2019
June
24
Monday
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Welcome to your Daily. Today we look at Tehran’s perspective on the current standoff, cracks in Turkey’s power structure, a response to media suppression in Eastern Europe, personal decisions about the impact of air travel, and how an old mill town sees its future in … metalsmithing.

First, a check on the seasonal reach to unplug.

Today begins the first full week of Northern Hemisphere summer, the start of the languid days of disconnect for worker bees who are vacation-privileged.

Each year the tension between tech reliance and resistance builds. Never mind work email. It’s practically impossible to dodge the unrelenting time suck of tech, often cloaked as mere efficiency. The purveyors are aggressive: Facebook wants to be your banker. Uber wants to own transportation in every lane. Google seems inclined to surveil, Instagram to stage lives

But, as in physics, reaction mirrors action. Simplicity movements aren’t new. But today come stories of deep analog pushbacks. One Maine family quit petroleum, electricity, and wherever it can, money. Others create worlds of their own on remote islands.

One island-life story shows a microculture really leaning in: A few hundred people off the coast of Norway – a place sunlit around the clock in summer owing to latitude – only half-jokingly take aim at an even more fundamental construct: They’re angling for a time-free zone.

Off the grid? Try off the clock. “All over the world, people are characterized by stress and depression,” an organizer reportedly said. “In many cases this can be linked to the feeling of being trapped by the clock.”

Make sure to put in for some vacation this summer.

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1. US-Iran standoff: Mutual provocations, and moves to de-escalate

It’s a bit counterintuitive. But Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone and the U.S. decision not to retaliate might be giving Iran room to move toward broader easing of tensions.

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Iran is portraying the United States as in retreat after the shooting down of a U.S. drone and President Donald Trump’s decision not to retaliate. But despite high tensions, and today’s move by the U.S. to sanction Iran’s supreme leader and eight commanders, leaders on both sides say they don’t want war. That has raised two questions: Could changing calculations be converted into fresh efforts to de-escalate? And could such changes yield a push for new negotiations?

Signs of restraint have surfaced. Iran says that, when it shot down the drone, it had a U.S. surveillance plane with 35 crew also in its sights, but did not fire. Mr. Trump said he “appreciated” that. This weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered repeatedly to negotiate with “no preconditions.”

The real risk of an unintentional war may be central to the search to de-escalate. Although Iranian forces may be no match for American firepower, their asymmetric tactics could prolong a conflict and disrupt the global economy. That could potentially give Tehran a window. Downing of the drone “has provided an appropriate opportunity for Iran to enter the diplomatic phase,” says one former Iranian official.

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1. US-Iran standoff: Mutual provocations, and moves to de-escalate

Iranian military commanders could hardly contain their glee at shooting down a $130 million American spy drone last Thursday, escalating U.S.-Iran tensions and coming very close to triggering an American retaliatory strike.

And in the aftermath of the shoot-down of the RQ-4A Global Hawk drone – and news that President Donald Trump said he reversed his decision to attack Iran to prevent 150 civilian deaths and avoid a further surge toward war – Iranian officials portrayed the United States as in retreat.

“If they make any [wrong] move, we can hit them in the head with our missiles,” declared Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aerospace forces. “Once the presence of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf was seen as a threat to our country. But today we have turned that challenge into an opportunity; they are now like our target [dart] board.”

Despite Iran’s moment of triumphalism, the U.S.-Iran standoff in the Persian Gulf remains at a perilously tense level. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, an Iran hawk who has often called for military strikes and regime change, warned pointedly against misreading the president’s “prudence and discretion for weakness.”

Yet leaders on both sides say they don’t want a war that could quickly spiral beyond anybody’s control. That has raised two questions: Could changing calculations in the U.S. and Iran be converted into fresh efforts to de-escalate? And could such changes yield a push for new negotiations, especially if Iran now feels it is in a position of greater strength?

For more than a year, Mr. Trump has pursued a campaign of “maximum pressure” aimed at forcing Iran to renegotiate the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from in May 2018 but which is still backed by the European Union, Russia, and China. Until now, Iran has rejected any new talks unless Washington rejoins the nuclear deal.

Flashpoints continue to appear. On Monday, Washington imposed what it called “significant” new sanctions on Iran, which included targeting Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his circle, as well as eight commanders, among others.

U.S. officials say Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif – who negotiated the nuclear deal with top Obama administration officials – is also to be designated later this week. The sanctions add to the host of measures that have crippled Iran’s economy over the past year.

Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP/File
In this 2014 file photo, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei visits an exhibition of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division. The Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. surveillance drone June 20 using the Third of Khordad air defense system pictured here.

For its part, Iran – after taking no action in the year following Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal – is set to violate the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal for the first time this week by enriching uranium beyond agreed volumes.

Yet signs of restraint have also surfaced. Iran has said that, when it shot down the drone on June 20, it also had a nearby U.S. surveillance plane with 35 crew members within its sights, but did not fire. Mr. Trump later said he “appreciated” that decision. This weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered repeatedly to negotiate with “no preconditions.”

“We are near the peak of the crisis,” says Kayhan Barzegar, director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.

“The feeling of threat from the U.S. is not over yet, and Iran is preparing itself for bigger threats resulting from the U.S. economic war: the collapse of the ‘state’ and the polarization of the ‘nation,’” he says, referring to divisions inside Iran. “No one wants war and increased escalation. Yet, using escalation as a means to de-escalate the war situation is something that is currently legitimized in Iran.”

The widespread interpretation inside Iran is that a bullet has been dodged, for now. And while many Iranian commanders and hard-line politicians praise military action alone, some argue that the drone episode also strengthens Iran’s bargaining position.

“Even within the White House, they have departed from the war mood and are moving further toward diplomacy,” said Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a senior reformist lawmaker, though he says renewed talks would require a “more secure environment [and] stronger guarantees this time.”

Carefully calibrated strikes

So far, the U.S.-Iran sparring has taken the form of carefully calibrated, unconventional strikes, such as Iran’s downing of the drone with a surface-to-air missile as well as reported U.S. cyberattacks targeting Iran’s missile systems.

“We can expect to see more of these types of activities in the coming weeks,” says Michael Connell, an Iran specialist at CNA, a research and analysis organization in Arlington, Virginia. But, he adds, “there is a great potential for miscalculation on both sides – that is the real danger.”

Indeed, the very real risk of an unintentional war may be a central factor leading both sides to seek ways to de-escalate.

Although Iranian military forces may be no match for American firepower, their asymmetric tactics could easily prolong an all-out conflict and cause significant disruption to the oil trade and the global economy. That could potentially give Tehran a window of opportunity to resolve the conflict on favorable terms, some military experts say.

Such a scenario doesn’t envision a U.S. military occupation of Iran or regime change, but rather reining in Iran’s offensive capabilities. Eventually, Iran’s “ability to operate in the Gulf would be eliminated. But it would take time, and it would be painful,” says Mr. Connell.

That now appears like a less immediate prospect in Iran, where widespread praise of the IRGC has led to a rally-around-the-flag effect, with even some reformist voices saying Iran now has the upper hand.

“Greetings to my brethren at the IRGC, who once again proved that they won’t allow any aggression on the soil and the sovereignty of this country,” said Elias Hazrati, a reformist lawmaker and newspaper editor.

Downing of the drone “has provided an appropriate opportunity for Iran to enter the diplomatic phase,” said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a reformist former deputy interior minister who spent seven years in prison on political charges. He said Iran can now “express readiness” to “de-escalate tensions,” if the U.S. returns to the nuclear deal.

Still, there are few signs from the top that Iran is ready for talks, and perhaps less incentive now that Mr. Khamenei, the IRGC generals, and Mr. Zarif have been targeted for sanction.

“Iran is determined to show that the U.S. maximum economic pressure policy will not change its strategic decision to resist against U.S. threats,” says Mr. Barzegar, the Tehran analyst.

The “no war, no negotiation” strategy of Mr. Khamenei also aims to increase unity, he says.

“The fact is that the current trend of no negotiation with the U.S. has a lot of legitimacy, as the U.S. disappointed the Iranians’ ambitions for interaction by destroying the nuclear deal and returning to the sanctions.

“The new situation cannot be reversed unless the current stalemate is changed in favor of Iran,” says Mr. Barzegar. “President Trump’s economic war against Iran has left no other choice than resistance for all the Iranian political forces.”

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2. Opposition win in Istanbul weakens Erdogan’s grip

A loss at the mayoral level by Turkey’s ruling party hardly heralds the end of President Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule. What it does mean: The opposition is learning how to win.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Ekrem İmamoğlu (c.), mayoral candidate of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), waves to supporters outside a polling station in Istanbul June 23. Mr. İmamoğlu's win is a blow to the ruling AKP party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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For 25 years, the AKP has run Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. After its candidate lost a close mayoral race in March, the result was annulled. On Sunday, the opposition won again in Istanbul, this time with a margin of victory that could spell trouble for the AKP, which has dominated Turkish politics for two decades. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had warned voters in Istanbul not to support the opposition CHP, which he calls fascists who work with terrorists. His campaign fell on deaf ears: Mayor-Elect Ekrem İmamoğlu increased his share of the vote to 54% in Turkey’s largest city, of which Mr. Erdoğan was previously mayor. The AKP still has the presidency and a majority in parliament, but nine of Turkey’s 10 largest cities are now in opposition hands, a stark reversal of fortune for the Islam-rooted AKP. 

“The days of Erdoğan comfortably winning elections, like a piece of cake, are over. It’s getting much trickier for him,” says Ms. Asli Aydintaşbaş at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

For the CHP, its challenge is to build on the momentum from victory in Istanbul, where nearly 1 in 5 Turks live. The city is a financial prize, too, and one that the AKP was reluctant to surrender. But its campaign showed the limits of the ruling party’s machine and the renewed vigor of Turkey’s opposition. 

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Opposition win in Istanbul weakens Erdogan’s grip

For the true believers of Turkey’s ruling party, the opposition’s victory Sunday in Istanbul mayor’s race was inconceivable.

“It’s impossible, absolutely impossible,” that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) could lose, predicted Ertuğrul, a volunteer at a party kiosk on the eve of the vote.

And yet the AKP did lose control of Turkey’s commercial capital, decisively, in a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that marks the further erosion of power of the Islam-rooted AKP, which has dominated Turkish politics for nearly two decades.

Istanbul’s new mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu – who ruled for 18 days in April, before his victory was annulled – declared that authoritarian rule has been dented in Turkey.

“We are starting a new page in Istanbul. On this new page there will be justice, equality, love,” Mr. İmamoğlu told supporters, as street celebrations erupted across the city. The people of Istanbul, he said, “have refreshed our belief in democracy [and] showed the world that Turkey still protects its democracy.”

Indeed, Mr. İmamoğlu, of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), not only repeated his victory of March 31, when Turkey held national and local elections. He widened the margin of defeat for the AKP from 13,000 votes to some 775,000, in a city that was the launch pad of the AKP’s transformative political movement.

“A lot of folks I know were always wondering whether even their grandkids would ever see the end of the AKP,” said Azize, a Ph.D. student, on election night. “But now, they lost Ankara, Antalya, and today Istanbul,” she said, referring to other opposition-run municipalities. “Now we’re thinking that we might see the AKP fall from power even in our own lifetimes.”

During relentless campaigning this spring, Mr. Erdoğan had cast the elections as one of national “survival,” and said: “If we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey.” Mr. Erdoğan, himself a former mayor of Istanbul, blasted Mr. İmamoğlu as leading “CHP fascists” who worked with “terrorists.”

Days before the vote, Mr. Erdoğan declared, “The worst thing that could happen to Istanbul would be for CHP fascism, which we saw in the Gezi [2013 anti-Erdoğan protests] and many other cases, to once again descend like a nightmare upon the city.”

But on Sunday, the AKP candidate Binali Yildirim – a founder of the AKP, and a former prime minister and speaker of parliament – had to concede defeat in a city that is home to 18% of Turkey’s population and produces 32% of its economic output. Mr. İmamoğlu won 54% of the vote, and Mr. Yildirim 45%.

A ‘formula to win’

“There is no doubt that [the] AKP has hit a glass ceiling and is in decline, in terms of its electoral power,” says Asli Aydıntaşbaş, a Turkey expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“This is mathematically evident that they are in decline. That doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the Erdoğan era,” she says.

“The country is undergoing a recession, and their votes have fallen significantly since 2015 levels,” she says. She notes that the AKP majority in parliament depends on an alliance with an ultra-nationalist party and that splinter groups have formed within the AKP.

Moreover, the opposition, “finally after two decades, understand the formula to win.”

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Supporters of Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayoral candidate of the Republican People's Party (CHP), celebrate in central Istanbul June 23.

That formula included support from disenfranchised ethnic Kurds, who have felt the brunt of the AKP’s military-led crackdown on separatism and militants. Around 15% of Istanbul’s population is Kurdish.

Turkey’s shriveled economy has also been a factor in handing the opposition control of nine of Turkey’s 10 largest metropolitan areas. Mr. Yildirim promised voters in Istanbul a host of financial benefits, from free data roaming for mobile phones to cheaper public transport.

The election result is a “blow to the political prestige of Erdoğan” as well as the AKP, which used Istanbul’s wealth and control of large contracts to finance the spread of its movement, says Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and head of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, a think tank in Istanbul.

“The importance of Istanbul, for any political movement, just cannot be overstated,” says Mr. Ülgen.

“I would see this as a bit of rebalancing of the Turkish political landscape, [because] 65% of Turkey’s GDP would fall under the control of the opposition, in terms of local government,” he says.

But he cautions against “exaggerating the impact” on national politics, since Erdoğan remains at the helm of an all-powerful executive presidency, with elections not due before 2023.

Still, over time the CHP – the party founded a century ago by the secular father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – may use local governance to revitalize its powerbase, as the AKP once did.

It remains to be seen how smart they will be, in translating these increased capabilities into a more effective political strategy,” says Mr. Ülgen.

A party machine sputters

Either way, the loss of Istanbul spells trouble for Mr. Erdoğan, and could deepen the divisions within the AKP.

“The days of Erdoğan comfortably winning elections, like a piece of cake, are over. It’s getting much trickier for him,” says Ms. Aydintaşbaş.

The AKP candidate Mr. Yildirim seemed to indicate as much during a lackluster campaign in which he had every advantage of the AKP political machine, but that machine appeared worn out, and he sometimes appeared reluctant to engage.

He arrived, for example, at Turkey’s first televised debate ­in 22 years just minutes before the three-hour spectacle went live, while his rival was in his seat 40 minutes early.

And before a speech last week, Mr. Yildirim spoke off-camera to a Turkish television journalist setting up her microphones. She asked how he was doing.

“Thanks,” Mr. Yildirim replied, then laughed. “Just don’t forget me after the election.”

A correspondent for the Monitor provided election-day reporting from Istanbul.

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3. How do you challenge the mainstream media? Czech startups are finding out.

Our Paris-based Europe watcher reports on an unsettling concern – that Hungary’s restrictive stance on media might be replicated regionwide. He also finds credible hope in a pushback.

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Andrej Babiš is not just the prime minister of the Czech Republic. He is the country's second-richest man and owner of a media empire. He is thus able to shape much of the coverage his government gets, even as it is beset by scandal. But the monopoly he and a few other oligarchs hold over the Czech media is driving the generation of a new, independent press landscape.

Scraping together launch money from friends and benefactors, working often for a pittance and sometimes from their living rooms, these startup entrepreneurs have created a handful of innovative websites and magazines. Even the most successful are barely breaking even, but their founders say they hold out tentative promise. They are points of light against the generally gloomy background of mounting assaults on press freedom in central and Eastern Europe.

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” says Robert Břešťan, chief editor of HlídacíPes, a startup investigative news website whose name means “Watchdog.” “The cloud is Andrej Babiš, but because of him several very good, free media projects have been launched.”

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How do you challenge the mainstream media? Czech startups are finding out.

An odd thing happened here at the end of April.

On a drizzly Monday afternoon, thousands of anti-government demonstrators marched through the Czech capital’s medieval streets and filled one of its largest squares, protesting against alleged manipulation of the justice system.

The next day’s front page headline in the country’s biggest broadsheet daily? “Big fines for weed-ridden gardens.” News of the demonstration was buried on an inside page, in a brief item. 

Odd, certainly, but not unexpected. The broadsheet in question, Mladá fronta DNES, belongs to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. So do more than 20 other publications, a radio station, and two TV channels.

Mr. Babiš, the second-richest man in the Czech Republic, is not the only billionaire who sees value in owning a media empire. He and three other tycoons own the lion’s share of Czech print publications, popular news websites, and commercial broadcasting operations. One of them, Marek Dospiva, once explained his purchase of a string of regional papers by comparing ownership to a “nuclear briefcase. The fact that we own a media organization makes us safe in the sense that it will be worse for anyone to irrationally attack us,” he said.

As business titans gobbled up the media, public trust in news fell – down to 33% in the Czech Republic, according to this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report. And many professional journalists found themselves on the street – either fired or refusing to work for their new owners.

But some of them have planted the seeds of a new, independent press landscape. Scraping together launch money from friends and benefactors, working often for a pittance and sometimes from their living rooms, these start-up entrepreneurs have created a handful of innovative websites and magazines.

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” says Robert Břešťan, chief editor of HlídacíPes, a start-up investigative news website whose name means “Watchdog.” “The cloud is Andrej Babiš, but because of him several very good, free media projects have been launched.”

They are still fragile: Even the most successful are barely breaking even, but their founders say they hold out tentative promise. They are points of light against the generally gloomy background of mounting assaults on press freedom in Central and Eastern Europe.

Czech magazine with a dash of New Yorker

Robert Čásenský, a fan of The New Yorker, says he founded Reporter as “a magazine for reading.”

He resigned as chief editor of MF DNES soon after Mr. Babiš bought the paper in 2013. “A newspaper owner who also owns 230 companies and a political party is not appropriate for investigative journalism,” Mr. Čásenský says with a smile.

Lucie Smoldasova/Reporter magazine
Robert Čásenský (l.), chief editor of Reporter magazine, consults with editor Michal Musil in the magazine offices.

Today, Reporter is a handsome monthly mixing reportage and investigative articles with cultural coverage and generous photo-spreads. In a nod to Mr. Čásenský’s inspiration, each edition carries a short story. The dozen or so staffers work in a colorful, relaxed newsroom that gives its reporters time to think.

Reporter launched in 2014 with $800,000 in loans from three of Mr. Čásenský’s wealthier friends. Last year it broke even, and this year Mr. Čásenský hopes to start paying his debts. But even with growing sales (the magazine has a print run of 30,000), “finding the last million” Czech crowns in a 22 million crown ($970,000) annual budget “is always a struggle,” he admits.

The magazine relies on advertising for 65% of its revenues, Mr. Čásenský says. He doesn’t get advertisements from any government-linked institution and he didn’t expect any: None of the independent media sees advertising money from the government.

The new crop of independent media “is a good sign. It means we journalists did not give up,” says Mr. Čásenský. “But at least some of us will have to survive at least 10 years to show those who are still working for oligarchs that they don’t have to be part of that.”

Investigating from home

Ten years is further ahead than Mr. Břešťan of HlídacíPes dares to think. “We are really free and really independent, but I cannot assure anyone, least of all myself, that HlídacíPes will still exist in a year’s time,” he says frankly.

Not that the website is throwing its money about. It is put together by five investigative reporters who have no newsroom; they gather for weekly editorial meetings in a café and work from their homes. They are idealists, says Mr. Břešťan. “Good journalism is in the public interest, and we hoped to find enough people and supporters who would think the same.”

They have made a name for themselves with occasional scoops, including the revelation that diamonds and other precious stones in the National Museum’s collection were, in fact, cut glass. And their readership is respectable; stories picked up by the country’s biggest web portal Seznam.cz can reach 50,000 readers, says Mr. Břešťan – not bad in a country of 10 million people.

But when it comes to money, it’s a different story. HlídacíPes launched with funds from businessmen who created a foundation for the purpose, but when the website began running stories about shady Russian companies, benefactors with business in Russia pulled out.

HlídacíPes gets by for the time being on donations from Pavel Baudiš, the Czech founder of anti-virus software firm Avast, and from the national Endowment for Independent Journalism. The site has run some crowdfunding campaigns and asks its readers at the bottom of each article to contribute. But this is not a long-term, sustainable business model, Mr. Břešťan knows. “Our biggest problem,” he says bluntly, “is just to survive.”

Independent journal

The newest kid on the Czech media block is Deník N, an offshoot of the successful venture of the same name in neighboring Slovakia.

The daily paper hit the streets and the website went live last October. The warren of small offices in downtown Prague where 44 staffers sit close-packed behind their computer screens still has a brand-new, bright-white feel.

Adam Hecl/Deník N
Journalists work in the newsroom at Deník N, the newest independent media venture in the Czech Republic.

But the ethos behind the project is “good old-fashioned journalism,” says Magdalena Slezáková, an international news writer. And that seems to have an appeal: A crowdfunding campaign before last year’s launch raised more than $300,000, Ms. Slezáková says, a Czech record.

Deník N (the N stands for nezávislý, which means “independent”) clearly has no sympathy for Mr. Babiš or his government, but Ms. Slezáková insists that it has “no political agenda, just a value system” favoring a Western liberal outlook.

The daily paper, which has just 3,000 subscribers at the moment, publishes a limited number of longer, in-depth articles. “Readers seem to appreciate the added value,” says Ms. Slezáková. Web subscriptions hit 11,000 this month, ahead of the targeted 7,000, she adds. The business plan calls for 20,000 subscriptions eventually.

Deník N, with the luxury of enough start-up funds from a group of local businessmen to hire 45 staffers, can report from the provinces, Ms. Slezáková points out. “If we can’t make it with these very generous conditions,” she says, “probably nobody can make it.”

Activist journalism

Also attracting attention are two unashamedly partisan websites whose opposition to Mr. Babiš shouts from every headline. And with the prime minister embroiled in scandal, they are having a field day. The police have recommended that Mr. Babiš be indicted for fraud and European Union auditors have ruled that he has a conflict of interest that could mean returning millions of euros in EU subsidies.

Dalibor Balšínek boasts that his Echo24 weekly and website were “the first opposition press in the country” when he launched them in March 2014. Mr. Babiš had just been named finance minister. Within a month, Mr. Balšínek says, his offices were raided by tax inspectors.

But what sets Echo24 apart from other newcomers to the media scene is its clearly conservative ideology. Mr. Balšínek espouses a family-values approach and is skeptical about the causes of climate change; he sees that as “a competitive advantage,” he says. “The rest of the media don’t reflect what people see and feel.”

He claims 12,000 subscribers to his website and magazine, which he targets not only at right-wing professionals, but at “anybody who thinks it’s important for society that this voice be heard in the market, even if it is not very modern or fashionable.”

At the other end of the political spectrum is Forum24, an often shrill platform for criticism of Mr. Babiš and all his works.

Its founder, Pavel Šafr, another former chief editor of MF DNES, has no qualms about being called an activist journalist, as some of his critics have branded him. “A journalist is an activist in a good way when he defends society against the misuse of power,” he argues. “And the opposite of activist is passivist. We cannot be passive in this situation.”

Mr. Šafr says his website attracts a million unique visitors a month and that he is breaking even with revenues from magazine subscriptions, a pay wall on the website, advertisements channeled to the site by Seznam.cz, and crowdfunding drives.

Many Czech journalists regret that Forum24 appears to be obsessed with Mr. Babiš to the exclusion of almost every other topic. Mr. Šafr rejects the criticism. “Babiš has so much power that he is everywhere,” he says. “We are just reacting to that.”

Whether Forum24 will outlive Mr. Babiš is unclear. Whether any of the new crop of independent media can carve out a sustainable niche is equally uncertain. “We have a number of new projects that are promising,” says Michal Klíma, head of the Czech chapter of the International Press Institute. “But it is hard to see how to make them profitable.”

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Climate realities

An occasional series

4. ‘Fly less’ movement: Can forgoing flights help save the planet?

Those looking to shrink their carbon footprints must confront the adverse effect of air travel. But making the shift to other forms of travel isn’t just economic and logistical – it’s psychological too.

Hyungwon Kang/Reuters/File
An Air Canada flight approaches Toronto Pearson International Airport as the sun rises over the city of Toronto.

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Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist, carried out a personal carbon audit in 2010 after getting increasingly anxious about what he calls climate breakdown. He logged 50,000 miles that year, mostly attending conferences. He realized flying accounted for 75% of the emissions he was responsible for. Two years later, he took the last flight he’s taken ever since.

Like most who have pledged to fly less, he knows his abstention alone won’t do much. But he is part of a movement that is trying to develop a different type of relationship to flying by shifting behaviors and norms, whether that’s institutions opting for more teleconferencing or individuals more mindfully vacationing or visiting friends.

Flying is responsible for at least 2% of man-made global greenhouse gas emissions, and among personal transport options, it is the least efficient. The airline industry has tried to green itself, but with sustainable options often expensive to maintain or in nascent stages of development, it still relies mostly on carbon offsets. But critics say offsets support the fossil fuel status quo.

“Maybe we should feel more grateful about our ability to travel,” Dr. Kalmus says, “and see travel as something very precious and be willing to go more slowly.”

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‘Fly less’ movement: Can forgoing flights help save the planet?

Cheap airfare and package deals make the possibilities of summer travel boundless, but Ana Simeon has an easier time narrowing down her options. She and her husband will stay at home in British Columbia, choosing among the local lakes, mountains, oceans, rivers, and forests for their vacation.

It’s a question of neither money nor time. Ms. Simeon has joined the burgeoning “fly less” movement, making an intentional choice to vacation closer to home and avoid polluting air travel whenever she can. “We don’t need to go farther,” she says.

Ms. Simeon is interested in other cultures and languages, having been born in Croatia and having traveled all across Europe by train as a youth. But she weighs that against the changes she sees around her. From her vantage on Vancouver Island, the most disconcerting is the increasing intensity of mainland wildfires which bring a blanket of smoke to her backyard each summer. “I can see we may have to give up something to preserve livability.”

Like most who have pledged to fly less, she knows her abstention alone won’t do much, that the flight she would have taken will still depart whether her seat is filled or not. But in modeling a different type of relationship to flying, the movement aims to shift behaviors and norms, whether that’s institutions opting for more teleconferencing or individuals more mindfully vacationing or visiting friends. Like the “slow food” movement before it, this newest trend is all about “slow moving.”

“Maybe we should feel more grateful about our ability to travel,” says Peter Kalmus, a California-based climate scientist who began the campaign No Fly Climate Sci, “and see travel as something very precious and be willing to go more slowly.”

‘I didn’t belong in an airplane’

Flying is responsible for at least 2% of man-made global greenhouse gas emissions, but among personal transport options, depending on how packed a car is or how long a route is, it is often the least efficient.

The airline industry has tried to green itself, but with sustainable options often expensive to maintain or in nascent stages of development, aviation relies primarily on carbon offsets. Yet many critics say offsets simply support the fossil fuel status quo, says Dr. Kalmus, who authored “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution.”

Dr. Kalmus carried out a personal carbon audit in 2010 after getting increasingly anxious about what he calls climate breakdown. As a budding academic at the time, he logged 50,000 miles that year, mostly attending conferences. He realized flying accounted for 75%  of the emissions he was responsible for.

Two years later he remembers buckling in for a flight to yet another conference when a wave overcame him. “I had a really strong visceral feeling I didn’t belong in an airplane,” he says. He hasn’t taken a flight since.

His campaign has drawn many academics, including Toby Spribille, a scientist at the University of Alberta, who has since 2017 reduced his flights by 90%. A conference on conservation held in Hawaii in 2016 was a turning point for him – in which those who should be on the front lines of change were seemingly indifferent to their carbon footprint. Today he insists on video conferencing wherever he can, even if that could hurt his tenure track, and even though he misses the personal interactions.

“I’m one of these people of our time who loves traveling. I’ve been to many countries, and I love it,” he says. “But I have the feeling that the way things are going, with this entitlement and this privilege to fly anywhere, anytime and it’s getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper, that some day our children are going to look back at this the way we now look at films in which people are smoking cigarettes on airplanes … and [say] ‘look at how frivolously we flew back then, we got on an airplane and gave no heed to the collective impact.’”

Flygskam and sacrifice

For now the airplane remains a strong status symbol. It’s a sign of career advancement and of social privilege, where Facebooking and Instagramming faraway vacations is the norm.

But consciousness around flying has grown in 2019, thanks in large part to Greta Thunberg, the teen activist from Sweden who has led global student protests this year and become an icon of a new generation of environmentalism. Her recent railway journey across Europe has highlighted a new word that’s found its way into the Swedish lexicon, flygskam, which means “flight shame.”

The sentiment is driving many disparate movements, like a European one called Back-on-Track, which seeks a return of cross-border night train service, which has been cut in Europe as budget airlines have grown. In 2015 when Back-on-Track started, says Poul Kattler, a member from Denmark, it was split between environmentalists and those like himself who simply wanted what he calls a more “civilized” mode of transport. He got involved because the night train he booked several times a summer from Copenhagen to Basel was discontinued. “But since then I’ve been mobilized,” he says.

It’s much easier for Europeans to give up flying since rail service is robust and distances are much shorter than those in the U.S. or Canada. It’s especially hard for families who live on different continents. Ms. Simeon compromises by visiting her family every two years, spending more time on each visit than if she went annually. Mr. Spribille is leaving in two weeks for Germany, where he has family, but tries to consolidate academic work and vacation into one transatlantic journey a year – not the four he counted in one particularly bad year.

Dr. Kalmus says such decisions entail sacrifice. He forwent a trip that his wife Sharon took with their two young boys to Paris – a seminal moment in their lives that he admits he was sad to miss.

He says if he could have sailed to Europe, he would have. He would have stayed longer, learned more about the language and culture of the place he was visiting, and then sailed home.

He doesn’t see this as backward looking, but an opportunity to frame the movement as one that could enrich lives – and that one day could even enrich travel itself. For him, flying less doesn’t mean limiting oneself. “Without planes,” he contends, “our international experiences could be better than they are now.”

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5. How metalsmith revival is forging better future for a steel town

Old skills have been experiencing a renaissance. Our last story looks at a community that believes retrofitting an old mill – once its economic heart – can help power a new future.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Patrick Quinn (l.), executive director of the Center for Metal Arts, and Dan Neville, associate director, work together to forge a flatter hammer on April 25 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

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This is a city that wasn’t going to give up.

“Johnstown’s history is its future,” says Richard Burkert, president of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

In 1973, Bethlehem Steel employed 11,800 workers here. By 1982, that number had dropped to 2,100. In 1992, the company locked the doors and walked away, abandoning the mill and sending the local economy into a tailspin.

Business leaders and government officials looked at the abandoned mill as a prime opportunity, one that could help move the city forward. Steel companies had been tearing down mills across the country and selling off the metal for scrap. But that couldn’t happen here: This is the only American steel mill designated a National Historic Landmark. It still houses the original 10-ton air hammers, one of them owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

Enter the Center for Metal Arts, which draws students from across the country to learn metalsmithing. The school has become part of a nascent economic revival, one driven largely by young people making the most of the affordable real estate that allows them to start small businesses.

Director Patrick Quinn says he was blown away to discover the steel mill was available. “I would have moved to the end of the earth for this space.”

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How metalsmith revival is forging better future for a steel town

Standing in the middle of a 19th-century blacksmith shop, part of what was once a bustling steel mill in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Patrick Quinn is in awe.

“I would have moved to the end of the earth for this space,” he says.

Mr. Quinn points to the soaring octagonal ceiling and the red-brick archways that testify to the architectural heritage of this industrial building. The structure, which had stood vacant since 1992 when the mill closed, is now home to the Center for Metal Arts (CMA), a metalsmithing school. 

CMA draws students from across the country to take classes taught by a roster of visiting instructors as well as by Mr. Quinn, the center’s executive director, and Dan Neville, the associate director. They join other creative young entrepreneurs in building on local history as part of an emerging economic revitalization in this former steel mill town.

Metalsmithing, Mr. Quinn says, is experiencing a resurgence. CMA students include men and women, weekend hobbyists as well as career craftspeople. Working in a space constructed for the blacksmiths who fashioned wrought iron and steel into parts for the mill, the students handle a variety of metals and might produce kitchen tools or perhaps large-scale sculpture.

Anna Koplik carefully removes a piece of glowing steel from a forge and begins to shape it with a hammer. She was studying jewelrymaking at Pratt Institute in New York when she realized that she really loved blacksmithing. CMA offered her a six-month internship, prompting her to leave New York for Johnstown. She’s one of two current interns, who are given housing, training, and access to the shop for their own work.  

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Intern Anna Koplik hammers a tool. She was studying jewelry making in New York when she realized that blacksmithing was more to her liking.

“We’re teaching real-world skills, though some students may use them in nontraditional ways,” says Nick Anger, a visiting instructor. Renowned for his handcrafted chef’s knives, Mr. Anger is keenly aware that the tools he uses and the techniques he teaches are the same ones honed in pre-industrial America.

Linking back to steel’s history

A connection to the past resonates with many at CMA. This facility, after all, is part of the history on which they have built their careers. The only American steel mill designated a National Historic Landmark, it still houses the original 10-ton air hammers, one of them owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

When the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority (JRA) posted photos of the air hammers on the internet, word spread quickly. As part of a small, tightknit community, metalsmiths rely on social media to make connections, familiarize themselves with one another’s work, and share resources, Mr. Quinn says. He was blown away to discover the shop was available. For three years, he and Mr. Neville had been operating CMA in upstate New York. The school, which has been in operation since 2003, had outgrown its existing facility but efforts to expand in its former location were not economically feasible.

The move to Johnstown has exceeded their hopes. The center leases the space from the JRA, an urban renewal entity that owns the cluster of historical buildings. A grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, a regional philanthropic organization, paid the moving expenses.

“We welcomed them with open arms,” says Melissa Komar, executive director of JRA. Ms. Komar, a Johnstown resident who describes herself as “born and raised and chose to stay,” has been involved in the effort to draw new business to the economically depressed area.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The Center for Metal Arts operates out of part of the historic Cambria Iron Works, which later became Bethlehem Steel. The company closed the mill complex in 1992.

Many young people have left the once-thriving steel town. As opportunities waned and Johnstown struggled to attract new businesses, the population slipped along with the economy. 

The trend reflects a reversal of the town’s history. Immigrants had started arriving in the 1870s, and by the early 1900s, they had moved to the area in droves, finding steady employment in the mill. By 1920, Johnstown’s population exceeded 67,000 residents. Steel production peaked in the building boom that followed World War II. But by the 1970s, the steel industry was beginning its long slide, and the town’s population declined steadily in the decades since. By 2017, Johnstown was home to just over 19,000 residents. 

As Mike Kane, president of the Community Foundation, explains, some of that decline is due to people moving to the nearby suburbs and neighboring communities. But he says it also reflects the impact on the community of losing what was once its primary employer.

In 1973, Bethlehem Steel had employed 11,800 workers for its Johnstown plant. By 1982, that number had dropped to 2,100. In 1992, the company locked the doors and walked away, abandoning the mill and sending the local economy into a tailspin. Last September, the online news outlet 24/7 Wall St. named Johnstown “the poorest city in Pennsylvania.” 

But this is a city that wasn’t going to give up. 

Capitalizing on Johnstown’s assets

“Johnstown’s history is its future,” says Richard Burkert, president of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

Many of the same features that drew people to the area a hundred years ago – a strong sense of community, scenic waterways for transportation and recreation, affordability – are enticing a new generation. Chief among these might be opportunity.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
An overview of the city is seen from the top of the Johnstown Inclined Plane, possibly the steepest funicular in the world. The city’s economic decline paralleled that of the American steel industry, which was the largest employer in the area.

Business leaders and government officials looked upon the abandoned mill as a prime opportunity, one that could help move the city forward. While steel companies had been tearing down mills across the country and selling off the metal for scrap, that couldn’t happen in Johnstown. Its landmark status prohibited such destruction.

Instead, the JRA assumed ownership. After addressing environmental issues, the authority first sought to return the structure to commercial use. When that plan did not work, they searched for alternatives – and found the guys from the Center for Metal Arts.

The school has become part of a nascent economic revival, one driven largely by young people making the most of the affordable real estate that allows them to start small businesses.

As a result, longtime business owners are benefiting from the increased foot traffic around town. These new ventures are changing the town in other ways as young artisans and creative entrepreneurs settle in an area that many characterize as “Trump country.”

Mr. Quinn, a self-professed liberal, says he once wondered if he could live comfortably in a community where bumper stickers supporting gun rights or the current president are common sights. He admits he does not share these perspectives. But he does have a passion for his craft and feels a strong connection to the history of the area. That is something he shares with many residents and it has been enough to make the arrangement work.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Sparks fly as intern Anna Koplik forges a tool that will be used by students at the Center for Metal Arts.

The school welcomes anyone with an interest in metalsmithing regardless of political persuasion, gender, or race. For safety reasons students must be over the age of 16 to enroll.

Back at the shop, Mr. Anger demonstrates the art of producing Damascus steel, a technique that traces back to the third century. Standing at a table salvaged from the old steel mill, he selects and arranges the thin layers of metal that he will then forge in a nearby furnace. He explains that the steel’s strength and ability to hold a sharp edge makes it ideal for chef’s knives.

Mr. Anger emphasizes that all of the work produced at CMA requires care and attention to detail, qualities vital to producing a good product. “We’re not just whacking at metal here,” he says.

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The Monitor's View

A candle of civility lit in Turkey’s election

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In normal times, the election of a mayor in Istanbul would not be a point of inspiration. Yet in Turkey – like in many democracies descending toward dictatorship – these are not normal times. Sunday’s election of a new mayor in Turkey’s largest city did indeed prove to be a light unto the world.

The winner, Ekrem İmamoğlu, not only defeated the candidate of the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but he also did so by countering the kind of incivility that can mark a democracy’s decline.

Mr. İmamoğlu also offered this advice to other countries going “down the road” of political suppression: “It is no road at all.” Not surprisingly, he won votes across Turkey’s political spectrum.

In Turkey, Mr. İmamoğlu’s campaign style lit up the political landscape. He asked the world to take note. If he can now rule over Istanbul’s 16 million residents the way he campaigned, we should all face the light.

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A candle of civility lit in Turkey’s election

In normal times, the election of a mayor in Istanbul would not be a point of inspiration. Yet with Turkey, which, like many democracies descending toward dictatorship, these are not normal times. Sunday’s election of a new mayor in Turkey’s largest city did indeed prove to be a light unto the world.

The winner, Ekrem İmamoğlu, not only defeated the candidate of the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but he also did so by countering the kind of incivility that can mark a democracy’s decline.

He kept smiling amid the many smears thrown at him (e.g., “terrorist”) by the ruling Justice and Development Party. Rather than hold a grudge, Mr. İmamoğlu embraced his opponents, even meeting with the president to discuss Turkey’s future. In a signal of tranquillity, he adopted the slogan “Everything is going to be just fine.”

His tactics stood out against the harsh politics and increasingly authoritarian rule in Turkey. “If the mayor isn’t genial, then the citizen isn’t either,” he said. “Even a single person being slighted or offended will sadden me.”

In his victory speech, he told Mr. Erdoğan that he is ready “to work with you in harmony” – even though the president had arranged to annul Mr. İmamoğlu’s first election win in March. He said his victory in the June 23 rerun election turned a new page toward “justice, equality, love” and away from corruption and nepotism.

Mr. İmamoğlu also offered this advice to other countries going “down the road” of political suppression: “It is no road at all.” Not surprisingly, he won votes across Turkey’s political spectrum.

In the United States, his approach is similar to that of presidential candidate Joe Biden, who pledges never to demonize opponents. After Mr. Biden recently noted his ability to work with segregationist senators in past decades, he was criticized by fellow Democrats. In Mr. Biden’s defense, the country’s most prominent black politician, Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, offered this:

“During the height of the civil rights movement, we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan – people who opposed us, even people who beat us and arrested us and jailed us. We never gave up on our fellow human beings, and I will not give up on any human being.”

The idea that another person can teach us something – no matter how much we dislike the person’s views or behavior – is the heart of civility. In the new book “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump,” scholar Peter Wehner explains why respect remains critical in a democracy: “Undergirding this belief for many of us is the conviction that we’re all image-bearers of God – ‘a work of divine art’ in the words of theologian Richard Mouw – which demands that we respect human dignity.”

At a time when 87% of Americans think political polarization is “threatening” the American way of life, there is a hunger for politicians who can lead by example. For Mr. Wehner, the task “is not simply to curse the political darkness but to light candles.”

In Turkey, Mr. İmamoğlu’s campaign style lit up the political landscape. He asked the world to take note. If he can now rule over Istanbul’s 16 million residents the way he campaigned, we should all face the light.

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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.

The demand for change

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Adjusting to change in today’s fast-paced world can be overwhelming. But there’s a timeless message in the Bible that offers an effective remedy, enabling us to adapt more naturally and rapidly.

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The demand for change

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History has shown the human mind to be riddled with contradictions: It wants change for the better – quicker, more convenient, less restrictive. Yet when changes come, it can be defiantly resistant; it can yearn for things to slow down, to not change the status quo, and especially to not change its way of thinking. What often happens is a clash of wills between individuals, society and industry, races and cultures, and nations.

For instance, while information, products, and communication have become instantly available for people today, the wisdom to deal with all of this is not so rapidly attained. And with that has come a proliferation of stress, a coming to the surface of previously hidden intolerance and hate, a rise in extremism, and a disturbing increase of mental illness and suicide.

All this can seem pretty bleak, but there’s a spiritual approach to life that I’m finding invaluable in dealing with these changes. Amazingly enough, it’s the timeless message of the Bible that holds the effective remedy for us in this fast-paced world. It reveals the unchanging nature of God as divine Truth, Life, and Love, and reveals that God has created us as His spiritual reflection, giving us the unlimited wisdom and ability we need each day. As we embrace this message openheartedly, one effect can be a shift in consciousness that enables us to adjust more naturally and rapidly to change.

Sometimes, though, we can feel resistant to change, but the Bible helps us with this, too. For example, the physical healings Christ Jesus performed and the regeneration of character he brought about awakened hope for many, but also resistance. Nicodemus, a religious leader at that time, was farsighted enough to explore beyond the resistance (see John 3:1-21). He recognized that Jesus could do the “miracles” he performed only because God was with him. So he sought Jesus in private one night to learn more of the power that brings such change.

Jesus told him he would have to be reborn. Nicodemus was puzzled by that, but Jesus was drawing his attention to the idea of being “reborn” of the Holy Spirit – made newly conscious of a spiritual sense of our existence. This regenerates and inspires us to live a spiritual life that glorifies God.

It’s no different today, and it is perhaps even more urgent than it was in Jesus’ time for us to yield to a spiritual rebirth. Through prayer, scriptural study, self-examination, and a deep love for God, we can truly experience a spiritual shift in thought that brings stability, health, and the ability to adjust to rapid changes in society without losing anything essential.

Christian Science clarified this for me as I learned more of God’s true nature, and of ours as God’s spiritual likeness. It’s therefore natural for our thought to open to new vistas of possibility. One breakthrough came for me when I realized that being a painfully slow reader since early childhood could not truly impede my progress, because God has given each of us unlimited abilities for our discovery and use. This teaching opened up a whole new path of learning and achievement for me that has given me many unsought opportunities to serve others – and to make whatever adjustments are required to move with these modern times.

As the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, explains, “The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind” (p. 162). This “change of base” takes us from identifying ourselves as confined by material conditions to the realization that we live in God, limitless Spirit. Yielding to God means yielding to the unlimited goodness, wisdom, and ability He has abundantly provided to all.

The effect of being stirred to this change from matter-based thinking to Spirit-based thinking is a loss of fear – of the unknown, of people who are different from us, and much more. It brings divine grace and harmony even when changes around us are swift or unexpected.

As you and I are willing to be reborn spiritually, God will tenderly guide us into the grace and wisdom to adjust to new ways of living.

Adapted from an editorial published in the June 17, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

White nights, Scarlet sails

Anton Vaganov/Reuters
Fireworks explode over the Brig Rossiya (Russia) as it floats on the Neva River during Scarlet Sails festivities in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 24. The city is famous for its midsummer celebrations during white nights, when the night skies never reach complete darkness. Scarlet Sails is officially a high school graduation celebration, but it’s been adopted by the whole city, with an estimated 1.4 million people attending this year.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( June 25th, 2019 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Come back tomorrow. We’ll be taking a look at how some oyster farmers now use kelp to fight ocean acidification, which has been taking a toll on marine life. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 24, 2019
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