2019
July
30
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In today’s edition we’ll explore leadership (the Democratic debates), equity (San Francisco evictions), community (Salem, New Hampshire), progress (India’s tigers), and creativity (father of environmentalism).

But first, in an age of fleeting digital effervescence, “Old Town Road” is a tribute to durability. It’s a study in longevity. It’s as if rapper Lil Nas X has a Ph.D. from the Madonna School of Reinvention and Relevance. 

On Monday, “Old Town Road” became the longest-running No. 1 song of all time, with 17 consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100. It surpassed the 16-week record held by “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men in 1995, and the 2017 hit “Despacito.” 

Yes, Montero Lamar Hill offers us a master class in pop cultural endurance. The journey began with a race-tinged controversy over whether this was a rap song or a country song. A remix response with country singer Billy Ray Cyrus took off. “Old Town” has had “a wacky and yet logical progression from cause célèbre to fluke hit to undisputed 2019 Song of Summer,” writes Rob Harvilla at The Ringer.  

The success formula includes the deft use of social media and the release of four remixes, the latest with a South Korean rapper, each tapping into a new audience. As long as the lyrics don’t change much, Billboard considers a remix the same song.

Tip of a cowboy hat to the brilliantly creative rapper from Atlanta. Lil Nas X may be a one-hit wonder, but the ride isn’t over yet.  

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1. Live from Detroit: Presidential debates as game show

Debates are meant to help voters make informed decisions. Are the next two Democratic TV debates likely to help?

David
Paul Sancya/AP
Workers get the stage ready for the Democratic primary debate hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

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As contenders for the Democratic nomination take the debate stage in Detroit, lower-tier candidates are already scrambling to secure spots in the next debate – which will require meeting a higher threshold of donors and in the polls – by trying to manufacture viral moments with strategies that border on the bizarre. 

Thus we have New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand playing beer pong (with water) to try to entice donors to give $1, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan offering the chance to do yoga with him in exchange for a $3 donation. 

In some ways, it’s the same old substance-versus-style dilemma: Either focus on cut-and-dried issues and risk putting your audience to sleep, or amp up the entertainment and risk turning the process into a distorted version of “The Bachelor.” Yet with a president who literally spent years working in reality television – and whose divisive style is nothing if not attention-grabbing – that dilemma seems more pronounced than ever.

“It’s all gotten more gamefied, more silly, more outrageous, more outlandish – and much more deadly serious, all at once,” says Regina Lawrence, director of the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon in Portland. 

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Live from Detroit: Presidential debates as game show

The latest installment of “Who Wants To Be The President?” returns this week, as 20 contenders for the Democratic nomination take the debate stage Tuesday and Wednesday in Detroit. 

Bars across the country are promoting debate watch parties, complete with drink specials and HD screens. Pundits are touting top match-ups: Will former Vice President Joe Biden punch back against California Sen. Kamala Harris? Will Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stake his claim against Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as the favorite of the liberal left? 

Lower-tier candidates are already scrambling to secure spots on the next debate stage – which will require meeting a higher threshold of 130,000 donors and 2% standing in the polls – by trying to manufacture viral moments online with strategies that border on the bizarre. 

Thus we have New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand playing beer pong (with water) to try to entice donors to give $1 to her campaign, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan offering the chance to do yoga with him in exchange for a $3 donation. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Yang drew hundreds of thousands of new followers when he offered $1,000 a month for a year to a lucky Twitter fan who retweeted and followed him before July 4.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has yet to reclaim the viral success he enjoyed during the midterms, when he came remarkably close to taking incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat. Recently, Mr. O’Rourke has taken to challenging his staff to push-up contests at airports and live-streaming dinner-table conversations with families in Flint, Michigan.

“Our presidential nomination system looks to be a mash up of ‘Survivor,’ where you’re voting people off the island, and March Madness basketball brackets,” says Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and author of multiple books on presidential communication. 

In some ways, it’s the same substance-versus-style dilemma that politics and media have struggled with for decades: Either focus on cut-and-dried issues and risk losing your audience, or amp up the entertainment value and risk turning the political process into some distorted version of “The Bachelor.” 

Yet with a president who literally spent years working in reality television – and whose divisive style is nothing if not attention-grabbing – that dilemma seems more pronounced than ever. And what’s at stake now may be not just who gets to lead the country, but the dignity of the process itself.

“It’s all gotten more gamefied, more silly, more outrageous, more outlandish – and much more deadly serious, all at once,” says Regina Lawrence, director of the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon in Portland, where she specializes in political communication. 

But is this really the only avenue left in politics? In the age of Trump and ever-shortening attention spans, is the only choice to take part in the spectacle? 

Make some noise

On the surface, the answer seems to be yes. The rise of 24-hour cable news, the success of partisan talk radio, and the advent of social media are all mile markers on the road to the 2020 reality competition. 

In 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, newspaper circulation hit its lowest point in nearly 80 years, local TV network audiences continued shrinking, and even online news sites saw traffic plateau, as more Americans said they rely on social media for their news. But Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC saw their combined revenue grow by 4% from the previous year – a total increase of about a third since 2015.

CNN, which is hosting this week’s debates, aired an hour-long live lottery that breathlessly revealed the lineup for the two-night event. Along with the live drawing, the special featured game-show music, a panel of commentators, and multiple camera angles for every name pulled out of the box. 

The apparent lesson: “You have to make some noise or you won’t be viable for much longer,” Professor Farnsworth says. 

Yet noise doesn’t provide voters with what they need to make an informed decision about the issues that drive an election, or who is best suited to lead the country. And it often fails to leave a lasting impression: Mr. O’Rourke, Senator Gillibrand, and Mr. Yang have yet to break through in the polls, and despite “The Draw,” CNN that night still came in third behind Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and MSNBC.

During the first round of debates, some candidates tried to stand out by showing off their language skills. But all that ignited was a meme of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s face as Mr. O’Rourke said his first words in Spanish. It was Senator Harris’s obviously practiced attack against Mr. Biden on the issue of race and busing that led to a bump in the polls.

News consumers might tune in to, and even enjoy, the candidates’ ceaseless hunt for the perfect viral moment, says Joy Mayer, founder of Trusting News, a nonprofit that aims to revive public trust in journalism. (Note: The Christian Science Monitor has previously partnered with Trusting News.) All that does, however, is contribute to the cynical sense that all politics is theater, and that journalists are either theater critics – or part of the show, she says. 

“If you were to put 20 people in a room and ask them to develop a nomination system that gave us people most capable of being president, it would look nothing like this,” says Professor Farnsworth, who spent 10 years as a working journalist. “We are all the poorer as citizens as a result.” 

Brynn Anderson/AP
Democratic presidential candidates at the June 27, 2019 debate in Miami, from left: former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California.

Doritos vs. a salad

There’s some good news. For one, there’s plenty of overlap between what the public wants the news media to do and what journalists think their role is, according to 2018 surveys by the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Accuracy and fairness top the list; making the news entertaining, not so much. 

“In theory, there’s real hunger for coverage that makes [audiences] smarter and that feels fair and contextual and deep,” Ms. Mayer says. 

Trusting News exists because they believe in that appetite and have partnered with other groups to innovate in alternative coverage. There’s growing momentum, for instance, behind community-style journalism that directly asks the public what they’re interested in and structures reporting around their answers – what media critic Jay Rosen calls a “citizens agenda” model of campaign coverage. Some local news outlets have experimented with reporter mission statements in a bid to help staff be transparent with audiences about what they cover and why. 

Some critics say the town halls that Fox News and CNN have hosted with primary candidates are just PR-generated “pseudo-events” that play into the reality-show farce that is 2020. Still, they also give candidates – both top-tier and lesser-known – a chance to get airtime they wouldn’t otherwise have, says Democratic strategist Dan Kanninen.

“They have an opportunity to make their claim and stake a vision out about where they want to take the country,” he says. “That’s a core function of this primary field in a way that wasn’t always the case.”

There’s no denying that the political circus, and the search for viral relevance, takes precedence in a majority of 2020 coverage, especially at this stage. But more optimistic political observers say it doesn’t have to be this way forever. 

“‘Nobody’ is a fallacy journalists fall into: ‘No one wants [substantive] coverage. We do that and nobody pays attention,’” says Professor Lawrence at the University of Oregon. “But when we put our citizen hat back on, a lot of us in the public do want something more.”

“There’s always going to be a disconnect between what people say they want and what they consume,” Ms. Mayer adds. “If there’s a bag of Doritos on the counter, it’s real hard to resist if you like Doritos. But that doesn’t mean that if there’s a salad there that’s prepared and delicious, that people won’t eat it.”

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2. Meet the eviction defenders helping to keep tenants at home

In a tight housing market, we look at how one city tries to provide equity and hope to tenants who are pushed out of their homes. 

David

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After her building sold to new landlords, Nicole Delisi came home one day to find a 60-day eviction notice, an increasing occurrence in San Francisco’s red-hot housing market.

Buffeted by gentrification and rising rents, the city has averaged more than 1,700 reported eviction notices a year since 2009. In 80% to 90% of those cases, renters lack legal representation. Landlords, however, retain lawyers in 90% of eviction cases nationwide.

This month the city launched Tenant Right to Counsel, a $5.8 million initiative that guarantees legal counsel to all renters in eviction cases irrespective of their income level.

“Our mission is to walk with every tenant who is at risk of eviction,” says Martina Cucullu Lim of the Eviction Defense Collaborative.

The city’s willingness to provide legal counsel to low-income renters targeted by wrongful evictions “makes complete sense,” says Charley Goss of the San Francisco Apartment Association. But he questions the fiscal wisdom of free representation for higher-income residents.

In Ms. Delisi’s case, a lawyer agreed to work with the elementary school teacher on contingency, and a jury found the property owners violated the rent ordinance and awarded her $462,000. “Having a lawyer gives you a sense of hope in a hopeless situation,” she says. “I’m not sure how things would have turned out otherwise.”

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Meet the eviction defenders helping to keep tenants at home

A young man sits at a small table inside the front door of a four-story building less than two blocks from the headquarters of Twitter, Square, and Uber. Without looking up from his laptop, he tells visitors “fourth floor” before they can ask. He knows that almost all of them seek help from above, which in this case means the Eviction Defense Collaborative.

The EDC, as the San Francisco nonprofit is known, provides legal aid to tenants facing eviction, and the three dozen chairs in its waiting area upstairs attest to the acute need for services. This month, the demand has begun to climb with the launch of Tenant Right to Counsel, a two-year, $5.8 million program that ensures renters receive legal representation in eviction cases irrespective of their income level.

The city created and funded the program to fulfill the mandate of a ballot initiative – Proposition F, or the No Eviction Without Representation Act – that voters approved last year. The measure’s passage made San Francisco the second U.S. city after New York to offer renters free legal counsel to fight eviction orders, and the first with universal access to that assistance.

The program marks the latest effort to prevent tenants from losing their homes in a city where gentrification and rising rents propelled by Silicon Valley’s tech boom have reduced low- and middle-income renters to endangered species status. San Francisco has averaged more than 1,700 reported eviction notices a year since 2009, and an estimated 80% to 90% of renters lack a lawyer in such cases.

“The court system can be daunting, and for most tenants, the eviction process is completely unknown to them,” says Martina Cucullu Lim, the EDC’s executive director. “So our mission is to walk with every tenant who is at risk of eviction so they don’t feel that they’re going through it alone.”

Earlier this year, city officials in Newark, New Jersey, allocated funding to establish a right to counsel program. As similar proposals percolate in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, and other cities, the discussions reflect a reconsideration of the balance – and tension – between landlord and tenant rights amid the country’s widening affordable housing gap.

San Francisco’s initiative links together a constellation of 11 legal aid groups that handle tenant-landlord disputes, including the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, Asian Law Caucus, and Legal Assistance to the Elderly. The public funding will support nearly 50 lawyers working on eviction cases, and the EDC will weigh assorted factors – age, ethnicity, and neighborhood, among others – to pair clients with the agency best suited to respond to their plight.

Some 3 million tenants in California meet the federal definition of “rent-burdened,” spending at least 30% of their income on rent, as the state copes with a housing shortage of 3.5 million units and the country’s largest homeless population. In San Francisco, where renters account for almost two-thirds of the city’s more than 880,000 residents, tenant advocates regard guaranteed legal counsel as one antidote to displacement.

“Eviction is not just about losing your home,” says Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together, a grassroots group that joined with the San Francisco Tenants Union in leading the push for Proposition F. “It’s about losing your community, your social network, your doctor, possibly your job. It’s about losing stability.”

“You feel helpless”

Nicole Delisi returned home from work on a spring day four years ago to see a 60-day eviction order on her front door. Panic, despair, and tears arrived all at once.

The elementary school teacher believed she had claimed her slice of San Francisco paradise months earlier when she moved into a one-bedroom unit in a fourplex. Her new home resembled a palace compared with the shoebox studio where she had lived, offering the avid swimmer a kitchen-window view of the Pacific Ocean and easy access to the water.

Ms. Delisi’s problems began after the landlord who leased to her for $1,450 a month sold the building. At the time, the average cost of one-bedroom units in the city had reached $3,100.

Within weeks, court records show, the new owners, a husband and wife, evicted one tenant on the grounds that they intended to occupy his unit. Soon afterward, they served notice on Ms. Delisi, claiming that a relative would move into her apartment.

San Francisco allows so-called owner and relative move-in evictions as long as landlords follow conditions laid out by the city’s rent ordinance. One proviso requires landlords and their relatives to occupy units vacated through move-in evictions for the ensuing 36 months.

Ms. Delisi knew that after another tenant gave voluntary notice to move out, the owners increased that unit’s rent to market rate. She also had observed that the couple seldom stayed in the apartment of the renter they had kicked out.

But unaware of the city’s eviction guidelines or her rights as a tenant, she had little idea where to bring her suspicions. “When you get an eviction notice, you don’t know what resources or advocates are out there,” she says. “You feel helpless.”

The right to counsel program seeks to alleviate that kind of confusion with education and outreach campaigns designed to funnel renters toward the EDC. Beyond legal resources, the collaborative can provide or help obtain emergency rental assistance, averting a tenant’s eviction and the potential secondary effects related to losing a home.

Numerous studies link eviction to a decline in physical and mental health and higher rates of homelessness and unemployment among adults, and lower academic performance among children. The vulnerability runs highest for low-income renters who rely on housing vouchers, explains Lisa Kim, a supervising attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, one of the groups involved in the city’s program.

“We want to keep our clients in San Francisco because it can be so difficult to find another unit that accepts a Section 8 subsidy,” she says. “Having to leave that unit often means our clients have to move way outside the San Francisco Bay Area or even the state. The impact is enormous for them.”

“Landlords need renters”

San Francisco falls outside the list of 100 large U.S. cities with the highest eviction rates. Charley Goss, manager of government affairs for the San Francisco Apartment Association, a trade group representing landlords, mentions that statistic in asserting the city already had adequate protections for tenants before Proposition F passed.

The city’s willingness to provide legal counsel to low-income renters targeted by wrongful evictions “makes complete sense,” Mr. Goss says. But he questions the fiscal wisdom of free representation for higher-income residents and argues that the city should instead devote more funding to rental assistance and tenant education programs.

“Nobody’s in the business of doing evictions. Landlords need renters,” he says. “So the evictions that take place are legitimate evictions for legitimate causes, and we don’t feel it’s the city’s job to intervene in those cases.”

Dan Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, raises similar concerns as the country’s second-largest city prepares to launch a right to counsel program, spurred on by San Francisco’s example.

Failure to pay rent ranks as the most common reason for evictions. “So how long are you as a property owner supposed to let someone live in [your] unit for free while you still have your own bills to pay?” Mr. Yukelson asks. He adds that landlords must consider the rights of other tenants when a renter poses a persistent nuisance.

“If you have someone creating a disturbance on your property, what about the rest of the residents? It can take so long to evict a problem tenant that they decide to move out.”

Research suggests that landlords in large metro areas underreport the number of evictions that occur by as much as half. Meanwhile, in cities with full-fledged or pilot programs that provide legal counsel to tenants, studies show that renters with representation remain in their homes at twice the rate of those without a lawyer. In New York, evictions have dropped by more than a fourth since 2013 as more tenants receive legal aid.

Landlords retain lawyers in 90% of eviction cases nationwide. Cary Gold, director of litigation and policy for the EDC, describes San Francisco’s right to counsel program as an attempt to narrow the disparity in legal assistance – and to deter property owners from booting renters under false pretenses.

“It’s now going to cost landlords to pursue those bogus evictions, so we hope they won’t start that process in the first place,” Ms. Gold says. She casts the program’s purpose as less about slowing gentrification than about advocating for fairness. “Poor people have already been forced out of the city – that ship has sailed. At this point, it’s a matter of trying to keep more people and more families in their homes.”

The case of Ms. Delisi illustrates how a lawyer can alter a renter’s fate. After contacting the city’s tenants union for guidance, she started calling and emailing legal aid groups and private lawyers. Mark Hooshmand, who specializes in eviction disputes, accepted her case on contingency – the only way she could afford to hire an attorney on her teacher’s salary.

Mr. Hooshmand sued the landlords on Ms. Delisi’s behalf, and a jury awarded her $462,000 after finding that the property owners violated the city’s rent ordinance, according to court records. “Having a lawyer gives you a sense of hope in a hopeless situation,” she says. “I’m not sure how things would have turned out otherwise.”

Yet closure remains elusive. The landlords have appealed the verdict, and Ms. Delisi has moved across the San Francisco Bay to Alameda, where she pays $550 more a month for an apartment two-thirds the size of her old unit. She had the option of staying in her San Francisco home. But fear of retaliation by the landlords, coupled with the trauma of fighting the eviction, has soured her on the city she once loved.

“I had lived there for 15 years, and what happened was so abrupt and so harsh and so painful. And because the same sort of thing has happened to so many people there, it’s not the same San Francisco anymore,” she says. “I don’t think I could ever go back.”

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Conversations on hope

3. Searching for common ground? Start with the Constitution.

Our reporter talks to a woman in New Hampshire who sees the U.S. Constitution as key to bridging political divides in her community. Part 5 in a series on people who are navigating America’s most intractable challenges.

David
Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Janet Breslin, the new chairwoman of the Salem Democratic Committee in Salem, New Hampshire, leads a meeting at a local coffee shop with members as well as representatives of several presidential campaigns on June 28, 2019.

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There’s something about living through a coup in Chile and under absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia that makes one appreciate America’s unique system of government. Just ask Janet Breslin, a former national security professor at the National War College with more than a decade of experience working in Congress.

As she dives into grassroots politics for the first time, she sees a need for the country to come together and recognize one another’s humanity. And she sees the Constitution – rather than any one personality or party – as the key to unifying the country and promoting a culture of compromise, even if it takes longer and requires more patience.

“My hope for the country lies in my love for the Constitution, the most amazing governing blueprint for this unique nation of ours,” she says. “If we can come back to it, to honor its intent, we will begin to truly listen to each other and find that political ‘center of gravity’ which keeps our country stable and just.”

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Searching for common ground? Start with the Constitution.

Donald Trump won more votes here in Salem than in any other New Hampshire town, which makes Janet Breslin’s job especially challenging – but also exciting.

She’s the new chair of the Salem Democratic Town Committee, marshaling the troops in a corner of a local coffee shop on a recent summer morning. They are outgrowing this corner, their ranks having swelled with representatives from some of the two dozen campaigns building up their teams in New Hampshire, which hosts the first-in-the-nation primary.

As they go around the room for campaign updates, a young woman shares that Tulsi Gabbard is coming the following week. Dr. Breslin wants to know if she has a printed flyer for the event. No, the young woman responds, but it will be up on Facebook and the campaign’s website.

“The only reason I’m saying printed, in this one case, … is [a local man who is] a solid Republican told me once there’s a couple candidates he’d like to see,” including Ms. Gabbard, says Dr. Breslin, providing the voter’s name and the location of his business so the woman could pay him a visit. Some Republicans, she adds, feel abandoned or orphaned. She encourages attendees to make personal contact with their conservative neighbors.

As Dr. Breslin – a former congressional staffer and national security professor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. – dives into grassroots politics for the first time, she sees a need for the country to come together and recognize one other’s humanity. And she sees the Constitution – rather than any one personality or political party – as the key to unifying the country.

“My hope for the country lies in my love for the Constitution, the most amazing governing blueprint for this unique nation of ours,” she says. “If we can come back to it, to honor its intent, we will begin to truly listen to each other and find that political ‘center of gravity’ which keeps our country stable and just.”

Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Janet Breslin spent many a day sitting here looking out over the lake behind her Salem, New Hampshire, home after a tense five years when her husband served as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Her experiences living abroad heightened her appreciation for America’s system of government.

From a Chilean coup to ambassador’s residence in Saudi

Having lived in Chile and Saudi Arabia, and experienced firsthand the impact of undemocratic governance, she has a deep appreciation of the uniqueness of American government – however frustrating or slow or painful it may be.

Dr. Breslin, whose Ph.D. is in political science, sees the Constitution as carefully designed to acknowledge competing interests and ensure that all sides would be heard and considered, promoting a culture of compromise and coming together.

“How the framers of the Constitution looked at the question of power is key to understanding their vision for America,” says Dr. Breslin, who is working on co-hosting a table about the Constitution with Republicans at a local festival this fall. “I feel very protective of wanting all of us to appreciate what the framers had in mind – how effective it’s been and why it’s worth protecting.”

She was living in Chile when the 1974 coup overthrew the democratically elected president, paving the way for the commander in chief of the army, Augusto Pinochet, to come to power. This, in a country that had a vibrant free press, a parliamentary system, three political parties, and a constitution.

“Then one night, liberty went away,” she says, recalling how in the months that followed Chilean friends began justifying things like torture because it was an “unusual” time.

Fast-forward 35 years, and she moved to Saudi Arabia with her husband, James B. Smith, whom President Barack Obama appointed ambassador. Here was an absolute monarchy, a country where citizens not only had never known democracy, but where, she observed, most didn’t even have the instinct to form a group to resolve an issue – such as a neighborhood getting together to put in a stoplight, or Salem’s Democratic committee planning an ice cream social that morning to raise money for the local Boys and Girls Club.

“That instinct didn’t exist there,” says Dr. Breslin. “Their response was, ‘Let’s wait and see what the king does.’”

“I think most Americans don’t realize how unique a system we have,” she says.

Problem-solving with patience

Dr. Breslin comes from Republican roots herself, but when she was in college John F. Kennedy inspired her to register as a Democrat. When she went to make the switch in her small California town, they asked her: Does your father know? Yes, he did, and he was good-natured about it.

As a Republican-turned-Democrat, she has long held the belief that representatives of both parties can find common ground. But back when she worked on Capitol Hill in the 1980s and early 1990s, reaching across the aisle happened far more frequently than it does today.

“We looked at politics as problem-solving,” says Ms. Breslin, citing as an example the 1985 bipartisan Gramm-Rudman budget bill designed to curb the national deficit. “What I worry about right now is this vilification of each other. ... It’s a change of focus from solving problems to really seeing the other as evil. And that to me seems un-American.”

To be sure, she knows how frustrating it can be to work within a system that, as she puts it, values process more than product. But she has come to see that as part of the beauty of America’s unique system.

“The whole time I worked on Capitol Hill I always imagined the framers of the Constitution looking at me,” she recalls. “And on those days that we were frustrated because we couldn’t get something done, they’d be smiling because they wanted it to take time.”

And so she has been patient with those she encounters who hold divergent viewpoints. Brenda Berkal, who attended the Democratic committee meeting and knows Dr. Breslin through her dental practice, recalls her poise when she gave a talk about Saudi Arabia and got a tough question from an audience member.

“It was just remarkable watching her sit down and talk with someone who I thought would be unreachable,” says Dr. Berkal. “I aspire to that someday. I hope she gets to go further than just Salem.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the college where Dr. Breslin taught.

Read the rest of the series here:

Part 1: Overcoming despair: How a wounded Green Beret came back stronger
Part 2: With compassion and faith, a mayor leads his city through the opioid crisis
Part 3: Amid tariffs and floods, a farmer finds hope in the next crop of Kansans
Part 4: Why America remains a beacon of hope for Liberian refugee
Part 5: Searching for common ground? Start with the Constitution.
Part 6: How one African American mom tackles racism head-on
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Point of Progress

What's going right

4. India’s tigers come roaring back

Doubling the number of an endangered species sounds like a tall order. India has done that with its Bengal tigers.

David

Almost a decade ago, India implemented a goal to double its endangered Bengal tiger population by 2022. On International Tiger Day, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the country had reached its goal four years earlier than hoped.

Due to stricter wildlife policies and improved safety monitoring, India’s tiger population climbed 33% between 2014 and 2018. While the worldwide tiger population is still stumbling along at just under 4,000 tigers, India is home to almost three-quarters of the cats.

“There are several plants and animals out there that need our help,” Mr. Modi said at a press conference. “What is it that we can do, either through technology or human action, to give them ... a life so that they can add beauty and diversity to our planet?”

In the past decade, India has created almost two dozen tiger reserves. Besides serving as a protective area for tigers, sanctuaries also allow for other wildlife and forests to prosper. To count tigers, India uses camera traps, placed in wildlife reserves. Tigers are tracked through pattern recognition programs, which detect stripe patterns and create three-dimensional representations of individual cats.

There is still work that needs to be done in some Indian villages, where tigers and villagers have long had a violent relationship. In parts of eastern India, the tiger population is still declining despite funds to counteract the slide. – Thomas Shults / Staff writer

SOURCE: Wildlife Institute of India National Tiger Conservation Authority
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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Books

5. A naturalist figured out climate change in 1799. The world forgot him.

Driven by a restless curiosity that resisted the confines of any one scientific discipline, Alexander von Humboldt offered the world a kaleidoscopic view of the wonders of nature. Andrea Wulf and Lillian Melcher bring this “forgotten father of environmentalism” to life in a lush graphic novel.

David
Courtesy of Lillian Melcher
Horses rear in a shallow pond filled with electric eels in this illustration from “The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt,” written by Andrea Wulf and illustrated by Lillian Melcher.
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A naturalist figured out climate change in 1799. The world forgot him.

Few people today remember Alexander von Humboldt, but the Prussian naturalist predicted climate change back in the early 19th century. “He’s the forgotten father of environmentalism,” says historian Andrea Wulf. 

During Humboldt’s travels through Venezuela in 1799, he noticed that farmers in the Aragua valley were deforesting the region to grow indigo. As a result, the nearby lake was drying up. Later, in a letter to President Thomas Jefferson dated June 1804, he wrote, “The wants and restless activity of large communities of men gradually despoil the face of the Earth.”

It was one of the first Western observations of human-caused climate change, according to Wulf. Environmentalists and scientists like Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau were heavily influenced by his writings, which were widely read during his lifetime. Wulf wanted to raise Humboldt’s profile for today’s readers. So she wrote “The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt,” a lush and meticulously illustrated history of his South American expedition. 

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
“The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt” written by Andrea Wulf and Lillian Melcher, Pantheon, 272 pp.

“I grew up in Germany, so we heard about [Humboldt] as an adventurer, or maybe a botanist,” Wulf says. “But no one talked about him as the man who had predicted harmful, human-induced climate change. So that became the thing that got me going.” She’s also the author of “The Invention of Nature,” a 2015 New York Times bestselling nonfiction book that delves more deeply into Humboldt’s life and influence. 

“The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt” stands apart with its rich visual presentation: It’s filled with Humboldt’s own drawings, maps, and writings, all sourced from the Berlin State Library’s digitized collection of his journals. Those are juxtaposed with a dizzying array of reproductions, including pressed botanical samples, landscape paintings, and photos. And it’s all stitched together by the artwork of Lillian Melcher, a recent Parsons School of Design graduate.

“[Humboldt] was one of the first people to make science popular and accessible, because he used infographics in all of his books,” says Melcher. She believes strongly in following in his footsteps to increase scientific literacy. “I think that combination of science and art is a better way to learn,” she says.

Wulf and Melcher collaborated to storyboard the book, but “Humboldt was our third collaborator,” Melcher says. 

Each page represents weeks’ worth of research. “Andrea and I are definitely the same kind of nerdy, where we just want accuracy. We want to know all the little details,” Melcher says.

For example, the scanned pages of Humboldt’s diary that appear as background images on most pages of the book actually correspond to the events taking place in the story. When Humboldt’s boat capsized in the Orinoco River, his journals were stained with river water. Wulf and Melcher used reproductions of those diary pages to collage an image of the river, and Melcher drew Humboldt jumping into the pages to rescue his belongings.

“He’s jumping through that watermark to rescue his diary, but it’s [also] the real watermark,” says Wulf. “It’s this double sense and I just love it.”

 

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
Historian Andrea Wulf recently released the graphic novel “The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt.”

Humboldt’s interests were so wide-ranging that he found it hard to settle into a specific discipline. (That’s perhaps one of the reasons he fell into obscurity: As scientific thought progressed, narrower focuses took precedent.) The structure of “The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt” is a true reflection of his restless curiosity – always varied, sometimes digressive, it’s a kaleidoscopic view into the diverse, fascinating, and occasionally brutal landscape of the South America that he encountered. 

Intrinsic to Humboldt’s writings were his critiques of imperialism and slavery, as well as of environmental degradation. With startling prescience, he pointed out the economic, environmental, and human costs of slavery and silver mining in “Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain” and “Political Essay on the Island of Cuba.” Both are introduced in Wulf’s and Melcher’s book.

Importantly, he allowed his passion for nature to influence and color his work. “If I look at [today’s] climate change debate in the political arena ... what I’m really missing is that no one dares to talk about the wonders of nature,” says Wulf. “[Humboldt] says we need to feel nature. We need to use our imagination to understand nature. ... And this aspect of his work, I think, is what makes it incredibly relevant today.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Illustrator Lillian Melcher sits in the courtyard at the Boston Public Library where she goes to research and draw inspiration from the John Singer Sargent murals, on May 31, 2019 in Boston.

There’s no doubt Humboldt was intrepid. He fearlessly placed himself in harm’s way to gather knowledge, even if that meant climbing active volcanoes, crawling into mines, and prodding electric eels. When a ship he was on sailed into a hurricane with 40-foot waves, he sat down to calculate the exact angle at which the boat would capsize. Death would be better experienced methodically, he reasoned. The ship stayed afloat.

“The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt” gives a true sense of the global scale of his imagination, and of the indomitable drive that enabled him to disseminate the scientific information he gathered to the next generation of scientists, writers, and artists. Western civilization at large is only now beginning to understand what Humboldt intuited in the early 19th century: “In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly state the name of the school attended by Lillian Melcher.

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The Monitor's View

Why the protests in Russia are different

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Over the last two weekends, tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow after opposition politicians were barred from running in a city council election this September. The size of the protests was relatively small. And the election itself is for a body with little power. Yet observers note a stark shift from previous protests in 2011-12. Middle-class Russians seem less fearful of the Kremlin as they have intensified their moral demands more than their material interests.

“Those young people who came out on the street were absolutely fearless,” said Konstantin Remchukov, owner and editor of an influential daily newspaper. “It was the first time that I saw people who did not care about whether or not they would be taken into custody or arrested by the police.”

The next protest is planned for Aug. 3. As during the last two, the moral force of Russians seeking equal rights and fair elections will be up against the raw force of a regime losing popularity. The numbers remain small. Yet the stakes are huge for the world’s largest country by size.

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Why the protests in Russia are different

Over the last two weekends, tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow after opposition politicians were barred from running in a city council election this September. The size of the protests was relatively small. And the election itself is for a body with little power. Yet observers note a stark shift from previous protests in 2011-12. Middle-class Russians seem less fearful of the Kremlin as they have intensified their moral demands more than their material interests.

In the protests on July 27, the number of people taken into custody – nearly 1,400 – set a record for post-Soviet protests. In addition, the riot police and National Guard were particularly brutal in their crackdown. With rising uncertainty over how long President Vladimir Putin can stay in power, the Kremlin fears any protest might spark a wider revolt. As poverty rises and personal incomes shrink, Mr. Putin may feel he must be more heavy-handed in controlling Russia’s limited democracy.

During the protests, those fears were matched by the demonstrators’ determination for fair democracy. “Those young people who came out on the street were absolutely fearless,” said Konstantin Remchukov, owner and editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, an influential daily newspaper, in an interview with The National Interest magazine. “It was the first time that I saw people who did not care about whether or not they would be taken into custody or arrested by the police.”

Russia’s rulers have long boosted their legitimacy by two primary means: providing material benefits, such as bread, or arranging nationalist glory, such as hosting the Olympics or invading nearby nations. Yet, says Mr. Remchukov, recent polls show the public’s greater demand for “no limitations on personal freedom” than for an improved economy. And nationalist memories are fading after Mr. Putin’s taking of Crimea in 2014.

In addition, 84% of Russians say they want to contribute to the improvement of the country. “We’ve never had such a mood,” said Mr. Remchukov, who attributes much of the change to the use of social media. Another poll in July showed almost 2 out of 5 Russians would not like to see Mr. Putin stay in office after his current term ends in 2024.

The next protest is planned for Aug. 3. As during the last two, the moral force of Russians seeking equal rights and fair elections will be up against the raw force of a regime losing popularity. The numbers remain small. Yet the stakes are huge for the world’s largest country by size.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

The Bible’s assurances of protection from illness

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For one college student, Psalm 91 in the Bible – and its promises of God’s protection – brought quick and tangible help when she became ill.

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The Bible’s assurances of protection from illness

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Over many years, I have been grateful for the reality of God and God’s care, which the Bible brings to light. The assurance we get from the Bible is that God is present, protecting us, and revealing unto us our safety in Spirit. Take Psalm 91, for example – a joyful and confident outpouring of the safety, calm, and fearlessness that each of us, every man, woman, and child, can naturally experience as God’s spiritual creation, even in the face of extreme difficulties.

The Amplified Bible puts the Psalmist’s words in this way: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power no foe can withstand]” (verse 1, Classic Edition). The psalm continues, “For you, the Lord is a safe retreat; you have made the Most High your refuge. No disaster shall befall you, no calamity shall come upon your home” (9, 10, The New English Bible). These truths have great significance and promise for each of us when confronted with the threat of harm.

Studying Christian Science over many years has deepened my understanding of many Bible passages, including the above. For instance, in “The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, says, “The ‘secret place,’ whereof David sang, is unquestionably man’s spiritual state in God’s own image and likeness, even the inner sanctuary of divine Science ...” (p. 244).

This secret place or spiritual state is the reality of our being in God right now. And since God’s being is infinite goodness, purity, harmony, and grace, we reflect these qualities as God’s image. Christian Science helps us discern this true, spiritual existence, which frees us from the belief that we are subject to conditions that don’t express these qualities, such as disease. No safer place can we find than this spiritual state, and as we apprehend that it is our true existence, that understanding becomes our protection.

I’ve had many experiences of this protection. Many years ago, when I was in college, I had a very heavy cold. I was sharing a dorm room with three other young women. I certainly wanted to be considerate of others’ concerns and not neglect caring for myself. But I also had confidence that Christian Science could heal me. It was helping me see that my unity with Spirit as a child of God gave me the authority to be what God caused me to be – wholly good, spiritual, and not subject to anything harmful.

I called a family friend who was a Christian Scientist to pray with me, and to help me see the present perfection and indestructibility of my relation to God. The impact was immediate. When I hung up the phone, it was like a faucet was turned off. The cold was gone instantly, and I was completely healed. That was wonderful. But what I remember most from that moment is a confidence, joy, and absolute certainty I felt of divine Love’s all-presence and supremacy.

This healing of a common cold was based on consistent, reliable, divine laws. These same laws of God are equally applicable to other illnesses that we might face. Fear and sickness recede when human consciousness yields to the all-presence of divine Love. In the secret place of spiritual reality, Love’s reflection of its qualities in its creation nullifies any harmful influence.

Our lives are secure in the secret place of the Most High. Allowing this truth to govern our moments and days reveals God’s ever-operative power in our human experience not only as healing and restoration, but as a preventive of sickness as well.

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Viewfinder

Gone shrimpin’

Yves Herman/Reuters
Shrimp fishermen ride their horses in the sea in the coastal town of Oostduinkerke, Belgium. The practice of using horses to haul fishing nets through the waters dates back to the 15th century.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 31st, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about a pediatrician who has been caring for migrant children on the U.S.-Mexico border for more than a decade.

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