2019
April
03
Wednesday

We in the media have gotten the Trump phenomenon backward.

That’s the takeaway from one of the most insightful examinations of what’s behind the current political situation in the United States I have seen. The story from Vox has some partisan overtones, but it’s grounded in solid data and well worth reading. It posits that the biggest political story of the past decade has been an astonishingly rapid shift among white liberals.

In a series of charts, Vox explains how, during the past 10 to 20 years, white liberals have radically reshaped their views on race and immigration – to the point that many are now to the left of black voters. Twenty years ago, white liberals and conservatives generally agreed that immigrants hurt the country and that black Americans were largely responsible for the lack of opportunity and achievement many face. Today, that former “unity” has fractured, with seismic consequences.

The article compares today’s “Great Awokening” to the “Great Awakening” of white Americans before the Civil War. And while there’s no suggestion that another civil war is near, there’s a realization that core elements of the current political polarization are deeply rooted. To overcome them, America will need to address its new and fundamental differences of worldview on race.

Now on to our five stories for today. We look at the little-talked-about phenomenon of post-traumatic growth, why capitalism needs cheerleaders today, and a different kind of nourishment for those in need.

Share this article

1. The House wants full Mueller report. What if attorney general says no?

Congressional subpoenas are serious business, but there are inherent political weaknesses in the procedure, and Democrats’ demand to see the Mueller report could bring them front and center.

Mark
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., (left) is preparing subpoenas seeking special counsel Robert Mueller's full Russia report.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to give its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., authority to issue subpoenas for documents, testimony, and underlying evidence related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr. Mueller found no collusion between the two, and in a summary of the report, Attorney General William Barr said that he and the deputy attorney general found that evidence was not sufficient to support a finding of presidential obstruction of justice.

Mr. Nadler and his fellow Democrats want to see the report for themselves – hence the subpoenas and court threat. Yet this seemingly tough stance belies a weakness in the supposedly mighty congressional subpoena: Enforcement, if it goes to court, can take years. Another kind of weakness, say legal and government experts, stems from the perception that subpoenas are increasingly more about partisan positioning than finding the truth.

“It’s become increasingly routine for congressional committees to pound their chest and use the subpoena,” says Prof. Neal Devins, a constitutional scholar at William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia. “When you do something repeatedly, it becomes a little ritualistic, it loses a little of its oomph.”

Collapse

The House wants full Mueller report. What if attorney general says no?

By the time the Justice Department hands over the full Mueller report to House Democrats – if it ever does – Donald Trump may no longer be president. In other words, get ready for a long tangle if this fight goes to court, as seems to be the intent of the House Judiciary chairman if he doesn’t get his way.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to give its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., authority to issue subpoenas for documents, testimony, and underlying evidence related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr. Mueller found no collusion between the two, and in a summary of the report, Attorney General William Barr said that he and the deputy attorney general found that evidence was not sufficient to support a finding of presidential obstruction of justice.

But Mr. Nadler and his fellow Democrats want to see the report for themselves – the entire report, not the redacted version that Mr. Barr is promising by mid-April. Mr. Barr says he cannot legally hand over the entire report because it contains information related to a grand jury, or to ongoing prosecutions, or that is classified or may unduly infringe on personal privacy.

Hence Mr. Nadler’s subpoenas and court threat, which he intends to deliver on in “short order” if the Justice Department does not comply with a full report. Yet this seemingly tough stance belies a weakness in the supposedly mighty congressional subpoena: Its enforcement can be “inadequate,” in part because resolution can take years, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The Judiciary Committee’s subpoena move – based on a partisan vote – also points to a different kind of weakness, say legal and government experts. It’s born of the expectation that as soon as an opposition party takes control in Congress, it cranks up the investigation machine – which in turn feeds the perception that subpoenas are much more about the interest of a party, than the interest of Congress as an institution.

“It’s become increasingly routine for congressional committees to pound their chest and use the subpoena,” says Prof. Neal Devins, a constitutional scholar at William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia. “When you do something repeatedly, it becomes a little ritualistic, it loses a little of its oomph.”

This week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform also authorized subpoenas – relating to security clearances given to 25 people despite rejection by career staffers, and to a question about United States citizenship in the upcoming Census.

Congress has two ways to enforce a subpoena, and both are problematic, according to the Congressional Research Service Report, which came out last month.

One is to ask the executive branch to enforce a criminal contempt citation for an individual who is willfully refusing to comply with a committee’s subpoena. But there’s an inherent conflict there if the executive branch is being asked to lower the hammer on itself.

The other way is to pursue the case through the courts, which can take a long time and does not always ensure access to the information that a committee wants.

Only four times in recent history has the House held an executive branch official (or former official) in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena. Not surprisingly, in all four cases the executive branch refused to prosecute, and three times the House looked to the courts.

In one instance, Americans had elected a new Congress and president by the time a settlement was reached and the case dismissed (Committee on the Judiciary v. Miers). Most of the documents were provided, however, and Harriett Miers, the former White House counsel under President George W. Bush, had to testify under oath, but in a closed, transcribed hearing. Ms. Miers and White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten had refused subpoenas in 2007 for testimony and documents relating to the dismissal of U.S. attorneys, citing executive privilege.

Similarly, former Attorney General Eric Holder also asserted executive privilege when he failed in 2012 to comply with a congressional subpoena in the “Fast and Furious” case about gunrunners, Mexican criminals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In that case, too, the House turned to the courts. It is still unresolved, even as the presidency and Congress have changed hands.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., of the House Judiciary Committee says she is concerned about Congress’s ability to enforce subpoenas. In the case of the Mueller report, however, she says the public is on the side of Democrats. A slew of opinion polls show the vast majority of Americans want the full Mueller report released.

“The American people will demand it,” says Congresswoman Dean. “Between their pressure and the power of the majority and this chairman offering the subpoena, I think we’ll be successful.” 

Last month, before Mr. Mueller submitted his report to the attorney general, the House voted almost unanimously to release the full report to Congress and to release all of the report to the public except those parts that are “prohibited by law.”

But Republicans now say Democrats are playing politics with Mr. Nadler’s subpoena authorization. They argue that he’s pressing for the full report before he’s even seen the redacted version, and point to the restrictions that Attorney General Barr legally faces in sending the report to Congress.

“They’re just determined to go after the president because Mueller wasn’t what they hoped,” says Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ranking member on the Oversight Committee who also has a seat on Judiciary.

Lawmakers and observers say it’s too early to know how the tussle between investigators in Congress and this White House will compare with previous times when the opposition took over – especially in the House, where it’s much easier for the majority party to work its will.

Almost every shift in partisan control of Congress after a unified government has been followed by a wave of congressional investigations, and that’s especially true in intensely polarized times, says Douglas Kriner, co-author of the book, “Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power” and a government professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Looking ahead, he says “Democrats have a lot of opportunities to score political points, just the way Republicans had a lot of opportunities in investigating Obama.”

shadow

2. US-Russia clash over Venezuela has a familiar ring

U.S. condemns autocratic leader. Russia sends military to support that leader. Repeat. Venezuela looks a lot like Syria, and the situation speaks to how the U.S. and Russia invoke different principles toward different ends.

Mark

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

A big-power tussle is playing out in Venezuela, and the actors are following a time-tested script. Once again the United States is positioned on the side of the oppressed people and is insisting that the authoritarian leader – in this case President Nicolás Maduro – must go. Russia has dispatched military personnel to Caracas, claiming as it did years ago with Syria that it is acting at the invitation of the legitimate government.

“The U.S. sees a government that is undermining human rights, oppressing its own people, and is causing regional problems, and Russia says on the contrary, ‘We don’t care what governments do at home, that’s their business, but we don’t want the United States going in and pressuring for a change of governments,’” says Christopher Miller at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Even if the U.S. position seems ethical, it’s Russia that has international law on its side, some diplomatic experts say. “You cannot intervene in a country without its permission,” says Michael Doyle at Columbia University. Still, Mr. Maduro’s government has been declared illegitimate as a result of deeply flawed elections. “That raises the question,” says Professor Doyle, “Who is the legitimate government in Venezuela?”

Collapse

US-Russia clash over Venezuela has a familiar ring

Back in 2014 when Russia was first putting boots on the ground in Syria, Moscow justified its military intervention by noting it was acting both in support and at the invitation of the besieged government of Bashar al-Assad.

The United States, on the other hand, had already declared that President Assad had to go and that it was acting in the Syrian conflict in support of the democratic aspirations of the oppressed Syrian people.

Fast forward to 2019 and we see the same big-power tussle playing out in Venezuela.

Once again the U.S. is positioned on the side of the oppressed people and is again insisting that the authoritarian leader – in this case President Nicolás Maduro – must go. Russia, on the other, has dispatched military personnel to Caracas, claiming as it did with Syria that it is acting in support and at the invitation of the legitimate government of Mr. Maduro.

In Venezuela as in Syria, the two global powers are acting in support of the principles they have consistently upheld – or some cynics would say used – in recent years in response to regional upheavals.

“You have a similar dynamic at play in these cases where the U.S. sees a government that is undermining human rights, oppressing its own people, and is causing regional problems, and Russia says on the contrary, ‘We don’t care what governments do at home, that’s their business, but we don’t want the United States going in and pressuring for a change of governments,’” says Christopher Miller, a professor of international history at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

“For Russia, it doesn’t matter if dictators are in charge; what matters is that they consider them the legitimate government,” he adds. “And if they are the legitimate government, outsiders should not be acting to undermine them.”

Russia has taken this position in opposition to the U.S. approach as far back as the Iraq war and the NATO intervention in Libya, Professor Miller says. But it has resurfaced in the Western Hemisphere in Venezuela, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has dispatched as many as 200 military personnel to bolster Mr. Maduro’s hold on power.

Pavel Golovkin/AP
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (r.) and Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez leave a joint news conference following their talks in Moscow on March 1.

President Donald Trump stated categorically at a White House press encounter last week that the Russian troops must leave Venezuela. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call last week that Russia acted to foil a coup that the U.S. was organizing against Mr. Maduro and that the Russian military personnel would stay put as long as Mr. Maduro remains under outside pressure.

As a further sign of Russia’s deepening commitment to keeping Mr. Maduro afloat, the Russian state-run oil giant Rosneft is now acting to facilitate Venezuela’s export of crude oil by providing the chemical diluents, or thinners, necessary to make Venezuela’s particularly thick crude exportable. Until now those chemical diluents had been imported from the U.S.

As Russia acts to shore up Mr. Maduro, it broadly has the force of international norms on its side, some diplomatic experts say.

“The standard international-law view of the matter is that you cannot intervene in a country without its permission,” says Michael Doyle, an expert in international law and humanitarian intervention at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York. “What is legal is to intervene at the invitation of the government.”

Clash of values

Thus the United States has legally placed counterterrorism forces in a number of African countries in recent years and maintains military bases in countries from Europe to Asia because in each case it is there at the invitation of the government.

“Based on that, one would say that the fact the government of Maduro has invited Russian troops is within the normal right of any sovereign government,” Professor Doyle says.

At its core, international experts say, the tussle between the two global powers is really a clash of values, with the U.S. on the side of individuals’ rights and Russia upholding the traditional authority of sovereign governments.

“Russia is quite open that values like human rights shouldn’t play a big role in how you relate with neighbors. It should be state to state,” Professor Miller says.

Adds Professor Doyle, “If you did the most basic evaluation of this battle over interventions in Venezuela, you’d probably have to say that under international law Russia is in the better legal territory but not so good ethical territory.”

In any case, the Venezuela case is “not so cut and dried,” Professor Doyle adds, because the U.S. and more than 50 other countries – including most of Venezuela’s neighbors and most of Washington’s staunchest Western allies – have declared Mr. Maduro illegitimate as a result of deeply flawed elections that gave him a second mandate. In his place the U.S. and the other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

“That raises the question who is the legitimate government in Venezuela? Who is the legitimate authority?” Professor Doyle says.

Responsibility to protect

Another wrinkle in the U.S.-Russia tussle over Venezuela is that in recent years the international community has increasingly recognized another principle – the so-called responsibility to protect, often abbreviated to R2P – as another international norm governing intervention.

The new doctrine, formally adopted by the United Nations in 2005, basically states that governments have responsibilities toward their own populations and opens the door to legitimate outside intervention in the case of derelict governments either not safeguarding or acting against their own people’s well-being.

“So if Maduro is engaging in violence against his own people or is failing to provide basic needs, as Venezuela’s severe humanitarian crisis would seem to suggest, then he could be subject to R2P,” Professor Doyle says.

But once again, Russia could be expected to stand in the way. “It’s pretty safe to assume Russia wouldn’t let that happen,” he adds. “They would veto any action along those lines in the [United Nations] Security Council.”

The Fletcher School’s Professor Miller says the standoff between the U.S. and Russia on intervention in internal conflicts goes back for some time, but he says it has gained prominence in recent years “as Russia’s desire to contradict the United States and take the other side has intensified.”

But he and other experts say Russia’s determination to act globally on its position can be traced to the Ukraine conflict, when the U.S. and Western European powers intervened diplomatically in 2014 when it appeared that the government in power was going to use force against anti-government protesters. Eventually the pro-Russia government fled amidst political upheaval and was replaced by a pro-Western government.

“Vladimir Putin is giving the United States a taste of its own medicine by supporting Maduro, and it probably goes back to the way things unfolded in the Ukraine,” Professor Doyle says. “He wants the U.S. to feel what it’s like to have its backyard intruded into.”

shadow

3. After California wildfires, what survivors say they gained from loss

Everyone is familiar with the concept of post-traumatic stress. But there’s a less-understood phenomenon, called post-traumatic growth, that says survivors of life-threatening events can emerge over time with renewed purpose and strength.

Mark
Jeff Chiu/AP/File
Homes burned by a wildfire are seen in Santa Rosa, California, on Oct. 11, 2017.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Next week will mark 18 months since the Tubbs fire tore through Northern California’s wine country, destroying more than 5,300 homes. One was Evelyn and Keith Anderson’s house in Santa Rosa. As Ms. Anderson mends from her emotional wounds, she finds herself aware of subtle shifts in her approach to life. She savors the quiet evening hours after work and her bond with the couple’s two college-age children has deepened.

The changes illustrate a behavioral health theory called post-traumatic growth. The concept focuses on the potential for survivors of life-threatening events to emerge over time with renewed purpose and a greater appreciation of life. “There are all number of positive things that can happen as people recover from disaster,” says Dr. Carol North, a professor of psychiatry. Those changes can range from greater self-confidence to deeper spiritual beliefs.

“I take more things in stride now,” says Georgina Logue, who lost her house in the fire. The Andersons have yet to decide whether to rebuild their home, but where they once felt unmoored, they have come to regard their loss as an opportunity. Says Ms. Anderson, “There’s almost a sense of freedom now.”

Collapse

After California wildfires, what survivors say they gained from loss

The sorrow surges at unexpected moments. Evelyn Anderson recalls a visit to the outdoor store REI a few months ago when she noticed a jacket for sale similar to one she used to own. The coat tripped a cascade of memories of everything else she and her family lost when a wildfire destroyed their home in 2017.

The thoughts soon receded, a sign of progress from the first year after the fire, when the distress felt chronic, draining her spirit day after endless day. As more time passes, and Ms. Anderson mends from her emotional wounds, she finds herself aware of other subtle shifts in her mindset and approach to life.

She makes an effort to slow down in the evenings after work to savor the quiet hours with her husband. The already close bond she shared with the couple’s two college-age children has deepened. Her empathy has grown for those driven from their homes – by natural disasters or drought, by religious persecution or war – and she better understands the anxiety of uncertainty.

“What’s important has changed a lot,” says Ms. Anderson, the interim co-principal of a French-American charter school in Santa Rosa. “And the sense that we’ve come such a long way since the fire – that feels good. There’s a sense of moving forward.”

Her evolving perspective illustrates a behavioral health theory called post-traumatic growth. The concept focuses on the potential for survivors of natural disasters, mass shootings, and other life-threatening events to emerge over time with renewed purpose, gaining strength from overcoming the adversity imposed upon them.

The process of healing from psychological trauma varies by individual, and the arc of recovery can prove long, uneven, and at times, profoundly discouraging. Yet if a natural disaster exposes the vulnerability of survivors, slogging through the aftermath can uncover hidden reserves of resolve, explains Dr. Carol North, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“There are all number of positive things that can happen as people recover from disaster,” says Dr. North, who has studied the effects of trauma on survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “Those can be things like ‘I realize how many people care about me’ or ‘I realize I’m a lot stronger than I knew.’ For some people, their relationships or religious faith can get stronger.”

Next week will mark 18 months since the Tubbs fire tore through Northern California’s wine country, claiming 22 lives and razing more than 5,300 homes in and around Sonoma County, including the Andersons’ house in Santa Rosa.

The fire was one of several in fall 2017 that forced mass evacuations in the region, and thousands of people still lack permanent housing. As they attempt to restore the order of life, their internal journey could hold lessons for the residents of Paradise, California, where a wildfire in November killed 85 people and incinerated some 14,000 homes.

Ms. Anderson and her husband, Keith Anderson, an electrical engineer, moved into a rental house after the Tubbs fire. The couple has yet to decide whether to rebuild their home, but where they once felt unmoored, they have come to regard their loss as an opportunity.

“There’s almost a sense of freedom now,” she says. “We’ve realized that we can do anything.”

Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee/AP/AP
Rhonda Readen, left, hugs her crying partner, Tim Shirley, after they arrived to find their residence in Santa Rosa, Calif., totally destroyed on Oct. 10, 2017. Their Frank Lloyd Wright style home was burned in the Tubbs Fire.

Time and perspective

The Tubbs fire ranks as the second-most destructive blaze in state history, behind the wildfire that wiped out much of Paradise. The sluggish pace of new housing construction in Santa Rosa has begun to pick up in the past six months. The emotional recovery of residents remains more difficult to gauge.

The demand for mental health services offers one measure of the trauma caused by the fires two years ago. A disaster crisis counseling program in Sonoma County, funded by the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA), has provided free services to more than 85,000 residents since October 2017.

Wendy Wheelwright, the program’s project manager, supervises 36 counselors who traverse the county to aid fire survivors coping with what she calls “the disaster after the disaster.” The phrase refers to the exhausting process residents face as they try to rebuild, including the almost inevitable battles with FEMA and insurance companies over disaster claims.

Many displaced homeowners have learned that the San Francisco Bay Area’s exploding housing costs will prevent them from building a similar home – or at all – on the same property. Those who opt to stay must weigh the risks of living in an area twice ravaged by fire since 1964 and in a state where the size, number, and intensity of wildfires appears on the rise.

The choices can sharpen the despair of residents as they languish between an irretrievable past and an unsettled present. “It’s not just a house and the stuff we lose,” Ms. Wheelwright says. “It’s also losing the feeling of security and the routines we have as part of our daily lives.”

The Tubbs fire reduced to ashes the Santa Rosa home where Georgina and John Logue had lived since 1984. One of their neighbors died in the blaze.

The retired couple’s insurance covered only 70 percent of their losses. They bought a smaller house soon after the fire. The space afforded them stability without alleviating their grief.

“Losing our house was almost like a death,” Ms. Logue says. “The first year was very hard and very long.”

Recent research into the resilience of crisis survivors has expanded to the realm of post-traumatic growth. The theory’s broad principles range from greater self-confidence, appreciation for life, and compassion for others to closer personal relationships and deeper spiritual beliefs.

A crucial aspect of that internal change involves the degree of hardship survivors confront as they seek to reclaim their lives. One study found that New York residents who reported severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after Hurricane Sandy showed more capacity to grow from their experience. Several studies of Hurricane Katrina survivors yielded similar results.

Behavioral health researchers emphasize that post-traumatic growth generally occurs only after people resurface from a wrenching crisis and make peace with their fate. “It’s hard for good things to happen when we’re still feeling damaged,” Dr. North says. “The positive change comes with time and perspective.”

Ms. Logue sought solace from her faith and family, including five grandchildren. In recent months, with the couple’s new home under construction, she has perceived a difference in her disposition from before the fire.

“I take more things in stride now,” she says. “It’s just more of an awareness of what’s important. I know people who are living in trailers or with family. We’re fortunate to be where we are.”

Living with purpose

Madonna Day had lived in her home for 49 years when she fled the Tubbs fire. She returned to piles of scorched rubble and the prospect of starting life over as an octogenarian.

Her visceral connection to the pastoral, Edwardian-style retreat, built in 1908, spans memories of her two late husbands, the three children she raised, and the small dairy farm she ran to produce goat cheese.

Ms. Day admits her anguish quickened her temper. She scoffed at the well-meaning sympathy of friends and groused about the first rental house her daughter, Marie-Louise Clark, found for her.

She moved into another rental home more to her liking earlier this year, and with stubborn persistence and Ms. Clark’s patient help, she has pursued plans to rebuild. Mother and daughter visited the property last week, and while the blackened landscape brought Ms. Day to tears, more light infuses her outlook compared with six months ago.

“I lost everything,” she says. “But I’ve realized I don’t need all the things I had before.” As much as the house project and family support, she ascribes the gradual lifting of her mood to a renewed devotion to visiting friends whose physical frailties leave them housebound.

“I have a very upbeat feeling when I’m with them because I’m trying to raise their spirits. That feels good because it takes my mind off my situation. It’s a way for me to feel like I can help,” she says.

Studies suggest that people who seek out contact with family, friends, and neighbors after a disaster show higher potential for post-traumatic growth. An analysis of survivors of a deadly tornado in Missouri in 2011 found that more than a third reported post-traumatic growth within 30 months of the storm. In evaluating the responses of residents, researchers concluded that “family and social networks may help individuals make sense of the traumatic experience by talking together.”

Samuel Bernier, a psychotherapist who provides individual and group counseling to fire survivors in Santa Rosa, describes creating and repairing social connections as essential to emotional recovery in a disaster’s aftermath.

“With a big wildfire, it’s basically like a refugee crisis,” he says. “People are dislocated from their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities. Coming together to talk can reduce their sense of isolation and build up their inner strength.”

Evelyn Anderson escaped her home with little more than her purse and a work laptop. She soon began attending block meetings with other displaced residents from her neighborhood. The sessions acted as a catharsis.

Early on, they shared stories of evacuation chaos, swapped insurance tips, and vented about FEMA. At a meeting two weeks ago, they talked about progress and found reasons to laugh, even as many remain in limbo.

“Being part of a group of fire survivors does provide strength,” Ms. Anderson says. “There’s a level of understanding that helps with healing.”

She never wanted to endure the trauma that the fire inflicted. She intends to always remember what she has gained from loss.

“I have more of a sense of how adrift one can be without their home, and that’s given me more of an appreciation of what it means to be living with purpose.”

shadow

4. Why American capitalism now needs defenders

The Cold War cast capitalism as a bedrock American ideal and vanquisher of socialism. The Great Recession began shifting that calculus. Now some economists are feeling the need to aggressively defend free-market values. You can also read our wrapup of the Monitor Breakfast on this topic.

Mark

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

To some, capitalism is as American as apple pie.

But there’s a sense that capitalism isn’t delivering on its promises in the new millennium. Social mobility has declined in the United States even as rich-poor income gaps have widened. The stock market has surged since the recession, yet by one analysis the richest 10 percent of Americans own about 84 percent of all stock. All this is fueling declarations among high-profile Democrats that more government intervention – some even say socialism – is a better path to solving problems of inequality and unfairness.

Capitalism, it appears, needs defenders. “The issue of the Democratic Party tilting toward socialism is a very significant political development and one which I believe would do great damage to the economy,” said Larry Kudlow at a Monitor Breakfast on Wednesday. Instead of redistribution, said President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, “it’s much more important to grow the economy, to expand the economic pie. And to exercise one’s God-given talents.”

But even some of capitalism’s defenders see a need for reforms. Business professor Rajendra Sisodia says capitalism is fundamentally ethical. But he adds, “We need to celebrate [capitalism], but we also need to elevate capitalism.”

Collapse

Why American capitalism now needs defenders

Back in 2015, before Bernie Sanders began drawing big crowds and long before a Green New Deal was generating buzz among Democrats, Larry Kudlow gave a talk in which he emphasized a simple message to fellow conservatives: “You and I must fight” if the virtues of free markets are to be preserved.

“They are not going to give it to us on a silver platter,” the champion of conservative economics said at Hillsdale College in Michigan, referring to his concerns that advocates of bigger government will erode the nation’s ability to generate prosperity.

The sense that capitalism isn’t delivering on its promises in the new millennium actually goes back further. First came a widening gap between haves and have-nots. Then came the 2007 financial crisis and Great Recession, which spurred the discouraged young people staging the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests. And it was evident in the guffaws when 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney asserted that “corporations are people.”

Well, here we are in 2019. The U.S. unemployment rate has plunged to 3.8 percent, wages are rising, and Americans have gotten a tax cut. Yet the questions about capitalism haven’t gone away.

A rising star among House Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, embraces the socialist label and recently called capitalism an “irredeemable” system because of the concentration of capital and the goal of maximizing profits. Some Democrats in the 2020 presidential race are making similar critiques.

Capitalism, it appears, still needs defenders, and some are rising to the task, including Mr. Kudlow, who is now the top economic adviser to President Donald Trump. Despite all the attention lately on socialism, either as a promise or a menace, the question for the U.S. is less about replacing private enterprise than about whether the system requires some new rules in an era of high concern about social fairness, inequality, and younger generations falling behind on dreams like homeownership.

Where some capitalists are asserting the need for reforms, Mr. Kudlow remains in the “fight” camp. At a Monitor Breakfast for reporters Wednesday, he offered a forceful defense of free-market traditions. He didn’t give an inch on policies aimed at addressing inequality.

“The issue of the Democratic Party tilting toward socialism is a very significant political development and one which I believe would do great damage to the economy,” he said. Instead of redistribution, he said “it’s much more important to grow the economy, to expand the economic pie. And to exercise one’s God-given talents.”

His comments reflect widely held strains of thought among conservatives and many business leaders. But there’s also a contrasting view among other defenders of capitalism: that the best way to save it is to reform it – or even that capitalism’s fullest promise can be realized only by improving the system.

And for many in the business community, capitalism’s shortcomings transcend partisan politics. For them, the concern isn’t just that the nation’s politics are roiled by populism or discouragement among low-paid workers. For many it’s also about their long-term business prospects. Social mobility has declined in the United States even as rich-poor income gaps have widened. The stock market has surged since the recession, yet by one analysis the richest 10 percent of Americans own about 84 percent of all stock. And while jobs are abundant, two-thirds of workers, according to Gallup surveys, are either disengaged or “not engaged … not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace.”

“We need to respond,” says Rajendra Sisodia, a business professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “We need to celebrate [capitalism], but we also need to elevate capitalism.”

He says a movement to do just that is gaining momentum, symbolized by the rise of so-called social benefit corporations (“B Corps”) and the arrival of investors seeking social impact as well as profit. An effort he leads, called “conscious capitalism,” now has 50 chapters (in 18 countries) and is on the way to doubling that, he says.

Professor Sisodia is as much a true believer in capitalism as Mr. Kudlow is. As he sees it, the ideas of property rights and free markets enabled people to tap the potential of technological innovation, powering a shift in the human experience from poverty toward opportunity since the Industrial Revolution.

He calls capitalism fundamentally ethical because it’s based on voluntary exchange of labor, money, and goods.

But he also sees a hole to fill, notably spreading the benefits more widely. The system should work better “for the billions, not just the billionaires.” Citing the percentage of young people in the U.S. who are turned off by capitalism, he says “It’s an extremely dangerous thing because we know socialism is not the answer.”

He’s far from alone in being an evangelist for a new style of capitalism. A number of prominent investors, including BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, have begun promoting the idea that corporations and the economy within which they operate will be healthier when firms identify a mission to have a positive impact in the world.

For one thing, that kind of mission can help attract talent by tapping worker aspirations for meaningful careers.

The mantra of profit maximization as the essential goal of corporations, drilled in at many business schools, remains a powerful force. It’s seen by many executives as their fiduciary duty. But increasingly discussion has shifted to whether purpose goes hand in hand with profit rather than diverting from that goal.

Meanwhile, the political debates over capitalism are bound to continue as the 2020 election campaign heats up. Among Democratic presidential candidates, there’s to-and-froing over whether to align themselves with capitalism.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who says capitalism is good with the right safeguards in place, has proposed an “Accountable Capitalism Act” that, among other things, would give workers a significant voice on corporate boards. And she and others are proposing plans aimed at building greater economic security by ensuring access to things like health care and child care.

To Mr. Kudlow, the need is not to reform capitalism but to defend against changes that might slash economic growth. He tallies up proposals from Democrats on health care benefits, ending the use of fossil fuels, and “financing people who are not working or don’t wish to work” and says, “I don’t think the opposition party has been honest about this.”

“The idea that you’re going to raise the top tax rate to 70 percent or 80 percent or whatever wouldn’t even remotely finance [all that],” he said. “It’s going to be economic decimation.”

shadow

5. Finding their voices: Music feeds the soul for women facing homelessness

It’s easy to forget that vulnerable populations need more than food and shelter. As musician Kristo Kondakçi demonstrates, music provides respite, confidence, and joy for those in need – food for the soul.  

Mark
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Kristo Kondakçi poses at the Church of the Covenant in Boston, where he holds meetups for a choir that gives vulnerable women a voice.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Kristo Kondakçi is no stranger to the transformative power of music. His extended family was persecuted for its links to Western music in communist-ruled Albania. In 1997, a 5-year-old Kristo and his family immigrated to Boston with little more than the clothes on their backs. Now he coaches chamber musicians at Harvard University and is co-founder and conductor of the Eureka Ensemble, a network of more than 50 musicians with a mission of using music for social change.

The group builds relationships with organizations addressing a range of social issues – from immigration to homelessness – and then performs concerts to draw support. One such partnership resulted in The Women’s Chorus. Through twice-weekly meetups, the choir has become a place where vulnerable women can have a respite from daily anxieties, find their voices, and experience joy.

Jennifer, a chorus regular who lives in a low-income residence, says choir meetups give her a palpable sense of joy. “I’m happier. I’m calmer. I’m not overthinking things as much.” As one shelter manager says, “We are so focused on basic needs all the time that we forget at times to feed the soul.”

Collapse

Finding their voices: Music feeds the soul for women facing homelessness

Beneath the vaulted ceiling of the Church of the Covenant in Boston, a small group of women is gathered around a baby grand piano. Their coats and, for some, all their personal possessions are laid carefully across the front pews. Although it’s near midday, the glow from the stained glass windows and brass chandeliers barely affords enough light to read the sheet music.

The pianist rolls out the chords for the fourth verse of “Still I Rise,” a rousing gospel song by Rosephanye Powell that was inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem of the same name. The women sing:

Though you see me slump with heartache;

Heart so heavy that it breaks.

Be not deceived I fly on birds' wings.

Someone is singing slightly off-key, but the group remains focused, with flashes of jubilance. They are learning. And in just four weeks, they will be performing. This is a rehearsal, or meetup as it’s called, for The Women’s Chorus at Women’s Lunch Place, a day shelter that works to meet the needs of women who identify as low income or who are facing homelessness.

Several rows back, seated in a cushioned pew, is Kristo Kondakçi, listening intently. He is the co-founder and conductor of the Eureka Ensemble, a network of more than 50 musicians who perform in chamber groups and as an orchestra with a mission of using music as an agent of social change. Along with cellist Alan Toda-Ambaras, Mr. Kondakçi launched the Eureka Ensemble in 2016, and over the past several years the group has performed in public libraries, care facilities, and schools across Massachusetts.

But the purpose is deeper than just connecting audiences to classical works. The Eureka Ensemble builds relationships with organizations addressing a range of social issues – from marginalized immigrants to childhood obesity to homelessness – and then performs concerts to draw support for those organizations. Mr. Kondakçi is a dynamic force behind these relationships.

A direct outcome of his efforts is The Women’s Chorus. Through twice-weekly meetups, the choir has become a place where vulnerable women can have a respite from daily anxieties, find their voices, and experience joy. Since its launch last September, more than 80 women from diverse backgrounds, ranging in ages from 23 to 82, have come to sing.

“That’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about singing, is that you have to literally train your whole self right in order to sing,” Mr. Kondakçi says. “The metaphor is, bringing your voice out. In one sense that’s literally while you’re singing, but in another sense – internally, spiritually – it’s really powerful.” 

A rising young conductor

Mr. Kondakçi, who exudes warmth to all he meets, is considered a rising young conductor in the Boston area. He made his professional conducting debut in 2014 with the Albanian National Orchestra. He coaches chamber music players at Harvard University and works tirelessly as a speaker and adviser to an array of artistic programs. 

Mr. Kondakçi’s drive to unlock the transforming power of music is deeply rooted in his own experience. His extended family had been persecuted for its links to Western music in communist-ruled Albania. In 1997, a 5-year-old Kristo, along with other family members, immigrated to Boston with little more than the clothes on their backs. 

He started his musical training in the preparatory school at the New England Conservatory, and he earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees from NEC.

“Kristo has just a very, very strong social justice aspect to his work, and he has got an enormous capacity to work,” says Tom Novak, provost and dean of the college at NEC, who has known Mr. Kondakçi since 2009 when he was an undergraduate. “He’s a real relationship builder, and that’s a very important skill to have for this kind of an initiative to be successful. He has a vision and a passion, and people respond to that.”

Eureka’s concert last year, “Sheltering Voices,” focused on domestic abuse issues and drew support for local homeless shelters. The connection between domestic violence and women facing homelessness is strong, and it’s a persistent challenge. In Massachusetts, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness has doubled since 1990 to more than 20,000, according to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, with 50 percent identifying as women. 

Mr. Kondakçi has volunteered at homeless shelters since he was in high school, and he brings a high level of personal attention and commitment to the undertaking – necessary traits if one wants to connect with individuals who are constantly on the move. Last year from January to March he visited shelters across Boston weekly, arriving at 7:30 a.m., to earn the trust of the women and to encourage them to audition for a spot in the chorus for “Sheltering Voices.” 

In addition to supporting women experiencing homelessness, “Sheltering Voices” also sought to highlight female composers. (At least 90 percent of 2019-20 programming for orchestras in the United States is composed by men, according to an analysis by the Institute for Composer Diversity.) 

Performed last May, “Sheltering Voices” premiered a work by Eureka’s composer-in-residence at the time, Stephanie Ann Boyd, with lyrics commissioned from Jessica Lynn Suchon, a women’s rights advocate and poet. “It was a piece that was in essence written for them,” says Mr. Kondakçi of the women experiencing homelessness who sang in the chorus.

The Women’s Chorus in a performance of “Still I Rise”

Loading the player...

A visible transformation

Maritza Rosario, manager of Women’s Lunch Place, says one can see the transformation in the faces of the women who regularly participate in the chorus. One woman, who has been going to the day shelter for four years, has been more joyful since her first meetup.

“I look at all programs that come in through here, and I make sure they meet our philosophy of care, that they meet our mission ... of respect and dignity,” Ms. Rosario says. “When I met with Kristo, in a few minutes I knew that our mission was going to be met every single step.” 

For the singers, the joy they feel was evident at a recent meetup. “I do find that it extends outward.... I take it with me. I’m in a better mood. I’m happier. I’m calmer. I’m not overthinking things as much,” says Jennifer, a chorus regular who lives in a low-income residence and asked that her last name not be used.

When concerts that The Women’s Chorus participates in raise funds for charity, the singers decide where the money is distributed, says David McCue, co-founder and financial manager of the group.

“The nice thing is they get to give; they get to sing and give for a change,” says Mr. McCue, who recounts that one participant once remarked to him that it’s exhausting to have to live on someone else’s kindness. “It’s kind of nice to do something and give back,” he remembers her saying.

Ms. Rosario says she can see the potential for a “ripple effect” if resident choruses are established at other shelters. “We are so focused on basic needs all the time that we forget at times to feed the soul,” she says.

Mr. Kondakçi says he is working toward dispatching volunteers to continue building connections at homeless shelters across Boston. And he hopes that one day, The Women’s Chorus will be its own entity, independent from the Eureka Ensemble. Mr. Kondakçi's assistant conductor, Ismael Sandoval, is already taking the lead in developing the chorus’s artistic content.

“For me personally, it’s like the most perfect execution of our mission, to create a program that then inspires another program to be created – to literally plant a musical seed,” he says. “It is so special to be a part of something so great. It’s incredibly humbling.” 

• For more, visit eurekaensemble.org.

Three other groups with arts opportunities

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. 

Niños de Guatemala gives an education to underprivileged children as well as families and communities. Take action: Lead an arts or sports workshop for the youths. 

Avanse aims to advance the lives of street children. Take action: Contribute money to a program in Colombia that offers a refuge to children of sex workers where they can participate in art and educational activities. 

Gift of a Helping Hand Charitable Trust provides safe and affordable housing for veterans, domestic violence survivors and their children, and homeless women and their children. Take action: Draw animated characters for a children’s picture book whose sales will benefit this organization. 

shadow

The Monitor's View

From slugfest to lovefest in Chicago

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

In an act rarely seen in a democracy after an election, the winner and the loser of a mayoral contest in Chicago met on April 3, the day after a fierce campaign in which the two candidates shared plenty of name-calling.

Their joint postelection appearance was notably friendly. The two held hands in prayer and promised to work together. For Americans accustomed to 24-hour divisive politics, the lack of overt animosity was a welcome break. So too was the promise to seek solutions despite the harsh nature of winner-take-all elections. The politics of reconciliation can help dampen the politics of recrimination. It can also broaden political support for joint ventures.

It is difficult, of course, for any candidate who portrays an opponent as a villain to quickly turn around and see the person as an ally. Yet the purpose of divided government is to force consensus and rediscover the bonds of a political community. Politicians seeking the common good must see the common good in each other.

Collapse

From slugfest to lovefest in Chicago

In an act rarely seen in a democracy after an election, the winner and the loser of a mayoral contest in Chicago met on April 3, the day after a fierce campaign in which the two candidates shared plenty of name-calling. Their joint postelection appearance – so different than the usual late-night phone call to concede or congratulate – was notably friendly. The two held hands in prayer and promised to work together.

“Our differences are nothing compared with what we can achieve together,” said Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot of her defeated opponent Toni Preckwinkle, both of whom are black women and progressive Democrats in the nation’s third-largest city.

The moment of harmony was not entirely voluntary. The Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition had asked the candidates to sign a pledge to hold a “unity” news conference after the vote when, he said, “the healing must begin.”

Still, for Americans accustomed to 24-hour divisive politics, the lack of overt animosity in the Chicago event was a welcome break. So too was the promise to seek solutions despite the harsh nature of winner-take-all elections.

Campaigns are rarely genial when candidates focus on personal rather than policy differences. In the best democracies, the victors and the vanquished must find a way to avoid retaliation. They should express charity, respect, and even friendship to the other side, renewing society’s unwritten rules about civility.

“We belong to different parties, not different countries,” former presidential candidate John McCain said of his 2008 opponent Barack Obama.

One tradition in American politics is for new presidents to extend an olive branch to former foes by meeting with them soon after the election. Another is for a president to appoint at least one Cabinet member from the opposite party. Such actions send a signal that politicians should serve a cause larger than personal ambitions.

The tiny state of Delaware carries on such traditions with a postelection ritual known as “Return Day,” which began in the 18th century. The winners and losers in the state gather in Georgetown and literally bury a hatchet and declare unity. The event is useful in marking a necessary transition from campaigning to governing.

The politics of reconciliation can help dampen the politics of recrimination. It can also broaden political support for joint ventures. The United States is famous for having its ex-presidents often meet at public events or to work closely for a humanitarian cause.

It can be difficult, of course, for any candidate who portrays an opponent as a villain to quickly turn around and see the person as an ally. Yet the purpose of divided government, like divided politics, is to force consensus and rediscover the bonds of a political community. Politicians seeking the common good must see the common good in each other – even when they are pushed to pledge to do so after a vicious campaign.

shadow

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.

The transparency most needed

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

If we want more transparency in the world, explains today’s contributor, letting God’s light work its purifying effect in our own lives is an important step.

Collapse

The transparency most needed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

There is an outcry across the world for more transparency. This desire for openness is nothing new. Transparency brings whatever is wrong to light so that it can be corrected for the benefit of everyone.

In this regard, experience has shown me that the light most needed is spiritual – light from God, divine Love, that purifies consciousness and redirects actions. And if we want to see more transparency in society, we need to start with ourselves. We need to let God’s spiritual illumination work its purifying effect in our own lives.

Christ Jesus told his disciples that they were the “light of the world” and that they should not hide that light “under a bushel” (Matthew 5:14, 15). His teachings reveal man’s true nature as found in the divine Spirit, which is all goodness and light; no evil, no darkness, can hide or even exist there. The Apostle Paul wrote, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). We need to let our lives be transparent enough for God’s goodness to shine through for everyone’s benefit.

I caught a glimpse of what it means to live this kind of transparency some years ago when visiting a friend in a hospital. I prayed to have a clear enough spiritual consciousness so that I would not get weighed down by my friend’s difficulties, but instead my visit would actually contribute to her recovery. The thought came to me that the sun’s rays aren’t affected by what they shine on; they simply shine out from their source and shed light on everything in their path. I saw a connection with the teachings of Christian Science – that God, Spirit, the divine source from which our true being shines, fills all space, and that there is no unpleasantness in Spirit or Spirit’s expression.

So I acknowledged Spirit’s presence and trusted Spirit to shine through me in that hospital. And my friend and I both felt God’s healing love during that visit.

Just as nothing can come between the sun and its rays, nothing can come between Spirit and its purifying light. But in order for spiritual light and its healing effect to be seen, the human mind must become transparent enough for that light to shine through. And that is something we can each give our daily attention to.

This passage in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, has the marginal heading “Goodness transparent” and has been especially helpful to me: “The manifestation of God through mortals is as light passing through the window-pane. The light and the glass never mingle, but as matter, the glass is less opaque than the walls. The mortal mind through which Truth appears most vividly is that one which has lost much materiality – much error – in order to become a better transparency for Truth. Then, like a cloud melting into thin vapor, it no longer hides the sun” (p. 295).

It’s a wonderful thing to realize that we truly are inseparable from God, divine Truth – that we are actually the light coming from God. To our material senses that is not at all what we seem to be. To think of our consciousness, however, as a windowpane through which the light of divine Truth can shine, can inspire us to let that windowpane become as shiny clean as possible.

It is divine Love that brings spiritual purification, healing, and reformation into human thought and lives. The role for you and me is to humbly yield to God’s power to expose and remove whatever in our thoughts or character is unlike God. God’s love does this in the way light always displaces darkness. Man in God’s spiritual likeness is not only light, but the solvent that dissolves whatever would cloud our consciousness and hide Truth. In proportion as we willingly and joyfully consent to what God, divine Love, is revealing to us of our likeness to Him, sickness and sinful tendencies are displaced.

We all want a world where transparency is lived – where selfish, harmful thoughts and acts cannot hide. Progress in this direction comes by letting Spirit’s cleansing love shine more brightly in and through our own consciousness and character, enabling the cleansing light of Spirit to do its work of healing in us and to shine out with healing for the world.

Adapted from an editorial published in the April 1, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

shadow

Viewfinder

Club-lemo-ga

Owen Humphreys/PA/AP
Move over, goat yoga. A "lemoga" class at the Armathwaite Hall hotel in Keswick, England, lets guests practice yoga with lemurs from the Lake District Wild Life Park. The Madagascan primates do some of the poses naturally, the head of the wildlife park told the BBC.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
shadow

In Our Next Issue

( April 4th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you’ll come back tomorrow for a story by correspondent Dominique Soguel, who recently visited Iraq and Syria. There, the Yazidi community is just beginning the heart-wrenching work of healing young boys abducted by ISIS and indoctrinated with hate.   

Monitor Daily Podcast

April 03, 2019
Loading the player...

More issues

2019
April
03
Wednesday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.