Monitor Daily Podcast

June 26, 2019
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Wayfair walkout: When do sales decisions become an employee concern?

Welcome. In today’s edition, some stories you won’t want to miss: The “electability” debate behind the Democratic debates; the question of allegation fatigue on sexual assault; tourists and safety in the Dominican Republic; progress on child mortality; and a reporter’s encounter with a famous, and receding, glacier.

First, a noteworthy happening in the Monitor’s backyard today. 

The border crisis just got personal for some office workers who live very far from Texas. Many employees of the online retailer Wayfair walked off the job to protest in Boston’s Copley Square, saying the company shouldn’t be selling beds for use in border detention facilities. 

It may sound counterintuitive: Aren’t mattresses better than concrete floors? But news of Wayfair’s sale landed just as humanitarian concern for those detained – notably children – have flared anew nationwide. Candice Woodson, a Boston worker who came out to show solidarity with the Wayfair walkout, put it this way to Monitor reporter Thomas Shults: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.”

“I don’t support companies profiting off the incarceration of children, so I came out here,” another Boston protester told our reporter Danny Jin.

The company has stood by what it says is its standard practice: selling legal goods to legal customers (in this case a nonprofit that contracted with the U.S. government to house detained children). It’s a complex situation. Beds aren’t barbed wire, for one thing. But today’s drama is an example of a growing debate about the role corporations should play on questions of societal or political values. We’re planning a deeper dive on that later this week.  

Meanwhile, we’ll also keep watching the other aspects of border and immigration policy, such as congressional funding and the instability in Central America, that lie at the root of recent migration.

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Why Democrats can’t break out of the ‘electability’ box

As Democratic candidates prepare for their first debate, the race is being framed once again around electability, a self-perpetuating concept that’s both reflective of – and has a direct impact on – their standing in polls. 

Mike Segar/Reuters
An empty stage awaits the first 10 of 20 Democratic candidates who are set to debate over the course of two nights at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center in Miami June 26.

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Who can beat President Donald Trump? It’s a question endlessly asked by news outlets and pundits. Most Democratic voters say they would choose the candidate with the best shot at beating the president over the candidate who most mirrors their policy preferences. As the first debates of the campaign get underway tonight, it’s likely each of the 20 Democrats will make a case for why they are the most “electable.”

Yet this focus on electability implies that polls are predictors of outcomes, rather than what they actually are: snapshots in time.

Right now, polls show former Vice President Joe Biden running ahead of Mr. Trump, including by big margins in key states like Michigan and Florida. That works to reinforce Mr. Biden’s standing as the Democratic front-runner and keeps the media spotlight on him – which elevates him more. 

“We see that Joe Biden would run about two or three points better than Elizabeth Warren would against Trump, and assume that’s a hard fact,” says Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver. “But that position is driven by a lot of factors, especially name recognition. [And] some of that can be overcome over the course of a campaign.”


Why Democrats can’t break out of the ‘electability’ box

Who can beat President Donald Trump?

It’s a question endlessly asked by news outlets and analyzed by pundits. Democratic voters themselves, by a wide margin, say they would choose the candidate with the best shot at beating the president over the candidate who most mirrors their policy preferences.

As the first Democratic debates of the 2020 campaign get underway tonight and tomorrow, it’s likely each of the 20 candidates onstage will make a case for why they are the most “electable.”

Yet this focus on electability is problematic, political observers say, especially this far out in the race. The term implies that polls are predictors of outcomes, rather than what they actually are: snapshots in time. Indeed, that same predictive view of polling – and media coverage that was largely framed by it – set the stage for the shock of Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016.

More than two years later, however, the same feedback loop persists. Right now, polls place former Vice President Joe Biden at the front of the pack. Since he’s also running ahead of Mr. Trump – including by big margins in key states like Michigan and Florida – most Democratic voters see him as having the best chance of beating the president. That perception works to reinforce Mr. Biden’s standing as the Democratic front-runner. And as a result, the media keep the spotlight on him, which elevates him even more. 

According to a report in Axios, there have been 63,000 news articles about Mr. Biden over the past 10 weeks – far more than any other Democratic candidate (Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is next, with 27,000). And articles about the former vice president have generated the most social media interactions, such as likes, comments, and shares. 

Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan calls it “a self-perpetuating effect.” Candidates who lead in the polls tend to be seen and portrayed as more formidable – which makes them more likely to continue to lead in the polls.

“We see that Joe Biden would run about two or three points better than Elizabeth Warren would against Trump, and assume that’s a hard fact,” says Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. “But that position is driven by a lot of factors, especially name recognition. [And] some of that can be overcome over the course of a campaign.”

Consider: A survey by the Democratic digital firm Avalanche found that if the primary were held today, most voters say they would pick Mr. Biden as the nominee. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren a close third. But when asked whom they would nominate if that candidate would automatically become president, Senator Warren came in first. 

The 20 Democratic presidential candidates who will participate in the party's first debates in Miami (left to right, top row): Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; (left to right, middle row) former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; (left to right, bottom row) entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Eric Swalwell of California, author Marianne Williamson, and former Reps. John Delaney of Maryland, and Beto O'Rourke of Texas.

This was supposed to be a key takeaway from 2016: Focusing on who is electable – or the equally problematic category, “likable” – is shot through with implicit biases. It’s essentially encouraging voters to judge which candidate they think other voters might like best, instead of the one they like best. And those judgments can be shaped not only by polls but by assumptions about gender, race, and other stereotypes.  

“When your model for election coverage is the horse race and you get the horse race wrong, it’s bigger than just a missed call because you’ve based your entire coverage on who’s ahead, who’s going to win, what’s likely to happen,” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen told Vox’s Peter Kafka in January. “This should be a time when people in the political press are searching for all kinds of alternatives to the horse race.”

Mr. Rosen has suggested a “citizens’ agenda” approach that asks voters what they want candidates to be talking about and shapes media coverage based on those answers. Buzzfeed News Editor Ben Smith, in an August 2018 op-ed, ticked off a few other alternatives, like focusing on movement politics, or the policy differences between candidates, or the power struggles within parties. 

Dan Kanninen, a former Obama and Clinton campaign operative who now heads the Democratic communications firm STG, says digging into the values that candidates represent is another way of reframing political coverage. “We should be asking what campaigns are doing at their core,” Mr. Kanninen says. “Is this a campaign to get people to care about a cause? What is the vision? Who is doing that effectively?” 

That’s one standard for gauging candidates’ performances, particularly on the debate stage. The debates, after all, are held so that voters across the country can see how well candidates articulate their message and make the case that they deserve the nomination (or at least deserve to make it to the next debate).

“This is the first real chance for people who are not being seriously considered to break into discussion,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Post-debate polls “will help us understand whether or not a candidate has done that. That’s the best use for these debates.” 

That’s almost all it makes sense to look for right now, with so many candidates – 20 contenders, spread out over two nights – competing for such limited time, Mr. Miringoff says. 

Of course, there will be other debates, and endless campaign coverage, still to come. The charge for voters, and the media, is to look beyond electability.

“This is the most consequential decision a party makes: whom it nominates for president,” Professor Masket says.

As the campaign goes on and the field begins to winnow, it’s likely the media won’t focus quite as heavily on Mr. Biden and the polls, he adds. “Everyone who’s serious, when we get down to 8 or 10 candidates, will get to make their case. The cycle works that way,” he says. “But at the moment, it’s very tough.”

E. Jean Carroll: She said, he said, and how media weighs balance

In the #MeToo era, editors must be extremely cautious in handling sexual assault accusations. But allegation fatigue should not cause news outlets – or other institutions – to pass over credible new charges.


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Why didn’t E. Jean Carroll make more front pages?

Last week the Elle magazine columnist accused President Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her in a department store dressing room 23 years ago. Now critics and many journalists are openly questioning why this news didn’t get bigger play in The New York Times and other major media outlets.

President Trump denies the charges. He says Ms. Carroll is just trying to promote her latest book.

Media ethicists say that it’s essential for editors to approach such stories carefully. They need to weigh evidence and check things out. The New York Times, for instance, tried to find corroborating evidence for the charges. Beyond two friends Ms. Carroll says she told at the time, they haven’t yet.

But Times executive editor Dean Baquet now says they should have played the story bigger. Ms. Carroll is a respected public figure. And she is publicly accusing a sitting chief executive of the United States.

With President Trump, a fatigue factor may be at work. Ms. Carroll is the 22nd woman to accuse him of sexual assault or misconduct. He talked crudely of grabbing women on the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

But in general, on sexual assault matters, it is the women whose claims are scrutinized ad nauseam, says Lauren Wright, a lecturer in public affairs at Princeton University.

“The baseline is that we do not believe women,” says Dr. Wright. “And that has been the case going back to the beginning of time.”


E. Jean Carroll: She said, he said, and how media weighs balance

Craig Ruttle/AP
E. Jean Carroll is photographed June 23 in New York. Carroll, a New York-based advice columnist, claims Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. Trump denies knowing Carroll.

Last Friday, when the writer and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll accused President Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan 23 years ago, few of the nation’s major media outlets treated it as bombshell news.

Just a few days later, however, many journalists and critics have begun to wonder why. The president immediately denied what would  have been an explosive, news-dominating allegation, and he quickly attacked the well-known author’s credibility, suggesting her possible ulterior motives.

Ms. Carroll leveled her accusations, after all, in an excerpt taken from her fifth book, and published Friday in New York Magazine – a little more than a week before her book’s scheduled release. “Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda,” President Trump said. 

The columnist’s accusation and the president’s denial were all but absent in this weekend’s headlines and Sunday morning roundtables, and many media watchers decried the fact that this latest allegation barely caused a stir.

Yet when it comes to discerning the credibility of those who allege sexual assault, many media ethicists and journalists say, it is actually essential that news outlets react in a sober-minded and particularly careful way.  

“I do think that in the MeToo era, news outlets have had to be extremely cautious and extremely meticulous about what they publish,” says Lauren Wright, lecturer in politics and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey, and a frequent political analyst on Fox News, CNN, and other news outlets. “They do check it out, they do figure it out, and they do have that due diligence process, and that sometimes takes a few days.”

The reporting of The New York Times and other outlets, in fact, helped give voice to the many women who were sexually harassed and assaulted by Hollywood moguls like Harvey Weinstein as well as Fox News titans Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes.

Still, critics singled out the particular dearth of coverage in this weekend’s editions of the Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigations of what became the #MeToo movement. On Monday, the publication’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, admitted that “we were overly cautious” in their handling of Ms. Carroll’s allegations against the president. 

But Mr. Baquet also provided insight into the guidelines the paper employs when trying to assess the credibility of an accuser. These include locating sources other than those mentioned by the accusers who are willing to corroborate their allegations on the record. In this story, Mr. Baquet said, The Times could not find any independent sources beyond the two friends Ms. Carroll cited in her book, or any other additional corroborating evidence. 

Nevertheless, given that a respected public figure like Ms. Carroll, whose advice column “Ask E. Jean” has appeared in Elle magazine since 1993, was making a public allegation against a sitting president “should’ve compelled us to play it bigger,” he said.

“But the history of coverage of sexual assault in America’s media has always been one of extreme caution, and that is driven by a sense of fairness,” says Ken Paulson, former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY and now the director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “It’s an allegation that, once unveiled, never gets put away.”

And all things being equal, Mr. Paulson suggests, President Trump’s questions about the credibility of his accuser and her possible motives are usually valid concerns. 

“If you take the same fact situation, and someone in your community accuses a small-town mayor of rape from 23 years earlier, and there’s no other indications of such behavior,” he says, “you would look at that with considerable caution. You would ask understandable questions: Why is the allegation being made today?” 

But as he and other observers point out, all things are far from equal when it comes to President Trump. Ms. Carroll is the 22nd woman to accuse Trump on the record of sexual assault or misconduct, and hers is in many ways the most serious, as she alleges an attack that included forced penetration. 

Add to these accusations, too, the fact that the president described sexually assaulting women in the infamous Access Hollywood video and audiotapes.

“The credibility regarding charges of sexual assault should be the same as in any other matter: What are the facts, and who and how many people can testify to those facts?” says Paul Levinson, professor of media studies at Fordham University in New York. “People should make decisions about whom to believe with the utmost gravity. The credibility of the accused and the accuser should both be taken into account.”

Even though Dr. Wright at Princeton University agrees that the news media has generally handled the recent allegations of rape against the president in an even-handed and proper way, she points out that it is far more complicated when it comes to assessing the credibility of women accusing powerful men of sexual assault. 

“The first thing we always do is question their credibility and ask questions about them,” she says. “And their claims are always scrutinized ad nauseam.”

“And the baseline, I would say, is not that we believe women, the baseline is that we do not believe women,” continues Dr. Wright, author of “Star Power: American Democracy in the Age of the Celebrity Candidate.” “And that has been the case going back to the beginning of time, as long as humans have existed – women have not been believed.”

False accusations are rare when it comes to sexual assault, according to an in-depth survey of existing research on the subject by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a nonprofit in Pennsylvania. Only 2% to 7% of accusations in various parts of the counter were found to be fabricated or false.

“Nobody wants to become famous from their story of sexual assault,” Dr. Wright says. “I mean, this idea has been proven again and again, that women face many more consequences when they come out with their story, and the rewards, really, are nonexistent. Society actually punishes you.”  

Some observers also saw an “outrage fatigue” at work in the news media’s cautious response to Ms. Carroll’s accusations, especially on the heels of the divisive confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year.  Others pointed out, too, that the most recent allegations against President Trump were part of a busy weekend in the news, including the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and the administration’s mulling military action against Iran.

“But there is a dynamic to President Trump that we have never seen before,” says Mr. Paulson, the former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. “He does things, he says things, and he is accused of things that would have destroyed less confident candidates or public officials. And that, in some way, can affect editors who sort of go, here we go again.”

“But I guess the long and short of it is that I think that the press overall has acted responsibly, even though there are factors in this case that would lead you not to strip it across the top of your front page in a headline,” he continues. “These should give anyone caution, but it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cover the accusations, and that you should actually dig deeper.”

Dominican Republic tourist deaths spark concern about resorts

Americans flock to the Caribbean for its sandy beaches, sunny skies – and the safety of the resort bubble. When crime brings down walls between resort and host country, questions about justice and equality emerge. 

A beach resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. A spate of highly publicized deaths of U.S. tourists at large resorts has led to a drop in summer vacation bookings on the tourism-dependent Caribbean nation.

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The lure of an all-inclusive resort on a Caribbean beach is a driver of U.S. tourism to the Dominican Republic. But several highly publicized deaths of U.S. tourists have hurt the country’s reputation as a safe destination and led to a sharp drop in summer bookings. The FBI is assisting with three investigations, and D.R. officials insist that there is no cause for wider concern.

For local residents, the U.S. focus on tourist fatalities jars with their everyday realities. Does justice for tourists mean justice for all? The furor has also exposed the somewhat nebulous distinction between life inside and outside all-inclusive beach resorts.

Critics say resort owners have resisted oversight of their operations, even as they advise guests not to venture beyond the walls. All-inclusive hotels “send a message of ‘you’re cut off from the realities of the world,’ which includes safety or risk concerns,” says Lauren Duffy, an expert on tourism and development. 

Dominicans who want improved governance argue that the spotlight on tourist fatalities should lead to a broader overhaul of the country’s justice system. But for those who depend on tourist dollars there is concern that fewer visitors will come. 


Dominican Republic tourist deaths spark concern about resorts

Since last year, as many as 10 U.S. tourists have died while staying at all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic. Local officials say these fatalities aren’t linked and are not suspicious; in some cases, however, relatives say guests fell ill after eating or drinking at certain resorts. The bad publicity has led to droves of Americans to cancel summer vacations – flight bookings in July and August are down more than 70% – to a country whose economy is built around tourism.

This includes all-inclusive resorts that attract millions of tourists with the promise of international travel with the security and amenities of home; enclaves of wraparound security in often poor, unstable nations. But the reality is more complicated. International hotel chains, whether in the D.R., Mexico, Vietnam, or Fiji, can’t entirely seal off their facilities from the outside world, creating a clash of expectations that serve as an example of double standards. Does justice for tourists mean justice for all?

“For locals ... it takes twice, or three times the effort to get police attention following a crime,” says Juana Pacheco, who owns a gift shop on a pedestrian street in Santo Domingo. Lately she has felt the need to be extra vigilant after an increase in muggings in the area, and wonders why authorities aren’t investing in public-safety services that benefit everyone.

“I’m not aware of the resources that have gone toward these [tourist] cases, but there are other important things that should be worked on here,” she says.

The D.R. is one of the most visited international destinations by U.S. travelers, who make up nearly one-third of the nation’s 6.5 million annual tourists.

All-inclusive resorts are popular with foreigners as a safe way to experience a Caribbean beach holiday, screened off from local communities. But this isolation can be illusory – and it’s not limited to the D.R. In Mexico, tourists in Cancun have reported being served tainted alcohol, and possibly targeted for robberies on resort grounds after. In other popular tourist destinations there are reports of assaults by hotel staff, mysterious smells in hotel rooms followed by deaths, or poorly cleaned air ducts leading to severe illnesses.

In some of the cases recently documented in the Dominican Republic, families reportedly begged hotel staff to call ambulances and claim that resorts pushed timeshares over the speedy provision of medical care.

All-inclusive hotels “send a message of ‘you’re cut off from the realities of the world,’ which includes safety or risk concerns,” says Lauren Duffy, an associate professor at Clemson University in South Carolina who studies tourism and development.

Guests who stay in D.R. resorts say waitstaff or front-desk agents tell them they’re secure in the resort but that it’s not safe to leave. “It creates this safe-not-safe dynamic between the inside and outside, so [visitors] let their guard down when they go to places like this,” says Dr. Duffy. 

Tatiana Fernandez/AP
Francisco Javier García, Tourism Minister of the Dominican Republic, holds a copy of an online article in a local paper that cites the U.S. State Department suggesting recent reporting on the deaths of U.S. tourists were exaggerated, at the Ministry of Tourism office in Santo Domingo on June 21, 2019.

'We depend on tourism' 

Of course, the reality is less black-and-white. But the Dominican economy is so dependent on the tourism industry that big hotel chains are accused of flouting existing regulations and resisting calls for tighter controls over how they operate. When police are called by resorts to deal with crimes or suspicious deaths, they often respond quickly but their investigations are bound by the limitations of the D.R.’s criminal justice system. 

For many Dominicans, the attention foreign tourists receive – like quick police investigations and a dedicated unit for tourist zones – is simply on a different level than their daily realities.

“If anything happens [to a tourist] they are taken care of immediately,” says José Aníbal Peña, who runs a factory making tropical clothes for gift shops in Punta Cana and La Romana. 

He’s not upset by these efforts to protect tourists – “we depend on tourism,” he says. Some 300,000 Dominicans work in the industry.

Reliable data on crime rates in the D.R. is hard to come by. Dominicans have taken to the streets in past years to protest government corruption, but not specifically against police or the courts, says Carlos Pimentel, who runs a pro-democracy NGO, Participación Ciudadana. “There’s a general lack of citizen confidence in the justice system and police,” he says. “The justice system isn’t the same for everyone here, like the Constitution says it should be.”

A role for the FBI 

For the family members of Americans who have died at resorts over the past year, the government is taking steps to deal with the crisis and douse the public relations fires. The FBI is working alongside Dominican officials to do additional toxin screenings in three cases, including of a couple who died together in their hotel room due to respiratory failure. The tourism ministry said recently it’s working with the National Hotel Association to improve the safety and quality of food and beverages served to visitors.

Dr. Duffy is concerned the government is putting too much emphasis on resolving a public relations crisis, not seeking to overhaul its regulation of the tourism sector. However, Mr. Pimentel sees the spotlight on American fatalities as a wake-up call.

“I don’t think these realities should be hidden,” he says, referring to impunity, government corruption, and crime. “I think that [an unequal focus on foreign tourists] should serve as an incentive for the Dominican state to undertake the big transformations we need to provide true security to Dominicans, not just those who visit us,” he says.

Jorge Ulloa, sitting in a plaza in the colonial zone of Santo Domingo on a recent afternoon, isn’t so sure. He reckons the outcry over tourist deaths will soon blow over, and the Dominican Republic will revert to being just another tourist destination in the eyes of the world, a point he recently made on his Facebook page.

“The product (tourists seek here) isn’t the country, but a service infrastructure based on the natural attractiveness of the coast,” he wrote. “What is sold is an abstract Caribbean that’s indistinguishable to the consumer. The average tourist comes here and it doesn’t matter if it’s Aruba, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic.”

Points of Progress

What's going right

Child mortality rates decline worldwide

We touched earlier on the plight of child migrants in North America. And humanitarian needs persist around the globe. But here's another reality: big progress for children and families.


Global mortality rates for children and adolescents decreased by more than 50% from 1990 to 2017, with Central, Eastern, and sub-Saharan Africa reporting the greatest decline. Researchers attribute this to improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and disease control, and cleaner water. The majority of mortalities still occur in countries that have lower socioeconomic ratings, however, and that trend increased over the 27-year period. Although children are more likely than ever to reach their 20th birthday, there has been an increase in the number of children diagnosed with nonfatal illnesses and disabilities of almost 5%. – Lauren Littell

SOURCE: JAMA Pediatrics "Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors in Child and Adolescent Health, 1990 to 2017"
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

A letter from

Austin, Texas

Exit, glacier

The swift retreat of Exit Glacier, in Alaska’s Kenai Mountains, offers a clear sign of how climate change can affect a region in a very short time.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Christian Science Monitor reporter Simon Montlake looks out on Exit Glacier on May 17 in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park.

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Reporter Simon Montlake was fully expecting to be disappointed by Exit Glacier, and he was not disappointed.

The swiftly melting glacier stands as a living monument to global warming. Moving up to 300 feet in a single year, the glacier’s retreat is marked each decade. The marker for 1917 is about a mile from the glacier’s current point. Also left in the receding glacier’s wake is a National Park Service pavilion that once offered a sweeping view of the glacier but has since been repurposed as an educational center about climate change.

“How long before the tourists stop coming to Exit Glacier?” Simon asks. “The cruise-ship excursions, the Anchorage day-trippers, will they go elsewhere? What happens then to the park infrastructure built for visitors to a glacier that is creeping out of view, year by year?”


Exit, glacier

It’s my first glacier, and I’m not really feeling it.

From the Exit Glacier parking lot it’s an easy walk to the overlook. I pass budding alder trees, then clamber up slate and gravel to reach a windswept vantage point.

And there it is, a giant finger pointing down a mountainside. I look for cobalt blue but all I see is grey and white, a frozen pack of rock and ice, cracked and bruised. There are flashes of blue, but from this distance it mostly resembles dirty shoveled snow on a sidewalk.

It matches the cloudy sky, and my mood. I feel oddly cheated by what’s there, even though it’s exactly what I came to see: A melting glacier, a casualty of climate change.

I’m hardly the first to make this journey and lament the lesson of Exit Glacier, of course.

In 2015, President Barack Obama stood at a lookout and enumerated the facts of glacial melting and rising sea levels. He stared into the distance then turned back to the cameras. “It is spectacular though,” he conceded, adding: “We want to make sure that our grandkids can see this.”

I’m thinking more about my son, age 6. By the time he visits Alaska, the aptly named glacier – more on that name later – may have exited altogether.

Exit, glacier. Curtain falls. Audience applauds. House lights go up.

Ann Hermes/Staff
A marker shows how far Exit Glacier has receded since 2005. Photographed May 17 in Kenai Fjords National Park.

The retreat began in the 1800s when Alaska was still Russian territory. After five centuries of expansion during the period known as the Little Ice Age, Exit Glacier reached its maximum expanse around 1815. Since then it has been retreating, slowly at first, roughly 3 feet a year, based on soil and tree-ring analysis.

Now the glacier is retreating faster, much faster, in winter and summer. In 2016 it shrank by nearly 300 feet in a single year. The adjective glacial no longer applies, it seems.

To walk the path to the lookout, then, is to tread a timeline of climate change, passing markers of the glacier’s historic extent. The marker for 1917 is about a mile from its current point.

The path is paved as far as a small pavilion of rough-hewn stone pillars and a vaulted wooden roof. When the National Park Service built it in 1987, it offered a sweeping view of the glacier.

Today it’s a lovely spot. I’m serenaded by birds, and rushing spring melt. But all I see are the alder trees that surround the pavilion, which has been repurposed as an educational stop for visitors curious about the glacier’s shrinkage. One interpretative sign is titled Living Laboratory, a nod at the scientific value of studying glacier retreats.

Good for the scientists. How long before the tourists stop coming to Exit Glacier, I wonder. The cruise-ship excursions, the Anchorage day-trippers, will they go elsewhere? What happens then to the park infrastructure built for visitors to a glacier that is creeping out of view, year by year?

Ann Hermes/Staff
A list of wildlife sightings listed at the entrance to trails leading to Exit Glacier on May 17 in Kenai Fjords National Park.

An Alaskan couple stops at the pavilion to talk. The woman remembers visiting in the 1990s, when you could still walk onto the glacier. That was part of the fun, standing on a centuries-old freeze, peering into blue crevasses. Her last trip here was six years ago, she says, when the glacier was closer to the lookout. “That’s something we can clearly grasp. Six years,” she says.

I walk back to my car and take the two-lane road down the valley, burning more gas to add to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere. I wonder if the $1.25 offset I paid that day is real, as real as the decade markers along the path to Exit Glacier.

On a long curve I pull over to take a final photo. The spring sun is out and I see it glance off the snowy mountains above the glacier. This is the edge of the Harding Icefield, which covers 300 square miles, not counting the 38 glaciers that descend from it. It’s the largest icefield in the U.S., and the first documented crossing was made in 1968. The expedition group traveled eastward for eight days and exited at this point, which is how the glacier got its name.

From this distance, gazing up the open valley, I sense the immensity of the icefield. The finger that descends may be pulling back but it also seems to reach down, here at the edge of Alaska, the last frontier. I breathe the cool air. Then I make my exit.

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How the world adjusts to new family forms

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Traditional ideas about family are changing faster than ever. But how fast and in what direction? In the first of its kind, a United Nations report looks at the global data and finds a rising diversity of family forms. This shift requires a “reality check” on laws and policies, states the report “Families in a Changing World.”

Just 38% of families are couples (married or unmarried) with children, as the rates of delayed marriage, divorce, and cohabitation keep rising. About a quarter of households include extended family. And 42 countries or territories have given the right to marry or partnership recognition to same-sex couples.

One big driver of the new diversity, says the report, is that “women are increasingly able to exercise agency and voice within their families.” This has “triggered some shifts in the balance of power within the home.”

Since the 1950s, the world has seen a strong trend toward gender equality in family laws. This adjustment to new forms of family has helped reinforce the enduring importance of the institution.


How the world adjusts to new family forms

Joel Barker gives his newly adopted daughter, Lylah, a kiss as his biological daughter, Noel, looks on during adoption proceedings in Bloomington, Ind., in 2017.

In India, more parents now merely suggest a potential marriage match to their children rather than force an arranged one. In Tunisia, Muslim women can now freely marry a non-Muslim. And according to the J. Walter Thompson marketing firm, choosing to be single for life is a global trend, driven by affluent young people who are “confident, fulfilled, and empowered.”

These news items may show traditional ideas about family are changing faster than ever. But how fast and in what direction? In the first of its kind, a United Nations report looks at the global data and finds a rising diversity of family forms. This shift requires a “reality check” on laws and policies, states the report “Families in a Changing World.”

“We have seen great progress on eliminating discrimination against women in laws. However it is no accident that family laws have been the slowest to change,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the U.N. under-secretary-general and executive director of U.N. Women.

Just 38% of families are couples (married or unmarried) with children, the report says, as the rates of delayed marriage, divorce, and cohabitation keep rising. About a quarter of households include extended family. And 42 countries or territories have given the right to marry or partnership recognition to same-sex couples.

One big driver of the new diversity, says the report, is that “women are increasingly able to exercise agency and voice within their families.” This has “triggered some shifts in the balance of power within the home.”

Whatever their forms, families still play a unique role. They “can be places of love and affection, and pivotal for each member’s sense of identity and belonging,” the report states.

For people of faith, marriage still plays an essential part in life. Marriage is “the single most compelling metaphor for the relationship between God and us,” says Britain’s former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, because it “involves commitment, a mutual pledge of openness and trust, a promise that neither will walk away in difficult times.” One reality that needs attention, according to the UN, is that at least 101 million women are raising children on their own.

Since the 1950s, the world has seen a strong trend toward gender equality in family laws. This adjustment to new forms of family has helped reinforce the enduring importance of the institution. Or as Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka puts it, “Families are places of love, where we can go for support and nourishment.”

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.

A solid basis for emotional well-being

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Sometimes it can seem as if we’re living at the mercy of our emotions, but we can find balance that doesn’t come and go, which is rooted in God’s infinite goodness.


A solid basis for emotional well-being

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

The glow of sunset told us we’d been sitting in this Parisian cafe much longer than anticipated. But the engaging conversation had kept us there. My friend and I had been talking for hours about spirituality and mental health.

We realized we’d learned to suppress “bad” emotions and highlight other “positive” ones, which limited our ability to be honest with ourselves and others. And, as has become increasingly evident in society today, suppressed emotions tend to come out in other ways, often affecting our health and well-being.

Over-analyzing emotions or trying to not feel what we feel can lead to cruelty and heartlessness. Conversely, living by every emotional impulse can lead into self-destruction or extremism. Self-control is key to functioning as individuals and as a society. The way we deal with our inner world affects the way we live in the outer world.

Rather than muting or dulling our emotions, we can balance feelings with thoughts before they turn into emotional responses. This “sweet rhythm of head and heart,” as Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy puts it in “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” (p. 160), promises we won’t become overwhelmed by our feelings and unable to function in society. Nor will we live primarily in our heads with a disregard for genuine feeling and affection.

Instead, we can feel a spiritual balance that comes out from our true nature, which isn’t a mixture of good/bad, positive/negative. It’s an unopposed goodness – joy that doesn’t come and go, but is rooted in the unchanging nature of God, good.

When my dad left my family when I was in high school, I put on a strong, happy face and continued doing well in school, while working at night to help make ends meet. But then I began having panic attacks. Back then, no one talked about anxiety, and I felt ashamed, not wanting anyone to know I didn’t have it all together.

So, I would pray. I would hide among the mothballs and clothing in the closet in my room, reading “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mrs. Eddy and the Bible by flashlight until I felt surrounded by light and love. Every time, the shaking stopped and I could breathe normally again.

These attacks ended for good when it began to feel more important to know my true selfhood as God knows me than to appear perfect or ultra-positive. When we honestly listen for divine wisdom, without self-judgment, self-condemnation, or shame, overwhelming feelings are gently calmed.

Accepting an all-good God does not mean ignoring negative emotions. Instead, the power of this divine goodness, infinite Love itself, shows we are never too messy or emotional for God to bring peace to our hearts.

There is a healing power in true self-knowledge. The basis for knowing ourselves and not living at the mercy of our emotions is understanding that our true individuality comes from the divine Mind, another name for God – not from an accumulation of messy experiences. This spiritual foundation of our identity is not a jumble of good and bad feelings, nor is it an endless chase to maintain a happy emotional state at all costs. It’s an awareness of the wholeness of our being in God. Happiness may at times be fleeting, but even then, we can feel a deep peace from knowing ourselves this way.

The Bible says Jesus was “moved with compassion” (see, for example, Mark 1:41). But he didn’t get overcome by emotionalism. He showed a pure affection that reflected spiritual balance, equanimity, and stillness.

We don’t need to feel stuck in a cycle of always having certain emotional reactions in certain circumstances. We’re not meant to just cope with life. Understanding ourselves as the outcome of God, we feel a wholeness based in our oneness with the divine Mind. This brings lasting emotional health.

As my friend and I discussed that day, we are all capable of noticing feelings and emotions without letting them control us. God-given qualities of being – such as joy and peace – are not affected by human experience, but affect human experience. Finding the right rhythm of thinking and feeling gives us a solid basis for mental and emotional health so we can help others find it as well.

Adapted from an editorial published in the June 10, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.


Back stroke

Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa/AP
A polar bear swims in the water at the zoo in Hannover, Germany, June 26, during a heat wave that has spread across Europe. On Wednesday, Germany set a new national temperature record for June at 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

That’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for coverage including our diplomacy writer’s take on what’s shaping up as a G-20 summit with more than ordinary importance. See you then.

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