shadow
2019
February
28
Thursday

Sewer rats are usually seen as vermin so vile they should be exterminated. But one rat garnered a different reaction when an evocative photo – and a heartwarming story to go with it – made the rounds on the internet this week.

The image depicts the plight of a rather rotund rat that got stuck in a manhole cover in Germany on Sunday. In the picture, the rat, with the front half of its body stuck above ground, has its mouth agape as if to shout “help me!” to anyone who might pass by.

The rat’s shrill pleas were answered first by children, then by rescue workers from a local animal nonprofit. But they couldn’t free the rat, so a group of volunteer firefighters suited up and came to the rescue.

Similar tales of humans coming to imperiled animals’ aid fill the internet. Two recent examples: baby flamingos that were airlifted out of extreme drought conditions in South Africa, and a social media plea to find rescuers for a stunned hawk in downtown Manhattan.

These stories highlight humanity’s deep capacity for compassion. And our ability to extend that empathy to other species, philosophers have argued, could also reinforce our compassion for each other.

Now to our five stories for today. 

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1. As party shifts left, Democrats show new unity on guns

For the first time in more than 20 years, major gun control legislation passed the House. It's because Democrats are in control – but also because of a shift within the party.

Eva

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Newly elected Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) of Virginia used to carry a gun every day. A former law enforcement officer – and the first Democrat to represent her district in nearly 50 years – she says not all of her constituents agree with her support for universal background checks for gun purchases. But many do. “This is ensuring that that same standard, not a shifting standard, is applied to all firearms purchases,” she says.

With support from moderate Democrats like Representative Spanberger, the House this week passed the first significant gun control measure in more than two decades, extending required background checks to gun shows and the internet – closing the “gun-show loophole.”

While the bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate, it underscores the evolution of gun control in Washington since its heyday in the early 1990s, when President Bill Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons and a background check law that only applied to federally licensed dealers. Back then, many rural and Southern Democrats voted against both measures, and the party went on to pay a stiff price at the ballot box. Today, however, Democrats appear emboldened – and unified.

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As party shifts left, Democrats show new unity on guns

When the House passed a universal background check bill for guns on Wednesday, newly empowered Democrats broke into applause. Cheers and whistles ricocheted through the chamber, and guests in the visitors’ gallery shouted “thank you!”

The outburst prompted the speaker pro tempore to read a warning that any manifestation of approval or disapproval is a violation of House rules – though in an aside, she admitted “that hurt my heart to say that.”

The emotional eruption was understandable. For the first time in more than two decades, the House has passed significant legislation regulating the purchase of firearms by extending required background checks to gun shows and the internet – closing the “gun-show loophole.” It was a bipartisan bill, but largely a party-line vote, with only eight Republicans backing it and two Democrats defecting.

On Thursday, the House also voted to extend the review period for background checks.

The bills’ passage underscores the evolution of gun control in Washington since its heyday in the early 1990s. That’s when President Bill Clinton signed a ban on assault weapons and a background check measure that only applied to federally licensed dealers. Many rural and Southern Democrats voted against both measures, and the party paid a stiff price at the ballot box, with Republicans seizing control of Congress in 1994. Even after Democrats regained the majority in 2006, they shied away from pressing for new gun control measures.  

Today, however, Democrats are emboldened – and unified, moving with public opinion. 

The drumbeat of periodic mass shootings, overwhelming public support for expanded background checks, and revved-up activism by voters and organizations, all factor into the Democratic consensus on this issue. Their retaking of the House has given them the power to act on that consensus – as does their current geographic makeup.

“Compared with the 1990s or even the early 2000s, House Democrats today are far less dependent on districts with large numbers of culturally conservative blue-collar and rural voters,” notes Ronald Brownstein, senior political analyst for CNN. Instead, he writes, they’re centered on urban and suburban districts supportive of more gun regulation. In essence, the congressional electoral map aligns neatly with the gun-regulation agenda.

But the realigning of Democrats into an urban-suburban party and Republicans into a largely rural party appears to be working against expanded gun regulation in the Republican-controlled Senate – at least for now.

While public opinion heavily favors expanded background checks – even 79 percent of Republicans support it, according to Pew Research Center – GOP lawmakers do not plan to bring up the House bills in the Senate, and Trump has said he’d veto them.

“I think the Senate has spoken on that issue,” says Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber. He pointed to a year ago, when, in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, the Senate chose to strengthen the existing background check system and increase resources for school safety. Gun control advocates called those measures “baby steps.”

The closest the Senate came to passing major legislation on expanding background checks was the Manchin-Toomey bill of 2013, named for its bipartisan co-sponsors, Sens. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania. The bill emerged from the outcry over the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

But even under a Senate controlled by Democrats, it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster, falling six votes short. The National Rifle Association opposed the bill, and four Democrats from rural states with strong gun cultures voted against it. Today’s Senate is now in Republican hands, with fewer moderates.

“The NRA doesn’t have the influence it once did, but their mantra of ‘never give an inch’ is so ingrained in the GOP’s psyche that they are afraid of passing gun control legislation that has broad support and is good common sense,” says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report in an email.

Senator Toomey says he’s “actively speaking with colleagues” to see what it would take to get to 60 votes on something similar to Manchin-Toomey, but admits “progress is very limited.” Senator Manchin is also pessimistic. “We haven’t had any more buy-in from our Republican colleagues at all.”

It’s also unclear whether some of the Senate’s more liberal Democrats – especially those running for president – would even sign on to their bill, which is more conservative than the House measure. The party has moved left on health care (“Medicare for All”) and the environment (“Green New Deal”). When Manchin-Toomey seemed briefly poised for a revival last year, some advocates of stricter gun laws backed away from it.

Among Democrats, this leaves 2020 as the great hope for gun regulation to actually become law. While it's an uphill climb, Democrats are hoping for a Senate takeover, with Republicans having far more seats to defend. And then there’s the presidency up for grabs.

“This is a step in the right direction,” says Kara Chine, an activist from San Diego who came to the House this week in support of expanded background checks. “It’s getting the American people’s voice heard, since the majority of Americans support this. I feel like every vote is more evidence brought forth.”

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2. A tale of two hate crimes: a hoax unraveled and a plot foiled

Two arrests last week – of Christopher Hasson and Jussie Smollett – had our reporter examining both hate crime and hoax statistics. Both the plot and the hoax, criminologists say, arose in an atmosphere of growing distrust of “others.”

Eva

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The arrest of actor Jussie Smollett, who police say perpetrated a hoax that played on anti-Trump sentiments, came a day after the arrest of a US Coast Guard officer who prosecutors say was a white supremacist would-be assassin. Christopher Hasson, prosecutors say, amassed a stockpile of weapons, alongside a hit list of politicians – including the speaker of the House and several senators – and TV journalists verbally targeted by President Trump.

For conservative critics, the Smollett hoax raised deeper questions about whether leftist partisans are too quick to believe anything negative about Trump supporters. But criminologists say a hoax should not be used to dismiss the atmosphere that prosecutors say Mr. Smollett sought to manipulate. Hate crimes increased for the third year in a row in 2017 – up 17 percent, according to an FBI report released in November.

“Both hate crimes and hate crime hoaxes come from the same well of anger and dissonance,” says Wilfred Reilly, author of “Hate Crime Hoax.” “To want to kill another person, there needs to be a lot of hate and anger. But in the same way, to pretend that you were attacked by white men, there has to be a fair amount of hate and anger.”

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A tale of two hate crimes: a hoax unraveled and a plot foiled

Wilfred Reilly is a political science professor at Kentucky State University, a historically black university in Frankfort.

But at heart, he is, as he says, “a regular dude from Chicago.”

As such, he can feel concern about a rise in right-wing extremism and warnings from hate trackers that unscripted angry presidential rhetoric could lead to violence against minorities. But to him, at least, hate has become far more egalitarian than that.

“When I go to the gun range, there’s a whole selection of targets you can buy: There’s Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman; there’s the redneck racist looking guy with a beer belly and the black urban thug in a ski mask,” says Professor Reilly, an African-American and author of the just-released book, “Hate Crime Hoax.”

The symbolism of those gun range targets really struck Reilly as he pondered last week’s events: the arrest of a gay black actor in Chicago who police say perpetrated a hoax that played on anti-Trump sentiments. The arrest of Jussie Smollett came a day after the arrest of a US Coast Guard officer who prosecutors say was a white supremacist would-be assassin. Christopher Hasson, prosecutors say, amassed a stockpile of weapons in Silver Spring, Md., alongside a hit list of politicians – including the speaker of the House and several senators – and TV journalists verbally targeted by President Trump.

“Both hate crimes and hate crime hoaxes come from the same well of anger and dissonance,” says Reilly. “To want to kill another person, there needs to be a lot of hate and anger. But in the same way, to pretend that you were attacked by white men, there has to be a fair amount of hate and anger.”

The hoax allegedly perpetrated by the “Empire” actor wasn't just shocking, for many it confirmed perceptions of how gullible the mainstream press can be. For conservative critics, the Smollett hoax raised deeper questions about whether leftist partisans are too quick to believe anything negative about Trump supporters.

But criminologists say a hoax should not be used to dismiss the atmosphere that prosecutors say Mr. Smollett sought to manipulate. Hate crimes increased for the third year in a row in 2017 – up 17 percent, according to an FBI report released in November. Some 60 percent of victims were targeted because of their race or ethnicity, and the largest increase was in anti-Semitic crimes, which jumped 37 percent in one year.

Seen that way, the hoax and the plot each became “a cudgel that political pundits have used to sling anecdotes at each other [and] where actual national security and criminological findings are drowned out,” says Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino, in an email. That comes, he adds, “at an inflection point where the risks [posed by] political violence have shifted.”

It is worth noting that law enforcement got their suspects in both cases. And as Reilly notes: “There is no epidemic of people just attacking their fellow Americans.”

But both the hoax and plot can be seen as sides of the same coin, minted in a country increasingly separated by ideas and values, bonded, it sometimes seems, only by a growing distrust.

How many hoaxes?

To many Americans, the Smollett case highlighted a different, but equally uncomfortable truth: that hate can inspire false reporting, which in turn can be deeply damaging to trust and law-enforcement resources. The Smollett case occupied the time of 11 detectives in a city with a low murder clearance rate.

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Time/AP
‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett (c.) leaves Cook County jail following his release, Feb. 21, in Chicago. Mr. Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct and filling a false police report when he said he was attacked by two men who hurled racist and antigay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, a police official said.

But Professor Levin says he counted just 49 fake reports between 2016 and 2018, making such reports less than 1 percent of an estimated 20,000 total hate crimes reported over the same period. “We also found an increase in hate homicides [in 2018] and an increase in far-right and white nationalist incidents, separate from hate crime data,” Levin adds. “What we found has been a collapse in violent jihadist plots and homicides and an increase in far-right and white nationalist plots and homicides.”

“What is so dreadful and fascinating is how the Smollett case has not become a springboard for understanding about the actual prevalence of the minuscule number of false reports and the rise of hate crimes and violent extremism, particularly by white nationalist and related extremists,” says Levin.

In his book, Reilly says he counted 409 confirmed race-based hoaxes over a five-year period – about 1.5 percent of reports – suggesting to him a more significant prevalence of false reporting, and a more nuanced story.

The White House has vehemently defended the president against accusations that he is tacitly encouraging attacks, saying he has been quick, if not the first, to condemn hateful acts. Mr. Trump called Smollett’s alleged hoax “dangerous” and “racist,” while noting Hasson’s plot was “a shame.”

At the same time, a Southern Poverty Law Center hate crime report released last week suggests that far-right extremist groups have grown by 50 percent just in the past year, in part out of frustration with the president’s failure to build the promised border wall. That campaign promise deals with border security, but has also been seen as a powerful symbol by groups determined to keep the US a white majority country.

‘How we perceive threats’

According to former FBI agent Michael German, who infiltrated white extremist groups after the Oklahoma City bombing, law enforcement has been slow to shift resources, concentrating only a fraction of the $2.8 trillion spent to counter terror from 2002 to 2017 on right-wing extremists. Meanwhile, the bulk of counterterrorism efforts are aimed at threats from overseas, such as Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Between 2008 and 2017, domestic extremists killed 387 people in the United States, according to a 2018 Anti-Defamation League report, while Islamist extremists killed 100. From 2007 to 2011, there were five or fewer attacks by right-wing extremists per year. In 2017, there were 31.

Take one week this past fall: In the span of seven days, Cesar Sayoc, a Florida man who lived in a van plastered with pro-Trump propaganda, is alleged to have sent a series of pipe bombs to Trump’s critics, none of which detonated. Two days after the first pipe bomb was reported, a Kentucky man tried to break into a black church and then killed two elderly black people outside a Kroger, telling an armed white man who confronted him that “whites don’t kill whites.” A few days later, a white nationalist in Pennsylvania killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and injured many others, including police officers.

“A big part of this gets to our base human nature regarding how we perceive threats and how we identify the ‘other’ in a white-majority country where the political class doesn’t see white people as the enemy,” says Mr. German. “Part of the reason that the government doesn’t fear far-right extremism is that it’s reactionary and tends to reinforce existing political, social, and economic inequities that the establishment has created. That’s why the government tends to be more concerned about Black Lives Matter than it does neo-Nazi skinheads going out and engaging in hate crimes.”

For example, a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report that accurately predicted a rise in attacks by far-right extremists – including, like Hasson, military veterans – was withdrawn after Republicans like former House Speaker John Boehner called it offensive. Last year, the FBI issued a report warning of a rise in violent black extremism, even though African-Americans and Jews are far more likely to be targeted by violent extremists.

“I don’t think we are in a very good place at all,” says Daryl Johnson, the former lead domestic terrorism intelligence expert who authored that 2009 report. “Local and federal law enforcement do a good job when they can, but we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people who subscribe to antigovernment and racist extremism, and any one of these people are on the path to radicalization. They exploit and hide behind our constitutional rights.”

For his part, Mr. Johnson, now the head of DT Analytics and author of “Rightwing Resurgence,” has spent decades trying to understand those wellsprings of hate.

While institutions like the FBI work to contain the threat, the most important thing Americans can do, says Johnson, is to spend more time listening to the other side – not just to understand their ideology, but to extend a sense of humanity.

“I have learned in my own life that we need to engage a lot of these people instead of ostracize them and shun them,” says Johnson. “When you do that, they are left to their own devices and become even more radicalized. When we reintegrate them back into our own families, we are at least giving them ... a sense of belonging. We can, in fact, combat the hate for government [and other people] with love and compassion.”

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3. New Arab military force to reckon with as ‘Little Sparta’ rises

The Middle East's leadership seems suddenly in flux: The Saudis have been humbled, and the US posture toned down. Can a tiny, wealthy emirate rebrand itself to fill the void and become a regional power?

Eva
Taylor Luck
Emirati forces show off their latest Western tanks, helicopters, and high-tech gear in an exercise at the Opening Ceremony of the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) arms show Feb. 18 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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The United Arab Emirates is more known for glitzy skyscrapers than military power. But showcasing its hardware and expertise at a recent military expo in Abu Dhabi, the UAE put the world on notice. The tiny Gulf country that former US Defense Secretary James Mattis affectionately refers to as “Little Sparta” is ready to be a dominant player in the Middle East. To do so has demanded changes at all levels of society, increasing military service and enticing young workers to a burgeoning defense sector.

At the end of the 20th century, the UAE military relied on foreign nationals for officers and pilots, and used increasingly outdated equipment. But with the UAE’s economic interests broadening, and nearby Iran expanding its influence, Abu Dhabi realized in the new century that it needed a strong military to protect and bolster its financial clout.

The UAE’s military expenditures jumped from $7.94 billion in 1998 to $24.4 billion by 2014, making it the third-largest arms buyer in the world. Says one Emirati analyst: “Fundamentally, it is an understanding by the UAE that there are multiple threats in the region, and eventually you have to rely on your own capabilities.”

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New Arab military force to reckon with as ‘Little Sparta’ rises

Four armored vehicles rumble out of a stadium tunnel and into a facsimile of a seemingly deserted dusty town, surrounding the location of a “hostile militia” near an abandoned gas station.

Explosions erupt in the mountaintop above, and smoke engulfs the area as troops jump out of the vehicles and trade fire with the unseen “militants.” American-made F-16s roar overhead, and French-made Leclerc tanks arrive on the scene.

Suddenly, dozens of drones blot out the sky above the outdoor stadium, and the tanks, jets, and soldiers fire in a symphony of explosions, gunfire, and screeching tires – all set to the adrenaline-filled Hans Zimmer score from “The Dark Knight,” blaring from speakers.

There was one clear message at the opening ceremony at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference, or IDEX, the Middle East’s largest military expo, held in February in Abu Dhabi. By land, by air, by sea – you name it, the UAE can do it.

But for a country with a population of 1 million citizens, the UAE is trying to do more than just punch above its weight in the Middle East.

As it showcases its hardware and military expertise, Abu Dhabi is putting the world on notice: The tiny Gulf country that former US Defense Secretary James Mattis affectionately refers to as “Little Sparta” is ready to dominate the ring.

But to do so has demanded more than just military expenditures. It has meant changes at all levels of society.

Image overhaul

At first mention, the UAE is not often associated with military power.

With Dubai’s glitzy skyscrapers and man-made islands, and Abu Dhabi’s Louvre museum and Michelin-starred restaurants, the tiny oil-and-gas-rich Gulf state has been famous as a global financial hub and a haven for expatriate workers.

But underneath the glitz and luxury hotels, the UAE has been working rapidly to build itself up as a regional military powerhouse from a modest foundation.

At the end of the 20th century, the UAE Armed Forces were few in number, largely reliant on foreign nationals for officers and pilots, and using increasingly outdated equipment. The forces saw limited involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Kosovo.

But with the UAE’s economic interests expanding across the Middle East and North Africa, and nearby Iran expanding its influence, Abu Dhabi came to the realization in the new century that it needed a strong military to protect and bolster its financial clout.

Under the leadership of Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE embarked on the rapid modernization and expansion of its army. It first pursued an “Emiratization” of its armed forces by developing and promoting Emirati officers, strategists, pilots, and technicians – restricting foreign nationals to advisory roles.

Abu Dhabi then boosted its military spending, buying up advanced systems and technologies from around the world, including a fleet of 72 F-16s, French Mirage 2000 jets, Patriot-3 missile systems, and Lockheed Martin’s THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile-defense systems.

The UAE’s military expenditures jumped: from $7.94 billion in 1998 to $15.7 billion in 2009 to $24.4 billion by 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In each of the past five years, they have consistently hovered over the $20 billion mark.

Christopher Pike/Reuters
Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, attends the International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Feb. 17, 2019.

By 2014, the UAE had become the second-largest military spender in the Middle East after ally Saudi Arabia, and the third-largest arms buyer in the entire world.

“There has been a substantial increase in capability in a range of areas that has matched requirements for modernization as well as the evolving threat landscape, such as the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Charles Forrester, a defense industry analyst and writer at IHS Jane’s, says in an email.

Self-reliance

It was, Emirati observers say, an attempt to add “hard power” to balance the UAE’s growing financial and diplomatic power.

“Fundamentally, it is an understanding by the UAE that there are multiple threats in the region, and eventually you have to rely on your own capabilities,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati professor of political science.

Perhaps more crucial than its arms buildup, the UAE Armed Forces gained vital battle experience over the past decade by volunteering in international coalitions, including the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, enforcing the international no-fly zone over Libya, and taking part in coalition bombing runs against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria in 2014 and 2015.

Yet Little Sparta’s arrival as a military power came in the Saudi-led war in Yemen in 2015, with Emirati land, naval, air, and special ops forces taking part in daily missions and holding territories within Yemen over the past four years.

Although the Yemen war has been classified as a poorly planned conflict that has sparked the world's largest humanitarian crisis, military observers lay little blame with the UAE, which has emerged as the senior partner in its coalition and has reportedly prevented the conflict from spiraling further.

Made in the UAE

At IDEX, green- and white-uniformed Egyptian, Omani, and Saudi generals flocked to the Emirati stands, hopping into sand-colored armored Nimr vehicles, tracing the fins of Al Tariq guided missiles with their fingers, and looking down the scopes of Caracal sniper rifles.

Tanks. Guided missiles. Drones. Light aircraft. All made in the UAE.

As part of its military drive, the UAE has carefully developed its own domestic defense industry to provide supplies and ammunition and conduct repairs – all in-house.

The aim, insiders say, is to reduce the reliance of UAE Armed Forces on Western suppliers and to have a ready inventory of munitions, spare parts, vehicles, and vessels should the country be engaged in a sudden and protracted military engagement.

To bolster its military industries, Abu Dhabi has encouraged joint ventures between international defense companies and local firms. The research and development is carried out outside the UAE with Emirati funds, and the technology and know-how is then transferred into the UAE for production on Emirati soil.

There are now more than 170 Emirati defense companies producing firearms, guided missiles, drones, all-terrain vehicles, aircraft, and naval vessels – some of which are already used in battle.  

“The UAE is one of the largest customers in the region and the largest financers of research and development,” says one military industry representative whose firm both sells directly to the UAE and has partnered with Emirati firms. “The UAE is very important – this is an epicenter for defense technology.”

Military service

The UAE’s military drive has also captured the imagination and ingenuity of young Emiratis.

With the UAE entering its first full-scale conflict in Yemen, Abu Dhabi passed a law in 2014 requiring a 12-month compulsory military service for Emirati males between the ages of 18 and 30. Last year, the service period was extended to 18 months.

There is a palpable sense of national pride when Emiratis talk of their armed forces and their achievements in such a short timespan.

With the armed forces now numbering 60,000 personnel, most Emirati families have a close relative who has served or is serving in the military. The idea that the tiny Emirates can go toe-to-toe with the proxies of Iran and take out ISIS targets creates a sense of national unity and fills in their Spartan narrative.

With many Emiratis gaining military experience, the defense sector and military planning have become an attractive destination for Emiratis, 76 percent of whom work directly for the government.

“Growing up or at university, we never thought of entering the military or the defense sector,” Khamis al Kaabi, a 24-year-old Emirati who was offered a job by Emirati security firm Etimad upon graduation three years ago to manage its drones division.

“The defense sector is now an attractive industry for young Emiratis,” Mr. al Kaabi says as he showcases Etimad’s drone fleet at IDEX. “Defense is the future.”

The new Sparta?

So how warlike will these changes make the UAE? Analysts say the emphasis will be more on diplomatic action than military.

Rather than aggressive military ventures, they say, the analytical and strategic approach of Emirati leadership will likely lead Abu Dhabi to use its forces to maintain pressure on regional allies and rivals alike. Special operation forces and limited bombing runs will be left as an option to protect Emirati interests from the Gulf to North Africa.

This is no headfirst “all-guns-blazing” approach, as some diplomats have used to characterized UAE ally Saudi Arabia.

The UAE retains military bases in Eritrea and Somaliland, keeps an active role in Libya, and will likely look to continue to contain Iran’s ballistic missiles and reinforce the stability of pro-Abu Dhabi governments in the Arab world.

There remain some concerns whether, as Abu Dhabi expands its military reach, its advanced weaponry will fall into the hands of less accountable allies and proxies.

Amnesty International reported in February that the same models and makes of military vehicles and weapons sold to the UAE are now in use by pro-government militias in Yemen. Emirati insiders and US defense firms brushed aside the reports as “unconfirmed.”

US ties

But another question remains: How will a stronger UAE affect the US?

A less-tethered and independent UAE pursuing its military, political, and security goals may become a complicating factor for US policymakers as Abu Dhabi throws its military might behind its economic clout in the Arab world.

At the same time, despite the rapid growth of its own defense industry, the UAE’s reliance on the US military and technology is unlikely to waver anytime soon.

The UAE accounts for 7.4 percent of total US arms sales and, after Saudi Arabia, is the second-largest buyer of American defense technologies and weapons.

The IDEX show saw several multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to US firms, such as a $2 billion deal with Raytheon for Patriot system rocket launchers and a $109 million deal for Lockheed Martin radars.

The US Department of Defense also announced a joint US-UAE hospital to be built in the Emirates, modeled off the Landstuhl military hospital in Germany, to serve wounded American and Emirati servicemen and women.

The UAE’s values and interests in the region are closely aligned with America’s, US diplomatic and defense officials say, insisting that a militarized UAE benefits America both economically and on the battlefield as Washington looks to pull back its involvement in the region.

Despite concerns, they insist that a stronger UAE is a force for good in the region.

Let Little Sparta do the heavy lifting, they say.

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4. Lions, leopards, and lessons. How safari tourism boosts rural education.

Government schemes don’t always live up to their promises. In Uganda, a program designed to divert tourist dollars into rural communities has been criticized as ineffective. But a new focus is restoring hope.

Eva

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Safari tourism is big business in Uganda. In 2018, some 325,000 visitors flocked to the country’s national parks for a glimpse of Africa’s most iconic safari animals: elephants, rhinoceroses, buffalo, leopards, and lions.

For years, visitor fees have bolstered government coffers and funded urban development. But to many Ugandans, particularly those in rural areas, it has seemed as if the well-being of the parks’ animals has taken precedence over the livelihoods of their human neighbors.

Since the 1990s, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has been setting aside 20 percent of park fees with the intent of distributing those funds to nearby rural communities. However well intentioned, that program has been dogged by criticism that only a select few ever see the benefit of this funding.

A recent push to divert those funds into rural education, however, gives some residents a new sense of hope. In the village of Kikarara, where students study in a ramshackle mud and wattle building, the promise of a new schoolhouse represents hope for a new future.

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Lions, leopards, and lessons. How safari tourism boosts rural education.

It’s not a question of if the old mud and wattle building will give way, but when.

From outside, the ramshackle structure appears abandoned. The slumped walls and rusted tin roof of the Nyakalembe Community School bear no resemblance to the modern schools found in Uganda’s capital.

“It will collapse on us anytime,” says Prize Otaremwa.

The headmaster prays that doesn’t happen before construction workers can complete a new brick building – or at the very least that the collapse comes at night when the children are at home safe in their beds.

In this part of Uganda, brick walls, a cement screed floor, and a corrugated iron slab roof represent forward momentum. But funds for such projects can be hard to come by. After decades of civil war, this East African nation has scrambled to rebuild its cities. But rural areas have largely been left behind.

Here in Kikarara, Mr. Otaremwa sees hope for a new future for his students and his school, thanks to a recent push to invest funds garnered from safari tourism in local schools.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority’s revenue-sharing program is in many ways indicative of the changes that have rippled through this region. In the past 30 years, the country has worked to establish a new economy that leverages its wealth of natural resources. That shift has brought the promise of a prosperous future for the nation as a whole.

But many Ugandans, particularly those in rural communities, have felt that this progress has come at their expense. The demarcation of national parks has ushered in a new era of conservation-minded policies. For some, it has seemed as if the well-being of the parks’ animals has taken precedence over the livelihoods of their human neighbors.

Locals have had to change their way of life, as they no longer are allowed to hunt for food or forage for fuel within the parks. And while visitor fees have bolstered government coffers and funded urban development, rural residents have watched helplessly as now-protected lions and elephants have devoured livestock and trampled kitchen gardens.

The UWA’s revenue sharing program is meant to shift that equation by distributing 20 percent of park entrance fees to local communities. In the past, the program has drawn criticism for failing to meet that promise. But a recent emphasis on investment in schools has renewed hope for many residents.

When Kikarara Parish received 40 million Ugandan shillings (about $12,000) in 2015, a new school for the village of Nyakalembe seemed like the perfect project. Investment in education, after all, is an investment in the nation’s future.

“Because of the low levels of education, investing in a school in the middle of the parish was the right thing,” says Michael Tukamusherura, who was chair of the parish at the time.

Otaremwa is hopeful that a better school will bring more families to the community, prompting the government to increase investment in other facilities.

Uganda’s national parks are home to some of Africa’s most iconic safari animals: elephants, rhinoceroses, buffalo, leopards, and lions. The Queen Elizabeth National Park near Kikarara is home to one of just two populations of tree-climbing lions in the world.

These animals have been a major draw for tourists. Some 325,000 visitors flocked to the parks in 2018, about half of whom were international tourists. Entrance to most Ugandan national parks costs $40 for foreign nonresidents, $30 for foreign residents with a work visa, and about $5 for East African nationals. Visitors to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park pay up to $600 to track mountain gorillas.

The UWA began setting aside 20 percent of fees from Bwindi in 1993. By 1996 the program had spread to include all of Uganda’s national parks and was enshrined into law with the Uganda Wildlife Act. In the past five years, 13 billion shillings ($3.5 million) has been diverted to local communities, according to UWA spokesman Bashir Hangi.

Park visitors who spoke with the Monitor expressed support for the program. One suggested that communities should receive an even larger share of the proceeds. Another wondered if the funds were being used appropriately.

“Does it reach those who most need it?” asks A.J. van Bodegom, a Dutch tourist visiting Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda.

How those funds get distributed has been a point of contention. The money is given to district officials who consult with parish committees to decide which projects to invest in.

One project that has been dogged by criticism has been the distribution of goats. Through this scheme, which gained popularity beginning in 2007, villages typically received about nine goats per year. With between 100 and 150 households per village, that meant only a handful of families would see any benefit in a given year. One study examining the efficacy of the program found that it took 11 to 17 years for each household to receive a goat.

The recent emphasis on investment in schools (as well as health centers) has helped to bolster the image of the program as a benefit for whole communities. Still, many locals say they should be included more in the process.

In Kikarara, Otaremwa, the headmaster, says he has not been involved in the planning or development of the new school.

He can’t say when the building might be finished, he says, because he doesn’t know. He can only hope that it happens in time.

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5. Looking for our nation’s forgotten stories? Turn up the volume.

Ordinary folks often get left out of history books. But audio, an overlooked medium, may encourage a more inclusive and nuanced historical record.

Eva
David Dishneau/AP
Gabriella Rinehart interviews great-grandmother Mae Ridge in the kitchen of Ms. Ridge's home in Leitersburg, Md., in late 2015. The interview was part of the Great Thanksgiving Listen oral history project on StoryCorps. Audio storytelling is currently enjoying a resurgence.

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As technology makes good storytelling more accessible, all things audio, from podcasts and audiobooks to radio, are enjoying a resurgence. That bodes well for the historical record and for the people who typically get left out of it, says Beverly Romberger, a communications professor at Susquehanna University who specializes in oral histories. 

“Audio history … provides us with insights into the meanings everyday people are giving to daily events we see in the news,” says Dr. Romberger. “Polls tell us numbers about the political context. Stories let us hear the individual citizen’s recounting of events, emotions, the life dreams, the hopes, the anguish. Ordinary people have a voice through audio history.” 

In an era seen by many as fraught with political divisiveness and “fake news,” preserving audio artifacts may be more important than ever, adds Charlotte Nunes, director of digital scholarship services at Lafayette College. “Due in part to the current surge of open white nationalism, archives are under more pressure to deliberately and collaboratively build collections that document and preserve diverse histories of who constitutes our nation, today and historically.” 

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Looking for our nation’s forgotten stories? Turn up the volume.

Today’s news climate might well be one of sound and fury, but it turns out the actual soundtrack to our cultural and political history is there for the taking and the listening. And it’s a soundtrack being tenaciously preserved by librarians and archivists who recognize that much of our history and culture can be found and experienced through audio. 

“Audio history, or what I think of as oral history, provides us with insights into the meanings everyday people are giving to daily events we see in the news,” says Beverly Romberger, a communications professor at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Penn., who specializes in oral histories. “Polls tell us numbers about the political context. Stories let us hear the individual citizen’s recounting of events, emotions, the life dreams, the hopes, the anguish. Ordinary people have a voice through audio history.”

In fact, all things audio, from podcasts and audiobooks to radio, are enjoying a resurgence as technology makes good storytelling accessible anywhere. While good storytelling engages and transports listeners, audio storytelling is particularly intimate because it invites listeners to create their own images of characters and scenes as they listen. And audio history tells the stories that often fall through the cracks, says Dr. Romberger, adding “audio history lets us tell our stories.”

Unearthing everyday stories 

It takes some digging to unearth hidden historical and cultural archives and turn ordinary voices into compelling stories. But Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva know how to dig. As the long-running audio production team The Kitchen Sisters, the pair is reintroducing podcast and radio audiences to the importance of audio narrative not only for entertainment, but also for the preservation of our culture at a time when many archivists and librarians feel it’s more important than ever to preserve the nation’s diverse cultural history. 

Working on audio journalism about two decades ago, they realized that the archivists, curators, historians, and librarians who were their shepherds through these audio landscapes were, in fact, the stars of their own stories. 

That realization gave birth to “The Keepers,” a podcast series that unearths the stories of the people who find and preserve the touchstones and artifacts that make our culture what it is. 

And these grass-roots oral stories and unofficial histories are essential elements of our culture, says Charlotte Nunes, director of digital scholarship services at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn. 

“Oral history is extremely important for a more inclusive historical record that includes communities, narratives, and histories,” she says in an email. These often-overlooked stories create what Dr. Nunes calls “community-generated memory” that captures the real stories bubbling up from our culture rather than the official “top-down” stories deemed important by those in power. 

Ms. Silva likes to tell a story about a librarian whose library had become a haven for the homeless, so she asked them what her staff could do for them. “She thought she knew the answer,” says Silva. “But what they wanted were telescopes. And classes where they could learn about the night sky. Because they’re out there and they’re looking at the night sky and they wanted to better understand what they were seeing.” 

For their productions over the decades, Ms. Nelson and Silva have sifted through hours of tape on everything from home recordings made by families to songs by Ku Klux Klan barbershop quartets. They once found undiscovered recordings that Tennessee Williams had made with a lover in a penny arcade in New Orleans in 1947. 

He just stored his stuff under a friend’s bed,” says Nelson. 

Courtesy of Michael Stravato
“The Kitchen Sisters,” from left, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, “interview” shrimp. The audio journalists turn the spotlight on the “unsung heroes of the nation,” archivists, curators, and historians who preserve our history, in the podcast series, “The Keepers.”

‘Unsung heroes’ 

In an era seen by many as fraught with political divisiveness and “fake news,” preserving audio artifacts is more important than ever, say some archivists. 

“Due in part to the current surge of open white nationalism,” says Nunes, “archives are under more pressure to deliberately and collaboratively build collections that document and preserve diverse histories of who constitutes our nation, today and historically. Deliberately inclusive collection-building is a direct counter to the xenophobia and fear-based exclusion that drive our national politics.” 

Nelson and Silva call the people who are working to preserve audio records “unsung heroes.”

“They are the keepers of our heritage, our history,” says Silva. “They are keeping our truths.”

“We had come to think of them as unsung heroes of the nation,” says Nelson, “that here were these people quietly working, often in very isolated environments, working to preserve and protect and to keep these documents, whether it was political documents or artifacts.”

Audio takes you back in time 

“Fake news” may have a silver lining: It has encouraged some storytellers to find different ways to tell stories, and when it comes to visceral storytelling, there’s hardly a better medium than audio, says John Baick, a history professor at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass. 

Whether it’s the voice of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or the Beatles or President Trump, he says the audio soundtrack to historical conversations provides the meaning and context that can take you back in time.

“There is a rhythm to the words that is more important than some of the actual words,” says Dr. Baick in an email. “These meetings are experienced like a concert, not like a lecture. A photo is not enough. A transcription of the speech is not enough. Even footage of Donald Trump speaking is not enough. You kind of had to be there. And sound gets us there faster than any other sense.”

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The Monitor's View

Europe’s big choice for clean governance

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Since joining the European Union in 2007, Romania has been on probation to ensure it moves toward clean governance. A special independent body was set up – to the credit of the country’s voters – to go after a culture of corruption left over from communist days.

From 2013 to 2018, the agency was able to try or convict thousands of officials. Last year, however, the head of the agency, Laura Kövesi, was forced out by the ruling Social Democrats who had taken power two years ago. And over the past year, the government has rolled back progress. One measure it approved in February impinged on the independence of judges and prosecutors, who then went on strike. 

The EU is reacting. On Wednesday EU lawmakers approved Ms. Kövesi as chief prosecutor, pending a nod by the European Council. The post is designed to go after misuse of the $160 billion that the EU spends annually in member states. Kövesi’s antigraft efforts in Romania were made easier, she says, because Romanians resisted demands for bribes. No doubt the striking judges and prosecutors, too, have the people’s support.

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Europe’s big choice for clean governance

 It is rare indeed when judges and prosecutors go on strike in a country. It is even rarer when they strike for their independence rather than wages. Yet this is now the case in Romania, which is at the epicenter of the European Union’s attempts to rein in corruption within the 28-member bloc.

Since joining the EU in 2007, Romania has been on official probation along with Bulgaria to ensure it moves toward clean governance. A special independent body was set up – to the credit of the country’s voters – to go after a deep culture of corruption left from Romania’s communist days. From 2013 to 2018, the agency was able to try or convict thousands of officials.

Last year, however, the head of the agency, Laura Kövesi, was forced out by the ruling Social Democrats who took power two years ago. The reason: The party’s leader was one of those convicted, making him unable to become prime minister.

Over the past year, the government has rolled back much of the progress against corruption, triggering an outcry by the EU. One measure the government approved in February impinges on the independence of judges and prosecutors, leading to the strike.  

Just as critical, the government wants to stop Ms. Kövesi from being appointed as the EU’s first chief prosecutor. The government’s campaign even includes starting an investigation of top EU officials as well as filing bogus charges against her.

The EU is confronting this backsliding by Romania. On Wednesday, EU lawmakers approved Kövesi as chief prosecutor, although her final appointment awaits a nod in March by the European Council. One lawmaker praised her “dignified courage that inspired people across our continent.”

The new post is designed to go after misuse of the $160 billion that the EU spends annually in member states. Overall, corruption costs the EU economy nearly a trillion euros a year, according to a 2016 study. The most corrupt members are Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Italy, and Greece.

During her work as prosecutor in Romania, Kövesi investigated some 2,000 fraud cases a year involving EU funds. Her antigraft efforts were made easier, she says, because Romanians are resisting demands for bribes. And they better understand basic rights, such as equality before the law. No doubt the striking judges and prosecutors have the people’s support.

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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.

Will you be my neighbor?

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For today’s contributor, a job teaching immigrant grade-schoolers became an opportunity to witness the unifying, healing power behind the golden rule.

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Will you be my neighbor?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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The 2018 documentary film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” chronicles Fred Rogers’s life and significant contribution as a public television pioneer in children’s programming. I am among many who grew up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” At the heart of his message was a sense of everyone’s worth. He ended every show with “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.”

This concept of unconditional love and belonging clearly struck a chord with countless children over the show’s 30-plus years. And Mr. Rogers didn’t shy away from applying this message to some of the more charged social and political issues of the times. On one segment he invited Mr. Clemmons, a policeman on the show played by a black actor, to join him in rolling up his pants and cooling his feet off in a kiddie pool on a hot day. Afterward, Rogers dried his friend’s feet, making a bold statement against the racial divides of his day.

For me, this segment of the show brings to mind the beautiful biblical image of Jesus humbly washing his disciples’ feet, openly demonstrating his instruction to do to others as we would want them to do to us. This message of equality and love for all is needed more than ever today as society grapples with those same issues.

When I first started my career as a teacher in Texas, I taught fourth-grade immigrant students from Spanish-speaking countries. It wasn’t long before I picked up on prejudicial comments that other teachers, parents, and students made about these children. Some felt they shouldn’t be living in the United States, let alone benefiting from the US educational system. And some of the mainstream students felt my students weren’t smart enough and were holding them back in their education by sharing the same classroom.

I realized I could make the biggest difference in my students’ lives by helping them all to see that skin color, language, and social and cultural backgrounds could never determine a person’s right to love and be loved equally. I prayed for ways to demonstrate this in my classroom, and I was inspired in my approach when I read the following statement by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: “The pure and uplifting thoughts of the teacher, constantly imparted to pupils, will reach higher than the heavens of astronomy; while the debased and unscrupulous mind, though adorned with gems of scholarly attainment, will degrade the characters it should inform and elevate” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 235).

I knew that beyond my teaching credentials, it was a devotion to seeing goodness and purity expressed in my students that would further them the most. So I worked diligently to see them this way, encouraged by ideas I had learned in my study of Christian Science. For instance, I considered that hatred and separatism are not natural to any of us as children of the one God, our loving and caring divine Parent. God doesn’t see differences based on race or any other label. He knows us as His spiritual offspring – unique and valued. This divine Parent could never divide us or cause us to think or act in hurtful ways.

When we turn away from thoughts that we are either better or less than our neighbor, and instead nurture thoughts of kindness and reciprocity, we are practicing Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are letting the unifying love of God lead us forward.

I saw the healing effects of this approach in that classroom. I’ll always be grateful for the beautiful friendships that formed when I asked students to partner together on projects in which they learned to work together cross-culturally, and when I taught my students a song about global equality that they sang in English to supportive applause from the entire school.

Whether the differences we see in our neighbor relate to religion, politics, nationality, or something else, we can bridge over these divides with a genuine desire to love each person just the way they are – as God’s capable, worthy, spiritual creation. In this way we demonstrate the spirit of these words of the Apostle Paul: “There is no Jew or Gentile. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female. That’s because you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, New International Reader’s Version).

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Viewfinder

High water in California’s north

Kent Porter/The Press Democrat/AP
Scott Heemstra rowed Veronica Burdette out of the flood zone as waters rose in Guerneville, Calif., Feb. 27. Two northern California communities are accessible only by boat after a rain-swollen river overflowed its banks following a relentless downpour. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says Guerneville ‘is officially an island’ and another nearby town was also isolated by floodwaters.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 1st, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow. Howard LaFranchi will break down the outcome of President Trump’s talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. With no deal coming out of the summit, what happens now?

Monitor Daily Podcast

February 28, 2019
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