2019
March
21
Thursday

What is our role in bolstering healing amid great stress and potential division? And how can we replace a sense of “them” – the communities in our society with which we may not be familiar – with a sense, simply, of “us”?

In New Zealand, the embrace of “us” has been modeled by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with a grace that suggests nothing could be more natural. And it has sent a powerful message around the globe.

There’s the national stage: Three days ago, Parliament opened with an imam offering a prayer of comfort. Representatives of multiple faiths attended in solidarity. On Friday, one week after a terrorist killed 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, the Muslim call to prayer will be broadcast on national TV and radio, and a two-minute silence will be observed.

Some gestures are more local: In the city of Hamilton, the Mongrel Mob biker group has pledged to stand vigil Friday so worshipers at one mosque can “feel at ease.” The president of the Muslim Association has responded with an invitation: “We want you to be inside, with us.”

The healing power of “us” was on display Thursday as well when upward of 10,000 people marched in silent camaraderie – cellphones stashed – to a stadium in the city of Dunedin. After the mayor’s speech, an imam’s prayer, and a waiata, or Maori song, the crowd stayed silent. Then they rose, together, and sang the national anthem.

Now for our five stories, which look at the buzz around Beto O’Rourke, the legal rights of lakes, and how job titles may or may not signal equality in France.

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1. As Beto campaigns, New Hampshire looks for rock-ribbed answers, not fluff

Covering Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke in New Hampshire was like watching a “freight train of fervor,” says our writer. But voters there are testing him on something else as well: his ability to answer tough questions.

Amelia
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke meets with voters at The Common Man Inn, on March 20 in Claremont, New Hampshire. It is his first visit to the state.

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Beto O’Rourke almost became a senator in Texas by dint of shoe-leather politics. He visited all 254 counties and exuded authenticity by driving himself to campaign events. Will that approach play well nationally?

This week New Hampshire voters got their first look at Mr. O’Rourke. The Granite State has a long history of vetting presidential candidates. Voters aren’t easily impressed or fooled. “We’re known for asking hard questions,” says Molly Kelly, a former New Hampshire state senator. “We are the first presidential primary in the nation, and we don’t take that lightly. We understand the responsibility and the seriousness of the issues and our voice here.”

How did Mr. O’Rourke do? Keene State College professor Marie Duggan likes him enough to have donated $10 to his losing Texas Senate bid last fall. But it’s early in the 2020 race, and she’s skeptical. “I would like my country back, and I need a candidate who is strong enough to get it back,” she says, adding later, “[Mr. O’Rourke] might not have the backbone to tackle some of these things.”

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As Beto campaigns, New Hampshire looks for rock-ribbed answers, not fluff

When Frank Fahey arrives to see Beto O’Rourke in Claremont, New Hampshire, there isn’t a single chair left at The Common Man Inn.

Mr. Fahey is standing in the back with his cane, jammed between journalists and doughnuts and a man who remembers seeing Ronald Reagan campaigning on his town’s store porch, when someone points out an empty bench up front. And that’s how Mr. Fahey scores not only a premium perch but the last question here for Mr. O’Rourke, who is testing out his star power on Granite State voters after announcing his 2020 bid last week.

Mr. Fahey, a retired educator, wants to know how the former Texas congressman will be able to back up his “wonderful ideas” and fend off President Donald Trump. “One thing I’ve heard him say about you is you wave your arms around and you’re crazy. You do wave your arms around, but you’re not crazy,” says Mr. Fahey. “How are you going to put meat on the bone?”

For seven decades, New Hampshire voters have taken very seriously their role in vetting presidential candidates. Every candidate must crisscross the state – the first in the nation to hold a primary – meeting voters face to face. This is America’s tried-and-tested forge of retail politics. Given their personal experiences with candidates, New Hampshire voters may be the most politically savvy citizens in this democracy. And they don’t tend to fall for fluff. These are people who shovel themselves out from underneath winter, grow up going to town meetings, and take to heart the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die.”

So if any state is going to probe whether Mr. O’Rourke has the chops to back up his charm, it’s probably New Hampshire.

“We’re known for asking hard questions,” says Molly Kelly, a former New Hampshire state senator and the 2018 Democratic candidate for governor. “We are the first presidential primary in the nation, and we don’t take that lightly. We understand the responsibility and the seriousness of the issues and our voice here.”

To Mr. Fahey’s question, Mr. O’Rourke confesses that yes, he does wave his hands around. Then, for all of 60 seconds or so, he manages to ditch the political jazzercise before his knees start bouncing and his arms start flying and once again he’s throwing his whole body into an audacious bid to become the leader of the free world.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Tyler Sweeney (l.) is the New Hampshire director for the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that advocates for a balanced federal budget. He joins New Hampshire voters seeing Beto O’Rourke for the first time at The Common Man Inn, in Claremont, New Hampshire.

 

Close encounters, with many a candidate

Ask New Hampshire voters whom they’ve personally met over the years, and they’ll likely rattle off half a dozen names. In the long parade of would-be presidents, they’ll recall encounters with Jimmy Carter or Jesse Jackson, or the time Michelle Obama spoke right here, right outside the Keene State College Student Center where this Tuesday everyone has been waiting for more than an hour and a half for Mr. O’Rourke to arrive.

David Bell, a retired elementary school teacher, says that at this point he’s interested in the gut reaction he feels to a candidate more than any specific policy points. He recalls the visceral reaction he had to another fresh-faced young hopeful, John Edwards, who struck him as a “total fraud.”

Sitting next to him is Bob Englund, a retired physician who along with his wife has hosted a dozen candidates for fundraisers. He likes Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar the best so far but says it’s thrilling to have more than a dozen “interesting, smart, articulate, honest, respectable people running for the highest office in the country” and all coming to meet voters like him.

He’s not too worried about policy proposals at this point either.

“When Barack was starting his campaign, he was not able to answer specific questions,” says Dr. Englund. “And as far as I’m concerned, Barack Obama turned out to be a very good candidate. He was honest, kind; he never tweeted, and no president should ever tweet.”

Keene State College economics professor Marie Duggan likes Mr. O’Rourke and sent him $10 for his losing Senate bid last fall, but she wants to see some mettle – and she’s not sure he has it.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke campaigns at Keene State College on March 19 in Keene, New Hampshire. With the first primary in the U.S., the state has long been a must stop for presidential candidates.

“I feel like I would like my country back, and I need a candidate who is strong enough to get it back,” she says, waiting on a flight of stairs at Keene State, overlooking hundreds of people milling around waiting for Mr. O’Rourke to arrive.

Eighteen years after getting her Ph.D., Professor Duggan is still paying off student loans, and now her teenage kids are about to enter college. Her boyfriend’s health insurance provider refused to pay out when he got sick last year and then shut down its operations in the state. She opened her home to a kid whose grandparent died from an overdose, underscoring the seriousness of New Hampshire’s opioid crisis. She’s tried to get help through Medicare and Social Security, but even this college professor has been stymied. 

As she sees it, life has become unbearable for the middle class.

“A candidate has to show me that they’re going to fix the system and not just that they’re a nice guy,” she says. “[Mr. O’Rourke] might not have the backbone to tackle some of these things,” she adds. “People say Klobuchar is nasty with her staff, but I can see her breaking up a big bank.”

 

First, a desire to bring together

It’s hard to imagine the charming Mr. O’Rourke breaking anything apart. He repeatedly talks about his desire to bring the country together, to put country above party, to think of each other first as Americans before labeling one another as Democrats or Republicans. Americans need to work together, he says, to overcome the pressing challenges facing the country and the world, from climate change to income inequality, immigration to racial discrimination.

“All this is only possible if all of us come together,” Mr. O’Rourke says, speaking in a breathless, unpunctuated string of ideas, a freight train of fervor that plows right through the loud cheers. “The greatest mechanism humankind has ever devised for tackling challenges of this scope and scale is democracy. And our democracy right now is so badly broken.”

The style of the El Paso, Texas, native has evoked comparisons to another young, charismatic Irish Catholic who rose to national prominence: Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy. In an era of particularly nasty politics, many see in Mr. O’Rourke a fundamentally decent man – someone they would like to have over for dinner, someone they can trust.

He drives his own rental car, he arrives late, he fumbles – “sorry, I keep kicking you,” he said mid-speech in Keene, New Hampshire, apologizing to a journalist holding a sound boom near his knees.

He’s not always sure of the exact statistics he’s referencing – “mas o menos,” he says, throwing in a little Spanish, and makes his point anyway. He doesn’t use notes. He doesn’t pull out a 10-point plan for how exactly he would fix any of the big problems, at least not yet. And that’s just fine with some people.

“I’d rather have that than someone who has set ideas without talking to people,” says Joan Davies, a resident of New Hampshire since 1985. “They have plenty of that in Washington, D.C., already.”

It’s early in the 2020 campaign. With more than a dozen declared Democratic candidates, Mr. O’Rourke has done well in raising funds, pulling in more than any other candidate on the first day ($6.1 million). But at this point, only 8 percent of likely Democratic voters nationally name Mr. O’Rourke their first-choice candidate, according to the latest Morning Consult weekly poll. On March 30, after swings through some early primary states, Mr. O’Rourke plans to “lay out his priorities” at his official campaign launch in his hometown.

O’Rourke’s first visit to New Hampshire, where he visited all 10 counties, generated headlines and some enthusiastic crowds. But the state’s hard-to-impress voters, who know the marathon parade of Democratic contenders is just beginning, aren’t in a rush to commit to one candidate, however much they enjoy meeting him or her.

“He’s bright; he’s got wonderful ideas; he’s got 150 percent energy,” says Mr. Fahey, who asked the last question during the campaign stop in Claremont. But, he adds, “I would be afraid I would be throwing away my vote.”

Mr. Fahey sees a complacency among Democrats that could draw out the nomination process and prevent them from mounting a successful challenge to Mr. Trump. When the former teacher visits more well-to-do areas of the state for continuing education classes, people seem out of touch with the income disparity he sees in rural areas and the loyalty many there feel for Mr. Trump.

“I’m worried he’s going to get elected again, very worried,” says Mr. Fahey as Mr. O’Rourke wraps up his post-speech selfie scrum and thanks everyone profusely on his way out the door. A campaign aide sweeps him into the Dodge minivan driver’s seat, and the Beto show gets back on the road.

“As he’s in New Hampshire, he’s going to see that this is a little bit different territory. You’ve got to come with a little more substance,” says Tyler Sweeney, the New Hampshire director for the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group that advocates for a balanced federal budget. “And I think this is where he is going to shape his policy."

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2. Is there a U.S. border crisis? Depends on how you measure it.

There's no shortage of statistics being tossed around about migration along the U.S. southern border. We thought we'd share some charts so you can make up your own mind about what's happening.

Amelia

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The crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border is real, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a House committee earlier this month.

Between October and the end of March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is on track to apprehend more migrants entering the country illegally than during the entire 2017 fiscal year, she said, adding, “Our capacity is already severely restrained, but these increases will overwhelm the system entirely.”

Her statements came amid a widespread questioning of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border last month. The president has been transparent that the declaration is a way to go around Congress to secure funding for a border wall, a signature campaign promise, that the legislature denied. Congress voted to end the emergency – with some critics claiming there is no crisis by pointing out that apprehensions are near historic lows – but Mr. Trump overruled it with the first veto of his term.

So is there a crisis on the southern border?

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Is there a U.S. border crisis? Depends on how you measure it.

The crisis on the United States-Mexico border is real, not manufactured, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a House committee earlier this month. The crisis is “real, serious, and sustained,” she told lawmakers, and likely to get worse as the weather warms up.

Between October and the end of March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is on track to apprehend more migrants entering the country illegally than during the entire 2017 fiscal year, she said, adding, “Our capacity is already severely restrained, but these increases will overwhelm the system entirely.”

Her statements came amid a widespread questioning of President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border last month. The president has been transparent that the declaration is a way to go around Congress to secure funding for a border wall, a signature campaign promise, that the legislature denied. Congress voted to end the emergency – with some critics claiming there is no crisis by pointing out that apprehensions are near historic lows – but Mr. Trump overruled it with the first veto of his term.

So is there a crisis on the southern border?

The numbers do show a surge in apprehensions in recent months:

SOURCE: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

But a look further back reveals that apprehensions at the southwest border have been near historic lows for years:

SOURCE: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Who is making the crossing, and where?

While the volume may be lower, however, one reason agencies are struggling to cope now is a shift in who’s crossing.

For years most of those crossing illegally were adult Mexican men who were looking to work and who could be quickly deported once caught. Now the majority of those crossing are families and children from Central America seeking asylum and voluntarily turning themselves in to officials. The past five months saw the record for families detained between ports of entry broken four times, according to officials. Last month was the first time that families and unaccompanied children made up two-thirds of all apprehensions between ports of entry.

SOURCE: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The problem for officials is that asylum-seekers, especially when they’re families and children, are much more complicated to process than single adults caught crossing illegally. Whether someone crosses illegally or not, their asylum claim has to be adjudicated – first by border officials, then by an immigration judge – which can take years given the mounting backlog in immigration courts. Families and unaccompanied children are also supposed to be held in special facilities, and by law can’t be held for more than 20 days.

“This past year, CBP experienced a 121 percent increase in the number of asylum seekers we processed at our ports of entry, and overall CBP processed almost 93,000 claims of fear in fiscal year 2018. CBP processes undocumented persons as expeditiously as possible without negating the agency’s overall mission, or compromising the safety of individuals within our custody,” a CBP spokesman said in an email.

The Trump administration has implemented various policies to deter this flow – families have been separated under a “zero tolerance” policy, the qualifications for an asylum claim have been narrowed, and migrants are now being returned to Mexico to await court hearings in the U.S., for example. The legality of that latter practice is being challenged in federal court on Friday. It also has alleged that many families seeking asylum are not biologically related.

During the first five months of 2018, the Department of Homeland Security found 191 cases of individuals using minors to pose as family units, out of 31,102 families apprehended. That was up from 46 cases of fraud in fiscal year 2017, according to The Washington Post.

The immigration system is not built to handle migrants of this type coming in these numbers, the administration argues in making its case. Complicating matters further, illegal crossings have surged in some areas of the border but not others:

SOURCE: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Is the government responsible for the increase in migrants crossing illegally?

One policy in particular, advocates for migrants say, explains the recent surge in illegal crossings and bolsters their argument that the crisis is manufactured. “Metering,” which is having its legality questioned in court, limits the flow of asylum claims processed at official ports of entry.

Metering has been in place since 2016 in certain cities. Last summer CBP officials expanded the practice to ports of entry in every border state. Wait times at some southern ports of entry now stretch for months:

SOURCE: The Robert Strauss Center at the University of Texas at Austin

Such wait times are unheard of in the history of the U.S. asylum system, experts say. But the volume of asylum-seekers is also at record levels. CBP officers encountered 70 large groups, defined as 100 or more migrants traveling together, entering between the points of entry from October to February. Officers encountered 13 large groups in the same period last year, and only two the year before.

“When our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities,” the CPB spokesman said.

Migrants have reported having to avoid security threats and pay bribes while waiting to enter a port of entry, and the long wait times have motivated asylum-seekers to cross illegally between ports of entry, immigrant advocates say.

A report from the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general confirmed this, and also noted that government officials had publicly encouraged asylum-seeking families to enter the country through ports of entry.

“However, at the same time, CBP was regulating the flow of asylum-seekers at ports of entry through ‘metering,’ ” the inspector general wrote. “A CBP official reported that the backlogs created by these competing directives likely resulted in additional illegal border crossings.”

SOURCE: U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. Can a lake have rights? Toledo votes yes.

The “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” is the latest example of a nascent global movement to grant legal standing to nature. But it's not clear this view of nature can square with U.S. law.

Amelia

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Does a lake have rights? Some Ohio residents say so. In a landmark referendum last month, residents of Toledo voted to extend legal rights to Lake Erie.

The vote, prompted by repeated algae blooms caused by agricultural runoff, is the latest sign of a growing movement to recognize the rights of nature. Advocates are pushing a transformation in how the law views nature – from something that’s merely property, existing for the benefit of people, to an entity that has inviolable rights of its own. It’s a view that detractors say could cause legal chaos, and proponents see as a natural evolution of both the law and the moral consciousness of our society.

It’s far from clear, however, whether Toledo’s law can hold up in court, but the principle behind it is gaining momentum around the world. To Mary Wood, professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, the rights of nature movement “represents a moral awakening that is truly global.”

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1. Can a lake have rights? Toledo votes yes.

Fed up with recurring, pollution-fueled toxic algae blooms, voters in Toledo, Ohio approved the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights.” Among other things, the bill guarantees the right of the lake and its surrounding watershed “to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”

The new law, passed last month, is the latest sign of a growing movement to recognize the rights of nature. Advocates are pushing a transformation in how the law views nature – from something that’s merely property, existing for the benefit of people, to an entity that has inviolable rights of its own. It’s a view that detractors say could cause legal chaos, and proponents see as a natural evolution of both the law and the moral consciousness of our society.

“We need to change how nature itself is treated under the law, much like we need to change how communities are treated under the law,” says Mari Margil, associate director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which advocates for rights for nature and helped draft the Toledo bill. “Our legal system – and the legal system mirrored around the world – needs a fundamental shift. It’s not going to be enough to regulate fracking or algae blooming better. It’s a really critical change that’s needed. We see this as aimed at that kind of transformational change.”

Mark Duncan/AP
Two young girls play at the edge of Lake Erie on Huntington Beach in Bay Village, Ohio. Lake Erie's shores border four U.S. states, as well as Ontario, Canada.

It’s far from clear, however, whether Toledo’s law can hold up in court. The day after the Lake Erie Bill of Rights was approved by voters, a farmer filed a lawsuit questioning its constitutionality.

“It gives Toledoans, every Toledoan, jurisdiction over almost 5 million people, and 490,000 businesses, and every government entity and the 35 northern counties of Ohio. That is far beyond the city’s authority,” says Yvonne Lesicko, vice president of public policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, which supports the farmer’s suit. Beyond the law’s unconstitutionality, she says, “it’s never good policy to regulate by litigation.”

Ms. Lesicko emphasizes that many farmers are already trying to adopt best practices to avoid runoff, and she believes lawsuits will only stymie those efforts and put farmers on the defensive.

Privately, even advocates of the law say they doubt it will survive a court challenge, but they view it as a long-term strategy that could be transformational over time. And, in various forms around the world, the concept that nature has rights is gaining momentum.

A fledgling movement

In the United States, several cities and towns have recognized rights for nature, particularly in Pennsylvania, where CELDF has actively advanced the concept. Pittsburgh adopted a nature rights provision in 2010 as part of a tactic to keep hydraulic fracturing out of the city. So far, though, no U.S. laws explicitly giving rights to nature have stood up in court in any sort of enforcement case, and most have been more general. Toledo’s is the first in the U.S. to grant rights to an ecosystem.

Internationally, the idea has gained more traction, with Ecuador enshrining the rights of nature in its constitution, and several countries – including Bolivia, Colombia, New Zealand, and India – recognizing rights of either specific ecosystems or nature more broadly (see sidebar).

In the U.S., however, critics maintain that rights of nature laws are inconsistent with our legal system.

“We’re a nation of laws and if we’re free to ignore those laws we have anarchy,” says Kent Holsinger, a Denver-based attorney who specializes in land and water law. “If you start inventing rights for trees and grass and rocks, that creates chaos, and it’s inconsistent with our system of government.” [Editor's note: An earlier version misstated Mr. Holsinger's first name.]

Before rights of nature can gain a foothold in U.S. jurisprudence a more significant question will likely have to be addressed: how to define “nature.”

“If you did create this right and you didn’t define it very narrowly you would have the [legal] floodgates opening,” says Jan Laitos, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law specializing in natural resources and environmental law.

Would it have to be a single living object, like a tree? Would it extend to a group of living objects, like a forest, or to inanimate objects, like a mountain? “What about a natural system like the climate? Could you bring a lawsuit on behalf of the planet’s climate which is being adversely affected by human beings? ‘The Earth’s climate vs. Con-Ed,’ or something?” asks Professor Laitos. “That could be one reason why we never want to create such a right. How do we limit it?”

Do inanimate objects have interests?

Whether or not such rights are actually inconsistent with the legal system depends on how they’re framed. American law recognizes nature primarily as a property interest, and in the courts, the rights of nature movement comes down to an issue of standing, or who has the right to bring a case before a court. A famous 1972 article in the Southern California Law Review that argued for rights for nature posed the question explicitly: “Should Trees Have Standing?”

“It is no answer to say that streams and forests cannot have standing because streams and forests cannot speak. Corporations cannot speak either; nor can states, estates, infants, incompetents, muncipalities (sic) or universities,” wrote University of Southern California professor of law Christopher Stone. “Lawyers speak for them, as they customarily do for the ordinary citizen with legal problems.”

The notion was tested in court in 1972, when the Sierra Club challenged an attempt by Disney to build a resort in Sequoia National Forest all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices rejected the suit, saying the Sierra Club had not shown there would be an injury. But in a famous dissent, Justice William O. Douglas made the case for why groups like the Sierra Club should be allowed to represent the interests of “inanimate objects” like trees in court.

“Those who have that intimate relation with the inanimate object about to be injured, polluted, or otherwise despoiled are its legitimate spokesmen,” he wrote. “Perhaps they will not win. Perhaps the bulldozers of ‘progress’ will plow under all the aesthetic wonders of this beautiful land. That is not the present question. The sole question is, who has standing to be heard?”

For decades Justice Douglas’ dissent garnered little interest, and the high court has made it more difficult to meet standing requirements in environmental protection cases. (This term, the justices ruled unanimously in favor of private landowners seeking to limit the protected habitat for an endangered species of frog.)

But the dissent has reemerged in recent years, and in a 2015 ruling in Pennsylvania, a judge sidestepped the question of whether a creek had standing, leading some experts to think that there could be an acceptable way for the rights of nature to be presented in American courts.

“When that decision in Pennsylvania came out ... people began to think, ‘Uh huh, this is something that might be workable, so long as we make it reasonable,” says Hope Babcock, a professor at Georgetown Law.

Translating stewardship into law

One option would be to establish a limited guardianship, where “nature” is represented by judicially vetted and approved groups. For people who lack an ability to represent themselves, Professor Babcock adds, guardians are “a time-honored concept in American law.”

Mary Wood, a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, argues that there’s another way for nature’s rights to mesh with U.S. law, using the public trust doctrine: the concept that the government holds some resources in trust for the public. It’s a concept that goes back to ancient Rome, and that has been held up in numerous instances in U.S. courts. And, while Professor Wood notes that some rights of nature advocates aren’t comfortable with it because it’s grounded in property law, she says the doctrine ultimately declares that some resources are so crucial to society that they can’t be privatized.

“Rights of nature needs the public trust standards to be viable in court,” says Professor Wood. “The rights of nature cannot be just an appeal to an awakened human sensibility. To have traction, it has to be enforceable in court, and it has to be recognizable in court.”

It remains to be seen how Toledo’s lawsuit will play out – and it seems unlikely that the current courts in the U.S. are ready to recognize the lake’s rights in the way they’re written. But for advocates, it’s a chance to illustrate the failures of the current regulatory system and, they hope, to move the concept forward.

“We can’t rely on the EPA to do anything at this point,” says Crystal Jankowski, a Toledo mother and graphic designer who helped push for the bill of rights with Toledoans for Safe Water, a grassroots organization. Ms. Jankowski was in the hospital giving birth to her daughter in 2014 when one of the water crises hit the town, and hundreds of thousands of residents were told not to drink their water for two days.

Voters approved the law, she notes, despite a barrage of attack ads opposing the measure, because residents were so fed up. And in the weeks since the law was passed, she’s had communities across the country reach out wondering how they could pass similar legislation. “This is not an isolated incident,” says Ms. Jankowski. “This is a growing movement.”

Professor Wood concurs that our relationship with the natural world is undergoing a shift. The rights of nature movement, she says, “represents a moral awakening that is truly global, a recognition that human destruction of nature is having horrific consequences not only to the human species but to all of nature. The human conscience suddenly feels responsible.”

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4. Le mot juste: To make women feel welcome at work, France tries ... semantics

How important is it that a job title reflect your gender? In France, an official change to add feminine titles has people debating whether the change increases equality or lessens it. 

Amelia

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The addition of an “e” at the end of a word may seem like a small thing to get excited about. But some women in France have waited years to be able to officially do so.

The recent decision by the Académie Française to add feminine titles for jobs is prompting discussion about equality – and about who controls the evolution of language. The centuries-old Académie is mostly made up of men and increasingly seen as less of a language rule-maker than the French public itself. Though the change had previously been adopted by much of the public, the seal of approval came from the Académie after years spent by advocates pushing for it.

At an early-March protest in Paris for International Women’s Day, junior high school student India decorated her protest sign with the feminine version of several job titles to raise awareness of the lack of gender parity in France.

“There aren’t enough women in certain job fields, and in the French language we haven’t been able to differentiate between a man and a woman,” she says. “I wanted to denounce that fact.”

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Le mot juste: To make women feel welcome at work, France tries ... semantics

In the face of a language bound by gender, where job titles are inherently masculine, Danielle Terrien, a Parisian author and poet, has been referring to herself in the feminine form for years.

“I always call myself an auteure or une poète. I always put the ‘e,’ even in my published works,” says Ms. Terrien. “It sounds just as nice written or orally.”

As in most modern Romance languages, every word in French is either masculine or feminine, from a plant to a box to an old shoe. Unlike English, which has the luxury of neutrality, gender can never be stripped away from French, and the default version of words or phrases are automatically masculine.

Until now, this has also been the case for job titles. But at the end of February, the Académie Française – a group of 36 academics referred to as “Immortals” – announced that the feminine form of professions would officially be allowed.

For many of France’s professeures, présidentes, and écrivaines (writers), the Académie’s announcement is an important step in the fight for gender equality. But it has also raised questions about who really determines the rules for the French language. 

While the feminization of job titles will now be made official – with new words allowed in textbooks and dictionaries – the change merely reinforces a phenomenon that has been taking place in French society for several decades. Instead of being the bearers of the French language, the 400-year-old Académie Française is increasingly at the whim of the people – who ultimately control how words are used.

“The Académie Française has approved something that has existed for quite some time,” says Mireille Calle-Gruber, the director of the Center for Research on Women’s and Gender Studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. “Language is a living organism and it doesn’t wait for the Académie. Language reflects the evolution of its usage in society, and we shouldn’t be afraid of change.”

‘A certain aesthetic’ 

The Académie hinted in 2014 that the female form of certain job titles would be allowed, but in the end, the Immortals (only four of whom are women) failed to put the modification into writing – claiming they didn’t want to impose new terms on those who didn’t want them and that the feminine forms of some words were downright “barbaric.”

“The French language has a certain aesthetic that you can’t break or rush,” says Jean Pruvost, a professor emeritus of lexicology and French language history at the University of Cergy-Pontoise. “It’s the Académie’s role to not precipitate things, to let the people decide and then say, OK, now we’re accepting this change.”

But even if the Académie is supposed to follow society’s usage of language and not the other way around, many say the Immortals were particularly slow to arrive at this change – especially in light of recent gender equality awareness campaigns like the #MeToo movement.

At an early-March protest in Paris for International Women’s Day, junior high school student India decorated her protest sign with the feminine version of several job titles – docteure (doctor), auteure (author), and ingénieure (engineer) – to raise awareness of the lack of gender parity in France.

“There aren’t enough women in certain job fields, and in the French language we haven’t been able to differentiate between a man and a woman,” she says. “I wanted to denounce that fact.”

Fellow protester Anne-Marie Barin, who worked in a male-dominated technical field up until her retirement, says the Académie’s decision is a first step toward recognizing that men and women are equal in the workplace.

“At the time, I didn’t think much of the fact that my job title was masculinized,” says Ms. Barin, who was the only woman in an office of 35 men. “But now that I think of it, it would have had an effect on how I felt about my place there if my title was feminine.”

Lukewarm reception from some 

The Académie hasn’t been the only roadblock to the French language’s feminization. Some say altering certain words can cause confusion – if a male doctor is a médecin and a female one is a médecine, how will people not be confused by the fact that the word for medicine itself is also médecine?

And some women, especially those working in male-dominated fields, say feminizing terms will somehow denigrate their position. Some female university lecturers – or maîtres de conférence – have shuddered at the idea of using the feminized version of maîtresse de conference. After all, maîtresse is the same word to mean a female elementary school teacher as well as a “lover.”

Others are simply bothered by the way certain feminized words resonate. French writer Frédéric Beigbeder wrote in a 2005 article for the magazine Lire that the word écrivaine (writer) – as opposed to the masculine écrivain – was a “hideous term” that made him “break out in a rash.”

But ultimately, gender equality advocates have prevailed, and forthcoming editions of the French dictionary will soon reflect the evolutions that many say have been taking place in French society for some time. It will also put France on par with neighbors Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, who have since followed the lead of Quebec, which integrated feminized job titles into the French language in the 1970s. Perhaps most importantly, it sets a precedent – even if only figuratively – for how women should be treated in the workplace and the world. 

“This isn’t a magical fix, but it shows children from a young age that men and women can access the same jobs and that women can put a feminine title on their job,” says Marie Buscatto, a professor of sociology who studies gender in the workplace at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. “It’s telling women symbolically, you have a place.”

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5. Building ice castles in the air: A longing look back at winter

This story is about a reporter who arrived in New England this winter with high expectations for huge snowdrifts and maybe even snowpocalypse. He waited. And waited. And finally headed north.

Amelia
Timothy Broderick/The Christian Science Monitor
Ice tunnels are one of the features of the Ice Castles park in Lincoln, New Hampshire, March 16. The man-made park, one of six in North America, draws thousands of people every year.

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I was excited to move to Boston in January, in the deepest part of the deep freeze. I wanted to climb 40-foot-tall snowbanks. I had read the news when the city broke its all-time records with 108.6 inches of snow. I was so ready for it. I wanted it. Then, nothing.

So to sate my winter-loving soul, I drove to New Hampshire to check out Ice Castles, a self-described “winter wonderland.” Frozen thrones, tunnels, and walls were lit by a rainbow of spotlights. Happy kids zoomed down ice slides, followed by their giddy parents. As darkness fell, the multicolored light show grew more brilliant, stopping people in their tracks.

Conversations arose in Hindi and Spanish. I chatted with a family who drove five hours to play. For park employee Andrew Rebeiro, the park’s reach is the coolest part. “A lot of times these families wouldn’t have a reason to come [to New Hampshire] in the winter,” he says. “Here you have a lot of families that have never seen winter like this before, never seen the stars like this.”

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Building ice castles in the air: A longing look back at winter

I cannot remember when or why or how I came to love winter. I’m not from a cold-steeped town like Minneapolis or Burlington, Vermont. I’m from Cincinnati, a city that flirts with the freezing point from December to March but rarely delivers more than a dusting of snow.

That’s one reason I was excited to move to Boston in January, in the deepest part of the deep freeze. I wanted to trudge through feet of snow and climb 40-foot-tall snowbanks in parking lots. I had read all the news reports when the city broke its all-time records with 108.6 inches of snow. I was so ready for it. I wanted it. Then, nothing.

Timothy Broderick/The Christian Science Monitor
A young boy walks amid glowing man-made ice structures at the Ice Castles park in Lincoln, New Hampshire, on March 16.

Now it’s late March. We’ve had one decent snowstorm, but I still want more. People are cheering the arrival of spring with robin sightings and crocuses pushing through the earth, and I’m wondering if winter might still show up.

This is why, as tourists flocked to Boston for St. Patrick’s Day, I drove north – and pulled into a parking lot in Lincoln, New Hampshire, to check out Ice Castles, a self-described “winter wonderland.” It was the park’s last day before it closed for the season, and I wanted to sate my winter-loving soul.

I arrived just after sunset. Tall hunks of ice and icicles towered over me as I entered the park and walked along a narrow passageway. Eventually, it gave way to a clearing and I was greeted with a winter wonderland: frozen thrones, icy tunnels, and glacial walls lit by a rainbow of colored spotlights. Happy kids zoomed down ice slides, quickly followed by their equally giddy parents. As darkness fell, the multicolored light show grew more brilliant, stopping people in their tracks.

Across the icy labyrinth arose conversations in Hindi and Spanish. I chatted with a family of five from Martha’s Vineyard, who drove five hours to play in some ice and snow. Winter had skipped their neighborhood, too.

For Andrew Rebeiro, a longtime park employee, the park’s reach is the coolest part.

Timothy Broderick/The Christian Science Monitor
Visitors warm their hands by the fire at the Ice Castles park in Lincoln, N.H. on March 16, 2019. Each of the six North American parks is about an acre in size and contains some 25 million pounds of ice – until the parks close for the season in late March.

“A lot of times these families wouldn’t have a reason to come [to New Hampshire] in the winter,” says Mr. Rebeiro, who has been working for the park since it came to New Hampshire six years ago. He says thousands of people visit their park every year. “Here you have a lot of families that have never seen winter like this before, never seen the stars like this.”

In the frosty air, I could feel myself relax and breathe more deeply. Winter forces me to slow down. And when I slow down, I notice more. Late-night snowfalls turn a cacophonous world into a lush, quiet repose. The cold reminds me that I have a body, forces me to find warmth and comfort in and with others. The only creature comforts are a single hot chocolate stand and two fire pits.

I’m sorry to tease with these sights now that winter is gone. But next year, if you head to one of the six Ice Castles in North America, it’s worth the trip to hem yourself behind thick walls of ice. You’ll find joy. I saw it in the happy, rambunctious children sliding down ice and their parents snapping photos of them. And I even saw it in Orion, poking out from behind an evening cloud.

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The Monitor's View

A lesson in New Zealand’s new gun ban

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Just six days after the gun massacre in New Zealand, its leaders have set a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons. The speedy consensus was a result of all sides in the nation’s gun debate finally listening to each other’s fears. The trauma of the killings certainly made sure of that.

Under the agreement, hunters and farmers will be able to keep guns with little rapid firepower. Owners of military-style semi-automatics and high-capacity ammunition magazines will need to surrender their weapons. In other words, guns with the highest fear factor – and designed for maximum slaughter – must be forsaken.

This is a lesson for the United States. The different emotions – fear of crime, fear of government, fear of suicide, etc. – must first be addressed before facts and reason can prevail. In fact, in its decisions recognizing a fundamental gun right, the U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that gun rights are not unlimited, especially for the kind of weapons commonly used to instill fear.

Those countries with too many guns designed for mass killing must find their own path toward political unity on gun restrictions. New Zealand just set one example.

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A lesson in New Zealand’s new gun ban

Just six days after a gun massacre killed 50 people, New Zealand’s government leaders, both left and right, have decided to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons such as those used in the shootings. The speed of the consensus is certainly noteworthy. Australia took 12 days after a 1996 mass killing to pass similar laws. Many in America are still waiting for such a ban. But what is important to note is how the Kiwis did it.

The compromise announced March 21 was made possible because top political leaders on either side of the gun debate finally listened to each other’s fears with a certain civic compassion. The national trauma of last Friday’s killings at two mosques certainly made sure of that.

As in the United States, emotions over guns run deep in New Zealand, with a gun lobby on one side and gun-control advocates on the other. Even though the country has no equivalent of a Second Amendment and enjoys far fewer gun murders per capita than in the U.S., many previous efforts at tightening gun restrictions have failed. This time, there was a mutual acknowledgment of each other’s concerns.

Under the agreement, hunters and farmers will be able to keep guns with little rapid firepower. Owners of military-style semi-automatics and high-capacity ammunition magazines will need to surrender their weapons and then be compensated. In other words, guns with the highest fear factor – and designed for maximum slaughter – must be forsaken.

As one New Zealand hunter put it, “Most of us aren’t keen on seeing idiots in the bush with [AK-15 assault rifles].” Another owner said the convenience of owning an AK-15 rifle “doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse.”

This is a lesson for the U.S., where opposing camps remain stuck in their respective narratives of fear. The different emotions – fear of crime, fear of government, fear of suicide, etc. – must first be addressed before facts and reason can prevail. In fact, in its decisions recognizing a fundamental gun right, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that gun rights are not unlimited, especially for the kind of weapons commonly used to instill fear.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative who wrote the key decision, cited laws written in 18th-century America that ban “dangerous and unusual” weapons used to “affright” people. “It’s clear that certain restrictions on the bearing of arms are traditional and can be enforced,” the late justice told a journalist.

Those countries with too many guns designed for mass killing must find their own path toward political unity on gun restrictions. New Zealand just set one example by showing how civic respect and listening can replace many fears about guns and gun control.

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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.

Caring spiritually for our human environment

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Today’s contributor found that a spiritual perspective of nature brought hope for sustainable solutions to environmental issues and also freed him from recurring pain and breathing difficulties associated with smog in his city.

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Caring spiritually for our human environment

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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From global warming to pollution to species extinction, scientists have plenty of bleak predictions about the state of our planet. But there is good news, too. People are taking small steps to protect the environment, such as driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, being more conscious of the effect of single-use plastics, and more conscientious about recycling. Companies are choosing environmentally friendly supplies and vendor services.

These are commendable and important efforts. But in my career as an engineer, and now as a Christian Science practitioner, I’ve found that what brings me the most hope for sustainable changes in human behavior, as well as for new solutions to treading lightly on our planet, is a shift in one’s viewpoint. In particular, a mental shift that starts with a spiritual model of ourselves and our universe.

I have to admit that, years ago, my initial concern for the environment was pretty self-centered. I wanted the planet to give me a pristine experience – clear views, clean beaches, and plenty of fresh fish to enjoy. But as I thought more about this, I knew that I needed to dig deeper and include the whole planet in my care for the environment.

That sounds like a big job. But I started with a fundamental idea I’d learned in my study of Christian Science: that God is divine Spirit, and His creation is not limited and material but entirely spiritual. Instead of seeing people as nothing more than tiny specks on a large planet, competing for personal shares of natural resources, I could acknowledge everyone’s true, spiritual nature – and the spiritual nature of the universe – as created and sustained by God, who is infinite. This spiritual perspective of balance and sustainability helps us approach environmental issues with discernment.

I found that embracing this broader view could start with facing up to challenges in my own backyard. For instance, when my family moved to Los Angeles some years ago, I had a hard time getting over the infamous smog that often permeates the city. Every morning, I was waking up to pain and pressure in my sinuses. I found it difficult to breathe through my nose, and my throat hurt. This discomfort would last throughout each day.

I began to pray about this situation, and my prayers included taking a more conscientious look at my environment from a spiritual perspective. After all, my wife and I had decided to move to LA to continue our public practice of Christian Science, helping others find healing through prayer. We’d come with open hearts and the intention of bringing healing to our new community. These pure thoughts, I saw, constituted our true mental environment. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote, “the true thought escapes from the inward to the outward, and this is the only right activity, that whereby we reach our higher nature” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 159).

Ultimately, my prayer was to gain a greater perspective of my “higher nature” as God’s child, whose birthright includes living in an environment that’s built on spiritual progress, beauty, continued growth, and abundance – as does everyone’s.

These ideas opened my thought to a higher, purer concept of my health, and I stopped defining it as susceptible to my physical environment. I realized that smog, which represents a strain on natural resources, couldn’t keep me from expressing my true, Godlike nature. Similarly, thinking more globally, I saw that there could be no strain on God’s infinite resources. Health, joy, and well-being are permanent, spiritual qualities of God, and they permeate the being of man and the universe.

It wasn’t long before I noticed my breathing became normal, and the smog no longer had any impact on me physically. Although I know that we’re a long way from completely eliminating smog from LA, I felt that by addressing this issue through prayer, I’d had a positive effect on the mental environment of my own community.

While I can’t begin to offer answers to all the environmental questions that millions of conscientious thinkers are asking, I do feel confident that prayer can make a difference. Fears that danger looms over humanity don’t have to haunt our thoughts. God has only good in store for His creation. As we open our thoughts to this spiritual good, we’ll become more aware of resourceful, creative, mutually beneficial ideas for sustainable solutions to world needs.

Adapted from an article published in the April 23, 2007, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Seeking safe harbor

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
A child is transported in a fridge during floods after Cyclone Idai, in Buzi, Mozambique, March 21. An estimated 15,000 people remain stranded a week after the cyclone hit Mozambique and neighboring Zimbabwe, with floodwaters so deep in some places only the tops of trees are visible.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 22nd, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow, when two reporters who teamed up will share what they’ve found on the global growth of white supremacist extremism.

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