2019
May
16
Thursday
Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Some of Oregon’s most fragile residents are beginning their lives in prison. And they’re off to a good start.

At Oregon’s only women’s prison, inmates are helping to raise endangered butterflies. The Taylor's checkerspot butterfly was once a common sight throughout the Pacific Northwest, but development has since encroached on its native grassland habitat. In Oregon, only two wild populations remain. Inmates at the Coffee Creek Corrections Center are helping to change that. This spring, the lab’s inmate technicians successfully reared 476 checkerspots for biologists to release into the wild.

Entrusting convicts with the care of living things may seem counterintuitive. But for the women working in the Coffee Creek butterfly conservation lab, the chance to nurture life is an act of restorative justice.

It’s an idea that has taken hold at a smattering of correctional facilities in the United States. Washington is a hotbed for these programs, thanks to the state’s Sustainability in Prisons Project. But similar programs are cropping up elsewhere. In Omaha, Nebraska, prisoners tend gardens designed to offer respite to migrating Monarch butterflies. And in Marion, Ohio, prisoners have found a sense of purpose in raising salamanders.

As Sarah Martin, a Coffee Creek inmate serving a life sentence, told Atlas Obscura, raising butterflies has brought her a sense of peace in a world full of chaos. “It’s such a rare opportunity to help sustain the life of an endangered species,” she says. “It feels so good to give a little back.”

Now on to our five stories for today, including an in-depth examination of the hidden costs of free college and a window on a 500-person experiment in disagreement as a path to understanding.

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1. Trump’s trade stance shaped by deep convictions – and political instincts

The China trade war reflects President Trump’s long-held belief in the power of tariffs, and his drive to fulfill a campaign promise. At least for now, he’s willing to put the strong U.S. economy at risk in pursuit of that goal.  

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From the day Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign almost four years ago, protectionism and stricter immigration practices have formed the unflinching basis of his agenda. Now, as he digs in for a potentially long, costly battle with China over trade practices, President Trump is engaged in a singular drive to fulfill the campaign promises that he believes fueled his 2016 victory.

Mr. Trump has insisted for decades that tariffs are a boon to the country that imposes them. The reality is much less rosy. Last year, U.S. trade wars predominantly with China cost the U.S. economy $7.8 billion in lost gross domestic product, according to academic research.

But Mr. Trump also thinks being tough on China could be good politics – and that could prove true, depending on how things play out. “Most Americans do think the U.S. should take a tough stance toward China on economic issues,” says Jordan Tama, an expert on the politics of U.S. foreign policy at American University. “But if Trump is seen in negotiations with China as giving in on economic issues without getting much in return, this could open him up to criticism in the 2020 campaign.”

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Trump’s trade stance shaped by deep convictions – and political instincts

Donald Trump is railing against a foreign power “dumping” its products in the United States. He calls the U.S. a “debtor nation.” He insists other countries must pay their “fair share.”

“I do get tired of seeing the country ripped off,” he says.

The year is 1988, and the focus of Mr. Trump’s ire is Japan. In this short video clip from an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Mr. Trump never refers to tariffs directly, but it’s clear he believes they’re the solution.

He also didn’t rule out running for president some day – and said if he did, he’d win. “I’ve never gone in to lose in my life,” he says.

Be it in business, politics, or a trade war, now-President Trump has been consistent in his self-image as a winner. And as he digs in for a potentially long, costly battle with China over trade practices, Mr. Trump is demonstrating that he does have some long-held, core beliefs, despite having changed his positions on other policy issues, such as abortion, to win the support of key constituencies.

From the day he announced his presidential campaign almost four years ago, protectionism and stricter immigration practices have formed the unflinching basis of his agenda. Now, with an eye toward reelection, Mr. Trump is engaged in a singular drive to fulfill the campaign promises that he believes fueled his 2016 victory.

“He wants to go to the American public, and say ‘Look, I’ve done what I said I’d do,’” says Todd Belt, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.

That’s not to say Mr. Trump never backs down, even on his core goals. Earlier this year, he caved on the record-long government shutdown over funding for a border wall one day after insisting he wouldn’t. 

And Mr. Trump’s reputation for being mercurial is well earned. Consider his dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in which Mr. Trump has gone from threatening “fire and fury” to professing “love” to feuding once more. Mr. Trump’s unpredictability has become predictable, in an echo of the Nixon-era “madman theory” of international relations, which can keep those around the president as well as world leaders off balance.

Yet through it all, Mr. Trump’s beliefs on trade and immigration remain constant.

And therein lies another challenge. Mr. Trump has insisted for decades that tariffs are a boon to the country that imposes them. The reality is much less rosy. Last year, U.S. trade wars predominantly with China cost the U.S. economy $7.8 billion in lost gross domestic product, according to academic research.

“Trump says they [the foreign countries] are paying the tariffs,” says Patrick Kennedy of University of California, Berkeley, a co-author of the study. “Our studies have found U.S. businesses and consumers are paying the tariffs.”

Jordan Tama, an expert on the politics of U.S. foreign policy at American University, says Mr. Trump is not only driven by his deeply held, if misguided, views on trade but also his understanding of how the issue can work for him politically. Mr. Trump thinks being tough on China could be good politics – and that could prove true, depending on how things play out. 

“Most Americans do think the U.S. should take a tough stance toward China on economic issues,” Mr. Tama says. “But if Trump is seen in negotiations with China as giving in on economic issues without getting much in return, this could open him up to criticism in the 2020 campaign.”

Mr. Trump, in fact, has been widely applauded, including by top Democrats, for taking on China’s practice of stealing intellectual property and forcing American firms to share their technology as a condition for access to the Chinese market.

Still, economists see a risk that the escalating trade war with China, the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, could push the U.S. into recession. Currently, unemployment is at a 50-year low of 3.6%. In the first quarter of 2019, economic growth was strong at 3.2%, and the stock market is back on the upswing after a brief dip over fears of a trade war. If this record continues, it could be Mr. Trump’s best argument for reelection.  

“Even if tariffs do take a bit of strength out of the economy, he seems to be betting it won’t go into recession,” says Mr. Tama. “He might be right. The U.S. economy is still doing well. But that doesn’t mean it will continue to do well with a new round of tariffs.”

To Mr. Trump’s reported chagrin, top economic adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged this week on “Fox News Sunday” that both sides pay for the cost of tariffs, as American importers take what is effectively a tax increase and pass it on to U.S. consumers. But Mr. Kudlow defended the president’s approach, saying it was worth the risk to correct “20 years-plus of unfair trading practices with China.”

Mr. Trump has faced pushback on his protectionism from the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch network, both of which reflect the GOP’s traditional free-trade philosophy. But among the party’s rank and file, opinion has swung in the president’s direction.

“Within his party, he’s now getting over 50% support for tariffs,” says Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Milwaukee. “It shows how powerful leadership is when it comes to specific issues, and a party whose members are naturally inclined to support that president’s positions.”

More important, though, in a crucial battleground state like Wisconsin – part of the “blue wall” that helped elect Mr. Trump in 2016 – is how farmers are faring during the trade wars. In the past, China has retaliated by slowing purchases of soybeans and other agricultural products. Last year, the administration set up a $12 billion bailout fund to help farmers. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump suggested he would provide another $15 billion.

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A deeper look

2. How free is ‘free college’?

To make college more accessible, states are jumping in with ‘free college’ plans, but the concept is still evolving – generating debates about who benefits, who should pay for it, and what strings should be attached.

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Ann Hermes/Staff
Tufayel Ahmed (r.), a freshman computer science major at City College of New York, studies in the library with classmates Sakil Khan and Emma Athow in May. Mr. Ahmed received the state's Excelsior Scholarship, which helps cover his tuition. Currently 24 states pay for tuition – and sometimes more – for a subset of students.

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Brenden Bixby chose college over working full time on the apple orchard that his dad manages in Poughkeepsie, New York. He receives the state’s Excelsior Scholarship and other grants to cover his tuition.

But he’s taking out loans for room and board at SUNY Cobleskill, which averages about $13,000 a year. Halfway through college, Mr. Bixby doesn’t know exactly how much he’s borrowed. “I try not to think about it too much just because I don’t want it to bring me down,” he says.

“Free college” scholarships have been proliferating in the United States. Currently, 24 states offer “college promises,” as they are often called, though their eligibility and scope vary widely. Some Democratic presidential contenders also champion the idea as a national solution.

It’s all in response to a growing sentiment that cost has put college degrees out of reach for too many students. Yet there’s often a big gap between free college rhetoric and the reality that boosting higher education success is a complex puzzle. Ultimately, it comes down to a certain amount of trial and error – and persistence – both for the students and the public college systems. 

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How free is ‘free college’?

Tufayel Ahmed is leading an ordinary college life with an extraordinary price tag for tuition: $0.

Zero.

The first in his Bengali-immigrant family to attend college, he’s the beneficiary of a statewide program that will cover four years of tuition so he can earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the public City College of New York (CCNY), an oasis in Upper Manhattan where the quad’s chunky neo-Gothic buildings remind him of castles.

The lean freshman with a thick wave of black hair atop his forehead lives at home in Queens, and he doesn’t anticipate needing any loans. “That was actually one of my goals, to make sure that I’m able to finish college without having to have a huge debt on my shoulder,” Mr. Ahmed says.

His father’s income from working at a hotel disqualifies him for federal Pell grants and the state’s tuition assistance program for low-income students. But in 2017, New York state rolled out its Excelsior Scholarship with families like Mr. Ahmed’s in mind. It expands help from the state to much of the middle class, covering public tuition not already paid for by other grants for students with a household income under $125,000. Recipients need to be state residents for a year before college, enroll as full-time undergraduates, and stay on track to finish on time. 

The offer is a bold step that people often refer to with an even bolder shorthand: “free college.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Tufayel Ahmed poses for a portrait on campus on April 25, 2019, in New York. Mr. Ahmed says he doesn’t take his freedom from financial concerns for granted. ‘It’s a huge opportunity for kids like me,’ he says, ‘because it gives us more time to actually do things that we love,’ which in his case is coding.

Free college isn’t as simple as the hyperbolic label makes it sound. Living expenses – on or off campus – and other non-tuition costs are often higher than public tuition, and aren’t covered by most programs. But the catchy phrase represents a growing sentiment that cost has put college degrees out of reach for too many students – and has led to a national load of student debt topping $1.5 trillion, nearly the size of Russia’s economy.

Politically popular 

These scholarships, also referred to as “college promises,” have been proliferating in recent years throughout the United States. Hundreds of programs serve a local pool of high school graduates, often with philanthropic support. Twenty-four states offer college promises, though their eligibility and scope vary widely. (See map.)

SOURCE: College Promise Campaign, data as of May 10, 2019
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Jacob Turcotte and Stacy Teicher Khadaroo/Staff

On the national level, free college is a prominent talking point for many Democratic presidential candidates. Earlier, President Barack Obama called for free community college, and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, became a magnet to youth voters in 2016 when he included four-year degrees in his free college plan.

In Congress last year, Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, pushed the envelope even further with his Debt-Free College Act, which would cover more than just tuition for those who need aid at public colleges, through a federal-state partnership. He reintroduced it in March.

As long as Republicans control the U.S. Senate, such expensive ideas are unlikely to gain traction. But state plans already underway offer a more concrete story.

After years of post-recession cuts to higher education budgets, many states have finally turned the corner and begun reinvesting. And college promise plans are making a real difference in family balance sheets from Oklahoma to Rhode Island. They are demonstrating that a desire to shore up higher education’s role in promoting social mobility and the economy can transcend partisanship.

“We’ve seen both Democratic and Republican [state] leaders embrace this issue because it is politically popular,” says Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy for The Education Trust in Washington, D.C., which advocates for educational equity. Even as alternative pathways such as apprenticeships are growing, “there’s no ignoring the critical importance that [higher education] continues to play in students’ ability to participate in the economy.”

Whether making college free for large swaths of the population is a good idea is still a point of debate, however. A number of conservatives argue that it won’t produce a high enough rate of return – and might even harm the economy by leading to higher taxes.

They also see higher education as more of a private good than a public one. “The predominant gainers from attending college are the people who go to college themselves,” says Richard Vedder, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and author of the new book “Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America.” Since college graduates tend to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over the course of their lifetime, “why should not someone making those kinds of gains pay for it, just like they would pay for any other investment they make?” he says.

Even some Democratic presidential contenders – Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, for instance – have come out against free public four-year colleges. 

Trial and error in execution

But among those who support more comprehensive free college, there’s also a lot to hash out about how to structure it to be fair and effective.

The Tennessee Promise, covering community college tuition and offering various other supports for students since 2015, is often looked to as a model. The governor of Washington state is expected to sign into law next week an expanded college promise that some experts consider the most progressive in the nation.

New York made its splash in 2017, because Excelsior was the first statewide program to cover not just community colleges, but also four-year schools for students beyond the lowest income level and regardless of high school GPA.

So far, 20,000 students have received Excelsior, with the state budgeting $92.4 million for the 2018-19 school year. Thanks to a combination of state and federal aid, tuition is now free for 55 percent of in-state, full-time undergraduates at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) campuses, says Daniel Fuller, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary for education, in a phone interview.

Yet there’s often a big gap between free college rhetoric and the reality that boosting higher education success is a complex puzzle. Ultimately, it comes down to a certain amount of trial and error – and persistence – both for the students and the public college systems.

A closer look at such experiments can help inform policy debates and even kitchen-table conversations about how to target higher education aid to give both students and taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck.

“We’re happy to see so much energy around this big investment,” says Ms. Jones of The Education Trust. “We just want to make sure those investments are made in the best ways, and that means actually impacting the ability of low-income students to pay for college.”

College promise plans are one way to give wings to students’ educational aspirations.

By communicating in K-12 schools that tuition will be covered, they can motivate more students to complete high school, take a college-prep curriculum, and enroll. The promise in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has been around long enough to also show a boost in college completion.  

But if policymakers don’t get the right formula for support, they may not generate the hoped-for gains.

In New York, advocates for more investment in higher education say too many people are left out of the Excelsior Scholarship, and that its requirement of full-time attendance and on-time graduation may result in the most disadvantaged students losing eligibility partway through school. 

Nationwide, only about 6 out of 10 full-time students at public institutions complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, let alone four. 

So if students heed the call to stretch themselves and dream beyond a high school diploma or associate degree, and then they trip over the strings attached, it can feel like the promise has fallen flat, too.

One example: stymied by credits

Yerania Aguilar embodies both the promise and the pitfalls.

She’s the first in her family to earn an associate degree – from Queensborough Community College in New York – and it was virtually free. A special program there covered not only tuition, but also transportation and books, and helped her keep on track with strong advisement.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Yerania Aguilar, a junior at Queens College, part the City University of New York system, poses for a portrait on campus in May. She’s the first in her family to earn an associate’s degree, which was virtually free. Now, at a four-year college, a misunderstanding with her schedule and credits changed her Excelsior Scholarship eligibility.

She arrived in the U.S. from Mexico at age 3, and still lives with her sister and their single mother in Queens. By some markers, she is living the American Dream.

“I was definitely thankful” for free community college, “which is maybe why it got to my head: If it could happen to me the first two years, it could happen to me the second two years. But no, it didn’t work like that,” Ms. Aguilar says, sitting on a saggy couch in the basement of the student union at Queens College, where she’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

Last spring, at the end of her second semester here, she found out that dropping a class in her first semester had thrown her off track. She thought she had a green light for her schedule. By her count, she was still earning 31 credits for the year, she says, and Excelsior requires 30. But then a college official told her she hadn’t earned enough credits related to her major.

“For that spring semester I had to pay back $639,” she says, the amount of her Excelsior Scholarship after other aid covered the rest. Tuition at CUNY four-year campuses, including Queens College and Mr. Ahmed’s CCNY, is $6,730 per year.

Her questions to campus officials were never satisfactorily answered, she says, but she paid it and moved forward without the scholarship. She had also lost future eligibility by declaring a minor, which would make it impossible to finish her degree on time.

She chose psychology as her minor, to prepare for graduate school on her way to becoming a pediatric physical therapist. She knew that would be a good career when she assisted Sebastian, a child diagnosed with cerebral palsy, during an assignment at her community college.

“He said he couldn’t put on a sock, and then [we found] other ways for him to put on a sock without it being such a hassle. And at the end of the day he was able to put it on, and it just felt so heartwarming,” she says.

She babysits and tutors, and her mother, who works in housekeeping, helps cover nearly $1,000 in expenses each semester. She knows that’s relatively cheap for college, but says that because of Excelsior, the cost was unexpected.

“When they first introduce you to the scholarship, it sounds very easy, ... but then the contract itself is very confusing,” she says. 

Knowing what she knows now, Ms. Aguilar says, “I would have taken a year off after community college to save up.”

A carrot or a stick?

Many students struggle to line up the right courses to graduate on time, especially when campus resources are stretched thin, so Excelsior’s 30-credits-per-year rule is “placing the onus on the student for a problem that’s really systemic,” says Emily Skydel, issue coordinator for higher education affordability at New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), which has a chapter at Queens College.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Students walk in and out of the North Academic Center at the City College of New York in May. Tuition at CCNY is $6,730 per year.

The Monitor spoke with several CUNY Excelsior scholars who are taking extra-heavy course loads or considering summer classes to stay on track, but state scholarships can be used only in the spring and fall semesters, so they would have to pay out of pocket.

“Funding for CUNY and SUNY has essentially been flat” after accounting for inflation in recent years, Ms. Skydel says. “You can’t just waive the cost but not invest in the system.”

The state’s Higher Education Services Corp. plans to track how many students lose eligibility for Excelsior, but doesn’t yet have a number, Mr. Fuller says. As for students being shut out of needed classes, he says, “we have not had that problem reported to us from either SUNY or CUNY. ... They were very clear to us that ... kids will not be denied their scholarship because they can’t get into a class in their major,” he says. Students can appeal through HESC. 

Several campus leaders say the 30-credit rule is a plus, bolstering a broader set of efforts to keep students on an efficient path toward graduation.

At CUNY’s 25 campuses, the share of full-time students earning 30 credits in their first year rose from 45 percent in 2013-14 to 55 percent in 2017-18. The 3,300 Excelsior scholars appear to be contributing to the rise, says senior vice chancellor and chief financial officer Matthew Sapienza.

But the four-year timeline doesn’t take into account the relationship between the racial wealth gap and college completion, and can further disadvantage black and Hispanic students, says Alan Aja, associate professor in Puerto Rican and Latino studies at CUNY’s Brooklyn College.  

College progress is affected not just by income, but also by whether a family has a financial safety net to lean on during hard times, he says. Nationally, while 39 percent of white students complete public four-year schools within four years, only 19 percent of blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics do, the National Center on Education Statistics reports.

“Why not just have tuition free for all?,” which CUNY did for many decades before 1976, Professor Aja says. The strings attached are like “a form of workfare, and it’s something that we unfairly do to communities of color.” That approach is like saying the person needs fixing in order to work harder, he says, but poor people are already working hard, and it’s the institutional inequality that needs fixing.

He’s also concerned about the fact that if students don’t work in the state after graduation for the same number of years that they receive the scholarship, it will convert into a no-interest loan that they have to pay back (with exceptions, like military service).

While the fine print of free tuition looks onerous to some advocates, to other observers, it’s simply a fiscal and political reality, at least for now.

“States are trying to figure out how to pay for these programs, so they’re adding cost-containment measures,” says Jen Mishory, a senior fellow in the Washington, D.C., office of The Century Foundation, which seeks to reduce inequality. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Information about scholarships on display in May at the North Academic Center at the City College of New York. The school is one of many in New York State whose students are using the Excelsior Scholarship. So far, 20,000 students have received Excelsior – with the state budgeting $92.4 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The Education Trust favors plans like Oklahoma’s and Indiana’s. They are limited to lower-income families, but instead of just covering tuition that’s not paid for by other aid, their scholarships can be layered on top of other funds to cover some additional expenses – such as books or room and board – that otherwise might prove a barrier.

That’s important because it directs more assistance to those who need it most, Ms. Jones says. “Universal” plans that include middle-class families are often touted as easier sells politically, but some state programs that target low-income students have survived and thrived, even as lawmakers cut other higher education spending, she notes. 

Free vs. debt-free

Even for students who get free tuition, room and board can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. That’s one reason some Democrats want to go beyond free tuition and offer ways for students to avoid debt, or even wipe out already accumulated debt – as presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts recently proposed

Voters are receptive to these ideas. When asked if they support raising taxes on the wealthiest to make public colleges tuition-free, 55 percent said yes; 56 percent support wiping out up to $50,000 in student debt for those making under $100,000, according to a May Politico/Morning Consult poll.

Excelsior and other scholarships cover Brenden Bixby’s tuition, but he’s taking out loans for room and board at SUNY Cobleskill, which averages about $13,000 a year.

Right out of high school, Mr. Bixby could have worked full time on the apple orchard that his father manages in Poughkeepsie, New York. “I really wanted to get a degree just to have behind me, because nowadays you can’t get anything without a degree,” he says.

He chose Cobleskill in rural central New York, about two hours from home, because it offers an environmental management major – and great spots to go fly fishing.

Halfway through college, Mr. Bixby doesn’t know exactly how much he’s borrowed. “I try not to think about it too much just because I don’t want it to bring me down,” he says. “I need to focus on getting good grades because I will come out with a better job, and that job will make it way easier to pay for over time.”

At CCNY, Mr. Ahmed says he doesn’t take his freedom from financial concerns for granted. “It’s a huge opportunity for kids like me,” he says, ”because it gives us more time to actually do things that we love,” which in his case is coding. 

His older cousins had to juggle work and college to help get the extended family established in the U.S. Now he hopes his three younger siblings can take advantage of the easier path he’s found. But he also hopes the states and the federal government can do more to make college affordable. “I feel like education shouldn’t have a huge price to it, where it’s like selling your life just to learn something,” he says. “Some people, they’re not able to make as much as others, but they still want to give their child the best education that they can receive.”

He’s applied for a leadership and public service fellowship next year. He’s looking forward to the internships that will bring, and can someday envision turning his love for computer science into a project that will make a positive difference for many people. “I always wanted to do something that will give back to the community,” he says before heading up the wide slate-gray stairs and disappearing into the massive North Academic Center for a class on writing for engineers. 

Despite the challenges she’s faced, Ms. Aguilar, too, is determined to use her experience to help others. She counsels students at her former community college, telling them, “This is where I went wrong; this is where you could go right,” she says.

All of them want to show their parents that the sacrifices to enable them to attend college will bear fruit.

“Sometimes it was so easy to say, ‘Never mind, I quit. ... It’s fine to just do a high school degree,’” Ms. Aguilar says. But then she’d think about her mother’s hopes: “She wants something more.”

More resources 

For more information on a variety of college promise plans and the features that policymakers track as they consider what works best for access and equity, see the following resources:

The College Promise Campaign, which will be coming out with a searchable national database of local and state programs soon:
https://collegepromise.org/

The Education Trust framework:
https://s3-us-east-2.amazonaws.com/edtrustmain/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/05155636/A-Promise-Fulfilled-A-Framework-for-Equitable-Free-College-Programs-9.6-18.pdf

A report from The Century Foundation:
https://tcf.org/content/report/free-college-stay/

An explainer about the difference between free college and debt-free college plans from the Education Commission of the States:
https://ednote.ecs.org/debt-free-college-and-free-college-whats-the-difference/

Information about college promise pilots designed for adult students in states ranging from Maine to Hawaii, from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association: https://sheeo.org/project/adult-promise/

SOURCE: College Promise Campaign, data as of May 10, 2019
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Jacob Turcotte and Stacy Teicher Khadaroo/Staff
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3. Why Andrew Yang will give you $1,000 a month if he’s elected

Lots of presidential candidates promise to help middle class workers losing jobs to automation. But Andrew Yang has a very specific plan, and he says getting his ideas out there matters more than getting to the White House.

Noelle
Gabriela Bhaskar/Reuters
People cheer as 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang holds a rally in New York May 14.

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Move over, MAGA hat. MATH may be the next big thing in political headgear. At a Washington Square Park rally in New York, some 2,500 supporters cheer when their candidate – a corporate lawyer turned CEO turned philanthropist – starts a sentence with, “I did the math.” The word “rational” comes up a lot in conversation.

Which seems almost ironic, considering Andrew Yang’s banner policy is to give every American adult $1,000 a month regardless of employment status. Mr. Yang frames his “Freedom Dividend” less in terms of political ideology than actionable steps. It’s a counterbalance, he argues, to the millions of middle class jobs that have been and will be lost to automation.

Members of the Yang Gang say his direct approach, attention to policy, and effort to avoid demonizing people are a balm in an era of hyperbole and partisanship. Sure, he ranks near bottom in name recognition among the 23 Democrats in the race.

But supporters say it’s too soon to write him off. To them, he’s speaking the language of Americans in search of bold solutions. “I don’t know that he has a chance,” Jason Yung, a New York University grad student, admits, “but I feel the energy. I’m hopeful.”

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Why Andrew Yang will give you $1,000 a month if he’s elected

Move over, MAGA hat. MATH may be the next big thing in political headgear.

Yes, as in mathematics. Or as 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang suggests at his rain-soaked rally in New York City Tuesday night: “Make America Think Harder.”

The catchphrase is as good as any to describe the people wearing those hats in Washington Square Park. They’re the type to say they’re sick of emotional appeals from career politicians. They cheer when their candidate – a corporate lawyer turned CEO turned philanthropist – starts a sentence with, “I looked at the numbers” or “I did the math.” The word “rational” comes up a lot in conversation.

Which seems almost ironic, considering Mr. Yang’s banner policy is to give every American adult $1,000 a month regardless of employment status or wages. It’s a version of universal basic income, and sounds like something out of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ playbook.

Yet Mr. Yang frames his “Freedom Dividend” less in terms of political ideology than actionable steps. It’s a counterbalance, he argues, to the millions of middle class jobs that have been and will be lost to automation. “I’m a capitalist,” he told The New York Times in 2018, “and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue.”

The 2,500 supporters at his Manhattan rally dig it. They say Mr. Yang’s direct approach, his attention to policy (his site lists dozens of proposals), and his effort to avoid riling people up or demonizing them are a balm in an era of hyperbole and partisanship. Sure, he’s polling between 1% and 3% and ranks near the bottom in name recognition among the 23 Democrats in the race. And they know he’s faced criticisms about attracting fans from the less-than-savory regions of Reddit and 4chan, the discussion sites where his campaign first started to gain ground.

But supporters say it’s too soon to write him off, especially since he qualified for the first televised debate in June. He may be a long shot, but anything is possible in an era where a reality TV star occupies the White House. To them, he’s speaking the language of Americans in search of bold solutions to the nation’s problems.

“He makes a really radical argument, yet all his reasoning is commonsense, straightforward, non-ideological, very practical,” says Jason Yung, a New York University graduate student in interactive technology who started the Brooklyn chapter of the Yang Gang – what Yang supporters call themselves. “It’s so fresh.”

Universal basic income

Mr. Yang grew up in Schenectady, New York, to Taiwanese immigrant parents who met in grad school in California. He studied economics at Brown, went to Columbia Law, and worked at an international law firm in New York. Later, he launched an internet nonprofit that folded in 2001, then helped run a health care startup before making a small fortune in the test-prep business.

In 2011, Mr. Yang started Venture For America (VFA), an organization that recruits top graduates for companies in cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis. What he saw in middle America led Mr. Yang to conclude that economic inequality and dissatisfaction in this country comes primarily from people displaced as industrial technology improves. The Freedom Dividend is the main plank of his proposed solution.

Gabriela Bhaskar/Reuters
Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang holds a rally in New York May 14.

“We automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa. All of the swing states that Donald Trump needed to win and did win,” Mr. Yang tells the crowd. “Donald Trump is not the disease. He is a symptom. He’s a manifestation of this automation wave that’s now ripping through our economy.”

Mr. Yang has been running on that message since he entered the presidential race in November 2017. The idea began making the rounds online, generating memes that celebrated his plan to essentially give people money. The Yang Gang was born.

But it wasn’t until February, when Mr. Yang guested on comedian and mixed martial arts commentator Joe Rogan’s popular podcast, that he really went viral. The episode’s version on YouTube had close to 3 million views as of this writing. At the rally in Manhattan, supporters often cited the show as the place where they either first heard about Mr. Yang or became real fans.

Mr. Yung, the NYU grad student, stumbled onto the Yang campaign for an assignment that involved designing his own political party. “All the stuff I wanted to do, he already has,” Mr. Yung says. When he heard Mr. Yang on Mr. Rogan’s show, “I really was like, ‘Oh my God. He can talk the talk,’” Mr. Yung recalls. He started the Brooklyn Yang Gang shortly after.

Tami Joy Schlichter, a Yang volunteer who spearheaded Tuesday’s rally, also credits “The Joe Rogan Experience,” and the podcast “Freakonomics,” for introducing her to Mr. Yang. Ms. Schlichter runs a digital marketing firm, but her passion is mathematical neuroscience – A.I. – and its effect on worker displacement.

“I was like, ‘Thank God someone is paying attention to this issue,’” she says, holding up a colossal cutout of a $1,000 bill with Mr. Yang’s face where Grover Cleveland’s should be.

“Everyone is tired of all of the emotional drama,” Ms. Schlichter adds. “We just want someone that’s going to pay attention to an issue, do the research, and solve it according to what the data says.”

‘It’s going to be a party’

Hours before the rally starts, a man in a printed jumpsuit, fur hat, and oversize rhinestone glasses hands out Yang 2020 flyers to passersby at Washington Square Park. “It’s going to be a party,” he says.

The man is Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs – Paperboy for short – a rapper and self-professed internet meme activist who caught the Yang bug when he heard Mr. Yang say in an interview that his ideas are more important than winning the race. “That really ignited me,” Paperboy says. So far he’s written three songs for Mr. Yang, the latest of which is called “Humanity First,” after the Yang campaign slogan.

Hamed Salimi, a software developer and Iranian immigrant who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, was hardcore for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Mr. Salimi likes the way Mr. Yang has presented universal basic income as a way to balance out the country’s increasingly uneven economic scales. And though he has no sympathy for President Trump, he appreciates Mr. Yang’s effort to reach conservatives by appearing on Fox News and right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro’s show.

“I really like that he’s not scared and he doesn’t see them as enemies,” Mr. Salimi says. 

Mr. Yang often says he’s drawn former Trump supporters into his camp (though none of those interviewed in New York fell into this category). He’s touted it as proof that with the right message, partisan divides can be overcome. But he has received criticism for the attention he’s getting from the internet’s darker corners, where the racist and sexist ideas of the alt-right tend to fester. Buzzfeed reported in March that one of his staffers had been doxxed and harassed by 4chan users who took issue when she tweeted that Mr. Yang’s universal basic income policy is feminist.

The reason appears to be that many 4chan users like the idea of getting $1,000 a month in free money, not that Mr. Yang is courting them or is in sympathy with racist or misogynistic ideology. In fact, he’s repeatedly disavowed these groups. “Anyone who spends, like, five seconds looking into me or my background or my beliefs or my platform would be like, ‘This guy is the least white nationalist dude ever,’” Mr. Yang told Vox.

Indeed, his supporters are less concerned about who else Mr. Yang is attracting than how the media is treating him. “The press is going to get caught with their pants down at the Iowa caucus,” says Benjamin Springer, a former police officer and Army veteran from Point Pleasant, New Jersey, who says he’s given about $200 to the Yang campaign. “He’s known within online communities.”

“I don’t know that he has a chance,” Mr. Yung, the NYU grad student, admits, “but I feel the energy. I’m hopeful.”

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4. What does Lady Liberty stand for? A look at changing attitudes.

Lady Liberty is getting a new museum at a time of heated debate on immigration. Revisiting the statue’s history offers fresh perspectives on what it stands for – and how that may have changed.

Noelle
Ann Hermes/Staff
Visitors to Liberty Island pose for pictures in front of the Statue of Liberty in New York. French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue, and it was dedicated in 1886.

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Ideas about Lady Liberty’s symbols have shifted over time, and today, they’ve become as pointed as her diadem.

The statue originally was meant to reflect the shared ideals of republicanism and Enlightenment liberalism. Later it was a patriotic symbol used to sell war bonds. And it has long been associated with the era around the turn of the 20th century, when millions of immigrants arrived every year in New York.

But after the First World War, the United States began to become skeptical of the waves of immigrants. And today, issues surrounding the plight of refugees and other foreign migrants have been reshaping global politics. With such changes, some observers say the traditional idea of the Statue of Liberty, as a beacon for poor immigrants, is a contested idea.

“That optimism about the capacity of the country to absorb and transform poor immigrants had tremendous power, but also had limits,” says Mark Naison, professor of history and African American studies at Fordham University in New York.

The meaning of liberty is at the heart of a new museum next to Lady Liberty, which opens Thursday.

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What does Lady Liberty stand for? A look at changing attitudes.

When Emily Webster and her colleagues were designing the new museum for the Statue of Liberty, the logistics of ferrying 4.5 million visitors a year over to an environmentally sensitive islet in New York Harbor was only part of the challenge they faced.

“With such an epically historic concept that the museum needed to represent, we couldn’t just be reverent and historical about the artifacts,” says Ms. Webster, head of media architecture at ESI Design in Manhattan. “In fact, we kind of also needed to really think about what the meaning of liberty is – that it’s a contested idea,” she says during a tour of the museum.

The Statue of Liberty Museum, a $100 million project that began to take shape after 9/11, opens Thursday. It’s an upgrade from a previous, much smaller collection of exhibits on Liberty Island, and in the new rendering, high-tech interactive exhibits take center stage. Their focus: “imagining” and “constructing” the meaning of liberty.

Ideas about Lady Liberty’s symbols have shifted over time, and today, they’ve become as pointed as her diadem.

Ann Hermes/Staff
The National Park Service works on restoration of the old Statue of Liberty torch, inside the Statue of Liberty Museum on April 24 in New York. The old torch was lit from within and at one point acted as a lighthouse before being replaced in the 1980s.

“It was also really important to the project that people understand that liberty is sort of an active process,” Ms. Webster says. “You can’t just sit back and expect it to be maintained.”

Conceived as a symbol of Enlightenment liberalism, the statue was a gift from France, dedicated in 1886 to celebrate both nations’ republican ideals, including the abolition of slavery. Later it would be associated with the military, a patriotic symbol used to sell war bonds – and was an inspiration to service members returning from war.

Even so, the Statue of Liberty has long been closely associated with a specific meaning, and a specific period in American history: the era around the turn of the 20th century, when millions of immigrants were sailing every year into New York Harbor – “your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to quote Emma Lazarus’ poem. The immigrants’ first dramatic encounter with their new world was the 305-foot “new colossus” and the inspiring way she held her torch to the sky.

Influencing global politics

But in both the United States and other Western nations, issues surrounding the plight of refugees and other foreign migrants have been reshaping global politics, if not the self-identities of the world’s liberal democracies. And some observers say this traditional idea of the Statue of Liberty, as a beacon for poor immigrants, is indeed a contested idea.

“What Americans remember is a myth created in its own day, the poem inscribed on the base written by Emma Lazarus, a German-Jewish New Yorker who wanted to raise money and awareness for the plight of Jews in Europe, especially in czarist Russia, where bloody purges were commonplace,” says John Seung-Ho Baick, professor of history at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“She was seeking to redefine the statue from an abstract Franco-American symbol into something far more specific, into a symbol of opportunity and hope for the oppressed people of the world,” Professor Baick says. “The American colossus was not the Colossus of Rhodes, meant to awe and intimidate. She was meant to be the beacon to the lost and hopeless, a mother who welcomes all as her children.”

But the symbols of the Statue of Liberty weren’t thought of that way at first, others say, noting how the statue originally was meant to reflect the shared ideals of republicanism and Enlightenment liberalism, as they were imagined in the late 19th century.

“These ideals would have been more generally geared towards ideals of freedom in religion, speech, trade, and self-determination; anti-authoritarianism in general would also have been a prominent theme,” says Ryan McMaken, an economist and immigration expert at the Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank in Auburn, Alabama.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Fran Ritchie does restoration work on the Statue of Liberty torch, inside the Statue of Liberty Museum on April 24 in New York. The museum opens on Thursday, May 16.

French artists and others in the 19th century had already been using the classical image of the Roman goddess Libertas to represent the age of revolution and the principles of liberalism. And when French thinkers conceived of the statue as a gift to commemorate the centennial of the American Revolution and the more recent abolition of slavery, its iconic torch symbolized what is still its official name: “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.”

The sculpted broken chains at Lady Liberty’s bare feet – a lesser-known feature of the iconic statue – also symbolize how this new concept of liberty broke the authoritarian chains of church and monarchy.

But in some circles, the Statue of Liberty may not loom as large.

“For many of us who are descended from Mexicans, for example, the Statue of Liberty plays no role in family histories or ideals expressed about aspiring to join the American mainstream,” says Mr. McMaken, whose maternal grandparents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, around 1915.

“While New York certainly continues to be a popular place of arrival for immigrants, the southern border of the U.S. is at least as central now in the experiences of migrants to the U.S.,” he continues. “The American borderlands in the West have a very different iconography than that often used by immigrants who arrived by boat in the northeastern United States.”

Rising skepticism

Also, after the First World War, the U.S. as a nation began to become skeptical of the waves of huddled masses entering the country. There was the rise of eugenics and racial theories teaching that peoples from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, including Jews, were “polluting” the Nordic stocks of northern Europe. Irish Catholics, too, many of the nation’s elites believed, posed a threat to the nation’s Anglo-Protestant heritage.

“That optimism about the capacity of the country to absorb and transform poor immigrants had tremendous power, but also had limits,” says Mark Naison, a professor of history and African American studies at Fordham University in New York. “It didn’t apply to Asian immigrants, whose arrival was sharply limited by Chinese Exclusion Acts passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It also didn’t hold up to the wave of xenophobia that swept the country right after World War I, leading to legislation which sharply limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe and all non-European countries.”

The federal Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas for immigrants based on the 1890 census – a survey taken before immigrants were sailing into New York Harbor in waves. These restrictive quotas weren’t changed until 1965, when U.S. policy shifted to emphasize bringing in skilled workers and reuniting immigrant families – a “chain migration” that the Trump administration has been trying to eliminate.

“A myth like the Statue of Liberty can be more powerful than history, inspiring revolutionary change,” says Professor Baick at Western New England University. “Or it can become comforting, anodyne words that belie that the world sees America more and more like an ancient Greek colossus, imperious and terrifying. Does she stand beside the golden door? Or does she loom over a wall?”

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A letter from

Brussels

5. In search of common ground: How debate is bringing Europeans together

In politics, debate can quickly devolve into argument. In Brussels, however, Europeans are exercising civil disagreement as a tool for understanding.

Noelle

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More than 500 debate partners filled the nooks and crannies of the Centre for Fine Arts, known as BOZAR, in Brussels on Saturday to have in-person chats about the future of Europe. The event, Europe Talks, was meant to get people to step outside their own “filter bubbles” and connect – in person – with fellow Europeans of different political persuasions.

As they waited for the welcome program to begin, conversational partners Juhani Tanayama from Helsinki, Finland, and Yavor Ivanov, from Sofia, Bulgaria, chatted animatedly. They disagreed over the question, “Should richer European countries support poorer ones?” Bulgaria is one of the poorest nations in the EU, and Mr. Tanayama’s Finland is one of the richest.

Though the EU should invest some money in education and infrastructure, such funds should be conditional, Mr. Tanayama says. Mr. Ivanov would like to see more financial support for poorer EU nations, but acknowledges that EU funding has increased corruption in Bulgaria. “We’re building infrastructure with EU money, but the quality isn’t good because half the money flows into the pockets of oligarchs.”

Mr. Tanayama nods vigorously – even before the debate officially begins, they are in agreement. “The important thing is to find common ground,” he says.

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In search of common ground: How debate is bringing Europeans together

On the eve of the twice-a-decade European parliamentary elections, a group of Euro-optimists gathered in the continent’s capital for a speed-dating session of sorts.

Most of the 500-plus attendees have road-tripped or flown more than 500 miles to get here – and dozens traveled more than 1,000 miles – after being matched via the internet with debate partners from different countries to have in-person chats about the future of Europe.

The event, Europe Talks, is the brainchild of editors at the German newspaper Die Zeit, who hatched the plan over a pingpong table in their newsroom. Their goal: to get people to step outside their own “filter bubbles” and connect – in person – with fellow Europeans of different political persuasions.

In the first, national version of the experiment, “We expected 100 to 200 people to sign up, but 12,000 registered” throughout Germany, says Editor-in-Chief Jochen Wegner. They decided to repeat the challenge internationally. “What is happening today,” he adds, “has never happened before in the history of Europe.”

As they wait for the welcome program to begin, conversational sparring partners Juhani Tanayama from Helsinki, Finland, and Yavor Ivanov, from Sofia, Bulgaria, chat animatedly.

They have been matched based on their responses to a handful of questions including, “Does the European Union improve the lives of its citizens?” (90% said yes), “Should the EU increase gas taxes to help save the environment?” (72% said yes), and “Are there too many migrants in Europe?” (76% said no).

“We tried to invent divisive questions, but it didn’t work too well,” Mr. Wegner says.

Mr. Ivanov, a technology specialist who describes himself as passionate about Mars and cycling, hopped on a plane to Brussels because he wanted to speak about the common problems of Europe in person. “I’m very happy that Bulgaria is part of the European Union,” he says.

Bulgaria is one of the poorest nations in the EU, and Mr. Tanayama’s home country, Finland, is one of the richest. They disagreed over the question, “Should richer European countries support poorer ones?” (88% of participants here said yes.)

Though the EU should invest some money in education and infrastructure, such funds should be conditional, Mr. Tanayama says, adding that there must be consequences if countries misuse EU money, or don’t adhere to EU values.

Mr. Ivanov would like to see more financial support for poorer EU nations, but acknowledges that EU funding has increased corruption in Bulgaria. “We’re building infrastructure with EU money, but the quality isn’t good because half the money flows into the pockets of oligarchs.”

Mr. Tanayama nods vigorously – even before the debate officially begins, they are in agreement. “The important thing is to find common ground,” he says.

At the formal welcome program, Anne Helgers, an engineer, and Anno Muhlhöff, a policeman, both from Cologne, Germany, discuss their first meeting at a cafe.

“We felt like neither one of us had a very distinct opinion on some of the topics, so I said, ‘Well, there is one thing I have a very strong feeling about,’” Ms. Helgers says. “I live with a woman.” Mr. Muhlhöff is not a supporter of gay marriage.

Yet the discussion “softened my strong opinion on it – mainly because I placed my argument in a way that hurt Anne’s feelings. She was kind enough to accept my apology,” Mr. Muhlhöff says, tearing up. “It turned the whole thing into something personal.”

“For me, I think a lot more about communication now,” Ms. Helgers says. “I would like to convince the entire world that people like me, we are wonderful – but even thinking we’re not so bad is a good step.”

“I never thought you were bad,” Mr. Muhlhöff quickly interjects.

Outside in the hallway, debate partners are settling into the nooks and crannies of the Centre for Fine Arts, known as BOZAR and the site for these discussions. Host to a celebration of European democracy today, the center was shaped in the late 1920s by decidedly undemocratic forces: It was built mostly underground, so as not to obstruct the king’s view of the city from his palace above.

Leaning against the coat-check counter in a tailored suit and glasses that might best be described as “very Italian,” Giulio Anichini of Rome, Italy, is talking with Anastasia Weirich, sitting cross-legged on the counter in Doc Martens.

Ms. Weirich road-tripped in from Aachen, Germany, this morning. Mr. Anichini took the train down from London, where he is working. Their professions are the same – they’re both physicians – but they disagree on what proved to be one of the conference’s most controversial questions, “Should Europe have closer ties with Russia?” (53% said yes, 46% said no.)

“I didn’t like the invasion of Crimea,” Mr. Anichini says. “And I don’t have an objective perspective,” Ms. Weirich acknowledges, noting that she comes from Russia. “My family still lives there – I want more cooperation.”

As the debate ends, participants continue their conversations, spilling out onto the streets to grab coffees and beers just outside the BOZAR Restaurant, which has earned a Michelin star for democratic fare like pork pie and its rejection of “pointlessly complicated dishes.”

Christian Schroller from Hamburg, Germany, and Kurt Strand of Copenhagen, Denmark, who have been debating for the better part of the afternoon, have just discovered that they disagree on the question of, “Would you give up your national passport for a European one?” (80% said yes.)

“I would love to leave a German identity behind, and have a Euro citizenship,” Mr. Schroller says.

Mr. Strand, pulling out his Danish passport, said he would like to hold on to it. But pointing to the Danish royal crown crest, he says agreeably, “We could put Euro stars here, and maybe Denmark in smaller letters? When I travel to the U.S., I actually describe myself as a European.”

“Our disagreements – they aren’t huge,” Mr. Schroller says, adding that he was expecting, perhaps even craving, more raucous debate. “But I realize that in this setting, I can discuss calmly and really listen. I’d do it every week if I could.”

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The Monitor's View

The start of a great decoupling of nations?

Two ways to read the story

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President Donald Trump has imposed his toughest sanctions yet on China over its trade practices. The new restrictions are designed to change Chinese behavior. Yet they might also become permanent if China fails to change. That is very likely given the Communist Party’s strategic goals for Chinese dominance in certain industries and a historic resentment toward outside pressure.

Last month the U.S. said it was coming up with a new defensive strategy toward China, one similar to the containment strategy of the Soviet Union devised by American diplomat George Kennan in 1947. Many of China’s practices are repugnant to its competitors, not just the U.S. But will boxing in China bring different results than engaging it?

Their trade war is about more than trade or even the future of each country. It is about ideas that either work for all or collapse on their own fallacies.

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The start of a great decoupling of nations?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War and of a bipolar world led to a great rush of globalization, with most nations drawing closer together.

This week, however, that rush may have turned to a hush. Three big powers hinted at a potential decoupling from other countries.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Continent must “reposition itself” against three rivals, the United States, China, and Russia. “The old certainties of the postwar order no longer apply,” she said.

In Beijing, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told other countries in Asia that they should stick together to write a “new glory of Asian civilizations.”

And in Washington, President Donald Trump imposed his toughest sanctions yet on China over its trade practices, all but excluding any U.S. business with the premier Chinese technology firm Huawei. The ban came only days after new tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Of the three moves, the most serious is the attempt in the U.S. to disengage from China. The world’s two largest economies have become closely intertwined since the 1990s yet remain far apart on how to run their respective countries. The U.S. accuses China of technology theft, unfair subsidies of exports, and an authoritarian rule that turns workers and companies into government tools of national power.

The new tariffs and other restrictions are designed to change Chinese behavior. Yet they might also become permanent if China fails to change. That is very likely given the Communist Party’s strategic goals for Chinese dominance in certain industries and a historical resentment toward outside pressure.

Last month the U.S. State Department’s director of policy planning, Kiron Skinner, said the administration was coming up with a new defensive strategy toward China, one similar to the containment strategy for the Soviet Union devised by American diplomat George Kennan in 1947.

“In China we have an economic competitor; we have an ideological competitor, one that really does seek a kind of global reach that many of us didn’t expect a couple of decades ago,” said Dr. Skinner.

Today’s China is in many ways different from the Soviet Union. It works within international bodies, for example, even as it tries to change them to its favor. Still, if the U.S. moves to decouple from the Chinese economy and even tries to isolate it, such a policy would be adopting the core idea of Mr. Kennan’s approach.

The Soviet Union, he wrote, was based on flawed ideas, such as a state-run economy. Its system would “eventually weaken its own total potential.” Russian leaders, he said, were “driven by fear or concern for their prestige to do things that are not in their best interests.”

His approach took decades of patient vigilance by the U.S. to succeed. Rather than defeat the Soviet Union, the U.S. in effect followed an old Arab proverb: “Leave evil and it will leave you.”

Many of China’s practices are repugnant to its competitors, not just the U.S. But will boxing in China bring different results than engaging it?

Three decades of globalization may have turned a corner in recent days. Of all the big players, the U.S. and China will determine whether the world splits into regional blocs and defensive postures. Their trade war is about more than trade or even the future of each country. It is about ideas that either work for all or collapse on their own fallacies.

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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.

Getting beyond greed

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Today’s contributor explores the idea that it’s a God-inspired generosity of spirit, not the single-minded pursuit of money or opportunity, that most substantially enriches.

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Getting beyond greed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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One of my brothers tells of seeing how our father, a farmer with six children, treated a man from whom he was buying a farm implement. After the dealer proposed a price, our father double-checked with him whether that would really be a fair price – for the dealer.

In finance, “opportunity cost” refers to the loss of potential gain when a different alternative is chosen. So, for example, if you choose not to invest your money, the investment income that you forgo as a result of that choice constitutes your opportunity cost.

To me, my dad’s interaction illustrates how this concept can apply to more than just money. For instance, there’s an opportunity cost when we choose greed over two of the coolest qualities that people can express: generosity and magnanimity.

The truth be told, pursuing gain at all costs – whether that is the larger part of just the chocolate bar, the business windfall, or the family inheritance – doesn’t actually enrich us in substantial ways. Greed may sometimes leave one with more things, but it never leaves us feeling as satisfied as if we’ve honored our business partner or family member or strengthened a relationship.

But generosity enriches in powerful ways. The Bible tells of a man named Abraham and his nephew Lot dividing up land so that they both have enough room for their flocks and herds. Abraham invites Lot to choose whichever portion of the land he wishes, and Lot chooses what appears to be the better land. Abraham accepts this without resentment and then experiences and helps others experience far more blessings than his nephew does (see Genesis 13:1-17).

Jesus pointed his followers to the value of generosity. When a widow donated the tiniest bit of money to her synagogue’s treasury, Jesus observed that she had given far more than any other donor relative to what she had (see Mark 12:41-44). What largesse! In her main work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us” (p. 79).

It feels good to take the high road, as Abraham did, because it’s our nature as children of God to be generous and loving, not fearful and grabbing. Each of us, in our true nature as God’s spiritual offspring, is created in God’s image and likeness – loving, magnanimous, and receiving all we need from our infinitely gracious and all-powerful Father-Mother, God. Thus we don’t have to manipulate situations or people to have good. We receive everything we need as God’s freely given gift to us, a gift that we need only discover.

I had an experience that illustrated how a God-inspired generosity of spirit leads to mutual blessings. Two of us from the same academic program in a relatively small university were applying for an internship in Canada’s Parliament. Only ten people were to be chosen from across the country.

Instead of approaching the competition aggressively with the thought that only a few people would be benefited, I prayed to see that each of the hundreds of applicants was cared for by God, and therefore we all had a right place that included abundant divine good, whether accepted for the internship or not. I also shared with my classmate several Bible verses with which I was finding it helpful to pray. He thanked me. I felt at peace, and we remained friendly as we went through the interview process.

About three weeks later we learned that we both had been chosen for the internship. We ended up rooming together, and it was a great year. Decades later, we still have a happy relationship.

Each of us can let God inspire in us higher, more selfless goals than the single-minded pursuit of money or some particular object or opportunity. Whatever our situation in life, we gain the greatest and most lasting satisfaction by treating others fairly and living consistently with our spiritual, generous nature as children of God. Through God’s grace we can achieve this. And in so doing, we experience freedom and the sheer joy of helping others – in expression of the God who helps us all.

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Viewfinder

A child’s garden

Frank Augstein/AP
Kids enjoy the new Children's Garden at Kew, designed around the elements (earth, air, water, sunlight) that plants need to grow, at Kew Gardens in London May 16. The new garden, which opens officially May 18, is the size of nearly 40 tennis courts and features tunnel slides, sand pits, a splash pool, swings, and trampolines.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 17th, 2019 )

Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow, when diplomatic correspondent Howard LaFranchi will untangle the motivations driving White House policy toward Iran.

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May 16, 2019
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