2019
June
04
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

As the U.S. embarks on another presidential election, voters may consider one of the lessons Finland has learned fighting Russian disinformation: Know thyself.

The Mueller report documents how Russian agents spread false information using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to exacerbate divisions among U.S. voters. And Russian trolls stoked anger by creating fake online groups for gun rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice, luring hundreds of thousands of American followers – from the left and right.

Those efforts continue. The intent is to sow distrust and instability so that a democracy crumbles from within. Finland has battled Kremlin disinformation since it broke away from its neighbor a century ago. But since 2014, the Finns have been teaching citizens how to protect themselves from fake news online. Finland’s Jussi Toivanen tells CNN, “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.” Right through high school, students are taught to combine fact-checking with critical thinking.

The Finns also have a “super power,” said Jed Willard of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “The Finns have a very unique and special strength in that they know who they are. And who they are is directly rooted in human rights and the rule of law,” he says.

So, the best weapon against manipulation – being led digitally astray – doesn’t originate online: It starts with an individual’s clear sense of identity and core values. Is that a uniquely Finnish trait?

Now to our five selected stories, including why some Chinese dissidents are still hopeful, a surprisingly democratic battle over parkland in Russia, and the power of a warm shower to uplift.

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1. Centrist Democrats are back. But these are not your father’s Blue Dogs.

Criticized by the left wing of their party, these Democrats say they are effectively reviving the principle of pragmatism in an increasingly polarized government.

David
Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., listens as Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., speaks about the formation of the Congressional Servicewomen and Women Veterans Caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 15.

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The congressional Blue Dog coalition was founded nearly a quarter-century ago by conservative Democrats, many from the South, who were focused on fiscal responsibility and national defense. In recent years, as polarization intensified on Capitol Hill, its numbers had dwindled to the point of near-extinction.

That changed after this last midterm. The so-called “blue wave” brought to Congress 42 Democrats who had flipped their districts – and brought the Blue Dogs back up to 27, enough to influence legislation, given the Democrats’ 18-seat House majority.

Today’s resurgent Blue Dogs say they’re sticking to the original vision of providing an alternative to the party’s liberal wing. But they’re decidedly not the Blue Dogs of old. Many push back against being labeled conservative, or even moderate. Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, one of the group’s co-chairs, prefers “pragmatic Democrats.” And their current membership reflects how much the demographic and geographic profiles of the Democratic Party have changed – and how much the political center has shifted. 

“Those who say it’s an old, white, Southern caucus – I tell them they haven’t seen the Blue Dogs lately,” says Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

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Centrist Democrats are back. But these are not your father’s Blue Dogs.

When Mikie Sherrill first ran into the congressional Blue Dog coalition in 2018, she wasn’t sure it would be the place for her.

She knew the caucus focused on fiscal and national defense issues, which she – a Democrat then running for a GOP-held seat in northern New Jersey – cared deeply about. But she also knew it had been founded by a group of white Democratic congressmen, most from the South, who felt they were being “choked blue” by the party’s leftward shift. She remembered that the coalition, back in 2009, had urged changes to the Affordable Care Act that some in the party say watered down President Barack Obama’s signature bill.

“I had some pause,” Representative Sherrill says in a phone interview. “I had some concerns about the policies, about the history.”

What won her over was Stephanie Murphy, the Vietnam-born Florida lawmaker who came to Congress in 2017 and now serves as the first woman of color to co-chair the Blue Dogs. The two women connected instantly on the issues. “She was incredibly thoughtful about how to move the economy forward, creating broad coalitions, moving on infrastructure,” Representative Sherrill recalls. They also shared experiences: young kids at home, careers in public service (the Pentagon for Representative Murphy, the Navy for Representative Sherrill), and support for LGBTQ and women’s rights.

Such résumés would have been unusual, if not unimaginable, for the original Blue Dogs. Today’s coalition, however, looks a lot like the rest of the Democratic caucus: less white, less male, and less conservative. Current Blue Dogs hail from red and purple districts across the country, including the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest. And like Representative Sherrill, their newest members campaigned – and won – on bread-and-butter issues like health care and infrastructure.

Blue Dog members say they still stand by the old centrist mantra of fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense, and commonsense solutions to practical problems. But their membership today reflects how much the demographic and geographic profiles of the Democratic Party have changed – and how much the political center has shifted. 

“It seems so cliché, but I can’t help but think, ‘This is not your father’s Blue Dog committee,’” says Representative Sherrill. “Those who say it’s an old, white, Southern caucus – I tell them they haven’t seen the Blue Dogs lately.”

‘Democrats in name only’

The Blue Dogs were founded in 1995, the year after Republicans took control of the House for the first time in four decades. Though the caucus didn’t officially take positions on social issues, most of its members were Southern Democrats with conservative views on things like abortion and gun control. They focused on fiscal issues, however, and rose to prominence in their early years during budget negotiations. Their bills straddled the line between what Republicans wanted, which was usually tax cuts or reduced spending, and what Democrats called for, which was often more investment in federal programs.

The 2009-10 session, with the coalition at 51 members, was a productive legislative term for them: They got Congress to restore Pay-As-You-Go budget rules, which require lawmakers to offset the cost of any increased spending on entitlements by cutting funding for other programs or raising other revenues. They successfully opposed a public option to compete with private insurance companies under what would become the Affordable Care Act. And they sponsored a bill that required federal agencies to report their achievements every fiscal year so that congressional committees had a basis for setting each agency’s annual budget.

The work was rarely easy, or popular. Their role in the public option debate, for instance, drew criticism from the progressive left, which accused them of being DINOs – “Democrats in name only” – and using fiscal responsibility as camouflage for their support of corporate interests. “[They] seemed to exist to stop Democrats from achieving their objectives,” says Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, a progressive advocacy firm.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP/File
Then-freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. (center) smiles at a meeting of the Bipartisan Working Group on Capitol Hill, July 12, 2017. Representative Murphy – who fled communist Vietnam with her family in 1979 – is one of the new co-chairs of the Blue Dog coalition.

“Blue Dogs are in the middle of the road all right – but only in the sense that a dog hugging the center stripe amid whizzing 18-wheelers is in the middle of the road,” Dennis Farney wrote for The Wall Street Journal back in 1997. “In today’s Congress the center may be the most dangerous and discouraging place of all.”

Over the years, as party lines deepened and conservative Democrats either retired, were challenged in the primaries, or defected to the GOP, the coalition – like centrists in general – dwindled. In the wake of the tea party takeover, Blue Dogs were down to just 15 members.

The situation began to turn after this last midterm. The so-called “blue wave” that brought to Congress the most diverse class of freshmen in history included 42 Democrats who had flipped their districts. Ten, including Representative Sherrill, became Blue Dogs, bringing the coalition’s numbers up to 27 – enough to influence legislation, given the Democrats’ 18-seat House majority.

“When they have a sizable number, like they do now, their votes are needed,” says Jennifer Walsh, a public affairs director for the D.C. law firm Foley and Lardner, and former chief of staff to California Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a Blue Dog who retired in 2012. “It’s fun when your votes are needed. People care what you think.”

Newfound clout

The Blue Dogs began taking advantage of their new numbers right after the election. Representative Murphy was among those who held back her vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi until leadership promised a group of moderates that bipartisan bills would have an easier time making it to the floor for votes. (Some Blue Dogs, like Representatives Sherrill and Ben McAdams of Utah, didn’t vote for Speaker Pelosi at all.)

Once the session started, they made sure that their party’s agenda-setting H.R. 1 included language around campaign finance and redistricting reform. They took vocal positions on infrastructure and rural broadband. They’re supporting Representative McAdams’ proposal for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and stalling a $15 minimum wage bill until it’s more amenable to rural areas.

Blue Dogs say these efforts prove they’ve stuck to the coalition’s founding vision of providing an alternative to the party’s liberal wing. “We’re still united around the same issues that we’ve always been united around, and that’s fiscal responsibility, national security,” Representative Murphy says at a meeting of the coalition’s co-chairs at her offices on Capitol Hill.  

But they’re decidedly not the Blue Dogs of old. Though there’s still some variety in their social views – Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, for instance, is prominently antiabortion – most members align with their party on issues like reproductive health, gun laws, and immigration. Many push back against being labeled conservative, or even moderate. Representative Murphy would rather they’re called “pragmatic Democrats,” willing to work with Republicans and progressives alike to move practical legislation forward.

And members say it’s she – who fled communist Vietnam with her family in 1979, and recently penned an op-ed defending capitalism – who embodies the new narrative that’s driving the coalition. She “was able to lift herself up and create opportunities for herself and her family,” Representative McAdams says in a phone interview. “Her personal story encapsulates for me a lot of what the Blue Dogs are.”

Skepticism from both sides

Some observers say this shows that the coalition, like the party, is drifting away from the center. The Blue Dogs may have regained some influence after 2018, but it’s hard to imagine the trend of polarization reversing itself. “They make a stylistically moderate point,” says Danielle Thomsen, a visiting scholar in politics at Princeton University and author of a book on the political center. But from the policy side, she says, “the actual demands that they’re trying to make might not differ so much from the party mainstream.”

Progressives like Mr. Lawson disagree; he says many Blue Dogs today use socially liberal views to win support from Democratic voters, despite the fact that on economic matters they represent corporate interests. He says the coalition wrongly identifies the political center as a place where Wall Street gets a bigger piece than Main Street. “It’s ‘fiscal responsibility’ that happens to hurt the people,” he says.

Blue Dogs say they’re used to skepticism from across the political spectrum. At the meeting with Blue Dog leaders, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon remembers having to convince former Reps. John Tanner of Tennessee and Allen Boyd of Florida that he was serious about addressing fiscal issues. “Everyone assumed, ‘Oregon’s very deep blue, and therefore you’re a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat,’” Representative Schrader says.

He says the coalition’s growing diversity, reflective of both the Democratic Party and the country, shows that more Americans want what they offer than ever before. After most of the other members have left the meeting, rushing off to committee hearings and floor votes, he and freshman co-chair Anthony Brindisi of New York stick around to hammer their point home.

“Bipartisanship, fiscal responsibility, defense, and working with business as well as labor ... the country is more reflective of that Blue Dog philosophy now,” Representative Schrader says.

“Make America governable again,” Representative Brindisi adds. “That’s what got us into the majority.”

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A deeper look

2. Tiananmen 30 years later: ‘Hope has not died,’ say Chinese dissidents

On the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, our reporter talks with three exiled dissidents about why those protests continue to inspire an expectation of progress on human rights in China.

David
Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Zhang Weiguo, a prominent Chinese journalist who was Beijing bureau chief of the World Economic Herald newspaper at the time of the Tiananmen democracy protests, at his home in a suburb of Sacramento. The World Economic Herald was shut down for its outspoken reporting in the spring of 1989, fueling more calls for press freedom. Mr. Zhang was jailed and exiled by the government.

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It was a golden era for mavericks in China’s news media, compared with today. Thirty years ago, Zhang Weiguo was a reporter and one of the young intellectuals and activists leading the boldest movement for democracy ever seen in communist China. Protests calling for free speech, press freedom, and democratic reforms engulfed Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and spread to dozens of cities nationwide. After several weeks, on June 3 and 4, 1989, troops with tanks pushed into the capital, opening fire with machine guns on civilians.

Jailed then forced into exile, Mr. Zhang and other banned dissidents have sacrificed greatly for their ideals. Yet they remain keen observers of China. Despite the country’s repressive trajectory – intensified since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012 – Mr. Zhang and other prominent Tiananmen-era activists believe Chinese aspirations for basic rights are growing under the surface, and will eventually emerge again.

“There’s a joke,” says Mr. Zhang. “If you watch the daily official news broadcast, you would think nothing’s happening in China. But if you go on the internet, you will think China is about to collapse. So there is some space, a growing diversity of voices, and it is on the web.”

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Tiananmen 30 years later: ‘Hope has not died,’ say Chinese dissidents

At his house in a tree-lined subdivision south of Sacramento, dissident journalist Zhang Weiguo sips green tea as his gray-haired mother dishes up a steaming bowl of homemade Shanghai wonton dumplings – a fragrant reminder of a long-gone place and time.

In Shanghai, the narrow lane where Mr. Zhang grew up has been bulldozed to make way for a skyscraper. The World Economic Herald, the semi-independent Shanghai newspaper where Mr. Zhang was a lead reporter, was shut down by the government in 1989 – its outspoken brand of journalism absent from China today.

“My dream has been crushed,” Mr. Zhang says slowly, his words oddly out of place at this kitchen table, overlooking a sunbathed backyard garden of leafy cucumber vines and beans. But, he adds, “hope has not died.”

Thirty years ago, Mr. Zhang was among the young intellectuals and activists leading the boldest movement for democracy ever seen in communist China. Protests calling for free speech, press freedom, and democratic reforms engulfed Tiananmen Square – the symbolic center of power in the capital, Beijing – then spread to dozens of major cities nationwide.

But after several weeks, Communist Party hard-liners prevailed over reformers, and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into Beijing to crush the demonstrations and clear the square. On June 3 and 4, 1989, troops with tanks pushed into the capital, opening fire with machine guns on civilians. Estimates of the number killed range from hundreds to several thousand. The crackdown effectively silenced advocates of political reform within China’s leadership.

Jailed by the regime as a “black hand” and forced into exile, Mr. Zhang and other banned dissidents have sacrificed greatly for their ideals. Yet they remain keen observers of China today. Despite the country’s repressive trajectory – intensified since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012 – Mr. Zhang and other prominent Tiananmen-era activists believe Chinese aspirations for basic rights are growing under the surface, and will eventually emerge again.

Mr. Zhang feels fortunate to have been part of the push for media independence in the 1980s – a golden era for maverick publications, in contrast to today.

“The level of control over the media in China under Xi is the tightest it has been since right after the 1989 crackdown,” says Mr. Zhang, who has continued to write and edit for overseas Chinese-language newspapers and magazines. “Xi doesn’t want Western-style liberalization,” and is following the example of Mao Zedong, who believed “the Communist Party’s two legs are the pen and the rifle – public opinion and violence,” Mr. Zhang says.

For China’s current leaders, the lesson from Tiananmen is simple, Mr. Zhang says: “Suppress the Tiananmen movement and kill however many people, and the country will be stable for decades. This is China’s model: suppression.”

China is now moving aggressively to export its ideology and propaganda, through global and local television networks, newspapers, and other media that are widely available in U.S. markets from Los Angeles to New York, he says.

Social media, however, offers one realm in China today where limited expression is possible, Mr. Zhang says – despite the efforts of China’s army of censors and official commentators. “There’s a joke: If you watch the daily official news broadcast, you would think nothing’s happening in China. But if you go on the internet, you will think China is about to collapse. So there is some space, a growing diversity of voices, and it is on the web.”

Mr. Zhang has jumped into that space, writing a blog that helps capture China’s independent online voices before censors can delete them, and sharing them with outside audiences. Despite severe setbacks for freedom and democracy over the past 30 years, he believes that “in the end, China will have to return to that track.”

Maj. Yan Xiong

For U.S. Army chaplain Maj. Yan Xiong, his Memorial Day remembrances extend from the chapel at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to the desert battlefields of Iraq and beyond, to Beijing.

Major Xiong offers prayers not only for fallen U.S. soldiers who served with him on the outskirts of Baghdad in 2004, but for the Chinese civilians he saw gunned down by the PLA in Beijing in June 1989.

Then an idealistic Beijing University law student, Xiong helped lead demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, watching in awe as the crowds swelled.

“Even after 30 years, the number one impression in my mind is the millions of people. ... The whole society supported that democratic movement,” he recalls. He helped organize an independent student council and took part in student dialogues with government officials.

Hearing reports of PLA troops opening fire, he and a friend rushed toward the square. “I witnessed a massacre, and I still cannot forget that. I even carried a lot of bodies to the hospital,” he says.

After the crackdown, Major Xiong and other student leaders wanted by the government scattered to other provinces as part of a plan to rekindle the movement outside Beijing. Arrested in northern China at gunpoint, he was jailed for 19 months. Released in 1991, he felt betrayed and empty.

courtesy of Maj. Yan Xiong
Student leader Yan Xiong speaks in front of hunger strikers at Tiananmen Square on May 14, 1989. Mr. Xiong was jailed after the Tiananmen crackdown, and is seen in a photo taken in 1991 after his release from prison. He went on to become a U.S. Army chaplain, holding the rank of major.

Then, a friend from an underground Christian church gave Major Xiong a book that would change his life: “Streams in the Desert,” a 1925 devotional by a Christian missionary who had worked in China. Major Xiong read the thin volume every day on walks near the old Summer Palace north of Beijing.

“It made my heart warm,” he recalls, though back then he could not articulate why.

Escaping China on a fishing vessel to Hong Kong, he gained political asylum in the United States in 1992. There, he joined a church and was baptized, one of several Tiananmen activists drawn to Christianity. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and later graduated from seminary and was commissioned as an Army chaplain.

Today, Major Xiong sees a direct connection between the disillusionment with communism in China and the rapid growth of Christianity there.

“In China, more and more people are disappointed with the reality,” he says. “They need something that can comfort them so they can have hope for the future.”

To the atheistic party, this trend seems threatening.

“In China when a person says, ‘I am a Christian,’ it means ‘I will follow Jesus, not the party,’” he says.

China has barred Major Xiong from returning, even to visit his ill mother, who died in 2015.

Major Xiong worries the party’s rigid rule will see problems build without solutions – threatening the regime with eventual collapse. In such a crisis, he hopes the PLA would not repeat the mistakes of Tiananmen.

“The PLA is not the military of the party, they are the military of the Chinese people,” he says. “They belong to the people and should stand on the right side.”

Courtesy of Maj. Yan Xiong
U.S. Army Maj. Yan Xiong, an Army chaplain, in an undated photo. Arrested in northern China at gunpoint, he was jailed for 19 months. In 1992, he escaped on a fishing vessel and made his way to the United States, where he joined the Army and went to seminary.

Han Dongfang

From a high-rise office on Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula, labor activist Han Dongfang launches into another interview with a disgruntled Chinese worker about why he went on strike.

“So, in all your years as a road worker, the [state-run] trade union never came to help you?” Mr. Han asks in his rapid-fire Beijing accent.

“No, I’ve never heard of it,” the worker replies.

During his weekly, Mandarin-language broadcast on Radio Free Asia, Mr. Han airs the grievances of Chinese workers struggling with pay, safety, health, and other workplace challenges across China. The conversations are part of Mr. Han’s lifelong fight for labor rights and democracy.

As a railway worker, Mr. Han helped create China’s first independent labor union, the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation, during the Tiananmen protests. Rallying workers behind the students, Mr. Han and the BWAF became top government targets after the June 4 crackdown.

Holding fast to his convictions, Mr. Han turned himself in and was jailed for almost two years before gaining release in 1991 for medical care in the U.S. He returned to China briefly in 1993 only to be immediately expelled to Hong Kong, where he founded the China Labor Bulletin (CLB), a nongovernmental organization defending workers’ rights.

Today, Mr. Han is encouraged by Chinese workers’ growing willingness to stand up for themselves – demonstrated by widespread labor strikes across the country. An online map maintained by CLB tracks details of hundreds of strikes, sit-ins, and other labor actions unfolding in China, including some 600 so far this year. The government censors news on strikes, but word of the incidents often spreads on social media.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Han Dongfang and his wife, Chen Jingyun, in Beijing in 1992. Mr. Han helped create China’s first independent labor union, the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation, during the Tiananmen protests.

Despite the government’s recent arrests of labor activists and tightening of controls on NGOs, Mr. Han says individual workers’ consciousness is what matters in the long run.

“They don’t put their hopes in the government or other people, but in themselves – this is far beyond what we could imagine 30 years ago,” he says. “If you have awareness of your rights … and how to fight … this is where the hope is.”

As China’s unbridled, profit-driven growth has given rise to growing inequality, corruption, pollution, and health and safety issues at workplaces, Mr. Han says, the government is incapable of safeguarding worker rights on its own.

“The Chinese communist government realizes it can’t stay in power unless they satisfy the working families in China,” he says. China is one of the world’s most unequal countries as the income gap between urban and rural grows, according to the International Monetary Fund. “One of the biggest legitimacy issues they are facing is wealth redistribution.”

As a result of these tensions, Chinese workers will steadily gain power, Mr. Han predicts, starting with access to collective bargaining for better conditions. “That will lay a very solid ground for a social democratic solution in China,” he says.

Close to the pulse of workers through his regular radio talks, Mr. Han is optimistic about China’s future. “I believe, based on reality and also hope, that the best way out is for China to turn to social democracy, and become the world’s biggest democratic regime.”

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3. Medicare for all – why supporters can’t agree what it should mean

Is health care a moral right? That’s part of the argument in the latest push for universal health insurance for Americans. But the way forward isn’t clear, yet.

David

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American politicians have proposed universal coverage as far back as 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt supported it during his unsuccessful third-party campaign to regain the presidency. Today, that goal is rising again.

Democratic presidential candidates are supporting various plans, often under the name “Medicare for All.” And they’re drawing energy from public opinion. Polls have found growing public concern about health care, as costs keep rising and the United States remains alone among advanced economies in lacking universal insurance.

For supporters, a key choice is whether to seek a “single payer” system that would centralize administration in the government, or to add a “public option” alongside other insurance plans. Some candidates say the first will be most efficient. Others support the second as a less-wrenching change, and as a system that can better leverage competition among providers.

“This is a values conversation and decision at a root level. How much do you want everybody to be treated the same?” says Linda Blumberg, a health policy expert at the Urban Institute. “We have a structure that with its gaps and shortcomings can be built upon and improved.”

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Medicare for all – why supporters can’t agree what it should mean

When the House Rules Committee recently took up a controversial topic – shifting U.S. health care onto the shoulders of government as a “single payer” – the voice of one witness seemed loudest precisely because he had none. Due to illness, activist Ady Barkan was unable to speak to the committee. Instead his typed responses, delivered to the room by a monotone synthetic voice, told of his battles with insurance companies as he seeks both medical care and time with his wife and young son.

“If I couldn’t use GoFundMe, I would probably start by asking my parents to start spending down their retirement savings, then we would go hat in hand to friends. Nobody dealing with a serious illness should have to do either of these things,” he said. “We should instead have a rational, fair, comprehensive social safety net that actually catches us when we fall.”

At the April 30 hearing, Mr. Barkan was among several witnesses and lawmakers who urged the case for a single-payer system.

It would be a radical break from the status quo. Supporters say that’s exactly the point, after what they see as years of inaction and half measures, and with more than 27 million Americans lacking health insurance. Critics say there are reasons this idea hasn’t flown in the United States before and why it shouldn’t fly now.

But look beneath the surface of the “Medicare for All” debate, and the real story may be about the revival of a basic ideal: the goal of universal health insurance – whether it’s called a human right, as Mr. Barkan and some Democratic presidential candidates do, or is just something that a rich nation can afford for its citizens.

The goal is neither new nor, historically, exclusive to the Democratic Party. In a 2015 Harris poll, 84% of Americans agreed it’s “a moral issue” to have “a system that ensures that sick people get the care they need.” That included 75% of Republicans.

Yet for many, that view doesn’t automatically mean the government should be the sole buyer of insurance. Even among Democratic voters, there are concerns about how to both control costs and avoid rationing of care in such a system. 

“All the candidates are interested in improving affordability and access [to health care] relative to what we have today,” says Linda Blumberg, an expert on health policy at the Urban Institute in Washington. But “we’re a pretty incremental country. We don’t move too fast. We don’t like disruption, and we generally don’t like to be told what to do.”

A key issue for voters

Driving the discussion: Health care has risen in importance for voters in recent years, judging by exit polls of voters after they cast ballots. A key reason is financial, with the cost of health care continuing to rise as a share of household budgets.

For many, it’s also that, even as “Obamacare” has grown more accepted as a vehicle for expanding access to care, Republicans have sought to repeal it without having a clear replacement plan.

“The attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act really scared the American people,” says Topher Spiro, a health-policy specialist at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington. “When you try to take something away, it tends to be highly motivating.”

Support for a single-payer system seems to have risen over the past year or so. Yet, even as the issue galvanizes the political left, Democratic candidates and lawmakers are far from united over what Medicare for All means.

To some people, this means making a government health plan the only one available – a true single-payer system with the advantages of universal coverage and economies of scale. Supporters say costs for care would fall as government uses its leverage to set lower prices with doctors and hospitals.

Critics worry that costs would instead rise as the government seeks to provide more benefits to more people.

This pros-and-cons debate – outlined both in a report that Ms. Blumberg co-authored and in a Congressional Budget Office analysis – has erupted along partisan lines, as Republicans question the ability of government to vastly expand its role over a sector that currently represents nearly one-fifth of U.S. economic activity.

“I would say that anybody believes that a government-run health care system provides better health care at lower prices, I got some land that’s underwater I need to sell you for high-rise condos,” Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican from South Carolina, said on May 22 at a second House hearing on the issue.

But also at that hearing, Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state noted that nations with single-payer systems provide universal coverage while spending less on health care than the U.S. does.

Less radical change?

Until Republicans offer a rival plan of their own, the big battle is really among Democrats themselves. Some presidential contenders argue that the goal of universal coverage can be better attained with less radical change, such as creating a “public option.”

In fact, while the U.S. stands alone among advanced economies in not offering universal coverage, the models in those other nations are varied and far from one-size-fits-all. That idea may resonate with Americans who tend to value choices – whether of doctors, of insurance plans, or of approaches to care, such as for conditions that may have no known medical cure.

Polls suggest that many Americans don't want their employer-based plans – or the current version of Medicare – to disappear.

“One doesn’t necessarily have to go to a single-payer system,” says Sara Collins, an expert at the Commonwealth Fund in New York, which supports the goal of universal coverage. “One can build on the current system. I think the overall [public] concern is what people are paying, and the fact that millions of people are still uninsured.”

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, is among the presidential candidates endorsing the idea of a public option competing with private insurance offerings.

“I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of single-payer health care,” said Mr. Moulton, who as a military veteran has relied on Veterans Affairs hospitals. While praising the VA for negotiating lower prescription drug prices, he described challenges such as veterans waiting for care or having their records mixed up. 

“Competition is good,” he said. “And just like we have options for delivering packages, I think we should have options for delivering health care.”

A values conversation

A trend of consolidation in the industry has left many hospitals as near-monopolies in areas they serve. Some experts see the current high costs in the U.S. as an inherently vexing challenge, no matter what path the nation takes. 

For instance, if policymakers tried to extend current Medicare pricing to all Americans, that would be asking hospitals to take an instant pay cut, since Medicare currently doesn’t pay them as much as private insurers do.

“I think there would probably be almost immediate tremendous pressure” upward on prices, says Ed Dolan, an economist at the Niskanen Center, a free-market-oriented think tank in Washington.

Pointing to the Netherlands, which blends taxpayer funding with competing private insurance providers, he says “it seems a lot easier to move the American system into that model” than to migrate toward a more government-centered system such as Britain’s. 

Whatever the details, some advocates say what’s most vital is that Americans shouldn’t have to worry about going without health care, or about facing financially ruinous choices.

American politicians have proposed universal coverage as far back as 1912, when former President Theodore Roosevelt supported it as part of his unsuccessful third-party campaign for the White House.

Congress sought to move toward that goal by creating Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for low-income Americans in the 1960s. The Affordable Care Act in 2010 marked a major step beyond that, expanding Medicaid and setting up marketplaces for other Americans to shop for plans with government subsidies. 

Ms. Blumberg at the Urban Institute welcomes the way the Democratic presidential campaign promises to nudge candidates toward more detailed proposals, and perhaps toward answers on some of the tough challenges.

“This is a values conversation and decision at a root level. How much do you want everybody to be treated the same?” Ms. Blumberg says. And she adds: “We have a structure that with its gaps and shortcomings can be built upon and improved.”

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4. Russian grassroots democracy? Park-goers rally against church land grabs.

Russia may lack much of a political opposition. But our reporter found evidence of community-level democracy, as citizens push back against land grabs by the Russian Orthodox Church.

David

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For quite some time and almost entirely beneath the media radar screen, dozens of struggles between local communities and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) have been unfolding in parks and public squares across Russia. They represent public pushback against a church-building spree in recent years by the powerful ROC, which often convinces local authorities to hand over prime public land for church construction.

The sheer number of neighborhood battles against church construction on public spaces became apparent in May, after persistent protests against an ambitious project in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg turned violent. A public opinion survey taken in Yekaterinburg following the protests found that almost three-quarters of the city’s residents opposed that particular planned church construction.

“Conflicts like this don’t have an anti-clerical character, but they do happen against a background of growing public embitterment,” says Stepan Goncharov, a pollster. “The ROC is an important institution and one that is closely associated with the state. By protesting in this way, people may be expressing their dissatisfaction with the authorities, with the situation in the country, and the fact that their voices aren’t being heard.”

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Russian grassroots democracy? Park-goers rally against church land grabs.

On a recent Sunday in Torfyanka Park, in a densely populated suburb near the northern edge of Moscow, a familiar ritual of confrontation is taking place.

The sun shines in this small patch of greenery with a circular pond at its heart. Dozens of people have gathered at a fenced compound that houses a 24-hour guard station and a large wooden cross, erected by the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). But the people aren’t here to pray. Rather, they are here to protest that the compound is on the park grounds at all.

Four years ago, the ROC claimed Torfyanka Park as the site for a new church – a move broadly opposed by locals who value the rare green space that the park offers the community. While local officials offered alternative sites for a new church that the ROC accepted, the compound remains intact, spurring the protests to continue. Their key demand is that the ROC renounce its claim to this piece of parkland.

The entire park has recently been blocked off by local authorities, ostensibly because repairs are underway. In the past there have been large anti-church demonstrations that were roughly dispersed by police. Some local activists have had their apartments searched, and a few say police warned them that they are flirting with foreign-inspired political subversion. But on this day the sun was shining, the park overflowed with greenery, and all was peaceful.

“Under city law it is illegal to build any large structure in a designated green zone. This little park is the only place around here for people to go with their children, walk their dogs, just relax with nature,” says Natalia Fedorova, an elected representative of the Losino-Ostrovsky district council. “We’re not against churches, or anything like that. We just don’t understand why the ROC seems to be able to do whatever it wants.

“We believe that we have fought them to a standstill over this piece of land, but they still don’t remove this compound and guard post. They still hold prayer meetings here, where people pray for a church on this spot. That tells us they haven’t relinquished the claim. So we keep coming here.”

Dozens of local struggles like this have been unfolding, almost entirely beneath the media radar screen, in parks and public squares around Moscow and in cities across Russia for quite some time. The only thing most have in common is that they represent a growing measure of public pushback against a church-building spree in recent years by the powerful ROC, which often convinces local authorities to hand over prime public land for church construction, and teams up with local big businesses to help fund the projects.

An expanding church

The protesters tend to be a diverse mix of neighborhood people who don’t appear to have any political narrative in common at all, much less an anti-Kremlin one. The lack of dramatic political slogans may be one reason the media has been slow to notice the widespread emergence of these small local conflicts around the country.

They represent a type of grassroots protest that is relatively new, at least for Russia, where people organize ad hoc groups to confront authorities over matters of local concern. These often have to do with land use, such as waste dumps in their midst, municipal planning decisions made without public consultation, and big housing projects that threaten a district’s ecology.

But the sheer number of neighborhood battles against church construction on public spaces became apparent in May, after persistent protests against an ambitious project in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg turned violent and even the Kremlin was compelled to comment. Russian journalists subsequently detailed many similar local struggles underway all over the country, and local authorities in a few places hastily scrapped plans for grand new churches in their own cities.

Vakhtang Kipshidze, deputy head of the ROC’s department for social outreach and media relations, says the wave of church-building in recent years is necessary to compensate for decades of communist rule that saw thousands of churches destroyed, and the creation of vast new urban population centers during Soviet years that allowed no provision for churches.

“There are thousands of people living in these urban areas, and there are only small numbers of protesters,” he says. “We don’t see a universal problem here. When you consider that we have built about 10,000 new churches in the past ten years, and there are only a few places where there have been problems. The idea of the liberal media, which suggests there is universal opposition to it, has no basis in reality.”

A public opinion survey taken in Yekaterinburg following the protests found that almost three-quarters of the city’s residents opposed that particular planned church construction.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Mr. Kipshidze blames the political opposition, particularly Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s main bogeyman, for stirring up and coordinating the anti-church protests. However, Mr. Navalny doesn’t seem to have made much of the issue until events erupted in Yekaterinburg last month.

“Opposition forces will use any issue to get political dividends,” he says. “Our principled position is that this is not a political issue, but a legal one. The ROC is a law-abiding institution.”

‘This is not a religious conflict’

Ironically, the protesters at Torfyanka Park make much the same argument, that it’s not about politics but law. They say the local council offered the ROC two other nearby spots to build churches on, and that those offers were accepted. New churches are being constructed in the neighborhood, yet the compound – and apparent land claim – remains in Torfyanka Park.

“This is public space. If it were put on the real estate market, it would be extremely expensive. The church typically receives park land from local authorities for free. But it then becomes the property of the ROC,” says Marina Verigina, a local lawyer who gives her services pro bono to the protesters. “Everything they are doing here is against the law.”

She says her own apartment was raided by police two years ago, and her personal computer and papers seized. But they were eventually returned and no charges were ever laid against her or other activists.

A more worrisome development was the appearance of young men belonging to the pro-ROC nationalist-religious movement known as “Forty by Forty,” who threatened protesters with violence.

“These are guys who go to gyms, are soccer hooligans, and they were beating people. [Ms. Fedorova, the deputy,] had a finger broken by them,” says Ms. Verigina. The same group reportedly attacked protesters in Yekaterinburg last month.

“The church seems to want a piece of every park in Moscow, and it really irritates people,” she says. “Church spokespeople accuse us by saying, ‘You are going against the cross.’ But this is not a religious conflict. If they were trying to build a shopping mall here in our park, the conflict would be the same.”

But it could be a sign of nascent political opposition, says Stepan Goncharov, an expert with the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent pollster.

“Conflicts like this don’t have an anti-clerical character, but they do happen against a background of growing public embitterment,” he says. “The ROC is an important institution and one that is closely associated with the state. By protesting in this way, people may be expressing their dissatisfaction with the authorities, with the situation in the country, and the fact that their voices aren’t being heard.”

‘This park is all we have’

Ms. Fedorova says that most of the churches that already exist in this district are empty most of the time. Polls show that around 80% of Russians consider themselves to be Orthodox, but that only 6% go to church regularly.

“We don’t have enough social services, medical clinics, kindergartens. We are constantly told that there is not enough money,” she says. “But another church? Finding land and resources for that never seems to be a problem.”

On that particular Sunday in May, protesters were upset about a news report that the Kremlin will be subsidizing repairs to Patriarch Kirill’s St. Petersburg mansion to the tune of $43 million.

“I am a believer myself, but don’t we have enough churches already?” said Vera Matveyeva, one of the protesters. “A lot of people around here don’t even have their own countryside dachas. This park is all we have.”

Mr. Kipshidze, the church spokesman, says that Russia currently has around 30,000 churches, but a lot of them are in the wrong places for modern usage, and that many Soviet-built suburbs are still underserved.

“Every traditional religious community has the right to accessible premises for worship,” he says. “In many suburban parts of Moscow there is a real need for more churches. Some existing ones are overcrowded. And even for those people who don’t attend church regularly, can we ignore their needs?”

He insists that a great many new churches have already been built on parkland – a fact that can be confirmed by driving around Moscow – and that they are situated tastefully, and seldom take up very much space. “We are sure that a church will only make any park more beautiful.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. ‘Radical hospitality’: Helping those on the streets get a shower

If you live on the street, even personal hygiene can be elusive. This next story is about restoring dignity and confidence with something as simple as water or a haircut.

David
Courtesy of Lava Mae
Doniece Sandoval (l.) poses with a guest. Her organization, Lava Mae, provides showers and toilets to those experiencing homelessness.

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In 2011, Doniece Sandoval noticed that development and growth in her San Francisco neighborhood were taking a toll on some residents.

“I watched as three of our neighbors – all African American men in their 80s – got evicted one by one, were forced to take up residence in their cars until [those] got repossessed, and then wound up on the streets,” she recounts.

It wasn’t long before Ms. Sandoval found a way to help such people. She founded the nonprofit Lava Mae, which offers mobile showers and other basic hygiene services to those experiencing homelessness. In its five years of operation, Lava Mae has provided more than 65,000 showers to 17,000 people in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland.

“They are front-line workers in a war zone,” says Jerry Lints, referring to the Lava Mae team. Mr. Lints, who took part in an email interview facilitated by the nonprofit, has been unhoused for more than 18 months.

For Ms. Sandoval, the concept of dignity is integral to her organization’s work: “I think I have found my purpose, and it is to make people feel valued.”

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‘Radical hospitality’: Helping those on the streets get a shower

Jerry Lints was born in San Antonio, grew up in rural North Carolina, and hitchhiked to San Francisco in 1981. He experienced homelessness in 1982 and 1989, and has been unhoused for more than 18 months.

In each of those experiences, even a basic activity like showering was difficult.

“I could only shower at friends’ [homes] or in a few undermaintained public showers,” he says, explaining that he quickly grew frustrated. He encountered the San Francisco-based nonprofit Lava Mae just over a year ago, and it has transformed his daily life.

“I’ve had more self-esteem, confidence, feelings of unity, support, and family-like love than any prior experience,” he says in an email interview facilitated by the nonprofit.

Mr. Lints is one of many who have benefited from the support of Lava Mae, a nonprofit offering basic hygiene services to those experiencing homelessness. The organization provides mobile showers and other personal-care facilities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland. It also operates Pop-Up Care Villages, which unite dozens of service providers offering everything from haircuts and therapeutic massages to meals and live music.

The inspiration behind Lava Mae is founder and executive director Doniece Sandoval, who is passionate about ensuring that her organization’s work is centered on the concept of dignity and opportunity.

“When you’re unhoused, you live your life in the public eye. You never have a moment of respite and privacy,” says Ms. Sandoval. “If you are a woman or if you are LGBTQ, your [risk] of attack in a shower [is] high, and if you struggle with a disability, it is hard to find a place that accommodates your needs and keeps you safe.”

Lava Mae set out to change that – converting retired public transit buses and using commercial shower trailers to bring basic hygiene services to the streets. From the fluffy white towels to comforting paint colors and skylights, everything is designed to create a warm, welcoming environment.

“The whole idea was to create something that was so beautiful, it spoke to people and said ‘you deserve this,’” Ms. Sandoval says.

To date, Lava Mae – which marks its fifth anniversary in June – has provided more than 65,000 showers to 17,000 unhoused Californians, or “guests,” as they call them. They have also held 32 Pop-Up Care Villages that have reached 7,500 and engaged 83 partner organizations.

Witnessing inequality and acting

Ms. Sandoval traces part of her inspiration for Lava Mae to her childhood, and a volunteer experience with children in a Head Start program.

“I knew that these kids had the odds stacked against them,” she says. “They had dreams to be doctors and lawyers and astronauts. But because of the fact that they lived in abject poverty, the chances of them ever achieving those dreams seemed really difficult.”

Ms. Sandoval went on to a career in marketing, branding, and public relations. And in 2011, she saw the toll that development and growth in her neighborhood took on some residents.

“I watched as three of our neighbors – all African American men in their 80s – got evicted one by one, were forced to take up residence in their cars until [those] got repossessed, and then wound up on the streets,” she recounts. “My daughter was 5, and I couldn’t explain to her why this was happening.”

It wasn’t long before Ms. Sandoval found a way to help unhoused people – especially when she learned that of the estimated 7,500 homeless people in the city at the time, there were only 16 public shower stalls and about as many toilets.

Lava Mae was launched using a pair of retired and retrofitted transit buses, and later evolved to larger shower trailers that could accommodate more shower stalls and were not as dependent on specially licensed drivers. Today the organization has two trailers each in the three cities it serves.

The goal is to provide what Ms. Sandoval terms “radical hospitality,” which she has seen clearly play out between volunteers and guests.

“They saw people, they learned their names, they learned their stories – they created a sense of community,” says Ms. Sandoval. “Radical hospitality says, We see you. You are our neighbor. You have value and we welcome you as warmly as possible.”

Heather Dickison is executive director of the nonprofit Care Through Touch Institute, which partners with Lava Mae and provides therapeutic massages to address the mental and physical ailments affecting unhoused people.

“In a city where waitlists for shelter beds run into the thousands, it is easy for people to lose hope,” Ms. Dickison says in an email interview. “Both of our organizations understand that a shower, a haircut, or a massage are not going to solve homelessness on their own; however, these services help to remind people that there are people in the community who care about them.”

She adds: “Doniece is smart, driven, and determined. She is an excellent networker and an even better fundraiser. ... [S]he has built up quite a nonprofit and came up with an idea that really helped fill a need that was not being met by the city.”

Big solutions for big challenges

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, scores of tourists flocked to iconic sights across the city, including the famed Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero promenade along San Francisco Bay. Under bridges, in wooded areas, on benches, and along sidewalks, a significant number of unhoused men and women could be seen seeking shelter or asking for help from passersby.

Ms. Sandoval acknowledges the challenge up and down the West Coast of the vast number of people experiencing homelessness, and she attributes some of this to the high cost of living. (While some believe that people without homes move to California because of the weather, studies from organizations such as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority have consistently found that the majority of unhoused people previously lived in the same city.)

Lava Mae’s annual budget of $2.4 million is supported entirely by private funding, and Ms. Sandoval prides herself on operating a nimble organization. She is also supporting others interested in replicating the Lava Mae model.

Mr. Lints recalls meeting Ms. Sandoval at various Lava Mae events.

“She’s beautiful by presence with a shining depth in her eyes,” he says. “She focuses on every aspect of what she sees. I’m very loyal to the staff she’s hired for these events as well as the shower staff.”

He sees the Lava Mae team as doing far more than just providing showers.

“They are front-line workers in a war zone. Yet Lava Mae has united a homeless group from many areas of the city,” he says. “To lead this citizenry to self-sufficiency ... is one of the most important movements currently in this country.”

Ms. Sandoval is deeply committed to her work.

“I walk these streets and I see how many people that we have just thrown away, and I cannot fathom that. It physically hurts me,” she says, choking up. “I think I have found my purpose, and it is to make people feel valued, and inject a little bit of optimism into where they are.”

For Ms. Sandoval, it’s about people – Lava Mae’s guests, the staff, and the volunteers they mobilize. And through them, she has learned something powerful.

“We think we have to do something grand to make a difference in the world,” she says. “The truth is, the little things can be hugely transformative – a good morning, a hello, a cup of coffee. We should never miss the chance to embrace the little things and share them with others.”

For more, visit lavamae.org.

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The Monitor's View

The Spanish king who set, then saved, democracy

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With little fanfare, Spain’s king emeritus, Juan Carlos I, retired from public life June 2. Despite past controversies, Juan Carlos must be remembered for his role in ushering in democracy for Spain in the 1970s, a crucial step toward European stability. He then oversaw that democracy and even, at one point, rescued it.

The king’s motto was “The crown must be earned every day.” He lost the crown by that same measure when, after embarrassing political gaffes, he was forced to abdicate in 2014. Despite his fall, he will long be seen as the father of Spain’s third republic. He helped create it, came to represent it, and eventually gave it back to the people. Now, unlike the early, fragile years of Spain’s democracy, the country no longer needs its “people’s king.”

In today’s troubled democracies, when rhetoric seems to be more important than results, the former king’s desire to “earn his crown” – to be evaluated on his merit – is a refreshing approach to power. He was judged by his actions; he accepted judgment based on his actions. How different the world would be if more leaders took the same approach.

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The Spanish king who set, then saved, democracy

With little fanfare and a short farewell letter, Spain’s king emeritus, Juan Carlos I, officially retired from public life June 2. The former monarch, who reigned for 38 years, should not be fading away so quietly.

Despite past controversies, Juan Carlos must be remembered for his role in ushering in democracy for Spain in the 1970s, a crucial step toward European stability. He then oversaw that democracy and even, at one point, rescued it.

When he first took the throne in 1975, politicians expected him to be little more than a historical footnote. He was called “Juan Carlos, el Breve” (Juan Carlos, the Brief). That he would rule so long was a surprise. Spain’s longest and most successful experiment in democracy would have been unthinkable without him.

He started on the path toward kingship as a young pawn in a Spanish game of thrones. A decade after the fascist Generalissimo Francisco Franco seized power in the civil war of the 1930s, Juan Carlos’ father – trying to ingratiate himself with the country’s dictator while the royal family lived in exile – sent the 10-year-old prince back to Spain to complete his education. For almost 20 years, Franco personally supervised the prince’s life. In 1969, he named the prince his successor – immediately ordering a public pledge of loyalty.

Juan Carlos was supposed to be Franco after Franco. But when the dictator died in 1975, Juan Carlos shocked the world by fast-tracking Spain toward democracy – revealing reformist tendencies kept secret during the final years of Franco’s life.

Within five years, the country had a new constitution, judiciary, and democratic legislature, in large part due to the king’s efforts. When a rogue general stormed the parliament in 1981, ostensibly in the name of the king, Juan Carlos ended the attempted coup with definitive support for democracy. He is widely credited with preventing a return to authoritarian rule. A headline in a story by The Christian Science Monitor said it all: “A king who really earns his keep.”

The king’s motto was “The crown must be earned every day.” He lost the crown by that same measure when, after embarrassing political gaffes, he was forced to abdicate in 2014. Despite his fall, he will long be seen as the father of Spain’s third republic. He helped create it, came to represent it, and eventually gave it back to the people. Now, unlike the early, fragile years of Spain’s democracy, the country no longer needs its “people’s king.”

Juan Carlos ended his retirement letter sent last week to his son, King Felipe, with the words “A huge hug from your father.” Many Spaniards, jaded with the monarchy’s recent failures, may question whether he deserves a hug in return. Embraced or not, he at least has earned a place in Spanish history.

In today’s troubled democracies, when rhetoric seems to be more important than results, the former king’s desire to “earn his crown” – to be evaluated on his merit – is a refreshing approach to power. He was judged by his actions; he accepted judgment based on his actions. How different the world would be if more leaders took the same approach.

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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.

Singing for joy

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Inspired by a video of a multinational concert of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” – a piece that’s been played many times as a celebration of humanity’s innate desire for peace, including during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing – today’s contributor explores what it means to truly live Jesus’ command to “Love one another.”

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Singing for joy

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I once watched a YouTube video of a concert with 10,000 people singing Ludwig van Beethoven’s masterful composition “Ode to Joy” from his Symphony No. 9. One viewer noted how universal the quest for peace and joy is, describing the concert as “a Romanian guy presenting in English a German song sung by 10,000 Japanese people on French TV.”

Beethoven’s great praise of joy, whose words were adapted from a poem by German writer Friedrich Schiller, has been sung many times as a celebration of humanity’s high ideals and innate desire for peace. It was played on makeshift loudspeakers during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, performed during German reunification festivities after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and presented at the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.

This recent video of so many folks from so many backgrounds singing about joy and peace struck me as showing the great need for Christ Jesus’ profound command, “Love one another” (John 13:34).

One could say that loving others, as Jesus instructed, is an all-embracing prayer for humanity, one that has a much deeper meaning than just to be generous or compassionate, as important as those qualities are. I’ve learned in Christian Science that it actually rests on the spiritual facts of being: the relation of God to all of us as our divine Parent, and our true nature as the spiritual expression of divine Love, God.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, came to see that there were divine laws behind the biblical command to love. In her key text on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she expands on the spiritual meaning of “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” After quoting the command, she writes: “It should be thoroughly understood that all men have one Mind, one God and Father, one Life, Truth, and Love. Mankind will become perfect in proportion as this fact becomes apparent, war will cease and the true brotherhood of man will be established. Having no other gods, turning to no other but the one perfect Mind to guide him, man is the likeness of God, pure and eternal, having that Mind which was also in Christ” (p. 467).

The spiritual understanding of God as our “one Mind, one God and Father, one Life, Truth, and Love,” equips us to see humanity’s innate brotherhood. This divine unity doesn’t jeopardize our uniqueness. In fact, loving our neighbor as ourselves includes recognizing God’s infinite individuality expressed in infinite variety as man, God’s spiritual image and likeness.

There is great spiritual joy and freedom in seeing the individuality and uniqueness of God’s children as expressing the unity of the one perfect Mind in infinite individual variety, lovingly governed by the one unifying divine force that is God.

Understanding even just a little of this spiritual reality of our existence and individuality begins to antidote any separateness or divisiveness we might be facing. It enables us to embrace each other in love and bring a healing influence to conflicts.

What higher “ode to joy” could there be than to more clearly perceive how divine Love’s attributes are expressed by every individual? Our spiritual love for others brings out this healing vision and sends ripples of blessing into our world.

Adapted from an article published in the May 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

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Viewfinder

Memories of a new beginning

Kacper Pempel/Reuters
People take part in a rally during celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the first free democratic parliamentary election in Poland, at the Old Town in Gdansk, June 4, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 5th, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’ve got an interview with a 96-year-old pilot – a self-described “kid” – whose first combat mission was to Normandy, France, on D-Day, 75 years ago.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 04, 2019
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