2019
January
29
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In a bitterly divided nation, the political path to the White House runs down the middle.

That’s what former Starbucks chief executive officer Howard Schultz says as he contemplates running for president as an independent moderate. “The American people are exhausted. Their trust has been broken. And they are looking for a better choice,” he told “60 Minutes” Sunday.

A possible campaign slogan: “Make moderation great again.”

But Mr. Schultz would be running against a history of failed third-party campaigns. Conventional wisdom says a Schultz candidacy would simply peel off Democratic voters, helping President Trump win reelection.

What’s the unconventional wisdom?

American voters may be as fed up with Democrats and Republicans as they were in 1992. That’s when another independent businessman, Ross Perot, was ahead of Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush in the polls just five months before the election. For a variety of reasons, his campaign imploded.

A Schultz campaign could be a good barometer of what voters want in a leader. The current flock of Democratic candidates leans ever leftward (more on them in tomorrow’s edition), perhaps creating an opening for a centrist. And if you ask Americans whether a major third party is needed, 57 percent say yes.

Voters are ever alert for a path to progress. In 2016, they elected an unconventional real estate billionaire. The electorate may be so eager for relief from political head-butting that they give moderation a try in 2020.

Now to our five selected stories, including the price of uncertainty in the US economy, a video about how individual values can address our apparent prejudices, and a way to measure love for children in cities.

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1. Shutdown may be over – but economic ripple effect lingers

Consumers, businesses, and investors loathe uncertainty. Our reporters look at how the true cost of the government shutdown may go beyond lost sales.

David
Brendan McDermid/Reuters
A National Park Service worker cleans up outside the Federal Hall National Memorial in New York after the US government reopened, allowing about 800,000 federal employees to go back to work after a 35-day shutdown.

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The record 35-day shutdown of the US government didn’t end with a bang so much as a long whimper that will last for months. It will take time for the agencies to work through their backlog and start operating normally. Those 800,000 “nonessential” federal workers will get paychecks again, but they’re likely to stay cautious about spending, since government funding only lasts through mid-February. While business should pick up for Muhammad Saqib’s Maryland gas station and auto-repair shop near a Census Bureau office, he’s unlikely to recoup the sales he lost during the shutdown. All these losses slow the economy, albeit minimally. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the permanent economic loss at about $3 billion, not even pocket change for a $20 trillion economy. But if the shutdown adds to economic uncertainty – if businesses don’t invest and consumers don’t spend because the future looks shaky – its impact could be much bigger. Says Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics: “Uncertainty is really key to monitor at this point and make sure that we don't talk ourselves into a recession.”

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1. Shutdown may be over – but economic ripple effect lingers

The longest-ever shutdown of the federal government may be over, but Americans are still feeling its effects – which rippled into the economy in ways that are affecting everything from tourism to high finance.

With national parks closed or left unstaffed for weeks, nearby communities took a hit. Now the fate of their high-traffic seasons could hinge on whether Congress and President Trump can settle their budgetary differences during the next three weeks. In Idaho, hopes for a normal season of steelhead fishing were thrown into doubt by stalled fishing-permit paperwork, and it remains to be seen if the reopening of government – perhaps just temporary – will patch up prospects for towns dependent on revenue from visiting anglers.

Public stock offerings, an important way for young companies to finance expansion, are also still in doubt – because the three-week reprieve from Washington’s budget impasse doesn’t ensure that the months-long processing of paperwork for initial public offerings (IPOs) will get back on track.

Not least, consumer spending across the nation was crimped as some 800,000 federal employees were either on unpaid furlough or working without pay. Now, even as those paychecks are poised to resume, all those workers have been left wondering whether their income could start running dry again as soon as mid-February.

“The last few weeks were really, really slow,” says Muhammad Saqib, manager at a Maryland gas station and auto-repair shop whose business struggled while a nearby Census Bureau office was shuttered.

The 35-day shutdown didn’t actually close the whole government, but it revealed how even the temporary loss of “nonessential” federal activities imposes costs on the wider US economy. And economists say those costs are still being felt.

“It will take a bit of time for that spending to kick back up,” says Gregory Daco, chief US economist at Oxford Economics USA. “That's just the result of getting this large machine that is the government back in functioning order.”

By some estimates the direct effects – lost or delayed output by government workers – were relatively small. The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the shutdown delayed about $18 billion in federal spending, which will cause an $11 billion drop in economic activity as measured by gross domestic product. But much of that spending will ultimately be made up in subsequent quarters. So the permanent loss from federal spending amounts to about $3 billion.

In a $20 trillion economy, that’s minuscule: the equivalent of holding a dollar and losing less than 2/100ths of a penny.

What economists call the “indirect” effects – things like postponed spending by federal employees – were even larger. And, in some cases, they may continue to drag down economic growth.

Fewer people dropping off cars or dry-cleaning

Suitland, a Maryland community just outside the nation’s capital, is a case in point. The community, not far from Joint Base Andrews where the president comes and goes on Air Force One, hosts offices for a handful of federal agencies from the Census Bureau to the National Archives.

Normally, those workers might drop off their cars for repair at the Suitland Exxon that Mr. Saqib manages. But he says gasoline sales and the repair business took a big hit. And although government offices reopened Monday he’s still watching for things to recover in the shutdown’s wake.

“I thought, we should do some sort of promotion” to get business back, Saqib says, but he’s realized that those workers still haven’t gotten their post-shutdown paychecks.

“Hopefully we’re going to start seeing them again,” returning as customers, he says.

Similarly, Taewon Kim, owner of a dry-cleaning shop nearby, says he’s waiting to see a recovery after a decline of 20 to 25 percent in his business in recent weeks. It was “not a big problem” during that time, but he says it constrained his own outlook on spending money.

Will workers return?

The shutdown may also have some lingering effects on the government’s ability to attract and retain workers.

Last week, for example, the Transportation Security Administration reported that worker absences hit 10 percent, triple the level from a year ago. TSA screeners were working without pay. Will all those federal workers come back to work – or will they look for other work, asks Stan Veuger, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington. How much harder will it be for the TSA to find workers to replace them?  

Many of the lowest-paid federal workers, hundreds of thousands of people who do contract jobs including janitorial and cafeteria work, appear unlikely to get back pay for the involuntary unpaid furlough time.

Having reopened government temporarily, Mr. Trump may not be able to stomach shutting it down again, even though he has threatened to if Congress doesn’t pass funding for a border wall.

Its impact would potentially spread to low-income Americans. The depletion of funds to pay for food stamps and housing vouchers for low-income families was poised to hit in coming weeks. The cutoff in food assistance alone, affecting nearly 40 million Americans, would have shaved half a percentage point off the quarterly rate of economic growth while straining affected households, Mr. Daco says.

All these threats add to economic uncertainty – which has the biggest potential to harm the economy but is extremely hard to measure.

“That’s almost impossible” to pin down, says Mr. Veuger at the American Enterprise Institute. “How likely is it that people are now unwilling to take jobs with the federal government?… Will there be some companies that choose not to invest in the US but instead in Canada because they are not willing to rely on the US federal government?”

In December, the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index – a measure created by three US economists – rose to its highest level in five years. Researchers have linked heightened uncertainty with stock price volatility and cuts in investment and jobs at defense and other industries closely tied to federal policy.

“Uncertainty is really key to monitor at this point,” says Daco, “and make sure that we don’t talk ourselves into a recession.”

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2. In Venezuela power struggle, a play for time ... and military’s support

If you look at who is on either side of Venezuela’s political standoff, you’ll see a global power struggle between authoritarian and democratic models of government.

David
Fernando Llano/AP
Opposition National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó (r.), who has declared himself Venezuela’s interim president, greeted supporters as he left church in Caracas Jan. 27.

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The rise of opposition leader Juan Guaidó to self-declared interim president set the clock ticking in Venezuela’s power struggle. Leftist President Nicolas Maduro faces mounting domestic and international pressure. But an unusual convergence of factors could mean he finds a way to hold on, some analysts say. Having already recognized Mr. Guaidó’s claim to power, the US has taken the next step aimed at forcing Mr. Maduro out: applying oil sanctions in what appears to be a well-orchestrated hemispheric campaign. For now, use of military force is only a provocative hint. Russia, which has core interests, would like to see the US-led imbroglio go on. Who’ll come out on top? One key factor: whether or not Venezuela’s military continues to stand by Maduro. “Venezuela is in the middle of an unprecedented face-off between the Western democracies and their Latin American allies and the non-democrats rallying to Maduro,” says Eric Farnsworth, a leading Latin America expert in Washington. If Russia and China and other “authoritarian countries push their engagement in ways that offset the US-led pressure,” he adds, “it could give Maduro the time he needs to consolidate his hold on power.”

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In Venezuela power struggle, a play for time ... and military’s support

Once Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the country’s legitimate president last week, he set a clock ticking.

The longer Venezuela’s embattled leftist President Nicolás Maduro is able to defy the clock and retain his office, regional experts say, the better his chances of fending off this latest challenge and clinging to power.

Everyone involved in the crisis appears to recognize this.

Mr. Guaidó, who just a few weeks ago was not widely known even in his own country, knows time is of the essence and is calling for massive national demonstrations Wednesday, and especially Saturday, to keep building public pressure on Mr. Maduro to step down.

Maduro himself appears to understand the ticking clock, having taken steps to help him weather the storm: domestically to bolster his support within the military and internationally among his regime’s friends, like Russia and China.

And the United States is recognizing that it may be now or never to topple Maduro and avoid the long-term installation of another Cuba in the hemisphere. To address Venezuela’s steady slide into economic crisis and authoritarian rule, it is taking steps it had until now stopped short of.

On Monday the Trump administration announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, in an effort to cut off the flow of oil income that has kept Maduro’s government afloat. The US had already imposed sanctions on the top tier of the country’s civilian and military leadership – including Maduro – but had until now remained PDVSA’s top cash-paying customer.

Having already recognized Guaidó on Wednesday as Venezuela’s interim president, the US took the next big step with oil sanctions in what appears to be a well-orchestrated hemispheric campaign to force Maduro from office.

And just in case Maduro wasn’t getting the hint, President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, appeared to resort to a bit of psy-op warfare Monday aimed at further rattling the beleaguered president and his entourage.

At the White House briefing with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announcing the oil sanctions, Mr. Bolton held a yellow legal pad with the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” aimed outward and clearly legible to the assembled press.

Colombia shares a long border with Venezuela and has joined with the US and other regional powers from Canada to Brazil and Argentina in recognizing Guaidó and demanding Maduro’s departure.

Democratic-authoritarian face-off

The mounting domestic and international pressure might be almost impossible for another embattled leader to withstand. But an unusual convergence of factors, starting with the developing tug-of-war over Venezuela between the US and other Western democracies and rising authoritarian powers led by Russia, could mean that Maduro finds a way to hold on, some analysts say.

“Things really do feel different this time after so many years of crisis, Maduro’s legitimacy is being challenged now like never before,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and a leading Latin America expert in Washington.

“But now Venezuela is in the middle of an unprecedented face-off between the Western democracies and their Latin American allies and the non-democrats rallying to Maduro,” Mr. Farnsworth says. If Russia and China and other “authoritarian countries push their engagement in ways that offset the US-led pressure,” he adds, “it could give Maduro the time he needs to consolidate his hold on power.”

/Susan Walsh/AP
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calls on a reporter during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at which he announced sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

At an emergency United Nations Security Council session on Venezuela Saturday, the Western-authoritarian split was on full display. But the support for the Maduro regime from Security Council permanent members Russia and China could not help but “boost Maduro’s international legitimacy,” Farnsworth says.

Still, Farnsworth and others say it is doubtful either Russia or China will go to great lengths to prop up Maduro. China’s interest is largely in Venezuela’s oil, experts say, which Venezuela ships to China to pay down its large debt to Beijing.

Russia, on the other hand, “is much more interested in driving the US into some sort of imbroglio in Venezuela,” Farnsworth says, “which means the US will pay less attention to the places where Russia really does have core interests.”

Courting the military

Yet as important as the international context may be, it’s still going to be the power struggle on the ground – and above all whether or not the military continues to stand by Maduro – that determines Venezuela’s path forward, most experts say.

“The US is clearly ratcheting up the economic pressure with these [oil] sanctions, but I still see the military as the key,” says Brian Fonseca, director of the Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University in Miami. Indeed, turning the economic screws “is designed to further isolate Venezuela economically, compelling the military and others to turn on the regime,” he says.

But Professor Fonseca, an expert on Venezuela’s military, says the determining factor may not be so much the military’s top brass, which after many years of gifts and other corrupting influences seems beholden to Maduro, but the middle ranks.

“So far we haven’t seen much in the way of cracks in the military’s stand with Maduro,” he says, “but clearly everyone understands how the mid-ranking officers and the troops could make the difference here.” He notes that Maduro has kept a steady flow of videos on social media showing him rallying the troops on bases across the country.

At the same time, delegations supporting Guaidó are also showing up at military bases, imploring the ranks to switch allegiances.

“Regular people” have been approaching soldiers in the streets with pamphlets explaining why the military should remain neutral in the political power struggle. Some have pledged “amnesty” for military officers in a post-Maduro scenario. These actions underscore the wide-ranging understanding of the military’s key role, Farnsworth says.

“The military remains the ultimate arbiter of who’s going to be in control,” Farnsworth says. “Clearly what Maduro lacks in legitimacy he retains in his ability to use force, while for Guaidó it’s the reverse. In that equation,” he adds, “the key becomes the extent to which the military remains loyal to Maduro.”

Moreover, Fonseca says Maduro knows that Guaidó’s legitimacy has a certain shelf life – which is why he says Maduro will do everything he can to hold on to power for the coming weeks.

What the constitution stipulates

Guaidó’s legitimacy derives from the fact that as president of the National Assembly he was empowered by the Venezuelan constitution to declare himself interim president once the assembly determined Maduro’s second term, which began this month, was illegitimate.

But the constitution also stipulates that the interim president must set a new presidential election within the first 30 days of his mandate, Fonseca notes. “The longer this power struggle drags on, the harder it becomes for Guaidó to retain that legitimacy,” he adds, “and Maduro knows it.”

That helps explain why Guaidó has moved quickly to bolster his standing with the international community and particularly with the US, without whose recognition he likely would have become just another opposition flash in the pan. Guaidó has coordinated with the Trump administration on the oil sanctions, and has named a chargé d’affaires for Washington to replace the diplomats Maduro ordered home when he severed diplomatic ties.

Moreover, by calling for massive national demonstrations Saturday, Guaidó is linking his campaign to the international community. Saturday is also the deadline a group of European countries set for Maduro to either call new elections – or see key European powers join the US and recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

What worries some analysts is that the intensifying involvement of the international community in Venezuela and the developing tug-of-war between big-power factions will make it more difficult for Venezuelans to resolve the country’s crisis peacefully and by themselves.

“The two sides are being emboldened by outside forces to take increasingly provocative steps, and that’s leading to a brinksmanship that is the opposite of the dialogue that should be the only answer for resolving this crisis,” says Miguel Tinker-Salas, a Venezuelan historian and professor of Latin American studies at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

Handbook for survival

In particular, Professor Tinker Salas says he worries that a now-or-never mindset in the Trump administration could lead the US to take extreme steps if Maduro appears to be holding onto power despite Guaidó’s gambit.

“Bolton has suggested in the past that the administration could be looking for some ‘incident’ to justify taking the step to military action, but I would hate to see some ‘incident’ created for a pretext to intervention,” he says. “US interventions in Latin America and elsewhere have been disastrous for the country involved and for the US, and there’s no reason to think it would be different here.”

Notwithstanding the note scrawled on Bolton’s legal pad, no one appears to be calling for military intervention at this point. (Asked to clarify Bolton’s note Tuesday, the White House simply said Mr. Trump has always said “All options are on the table,” a standard phrase presidents use in such contexts.)

But some analysts say that as Maduro fights for his survival, he is taking cues from Cuba and how it withstood US pressure for six decades. And certainly the prospect of “losing” Venezuela during its watch could motivate the Trump administration to take further action.

“If you look at the steps Maduro has taken over recent years to consolidate his hold on power – allowing mass emigration to release pressures, organizing a scarcity of resources to ensure popular loyalty, integrating the military into the economic system to keep it loyal, and of course relentlessly building up the Americans or ‘Yanquis’ as the Venezuelan people’s top enemy – you see it’s all out of Cuba’s handbook for survival,” Fonseca says.

“Maduro has benefited from that handbook so far,” he adds, “and he knows that the longer this goes on, the better the chances of the regime’s survival.”

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3. Rebuilding Syria: Why Arabs and the West are on a collision course

It’s a natural cycle: After war comes rebuilding. But Western and Arab nations are not yet in sync transitioning from a confrontational mentality to a framework of renewal.

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After eight years of war, the opportunities for rebuilding Syria are massive. Arab governments, investors, and engineering firms are lining up to be among the first to land a deal with Syrian partners. President Bashar al-Assad declared in December that rebuilding Syria would cost $400 billion. But more is at stake than fat contracts. “Gulf countries have the financial ability to fund the reconstruction,” says Riad Kahwaji, director of a Dubai-based think tank. “But this will not be for free – it will be as a direct result of efforts by the Syrian regime to transition to a more peaceful system and reduce the influence of the Iranians.” Yet Western sanctions constitute a substantial roadblock. New legislation may soon require the US president to impose sanctions on any foreign company or individual who has business dealings with Syria. But Gulf officials are hoping to sway President Trump personally by playing to his transactional approach to diplomacy. Says one Gulf insider, who declined to be named: “As Gulf involvement in Syria reconstruction will mean a weaker Iran and a stable Syria at no cost to the US – this is a deal too good for the president to pass up.”

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Rebuilding Syria: Why Arabs and the West are on a collision course

The United States and its Arab allies are on a collision course over the reconstruction of Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad, bolstered by Russia and Iran, has emerged the victor in a devastating civil war.

With lucrative contracts on the line, Gulf states are lobbying Washington and Brussels to loosen sanctions and not ensnare Arab companies and investors looking to rebuild their neighbor.

But more is at stake than fat contracts: Arab officials and lawmakers argue that Syria’s reconstruction is the last best chance to limit Iranian influence in Syria and reintegrate Damascus into the Arab world.

While much of the Arab world, the US, and Europe sided with anti-Assad rebel forces in the civil war, the Arabs are moving ahead of their Western allies in being willing to turn the page, even as the West continues to impose sanctions on the Assad regime, still regarded as having engaged in war crimes in the slaughter of its own citizens.

With Arab governments rapidly warming ties with Mr. Assad, Arab investors, lawmakers, businesses, and private citizens have been fast at work to reintegrate Syria into the regional economy and pave the way for its reconstruction.

One of the motivators is Syria’s geographic importance; Syria remains the only overland route to Europe for Jordan, Lebanon, and the Arab Gulf. Lying at the crossroads of Turkey, Iraq, and the Levant, officials and traders refer to Damascus as the “economic heart” of the region.

Economic opportunity

But it is the prospect of reconstruction after nearly eight years of war that has Arab governments, investors, and engineering firms lining up to court Damascus and be among the first to land a deal with Syrian partners.

The opportunities are massive.

Assad declared in December that rebuilding Syria would cost $400 billion, while some international analysts and organizations estimate the price tag at between $500 billion and $1 trillion.

A Syria rebuild would be a boost to Arab economies. Idle Gulf engineering firms and investment groups would benefit, while the involvement of Egypt’s state-owned companies could help Cairo ease its debt crisis.

But perhaps no country would benefit more than neighboring Jordan, which suffers a near-record 18.6 percent unemployment rate, soaring public debt, and growing discontent and ongoing protests over austerity measures and tax hikes.

Jordan boasts contractors and engineers with international experience and intimate knowledge of Syria, and the machinery and raw materials such as cement all desperately needed by Assad’s regime to start rebuilding Syria’s cities, infrastructure, and electrical grid.

But the Arab interest in rebuilding Syria is also profoundly geopolitical. By dangling the carrot of billions of dollars in Arab financing, manpower, and cooperation to secure a quick rebuild, the Gulf and its Arab allies are hoping to persuade Assad to reduce his regime’s reliance on Iran.

“Gulf countries have the financial ability to fund the reconstruction of Syria, and Gulf countries may be the only option for reconstruction,” says Riad Kahwaji, director of the think tank INEGMA in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“But this will not be for free – it will be as a direct result of efforts by the Syrian regime to transition to a more peaceful system and reduce the influence of the Iranians.”

SANA/AP
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, right, speaks with Iran’s first Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, left, in Damascus, Syria, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Mr. Assad said new trade agreements with Iran will help the two countries face the “economic war” waged against them by the West.

In low-level delegations and unannounced diplomacy with regime officials, Arab governments, lawmakers, and investors are offering Damascus a marriage of Jordanian and Egyptian manpower and equipment with Gulf financing.

With Russia’s limited economic resources and Iran facing stronger US sanctions, many both in Damascus and in the Gulf believe that this arrangement is the best, perhaps only, option for a successful and speedy rebuild of Syria.

Western stumbling block

The momentum for Arab involvement in Syria is already gaining pace even as legal obstacles emerge.

Last week, the United Arab Emirates held a Syria trade and business forum in Abu Dhabi, inviting a delegation of prominent regime-linked Syrian businessmen for discussions that aimed to “enhance” commercial ties.

Earlier this month, the Syrian government received the Jordan Contractors Association in Damascus. The Syrian minister of public works proposed projects involving Jordanian companies to rebuild roads, bridges, water networks, and residential areas.

The Jordan Engineers Association is set to host Syrian engineers and government officials next month to draw up a list of projects for Syrians and Jordanians to work on, while the UAE and Jordan are considering whether to allow national carriers to renew flights to Damascus.

Yet the reconstruction drive is set to hit a substantial roadblock: Western sanctions.

The US, which provided training and support for anti-Assad rebels in the civil war and at one point openly called for Assad to step down, has long had a comprehensive list of regime officials, businessmen, and companies tied to Assad on its sanctions list, and has barred US citizens from directly or indirectly being involved in any transaction or sale to Syria.

Now, with the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act before the Senate, Congress may soon require the president to impose sanctions on any foreign company or individual who has business dealings with Syria.

The legislation, which was passed unanimously by the House late last year, singles out anyone who engages in “significant financial, material or technological support to, or knowingly engages in a significant transaction with” the Syrian government.

Even more concerning to Arab companies and investors is a stipulation requiring the president to sanction any person or company in the world that “is involved with construction and engineering projects controlled by the Syrian government” or “supports Syria’s energy industry.”

The European Union, meanwhile, last week added an additional 11 businessmen and five companies to its lists of Syrians under sanctions for backing the Assad regime as part of its yearly review, raising the number of targeted entities to 270 people and 72 companies and organizations.

The Russia alternative

It is a clear message from Washington and Brussels that although the tide has turned on the battlefield, Western governments do not believe the time is right to do business with the Assad regime.

As the Syrian regime dominates the private sector and any medium to large-scale project will require some involvement by the government, such sanctions will likely scare off many investors.

However, with Russia remaining as the main powerbroker in Syria, many Arab firms are set to carry on with their plans with the coordination and support from Moscow.

“Arab companies that do not have assets in the US may pursue projects with the help of the Russians and the Chinese, but this slowdown will prevent the massive effort needed to rebuild Syria,” says Mr. Kahwaji, the Emirati analyst.

In Jordan, many construction firms and importers are without ties to US companies or US assets and are willing to take the risk in order to get badly needed contracts in Syria, betting that Washington would not go out of its way to target small companies in Jordan.

But in Washington and Brussels, the lobbying continues.

According to Arab official sources, the Gulf, Jordan, and Egypt have reiterated that they share the same goals as America: to limit Iranian influence in Syria and ensure Assad upholds, rather than undermines, regional security.

“If you prevent Arab countries from working in Syria, particularly Jordan and Egypt, because of sanctions, then you are basically giving Iranians more leeway, more access, and more reasons to stay in Syria at the request of the Syrian government,” says Fares Braizat, chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, an Amman-based think tank.

Appeal to Trump?

Short of shifting policy at the State Department or winning over Congress, officials in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and elsewhere are hoping to sway President Trump personally by playing to his “America First,” transactional approach to diplomacy.

“They know at the end of the day, the White House – i.e., Trump – will be holding the pen when deciding who to sanction or not,” says one Gulf insider, who declined to be named. “As Gulf involvement in Syria reconstruction will mean a weaker Iran and a stable Syria at no cost to the US – this is a deal too good for the president to pass up.”

Jordan, meanwhile, has been arguing to the US that economic access to Syria’s reconstruction would be vital to the economic stability of the kingdom – which lost hundreds of millions of dollars and hosted more than 1 million refugees because of the war.

“We are sending the message to our allies in the US and Europe: Syria is a doorway to the world for us, do not prevent us from opening it,” says Qais Zayadin, a Jordanian member of parliament who recently met with Assad in Damascus as part of a Jordanian parliamentary delegation.

“Our Western allies have to give us leeway: You are tens of thousands of miles away, you can afford not to have a relationship with Syria. We do not have this luxury.”

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Video

4. Confronting ‘intergroup anxiety’: Can you try too hard to be fair?

Our next story includes a video about how our values can compensate for personal anxiety and awkwardness over appearing biased toward minorities. 

David

Why do some of us, despite our best intentions, feel self-conscious when we meet people who are transgender, disabled, or otherwise marginalized by our society? Psychologists call it “intergroup anxiety,” and it's very common. But even though intergroup anxiety typically arises from a desire to appear fair to others, it can often end up perpetuating social inequalities. “Because your anxiety is so high, the irony is that you might exhibit more manifestations of discrimination and prejudice,” says L. Song Richardson, dean and chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. How do we overcome it? The answer may lie in what motivates our desire to actually be fair. When we’re driven by external factors such as appearance, we become anxious, says Gordon Moskowitz, chair of Lehigh University's Department of Psychology. “But another type of egalitarian goal is one which is derived from our value system.” These “internally set standards of how to live and act,” he says, “do not lead to anxiety.” – Eoin O’Carroll

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5. Beyond test scores: How well do cities love their children?

For students to succeed, they often need help with more than just academics. A new tool measures many ways cities support equitable education, and encourages collective care.

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Is it possible to measure how much a city loves its children? That’s the idea behind the Loving Cities Index from the Schott Foundation for Public Education. It is not meant to be a “gotcha” exercise, but rather a call to action – a way to highlight what’s working and what’s not en route to student success. The foundation came up with the idea after hearing grass-roots groups of parents and young people say that it didn’t seem like elected officials were showing the same kind of love to children in poor communities of color as they would to their own children. The resulting index has indicators in four categories – care, stability, commitment, and capacity. They range from health and housing policies to school-discipline practices and the availability of advanced coursework. “It’s a little bit tricky in an education-justice movement to not just be against things, and Loving Cities reflects something that we can be for,” says Allison Brown, who manages the initiative, which launched last year. At a time when federal institutions are often pitted against each other, local communities should envision a system, she says, “that provides love and support for all kids.”

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Beyond test scores: How well do cities love their children?

Salsa music heats up the basement cafeteria at Lafayette International Community High School on a chilly weekend morning. Students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America dance together in a circle, while kids and grandparents chat and eat. Twice a month, thousands of people gather in various neighborhood schools for Saturday academies – part of Buffalo’s community-wide partnership to show care for students and families who need everything from nutritious food to health services.

Upstairs, a volunteer teaches English to a mother from Somalia, and girls wearing hijabs and long skirts dice garlic to make pico de gallo during a cooking class. The sounds, smells, and smiles all add up to an atmosphere of love.

But is it possible to measure how much a city loves its children? 

That’s what the Schott Foundation for Public Education is aiming for with its Loving Cities Index

For decades, schools have been measured mainly by test scores and other standard outcomes. But that approach, the foundation argues, has largely neglected the inputs needed – both inside and outside of school – to give children equal opportunities to succeed.

So it came up with 24 indicators that require collective effort. They range from health and housing policies to school-discipline practices and the availability of advanced coursework. 

The foundation pursued the idea after hearing grass-roots groups of parents and students say that it didn’t seem like elected officials were showing the same kind of love to children in poor communities of color as they would to their own children. 

“It’s a little bit tricky in an education-justice movement to not just be against things, and Loving Cities reflects something that we can be for,” says Allison Brown, who manages the initiative as a consultant to the Quincy, Mass.-based Schott Foundation. At a time when federal institutions are often pitted against each other, local communities should envision a system “that provides love and support for all kids.”

Buffalo, N.Y., is halfway there according to the index, first published in 2018.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Pico de gallo salsa is on the menu in an ethnic cooking class at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, N.Y. Twice a month, thousands of people gather in neighborhood schools for Saturday academies – part of Buffalo’s community-wide partnership to show care for students and families who need everything from nutritious food to health services.

 

Minneapolis, and Long Beach, Calif., join Buffalo in the “bronze” category. No city has yet scored high enough to earn silver, gold, or platinum.

The remaining cities measured so far – Baltimore; Chicago; Denver; Philadelphia; Charlotte, N.C.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Springfield, Mass. – are “copper,” at least a third of the way to the goal.

'A sense of community and hope'

The Loving Cities Index is not meant to be a “gotcha” comparison, but rather a call to action – a way to highlight what’s working and what’s not. Its indicators are in four categories: care (promoting health); stability (ensuring a safe living environment, transportation, etc.); commitment (developing a student’s potential, avoiding pitfalls such as unfair suspensions); and capacity (resources, teacher quality, curriculum).  

The report offers up ideas about how cities can do better by kids, and awards some points based on how well they are narrowing gaps among racial and economic groups.

In the “care” category, access to mental health services for low-income children in Buffalo has improved significantly, for example, because of a partnership of the school district, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and the nonprofit Say Yes to Education, which supports high school and college success.

There’s “a sense of community and hope that people are seeing,” says David Rust, executive director of the nonprofit’s Buffalo chapter. It’s not easy to break out of silos, he says, but “the nice thing about collective-impact models … is [that] progress isn’t reliant on one individual.... It’s people holding hands and working together.”

Mental health is especially important to address at Lafayette, where many students arrive as refugees. “When we are interviewing teachers, I tell them, ‘You have to be a teacher of language … but you also have to [be like] a social worker,’ ” says Principal John Starkey.

Buffalo, Chicago, and Baltimore all need to improve their level of preschool suspension, which largely affects black children, the Loving Cities report notes. Buffalo’s superintendent has begun to address school discipline disparities and has launched anti-bias training.

Rethinking accountability

There has long been debate between standards-based reformers pushing for more accountability to close achievement gaps and critics who emphasize the context of poverty and other opportunity gaps. But to some degree that debate offers a false choice, since “both sides are right,” says Thomas Toch, director of FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

The Loving Cities Index – which the foundation hopes to expand to 50 cities over five years – does give weight to strong academic expectations, even while advocating for broader policy changes to address poverty. Long Beach, for instance, earned low points for how few of its high school students (26 percent) enroll in at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course.

The framework is encouraging and could be a catalyst, Mr. Toch says, for “bringing together the commitment to academic rigor and an expanded focus on the non-schooling challenges that students face.”

The index is beginning to make its mark. Many in Buffalo are on board with the whole-child focus, and an advocacy group in Denver is planning a Loving Cities convening in March to work on an equity agenda, Ms. Brown says.

Other cities have said the language resonates, she adds. “It’s very complicated to start talking about intersectionality – poverty and health and housing and schools.... But having a language like ‘Loving Cities’ gives a framework … and makes it more tangible.”

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The Monitor's View

When anti-corruption protests succeed

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In recent weeks the world has witnessed mass protests in Sudan and Venezuela, two of the countries called the most corrupt by the global watchdog group Transparency International. The two are also among the least democratic. In both countries, demonstrators demand the kind of honesty and accountability that they see in healthy democracies. A report from Transparency found full democracies scored an average of 75 out of 100 on the corruption index. Flawed democracies averaged 49; autocratic regimes averaged 30. Yet the real value in the survey lies in a list of countries that have reduced corruption by improving their democracies. In the past seven years, 20 countries have made such progress. They include Estonia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Guyana. Anti-corruption reforms in those countries are the result of political will among leaders. Of better investigations in corruption cases. Of radical reform of courts. Of digital transparency. While watching the protests in Sudan or Venezuela it’s helpful to view them as simply an outbreak of citizen engagement in favor of integrity. Other countries have been there, done that.

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When anti-corruption protests succeed

In its latest survey of 180 countries by levels of corruption, Transparency International tried something different. For the first time, the global watchdog group measured links between public-sector corruption and each country’s basic freedoms, rule of law, and democracy. The researchers need not look too far to find current negative examples.

In recent weeks, the world has witnessed mass protests in two of the most-corrupt countries, Sudan and Venezuela, which are also among the most nondemocratic. Each country could be on the brink of regime change. In each country, demonstrators demand the kind of honesty and accountability in governance that they see in healthy democracies.

In Sudan, which is Africa’s third-biggest country, the regime chose to balance its budget by raising bread prices rather than by reducing corruption. The move brought people into the streets in unprecedented unity across ethnic divisions. In Venezuela, the siphoning of oil wealth for the political elite and military brass finally united the opposition in the elected legislature and led to popular demands for an end to a culture of impunity.

The report found full democracies scored an average of 75 out of 100 on the corruption index. Flawed democracies averaged 49 while autocratic regimes averaged 30. Yet the real value in the survey lies in a list of countries that have reduced corruption by improving their democracies. That link was clear.

In the past seven years, 20 countries have made such progress. They include Estonia in Europe, Senegal and Ivory Coast in Africa, and Guyana in South America. None are perfect. Even Denmark, a strong democracy that is also ranked as the least corrupt, saw its largest bank caught in a huge money-laundering scheme last year. Yet nations on the list can provide lessons for the majority of countries that remain below average in the TI rankings.

Anti-corruption reforms in Senegal and Ivory Coast, for example, are a result of a new “political will ... demonstrated by their respective leaders.” In Argentina, Ecuador, and El Salvador, reform is led by better investigations in corruption cases against high-profile individuals, including some former presidents. Estonia’s progress is a result of radical reform of the courts and public administration, a relatively clean privatization of state enterprises, and digital transparency in government dealings.

Among its own recommendations, TI researchers cite the need for a broad societal consensus in favor of integrity in public institutions. “Engagement of citizens in oversight of government decisions and spending, particularly at the local level, not only crowd-sources accountability but promises to re-invigorate the democratic process,” the report states.

So while watching protests like those in Sudan or Venezuela, it is helpful to view them as simply an outbreak of citizen engagement in favor of integrity. Many other countries have been there, done that.

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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.

From racial profiling to ‘You are my brother’

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When today’s contributor was pulled over and the police officers became belligerent, prayer and a desire to help others do what’s right kept him calm, paving the way for a peaceful and fair outcome.

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From racial profiling to ‘You are my brother’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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As the white police officer screamed at me, I thought, “I am not going to let you make this mistake.”

He had pulled me over in this mostly white, upper-middle-class US neighborhood because I was driving without my headlights on. I’d forgotten to switch them on, and I assumed he was just going to give me a warning. But when he reached my car, he told me he smelled drugs and that he wanted to search my car. (There were no drugs in my car.)

Over the years, I’ve been stopped many times under similar pretexts. To me, an African-American, it’s racism and racial profiling.

In the past I’d become very angry when something like this happened. These incidents left me feeling violated and humiliated. But this time was different. I felt calm.

Why? Well, I knew there were no drugs in my car. But also, I was returning home from an inspiring evening meeting at my branch Church of Christ, Scientist. The focus of the meeting was the idea that everyone’s true identity is actually spiritual, because we are all the children of God, divine Spirit. As such we are made to express His qualities of love and peace. This may not always be evident, but every one of us, no matter our background, is capable of kindness and fairness.

When I suggested to the officer that he might be mistaken about smelling drugs, he started screaming at me. That’s when I reached out to God in prayer. And I then had that thought about doing my part to help the officer not make this mistake.

It was not an aggressive thought. It was a quiet internal message, assuring me that God was present and that my prayers were already being answered. As the officer yelled, I looked at him. I wasn’t looking at his belligerent gestures, but at a fellow citizen – a brother.

At the time, I was serving with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). I worked with grass-roots organizations to improve the lives of people in the community. Looking at that police officer, I realized he probably felt the same way about his job as I did about mine – he, too, was working hard for his community. I was grateful for this insight. It assured me that he could recognize honesty and truth.

I told the officer I’d consent to a search if he called another officer to be a witness. A few moments later, another officer arrived and told me I had two choices: Either I could allow them to perform the search, or they would call a judge and get a search warrant.

I held on to the ideas from my prayers. They made me feel confident and comforted. Instead of feeling angry, I felt that I was helping the officers do the right thing. I knew God was embracing each of us, giving us inspiration about the right course of action to take.

I have three brothers, and though we’ve had our share of disputes over the years, we love each other deeply. I see our love expressed in the respect and care we have for each other’s lives. And I realized that these officers were my brothers, too, with one Father-Mother, God, as our Parent.

As I was praying, I noticed a change in the first officer’s attitude. His whole demeanor changed. He came over to me. In a gentle voice he said, “Sir, I’m going to have to give you a ticket for driving without your headlights on.” I told him that I understood, thanked him, and drove off.

The next morning, I told my project director what had happened. She was moved by the story and told me to share it. “Share with other young men whatever it was that enabled you not to get angry,” she said.

And, in writing my story and sharing it, I hope I’m doing just that. My prayers helped not only me, but the officers as well. I learned that I don’t ever have to feel helpless about injustice of any kind. And I now see prayer as a proactive way to handle tense situations.

Adapted from an article published in the March 7, 2011, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Protesting the handling of protests

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Zimbabwe lawyers take part in a protest over rule of law concerns in Harare Jan. 29. The lawyers handed over a petition to the country’s chief justice in a bid to stop human rights abuses in the country. Zimbabwe’s president on Monday said he was “appalled” by a televised report showing abuses by security forces in a continuing crackdown after angry protests against the government's drastic fuel-price hikes.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( January 30th, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about how the US Social Security Administration may offer a novel way to stop identity theft.

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