2019
March
04
Monday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

There’s doing good. And then there’s making good.

The first can be about altruism, or about reputation management. The second can be a heavier lift. It requires acknowledgment of an old injustice and a will to redress it.

That fights a human tendency to want to leave the past behind, and it tends to carry some cost even for those who weren’t a party to the problem.

Democrats eyeing 2020 presidential runs are now testing new approaches, including subsidies and other tax credits, to the idea of monetarily compensating African-Americans for slavery’s brutal legacy.

Other bids to shift thought come with the power and agility of celebrity. Jon Stewart, for example, has taken up a fight to get 9/11 first responders compensated for health problems attributed to their heroic work. “The fact that we continue to need to do this,” he wrote, “is beyond my comprehension.”

And still others are acting from a sense of knowing that reparation can come with a focus on what can be gained rather on what must be given up.

Septuagenarian Florence Schlonger represents the fifth generation of her family to occupy a 320-acre Kansas farm. When it came time to leave, the Wichita Eagle reports, she reflected on this: The original prairie homestead stood on the hunting grounds of the Kaw Nation. 

So when the property sold, she cut a $10,000 check – gratefully received – to an organization dedicated to preserving Kaw heritage. She called it “a small acknowledgement … that the pride in our farm passed down through our family came at a great cost to your people.”

That act, Ms. Schlonger says, was “a privilege.”

Here are our five stories for your Monday, including a high-tech solution to helping the homeless and a home-grown solution to modernizing a controversial cultural practice. 

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1. An Obama-Trump trend: revival of ‘Made in the USA’

A US economic sector that many had written off has been showing strong new life. Our reporter looks at the trend’s durability and at the debate over where credit lies.

Alfredo Sosa/Staff/File
An employee works the line at Integra Tool & Manufacturing Inc. in Wausau, Wis. The US has been experiencing gains in manufacturing jobs.

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After focusing his presidential campaign partly around laments over the loss of US manufacturing jobs, Donald Trump has presided over a pickup in factory job growth. The gains actually began under President Obama. But by one measure the pace under President Trump is the fastest since the 1970s. Why?

Under both presidents, wider forces have helped, such as a growing economy. But both administrations, in their own ways, have embraced the idea of manufacturing as a key driver for the economy’s future rather than a declining relic. “It’s essential to driving innovation in our economy” and a reliable source of good jobs, says Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Many in the industry say Trump’s tax cuts have aided job growth. On trade policies, the answer isn’t so clear. Tariffs might pry open Chinese markets but also impose costs. What’s missing is a comprehensive strategy, says economist Rob Atkinson. Republicans push tax cuts and deregulation while Democrats favor job training and public-private partnerships. “What you really want is an all-of-the above president,” he says.

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An Obama-Trump trend: revival of ‘Made in the USA’

The US economy has created more jobs under President Trump than in the first two years of any president since Bill Clinton. But when it comes to manufacturing jobs, Mr. Trump really shines.

His administration has witnessed more growth of factory jobs than in the first two years of any president since Jimmy Carter 40 years ago.

The trend is significant in part because Trump’s promises of Rust Belt revitalization were a clear part of his electoral success in 2016.

It is too early to tell whether this is a blip or a turnaround. From 2000 to 2010, the United States lost a third of its factory jobs, some 5.8 million workers. The rebound after the Great Recession, which started under President Obama and has accelerated under Trump, has added back nearly 1.4 million of those positions, which is a start but hardly a full recovery. And some of Trump’s policies, notably on trade, may be holding the sector back.

Nevertheless, what is clear is that there’s new thinking at the White House. Starting with President Obama and much more emphatically under Trump, manufacturing is now seen as a key driver for the economy’s future rather than a declining job generator of an industrial past.

“There’s a newly rediscovered belief in American manufacturing in US politics,” says Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership of US manufacturers and the United Steelworkers union. “It’s essential to driving innovation in our economy. It’s one of the most reliable places for workers who don't have a four-year college degree to get a good job.”

Whether the momentum continues will depend, in large part, on economic forces that are beyond any president’s direct control. But experts on manufacturing say it may also hinge on whether the administration can expand its strategy from a focus on tax cuts and trade deals to include things like worker-training and research-promotion programs.

Challenges ahead

The administration faces formidable odds. Growth in the world economy has been cooling, including for factory goods. Globalization is a still powerful force that can pull US jobs overseas. And the trend of automation, while helping many US factories to compete in global markets, can mean that even success doesn’t ensure legions of assembly-line jobs attached.

Still, when it comes to jobs and pay, the trends look promising. After a rocky 2009, the Obama administration saw 908,000 factory jobs created in its next seven years. In just two years, Trump has already seen half again that number of manufacturing positions created – a 3.7 percent jump that’s the best performance of any first two years of a president since a 10 percent rise under President Carter from 1977 to 1979.

Hourly earnings in manufacturing jumped slightly more under Obama’s first two years than Trump’s, but the latter’s 3.3 percent increase is respectable. Averaging $27.21, these jobs represent a solid step into the middle class and are nearly on par with the $27.56 average for all nonfarm workers in the private sector. (Interestingly, until mid-2018, factory workers’ earnings were slightly higher than all private-sector workers.)

“It’s been a banner year for manufacturers,” says Chad Moutray, chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington, D.C., trade group. “We're coming into 2019 with a lot of uncertainties, but our members continue to be positive.”

How much of Trump’s success stems from inheriting an economy already in full swing is a matter of debate among economists. But they widely agree that his policies have helped to spur growth, especially his tax cuts for businesses and attempts to roll back regulations. The unknown is his trade policy.

“Taxes gets a thumbs up,” says Chris Geehern, executive vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a statewide employer advocacy and service group. Reducing “regulation gets a thumbs up. Tariffs? Not so much.”

The perils of tariffs

Tariffs can help protect industries from foreign competition. Through December, steel and aluminum manufacturing employment has risen by 500 workers apiece since the administration imposed steel and aluminum tariffs at the end of May, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. But the appliance sector has shrunk by 1,300 jobs despite tariffs that were imposed on refrigerators and washing machines a year ago.

The flip side is that tariffs also impose a tax on all US companies and consumers by raising import prices. In December, the Tax Foundation calculated that Trump’s tariffs on thousands of goods from aluminum and steel to washing machines and refrigerators and Chinese goods of all kinds had so far imposed a $42 billion tax on consumers, effectively reducing a middle-class family’s after-tax income by an average $146.

Manufacturers also realize that tariffs and the threat of tariffs can be powerful bargaining chips in trade negotiations, so they’re willing to go along with temporary tariffs while the administration works out a trade deal with China, says Mr. Moutray of the National Association of Manufacturers. A successfully concluded deal “would be a huge effect,” he adds. “We’ve been wanting a better trade agreement with China for at least two decades.”

Success will depend not only on the terms of an agreement but on its enforcement measures, trade experts say. If the deal spells out the deadlines for China’s trade reforms for everything from intellectual property theft to domestic industry subsidies and the consequences for missing those deadlines, the deal could go a long way to boosting US manufacturers’ confidence and investment plans.

But a trade deal with China won’t be sufficient to keep US manufacturing jobs growing, says Harry Moser, president of the Reshoring Initiative, a nonprofit that tracks jobs coming back to the US. “The only way to fix US manufacturing is to import less.”

He and others point to a strong US dollar, which makes imports less expensive, and the lack of training initiatives for non-college-bound students as two areas that need to be addressed.

Incomplete agenda?

The Trump administration is working on expanding apprenticeships with a less bureaucratic federal program, but that has raised concerns about the quality of the training. And it has tried to defund an Obama program to bolster public-private precompetitive research centers for manufacturing.

A related challenge: There’s the longer-term worry of declining manufacturing productivity, points out Rob Atkinson, head of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a science and technology policy think tank in Washington, D.C. One reason factory employment is up is because factory productivity is down, he says.

Productivity numbers are difficult to pin down, especially in manufacturing where increasing computer speeds may have inflated the actual progress. Nevertheless, BLS data shows a clear slowdown in overall productivity since the late 1990s. The manufacturing numbers are even more dire. From 1995 to 2000, when manufacturing led the rest of the economy with an average 4.5 percent annual rise in total factor productivity, the sector’s productivity has actually turned negative (a 0.5 percent annual decline) from 2007 to 2016 (the latest data available).

What’s missing is a comprehensive manufacturing strategy, Mr. Atkinson says. Republicans push tax cuts and deregulation while Democrats favor training and public-private partnerships. “What you really want is an all-of-the above president,” he says.

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2. In Russia, getting arrested isn’t personal. It’s just business.

There’s a lot of opacity around Russia’s often cutthroat business world. This next piece, about an American’s arrest, draws back the curtain – and tells a bigger story about what’s hindering Russian economic growth. 

Pavel Golovkin/AP
The founder of the Baring Vostok investment fund, Michael Calvey, is seen on a screen, with public observers and journalists below, during a court session in Moscow Feb. 28.

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When Michael Calvey was arrested in Russia in mid-February on charges of embezzlement, it was the sort of incident that one might easily mistake for a geopolitical move by the Kremlin. After all, Mr. Calvey is a US citizen and the founder of Russia’s largest private equity firm.

But most experts say that what he is suffering is much more mundane, if no less troubling. Calvey appears to be a victim of Russia’s vicious business environment. And now he is being handed the same treatment suffered by thousands of Russian businesspeople who face criminal charges for often specious “economic crimes.”

The Kremlin’s ombudsman for protecting the rights of entrepreneurs, Boris Titov, has visited Calvey in prison and described his continued detention over a business dispute as “clearly unlawful.” Mr. Titov’s office says there are currently about 6,000 Russian businesspeople in prison, many of them in predicaments similar to that of Calvey. In many cases, their accuser is a business partner who has cultivated ties with local authorities or security officials or who has used other corrupt means to win favor with police and courts.

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In Russia, getting arrested isn’t personal. It’s just business.

Late last month, Russia’s largest private equity firm took the extremely unusual step of publishing an open letter to President Vladimir Putin.

Even more remarkable was its message: an appeal that Mr. Putin “take control” over the criminal case against the company’s founder, US citizen Michael Calvey, who was arrested in Moscow along with several of his associates Feb. 14 on charges of embezzlement.

The case has triggered international shock waves, with many suspecting Mr. Calvey’s arrest and ongoing detention are somehow connected to the escalating geopolitical acrimony between the US and Russia. But most experts consulted say the problem is more fundamental and worrisome.

They say Calvey’s citizenship was probably incidental to his arrest. Rather, he has become a victim of Russia’s vicious business environment – a reality that Putin has described and railed against repeatedly, most recently a few weeks ago in his State of the Nation address. Calvey is facing the same treatment suffered by thousands of Russian businesspeople who are charged, often speciously, with “economic crimes”: long periods of detention, seizure of assets, and permanent disgrace at the hands of predatory police and officials.

“The only unique thing about the Calvey case is that it has happened to an American, [with Russian authorities] crossing that line for the first time,” says Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia. “Calvey has been a long-term investor here, someone who has stood up for and looked for positive solutions for Russia, even when the geopolitics got very bad. It appears to be a very serious abuse of police and judicial power in Russia.”

‘Business dispute’ or ‘criminal affair’?

Experts say the case highlights one of the most serious causes of Russia’s continuing anemic economic growth and failure to attract major foreign investment.

Though comprehensive Western sanctions continue to be a drag on growth, smart Kremlin policies have substantially blunted their impact. Russia’s place on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business rankings has been steadily improving in recent years. Yet what remains largely unaddressed, despite Putin’s frequent speechmaking, are the underlying rule-of-law issues such as reliable property rights, the curtailment of arbitrary police powers, and the establishment of an independent judiciary.

“The potential for growth of investment in Russia continues to be far from realized,” says Mr. Rodzianko. “Some of that is geopolitics. But a big part is Russia’s internal investment climate. How much are you going to invest in a place where you might get arrested and thrown in jail?”

Rodzianko’s organization represents about 500 US companies, including many household names, that continue to be very active in the Russian market. Although official US statistics suggest there is almost no US investment in Russia, Rodzianko says companies bring capital from other places to invest in Russia, so that the actual total is probably around $80 billion. According to a survey conducted among its members by the organization last year, most remain committed to their Russia operations despite sanctions and international tensions, while 65 percent view Russia as a “strategic market” for their company with serious potential for growth.

Calvey has been a fixture in Russian equity markets since 1994. Baring Vostok, the company he founded, currently holds about $3.7 billion in Russian investments. It has been instrumental in building up some major Russian companies, such as the internet giant Yandex.

Calvey and his associates were arrested amid a dispute with officials of one of the companies in which Baring Vostok held significant stakes, Vostochny Bank, who accused them of defrauding the bank of about $37 million amid a shareholder conflict. Calvey denies all the allegations against him. A representative of Baring Vostok declined to talk on the record about the case.

The Kremlin’s own ombudsman for protecting the rights of entrepreneurs, Boris Titov, has visited Calvey in prison and described his continued detention over a business dispute as “clearly unlawful.”

Despite that, a Moscow court ordered Calvey to remain in pretrial detention until April 13, rejecting a defense appeal to have him transferred to house arrest until his trial. Putin, who just a week earlier had argued that “we need to strictly limit the grounds for extending the term of detention during the investigation of so-called economic cases,” declined to intervene and even appeared to back the prosecutors’ actions.

“The most urgent issue right now is to let Calvey and his associates be released on bail,” says Alexander Korunzhiy, Mr. Titov’s deputy in the Kremlin ombudsman’s office. “They need to return to a normal life while investigators and lawyers sort out these issues. I see this as a conflict between shareholders of a bank.... We see a lot of these cases, where shareholders try to convert a business dispute into a criminal affair. It is shameful.”

Titov’s office says there are currently about 6,000 Russian businesspeople in prison, many of them in predicaments similar to that of Calvey. In many cases, their accuser is a business partner who has cultivated ties with local authorities or security officials or who has used other corrupt means to win favor with police and courts.

“There is a whole chain that involves investigators, prosecutors, and the courts. These bodies often ignore the law. They are absolutely confident that their actions won’t be reexamined and there will be no appeals,” says Mr. Korunzhiy. “It’s not a problem with the laws as written; it is the way they are implemented.”

A distaste for business

The impunity with which officials seem to be able to persecute businesspeople may be rooted in Soviet-era attitudes that saw private enterprise as antisocial activity. But that does not explain why the numbers of Russians who see opening their own business as “undesirable” is actually growing, from 49 percent at the dawn of the post-Soviet era in 1991 to 68 percent in 2017, according to a survey by the state-funded VTsIOM polling agency.

“Basically, Russians distrust the business community the same way they distrust bureaucrats,” says Alexander Baunov, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center. “There is a perception that entrepreneurs are people who took advantage of the Soviet collapse to help themselves to the people’s property, that they are predators. So, when business people get into trouble with the law, they cannot rely on public sympathy....

“As for Putin, he says the right things. But he also sees business people, especially portfolio investors like Michael Calvey, as speculators, similar to the oligarchs of the 1990s in Russia. So, when push comes to shove and he is asked to choose between an investor and what the security services tell him, well, it’s clear why he isn’t going to intervene in this case,” he adds.

Calvey’s arrest has drawn international scrutiny to these problems, and that can only further damage Russia’s investment prospects, says Rodzianko.

“Russia’s growth potential is somewhat linked to improving relations with the West,” he says. “But to a very great extent it depends upon improving its own domestic investment climate. It needs to urgently address these issues and move to make the regulatory environment less oppressive.”

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3. To help the homeless: there’s an app for that

Amid a housing crisis, how best to determine who needs help, and what kind? Some West Coast cities think they’ve found an answer.

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Sacramento County’s most recent homeless census showed that the population had reached nearly 3,700, a 30 percent increase from two years earlier, paralleling a trend across the West Coast. In January, seeking to conduct a more accurate survey, county organizers turned to tech, sending out volunteers with two mobile apps to help them find and conduct interviews with homeless residents.

The embrace of digital tools reflects growing efforts in California and elsewhere to reduce the guesswork. “Getting more information about who is homeless and why can help us understand and address the causes,” says Arturo Baiocchi, who oversaw the survey’s data collection.

In San Diego County, organizers used drones and helicopters equipped with thermal imaging technology. “The more people we can find, the more we can help,” says Kathryn Durant of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

Along with new methods for counting homeless people, an array of apps and other digital remedies aimed at aiding them has cropped up. The advances have prompted privacy concerns among some advocates. “It’s a tough balancing act,” says Molly Cohen, executive director of ShelterTech. “You want to help people ... but not at the expense of their privacy.”

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To help the homeless: there’s an app for that

The gauzy glow of a flashlight inside a blue canvas tent drew Susan Just’s attention. She and three other volunteers had walked along city streets for almost two hours on a chilly January night as part of Sacramento County’s biennial homeless count. The foursome searched an area outlined on a navigational app on their phones, but they had yet to come across anyone who appeared to live outside until spotting the blue glow.

The tent stood on a muddy, tree-lined bank above a busy road a half-mile from the campus of California State University, Sacramento. Shining her flashlight from the sidewalk below, Ms. Just, a retired state worker, offered a cautious “Hello?” A few moments later, two men emerged from the tent, and she conducted short interviews with each of them, recording their answers using another mobile app.

The survey’s organizers introduced the two apps this year seeking to gain a more accurate and detailed census of the county’s homeless population, which the 2017 survey showed had climbed to nearly 3,700, a 30 percent increase from two years earlier. Their embrace of digital tools reflects growing efforts in California and other states to reduce the guesswork in counting and tracking homeless people – advances that in turn could fortify supportive services to aid them.

“You’re not going to find everybody who’s homeless,” says Arturo Baiocchi, a research fellow at the Institute for Social Research in Sacramento who oversaw data collection for the county’s survey. “But the hope is that, with the help of tech, we can get a more complete estimate and develop more ways to reach people.”

San Diego County augmented its search for homeless residents in January with drones and helicopters equipped with thermal imaging technology, a method borrowed from Las Vegas. Map and interview apps were used by organizers in several of California’s largest counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside, and in big cities throughout the country, ranging from Phoenix to Charlotte, N.C.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires cities and counties that receive federal funding for homeless programs to carry out point-in-time counts of people living in shelters and on the streets, a category that covers tents and vehicles. The agency describes the tally as a “snapshot.” As advocates emphasize the need to protect the privacy and personal data of homeless people, they see the potential of tech to improve an imperfect survey process that studies show chronically underestimates the size of the unhoused population.

“The homeless count helps determine policies at the city, state, and federal levels,” says Kathryn Durant, operations coordinator for the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless. “The more people we can find, the more we can help.”

‘These are my neighbors’

HUD estimates that 130,000 people in California lack permanent shelter, accounting for almost a quarter of the country’s homeless population. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose rank among the 10 cities with the highest number of homeless people nationwide.

The surge of homelessness in Sacramento, while smaller than in the state’s largest metro areas, parallels a trend across the West Coast, where soaring housing and rental prices contribute to the problem. The crisis led Oregon lawmakers last week to pass a statewide rent control measure, the first of its kind in the country.

Sacramento Steps Forward, the nonprofit group that coordinated the county’s two-night survey, recruited 800 volunteers for the effort, compared with 250 in 2017. But even with more manpower and digital innovations, Mr. Baiocchi explains, locating every homeless person remains an ideal far out of reach.

One reason involves HUD’s guidelines. The point-in-time count excludes people temporarily staying with friends, families, or neighbors as well as those living in motels or campgrounds. Another reason is the unrealistic task of canvassing all 994 square miles of Sacramento County.

The census focused on about one-third of the county and covered the areas where most residents live. Baiocchi and his research team culled data from prior surveys, nonprofit groups, public agencies, and law enforcement to map 200 count zones, estimating the density of homeless people in each one as high, moderate, or low. Organizers then assigned volunteers to search the tracts.

Ms. Just signed up out of a sense of civic empathy. “These are my neighbors,” she says. “I want to see them accounted for and cared for.” The experience of her group revealed that applying tech to the census, even if still unable to capture the full breadth of homelessness, can add nuance and context to the “snapshot.”

Just joined three college students to walk through a neighborhood on Sacramento’s east side and part of the California State University campus. None of them had participated in previous homeless surveys, and their uncertainty showed. They seldom strayed from the route delineated on the navigational app and mostly skirted wooded areas, gullies, and riverbanks where they might have encountered homeless residents.

The group had nearly completed its itinerary for the night when Just glimpsed the blue glow on the muddy bank and called up toward the tent, drawing out the two men inside.

She first interviewed Mark Rothenberg, who told her that he wound up homeless in 2016 after the state revoked his driver’s license and he lost his job as a tow-truck operator. When she asked what services the city could provide to better support him, he stammered for several seconds as if surprised anyone cared. “Make it easier to get housing and a job, I guess,” he said.

Volunteers collected answers to a list of questions from more than 600 people during this year’s census, tripling the total from 2017. Baiocchi ascribes the increase to the interview app making responses easier to record than with pen and paper, and likewise, the tool has expedited his team’s data analysis, with results expected in the next few weeks.

He predicts the growing trove of demographic details – beyond enhancing the planning and accuracy of future surveys – will assist advocates and public officials in refining outreach and prevention strategies.

“Getting a more accurate count can help us understand the scope of the problem,” he says. “Getting more information about who is homeless and why can help us understand and address the causes.”

Promise vs. privacy

San Diego County’s homeless population of 8,600 represents the fourth-highest total in the country. Yet the $20 million in federal funding that the county receives for homeless programs places it behind 19 other metro areas. The discrepancy arises in part from the county’s struggle to conduct a thorough point-in-time count across its vast, varied terrain.

Prodded by HUD officials to attempt a wider census this year, county organizers turned to tech. They enlisted law enforcement agencies to fly drones and helicopters armed with cameras and thermal imaging devices to locate homeless encampments in canyons, ravines, and other remote areas. Outreach teams on the ground later traveled to the locations to confirm the number of unsheltered residents and conduct interviews with them.

Ms. Durant, with the regional homeless task force, offers a simple rationale for exploiting tech to track an elusive population. “If you want to help more people,” she says, “you need to know where they are.”

Along with new methods for conducting point-in-time counts, an array of digital tools aimed at aiding the homeless population has cropped up in recent years.

One relies on blockchain technology to create an encrypted digital identity for homeless individuals that enables them to securely store vital personal records online. The technology averts the common problem of damaged, destroyed, or lost documents that can thwart those living on the streets from obtaining housing, medical, and financial assistance.

Other advances include mobile apps designed to improve access to supportive services. In Santa Monica, first responders began using an app last month that enables them to connect with service providers and case managers in close to real time when they encounter a homeless person.

Researchers with the Digital Health Lab at the University of Southern California helped develop the app. Karthik Murali, the lab’s director, suggests that the tool can nurture cooperation in a manner that could lead a police officer to take a homeless person to an emergency shelter rather than jail.

“If a case manager can quickly share a person’s history with law enforcement, then that might mean an unnecessary arrest can be avoided,” he says.

The promise of digital remedies to homelessness remains shadowed by privacy concerns, and advocates warn of misuse of medical, financial, and other personal data. In the view of Molly Cohen, executive director of ShelterTech, a San Francisco nonprofit that has funded installation of free Wi-Fi in homeless shelters in the city, the needs of homeless people must be measured against their right to confidentiality.

“It’s a tough balancing act,” she says. “You want to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness but not at the expense of their privacy. Some people don’t want to be helped because of the stigma associated with being homeless.”

At the same time, advocates recognize there are others, particularly children, desperate for assistance. The use of drones to locate those living outside has elicited criticism in San Diego. Durant respects that perspective but points out that the county faces a spiraling crisis.

“There are legitimate concerns about privacy,” she says. “There are also thousands of people on our streets.”

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4. As Kenyan Maasai abandon girls’ ritual cutting, elders lead the way

Cultures are always evolving, with outside influence a factor. But when solutions come from within rather than being imposed, a sense of receptivity can often grow.

Courtesy of SAFE Maa
Cultural elders from the Loita Maasai meet to commit to abandoning the practice of female genital cutting, or FGC, Feb. 6 in Olmesutie, Kenya.

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For years, Maasai families in the Loita Hills have trusted Moipoi Kokiom to cut their daughters. Here in Kenya, nearly 4 in 5 Maasai women between 15 and 49 have undergone female genital cutting, or FGC, as part of an important rite of passage – one they could be ostracized for going without.

But on Feb. 6, Ms. Kokiom gathered with other cultural elders to make a declaration: no more. The Loita Maasai would abandon the dangerous practice, they announced, and embrace a different ritual for girls to enter womanhood.

It was a declaration years in the making. Over nearly a decade, the nonprofit SAFE Maa – whose employees are themselves mostly local Maasai – have been talking with the community about FGC’s significance and risks. Top-down efforts to ban FGC have sometimes driven the practice underground. By collaborating closely and respectfully with the community, SAFE Maa hopes, they can build more sustained change – change that doesn’t come at the expense of identity.

“We cannot go alone,” says Sarah Tenoi of SAFE Maa, who herself went through a botched circumcision. “We must have someone to hold hands with and move together.”

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As Kenyan Maasai abandon girls’ ritual cutting, elders lead the way

In the days leading up to Feb. 6, more than a thousand Maasai people traveled by foot to Loita Hills, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.

They had been called to gather at the crest of a hill overlooking the spare, dusty town of Olmesutie. Under a vast, cloudless sky, towering palm branches were mounted into the ground, a sign that something historic was under way.

It was the day that cultural elders would publicly announce that the Loita Maasai were abandoning female circumcision, also known as female genital cutting (FGC), as a rite of passage – the first such declaration in Kenya.

One in 5 Kenyan women ages 15 to 49 have undergone FGC, according to the country's 2014 Demographic and Health Survey. Among the Maasai, it is nearly 4 in 5. A decade ago, nearly all girls in Loita had their labia and clitoris removed during a rite to usher them into womanhood, according to the local nonprofit SAFE Maa – a practice that risks hemorrhaging, childbirth complications, and painful intercourse.

But this gathering was meant to start a new chapter. As participants filed through an arc of palm branches, leading front and center were Amos Leuka and Sarah Tenoi, two Maasai activists from SAFE Maa, who have advocated against FGC for a decade. Behind came the morans, or warriors, who had fought stigma against uncircumcised women. Then, among a sea of blue robes, walked two dozen cultural elders, including women like Moipoi Kokiom. The first girl she cut, years ago, was her own daughter; from then on, she became a circumciser, trusted by many families to cut their daughters, too.

Worldwide, the fight against FGC has attracted a wave of attention and dollars. Yet today, SAFE Maa – the Maasai group of SAFE Kenya, a nonprofit that teaches through performing arts – is the only group in Kenya to successfully guide a community to publicly declare FGC abandonment.

Courtesy of SAFE Maa
Maasai warriors who have fought discrimination against uncircumcised women attend a gathering on Feb. 6, where cultural elders committed to abandoning female circumcision, in Olmesutie, Kenya.

It’s a story that speaks to the difficulty of changing deep-seated traditions – especially from the outside. SAFE Maa’s team, on the other hand, is comprised almost completely of Maasai from Olmesutie. Over the course of eight years, they have visited homes, listened to people’s concerns, and performed skits and songs that illustrated FGC’s risks. It’s a project in which respect and partnership have been key, they emphasize, and that they hope will create sustainable change, where top-down initiatives have struggled.

“In the beginning, we did not think this was possible. But we joined hands together with cultural leaders, with the community, with girls, with their parents,” says Ms. Tenoi, one of the founding members of SAFE Maa, who herself went through a botched circumcision that almost took her life. “We cannot go alone. We must have someone to hold hands with and move together.”

Pushback to the ban

In 2011, Kenya outlawed FGC, setting punishments for anyone involved: cutters, parents, or facilitators. Cases in which a girl or woman dies from FGC can bring a life sentence.

Yet the law has driven the practice underground, critics say, exacerbating the risks. Girls bleeding heavily, for example, might not be brought to the hospital for fear of arrest.

In Elgeyo Marakwet County, farther north along Kenya’s Rift Valley, FGC has actually resurged since it has been criminalized – and, in a departure from tradition, has recently been practiced on younger girls. Some interpret it as a sign of protest against the area’s former member of Parliament, who was largely credited with getting the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act passed, says Hannelore van Bavel, a PhD candidate studying FGC among Loita Maasai at SOAS University of London.

Similar pushback took place in Senegal, on a larger scale, when the country criminalized FGC in 1999. Many Senegalese saw the move as an appeal for foreign approval. The following day, about a hundred girls were cut in southeastern Senegal, according to the nongovernmental organization Tostan, to the horror of activists who had worked for years to eliminate the practice.

In Kenya, where Maasai are often considered “backwards,” women value their ethnic identity deeply, Ms. Van Bavel says. Attempts to ban FGC sometimes “give easy arguments that don’t acknowledge the complexity of the issue,” she says, and communities wind up viewing FGC as a form of resistance, “a tool that defends against an outside world that tries to take their identity.”

But the ban on FGC also prompted a different crisis of culture, Mr. Leuka says. Girls were being cut under the cover of night, with the original meaning of the rite stripped away. “If you're doing it in secret, there is no tradition you are following,” says Edward Nekasar, a cultural elder from Mausa, near the border with Tanzania.

‘Our culture is beautiful and living’

In May 2018, SAFE Maa convened a council of Loita cultural elders to discuss the problem, and the risks of FGC – the largest gathering of elders in more than 20 years. They decided to bless a different rite of passage, one without FGC. This February’s Loita Declaration was the public capstone, announcing their decision to Loita Maasai, but also to the world.

For nearly a decade before, SAFE Maa had been visiting families, listening to women who knew better than anyone the risks of FGC. The group tried to treat the women – circumcisers included – as teachers, Leuka says, not ignorant traditionalists in need of correction.

“For over three years, we just attended the seminars but wouldn’t really listen,” says Ms. Kokiom, the circumciser. What changed her mind was eventually speaking to Kenyans from other ethnic groups who abandoned FGC decades ago.

Change doesn't mean abandoning culture, Kokiom emphasizes, just shifting it. She and other circumcisers were central to designing the alternative rite of passage into womanhood – called orkuaak ng’ejuk lemurata oo ntoyie, or literally, “a new culture in the promotion of girls” – in which the cut is replaced with pouring fresh milk over a girl’s thighs. The elders’ gathering was more than a message about abandoning circumcision; it was a blessing of orkuaak ng’ejuk.

The night of the declaration, elders gathered in a clearing of dry grass, shrouded in smoke from low fires roasting meat and tea. Circled, they reflected on the day and their continued responsibilities – most importantly, not to tolerate discrimination toward uncut women and their children. Traditionally, stigma has been so strong that families cross over to Tanzania to have their daughters cut, Mr. Nekasar says. An uncircumcised woman is greeted as a child; she would have difficulty finding a husband or midwife, and her children would be denied leadership positions.

“There can be a role for a legal sanction to support the social sanction. Then you’ve sequenced things in the right way, because the community themselves turn against any cutting in the community,” says Julia Lalla-Maharajh, founder of the Orchid Project, an anti-FGC advocacy nonprofit that supports SAFE Maa. Van Bavel, too, credits SAFE’s approach for creating an opportunity for the community to define the problem, and solution, in their own terms.

But this takes time. The Orchid Project often has to adjust the expectations of donors, Ms. Lalla-Maharajh says, who hope to see change after a year of support.

As Leuka, the key speaker, addressed a crowd of hundreds – before NGOs and government officials and cameras – he spoke in Maa, the Maasai language. He turned to the elders and thanked them. Then, he thanked the women of Loita, giving them credit for the day.

“Our culture is beautiful and living. In every generation there are changes,” says Leuka. “Our forefathers also changed from something to what we are now. As a community, we have to make sure that we change but we give respect to what our forefathers were doing.”

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5. Go North, young grad. How Canada is winning over international students.

Today’s last piece looks at what happens when college-hunters begin to look past institutions’ reputations and more at the appeal of the countries where schools are based.

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For many students looking to study abroad, Canada ticks a lot of boxes: It’s safe, progressive, and offers incentives to stay after graduation.

An approach aimed at attracting – and keeping – international students has paid off for the country. According to Canadian federal statistics, the number of international students with study permits has almost doubled since 2011. At the end of 2017, there were about half a million international students across the country, with a 20 percent jump in 2016 alone. While the United States remains the No. 1 place to study for such candidates, Canada (currently in third place) soon could overtake the United Kingdom, according to the 2018 QS Applicant Survey.

Cansu Aydemir, a Turkish student getting a second undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, says she originally came to Canada to join a friend. But other factors influenced her as well. “When you’re young, it’s really hard to be apart from your family and live in a different country,” she says, “so it’s important to be in a country that welcomes you. You feel that here.”

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Go North, young grad. How Canada is winning over international students.

When Turkish student Asli Zayim was deciding where to pursue an international business degree, she considered far more than just a school’s reputation or alumni connections. American colleges enjoy a certain esteem, of course, but she watched too many friends return home after completing their education there, unable to secure the visas they needed to get jobs. Her own sister spent nine years doing a PhD in Wisconsin before she was able to apply for a US green card.

That’s why she submitted all of her applications to Canadian schools. Canada, she says, not only welcomes foreign students, but makes it easier for them to settle down afterward. “For us it’s about building our future lives, not just having international education,” says Ms. Zayim, who is in her first year of an MBA at the University of Toronto. “I asked myself, where do I want to live? Where can I live? Not some place where one day I wake up and my work or study permit is not approved. I came for this life, not just for this [school] building.” 

That calculus could have worked against a candidate in the past, says Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, which represents Canadian universities at home and abroad. Today, however, Canada understands it as part of the allure – and its way to compete in the globalized world. In recent years, the government eased rules for international students. They can now work on and off campus while studying and secure three-year visas afterward, all of which counts toward eventual permanent residency – making Canadian academia more international than it has ever been. 

In many minds, a degree here is considered the quickest path to opportunity, and one with the surest footing, as the rest of the world looks more unstable for foreign graduates.

“Canada is safe, secure, and welcoming, and those are important messages,” says Mr. Davidson. “Then taking it up a notch right now, Canada is seen globally as a place that’s progressive, dynamic, that’s inclusive. And those are all attributes that people who are interested in international study find attractive.”

More students, many from China

According to Canadian federal statistics, the number of international students with study permits has almost doubled since 2011. At the end of 2017, there were about half a million international students across the country, with a 20 percent jump in 2016 alone.

Chinese students are the biggest cohort of international students in Canada, based on the government data, representing a third of all, or 140,000. That’s closely followed by 125,000 students with Indian citizenship. Though according to The Globe and Mail, they have now overtaken the Chinese student population in size. 

While the United States remains the No. 1 place to study for international candidates, Canada (currently in third place) soon could overtake the United Kingdom, according to the 2018 QS Applicant Survey.

Universities Canada says interest is up across all degree programs, but they see particularly high enrollment in the STEM discipline, which is where Davidson says Canada needs job applicants.

Applications among international students for MBA programs in Canada are also up, while they are down in most programs in the US, according to the 2018 Application Trends survey report of the Graduate Management Admission Council. 

Sangeet Chowfla, president of the US-based GMAC, says this is part of a longer-term decline owed in part to the growth and quality of business school alternatives closer to students’ homes. But shorter-term politics – particularly among “global strivers,” students who he says want to accumulate global work experience and fear they won’t be able to work after their degrees – has caused a dip in US enrollment. It’s the reason even Harvard University, despite its enduring prestige, has also experienced a decline in MBA applications.

It’s a reversing trend that matters not just for international students and institutions accepting their tuition. “The decline in international students would actually work to the detriment of the educational experience of US students,” Mr. Chowfla says. “It’s not just about a zero-sum game.... Reducing the number of international enrollments to the US higher education system actually reduces the attractiveness of the system to domestic applicants.”

Canada is not immune to political troubles either. Due to a growing diplomatic dispute with China over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou of Huawei on a US extradition request, some university administrators have feared that Chinese students will look elsewhere – a huge economic loss to Canadian institutions. Similarly, after a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Canada this summer, thousands of Saudi students in Canada were pulled home.

Personal connections drive decisions 

On a recent day at the University of Toronto, international students express myriad reasons for choosing Canada as their place of study. A group of Chinese students says the prevalence of guns in the US scared them off. For others, Canadian schools offered cheaper tuition and the chance to work while studying, offsetting costs. For most people, the No. 1 driver is personal – a sister or a friend already studying here.

Cansu Aydemir, a Turkish student getting a second undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto and applying to law schools, says she originally came here because a friend she knew was in Canada. But political factors do make a difference, especially for younger students away from home for the first time. “When you’re young, it’s really hard to be apart from your family and live in a different country,” she says, “so it’s important to be in a country that welcomes you. You feel that here.”

That’s because everyone around her, she says, is just like her: from somewhere else. In fact, the University of Toronto hosts 19,000 students from more than 168 countries, making one-fifth of the student body international.

The government of Canada sees attracting global talent as its path forward, including as an antidote to an aging population and declining fertility rates. Those skilled immigrants could be a boon to Canada as it faces global and technological change, a recent National Bank of Canada presentation highlighted. Among developed countries, Canada has the highest percentage of immigrants ages 15 to 64 with postsecondary education – 60 percent. “Canada has turned out to be the world’s most successful talent poacher,” explained Chief Economist Stefane Marion in the presentation.  

A twist: Canadian students stay home

There is a missing piece in this global narrative, however: Canadian students study abroad less than their peers. Roland Paris, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, co-led the Study Group on Global Education in 2017. The report showed that Canadian students study abroad as part of their undergraduate degrees at rates lower than students from other countries. In France it’s 33 percent; in Australia and the US, it’s 19 and 16 percent respectively. But only 11 percent of students from Canada complete part of their studies abroad.

The group called on the government to make international study a priority, increasing the numbers of Canadians who can go abroad and broadening where they go. “The vast majority of those who are going abroad end up in the UK, the United States, France, and Australia,” says Mr. Paris. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but the profile of where our students are going is not aligned with the world that’s emerging.”

Canada attracts foreign students by embracing multiculturalism, but Canadian students must also be given a chance to gain the skills acquired living abroad and working and studying in a new culture. “Given the multicultural character of Canadian society, many Canadians will be working at home in their jobs with people from different parts of the world,” Paris says. “It’s important to continue cultivating multicultural understanding and respect in this country.”

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The Monitor's View

A new style of leadership starts to reshape Mexico

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A “honeymoon” with a new president is normal in many democracies. Mexico, however, is hardly normal these days. Its murder rate keeps rising. The flow of migrant “caravans” from Central America is causing conflict. The widespread theft of gasoline from pipelines still needs a response. 

Still, three months in, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, has Mexicans hopeful. His broad goal is to achieve social reconciliation and to quench what he calls a “thirst for justice” after more than a decade of violence. His reforms include better social programs and the creation of job and education opportunities. AMLO’s policies on security, crime, and corruption are being hailed.

But much of his success can be attributed to his transparency, including public meetings and conferences. With his broad vision, his approach, and his public support, AMLO is off to a good start. He faces challenges in the energy sector and in winning the confidence of investors at home and abroad. Yet given Mexico’s troubles, his momentum merits celebration.

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A new style of leadership starts to reshape Mexico

Three months after taking office, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he is known, is enjoying a double success. His popularity is 65 to 85 percent, depending on the poll. And his proposed reforms are gaining political traction. This “honeymoon” might be normal in many democracies. Mexico, however, is hardly normal these days.

Among other woes, its murder rate keeps setting record highs. The flow of migrant “caravans” from Central America is causing conflict with the United States and inside Mexico. And widespread theft of gasoline from pipelines, which was harming the energy sector, needs an urgent response.

Many Mexicans are hopeful about AMLO’s reforms, which include better social programs and the creation of new job and education opportunities for young people. His broader goal is to achieve social reconciliation and pacification of high-crime areas as well as a quenching of what he calls a “thirst for justice” after more than a decade of increased violence.

Much of his success can be attributed to his transparency. Five days a week AMLO holds a meeting on public security at 6 a.m. and then a televised press conference at 7 a.m., during which he delivers messages about reforms under way and responds to journalists’ wide-ranging questions. Mexicans clearly appreciate his open, down-home communication.

To address immediate needs, the leftist leader has dispatched security forces to places hit particularly hard by organized crime and oil theft. Last week, Congress overwhelmingly approved his controversial proposal for a hybrid military-police force, or “National Guard,” although only after adding measures to ensure civilian control. AMLO promises the force will be trained to honor human rights. The measure must still be approved by a majority of state legislatures, which is expected.

To ensure a National Guard can reduce crime, it must have enough training, numbers, and resources. Such a federal force is required as state and local police are notoriously corrupt. Eventually better local policing and an improved justice system will still be needed. Much work lies ahead to realize AMLO’s vision of a peaceful landscape that addresses past injustices and prevents new ones.

On migration, AMLO seeks to integrate the economies of southern Mexico and the northern tier of Central America. He wants new infrastructure, such as a regional train in the Yucatán Peninsula, and more private investment to create jobs. The hope is that those people thinking of migrating would instead find security and employment, allowing them to stay in the region. In the interim, he proposes that migrants from Central America arrive in a regularized fashion with their rights respected and humanitarian needs met, as well as be able to work.

The short-term challenges are enormous. Mexico’s immigration services are woefully inadequate. In addition, the country must deal with a US administration less tolerant of irregular migration. The US plans to send more and more migrants seeking asylum back to Mexico to wait for their cases to be judged. Mexico is struggling to care for them. Because of its dependence on trade with the US and a reliance on US investment, Mexico wants to avoid a public clash with the Trump administration.

With his broad vision, transparent approach, and strong public support, AMLO is off to a good start. He faces serious challenges in the energy sector and in winning the confidence of international and Mexican investors. Yet given Mexico’s many troubles, the momentum deserves some celebration.

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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.

Walk with me

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Here’s a poem that speaks to the power of Christ, divine Truth, as our “shelter from all storms.”

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Walk with me

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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and from the mountain top
Jesus saw them, his disciples –
toiling in rowing
their ship
in the midst of the sea

and as they struggled,
braced against the wind,
oars pressed to unfriendly waters

he walked to them
     over wave
     through gale
     unhurried
     unharried

“be of good cheer”
he said,
“be not afraid,
                       it’s me.”

up into the ship he went
(no labored hoisting,
no desperate rescue)
and the wind ceased*

the peace,
                       a resounding hush

see the wake he leaves –
message etched on now still waters:

walk over, not into or with**
buffetings, bluster, rage, fear
walk over, not into or with
torrents, tempest, rancor, despair

walk with me,
Christ:
inner voice of calm
truth teller
divine oasis
your shelter from all storms

*See Mark 6:48-51.
**See Mary Baker Eddy, “Unity of Good,” p. 11.

Originally published in the Jan. 8, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Strength in community

Curtis Compton//Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Students, teachers, and local residents hold a prayer circle March 4 in the gymnasium of Beauregard (Ala.) High School for those who lost their lives in a Sunday night tornado. More than 20 people were killed in the southwest part of the state. Severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees, and left a trail of destruction amid weather warnings extending into Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 5th, 2019 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

See you tomorrow. You might have noticed that we’re telling more stories chiefly through graphics. Watch for one on the rising demands placed on workers who are also caregivers at home – and at what employers are (and aren’t) doing to help out. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 04, 2019
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