controversy erupted in the form of a field trip and a viral video clip. But the firestorm may actually say less about these particular boys, or this particular city, than it does about the growing divide in the country – the lack of civility, the heightened sensitivity, symbolism, and explosiveness of the slightest action or comment. And yet for those directly involved, the consequences are already very real, local, and personal. “Whatever anyone thinks of this – and I happen to have a more charitable view of the kids than some other people – there’s a fair amount of resentment that here we have to shoulder the burden for the region for something we had nothing to do with,” says Steve Frank, a Republican and former city commissioner who serves on the Covington Economic Development Authority.

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What it’s like to live in a town the whole country is yelling about

Before Covington became a code word for all that is wrong in America today – whether you think that means the smugness of white privilege, or the vindictive bias of the liberal media – it was known as a proud Rust Belt city on the rise.

This northern Kentucky city on the banks of the Ohio River is a place where Hillary Clinton received more votes than Donald Trump. Where voters elevated a working-class African-American woman to the role of vice mayor. Where a professional clown who once worked for a Trump casino is inviting the community to join a Lakota Sioux tribal leader this weekend to begin the healing process.

One thing the city is not, at least not in a literal sense, is the home of Covington Catholic, the school at the heart of the national controversy over a Washington field trip gone awry. The eponymous school sits just outside Covington’s city limits, but the firestorm has engulfed the whole region.

Never mind that the firestorm may actually say less about these particular boys, or this particular town, than it does about the growing divide in the country – the lack of civility, the heightened sensitivity, symbolism, and explosiveness of the slightest action or comment. For those directly involved, the consequences are already very real, local, and personal.   

Yet the consequences are felt differently by those in the city and those in the surrounding suburbs such as Park Hills, where the school is located. Those differences in some ways mirror the nation’s cultural and political divides – but are more complex.

Those in the suburbs, if they’re willing to talk to reporters at all, are generally quick to defend the students, whose interaction with a Native American elder and a fringe group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites on the Lincoln Memorial steps ignited a national debate over racism and class, culture, and religion.

But in the city, which is more diverse, more poor, and more progressive, and has struggled to provide services for its low-income residents without the tax base of its suburban neighbors, many are frustrated that the controversy is giving them a bad name.

“Whatever anyone thinks of this – and I happen to have a more charitable view of the kids than some other people – there’s a fair amount of resentment that here we have to shoulder the burden for the region for something we had nothing to do with,” says Steve Frank, a Republican and former city commissioner who serves on the Covington Economic Development Authority.

Most of those outside the city see the boys as having acted with remarkable composure in the face of provocative adults. They believe the teens were unfairly turned into targets by liberals who loathe President Trump, including mainstream journalists. Those who have seen the longer video showing the boys chanting loudly, and making facial expressions and motions that were interpreted as offensive, dismiss it as normal teenage boy behavior – and ask why the same scrutiny is not being directed toward adult protesters they see as far more provocative. 

Kaya Taitano/Social Media/Reuters
A student from Covington Catholic High School stands in front of Native American Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C., in this still image from a January 18, 2019 video by Kaya Taitano.

“We had a bunch of adults on that Mall acting like kids, and a bunch of people across the country expect the kids to be acting like adults. That shows a disconnect to me,” says state Rep. Adam Koenig (R), an alum of Covington Catholic High School who represents some of the suburbs where students live. He has received hate mail from as far away as Eugene, Ore., from a lady denouncing the “racist Kavanaugh pigs,” referring to the accusations lobbed at the Supreme Court nominee this fall.  

“They see [Judge] Kavanaugh in these kids and they’re still upset over all that. I think some of that is what has caused it to linger,” he says.

Many in the city, meanwhile, including not only the mayor but also the Catholic Diocese that oversees the school, have spoken out against the boys’ behavior. They, too, have reaped hate mail and death threats, as has the school, which was closed for security reasons on Tuesday and has been guarded by police cruisers all week. The Diocese was evacuated on Wednesday after a bomb scare, and the family of the most prominent teen in the video, Nick Sandmann, has fled to an undisclosed location to escape the media deluge and death threats.

What mystifies Michael Hoffay, a former soccer coach who moved here four years ago, is why the incident is not being used as a teaching opportunity. 

“Somebody up there should just say, ‘Look, we’re trying to raise good young men, this wasn’t our best day,’ ” he says, pointing up toward the school from a local café where students often hang out.

On the national level, “both sides are kind of using it as a political tool,” he adds. “I think the kids are being used as pawns by both sides.”

A barber and longtime resident bemoans the country’s degeneration into anger. “People are just mad,” he says, tearing up. “It seems like there’s no love anymore.”

Political drama comes to Kentucky

The community around Covington Catholic feels besieged and angry, not just in response to this incident but over what many see as the national media’s barely disguised scorn for Christian conservatives, especially those who take a stand against abortion, as the students did by attending the March for Life in Washington last weekend.

Few wanted to talk to a visiting reporter.

“No comment,” the school tersely said, directing the reporter to the Diocese, which was locked on Friday afternoon. “I don’t want to talk,” said a nail salon owner. “We’re too busy,” said the hair salon next door. “We’re not allowed to comment,” said the local library. “I can’t say anything about that for security reasons,” said a lady in the school parking lot. “I don’t want to alienate my customers,” said more than a few business owners.

The Diocese said in a statement on its website that an independent, third-party investigation had begun to gather facts necessary “to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate. We pray that we may come to the truth and that this unfortunate situation may be resolved peacefully and amicably and ask others to join us in this prayer.”

But amid the community’s widespread reticence, Jim Wilson, a parent chaperone who was on the trip, wanted to set the record straight.

This was the fourth time he’d made the trip as a chaperone. The designated meet-up point for the boys had always been the Lincoln Memorial, and never had their school encountered such protesters.

But this time, as he arrived, he saw Native American protesters moving toward the crowd of boys. At first he thought it was in good fun, but then he became concerned.

Mr. Wilson challenges the assertion by Native American elder Nathan Phillips that his intent was to calm the situation, saying he heard those with Mr. Phillips yelling things like, “Go back to Europe, this isn’t your land! You don’t belong here! You’re racist!”

Soon after he arrived, Wilson says, the Native Americans moved out and the boys were standing entranced by the Black Israelites yelling obscenities. He started shouting at the students to move away from the area, and persisted until they had all left.

He had been home barely an hour before the story started blowing up on social media. “What has upset me the most is the unethical and unprofessional behavior of the media that can destroy people’s lives,” he says.

The owner of a local auto shop, who asked to remain anonymous because he works on the cars of many Covington Catholic parents, says it feels like an invasion.

“All of a sudden, Washington’s drama has come to Northern Kentucky because a group of us wanted to exercise our constitutional rights to free speech and peaceful assembly,” he said.

Wilson says that it wasn’t just Covington Catholic kids on the steps of the memorial, but a “sea” of kids from other Catholic organizations around the country, many of whom were also wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats.

For many Trump supporters, the hats signal approval for his agenda, such as the tax cuts, or judges in line with their values, particularly on the issue of abortion. But for Trump critics, the hats have become a symbol of xenophobia and racism.

“You can look at social media commentary – and the reaction of the Black Israelites to those hats – and realize that that was like almost literally waving a red flag in their faces,” says Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

But Mr. Cross doesn’t think the students realized that. “In a group like that, if one or two buy them, they’re all going to buy them – not because they believe in everything Donald Trump stands for, but because they’re cool.”

Others say the boys should have known how they were coming across.

“It’s a lack in their education,” says Missy Spears, a Republican from Covington who identifies as queer, and who says she has long been conscious of the ramifications of deciding to wear masculine clothing, or a Black Lives Matter shirt. “If you haven’t been the subject of bullying or harassment and seen that smirk ... and they look at you and say, ‘Yeah, I know you can’t fight back against me’ – it’s easy just to say that kid was being quiet.” 

While northern Kentucky has been in the glare of the spotlight this week, political scientist Ricky Jones of the University of Louisville says there’s a broader reckoning that needs to take place across the country. 

“White America is in denial, and not just white Kentucky,” he says. “This idea that all this narrative of ‘fake news’ – that allegations of racism and race hatred are manufactured – that kind of denial is dangerous, because it is not rooted in reality. And that is going on from Covington, Ky., to Washington State.” 

In recent years, Covington has started to have more open conversations about race and equality, according to some locals. If anything, the incident last weekend showed that those conversations are needed – and, depending on how they unfold, can help build up communities, not tear them apart.

“This is really, for us, this is a time of reflection because we are such a diverse community and we do have so many different religious backgrounds, different ethnicities, different socioeconomic statuses within our city,” says Tim Downing, a city commissioner. “It really creates a new opportunity for dialogue.”

From boom to bust to rebirth

In the 1800s, Covington was a bustling city that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Mail was delivered by Ulysses S. Grant’s father, the postmaster general. Stewart Iron Works, a local company, produced the iron fence that still surrounds the White House and the locks that secured prisoners in their cells on Alcatraz island. John Roebling designed a suspension bridge across the river to Cincinnati that served as a model for the Brooklyn Bridge project he and his son spearheaded in New York.

But as with many Rust Belt cities, Covington fell on hard times after the decline of the steel mills after World War II. The federal government opened an IRS facility, bringing hundreds of jobs, but it wasn’t enough. By the late 1970s, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development singled it out as one of America’s most distressed cities. As suburbs formed their own local governments, the city was increasingly left to bear the burden of providing services to its lower-income population. Some 89 percent of public school children qualify for free and reduced lunch, and the median household income is $30,000. As recently as 2010, Covington faced bankruptcy. 

Recently, though, after years of careful planning and efforts to attract Millennials and the creative class to its quaint downtown – a mix of tidy brick row houses, industrial spaces, and local shops – the city had been feeling a sense of momentum again.

Residents and officials from opposite ends of the political spectrum, working together for economic growth, saw a huge opportunity in the 23-acre IRS site by the river, which will be vacated next fall when tax prep moves to Texas.

For months, they had been engaging consultants and wooing developers. Then, this controversy erupted.

Still, there was a sense of resilience and perseverance on display Thursday evening, as consultants and commercial Realtors at the city’s convention center milled around with members of the public looking at early sketches of how the IRS site could be developed.  

“We’re going to keep moving forward,” says Michelle Williams, an African-American woman who garnered the most votes for city commissioner the past two elections, which twice elevated her to vice mayor. “We’re not going to let this incident slow us down one bit.” 

As for Paul Miller, the clown – and a Covington Catholic alum – he plans to have a great time tomorrow. He and his Native American friend, William Underbaggage, are planning a Community Talking Circle in an attempt to deescalate the situation.

“I hope that the families from CovCath will come,” he says, referring to the school by its nickname. As his high school friend in the Green Berets put it this week, “Who is anti-peace?”

Staff writer Patrik Jonsson contributed reporting.

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3. Europe is trying to make the internet more fair. How that may backfire.

Europe is trying to redistribute copyright profits: from the Facebooks and to little publishers. Fair enough. This piece looks at why the law of unintended consequences looms large.

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On the modern internet, tech giants like Facebook and YouTube dominate the landscape. These huge platforms end up as gatekeepers to most of the news, music, and video that users consume – and as a result, they profit hugely. For many observers, this is an imbalance that needs to be corrected; more of the money should be going to the media and artists making the end content. And that’s what Europe is attempting to do with its proposed copyright directive. But that is turning out to be harder than it would appear, because the solutions Europe’s institutions are debating could drive small publishers out of the market entirely and fragment the internet. The directive’s effective demands for scrutiny of all uploaded videos and files – an astronomical amount of data per second – for copyright violations would require an enormous technological investment. “Bottom line, you need to have information and the money and resources to develop this kind of technology,” says Julia Reda of Germany's Pirate Party. “It is only very large companies that can do that, or the entertainment industry itself.”

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Europe is trying to make the internet more fair. How that may backfire.

The motives behind Europe’s effort to reform its copyright law appear unambiguously altruistic.

The reformers argue that internet giants like Google or Facebook are taking money that should be going to smaller publishers like local media or artists. “Due to outdated copyright rules, online platforms and news aggregators are reaping all the rewards while artists, news publishers, and journalists see their work circulate freely, at best receiving very little remuneration for it,” the European Parliament’s legislative committee explained earlier this month.

No one involved in the debate objects to these goals. But critics question their cost should the European Copyright Directive move forward in its current form. They warn that the attempt to make the major platforms directly liable for copyright infringement by their users could cause them to limit their users’ ability to post their own content – and fundamentally change the way the internet works.

“The Copyright Directive will make the internet a place where anything anyone posts must first pass through algorithmic gatekeepers,” says Jim Killock, executive director of British digital rights campaigners Open Rights Group. “That’s a tectonic shift away from the principles underpinning a free and open internet. Everything we know about automated filters shows they are incapable of grasping context which is vital to legal use of copyrighted material like parodies, commentary, or remixes. This won’t threaten the very survival of online communities, but free expression will be worse off for it.”

Filling the ‘value gap’

The stated goals of the directive are to protect press publications, reduce the “value gap” between the profits made by internet platforms and content creators, and the creation of copyright exceptions for text and data mining. And it has been subject to intense lobbying by a broad spectrum of actors, ranging from corporate tech giants like YouTube and Facebook to digital rights defenders such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and commercial vendors like Audible Magic, an automated content-recognition developer.

The main controversy stems from the directive’s Article 13, which will govern internet platforms that organize and promote large amounts of copyright-protected works uploaded by their users in order to make a profit. The article would make platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Tumblr directly liable for any copyright infringements committed by their users – effectively forcing them to police their own users for copyright violations.

“If even a single user commits a copyright infringement, it will be viewed as if the platform had done so itself,” notes Germany’s Pirate Party member of the European Parliament Julia Reda, a leading critic of the directive. “This will force platforms to take drastic measures, since they can never say for certain which of our posts or uploads will expose them to costly liability.”

Complicating the issue is the directive’s lack of “safe harbors” for platforms. In the past (and under similar US laws), internet platforms have not been held liable for copyright violations until they are aware of them; only once a platform has received notification of a violation and an opportunity to correct it does it face legal ramifications. But under the proposed directive, platforms do not have any “safe harbor.” Instead, they face liability as soon as a violation occurs, meaning at the time of upload by the user.

That changes the problem dramatically for internet giants by making catching copyright violations into a proactive rather than reactive process. Given the staggering volume of content that is put up online per minute, platforms have to turn to automated systems to go through the material to pick out possible violations.

The problem with filters

The current preferred solutions that the platforms use to identify copyright infringement are upload filters. But they aren’t cheap. YouTube’s Content ID system cost it a whopping $60 million in 2016. The company has reportedly used the system to pay rights holders more than 2.6 billion euros ($3 billion) for third-party use of their content. But even armed with this technology, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has warned that the potential liabilities under Article 13 are so large that no company would be willing to have that risk.

“Bottom line, you need to have information and the money and resources to develop this kind of technology,” says Ms. Reda. “It is only very large companies that can do that, or the entertainment industry itself.”

Such filtering systems, says Mr. Killock, lack the nuance needed to differentiate between a film commentary, which would be generally legal, and an illegally posted pirated video. While this won’t spell the end of all commentary and memes, “false positives snared by algorithms will block a lot of legal content and generally hamstring free expression.”

Besides, the large platforms have an incentive to block that extra content. “They may well need to restrict who is allowed to post/upload content in the first place, demand personal identification from uploaders, and/or block most uploads using overly strict filters to be on the safe side,” Reda says.

In practical terms, this means that a big star’s music video would have no trouble with YouTube’s hypothetical directive-based upload filter. But the amateur music critic who posts a video that used part of the star’s original – in order to make points about the song – could set off the filter, thereby being prevented from legally sampling the original work.

Platforms like Wikimedia – which makes content available under free license for anyone to use, copy, or remix – have also warned that mandatory automatic content detection will take a toll on collaboration and freedom of expression.

Geneva-based Konstantinos Komaitis, senior director of policy development and strategy working of the Internet Society, says regulation must be informed, focused, and proportionate. The problems start when you try to design laws with a narrow focus on the Big Tech companies, who ironically will come out the winners under the new copyright regime.

“One of the things that we need to understand in this internet climate and in this internet economy,” he says, “is that when you create rules with specific businesses or business models in mind, like Google and Facebook, they will be able eventually to accommodate these new regulatory obligations in ways that new entrants cannot.”

Breaking the internet?

Another area of concern is how the controversial articles of the directive contribute to the fragmentation of the internet. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in May last year, offered a lesson on the unintended extraterritorial consequences of internet laws. Several American newspapers went dark in Europe over the GDPR. European citizens still cannot read the Chicago Tribune from their side of the Atlantic.

“There is this danger that the global reach of the internet might actually start getting less global, and we are moving towards fragmentation,” Komaitis says. “The more we try to make the internet with one nation’s regulatory thinking ... the more we risk sabotaging the diversity that is critical for its resilient and global nature.”

Carlo Scollo Lavizzari, a Basel-based copyright lawyer with 17 years experience, believes some of the fears around the copyright bill – on the themes that it will “break the internet” or that filtering technologies will pave the way to censorship and surveillance – are overplayed. He argues that it makes sense to hold online platforms accountable and make them more responsible for the content they use, especially when they base their entire business model on offering attractive content to the public. [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Mr. Lavizzari's name.]

“The idea that the online world is a zone where normal rules of the road don’t apply may have to change,” he says. “People [may] become more aware of the centrality of the online platforms and also ask to be rewarded where they generate traffic and data that favors tech giants.”

Article 11 of the European Copyright Directive, also known as the “link tax,” has stirred an equally fierce debate. It would require news aggregators to pay for showing snippets of information when linking to news stories. It is meant to “ensure that some money goes from multi-billion news aggregators to the journalist who has done all the hard work writing up an article” and would affect content aggregators like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

But a similar law in Spain resulted in Google shutting down Google News in the country, and a comparable effort in Germany led publishers to lose money. If the aggregators responded similarly to Article 11, large newspaper publishers would likely be fine because they can rely on people finding them directly, whereas smaller and more specialized outlets would be harder hit. So it would be very bad for the diversity of the media landscape.

Reda adds that one of the unintended consequences of Article 11 will be a boost for fake news and propaganda outlets. “No fake news website in the world will charge for being linked to it,” she says. “Their entire reason of existence is to be seen by as many people as possible.”

A long way to go

The copyright reform was adopted by the European Parliament in September 2018, officially launching the legislative process. Since then, the European Commission, the Parliament, and the Council of the European Union have been negotiating the final version of the directive’s text in intense closed-door negotiations.

But the final vote, expected this past Monday, was canceled at the last minute after six countries objected to the proposed text, sending the directive back to the drawing board. Compromise language on Articles 11 and 13 remains elusive, as does agreement on potential exceptions for small or medium-sized enterprises – another sticking point. The directive is now considered unlikely to pass before May’s European elections.

John Weitzmann, the head of policy at Wikimedia Deutschland, notes that since different countries are likely to interpret the text of the directive differently, “it will take several years and multiple strategic litigations to understand the full scope of its consequences.”

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4. In #MeToo age, can we love the art but deplore the artist?

What happens to the artist as “enfant terrible” in an age of morality clauses and #MeToo? Does socially condemned behavior discredit a person’s artistic vision?

Andrea De Silva/Reuters/File
R&B artist R. Kelly performs in St. Lucia in 2013. After the documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ aired this month, detailing allegations of sexual assault against teenage girls, both his label and publisher dropped him.

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Jeffrey McCune went to the same high school R. Kelly attended just a few years before. “When I was a young Chicagoan, R. Kelly represented a hope in us all to surpass the constraints of the South Side or of the idea of limited blackness,” says Dr. McCune, a professor, actor, and playwright in St. Louis. Yet as a member of his high school’s choir, he sat next to one of the women who accused the Grammy Award-winning R&B artist of sexual assault, and he witnessed firsthand the life-altering consequences of Kelly’s alleged crimes on young girls. The moral reckonings of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have posed vexing questions: How should we feel now about the art produced by men considered masters, if not “geniuses,” of their crafts? It’s a question being asked at museums, concert halls, and this week’s Oscar nomination ceremony. “And that’s what I think the real tension here is: that art forges itself, that music generates within a space that can be liberating for some and yet really troubling for others,” Professor McCune says. “And still again, at the same time it can be both for some people.”

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In #MeToo age, can we love the art but deplore the artist?

Jeffrey McCune has never hesitated to speak out against what he calls the predatory energy and aggressive, toxic masculinity in R. Kelly’s music.

As an artist and social thinker, Dr. McCune has probed what he and others see as long-embedded patterns of patriarchy in American culture, “a culture that continues to produce moments of sickness and violence, which we see in R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey and so many others.”

But the moral reckonings of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have also posed vexing questions for him and a host of people around the country: How should we feel now about the art produced by these men, each considered masters, if not “geniuses,” of their crafts?

It’s a question, too, being asked within the halls of the high arts, as major painters and classical musicians accused of sexual harassment have also seen their contracts severed, their exhibitions cancelled, and their public reputations disgraced. Indeed, “Can I love the art but deplore the artist?” has become a moral question with both civic and deeply personal implications.

Especially for McCune, a professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He came of age in Chicago deeply influenced by the music of R. Kelly, who attended the same high school he did a few years before.

“When I was a young Chicagoan, R. Kelly represented a hope in us all to surpass the constraints of the South Side or of the idea of limited blackness,” says McCune, an actor and playwright in St. Louis. “His voice was a representation of the audacity to speak beyond the moral boundaries in our black Christian communities.” The trajectory of his own life as a scholar and performer, in fact, “was really made possible through my engagement with Kelly’s music,” he says.

Yet as member of his high school’s choir, he sat next to one of the women who later accused the Grammy Award-winning R&B artist of sexual assault, and he witnessed firsthand the life-altering consequences of Kelly’s alleged crimes and how the singer used his music as a lure for underage girls.

“That gave his music for me a much different type of meaning, of course, but that didn’t necessarily negate the importance and centrality that R. Kelly had to my own personal liberation,” McCune says.

“And that’s what I think the real tension here is: that art forges itself, that music generates within a space that can be liberating for some and yet really troubling for others,” he continues. “And still again, at the same time it can be both for some people.”

Such vexing personal conundrums, however, are just part of a long tradition of questions about the purpose of art in human culture and whether or not there are certain moral dangers posed by powerful works of art and the powerful, charismatic artists behind them.

And be they rock stars, writers, or painters, such artists, most all of them men, have often been given an implicit moral pass. Especially during the 19th century through the present era, a mythology developed of the artist as “enfant terrible,” or a Bohemian eccentric who believes, like the Romantic poet William Blake, that the “road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Male artists, especially, are often expected to be mercurial rebels, “geniuses” with an original and often countercultural vision of the world.

“They were permitted to be drunken or intolerably diva-esque, or people would actually wink at their abuse of the people around them,” says Crispin Sartwell, professor of art and art history at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. “You might even expect that from a genius.”

“And while I think that that figure was always a bit of a fiction, on the other hand, I do think artists often have a problematic or outsider relationship to the culture they’re in,” continues Professor Sartwell. “Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not, but it’s an extremely valuable thing, and we’re going to have to tolerate some transgressions from within the arts, especially when artists continue to press upon our assumptions or values. That's a central function of the arts,” he says.

But in the Judeo-Christian West, there has also been a tradition of deep suspicion toward the arts, as well as deep ambivalence about the emotional power of music and visual images and the charismatic performances behind them. Art has the particular moral power to lead people astray, corrupt a person’s soul, and thus endanger the wider society.

The Greek philosopher Plato, too, believed individual souls should set their minds on eternal ideals and perfect “forms.” In his ideal Republic, the arts would be banned, since they represented imperfect imitations of the imperfect shadows of the physical world and thus a mental space dangerously removed from eternal truth.

Aristotle, on the other hand, thought artistic works could embody the eternal ideals already woven into the physical world. In his influential “Poetics,” he observed that viewers of the tragic and grotesque could experience a “catharsis,” or an emotional cleansing.  

Yet both believed what many believe today: Art can have some kind of connection to the transcendent, whether a real or merely psychological state, and the individual “genius,” regardless of his behavior, may have an intimation of a reality beyond the rational.

“Can we separate the artist from their work? Certainly we can, and must, if we hope to have robust literary, visual, and performing arts in our future,” says Jeff Deist, a conservative social critic and the president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala. The idiosyncrasies of artists are often part and parcel of their talent, he says, and in many ways their expression of truth is separate from their moral behavior.

“We should resist the trend of boycotting art due to the acts or identity of the artist,” Mr. Deist continues. “Would we tear down a bridge designed by a bigot, or refuse heart surgery from a talented doctor whose political views oppose our own?”

But the trend has been wide-ranging. The Academy Awards this year is again a focus of the #MeToo movement. Bryan Singer, the listed director of the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” nominated for best picture, is accused of abusing or raping teenage boys. Mr. Singer called the latest allegations, detailed in the Atlantic, a “homophobic smear piece.” The comedian Kevin Hart, slated to be this year’s host, dropped out after past homophobic tweets resurfaced.

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/File
Director Bryan Singer, shown at the 2013 premiere of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,’ has been accused of sexually assaulting minors in an exposé published by the Atlantic. In a statement, Mr. Singer denied the charges and called the article a ‘homophobic smear piece.’

In the rarified worlds of high art, too, the National Gallery of Art in Washington cancelled solo exhibitions last year scheduled for the renowned painter Chuck Close and accomplished photographer Thomas Roma, both of whom were accused of sexual misconduct. And last year the Metropolitan Opera in New York fired its long-time conductor, James Levine, for what the Met called credible evidence of allegations of sexual harassment or abuse of seven men. 

“There is, of course, a long history of tension between public morality and artistic visions,” says Paddy Johnson, a writer and art critic who helps run PARADE, a nonprofit arts organization in Queens. “Often this tension reflects ideological power struggles,” and traditions of free speech in the modern era recognized the dangers of censorship and the value of self-expression and unorthodox ideas.

“But the fight to be heard plays out a little differently now because there actually is a crisis of moral values,” says Ms. Johnson. In the context of the #MeToo movement and the exposure of sexual misconduct at the highest levels of society, the words and actions of provocateurs like a Louis C.K. or even the countercultural flamboyance of a Milo Yiannopoulos can quickly lose their resonance and thus their power.

“We don’t need art to transgress norms as a means of challenging the status quo anymore,” she says. “Those norms are gone. We can, however, look to art to help us see the world a little differently. But you can’t really understand art unless you understand the context.”

Return of the morality clause

And there is a difference between the moral choices of individuals and those of businesses and public institutions, many observers say.

The charges against Kelly go back decades, with the singer having been acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008. After the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” aired this month, both his label and publisher dropped Kelly. The music streaming business Spotify this week created a feature that allows users to mute him and others after a “hate content and hateful conduct” policy was launched and then repealed last year.

And some media companies have returned to the early 20th-century tradition of adding the “morality clause” in their contracts. A part of the film industry in the 1920s through the 1960s, morality clauses tried to ensure, as Diest points out, “a Hollywood mystique, where actors literally had contractual obligations never to appear publicly in casual dress” or to engage in anything that could be considered scandalous behavior.

In the 1940s and 1950s, a number of artists and screenwriters saw their contracts invalidated by their morality clauses during the McCarthy era. And federal courts dismissed their lawsuits against studios and publishers, ruling that “a large segment of the public did look down upon Communism and Communists as things of evil,” so they violated their agreement to refrain from any behavior that could “bring him into public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”  

“Morality clauses are designed by lawyers for various business and legal risk management safeguards, but they can badly harm the artist’s creativity,” says Jeffrey Leving, a Chicago-based attorney and painter who negotiates the contracts of a number of artists and writers. “Such clauses can be harmful to freedom of speech and the creative expression which defines artists.”

“As both an artist and as a lawyer representing artists, I understand the purpose behind morality clauses but find many are created out of paranoia and have no real value,” Mr. Leving says.

“I would not have signed a contract with my publisher if it contained a morality clause for this book or any of the others.... There is no art without creativity.”

When the ‘price of genius’ is paid by others

Many women, however, emphasize that the issues raised in the #MeToo era have challenged many of the long-held assumptions about the nature of creativity and the role of artists in society.

And instead of an idea of art that sees a “genius” able to connect to deeper insights about the world or a transcendent realm, many see a much more complex process of human values and artistic production embedded in a wider social matrix.

“We can no longer worship at the altar of creative genius while ignoring the price all too often paid for that genius,” wrote the social thinker and writer Roxane Gay, reflecting on the enormous role “The Cosby Show” played in her life in her essay Can I Enjoy the Art but Denounce the Artist? “In truth, we should have learned this lesson long ago, but we have a cultural fascination with creative and powerful men who are also ‘mercurial’ or ‘volatile.’ ”

No matter the impact the comedian had on her identity, “it is not difficult to dismiss the work of predators and angry men because agonizing over a predator’s legacy would mean there is some price I am willing to let victims pay for the sake of good art, when the truth is no half hour of television is so excellent that anyone’s suffering is recompense.”

Mark Makela/AP
Bill Cosby accusers (from l.) Caroline Heldman, Lili Bernard, and Victoria Valentino (r.) react outside the courtroom after the comedian was found guilty in his sexual assault retrial on April 26, 2018, at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa.

“The value of art is decided by human beings, and the value of human beings is decided by human beings,” says Irina Aristarkhova, a professor of art history and women’s studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “When one of those value judgments is in conflict with another, forcing us to take sides, our discussions reveal how moral decisions are being made and on whose terms and under which circumstances.

“I welcome an acknowledgment that we should discuss the value of human beings and not just art, and seeing it from that perspective is useful,” Professor Aristarkhova says.

It’s a perspective that McCune has long embraced as a performance theorist and social critic. But even amid his own ambivalence about the role R. Kelly’s music has played in his life and continues to play in his thinking about sexuality and black culture, he also sees in art a deep and perhaps ironic truth.

“Some of the stuff that we don’t like about art and artists is what actually creates the gumbo, so to speak,” McCune says. “I think that it’s hard for us to manage the fact that what actually produces art is not just the good and pleasant things that happen; it’s also what we might consider the darker things.”

“I think that’s the conundrum, because part of it is that the beauty of the thing we love, and the complexity of the art that moves us so – it’s just precisely because of its relationship to that which we might think is immoral,” he says. “We enjoy thinking about the presence of the good as producing light, and we want to reproduce that.”

“But oftentimes artists create their work from a place of pain and sorrow as well as joy,” McCune says. “It’s made in troubled spaces as it is in triumphant spaces. And so we have to wrestle with that.”

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. At Born Dancing, different abilities – but all in harmony

Here’s a very different take on artistic vision: a look at how creative expression can transcend perceived limitations. It’s also about opportunity for artists who might otherwise be overlooked.

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Born Dancing is a studio which welcomes dancers with disabilities as well as those without. “This is not a company that you’re in just for the challenge of the movement. It’s also the challenge of collaboration with such a broad range of people,” says Melissa van Wijk, founder and executive director of Born Dancing. Ms. Van Wijk began Born Dancing in New York after years of teaching dance to children with disabilities. She had launched her efforts after realizing she had never seen a dancer in a wheelchair. Her company, which was a full-fledged reality by 2016, has a simple aspiration: to change the way that those with disabilities are seen, taught, and told to move. Born Dancing’s choreography is informed and guided by those who are often relegated to the background. The result is a dynamic, egalitarian environment. “Every dancer is made to feel beautiful,” says Madeline Charles, who has been with Born Dancing since its first production and also works with other dance companies. “There’s a range of ages and abilities, and we as professional dancers learn from this. They are telling us their own stories.” 

(For a gallery of images featuring the work of Born Dancing, scroll down to the Viewfinder near the end of this Daily.)

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At Born Dancing, different abilities – but all in harmony

With a late afternoon glow filling the studio, dozens of dancers stretch and chat quietly. As the rehearsal starts with soft piano notes, their bodies form an ebb and flow, creating a sense of connection. But this rehearsal is less focused on well-worn repetitions of pirouettes and arabesques. Instead, it’s almost a fully fledged social experiment, offering a reinvention of who can dance. 

This is Born Dancing, which welcomes both those with disabilities and non-disabled individuals. Some are children with learning disabilities. Other older participants are struggling with the physical effects of Parkinson’s disease. Some are professional dancers.

By the end of the piece at the rehearsal, the dancers have accomplished something markedly beautiful: an expression of ability and resilience, enriched by the unique contributions of each participant.

“This is not a company that you’re in just for the challenge of the movement. It’s also the challenge of collaboration with such a broad range of people,” says Melissa van Wijk, founder and executive director of Born Dancing.

Ms. Van Wijk began Born Dancing in New York after years of teaching dance to children with disabilities. She had launched her efforts after realizing she had never seen a dancer in a wheelchair. Her company, which was a full-fledged reality by 2016, has a simple aspiration: to change the way that those with disabilities, from autism to physical impairments, are seen, taught, and told to move.

“Every dancer is made to feel beautiful,” says Madeline Charles, who has been with Born Dancing since its first production and also works with other dance companies. “There’s a range of ages and abilities, and we as professional dancers learn from this. They are telling us their own stories.”

Choreography is informed and guided by those who are often relegated to the background. The result is a dynamic, egalitarian environment. 

“Everybody should have the opportunity to dance, and [Van Wijk] has this gift of elevating everybody’s stature,” says Patricia Beilman, a dancer in the production that Born Dancing put on in December. Ms. Beilman grew up taking ballet lessons, and after her condition was diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, she rediscovered the appeal of dancing, attending lessons with the nonprofit Dance for PD.

“Performances help with stigma. When my friends see what I’m doing they say, ‘Oh, she has Parkinson’s, and she’s dancing. That’s pretty cool.’ ”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Van Wijk’s company has three main components, each with an aim. It’s getting children with disabilities involved in dance, it has an apprenticeship program for disabled teenagers to learn about careers in the performing arts, and it’s educating the next wave of professional dance instructors. These components coalesce in productions held about twice a year. The one in December featured about 30 dancers.

Parents travel from far and wide for the rehearsals each week. Ammie Johnson drives her 11-year-old son, Afadji, an hour and a half from Middletown, N.Y. Laurie McIntosh makes a three-hour trek from the Catskills so her daughter Ava can participate in her first professional dance production. 

The program also enlists many children in District 75, New York City’s public schools for special-needs students. Too often, these kinds of students drop out and feel they aren’t equipped to enter the workforce. The opportunity for success is even smaller for those interested in the arts. 

Diane Duggan is a retired dance therapist and educator from District 75. “There’s more equality than when I first came in [to the schools], but there needs to be much, much more,” says Dr. Duggan, who has taught in the master’s program for dance education at New York University. “It’s really vital for all children to be able to have dance.... Instead of being someone who struggles in class, they really get dance and enjoy it.”

For the children in the December production, Born Dancing holds great meaning. “I feel like this is my home; I love Born Dancing.... When I’m dancing, it’s like I’m putting a story together,” says 14-year-old Ava McIntosh, who has Down syndrome. Greta Baier feels the same way, saying the program creates a space where her talents are nurtured. “I feel more included here than at my school because they really make sure we’re participating and don’t just focus on kids that can walk,” says the 10-year-old, who uses a wheelchair because of a congenital muscular dystrophy.

“I really like the arts, [and] dancing is one of my favorite things to do. When I grow up, I want to go into the arts,” Greta adds.

The larger point of Born Dancing is to create such opportunities for disabled people now and in the future, both on and off the stage.

“The field [of disabled dance] is gaining recognition: Both the audience for the work has broadened, and the dance field itself is increasingly recognizing the value and artistry of these dancers and these companies,” says Simi Linton, co-director of Disability/Arts/NYC (DANC).

Van Wijk agrees. “I think that there’s been an evolution. A lot of people are thinking more about inclusion, integrated arts, and disability arts.”

That’s certainly true of the company’s professional dancers, some of whom may be among the next generation of choreographers and dance educators.

“It’s always been a dream for me to open a company of dancers with disabilities, and this process has been a huge learning experience for me,” Ms. Charles says. She was first inspired to this work growing up with a sister who uses a wheelchair, wanting to help create a different world for her.

Dominique Lockett, another professional dancer in the company, thinks the future looks bright for disabled dance and inclusion. 

“By watching them and helping them learn – we’re not going against them, but coming to them. To have all the kids, adults, and teenagers being able to move as one, it has changed a lot of how I think about dance.”

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The Monitor's View

A name change that changes Europe

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A name dispute that seems arcane to outsiders may end up making Europe more peaceful. On Friday, the Greek Parliament approved a measure to end a 27-year dispute with its northern neighbor over the official name for that country. After the vote, the neighbor commonly known as Macedonia will be called the Republic of North Macedonia. And the northern region of Greece also called Macedonia will retain its ancient name. In agreeing on a mutually acceptable name, each side decided to put a higher ideal ahead of stubborn pride. That ideal is a more prosperous and integrated Europe. The Republic of North Macedonia is expected to join NATO soon and eventually the European Union. For years, Greece, which is already a part of both blocs, vetoed membership for its neighbor. “Today we write a new page for the Balkans,” said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. If all goes as planned, Mr. Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, could win the Nobel Peace Prize. Their efforts are the kind that help keep Europe at peace.

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A name change that changes Europe

In southeast Europe, a region that triggered major wars in the 20th century, every step that douses fiery nationalism is welcome. On Friday, the Greek Parliament approved a measure to end a 27-year dispute with its northern neighbor over the official name for that country. After the vote, the neighbor commonly known as Macedonia will be called the Republic of North Macedonia. And the northern region of Greece also called Macedonia will retain its ancient name.

If the dispute seems arcane to outsiders, that is not the case for ardent nationalists in each country. Both peoples lay claim to the legacy of Alexander the Great, who came from the border area. Fears of losing their respective cultural identity and of a possible territorial invasion run deep.

In agreeing on a mutually acceptable name, each decided to put a higher ideal ahead of stubborn pride. That ideal is a more prosperous and integrated Europe. The Republic of North Macedonia, which voted last year for its new name, is expected to join NATO soon and eventually the European Union. For years, Greece, which is already a part of both blocs, vetoed membership for its neighbor, adding to tensions in the Balkans.

“Today we write a new page for the Balkans,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras posted on social media. “The hatred of nationalism, dispute and conflict will be replaced by friendship, peace and co-operation.”

In 1991, the Balkans exploded in conflict after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the former Yugoslavia. Only with NATO’s intervention and the lure of EU membership has the region begun to end wars, settle borders, and agree on names. Montenegro is now a NATO member. Bosnia recently held a peaceful election. And talks between Kosovo and Serbia appear hopeful.

The agreement between the two countries is also a rebuff to Russia. President Vladimir Putin has meddled in the dispute to prevent the expansion of the EU and NATO into a region he regards as part of historic Russian influence. In fact, the real influence in the Balkans is the desire of its people to live in democratic societies, tied together by the values of the EU.

If all goes as planned, Mr. Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, could win the Nobel Peace Prize. Each had a long political struggle to redefine the identity of their nations. Such efforts are what help keep Europe at peace after decades of war. The bonds of affection are becoming greater on the Continent rather than the divisions of nationalism.

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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.

Morality that’s freeing

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Today’s contributor explores the idea that living our inherent integrity as God’s children brings joy and healing.

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Morality that’s freeing

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Morality. The word may conjure thoughts of kindness, honesty, justice, integrity, and safety. On the other hand, it could also bring to mind a sense of judgment, relativity, and restriction. When approached positively, morality can help provide a framework for societal norms and relationships. When approached negatively, it can foster distrust and division.

Through my study of the Bible and the teachings of Christian Science, I have gained a fresh perspective on morality, one that has withstood life’s challenges and doesn’t assume a standard that’s impossible to live up to. It comes from a deeper understanding of our identity as the children of God and of how that understanding can be applied in our life.

My study began with the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible. It presents God, Spirit, creating the spiritual universe, where man – all of us as the sons and daughters of God – is made in God’s image and likeness and where God saw “every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (verse 31).

I’ve found that understanding the first account of creation unlocks the truth of my – and everyone’s – identity. We’re not sinners, powerless humans tossed to and fro by temptation, left alone to figure out what to do. Instead, we’re God’s children, expressing joy, freedom, and goodness. This spiritual reality gives us a strong foundation to resist and overcome the belief that evil can have dominion over us. We’re safe to be ourselves – to express our spiritual identity – and see how living our inherent integrity actually brings freedom.

I experienced this in my own life when I found myself in a tricky business situation. It became clear that I needed to disclose certain information, but I was afraid that doing so could end the deal. However, in the same instant that this temptation came to my thought, I recognized that omitting this information was the equivalent of lying. Lying didn’t represent the principled and loving child of God that I cherish as my, and others’, true identity.

With this realization my anxiety about what would happen lifted, and I immediately disclosed the information. I was so grateful I had not succumbed to the temptation to act contrary to my real, spiritual nature! Furthermore, the response to what I’d shared was one of reassurance and protection of the deal, which went through to all parties’ benefit.

Inspiration from Christ Jesus has helped me in demonstrating how a spiritually based sense of morality brings healing and freedom. On one occasion a group of men brought to Jesus a woman accused of adultery (see John 8:3-11). After pointing to what the law said was the traditional punishment for adultery, they waited to see what he would do. Jesus quietly prayed. Then he told the waiting crowd, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

This wasn’t the kind of response the men expected. It was a simple request for them to be honest with themselves, an appeal to act more consistently with their higher, sinless nature as the children of God. The crowd dispersed, and Jesus said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

Jesus both recognized and demanded that the right view of God and man be seen and expressed. Doing so brought repentance, redemption, and healing – as it still does today. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this newspaper, writes in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “There is moral freedom in Soul” (p. 58). Understanding our identity as the beloved, pure, whole, and spiritual offspring of God, divine Soul, enables us to act consistently with our true nature and feel the freedom and joy that naturally results.

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Viewfinder

Art with access for all

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Greta Baier (c.) and other dancers with the nonprofit Born Dancing rehearse in New York before their winter performance. Born Dancing is founded on the belief that people of all ages and abilities should have access to every aspect of dance. (See story No. 3 in today’s Daily, above, and click on the blue button below to view more images.)
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( January 28th, 2019 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Have a good weekend, and see you Monday. We’ll take a look at how coal-reliant Poland is trying to transition from fossil fuels in a way that doesn't leave the country’s coal miners in the dust.

Monitor Daily Podcast

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