2019
July
23
Tuesday

Welcome to your Daily. Today’s five hand-picked stories look at one unusual effect of hyperpartisanship, Britain’s need for friends, a patient wait for change in Venezuela, climate collaboration in Louisiana, and books that give a deeper look at migration.

But first, I’d like to start with someone I met today.

Chol Duang embodies the hope of South Sudan. In his trim gray suit, with his fluent English and bright smile, he is a symbol of what South Sudan can be – engaging, educated, and talented. He’s in the Boston area for a U.S. State Department-run leadership program, but he came to the Monitor with a specific question: How can I become a better journalist?

He works for state-run television news and once, after reporting on a spate of military rapes in a refugee camp, officials confiscated all his footage. “I’m in the middle,” he says, caught between government bosses and the public – and all with only three years’ experience as a journalist. Like his country, he’s finding his way.

But the impression he left was that he already has something more important than journalistic experience. Speaking of his hopes, Mr. Duang said, you have to “build yourself up first to help others.” That was really why he had come to America and the Monitor. Humbly, he wants to serve, to improve, and to lift his fellow citizens. In the list of virtues that will most help South Sudan and the world, that could be right at the top.

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1. Meet California’s ‘lonely’ Republicans

America may be closely divided – but in many states, the majority party has all the power, leaving the other side without a voice. How does that affect a place? 

Mark

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Extreme minority status is a common condition in divided America. According to Ballotpedia, a single party has an absolute grip on power in 19 states, controlling the governorship as well as veto-proof majorities in their legislatures. Democrats are powerless minorities in 16 such states, while Republicans are completely shut out in California, Oregon, and Illinois. 

In California, fewer than a quarter of registered voters today are Republicans, and Democrats have a supermajority in the legislature. In recent months, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has cast Republicans as xenophobes and nativists, destined for the “waste bin of history.”

For many in the GOP here, it feels like they’ve been set out on the curb with the trash. In interviews, California Republicans describe themselves as “disenfranchised,” “lonely,” “a remnant,” and “not part of the conversation.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Erik Peterson says he finds the situation increasingly “frustrating.” With no influence in Sacramento, Republicans can’t affect regulations, which he personally feels in his own business as an electrical contractor. They can’t block tax increases or effectively shape the budget, which just extended health care to young unauthorized immigrants. So, they resort to fighting through the courts, says the mayor. “It’s the only thing we can do.”

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Meet California’s ‘lonely’ Republicans

To understand what it’s like to be a Republican in California today, spend some time in Huntington Beach.

In January, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a lawsuit against this once solidly Republican community for violating a state law to allow more housing. The suit came on the heels of the city’s courtroom victory claiming exemption from California’s “sanctuary state” law – a ruling the state is now appealing.

The governor is “100%” singling out Huntington Beach, says Mayor Erik Peterson. The city’s attorney agrees, pointing out that 50 other cities have not fulfilled the housing mandate. “I believe they’re still upset that we beat them” on the sanctuary issue, says the mayor from his office, a surf board propped up in the corner. “Of course, we’re all racists because of that – that’s what they tell us. But it actually had nothing to do with illegal immigration. It had to do with the state’s overreach.”

Last year, Orange County, the cradle of California conservatism, lost four of its congressional seats to Democrats. Fewer than a quarter of California’s registered voters today are Republicans, and Democrats have a supermajority that renders the GOP powerless in the legislature. In recent months, Governor Newsom has cast Republicans as xenophobes and nativists, destined for the “waste bin of history.”

For many in the GOP here, it feels like they’ve been set out on the curb with the trash. In interviews, California Republicans describe themselves as “disenfranchised,” “lonely,” “a remnant,” and “not part of the conversation.”

Huntington Beach’s mayorship is technically a nonpartisan position. But as a Republican in a deep-blue state, Mayor Peterson says he finds the situation increasingly “frustrating.”  With no influence in Sacramento, Republicans can’t affect regulations, which he personally feels in his own business as an electrical contractor. They can’t block tax increases or effectively shape the budget, which just extended health care to young unauthorized immigrants. So, they resort to fighting through the courts, says the mayor. “It’s the only thing we can do.”

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Huntington Beach city attorney Michael Gates in his office July 16. Mr. Gates is leading the legal battle for the city in its fight with the state over a housing mandate and the "sanctuary state" law.

A common condition

Extreme minority status is a common condition in divided America. According to Ballotpedia, a single party has an absolute grip on power in 19 states, controlling the governorship as well as veto-proof majorities, or supermajorities, in their legislatures. Democrats are powerless minorities in 16 such states, while Republicans are completely shut out in California, Oregon, and Illinois. Last month, Republican state senators in Oregon fled to Idaho to deny Democrats a quorum – and a vote – on a sweeping climate-change bill. The bill petered out, much to the delight of Republicans.

Wisconsin state Sen. Jon Erpenbach had a similar experience, though it didn’t end as well. In 2011, he and 13 fellow Senate Democrats went into exile in Illinois for three weeks in order to delay consideration of a major anti-union bill. The bill was being pushed by then-Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated legislature. Ultimately, the bill became law.  

As a voiceless minority, “you feel very, very disenfranchised,” says Mr. Erpenbach. “You use every possible parliamentary tool to stop what they do, and 9 times out of 10, you lose.”

What distresses Mr. Erpenbach most is that Wisconsin is overall a purple state – but that parity is not reflected in the legislature because of gerrymandered voting districts. Voters last year elected a Democrat as a governor, restoring “balance” in government, as Mr. Erpenbach puts it, but not before the GOP legislature used a lame-duck session to restrict the incoming governor’s powers.

“Whether it’s the Democrats in a supermajority or the Republicans in a supermajority, it seems like the parties are just more concerned about 50.1% of the people – [that] enough people will elect them and keep them in a majority,” says Mr. Erpenbach. 

As in California, the minority party in Wisconsin turned to the courts to try to remedy partisan redistricting and the diminished governorship. They’ve lost on both counts. Mr. Erpenbach says Democrats have no choice but to continue “plugging away” at the redistricting message, educating voters so that when representatives go home, they hear about it. 

“It is what it is”

Republicans in California, meanwhile, can’t agree on how to restore their voice. It’s been a long decline – precipitated, many observers believe, by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1990s. He went against demographic trends and pushed anti-immigration measures. In the short term, it won him reelection, but it also drove Latinos into the arms of Democrats. Other factors also came into play, but with white people now a minority in California and Donald Trump in the White House, Republicans are struggling in this deeply blue state.

The state GOP needs to “stop fighting the culture wars” and instead present itself as a more “mainstream” party that focuses on pocketbook issues, as well as education and the environment, says Bill Whalen, former speechwriter for Governor Wilson. Republican consultant Mike Madrid blasts California Republicans for their “silence” on President Trump’s “racist tweets” about four Democratic women of color in the House.

On the other hand, Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, rejects the idea that Republicans should adjust their ideology.

“You can’t become the Democratic Party lite,” he says. Many Asians and Latinos are socially conservative, but fiscally liberal when it comes to larger government, he says. “Our job is to talk with every voter where they are, who align with our values, and see if we can’t bring them across.” The party must also field more candidates who look like the neighborhoods they come from, he says.

He and others believe that the state is headed for a financial crisis. It may have a surplus now, but it relies on high income taxes, and when the next recession hits, they say voters will see the error of their ways.

“Voters wanted a Democratic majority in statewide offices and in the legislature” – and now they have a high-tax state, with rising gas taxes and the highest rate of poverty in the nation, says Republican state Sen. John Moorlach, who represents Huntington Beach. “When a recession hits, it’s not going to be pretty.”

California’s Democrats won supermajority status last November. But Mr. Moorlach says he’s “not complaining” about his new situation. “It is what it is, que sera, sera.”

And he says at least Democrats have allowed him to have a voice, whether in committee or on the Senate floor. As vice chair of the powerful Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee, he realizes he’s “pretty much a figurehead,” but he still contributes. Votes tend not to go the way he wants, but he has a chance to put things on record.

It’s not completely hopeless for Republicans, adds Marcia Godwin, a government expert at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California. Sometimes, bipartisan coalitions form in Sacramento when the liberal wing of the Democratic Party won’t go along, she says. And at the local level, “there’s still a fairly high amount of influence” in the areas where Republicans are concentrated, such as in Orange County. 

Asked whether supermajorities in one-party states are bad for democracy – or simply a reflection of the will of the people, she replies: “What’s good for democracy is the possibility of change. Even if it’s not the next election, maybe 10 years from now, there might be change.”

That is the hope for Republicans in California. And for Democrats in red states, as well.

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. Iran crisis reminds UK of a cost of Brexit

As Britain draws closer to leaving the European Union, tensions with Iran are underlining the value of long-standing alliances.

Mark

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As Brexit looms, Britain is about to embark on a fundamental redefinition of its place in the world – just as rising international tension over Iran and the Gulf underlines the challenges it will face in doing so.

Prime Minister-to-be Boris Johnson once accused those in favor of remaining in the European Union of “woefully underestimating this country and what it can do.” Yet Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged ship has provided a reminder that politically and militarily, Britain is unable, for instance, to provide naval protection for its merchant shipping in the Gulf. It does retain influence, but this has much to do with its alliances.

The issue of Britain’s international identity dates to the end of World War II. Former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson once said the British had “lost an empire and not yet found a role.”

Yet Britain remained a permanent Security Council member and a major player in NATO. It found an expanded role through the EU, not least as a connecting point between the U.S. and Europe.

If Brexit happens, Britain will again have to find new ways to exert influence and secure its interests.

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Iran crisis reminds UK of a cost of Brexit

For the headline writers, it might be called the Week of the Three B’s: Britain, Boris (as in Boris Johnson, its flamboyant new prime minister), and Brexit (the political issue that has brought him the office he has long sought).

But something of larger, long-term significance is also happening with Mr. Johnson’s entry into 10 Downing Street. Britain is about to embark on a fundamental redefinition of its place in the world. And the non-Brexit crisis at the top of his inbox – rising international tension over Iran and the Gulf – has underlined the challenges it’s likely to face in doing so.

It has provided a reminder that politically and militarily, Britain on its own is no longer one of the world’s major powers – unable, for instance, to provide naval protection for its own merchant shipping in the Gulf. It does retain considerable influence – in the British phrase, “punching above its weight.” But this has much to do with its international alliances.

In a barnstorming performance three years ago, Mr. Johnson closed the national referendum campaign on Brexit – taking Britain out of the European Union – by accusing those in favor of remaining of “woefully underestimating this country and what it can do.” He concluded: “If we vote leave, this could be our country’s Independence Day!” With echoes of then-candidate Donald Trump, his message was essentially: MGBGA, “Make Great Britain Great Again.”

Mr. Johnson clearly still believes he can make a success of Brexit. Indeed, he struck much the same tone after winning the Conservative Party election to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May.

The question of alignments

But the Iran crisis has highlighted the limits of Britain’s power in today’s world, and the difficult choices it will have to make in carving out a post-Brexit identity.

Chief among them is likely to be how Britain aligns itself with major EU countries like Germany and France on the one hand, and with the United States on the other, especially since the U.S. is viewed by Brexit supporters as a potentially expanded trade partner to compensate for the economic hit it is likely to take in leaving the EU. The Iran crisis has brought that choice into sharp focus.

Britain, France, and Germany were all co-signatories of the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Since President Trump pulled out of the agreement last year, Britain and its EU partners have been trying hard to save it. But tightened U.S. sanctions on Tehran, the Iranians’ actions against oil shipping in the Gulf, and their initial move toward resuming uranium-enrichment have left the deal hanging by a thread.

This month, Britain did show signs of tilting toward the U.S. But only in part.

Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar – nominally because it was headed for Syria, which remains subject to EU sanctions, but reportedly on a tipoff from the U.S., which welcomed the move. Last Friday, however, Iran struck back. Despite warnings from a British Navy vessel, Revolutionary Guards boarded a British-flagged tanker and impounded it in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

With only that one naval craft in the Gulf – and decades of budget cuts leaving Britain without a sufficient naval footprint to protect its shipping – the government was limited to threatening “serious consequences.”

Leery of joining U.S.

Until the tanker seizure, however, London had been leery of joining the Trump administration’s proposed arrangement for an international protection force, led by the U.S. and relying mostly on U.S. ships. Britain and its EU partners still hope to save the Iran nuclear deal, and above all prevent a military escalation with Iran. Britain was loath to ally itself with a more hawkish American policy.

In one of its final moves, Ms. May’s government still appeared to be hedging its bets. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – the candidate Mr. Johnson defeated for the top job – announced this week that while Britain was happy to “operate in partnership” with the Americans in the Gulf, he wanted a European­­-led international protection force, adding an explicit reaffirmation of British support for the Iran nuclear agreement.

Yet with Mr. Johnson publicly pledged to leave the EU by the end of October, a more definitive choice may have to be made between securing post-Brexit relations with major EU partners or seeking strengthened ties with the U.S.

In some ways, the issue of Britain’s international identity dates back to the end of its empire, after World War II. As late as the 1960s, former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson pointedly remarked that the British had “lost an empire and not yet found a role.”

Yet Britain remained a permanent member of the Security Council, and a major player in NATO. And in joining the European Economic Community, the precursor of the EU, in the 1970s, it found a significantly expanded role, not least as an often-indispensable connecting point between the U.S. and Europe.

If Mr. Johnson delivers on his promise to leave the EU within months, the main immediate challenge will be economic. But more broadly, as the Iran crisis has highlighted, a post-Brexit Britain will have to find new ways to exert influence and secure its interests on the world stage.

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3. Six months of fading promises, but Venezuela’s Guaidó hangs on

Dramatic action creates the expectation of dramatic change – fast. In Venezuela, fans of self-declared president Juan Guaidó are readjusting their timeline. But hope often needs glimmers of progress.

Mark
Leo Alvarez/Prensa Juan Guaido/Reuters
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó waves a national flag as he arrives in a boat for a meeting with supporters near Porlamar, Isla de Margarita, Venezuela, on July 18, 2019.

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Miranda Flores, a nurse in Caracas, remembers rallies for Juan Guaidó where she felt “dazzled.”

Mr. Guaidó, the opposition leader who declared himself interim president in January on account of President Nicolás Maduro’s contested reelection, no longer inspires quite the same feeling. But Ms. Flores, like many Venezuelans, is still hoping – just on a different timeline.

“I refuse to feel crushed again like so many times before,” she says. 

In the six months since Mr. Guaidó began his battle with Mr. Maduro, he’s made a long list of lofty and daring promises, and equally daring moves – and has failed to deliver on nearly every one.

But he’s still standing, and still pulls support above 50%, in contrast to past leaders who have tried to unify the splintered opposition. In part, that’s thanks to his strong support abroad, from countries that view him as a palatable, non-interventionist route toward regime change. 

The problem is that Mr. Maduro’s still standing, too. And that means Mr. Guaidó needs a Plan B, supporters or no. 

“I will be with Guaidó until the very end,” Ms. Flores says. “If he doesn’t make it, I will leave the country.”

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Six months of fading promises, but Venezuela’s Guaidó hangs on

For high school teacher Roberto Ortiz, the political battle between leaders Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó over who is the legitimate president of Venezuela is like watching a long, exhausting boxing match. 

On January 23, Mr. Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, stood in front of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans in eastern Caracas to declare himself interim president, rejecting Mr. Maduro’s contested 2018 election as illegitimate. He had a long list of lofty and daring promises: pledging to bring in international humanitarian aid within a month for a population increasingly suffering from food and medical shortages, and vowing to pressure Mr. Maduro to step down and hold fresh presidential elections.  

Six months later, he’s failed to deliver on nearly everything, and struggling to harness the enthusiasm and hope he originally inspired. 

But he’s still standing. 

“Guaidó is still in the fight and has punched Maduro pretty hard. The previous opposition leaders were not able to hurt Maduro too much and some even refused to enter the ring,” says Mr. Ortiz, at a rally for Mr. Guaidó in the northwestern city of Barquisimeto in late May.

Despite repeated letdowns, Mr. Guaidó remains a beacon of hope for many in and outside Venezuela. This is in stark contrast to opposition leaders who have failed to unify supporters – or the historically splintered opposition party coalition – in the past. For a society accustomed to constantly looking for its next political savior, the fact that his rallies continue to draw big crowds and that his support is still above 50% is telling, observers say.

The combination of foreign support for his interim leadership, his ability to skirt imprisonment or arrest by the Maduro government, and his continued high-profile presence across Venezuela has given many Venezuelans faith that he may still be able to deliver on a regime change – even if the timeline is longer than many had hoped.

“He has the courage to call himself the president,” says Caracas-based political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas. And “he has the support of the U.S. and most of the Western world, which is fundamental.”  

Risky moves 

After Mr. Guaidó missed ambitious deadlines to bring in humanitarian aid, many saw April 30 as his make or break. In the early-morning hours he broadcast a message to the world, saying he had the support of the armed forces and it was time for Mr. Maduro to step down. Within hours, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. The few soldiers who did defect soon went into hiding, and Mr. Guaidó’s risky move fizzled. Although his approval ratings fell following the stunt, many were surprised he didn’t fall out of favor more dramatically, as other opposition leaders have after failing to follow through on big promises. 

“When it comes to popularity, Guaidó continues to be a strong leader. His approval rating fell only from 61% in February to 56% at the end of May. Maduro’s approval rating is now abysmal, around 10%,” says Luis Vicente León, director of Caracas-based polling company Datanálisis.     

But Mr. Guaidó’s sustained popularity no longer translates into feelings of hope for immediate change. In late May, only 25% of the respondents in a Datanálisis poll believed in Mr. Maduro’s imminent exit, while back in January the expectations were much higher – 70% of Venezuelans assumed Mr. Maduro was on his way out the door, says Mr. León.  

Part of what’s buoyed Mr. Guaidó is his visible presence around the country. He’s trying to hold a rally in every state, hitting 12 so far this year and with plans to visit at least four more in July alone. At each stop, he’s calling for Mr. Maduro to step down. In his speeches and interviews, he’s labeled Mr. Maduro’s inner circle as a group of thieves, and he’s alluded to his constitutional power to invite international military intervention.

This kind of behavior would have landed any other opposition leader in jail. In fact, many former leaders, from Leopoldo López to Henrique Capriles, have been banned from holding office, put under house arrest, or are now in hiding following their public rejection of Mr. Maduro.  

But Mr. Guaidó’s been able to remain untouchable due to the international support he’s received. More than 50 nations, including the United States, Canada, Japan, most of the European Union countries, Brazil, and Argentina, recognize him as the nation’s “legitimate” president. After years of downward economic spiral that have led an estimated 4 million people to seek refuge abroad, neighbors and the international community at large see Venezuela’s economic, humanitarian, and political crises as more pressing than ever. Mr. Guaidó’s use of legal channels to declare himself interim president offer the international community a palatable, non-interventionist route toward regime change. 

And it helps that Mr. Guaidó’s supporters see him as an honest broker: He won’t betray their interests by making deals with the government behind closed doors, says Mr. Pantoulas. “This was something the previous opposition leaders would often do,” he says.

No longer “dazzled,” not yet “crushed” 

At Mr. Guaidó’s most recent rally in Caracas on July 5, Venezuela’s Independence Day, supporters swarmed him upon arrival, trying to clench a handshake or at least brush the opposition leader’s arm. Those further out chanted “Mr. President! Mr. President!” 

Miranda Flores, a nurse, recalls earlier rallies – before the failed attempt to oust Mr. Maduro in April or the inability to get humanitarian aid across the Colombian border in February – where she felt “dazzled.” 

That’s no longer the case, but she still supports Mr. Guaidó.  

“I refuse to feel crushed again like so many times before,” she says of getting her hopes up for change.

“I will be with Guaidó until the very end. If he doesn’t make it, I will leave the country,” says Ms. Flores, who lives in the working-class Caracas neighborhood of Petare, long a stronghold for Mr. Maduro and the Chavista government that’s held power for two decades.

Mr. Guaidó appeals to a range of social classes, says Alonso Moleiro, a Venezuelan columnist.

“Guaidó goes to the hinterlands unannounced without any publicity, with no television coverage. Many people in those places don’t even have smartphones. They struggle with power outages, lack of running water, and have no access to transportation. Still, they all come to see him,” Mr. Moleiro says.     

But some question how long hope can last in Venezuela today, as the humanitarian situation worsens under recent U.S. oil sanctions, which have further prevented Mr. Maduro’s government from importing vital food and medical products. Venezuela depends on oil sales to generate more than 95% of its exports. The economic and humanitarian situation is only expected to worsen, with the International Monetary Fund predicting Venezuela’s economy will shrink by 25% by the end of 2019.

Many worry the prospect of a famine looms, and the question now is whether Mr. Maduro will make concessions or step down. He has met the opposition at the negotiating table in recent months for the first time since 2017. 

But for some, it’s no longer about Mr. Maduro’s actions, but Mr. Guaidó’s.

“Guaidó has been trying to come up with a Plan B,” says Ricardo González, a mechanic in Caracas. “People now clearly see he hasn’t been able to change anything. Soon, he’ll be history and we will be living an even more painful present.” 

Ms. Flores, the nurse, disagrees. “With most of the Western world behind him, the sanctions, and his public support: It will be difficult for anyone to reach this kind of popularity. He is the one.”

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Climate realities

An occasional series

4. Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing. Can the bayou be saved?

In Louisiana, the loss of thousands of acres of coastline each year is driving residents to build common ground together. This story is part of an occasional Monitor series on “Climate Realities.”

Mark
Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Don Beaulieu walks down the street at Venetian Isles, a middle-class neighborhood just outside the levees in New Orleans on July 15, 2019. As storms and sea level rise have killed off vast marshlands, his house has gone from being flooded rarely to often.

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When Don Beaulieu moved to New Orleans 30 years ago, his home was nestled safely behind a thriving marsh. Today, the Gulf is literally at his door. 

“If they gave me enough money to leave, I would,” he says. 

Louisiana has taken aggressive steps to advance progressive climate-change adaptation strategies. How the state balances concerns of government overreach with the needs of residents at risk of losing their homes to the sea could hold lessons that carry far beyond the bayous.

The early arrival of hurricane season has underscored the sense of urgency. This spring, state officials released a series of comprehensive strategies for six coastal parishes facing high risk of inundation. 

“It’s like the ‘Three Little Pigs’: You either build a brick house or you kill the wolf – or move away, I guess,” says Robert Twilley, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program. “I don’t know how we can kill the wolf, so we’ve got to build a brick house.”

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Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing. Can the bayou be saved?

When Don Beaulieu strolls in his middle-class neighborhood of Venetian Isles near the Rigolets strait, net-winged shrimp boats lashed to backyard docks line his path rather than suburban trappings like tennis courts.

Many residents here sideline their income with commercial fishing. Facing nature’s combination of beauty and danger outside the levees has been a point of pride. 

Yet Mr. Beaulieu, in his 60s, is considering leaving, given the near-constant floodwaters under his house. When he first moved here 30 years ago, his home was safely nestled behind a thriving marsh. Today, the Gulf is literally at his door.

Mr. Beaulieu’s predicament is shared by tens of thousands of Louisianians juggling rising insurance rates, fading property values, and a growing sense, as he says, of “being stuck.” 

“It’s a young man’s game” fighting the constant floods, he concludes. “If they gave me enough money to leave, I would.”

The idea of offering residents money to leave their homes for higher ground may seem like a tough sell in a red state. Nevertheless, Louisiana has taken aggressive steps to advance progressive climate-change adaptation strategies. How Louisianians balance concerns about government overreach with the needs of residents at risk of losing their livelihoods to the sea could hold lessons that carry far beyond the bayous as other coastal states grapple with how to adapt to nature’s challenges.

“It’s like the ‘Three Little Pigs’: You either build a brick house or you kill the wolf – or move away, I guess,” says Robert Twilley, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program. “I don’t know how we can kill the wolf, so we’ve got to build a brick house. Now, what does that brick house look like? That is the part that is playing out ... right now in front of our eyes.” 

Nationally, partisan battles ranging from concerns about the creep of socialism to lack of political consensus on the causes of climate change have made it difficult “to pierce through to what are really common goals and perspectives.”

That sinking feeling

The early arrival of hurricane season with Tropical Storm Barry earlier this month has underscored the sense of urgency in a state where 10,000 acres disappear into the Gulf every year. Leveeing of the Mississippi River protects homes and businesses, but sends land-building sediment shooting off the continental shelf and into the deeps. Subsidence from sinking peat bogs and nearby oil and gas pumping adds to the problem. Massive marsh loss means storms “come in hard and leave hard,” as Mr. Beaulieu says.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, but for starters, all of southeastern Louisiana is sinking,” says state climatologist Barry Keim. 

Already a big escape has begun. Some deep bayou towns have lost half their populations over the past two decades. Those who have stayed have seen insurance costs more than double. What’s more, the encroachment can sink fortunes in home value

In southeastern Louisiana, “the value of property is directly tied to the rate at which the Gulf of Mexico is moving towards your house,” says Dr. Twilley.

Just weeks before Barry hit, Louisiana released a series of comprehensive strategies for six coastal parishes facing high risk of inundation. Funded by an Obama administration grant and put into motion by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, the so-called Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments or LA SAFE report outlines the threat and proffers a way forward: a managed retreat that would facilitate relocation through buyouts of constantly flooded homes and funding for “receiver communities” to handle a flood of newcomers. The report also calls for tougher regulations on business and exploration of “floating services” that could service semipermanent settlements on the water.

Now, Governor Edwards has to sell the plan to Republican legislators, many of whom have ties to oil and gas interests. The debate can easily get snagged in the push and pull between competing perceptions of government and individual responsibility. What’s more, the role of climate change is so hotly debated that it often shuts down discussions. 

“To go in and do buyouts and mandate regional planning efforts, that all costs lots of money and requires lots of state intrusion into local affairs and people’s private property, which makes it extraordinarily difficult, even for people who know that their property is threatened and have a serious problem,” says Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “They will have to say, ‘Okay, we’re not going to ask you to believe in climate change, but since your houses are going to be flooded again, we need to do something.’”

That sense of urgency is deepening and the state is already shifting its engineering and coastal management philosophy, says Matthew Hiatt, an oceanographer at the College of the Coast & Environment at Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge. Parishes are reseeding lost mangrove forests to stem land loss. Coastal barrier islands are being bolstered. And plans to loosen the constraints on the Mississippi River to allow natural sedimentation to build land are increasingly on the table. 

And the state is already addressing the human dimension of that challenge. Isle de Jean Charles is being left to the elements, and several dozen residents relocated to a new development under a pioneering resettlement approach.

The land, it turns out, remains the common ground. 

“We are water people”

Louisiana is tied with Massachusetts for the percentage of people – 90% – who remain near their birthplace for their whole life.

Flood risk has begun to overcome that love of place, underscoring the existential struggle at play.

Yes, houses had water to the rooflines during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but “no one ever thought St. Bernard Parish would succumb to something like this,” says Mr. Keim, a native of the parish. “I thought most people would come back and to my shock many did not. And the reason was simple: Why sink your nest egg into something that could potentially flood again? But it should also be noted that most of those people didn’t go very far. A lot of them left Chalmette and ended up in Mandeville, still immersed in that south Louisiana culture.”

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Romy Berel cleans up his yard after Hurricane Barry July 15, 2019, in Slidell, Louisiana. Given increasingly frequent floods in Slidell, he says he would consider a state buyout.

That shift is embodied by Romy Berel, an oil worker whose middle-class home in Slidell sits right on the bayou. It used to flood once a year. Now it’s four times a year. Even though it never became a mega-destructive storm, Tropical Storm Barry put his entire neighborhood under water. For now, he is bolstering his defenses by raising his house, as is his neighbor. In 2006, he sold a smaller house that got flooded in Katrina and bought this one – bigger, higher in the air, but closer to the bayou. 

Politically, he has no problem with taxpayer buyouts to allow nature to reclaim the land. He notes that the closing of a key canal to the Gulf to protect New Orleans seems to have intensified the flooding of his property. If government helps precipitate a crisis, he says, then it could, out of plain fairness, help people adjust.

But there is a catch, he chuckles.

“Sure, I would take a buyout if it gets worse,” he says. “But we are water people, always have been, always will be. I’d just go back on the water somewhere else.”

This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

 

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Books

5. Three books to help talk with kids about migration

When children pick up a newspaper or look at the TV and see other children in trouble, what do you say? Our Mexico City correspondent shares stories that have helped her family talk about migration.

Mark

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Talking about migration with adults is difficult enough. What about with kids?

Increasingly, images from the southern border capture the most innocent and vulnerable migrants and asylum-seekers: children themselves. And that’s making many parents wonder whether they should discuss this complicated topic with their own children – whether they themselves are outraged that someone would bring his or her child on the perilous journey from Central America, or are taken aback by U.S. policies that can make it even riskier to ask for refuge.

In my family, the answer was yes. Although my toddler is growing up in Mexico and isn’t exposed to a tremendous amount of U.S. news, understanding the long history of migration from Mexico and Central America toward the U.S. is important no matter which side of the border she grows up on. At her age, we’re tackling the topic through children’s books, which touch on some of the realities of migration, assimilation, and asylum. 

Here are three we have in heavy rotation. Their vivid illustrations appealed to my daughter from even before she turned 1, and the texts offer launching-off points for conversations of varying, age-appropriate depths on sacrifice, empathy, and leaving home.

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Three books to help talk with kids about migration

As migration to the United States continues to overwhelm headlines, increasingly the images we’re seeing are of some of the most innocent and vulnerable: children. 

Events have escalated from youths separated from their parents, to minors held in unsuitable government facilities, to toddlers lying lifeless on the side of a river. Whether outraged that a parent would bring his or her child on the perilous journey from Central America, or taken aback by U.S. policies that can make it even riskier to ask for refuge, many families are starting to wonder: Should we be talking to our own kids about this?

In my family, the answer was yes. Although my toddler is growing up in Mexico and isn’t exposed to a tremendous amount of U.S. news, understanding the long history of migration from Mexico and Central America toward the U.S. is important no matter which side of the border she grows up on. At her age, we’re tackling the topic through children’s books, which touch on some of the realities of migration, assimilation, and asylum. Here are three we have in heavy rotation. Their vivid illustrations appealed to my daughter from even before she turned 1, and the texts offer launching-off points for conversations of varying, age-appropriate depths on sacrifice, empathy, and leaving home.

 

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale, by Duncan Tonatiuh

Father Rabbit has been in “El Norte” for the past two years, working in the vast lettuce and carrot fields. He and a handful of other fathers from the ranch left home because of drought – they couldn’t grow food or support their families. When Father Rabbit doesn’t return in time for his welcome-home party, his eldest son, Pancho Rabbit, is too worried to wait. He packs up Papá’s favorite foods, like mole, tortillas, and rice, and sets out to find him. He soon meets a coyote who offers to help him navigate his way north – a perilous journey punctuated by sacrifice and hope.

The animal-centric parable illuminates universal themes driving migration – such as a desire to provide for loved ones sometimes clashing with a yearning to keep one’s family together and safe. Small details – like children in broad-billed baseball caps alongside elders in traditional dress, or Pancho losing his balance on the speeding train La Bestia – add layers of conversation starters about themes that go far beyond why families might split up, or what pushes many to migrate north.

 

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

There’s a much more ephemeral, dreamy feel to illustrator Yuyi Morales’ latest book about migrating to the U.S. It shares her personal story – arriving with a baby, no English-language skills, and zero support – and the vibrant illustrations tell just as much of the narrative about adapting to a new world as her text.

This book is a great entree into themes like assimilation, what migrants bring with them and what they might be forced to leave behind, and how small gestures and an effort to understand others can affect a newcomer’s trajectory in a new land. Ms. Morales’ story captures the conflicting things migrants hear and sometimes feel in a way that seems universal. One page stands out with its backward text, seemingly written in the clouds, that exclaims things like “Say something!” or “Speak English!” floating behind a banner that cheerily reads “Give Thanks.”

 

Teacup, by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley

A boy, a boat, and the urgent need to leave home and find another: “Teacup” is a subtle yet powerful story that encapsulates the mix of hope, fear, and promise that define many asylum-seekers’ seemingly endless journey to find their place in the world.

There’s a memory sequence while the boy is out to sea in which birds, whales, and the taste of saltwater on his lips draw his imagination home. The happy sequence ends with a reminder that “things can change with a whisper,” as dark clouds move onto the page, alluding to the bleak events that drove him to leave home in the first place. But the story doesn’t just look back at what he’s left behind. It focuses on the glimmer of possibility that might lie ahead.

The artwork is haunting and text relatively sparse, which means the story can spark discussions for a broad range of children about migrants and refugees on the move today, whether from Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America.

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The Monitor's View

Turning around Puerto Rico’s woes

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For the past five years, a surge of anti-corruption protests has overwhelmed politics in much of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking parts of the Western Hemisphere. Now it is Puerto Rico’s turn. On Monday, nearly half a million people took to the streets demanding that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign.

So far the embattled leader refuses to step down, despite the recent arrests of former associates on corruption charges and the release of damaging comments made by the governor. Perhaps by staying put, Mr. Rosselló hopes to redeem himself and become an anti-corruption reformer.

Indeed, he would not be the first leader in Latin America to do so. The governor’s isolation is much like that of Chile’s president in 2015, Michelle Bachelet. After a series of scandals, starting with accusations of influence-peddling against her son, Ms. Bachelet quickly redeemed herself. Chile is now a star among Latin American countries in its anti-corruption success.

If Chile is any model, Puerto Ricans might seek reform and reconciliation rather than retaliation. Corruption didn’t start with Mr. Rosselló. Its roots run deeper than one person. But it could end with him.

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Turning around Puerto Rico’s woes

For the past five years, a surge of anti-corruption protests has overwhelmed politics in much of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking parts of the Western Hemisphere, from Brazil to Mexico. Now it is Puerto Rico’s turn. On Monday, nearly half a million people in the United States territory took to the streets demanding that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign.

So far the embattled leader of that troubled island refuses to step down, despite the recent arrests of former associates on corruption charges and the release of damaging comments made by the governor on a messaging app. Perhaps by staying put, Mr. Rosselló hopes to redeem himself and become an aggressive anti-corruption reformer.

Indeed, he would not be the first leader in Latin America to do so.

The governor’s isolation is much like that of Chile’s president in 2015, Michelle Bachelet. After a series of scandals, starting with accusations of influence-peddling against her son, Ms. Bachelet at first dodged the media and stood her ground. Then in a sudden turnaround, she appointed a commission to propose reforms “based on global best practices and listening to citizens.”

In quick order, Chilean lawmakers passed a dozen major pieces of legislation aimed at reducing incentives for corruption. Ms. Bachelet left office last year and her successor, President Sebastián Piñera has continued the reform effort.

The former Chilean leader has redeemed herself. Last month, a new index of Latin American countries by Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the consulting firm Control Risks gave Chile the highest score in battling corruption (6.66 out of 10). Chile “is deemed the most likely country in the study for corruption to be uncovered, punished and deterred,” the index’s authors stated.

In politics, where moral rage comes easy while providing an opportunity for redemption comes hard, Puerto Rico could yet oust Mr. Rosselló. The governor has already resigned as head of his party and vows not to run for reelection. Lawmakers are gearing up to impeach him. But this crisis should not go to waste. If Chile is any model, Puerto Ricans might seek reform and reconciliation rather than retaliation.

Corruption didn’t start with Mr. Rosselló. Its roots run deeper than one person. But it could end with him.

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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.

A single moment of insight brings healing

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Healing is not a miracle reserved for a faithful few or a gift for a specially endowed elite. It is the outcome of fresh spiritual insights that are the divine right of everyone, right here and now.

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A single moment of insight brings healing

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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One moment I was in agony, and the next there was complete and lasting relief! What had happened?

Let me explain. I was on a business trip when I lost track of the time and of the angle of the sun while sitting by an outdoor pool. My legs were badly sunburned, and by that evening I could barely walk and had to shuffle along.

Later that night I awoke in extreme pain from the burn. So, I did something I’d often found helpful before when I’d had a problem: I turned in prayer to God as my “very present help in trouble,” as the Bible says (Psalms 46:1).

As I did, a radical thought came to me: I was not trapped in a material body that had been badly burned. The idea that living in a material body was not the true state of existence was so contrary to what I was feeling at that moment that I felt convinced this was an inspired insight from God, coming to me as an answer to my prayer. And in that moment in which this idea was dawning on me, the heat, stiffness, and pain all went away.

A fundamental shift had taken place in my thinking from the common conception that our true identity is in matter to a knowledge of what Christian Science teaches is our real, spiritual nature. And this had brought healing right away. The next day I was able to comfortably drive and attend meetings and enjoy some social time; there simply was no evidence of, or aftereffects of, sunburn.

This was several decades ago, and in all the subsequent years, I’ve never had another sunburn, even after exposure to the sun.

While I was overjoyed by this healing, it did not seem miraculous to me, but simply an example of the healing that results naturally when thought experiences a profound shift from a sense of life as material and mortal to an awareness that existence is spiritual, created and sustained by God, divine Spirit. (Accounts like this have been published in sister publications of this newspaper for well over a century. See, for instance, a testimony of healing my husband and I shared a while back in The Christian Science Journal.)

Healings like this are not the result of willful maneuvering of thought, or the acrobatics of the human mind trying to convince itself it isn’t injured. Healings are a holy realization and experience of God being with us. They are the touch of the Christ – the light and love of God, which Jesus expressed, operating in human consciousness.

Feeling this touch of Christ has the effect of freeing us from suffering. And it is possible for that freedom to come about in a single moment even if a problem has been around for some time. As the primary work by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, puts it: “Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual, – neither in nor of matter, – and the body will then utter no complaints. If suffering from a belief in sickness, you will find yourself suddenly well” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 14).

This statement explains what happened to me. In that single moment of reaching out to God, I suddenly realized so clearly that confinement in a material body subject to the effects of being badly burned just wasn’t the true “me.” No amount of human reasoning could have led me to that conclusion. God had revealed it to me – and I’ve come to understand that God is always revealing such spiritually insightful ideas to all of us.

Our part is to open our heart to these ideas and accept the spiritual truth of our being. As the Bible says, “In him [divine Spirit] we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And this understanding heals, sometimes so quickly that it actually takes longer to explain what happened than to experience it.

Such healing is not the exclusive right of a faithful few or a gift for a specially endowed elite. It is a divine right that belongs to all. Anyone willing to turn to God for healing can begin to learn of their real spiritual nature as good, whole, and pure. It’s not a process of becoming something different, but awakening to what we actually are as God’s beloved children; it comes from striving to get the facts from God, divine Truth, and being willing to live from their basis.

When we do that, we can each experience – even instantly – the freedom and harmony that are forever ours as God’s children.

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Viewfinder

Keeping cool

Lisi Niesner/Reuters
A girl with an umbrella stands under water sprinklers during a heat wave in Vienna, July 23, 2019. Austria was one of eight countries in Europe to set new all-time heat records in June, and meteorologists say this week’s heat wave has the potential to break July records.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 24th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when we look at why more American parents are having just one child.

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