2019
February
26
Tuesday

President Trump has won kudos for taking a tough stance on China’s dodgy trade practices. But the closer the two nations edge toward an agreement, the greater the skepticism that it will involve fundamental reform. The thinking is that the president is more anxious to get a deal and keep Wall Street happy than to push for substantive change.

On Sunday, announcing he was delaying his threatened increase of tariffs on Chinese imports, Mr. Trump cited “substantial progress” and said the agreement would address key issues, such as intellectual property protection and currency manipulation. On Monday he tweeted: “If a deal is made with China, our great American Farmers will be treated better than they have ever been treated before!” 

But China has committed to reforms before with no real follow-through. What really matters, trade experts say, is how the deal enforces compliance.

Rob Atkinson, who heads the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington, offers four components Americans should look for: a dramatic reduction in cybertheft; the end of forced technology transfer from foreign companies to Chinese firms; a 75 percent reduction in subsidies to companies; and real market opening to foreign firms in most industries with no requirement of a Chinese partner company. Also needed: a deadline and an outline of the consequences of noncompliance.

The administration needs “to make the Chinese [undertake] structural reforms,” Mr. Atkinson says. “They don't need the Chinese to buy more [American] soybeans.”

We’re also watching India and Pakistan. As a bonus read today, here’s a quick look at why tensions there – simmering since 1947 – have reached new levels.

Now to our five stories for today.

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1. In vote blocking Trump's emergency, GOP principles collide

Why are so many Republican senators dithering over support for President Trump’s unusual push to build a border wall? It’s a case of competing conservative priorities (border security versus upholding the Constitution) and the 2020 elections.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska arrived for the weekly Republican Party caucus luncheon at the Capitol in Washington Feb. 26. A number of Republicans in both houses of Congress have shown a willingness to split with President Trump over his national emergency declaration.

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President Trump got another taste of divided government Tuesday, as the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution to block his declaration of a national emergency along the southern border. The measure now moves to the Senate, where it will require only a simple majority – the equivalent of four Republican defections – to be sent to the White House for the president’s inevitable veto.

Forcing Mr. Trump to use his veto pen for the first time in his presidency would represent a show of force from newly empowered Democrats. The resolution is marked as privileged under the National Emergencies Act. That means Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky will have 18 days to put a vote on the floor that will force his members to choose either to protect Congress’s spending authority as a co-equal branch of government, or show their support for the president.

“There’s a real tension here,” says Whit Ayres, a longtime GOP pollster, whose clients include Sens. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida and Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee. “Many of my Senate clients feel that tension, and I suspect they will resolve it in different ways.”

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1. In vote blocking Trump's emergency, GOP principles collide

President Trump got another taste of divided government Tuesday, as the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution blocking his declaration of a national emergency along the southern border.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where it will require only a simple majority – the equivalent of four Republican defections – to be sent to the White House for the president’s inevitable veto.

Forcing Mr. Trump to use his veto pen for the first time in his presidency would represent a show of force from newly empowered Democrats. The resolution is marked as privileged under the National Emergencies Act. That means Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky will have 18 days to put a vote on the floor that will force his members to publicly choose either to protect Congress’s spending authority as a co-equal branch of government, or show their support for the president and his goal of securing the border.

“There’s a real tension here,” says Whit Ayres, a longtime GOP pollster, whose clients include Sens. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida and Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee. “We’ve never had, to my knowledge, a president ask Congress to appropriate money for something, Congress has refused, and the president has declared an emergency to get around a decision of Congress.”

Trump declared a national emergency after Congress – constitutionally entrusted with the power of the purse – passed a bipartisan spending bill last month that fell far short of his demand for $5.7 billion for a wall along the border with Mexico. An emergency declaration could free up billions in funding from other departments to pay for the project.

To some observers, what’s most striking is how reluctant Republicans have been to oppose the president on this issue.

It’s no accident that Trump never got the funding he wanted for his wall, even under a unified Congress, says Frances Lee, a professor of politics at the University of Maryland. There wasn’t much enthusiasm for it among congressional Republicans in the 115th Congress, and they didn’t mind punting the confrontation over the issue to the end of the session – when the Senate ended up approving a fraction of the funding Trump had asked for.

“That, to me, tells you something about Republicans’ view of that request,” she says.

Even some of those who support the construction of a border wall are uncomfortable with the president sidestepping Congress to secure funding for it. More than a dozen Senate Republicans have publicly expressed concerns over the emergency declaration, with at least eight calling it a threat to the separation of powers among branches of government.

Nearly two dozen former Republican lawmakers signed an open letter urging their colleagues in Congress to block the president’s move.

Yet so far only three GOP senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina – have said they’d support the resolution.

“Even if they pass it through the Senate, it’s mostly on the strength of Democratic votes,” Professor Lee says. “It’s the strength President Trump has, and his hold over Republican Party voters, that holds [these members] in line, despite their policy objections.”

Foreign-policy defiance

Still, under unified Republican leadership, Congress did vote to check the president on several occasions – most often on matters of foreign policy.

In June 2017, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for a Russia sanctions bill that made it harder for the Trump administration to roll back penalties against the Kremlin.

The Senate also defied the president last December, with a bipartisan vote to end military support for the war in Yemen and to blame the Saudi crown prince for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the time, House Republicans refused to take up the bill – but under Democratic control, the House passed a similar bill earlier this month.

When Trump declared victory over the Islamic State and ordered the withdrawal of troops in Syria and Afghanistan, the Senate passed a bill strongly opposing the move.

Mr. Ayres, the pollster, says those unusual rebukes were only possible because the president’s position was so far off from most of his party’s. The national emergency declaration, on the other hand, highlights competing priorities within the Republican Party: enhancing border security, and upholding the Constitution and the separation of powers.

“I have been concerned whenever any president – Republican or Democrat – moves beyond what I think most would consider to be their authorities,” Senator Murkowski told reporters Tuesday. Trump, she said, “is overstepping into the legislative prerogative.”

At their weekly lunch on Tuesday, Republicans engaged in a vigorous discussion about the president’s emergency declaration, with Vice President Mike Pence making the case that the declaration is sound on a statutory and factual basis.

Sen. John Kennedy (R) of Louisiana, who supports the president’s position, told reporters that many of his GOP colleagues are wrestling with the issue. “We love the Constitution,” said the senator. Yet “no fair-minded person believes that we don’t have a serious, serious problem – I would call it a ‘crisis’ – at the border,” he said.

“At this point, I think the president is on pretty good legal grounds for using the funds,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R) of South Dakota. “I lean in supporting him on this,” he said, but added, “I am concerned what the repercussions may be in the future.”

Influence over GOP core

Complicating matters is Trump’s overwhelming influence over core Republican voters. Twenty-two Senate Republicans are up for reelection in 2020, and few are willing to risk losing that base of support. Among them is Senator McConnell, who was among the first to try to discourage the president from declaring an emergency – and among the first to say he would vote against blocking the move.

Indeed, the Republican lawmakers most vocally against Trump on this issue appear to be those whose constituencies are not as closely aligned with the president. Senators Collins and Tillis, for example, are up for reelection in states that can look more purple than red. 

Still, some say the principles at stake are larger than mere electoral concerns.

“This is a vote that will be remembered because of its constitutional implications and its separation of powers implications,” says Ayres. “You’re not just voting for the next election, you’re voting in many ways for your historical record.”

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. A president, a crown prince, and a tale of two summits

Saudi Arabia’s emerging ties with Asian nations, particularly China, are another sign of a fundamental shift in the world order.

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Even as the Trump-Kim summit gets under way in Hanoi, a different Asian summit trip, just days earlier, may prove equally portentous.

That trip was made by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Shunned by the West for his role in the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he was warmly welcomed in Pakistan, India, and China. He sealed agreements worth around $20 billion in Pakistan and discussed Saudi investments amounting to five times that in India.

It’s evidence of a fundamental shift in world diplomacy: US-European bonds are weakening, and rival powers like Russia and China are increasingly assertive. And that is changing the political calculus for other countries.

The United States still matters, a lot. But Prince Mohammed has found it increasingly difficult to draw Western investment interest. In China, however, there were signs of a deepening partnership. That included China’s readiness to avoid mention of Khashoggi’s murder, reciprocated by the prince's silence on the detention of some million Uyghur Muslims in western China.  Prince Mohammed went home with a deal for more Saudi oil exports and higher expectations for investment. The message: the West’s cold shoulder no long carries the impact it did even a few years ago.

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A president, a crown prince, and a tale of two summits

All eyes have been on a high-profile summit in Asia – between US President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. But a different Asian summit trip, just days earlier, could prove every bit as telling a barometer of the current instability, and uncertain future, of world diplomacy.

The man involved in that Asia visit, including stops in Pakistan, India, and finally China, was Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often known as MBS. And his meetings had a message: that being politically ostracized by the West – in MBS’s case, for the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights abuses – no longer carries the impact it might have had even a few years ago.

It’s the latest sign of a fundamental shift in the world order: a weakening of the post-World War II bond between the US and Western Europe, accompanied by a new assertiveness on the part of rival powers like Russia and most significantly China. The Saudi leader’s excursion into Asia offered a close-up view of how that is altering the political calculus for other countries.

America still matters, a lot. That’s not going to change overnight, if only because it has the world’s largest economy and most powerful military. The Saudis still export oil to the United States, and rely on the US for much of their advanced weaponry and training. Geopolitically, the Trump administration remains a key ally, sharing Saudi Arabia’s laser-like focus on its main regional foe, Iran.

Mr. Trump, almost alone among US politicians, has also deliberately soft-pedaled MBS’s role in Khashoggi’s killing as well as other rights abuses, whether in the war in neighboring Yemen or the imprisonment of women political activists.

At the Group of 20 summit of leading rich and developing nations in Buenos Aires late last year, however, shortly after Khashoggi was murdered, Trump felt the need to skirt a public embrace of MBS. And, crucially, in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder, MBS has found it harder to draw Western investment interest in “Vision 2030” – the centerpiece of his expansive and expensive ambitions for a future Saudi Arabia less reliant on oil.

That’s where his recent five-day swing through Asia comes in. Far from being shunned, he was feted at every stop. He sealed economic agreements worth around $20 billion in Pakistan and discussed a range of possible Saudi investments amounting to five times that amount in India.

Still, as potential geopolitical partners, the Pakistanis and Indians have a clear limitation. Both nuclear-armed countries have been rivals for seven decades, since the retreat of the British empire from Asia. Their rivalry suddenly reignited earlier this month, with a cross-border attack in Indian Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary police and was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish e-Mohammad terror group. India hit back Tuesday, striking what it said was a training camp for the group.

MBS’s key stop, however, was his two-day visit to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which very much had the look of a deepening partnership that serves both leaders’ interests. At the G20 summit, Mr. Xi did meet the Saudi crown prince. A statement afterward not only omitted any mention of Khashoggi, it spoke of China’s “strategic, long-term” interest in closer ties and explicitly cited a readiness to back MBS’s vision for “economic diversification.”

On his Asia trip, the crown prince returned the favor. As custodian of the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has long positioned itself as a guardian of Muslim interests around the world. But MBS pointedly omitted any public criticism of the widening network of concentration camps in western China, where an estimated million Uyghur Muslims are being held. He was quoted by Chinese television as echoing Beijing’s official line, citing China’s “right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremization work for its national security.”

On a nuts-and-bolts level, MBS’s visit not only sealed arrangements for more Saudi oil exports to China. He made a pitch – to an openly sympathetic Chinese audience – for major Chinese involvement in Vision 2030.

While in Pakistan, he also announced plans for new Saudi investment in the port of Gwadar, a cog in China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure project to expand its trade routes and political footprint through Asia and into Africa. Interestingly, the Saudis’ own interest in Gwadar includes concern over the major, Indian-funded expansion of the port of Chabahar – just over the border in Iran.

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3. How New Orleans went from ‘most corrupt’ to model police

Can the federal government really fix corruption in police departments, or do federal monitors increase crime by lowering officer morale? New Orleans – once known as the most abusive cop shop in the US – shows that lasting reform is possible.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Officer Patrick MacFarlane, with the New Orleans Police Department, speaks with a man in the city’s French Quarter. The city has one of the oldest foot-patrol beats in the country.

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Less than a decade ago, New Orleans ranked as America’s most corrupt police department, according to Tom Perez, the former assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Today the NOPD, overseen by a federal monitor, has become a pioneer in humanistic policing.

On Jan. 25, US district Judge Susie Morgan called the city’s progress over the past five years “remarkable.”

The city may still be years away from exiting a 2013 consent decree that has cost taxpayers $55 million so far. At 494 action items, it is the biggest consent decree in US history. But there is little doubt that New Orleans has become a critical keystone in a broader debate about how America’s police should be policed – and the extent to which national priorities should be set locally against broader concerns about ethics and constitutional abuses.

Today, it is “a department that has gone from warrior to guardian, and where people who have historically felt heavily policed feel like they can come to the police for help,” says Christy Lopez, a primary author of the “Ferguson Report” and a professor at Georgetown Law. “It is a huge sea change for New Orleans.”

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How New Orleans went from ‘most corrupt’ to model police

On patrol down Bourbon Street, dodging broken Mardi Gras necklaces, New Orleans police officer Patrick MacFarlane spots a back-packer with gray clothes, a walking stick, dusty beard.

Officer MacFarlane, a tall Jersey Shore native with a chevron moustache, approaches alongside his partner, William McGeever.

They talk intently. The man gestures wanly. MacFarlane cocks his head. “OK, be safe,” the officer says. The man wanders off – another down-on-their-luck American living just beyond the edge of the neon.

Far from looking for a vagrancy arrest to keep the riffraff away from the tourists, MacFarlane explains that he inquired about the man’s trusty dog, which had apparently been stolen while he slept. MacFarlane asked whether he needed help making a police report. The man demurred.

“It is a gumbo out here – we get people from all over the world – so we treat every situation according to what it needs,” says MacFarlane, who walks one of America’s oldest foot patrol beats.

“If there is obvious criminality, we make an arrest,” says Officer McGeever. “But in a lot of cases, we look for other ways to resolve the situation.”

It is a small moment but it speaks volumes in New Orleans, a city whose police department less than a decade ago ranked as America’s most corrupt, according to Tom Perez, the former assistant attorney general for civil rights at the US Department of Justice.

After all, New Orleans sent two police officers from the precinct to death row after they orchestrated a murder. Until recently, some officers here double-dipped as muscle for drug kingpins. A local jail was known on the street as “the glue factory” for its brutal treatment of prisoners.

Yet today, with officers like MacFarlane and McGeever on the front lines, the NOPD, overseen by a federal monitor, has, against all odds, become a pioneer in humanistic policing.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Officers Patrick MacFarlane (l.) and William McGeever patrol on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans on Jan. 29.

There is genuine outreach to the LGBTQ community. MacFarlane is part of a new program that helps homeless people transition from the streets without mandating sobriety. And then there is a peer intervention program called EPIC – Ethical Policing Is Courageous. Based on the idea that greater accountability builds camaraderie and strengthens the chain of command, it allows lower ranking officers to confront higher ranking ones about their actions without fear of retaliation. EPIC is now being utilized in over three dozen departments. The FBI includes it in instruction at Quantico.

In January, US district Judge Susie Morgan called the city’s progress over the past five years “remarkable.”

To be sure, the city may still be years away from exiting a 2013 consent decree that has cost taxpayers $55 million so far. With nearly 500 action items, it is the biggest consent decree in US history.

But there is little doubt that New Orleans has become a critical keystone in a broader debate about how America’s police should be policed – and the extent to which national priorities should be set locally against broader concerns about ethics and constitutional abuses.

“I compare what was going on in New Orleans with the police to domestic violence: You would have these terrible eruptions of violence, off the charts, and then there would be flowers and candy: ‘We’re so sorry, we’re going to fix it,’ ” says Mary Howell, who has worked as an attorney in New Orleans since 1977. “But nothing would really change. Now, there has been a transformation here, and the question is, can it be exported and will it continue in other places?”

A tool for justice

Consent decrees were established by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The contracts impose court oversight to correct indisputable patterns of civil rights abuses by police against civilians, often with racial overtones.

Los Angeles spent eight years under a consent decree after a squad of officers were found running drugs. A number of other cities – Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Mo. – have undergone a hard look at their inner workings from the outside. Police officers point out these are often in areas where officers work in dangerous environments, sometimes for low pay and even less gratitude.

Sometimes effective, sometimes not, consent decrees embody a national debate over whether to use federal muscle to create local change in policing.

Under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama administration entered into a record 14 consent decrees amid a national uproar over the deaths of unarmed black men by police. A report last fall from the US Commission on Civil Rights found stubborn racial disparities in use of force across the United States.

The Trump administration has responded differently, imposing no consent decrees in the past two years. Upon his departure this past fall, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo that narrowed their scope and length, blaming them for lowering officer morale and handcuffing the ability of officers to fight crime. In a foreword to a critical 2008 study by the Alabama Policy Institute, Mr. Sessions called such decrees one of the “most dangerous ... exercises of raw power” and an “end run around the democratic process.”

Opposition to such decrees is widespread. Some cops, like former NOPD homicide chief Jimmy Keen, argue they can embolden criminal activity. Rafael Goyeneche III, who monitors police corruption at the Metropolitan Crime Commission, has also begun to push to close the decree, saying it is consuming too many resources.

Yet the dramatic shift away from consent decrees by the Trump administration has left troubled departments like Elkhart, Ind., and Little Rock, Ark., with little motivation to reform, policing experts say.

“It has not escaped my attention that we have not seen numbers on police shootings decrease at all over the past few years,” says Christy Lopez, a primary author of the “Ferguson Report” and a professor at Georgetown Law. “The prospect of a federal investigation has been a really important incentive [for PDs to reform], but that incentive has now been decreased.”

New Orleans, for one, failed to stem corruption without federal help.

In the late 1990s, then-Mayor Marc Morial introduced local reforms to stave off a consent decree, including the firing of hundreds of problematic police officers. After he left in the early 2000s, the reforms floundered. Mr. Morial has since publicly second-guessed his opposition.

Not long after his departure, NOPD officers shot a famous trombonist, Joe Williams, in 2004, and then attacked a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians, whose leader, a local folk hero, subsequently died while speaking at a public hearing about the incident. By the time hurricane Katrina flooded the city in 2005, not just the reforms, but the “whole system had collapsed,” says Ms. Howell, the New Orleans lawyer and civil rights advocate.

A cover-up of the murder of civilians on Danziger Bridge after the storm became the impetus for the current consent decree.

“The NOPD has long been a troubled agency,” a report introducing the decree in 2013 read. “Basic elements of effective policing – clear policies, training, accountability, and confidence of the citizenry – have been absent for years.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Rafael Goyeneche III, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, speaks in his office in New Orleans on Jan. 28. The watchdog group works toward reform in the New Orleans police department, which has been under a consent decree from the US Justice Department for many years.

 

Though many cops grumbled, this time the city and its leadership was ready for some federal tough love.

The consent decree “forced the department to do something it was incapable of doing on its own,” says Peter Scharf, a criminologist at Louisiana State University. “It had to change its culture and its values, because good cops were paying the price for the bad.”

At first, as Sessions and others warned, morale plummeted, observers say. Yet leaders persisted while measuring the effects with citizen surveys.

As Judge Morgan noted in January the city also went above and beyond the requirements of the decree with the EPIC program. Its detectives were the first to work with the Innocence Project to curb wrongful convictions, of which the city has had so many that there is an annual banquet for freed citizens.

The shifts have been dramatic. Serious use of force by officers has plummeted from 14 in 2013 to 1 last year. In surveys, the percentage of people whose interactions with police were described as pleasant and courteous rose from 53 percent in 2009 to 87 percent a decade later.

Monitors also found a correlation between public opinion of the police and the violent crime rate. Though violent crime remains high for a city of its size, the 2018 homicide rate was 146, a 47-year low.

“Constitutional and effective policing go hand in hand,” the DOJ’s Jude Volek told a hearing on Jan. 25.

And in 2018, NOPD saw the fewest officer-involved shootings since before the consent decree was implemented: four. One of the shootings involved an animal and three were accidental shootings.

Today, the department wears the turnaround like a badge.

“NOPD is proud of this recognition of its remarkable transformation into a model of reform,” says Daniel Murphy, the NOPD’s deputy compliance chief, in an email. The city is “committed to ... further elevating its status as a leader in 21st century policing.”

Going forward

The big question now is whether the progress can be sustained.

Police Superintendent Michael Harrison has been widely credited for pushing the department over the hump, arguing that what he called “the blue wall of silence” around problems had stymied reforms and ruined public trust.

Mr. Harrison left in January to take the same position in Baltimore, another violence-scarred US city under a DOJ consent decree, imposed after the death of Freddie Gray.

In January, new Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson vowed, “We will go forward. Will refuse – and will not – go backward.”

Back on Bourbon Street, it’s a quiet night. MacFarlane appeals to a group of balcony revelers to not toss beads on the street.

He bows as a wedding party walks by and notes that a highlight of his job is being asked by bridesmaids to be in a picture. “If my wife ever looked on Facebook, she’d be shocked,” he laughs. “Luckily, she has a sense of humor.”

New Orleans still struggles, according to the federal monitor, to recruit police officers well-versed in constitutional policing. But thanks to ongoing efforts and beefed-up training, MacFarlane and McGeever now have a chance to make their imprint on a storied, and troubled, city.

Their Bourbon Street example of constitutional policing “is a nice encapsulation of a department that has gone from warrior to guardian, and where people who have historically felt heavily policed feel like they can come to the police for help,” says Professor Lopez, who as deputy chief of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division oversaw several key consent decrees, including in the Crescent City.

“It is a huge sea change for New Orleans.”

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4. Reading, writing, and … Rousseau? Philosophy 101 starts young in France.

The idea that philosophy is a suitable subject for children is a hard sell. But in France, where educators recognize the value of helping children understand a complex world, the practice is catching on. 

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With its existential questions, Socratic method, and mind-bending possibilities, philosophy hardly seems a suitable subject to teach children. Even in France, home to some of the world’s most famous philosophers – including Voltaire, Descartes, and Sartre – philosophy has long been a subject reserved for high school or university students.

Until now. In France, educators have recently pushed to make the subject more accessible to younger children. It turns out philosophy is better absorbed by young minds. It has also been shown to improve academic success – and it may help children make sense of an increasingly complicated world. As larger societal questions – from terrorism and immigration to climate change – make their way into daily dinner-table discussions in France and around the world, philosophy is becoming an important means of breaking down and understanding complicated concepts for children.

“Teaching philosophy to children helps them to ask questions, develop empathy and a collective consciousness,” says Cécile Viénot, a Paris-based child psychologist. “We’re here to shape our future citizens. One day these children will be able to vote and make decisions about our society.”

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Reading, writing, and … Rousseau? Philosophy 101 starts young in France.

Cédric Cagnat begins his philosophy class by lighting a white candle in the middle of a circle of a dozen 7- to 10-year-olds here in the Médiathèque Eugène Flachat, a library in the northern Paris suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine.

“What is philosophy?” he asks. The group stares wide-eyed at first, until Mr. Cagnat breaks down the concept into chewable pieces. Philosophy, he explains, is a chance to listen to one another and communicate. And today is unlike a regular day at school, where teachers often talk at students without asking for their input.

“How many times in your day do adults ask you your thoughts on things?” he asks. The room is quiet.

This class, “Humans versus Animals,” sponsored by nonprofit Les Petites Lumières, is part of a growing movement of teaching philosophy to children in France. Until recently, philosophy has been a subject reserved for high school or university students here. As part of the country’s national education curriculum, it is offered to French students in their last year of high school and has been a part of the exit exams, or baccalauréat, since Napoleon created the test in 1808. 

But now, educators in France are pushing to make the subject more accessible to younger children, with classes and workshops at schools, nonprofits, and local libraries. 

As larger societal questions – from terrorism and immigration to climate change – make their way into daily dinner-table discussions in France and around the world, philosophy is becoming an important means of breaking down and understanding complicated concepts for children. Learning philosophy at a young age has also been shown to improve school success

“Teaching philosophy to children helps them to ask questions, develop empathy and a collective consciousness,” says Cécile Viénot, a Paris-based child psychologist. “We’re here to shape our future citizens. One day these children will be able to vote and make decisions about our society.” 

For children, a natural fit 

The practice of teaching philosophy to children got its start in the United States in 1974, when Matthew Lipman created the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State College in New Jersey.

Mr. Lipman’s method proposes reading philosophical narratives to children and encouraging them to respond with questions. Researchers across the globe have since devised their own methods. In South Africa and Spain, educators use picture books and visuals to stimulate philosophical thinking and dialogue. The Philosophy Foundation and Thinking Space, both based in Britain, use thought experiments – encouraging thinkers to explore a specific line of thought – and other games and activities to promote critical thinking skills.

In France, educators have strayed from Lipman’s teaching, turning most often to French philosopher Michel Tozzi’s approach, which encourages the Socratic method of inquiry. Here, the educator simply acts as a guide, asking probing questions to elicit responses from students without lecturing. 

Yet until recently in France, the idea that philosophy was a suitable subject to teach children was a hard sell. 

“There is often confusion about the difference between studying philosophic texts in school and philosophizing,” says Chiara Pastorini, the founder of Les Petites Lumières, a nonprofit devoted to teaching philosophy to children. “But asking philosophical, existential questions is so natural for children.”

The benefits of learning philosophy are wide-ranging – listening to others, being exposed to different points of view, building a better sense of self. These skills are especially important to how children view others.  

Children become less self-focused between ages 8 and 10, and thus become more interested in others, says Ms. Viénot, the child psychologist. “This can cause fears of others, from personal things like harassment at school to societal questions on immigration and how they view people different from themselves,” she says. “Philosophy helps build children as citizens of society, to ask questions. From a very young age, children are completely competent to do so.” 

Cognizant of that competence, Dr. Pastorini tackles relatively complex themes in her workshops, like violence, friendship, power, justice, and knowledge, to talk about concrete issues taking place in society. 

“Philosophy can be used to talk about power at the time of elections – what it means to be a leader – or terrorism and violence,” says Pastorini, whose nonprofit saw a boom in interest after the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. “The environment and our relationship to nature, or war, are also very important themes.” 

Learning philosophy also has more concrete results, and can spell school success now and later. A 2015 British study by the Education Endowment Foundation showed that children who studied philosophy made more progress in math and reading compared with students who did not. Previous studies showed children who learned philosophy showed improvement in reading and logical reasoning skills. 

“In the end, my children will take the [educational] path of their choosing, but I think it’s good for them to learn philosophy now versus 10 or 20 years from now,” says Abaida Touda, who brought Mounia, 10, and Mouad, 7, to the workshop in Asnières-sur-Seine. “It’s a way to put philosophy in their heads already.” 

Morgan Fache/Les Petites Lumières
Children create art in a philosophy workshop led by the French nonprofit Les Petites Lumières in the Petit Café du monde, in Paris, April 9, 2014. Learning philosophy young helps children develop empathy, ask questions, and has been shown to improve school success.

Empowering children

The movement has gotten an added boost in France since the University of Nantes created a post-undergraduate diploma in 2017 on teaching philosophy to children, in partnership with UNESCO. France now joins Quebec, Belgium, and the United States in offering an advanced degree on teaching philosophy to young people. 

“Just like with any pedagogy, this type of teaching requires training in how to provide discipline or how to use educational materials,” says Edwige Chirouter, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Nantes and the director of the philosophy for children training program. 

Though the benefits of learning philosophy young are increasingly recognized, the subject has yet to be integrated into France’s highly centralized national education system. But France’s vision of children is starting to change.

“For a long time, we have thought children are immature … that they’re a blank page and it’s up to us adults to fill it in,” says Viénot. “Philosophy classes for children are an asset because the adult becomes the passive listener and gives the child confidence to offer his or her opinions, and not the other way around.”

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5. ‘Snow moles’ on patrol: Why volunteers prowl city’s winter walkways

Walkability is increasingly valued, even as a changing climate gives Ottawa a thaw-freeze winter that encourages ice. A Council on Aging program is getting volunteers to pinpoint hazardous trouble spots.

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The “snow moles” are a group of mostly senior volunteers in Canada’s capital who are conducting audits – and adding a new perspective – to challenges that winter unleashes onto city streets. The volunteers make sure that bus stops aren’t obstructed by snow banks and that curbs are cleared for passage. A stubborn, uneven sheet of ice covers an entire sidewalk, and Dianne Breton takes a snapshot; later she’ll record her findings online.

The Council on Aging of Ottawa sees their project as a boost to municipal services, not as a blame game. “We’ve had a pretty wicked winter this year,” says Bonnie Schroeder. “City staff have told us we couldn’t pay for this kind of intelligence … about what works, what doesn’t, about what people are saying about their neighborhoods.”

Their data help the city to update its maintenance standards to better reflect a changing climate, with its fluctuations in temperatures and varying snow and rain. And as they gather information, the volunteers get out and stay active – which helps counter the social isolation that can be heightened in winter.

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‘Snow moles’ on patrol: Why volunteers prowl city’s winter walkways

It is Saturday morning, and two “snow moles” are headed to the local post office and pharmacy. Their task: Collect evidence of ice patches, snow mounds, and other wintry conditions that make what should be simple, and often imperative, errands impossible for seniors like themselves.

Skies are blue and the temperature moderate, at least for Ottawa in February. But as soon as Dianne Breton and Ann Goldsmith walk out of their driveways in Old Ottawa East, the snowbanks at hip line, challenges are detected. The sidewalks haven’t been plowed, three days after a blizzard left about a foot of snow. So they make a note of it and are forced to join other walkers, including parents pushing strollers, on the street.

“It’s icy here,” says Ms. Breton, who had a fall a few years ago. Ms. Goldsmith, who fell just the week before, wonders if they should have brought their walking poles. They continue toward Main Street.

The “snow moles” are mostly senior volunteers in Canada’s capital who are conducting audits – and adding a new perspective – to challenges that winter unleashes onto city streets. The volunteers plan to use their data to persuade the city to update its current winter maintenance standards to better reflect a changing climate that has meant fluctuations in temperatures, with varying snow and rain that essentially creates a season of ice. And as they gather their data, the volunteers get out and stay active – which helps counter the social isolation that can be heightened when winter arrives.

“It’s been a really challenging year. We have had everything thrown at us. Huge amounts of snow. We’ve had this freeze-thaw cycle that seems to be happening a lot more than it did even 10 years ago,” says Breton, who chairs the age-friendly pedestrian safety and walkability committee at The Council on Aging of Ottawa. “Winter is a different season than it used to be.”

Freedom – without driving 

The car has dominated transport policy since the 1950s, but walkability has shot up priority lists in recent years – raising property values and luring homeowners, says Dan Burden, the director of inspiration and innovation at Blue Zones, an organization focused on increasing community wellness and longevity. Seniors are just as interested in the freedom of moving without cars as young people – even in “winter country,” he says.

Maria Wardoku, a transport planner and board president of Our Streets Minneapolis, says that too often cities still prioritize the car over the pedestrian. Looking out her window after a snowstorm, she says she sees pavement but not the sidewalks, and the high-schoolers on their way to school have to share the roadway with cars. Her group has launched a “Make Winter Walkable” campaign in the past year that includes priority for curb clearing and support for those who can’t get out and shovel themselves.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Dianne Breton, a 'snow mole' volunteer in Ottawa, photographs ice covering the sidewalk leading into Main Street. She is on an audit on a recent day, gathering information to show the city the troubles that seniors and others face while walking around in winter.

“It is simply unacceptable that in 2019 we still haven’t figured out how to provide a safe and dignified transportation network for people who are walking,” she says. “It’s about basic access and ability of people to participate in the community, to be able to get to work or to the grocery store.”

Cities and towns have flirted with heated sidewalks, with technology that keeps snow plowed off roadways from then getting dumped onto sidewalks, and with removal procedures that operate like clockwork after a blizzard. But from the more than 100 audits he has led across North America, Mr. Burden says having seniors on the front lines makes a difference to policy.

“Most people who make decisions are younger,” he says. “They have never experienced what it’s like for an elder, or they lack the empathy.”

The city of Ottawa is responsible for clearing sidewalks after a storm ends – unlike many cities like Minneapolis where it’s the responsibility of the property owner – with different standards depending on whether it’s the downtown core or a residential community. It’s a formidable job: There are 3,700 miles of roadway and 1,400 miles of sidewalk in Ottawa that rely on 585 snow removal vehicles.

Extra sets of eyes

The Council on Aging of Ottawa says they see their project as a boost to municipal services, not as a blame game. “We’ve had a pretty wicked winter this year,” says Bonnie Schroeder, program director at the council’s Age-Friendly Ottawa. “City staff have told us we couldn’t pay for this kind of intelligence … about what works, what doesn’t, about what people are saying about their neighborhoods.”

On this day, neighbors have plenty to say. After they greet one another on the street, talk quickly turns to ice. “This is all anyone talks about,” says Goldsmith. “This and the commute.”

Moving carefully, the two women peruse their streets, making sure that bus stops aren’t obstructed by snow banks and that curbs are cleared for passage. For most of the route they are satisfied with conditions. Other audits have reported falls, including of many seniors, and streets impossible for those with mobility devices to cross.

But as they near their destination, a stubborn, uneven sheet of ice covers the entire sidewalk, a barrier to all the services on Main Street. Breton pulls out her phone and takes a snapshot. Later she fills out a survey that will be processed in a database to help uncover trouble spots that they’ll share with the city council. “Doing winter maintenance is a challenging business,” says Bryden Denyes, area manager of road services with the Public Works and Environmental Services Department at the City of Ottawa. ”It’s valuable information for city councilors ... to hear what the community sees and is looking at and experiencing.”

“We’re not going to solve all the problems of winter, but we have to look at them in a different way,” Breton says. She says if streets are safer for seniors, everyone benefits. “We are all on the same side, we want better winter walking.”

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The Monitor's View

Global quest for gene-editing rules

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In March, the World Health Organization will convene a panel of 18 experts to examine the ethical and social challenges of editing genes for the purpose of reproduction. WHO, a United Nations agency, set up the panel with some urgency. In November, gene researchers across the world reacted with horror after a Chinese scientist announced he had created the first gene-edited babies. 

The good news: WHO is acting as if humanity needs a global standard and can enforce it. This is an acknowledgment that universal values are at stake. WHO is not alone in trying to lift the debate toward a higher understanding of life. In the United States, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences have joined with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to push for international gene-editing standards. 

Applying qualities like integrity to questions about “designing” babies clearly takes the issue out of the realm of science. The WHO panel includes nonscientists, such as a court judge from South Africa. Nonmedical experts will add views that can build a better consensus for shared norms on gene editing.

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Global quest for gene-editing rules

The world’s scientific community readily accepts regulation of its research for safety reasons. But not always to meet a moral standard. That may soon change. In March, the World Health Organization will convene a panel of 18 experts to examine the ethical and social challenges of editing genes for the purpose of reproduction.

In effect, the panel is tasked to come up with global guidelines on what it means to be human. In particular, the United Nations agency wants to decide whether science should continue perfecting gene-editing techniques that allow the choosing of physical or mental characteristics before a child is born.

WHO set up the panel with some urgency. In November, gene researchers across the world reacted with horror after a Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, announced he had created the first gene-edited babies. Some called the achievement “monstrous.” Others demanded a red line to allow such gene editing only when it is clearly safe and only for an agreed purpose, such as preventing illness. Mr. He, meanwhile, remains under house arrest as he awaits trial for allegedly violating Chinese law.

The good news is that WHO is acting as if humanity needs a global standard and can enforce it. This is an acknowledgment that universal values are at stake. Taking such a high stance fits the findings of a study by the University of Oxford, released in February, that looked at 600 societies around the world. “People everywhere face a similar set of social problems, and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them,” said anthropologist Oliver Scott Curry, the study’s lead author. “Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code.”

WHO’s hope for a standard may help lift the debate toward a higher understanding of life. Humans are not just another animal species. Together they have the capacity to discover principles that transcend the notion that each individual’s well-being must be based on physical attributes.

WHO is not alone in this task. In the United States, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences joined with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in December and pushed for international gene-editing standards. In a joint statement, the leaders of the three organizations called on researchers “to take steps now to demonstrate that this new tool can be applied with competence, integrity, and benevolence.”

Applying qualities like integrity to questions about designing babies in a lab clearly takes the issue out of the realm of science. The WHO panel, in fact, includes nonscientists, such as a court judge from South Africa. The nonmedical experts will help bring views that can build a better consensus for shared norms on gene editing.

In the late 1990s, the US went through a similar debate after researchers unveiled news about Dolly the sheep, the first clone of an adult animal from a differentiated cell. President Bill Clinton set up a national advisory commission to explore the moral and spiritual aspects of human cloning. One poll found 77 percent of Americans said human cloning is against God’s will. At the same time, WHO’s governing committee declared such cloning to be “ethically unacceptable.”

In its coming deliberations, the agency’s panel of experts must be as transparent, reasonable, and accountable as it would expect gene researchers to be in their work. The right values will help inform the moral conclusions about whether or when to alter human genes. This approach relies on the fact that goodness is expressed by each individual, regardless of genes. The desire for the humanity-wide standards shows people are greater than any trust in DNA as life’s determinant.

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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.

Our true selves – not limited by age

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As today’s contributor, a lifelong athlete, considered the nature of God as infinite Life and what that means for us as God’s children, he found freedom from painful symptoms he had attributed to his age.

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Our true selves – not limited by age

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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It can seem as if age-related limitations are unavoidable. But is age really what defines us? I’ve found it helpful and even healing to consider another view of what we actually are – a spiritual view, one that carries with it the promise of overcoming limitations attributed to aging.

I’ve always loved sports, particularly baseball and running. For many years I participated in these activities with joy and freedom. Then, several years ago, I began to experience some painful symptoms during and after pitching in baseball and daily running. It was discouraging, and the notion that this was an inevitable aspect of aging crept into my thought.

But that didn’t really sync with what I’d learned in my study and practice of Christian Science, which explains that God is our Father-Mother – the true Parent of all of us. A book that I am inspired by daily – “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science – includes this as one explanation regarding what we all are as God’s loved child: “Man is the expression of God’s being” (p. 470).

What an expansive and freeing outlook this is. Someone standing in front of a mirror sees himself or herself exactly and perfectly represented, with every detail reflected back. Similarly, each of us perfectly reflects the nature of God – not materially, but spiritually. So if we think about what God is, then we can better see what we are.

For instance, the Bible reveals God as Spirit, Life, Truth, Love, and understanding these aspects of God’s nature has a lot to do with enabling us not to resign to challenges associated with aging. Why? Well, for starters, none of these attributes contain even the least element of decay or decrepitude. As God’s reflection, then, we all must manifest and represent only the eternal, harmonious nature of God.

Christ Jesus approached his life’s work with such a full understanding of our relation to God that he was consistently able to heal those who came to him for help. Today, too, even a glimpse of this can be incredibly freeing, empowering, and joyous – and can be applied to all aspects of our experience.

I prayed with these ideas, and one morning I came across the following passages in Science and Health: “Man is not a pendulum, swinging between evil and good, joy and sorrow, sickness and health, life and death. Life and its faculties are not measured by calendars” (p. 246), and, “Soul has infinite resources with which to bless mankind, and happiness would be more readily attained and would be more secure in our keeping, if sought in Soul” (p. 60).

What a wake-up call! Immediately I felt lifted to a higher sense of what I truly am. God’s child could not swing from youth and ease to old age and pain. Our true identity is under God’s perpetual law of Life. God does not diminish or decay, so neither can we.

I made a list of qualities I was striving to express when running and playing baseball, such as completeness, freedom of action, harmonious coordination, joy, and strength. I realized that these kinds of qualities, and many more, make up my true, spiritual identity and represent the “infinite resources” of Soul, God. It is our privilege and nature to reflect and express God, and therefore it is natural for us to manifest Godlike qualities in our daily lives.

That morning it felt as if my eyes had been opened. The result was an immediate change in my attitude, thought, and approach, as well as in the physical situation. Aches and pain disappeared, my joints became more flexible, and since then I’ve been competing freely in baseball leagues and tournaments, and running daily. With each activity, I’ve been looking forward with the expectation of a full and joy-filled experience that includes freedom, ability, and harmony, not uncomfortable outcomes.

Each of us can more clearly recognize what God is and more fully experience what we truly are as the expression of infinite Life and Soul: ageless, free, joyous, and unlimited.

Other versions of this article appeared in the May 7, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel and the Jan. 31, 2019, “Christian Science Daily Lift” podcast.

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Viewfinder

Summit souvenirs

Andrew Harnik/AP
T-shirts depicting President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are displayed for sale in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 26. The second summit between the two men takes place in the city Feb. 27-28.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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( February 27th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow when we examine how charter schools are making an about-face on “no excuses” discipline. 

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