2019
August
02
Friday

Welcome to your Monitor Daily. Today we explore challenges to liberal governance, democracy in the workplace, the wonders of deep-sea coral, the healing spirit of cooperative living, and lessons of survival from beekeepers.

But first, we may have witnessed the economic high tide of Donald Trump’s first term.

He swept into the White House promising faster growth and, with a tax cut, the economy delivered. It grew a robust 3.1% in the first quarter of this year. But that may prove to be the peak for quite some time as second-quarter growth eased to an estimated 2.1% and many economists expect worse to come.

July’s report, released today, shows a still robust 164,000 new jobs. But the halcyon days of 200,000 jobs or more per month seem to be over.

Worse, wage hikes no longer seem to be accelerating and the workweek actually shrunk a little.

Employees are working less because of weakness in construction and manufacturing. That’s unwelcome news for a commander in chief who said tariffs on foreign imports would bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

It’s not that jobs aren’t returning to the U.S. Reshoring operations and foreign direct investment brought more than 145,000 jobs to the U.S. last year. But that’s not enough to move the needle much.

This week President Trump doubled down on his trade policy, threatening again to impose a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports not yet targeted by the U.S. That could mean higher prices for smartphones and laptops and risks further slowing the economy. He may yet get China to blink and offer some temporary olive branch. But a full resolution of U.S.-China differences on trade remains, at best, months away, trade experts say, and could well slip into the next presidential term.

Could President Trump win a second term? Of course. The race for 2020 has just begun. But on the economic front, storm clouds have begun to appear.

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1. Why America’s big cities have become president’s punching bag

Critics see President Trump’s attacks on U.S. cities as a dog whistle, while supporters say he’s calling out failures of liberal governance. What may matter most is how this argument plays in the suburbs, which is where the next election may be decided.

Stephanie Keith/Reuters
People dance in the streets while holding signs that read "ceasefire" in Baltimore, May 10, 2019. Ceasefire is a local organization that stages events to call attention to gun violence in Baltimore.

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When Marilyn Ford points, she might as well be pointing with President Donald Trump’s finger.

“He is right, you know,” says the silver-haired septuagenarian, referring to Mr. Trump’s recent racially tainted fusillades on liberal cities.

This week’s spree of attacks shines a spotlight on a long Republican practice of throwing shade at cities, many of them under decadeslong Democratic rule. Mr. Trump’s supporters say that it’s not about race – he’s just calling out the failures of liberal governance. But even with a strong economy, which would normally put a first-term president in strong position for reelection, Mr. Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric is already alienating voters in key electoral battlegrounds.

“President Trump’s words over the past two weeks have been very polarizing,” says Juan Carlos “J.C.” Polanco, a New York attorney known as “the Hispanic voice of New York Republicans.”

“I grew up in the inner city, so I understand the issues of poverty and violence, drugs and gangs, and even rodents in the inner city,” Mr. Polanco says. “But it’s one thing to point that out, and to talk about solutions to solve those issues, and it’s another thing to use it to disparage people.”

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2. Why America’s big cities have become president’s punching bag

It didn’t take long Thursday night, at a rally in Cincinnati, for President Donald Trump to pull out his favorite punching bag: America’s big, diverse cities, most of them run by “Democrat politicians” and harmed by “the far left’s destructive agenda.”

As he has all week, President Trump singled out Baltimore. He didn’t name names, but he didn’t have to. The president has been punching hard at Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who represents much of Baltimore – and whose congressional committee recently approved subpoenas for Mr. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. On Friday morning, he tweet-trolled Congressman Cummings over an intruder who entered his Baltimore home last weekend.

That Mr. Cummings is African American is lost on no one. And following the president’s tirades against four minority female freshmen in Congress, known as “the squad,” the politics of race is aflame like at no other time in Mr. Trump’s presidency.

“The pattern Trump is following with Elijah Cummings is the same as with the squad,” says Ian Haney López, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of books on the politics of race. “That is, go after a Democratic politician of color and slander them in terms that are highly racialized but that still allow a modicum of deniability. That’s dog whistle politics.”

And, Mr. Haney says, it could win Mr. Trump reelection by keeping his base supporters energized. But if it turns off enough suburban and blue-collar women who might otherwise support him, particularly in battleground states, the strategy could backfire.

“There’s no question that in his approach to Cummings, he’s walking a tightrope,” says GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “But at the same time, he cannot allow unfettered media coverage to call him racist and a Russian puppet without making the case that the policies that are being prescribed by the very people who are calling him racist have let down Democratic voters and particularly minorities.”

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s pitch to African Americans in 2016 was essentially “what have you got to lose?” And while he won only 8% of the black vote, that was better than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s 6%. Today, Mr. Trump touts criminal justice reform and low African American unemployment in his messaging to black voters.

But even with a strong economy, which would normally put a first-term president in strong position for reelection, Mr. Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric is already alienating voters in key electoral battlegrounds. Take Ann Pigeon, a businesswoman in suburban Atlanta and a fiscal conservative who voted libertarian in 2016 and was willing to consider Mr. Trump in 2020, until his rhetoric about “rat-infested” Baltimore and warnings over socialism. His comments strike her as desperate attempts to talk past Americans like her.

“Sure, I care about the economy, but he’s not the only one who can manage it,” says Ms. Pigeon. “I have given him a chance, I have watched, and I have one answer to whether or not I will give him my vote: hell, no. He has proven himself unworthy.”

This week’s spree of attacks on Mr. Cummings and Baltimore shines a spotlight on a long Republican practice of throwing shade at cities, many of them under decadeslong Democratic rule. Mr. Trump’s supporters say that it’s not about race – he’s just calling out the failures of liberal governance.

Mr. Trump himself points to a 2015 speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders, in which the social democrat from Vermont compared living conditions in Baltimore to a “third-world country.” The context, however, is completely different. Senator Sanders was denouncing income inequality and linking it to structural racism, not blaming the residents or elected officials.

In going after Mr. Cummings, Mr. Trump takes his critique one step further: It’s the congressman who’s the racist, not himself. Mr. Haney says this is the classic pattern: Don’t just play defense, go on offense.

“What we’re seeing with the attack on the squad and on Elijah Cummings is a purposeful strategy to make the public face of the Democratic Party people of color,” he says. “That’s how Trump did really well in 2016,” by running against both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, “who had a strong racial justice message.”

Range of Republican reaction

Mr. Trump’s rhetorical approach has sparked a range of reactions among Republicans. On Thursday night, late-night TV host Seth Meyers asked Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a popular moderate Republican in a blue state, about his “weak” response to Mr. Trump’s attacks on Baltimore. The governor pleaded for calm.

“The last thing I need to do is have more angry reaction to the angry reaction, back and forth,” Governor Hogan replied. “Let’s stop all the tweeting. Let’s focus on how we’re going to solve some of these problems by working together.”

The GOP is also seeing a wave of retirements by House members, a blow to the party’s chances of retaking the House next year. Some are explicitly mentioning the rhetorical climate in Washington in their announcements. Among the retirees are two of House Republicans’ 13 women members and the party’s only African American member, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. Congressman Hurd was one of four House Republicans who voted last month for a resolution denouncing Trump tweets against the squad as racist. 

Cities facing real issues

In Democrat-dominated New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing pushback from constituents over his run for president and his plan to open a homeless shelter on “Billionaire’s Row.” A group bought billboard space in Iowa, where the mayor has been campaigning, that reads, “Hey, Bill de Blasio! It’s New York ... Remember Us?”

Indeed, the public relations stunt calls attention to a real issue: that homelessness is on the rise in New York – a city once run by Republican Trump ally Rudy Giuliani – and that there are legitimate critiques of Democratic rule in American cities, regardless of leaders’ race.

But that doesn’t make life easier for urban Republicans in the Trump era.

“I think President Trump’s words over the past two weeks have been very polarizing,” says Juan Carlos “J.C.” Polanco, a New York attorney and son of Dominican immigrants who has run for office. He’s known as “the Hispanic voice of New York Republicans.”

“I grew up in the inner city, so I understand the issues of poverty and violence, drugs and gangs, and even rodents in the inner city, something that is prevalent,” Mr. Polanco says. “But it’s one thing to point that out, and to talk about solutions to solve those issues, and it’s another thing to use it to disparage people, and the people that represent those areas.”

For Democrats in New York who are willing to see Mr. Trump with some nuance, any possibility of supporting the president is snuffed out by his rhetoric. Eduardo Giraldo, a small-business owner in Queens and pro-growth Democrat, gives Mr. Trump credit for standing up to China on trade practices. But the president’s rhetoric toward the squad and black members of Congress, he says, is “racist.”

“His actions, his words, are really divisive,” says Mr. Giraldo. “He’s polarizing the country in a very concerning way in a lot of different aspects – the social aspects of the country, from the political divisions to economics.” 

“He is right, you know”

In suburban Alpharetta, Georgia, located in the state’s 6th Congressional District – which went Democratic last November by a nose – women voters in particular are being watched for their reactions to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Some, like Ms. Pigeon, see it as a disqualifier. But others think he’s spot on.

When Marilyn Ford points, she might as well be pointing with President Trump’s finger.

“He is right, you know,” says the silver-haired septuagenarian, referring to Mr. Trump’s recent racially tainted fusillades on liberal cities, which have in the past included Democratic Rep. John Lewis’ urban Atlanta district.

“I don’t think he’s racist, and I don’t want to be racist, but I look at these places like Baltimore and I see black politicians lining their pockets. And the crime: There’s murders every night down in Atlanta.” (In fact, Atlanta had 93 murders in 2017, according to the FBI, near historic lows.)

Ms. Ford is a stalwart of these once reliably conservative northern Atlanta suburbs. Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich hatched the Contract With America here, amid the horse farms.

Yet it is a microcosm of the central Trump argument about the failures of Democratic leadership – particularly black officials like Mr. Lewis and Mr. Cummings.

“He is standing up to what I think my grandchildren will see and I won’t be around for, socialism,” she says.

It is a battleground where “the shooting would start if they were to impeach him,” Ms. Ford frets. Her friends – “all old like me” – agree. Mr. Trump’s mouth is a growing liability, and upsets her Southern sensibilities. “There’s no need to be rude to people,” she says. Yet she also appreciates his candor, his directness, his willingness to attack for people like her.

“I appreciate that he sticks up for us,” she says.

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2. Who’s the boss? In worker-owned cooperatives, everyone.

While political pundits dicker over the merits and perils of socialism, 12% of the U.S. workforce are experimenting with business models that challenge top-down capitalism.

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For most U.S. workers, what the boss says goes – no matter what. But for 17 million people, decision-making on the job is decidedly more democratic.

Worker cooperatives, where workers collectively own their business and share a voice in business decisions, are seeing renewed interest in the United States.

The support is broad, coming not just from socialists and liberals, but also conservatives.

Part of the surge in interest is driven by demographics. The so-called silver tsunami is well underway, with about 10,000 baby boomers retiring daily. Many boomers who started their own businesses are now wondering what will become of their life’s work.

“Owners typically of small and medium-size businesses … are discovering that nobody directly descended from them or really close to them was in a position to keep the business going,” says Richard Wolff, a Marxian economist at The New School university in New York and an advocate for workplace democracy. “They were often amazed when we sat down with them ... and explained to them the reality of an altogether different option.”

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Who’s the boss? In worker-owned cooperatives, everyone.

The chain of command at PV Squared, a solar panel installation company in Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley, is admittedly convoluted. 

“Technically, I’m Kim’s boss,” says general manager Jonathan Gregory of bookkeeper Kim Pinkham. But “Kim’s on the board, and the board oversees my position, so technically she’s my boss.”

As members of a worker-owned cooperative, the 40-plus employees elect their own board of directors and make decisions based not on majority rule, but by consensus. When they’re not holding the microphone, members at meetings express themselves with hand signals: a flat palm for a question or statement, a raised index finger for direct response, and a hand cupped in a “C” for a clarification. 

Workplace democracy “challenges us as humans and as colleagues to think about what is the ultimate level of respect and mutual benefit,” Mr. Gregory says. 

Employee-owned enterprises date to the 19th century, but the idea is gaining renewed interest in the United States. It’s fueled by demographic shifts that are causing businesses to change hands, as well as growing worries that the economy rewards elites instead of the common worker. Advocates see worker ownership as a practical way to reverse that trend, creating financial assets for those otherwise unable to claim a stake in the economy. 

The support is broad, coming not just from socialists and liberals, but also conservatives, and this gives Marjorie Kelly, executive vice president of The Democracy Collaborative, a nonprofit that advocates worker ownership, cause for optimism.

“It’s really a healing idea,” says Ms. Kelly, the co-author of a new book, “The Making of a Democratic Economy.” “We don’t have to be at each other’s throats to build the kind of economy that will benefit all of us.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Millennials enjoy a cafe operating out of Miller's Point, a retrofitted factory in the Remington-Charles Village neighborhood, on January 13, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Charmington's, a worker-owned and collectively run cafe, uses locally, organically grown ingredients in the food.

Meet the new boss

Currently, worker-owned entities employ about 17 million people, or 12% of the U.S. workforce. Such business can take a variety of forms, from equity-sharing plans like those found at Publix super markets, Land O’Lakes, and King Arthur Flour, to more radical models, like at PV Squared. Not all of them are equally democratic.

By far the most common are employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs, which offer tax advantages to businesses that adopt them. In an ESOP, shares are often allocated according to pay or seniority, giving some workers a larger stake than others. Members of ESOPs are typically able to vote on only a limited class of matters, such as a merger or a liquidation. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, some 14.2 million workers participate in ESOPs.

On the other end of the spectrum are workers collectives, where each worker gets one share, one vote, and where there is no hierarchy. 

Collective Copies, a copy shop with 11 workers and locations in Amherst and Florence, Massachusetts, operates according to this model. After a trial period of six months, new hires are invited to become owners. 

“Everyone’s on the board of directors,” says Matt Grillo, a worker-owner who has been with Collective Copies for 20 years. As with PV Squared, decisions are reached by consensus.

Mr. Grillo says that the copy shop, which opened in 1983, has successfully weathered the rise of the internet and fended off competition from Kinko’s. He sees several advantages over traditionally owned copy shops.

One of them is low turnover. “We had about 10 years where there really weren’t any new hires. And so we became really efficient.”

Another is the lack of layers of management. “My customers are getting a better product,” says Mr. Grillo. ”It’s right here. You’re talking to the owner. The buck stops here.”

Mixed performance

Some research suggests that employee ownership is linked to higher productivity. But a 2005 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that worker-governed firms often fail to maximize their economic potential. Their track record is mixed.

In an earlier round of ESOPs during the 1980s and 1990s, big companies such as Avis, Weirton Steel, and United Airlines adopted worker ownership with great fanfare only to see them fail because of corporate reorganization, international competition, or the lack of management-employee buy-in.

“There are, in fact, lots of bad jobs in our society,” says David Hammer, executive director of the ICA Group, a Massachusetts nonprofit that helps businesses transition to worker cooperatives. “If it was a lousy job yesterday and then you own it, now you own a job that’s lousy. And that’s not enough.”

Now, the pendulum is swinging back.

“There’s a lot more interest for employee ownership writ large in all of its different forms today than there has been in a very long time,” says Mr. Hammer. 

Two leading Democratic presidential candidates have floated plans to expand worker ownership and workplace democracy. Last August, Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require large corporations to have 40% of their board of directors selected by their workers.  

In May, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposed a rule by which large employers would be required to contribute a portion of their stocks to a worker-controlled fund that would pay out regular dividends to workers, who could then become voting shareholders. He also proposed a rule that would require workers to occupy seats on their corporations’ boards of directors.

Conservatives also like the idea. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan called it “the next logical step” in the development of capitalism (oddly echoing Karl Marx, who wrote more than a century earlier that worker cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.”) Last year, a Republican-controlled Senate passed the bipartisan Main Street Employee Ownership Act, empowering the Small Business Administration to guarantee loans for worker-owned enterprises.

A “silver tsunami”

Part of the rising interest in worker ownership is driven by demographics. The so-called silver tsunami, the transition of baby boomers into retirement, is well underway, including for business owners. 

“Owners typically of small and medium-size businesses who had spent lifetimes building them up … are discovering that nobody directly descended from them or really close to them was in a position to keep the business going,” says Richard Wolff, an economist at The New School university in New York and an advocate for workplace democracy. Many of his clients are “just this side of tears” as they try to decide whether to close their business, sell it to another company, or go public, he says. “They were often amazed when we sat down with them, often with accountants and lawyers and so forth, and explained to them the reality of an altogether different option.” 

For Professor Wolff, a Marxist, worker ownership represents a path to economic equality that avoids some of the mistakes made by previous generations of socialists, who relied too heavily on state intervention. “It is a new and different way of conceptualizing what the transition from capitalism to socialism is all about, and coincidentally it also demotes the state from playing a dominant role to playing the role of a facilitator.”

Of course, being a worker-owner often requires more mental investment, and can carry more risks, than a traditional job. When PV Squared opened in 2003, none of the original four members drew a paycheck for the first 10 months.  

“We had very understanding spouses,” says Ms. Pinkham, one of the founders. As the cooperative grew, its members had to figure out how to scale up while still retaining its democratic character.

“We had these growing pains going from five to eight people who could sit around a table and decide how the company is going to run to suddenly being 40 people who don’t fit around a table,” Ms. Pinkham says.

Under PV Squared’s current model, new hires work at the company for about three years before they are allowed to purchase a share in the company.

To Mr. Grillo, a father of four, Collective Copies has offered more than just an income.

“It has been pretty amazing for my life. I’ve since bought a home and raised a family,” he says. “Just being a small business owner in downtown Amherst, it’s really rewarding for me. It’s like I’m the shopkeeper from ‘The Muffin Man’ nursery rhyme or something. I say good morning to all the other shopkeepers.” 

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Peering into the deep

Discovery beneath the waves

3. The improbable wonders of deep-sea coral

Few ecosystems spark as much wonder as the coral reef. But discoveries of coral communities on the deep-sea floor have added a layer of mystery to these already awe-inspiring lifeforms. This is Part 2 of “Peering into the deep,” a five-part series exploring our evolving understanding of life beneath the waves.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

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Shallow coral reefs are a snorkeler’s paradise. But there’s another world of reefs, far from where snorkelers or even scuba divers can reach. Thousands of feet beneath the sea, vibrant deep-sea reefs thrive in seemingly inhospitable conditions. 

For the scientists studying these remote reefs, it’s easy to tick off reasons why people should care about them: They are important habitats, contribute to the ocean’s role as a carbon sink, hold records of past climate events in their skeletons, and offer potential for pharmaceuticals and other bioinspired products. Scientists hope that some of the emerging research about the remarkable physiology that enables them to survive in the dark, acidic, low-oxygen environment of the deep might offer lessons for how to better protect shallow-water reefs.

But perhaps just as important is the simple sense of wonder and mystery that deep-sea reef discoveries can spark, says ecologist James Barry.

“If I can get 10 people to say, ‘That’s really cool, I never thought about anything but the surf,’ that can go a long way in making people think about the ocean,” says Dr. Barry.

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The improbable wonders of deep-sea coral

Most people can picture a coral reef: A cacophony of color and light and texture, teeming with life just below the waves. 

But thousands of feet deeper, where light barely filters and waters are cold, acidic, and almost devoid of oxygen, coral reefs also thrive. 

Despite the harsh conditions, these deep-water reefs are also filled with vibrant color and life: lush gardens of coral and sponges, branches and fans and mounds that are often many hundreds of years old and don’t require sunlight for energy. It’s a more alien world, and a more unknown one, but vitally important within the varied ocean ecosystem in its own way, and also facing threats, just as shallow-water reefs are.

For the scientists studying these remote reefs, it’s easy to tick off reasons why people should care about them: They are important habitats for fish and other species. They’re one piece of the carbon storage that the deep ocean does so effectively, pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it – a critical part of the Earth’s stable climate system. They contain an important record of past ocean climate events in their skeletons. There are potential pharmaceutical and other benefits in corals and sponges that we haven’t begun to tap into. 

But perhaps just as important is the simple sense of wonder and mystery that deep-sea reefs can spark, says James Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

“If I can get 10 people to say, ‘That’s really cool, I never thought about anything but the surf,’ that can go a long way in making people think about the ocean,” says Dr. Barry. 

“I don’t think you can get a lot more exciting than deep-sea coral communities,” he adds. “They’re iconic, they’re mysterious, they’re really beautiful.”

Dr. Barry has been studying deep-sea corals off the California coast for some 15 years. He points to images on his computer of giant pink “bubblegum coral,” branching yellow bamboo coral, and huge sponges. 

“I don’t view them any different than I do an old-growth redwood forest,” he says. “They’re actually older than those, and the complexity of the ecosystem is about the same.”

© 2006 MBARI
The manipulator arm from MBARI’s remotely operated vehicle Tiburon holds a current meter in front of large deep-sea corals on Davidson Seamount, about 75 miles southwest of Monterey, California.

Unlike the terrestrial forests, though, researchers are just beginning to understand these deep-sea coral ecosystems: how they can survive such harsh conditions, how they evade predation, how fish and other creatures use them as a habitat, what indications they give us of ocean climate records, and what services they might offer humans.

Unlikely discovery

In Monterey Bay, Dr. Barry has been partnering with scientists at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, both to do long-term studies of these reefs and to experiment with restoration work: Is it possible to bring coral back to areas devastated by trawling?

Efforts have involved clipping off small branches of large existing corals and moving them to new areas. Early signs have been promising. 

“Many of the species have lived well over a year,” says Andrew DeVogelaere, the research coordinator for the marine sanctuary. “What’s more exciting than anything is that some of these corals that we’ve moved now have eggs on them.”

Just finding good deep-sea coral reef sites can be challenging; mapping of the seafloor is rarely detailed. The discovery of Sur Ridge, now the coral observatory site where Dr. Barry and Dr. DeVogelaere are doing their transplant work, was the result of serendipity and a bet between friends.

At the end of 2013, the two scientists were out at sea studying a lost shipping container, and had the unusual experience of finishing their work a day early.

They had long speculated what sort of life might be found on the seafloor at Sur Ridge, a rocky ridge several thousand feet below the surface, about 40 miles offshore. Dr. DeVogelaere thought it was a likely habitat for corals; Dr. Barry thought it would probably be covered in mud.

Together, they selected what seemed a promising location on the map, and sent the remotely operated vehicle down 4,000 feet. Dr. DeVogelaere decided to poke around and see what was there, while Dr. Barry sat in the back of the ROV control room, planning to work on a manuscript.

The remote vehicle encountered a rock wall, Dr. DeVogelaere remembers, channeling the thrill of the dive as he recalls it. “As we approached it I saw this precious coral. Then a bamboo coral. Then a wall of coral. Jim just closed his computer, and he was in for the rest of the day. It was so exciting.”

© 2006 MBARI
Crabs perch on deep-sea corals and large vase sponges on Sur Ridge, an underwater mountain off the Central California coast.

Deep-sea corals exist throughout the world at a wide variety of latitudes. Just in recent months, scientists exploring the waters off the southeast U.S. coast discovered a massive, deep coral reef that stretches for hundreds of miles, says Erik Cordes, an ecologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. Scientists had known there was some coral there, but nothing close to the extensive, rich ecosystem they found.

“You’d think the Atlantic coast of Florida was pretty well explored,” says Dr. Cordes. “Every time I go out to sea, I go somewhere that no one has ever been before, and that’s not going to stop. ... I have dozens of undescribed species sitting in my lab – pieces of coral that we didn’t know existed.”

Sentinels of the deep

Even in the Gulf of Mexico – also considered relatively well explored – there are huge parts of the seafloor that no one has ever seen. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Dr. Cordes helped examine the impacts to some of those coral reefs, some 4,000 to 6,000 feet below the surface. 

“We were discovering coral communities and documenting impacts at the same time,” he says.

Initially, he and others had hoped that impacts from the spill would skip the deep sea, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, oil at the surface got churned up with plankton and other marine organisms, turning the continuous shower of organic detritus known as “marine snow” that bathes the deep sea in nutrients into a “dirty blizzard.”

Dr. Cordes found many corals covered in oil and releasing mucus – a classic coral stress response – while some others had only minor impacts.

In the end, the coral research provided some of the best data on the effects of the spill on marine life.

“Corals are really good sentinels at sea,” says Dr. Cordes. “This coral is sitting right there, we know the oil is fingerprinted back to Deepwater Horizon. It was some of the most compelling evidence of the entire event.”

Like Dr. Barry, Dr. Cordes emphasizes that our understanding of deep-sea coral, while expanding rapidly, is still very much in a discovery phase. Among other things, he hopes that some of the emerging lessons about the remarkable physiology of deep-sea coral will help with understanding the shallow-water corals, which are seeing increasing impacts from warming and acidification.

“The deep-water corals are remarkable,” says Dr. Cordes. “We’re finding them living under conditions we really didn’t think were possible for corals to grow and form skeletons. ... They’re incredibly resilient, and doing things we’re not sure shallow-water corals can do.” If biologists can understand, at the cellular level, how they survive and thrive, he says, there may be lessons that help us understand what makes some shallow-water corals more resilient than others.

A looming question

Off the coast of California, Dr. Barry is also focused on coral physiology. He’s trying to understand the basic processes that regulate predation, metabolism, and the overall population dynamics of these reefs. And he’s homing in on the threats to deep-water reefs – not just from trawling, which is well understood, but from the changing chemistry in the ocean: falling oxygen levels, rising acidity, warming temperatures.

At this point, it’s still not clear which of those factors will be most important, though there are indicators that they all might pose a threat to some coral species. Dr. Barry suspects that oxygen may be one of the most important. 

Many of these corals live in what’s known as the “oxygen minimum zone” – depths of the ocean where oxygen levels are at their lowest. In the waters around Monterey, that’s less than 10% of levels at the surface. Climate change is causing that zone to expand, and it may push some coral past the point where their metabolisms can effectively function.

Dr. Barry is in the process of getting time-lapse cameras placed in their coral observatory so that they can truly watch day-to-day interactions in the way that most ecologists do in terrestrial ecosystems, but that’s rarely possible in the deep sea.

Dr. DeVogelaere, like Dr. Barry, can tick off utilitarian reasons why understanding the threats to these deep-sea organisms matters. But he also stresses a moral obligation to biodiversity. 

“We’re here now. And we’re living with these ancient, beautiful creatures,” Dr. DeVogelaere says. “And it’s our decision, and the rest of the public’s, if we want the next generation to be able to see them.” 

This story is the second installment of “Peering into the deep,” a five-part series on the ocean. 

Part 1 dove into the ocean’s “twilight zone,” where a conveyor belt of tiny critters transport carbon up and down the water column each day.

Part 2, which you just read, highlights the surprising discovery of vibrant coral communities thriving in the seemingly inhospitable deep.

Part 3 features an emerging technology that is enabling researchers to survey fish populations using a small sample of water. 

Part 4 explores how discoveries of life in the deep sea are informing the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Part 5 will be an auditory treat featuring the mysterious sounds of the sea, from grunting haddock to singing cusk eels.

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4. Kibbutz in the city?

With a modern pioneering zeal and a passion for social justice, young Israelis are reimagining the kibbutz, planting scores of collectives in disadvantaged neighborhoods around the country.

Dina Kraft
Nir Sabo (left), Hyla Kemeny, and Harel Felder, all members of urban kibbutzim, meet on the roof of an urban kibbutz in Beersheba, Israel. Messrs. Sabo and Felder grew up in Tel Aviv suburbs, while Ms. Kemeny is an immigrant from Canada.

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The kibbutz, Israel's iconic, mostly agricultural socialist cooperative, helped pioneer the state and define its borders. But in the past two decades, some 220 urban cooperatives have been established across Israel. Their members share a modern mission: to build a rich communal life for themselves while living in low-income, underserved urban settings with the goal of improving life for local residents, specifically through education.

“It’s important for me to live a life that is full of meaning and feel like I’m doing something to make a difference, and this is the place where I’m doing that. It’s also important that I take these dreams and try to fulfill them together with friends,” says Nir Sabo, a founder of his kibbutz in the desert city of Beersheba.

“The founders, the halutzim, they are our heroes,” says Gilad Perry, using the Hebrew word for pioneers. “But the question of today’s young generation is what does it mean to be a pioneering Zionist today? … It is not draining a swamp, or settling the land. ... But it is drawn from the same basic idea for being responsible for your life, for your country’s life, and more broadly, for humanity.”

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Kibbutz in the city?

The youthful man in cutoff shorts and sandals punches in the security code of a nondescript apartment building in the center of this desert city, bounds up its three flights of stairs, and announces, “This is our kibbutz.”

It’s a jarring declaration for anyone familiar with Israel’s iconic kibbutzim – the verdant, mostly agricultural socialist cooperatives that helped pioneer pre-state Israel and define the country’s borders.

Yet in this so-called urban kibbutz, 16 members live here in four apartments, including members with children; another 14 members live in another building nearby, and a smattering live in apartments in the neighborhood. Members share not only living space, but some of their possessions, and pool their incomes.

They also share a modern mission: building a rich communal life for themselves, and doing so in a low-income, underserved urban setting in Israel’s so-called periphery with the goal of improving life for local residents, specifically through education.

“It’s important for me to live a life that is full of meaning and feel like I’m doing something to make a difference, and this is the place where I’m doing that. It’s also important that I take these dreams and try to fulfill them together with friends,” says the cutoff-clad Nir Sabo, who helped found this kibbutz in 2005.

In the past two decades, some 220 urban cooperatives have been established across Israel, some in the form of kibbutzim and communes with shared economies, others in the shape of individuals or families who are economically independent but live in the same apartment buildings or neighborhoods and see themselves as a unit.

Dina Kraft
Ella Orion (left) and Bella Alexandrov, members of the Kama group, an urban collective in Beersheba, sit in Ms. Orion's apartment in the city. On the floor is art utilized in a ceremony that the group created for its children starting grade school.

Impact on society

While the cooperatives take different forms, they all share a mission as activists committed to improving the education, social welfare, and social justice of the cities and towns where they live. In 2006 an umbrella organization called Eretz-Ir was formed to help support the cooperatives and encourage new ones in the name of promoting social change.

This growing trend extends beyond Israel’s Jewish majority. There are also cooperatives made up of Arab citizens and Druze, and others with both Jewish and Arab members. There are also cooperatives made up specifically of young Ethiopian Jews.

These cooperative communities are most often located in what are called development towns, far from the economic and cultural heart of central Israel. Considered something of the country’s backwater, these towns are not an obvious draw for educated young people. But those joining these cooperatives in growing numbers say they are choosing to live in these neighborhoods and towns precisely because that is where they can have the most impact on Israeli society.

Gabe Exler emigrated from Chicago nine years ago with his wife and moved directly to Beersheba, where they were founders of a liberal religious community focused on civic engagement that includes immigrants like themselves and native Israelis.

“What I learned is that being here gives people a feeling they are part of something meaningful,” he says. “I think people are also searching for a community they can connect with – to celebrate in times of joy and be comforted with during times of sorrow – and in major urban centers you see loneliness and depression creeping in,” he says.

A kibbutz for Millennials

Mr. Sabo, who grew up in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono, walks across his kibbutz building’s sprawling roof deck, which is lined with potted plants growing herbs and tomatoes – perhaps the only nod to the original kibbutz movement’s origins as an ideology rooted in not just communal, egalitarian living but working the land.

On the deck are scattered picnic tables and chairs where group members like him – graduates of one of Israel’s largest youth movements – gather sometimes late into the night discussing ideas and educational projects they have underway in the city.

These intense, often ideological discussions would be familiar to the country’s original halutzim – the Hebrew word for pioneers – who over a century ago laid the groundwork for creating what became the State of Israel. They were the generation who founded the first kibbutzim – envisioned as utopias of egalitarianism and social justice – and serve as inspiration for Mr. Sabo and his friends as they strive today to foster a more humanist, democratic Israel.

Mr. Sabo’s kibbutz is one of 16 in the Dror Israel movement, the organization for adult graduates of a large socialist-oriented youth movement called HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, Hebrew for The Working and Studying Youth, that was founded in 1924. Their work focuses on education in local schools, but also with at-risk youth and vocational training for adults.

“The founders, the halutzim, they are our heroes,” says Gilad Perry, a leader of Dror Israel and himself a member of an educational kibbutz. “But the question of today’s young generation is what does it mean to be a pioneering Zionist today? … It is not draining a swamp, or settling the land. It’s something else. But it is drawn from the same basic idea for being responsible for your life, for your country’s life, and more broadly, for humanity.”

Sense of belonging

“Today’s kibbutzim are very good places to live in, they have nice swimming pools, nice living standards, this is great,” says Mr. Perry. “But if you are talking about … pioneering today, it is done in the neighborhoods, in the schools, in renewing a sense of what it means to belong to a society, a nation.”

Someone who joins an urban kibbutz, he says, does this “because they feel a strong sense of belonging and attachment – their personal life and life as part of a society are one.”

About 30 miles from Beersheba, near the border with Gaza, is Sderot, the most frequent target in the country for Hamas rockets. Its urban kibbutz is also run by Dror Israel.

Harel Felder, who grew up in Hod Hasharon, outside Tel Aviv, has been a member for nine years. It took time for his parents to understand this was his life, and despite the rocket attacks, and the town’s struggling economy, and living with nine housemates – this was and will continue to be his home.

“I feel like this is where I am working for the future of my friends and the future of my country,” he says.

Different models, same goal

In a high-rise apartment building in Beersheba lives the “Kama” group, a community that was established 17 years ago. It has evolved from young single people living in various apartments to 15 families with young children living on several floors of the building and in a few homes nearby.

The adults work mostly as educators or social workers. Sabbath dinners are eaten together, there are weekly meetings to discuss issues and update each other on their lives, members created their own ceremonies to welcome children born into the community and celebrate the start of elementary school, and they all contribute to an emergency fund for members who find themselves in need.

Among their civic projects was the establishment of Beersheba’s first cooperative nursery school.

Bella Alexandrov, a trained social worker, describes herself as someone who never planned to live in Beersheba after arriving there from Latvia as an 8-year-old. She still remembers the shock when her family moved into one of its poorer neighborhoods.

“I thought about Israel as a place where bananas and coconuts fell from the trees, and I arrived and saw an ugly neighborhood with drug addicts and trash in the streets and I did all I could to leave,” she says.

But a few years ago she heard about Kama, and after sharing a Friday night Shabbat meal she became intrigued, ended up joining, and eventually took over as director for Eretz-Ir, the urban collectives umbrella. Recently it has been focusing on how to develop employment in periphery areas.

“There is momentum, people are seeking communities, and the state understands the importance of having a strong periphery, so more state money is being allotted to these initiatives,” she says.

For her, being part of Kama is deeply fulfilling. “We talk about leadership, about social change, but being a member gave me a feeling of connection I never had before.”

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On Film

5. How sweet it is: ‘Honeyland’ gets rare 5 stars

The beekeeper lifestyle chronicled in “Honeyland” is uncommon, yet it speaks to universal truths about survival and human connection.

Courtesy of Neon
“Honeyland,” which began as an environmental video for the Nature Conservation Program in North Macedonia, highlights the isolation and heroism of beekeeper Hatidze Muratova.
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How sweet it is: ‘Honeyland’ gets rare 5 stars

One of the great things about documentaries is that they can transport you to places you might otherwise never know about. Certainly the world of Macedonian beekeepers was not high on my must-see list but the highly acclaimed “Honeyland,” which is about that world and so much more, is intensely immersive from the first frame. The lifestyle it chronicles is as remote as possible from our own, and yet it speaks to universal truths about survival and human connection.

Directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, the film, which contains no narration or on-camera interviews, began as an environmental video for the Nature Conservation Program in what is now known as North Macedonia. When the filmmakers encountered Hatidze Muratova, the last remaining beekeeper in an isolated mountain region deep within the Balkans, the project found its focus. More than 400 hours of footage was shot over a period of three years, during which time Hatidze, caring for her blind, ailing 85-year-old mother, Nazife, in their run-down hut, is encroached upon by a troop of neighbors: Hussein Sam and his wife and seven children and a herd of cattle.   

The scenes involving Hatidze before the Sams’ arrival are revelatory. We see how she tends to her bees in the traditional way passed down from her family for generations. Her relationship to the bees is almost familial: She sings to them, is never stung by them, and she makes sure she only takes as much honey as she needs to sell in small quantities at a market about four hours’ walk from her home. Of her sharing with the bees, she is fond of saying, “Half for them, half for you.”

Despite the harshness of her solitary life in an environment with no agriculture, running water, vegetation, or electricity, Hatidze, at least until the neighbors arrive, appears contented. She never married and has no siblings, and her mother’s crotchety demands are unceasing. And yet the connection between mother and daughter is extraordinarily tender. Nazife announces that she has no intention of dying but woefully confesses to Hatidze that she is “just making your life a misery.” But Hatidze has emotional reserves that extend way beyond her caring for bees. Nazife, in a sense, is her queen bee. The love they extend to each other – in one scene, she gently feeds her mother honeyed syrup – is as palpable as the golden daylight that streams into their hovel, or the lamplight that illuminates them at night.

When we see Hatidze in the marketplace selling her honey jars, she has an easeful conviviality. She may essentially live as a hermit, but she has no trepidation about mixing it up with outsiders. She loves the bartering, the byplay; she even indulges herself by purchasing red hair dye. The directors have commented that, much to their surprise, she welcomed their intrusion into her life – that it was always her dream to be filmed. This accounts for the amazing intimacy of the film’s scenes between Hatidze and her mother – scenes which, at times, especially when Nazife is dying, seemed a tad too intimate for me. Some moments, perhaps, should be kept off camera.

Hatidze’s capacity for friendship, at least for a time, comes into play when the Sams arrive. She welcomes the hubbub and the pets and the teens and toddlers roaming about. But then Hussein, who can’t support his sprawling family only with the cattle, takes up beekeeping. Hatidze generously imparts her methods to him but, pressured by money-grubbing marketeers, he disregards the half-for-them-half-for-us rule and wreaks havoc on the region’s beekeeping biodiversity.

I suppose you could read “Honeyland” as an indictment of capitalist greed and its effects on the ecosystem, and there’s some truth in that. But the film is vastly more valuable as a document about an extraordinary life – an extraordinary heroine – and the frail future of the traditions that formed her. It’s the best kind of documentary – an eye-opener and a mind-opener.    

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the quantity and units of the footage the filmmakers collected. 

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The Monitor's View

As bullying revives, so must solutions

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A new report suggests bullying incidents are back on the rise, requiring a renewed vigilance to prevent such harm. Experts says there are some things adults should not do. Threatening severe punishment, for example, may be counterproductive as it may result in fewer reports of incidents by children or parents. Removing an offender from school should occur only after efforts to improve behavior fail.

Adults can become too fearful that death by suicide is a possibility. Though a connection can be made between bullying and suicidal behaviors, that connection can easily be overstated and even counterproductive. Suicide is the result of many factors, including mental health issues. Even introducing the topic into a discussion about bullying among youths could lead to “suicide contagion.”

Many of those who bully others have been subjected to bullying themselves. Effective counseling includes changing attitudes rather than simply punishing. Talking with children about the problem, explaining why it is wrong and how to prevent it, will help. So will including school lessons that highlight models of positive behavior. With enough patience, and commitment, these approaches can again send bullying into decline.

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As bullying revives, so must solutions

In recent years, bullying among American youths was in decline. Yet a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests incidents are back on the rise. The report didn’t look at causes. One possibility is that efforts to educate young people about the issue have resulted in more cases being reported. Still, the problem has not gone away. It needs special vigilance to prevent harm to anyone.

The reasons that kids harass each other, either in person or remotely via digital devices, are complex. This means parents, teachers, and other caring adults need an approach that is thoughtful and flexible. Bullying has many forms, from verbal abuse (name calling, spreading rumors, threats, shunning, etc.) to physical abuse (hitting, tripping, and so on). Victims can experience depression, substance abuse, or sleep difficulties. They may develop academic problems or drop out of school. Some are physically harmed or die by suicide. First responders to an incident need to make clear to an offender that the behavior is wrong and that they will work with the individual to ensure that it stops.

Experts says there are some things adults should not do. Threatening severe punishment, for example, may be counterproductive as it may result in fewer reports of incidents by children or parents. Removing an offender from school should occur only after efforts to improve behavior fail, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Adults can become too fearful that death by suicide is a possibility. Though a connection can be made between bullying and suicidal behaviors, that connection can easily be overstated and even counterproductive. Suicide is the result of many factors, including mental health issues. Even introducing the topic into a discussion about bullying among youths could lead to what the HRSA calls “suicide contagion.”

Many of those who bully others have been subjected to bullying themselves. Effective counseling includes changing attitudes rather than simply punishing. Talking with children about the problem, explaining why it is wrong and how to prevent it, will help. So will including school lessons that highlight models of positive behavior. With enough patience, and commitment, these approaches can again send bullying into decline.

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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.

‘Abundant good that money cannot buy’

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It often seems there are more problems than resources to meet them. But turning to God for inspiration brings solutions that meet our needs, enabling us to experience God’s love and care for all.

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‘Abundant good that money cannot buy’

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Lean on the sustaining infinite
And blessings will be yours.
Lean not on person, place, or thing,
Or economic laws;
But lean upon all-blessing God
Who will all needs supply
And give to all abundant good
That money cannot buy.
– Jill Gooding, alt., “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 519, © CSBD

God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

God gives you His spiritual ideas, and in turn, they give you daily supplies. Never ask for to-morrow: it is enough that divine Love is an ever-present help; and if you wait, never doubting, you will have all you need every moment. What a glorious inheritance is given to us through the understanding of omnipresent Love! More we cannot ask: more we do not want: more we cannot have. This sweet assurance is the “Peace, be still” to all human fears, to suffering of every sort.
Mary Baker Eddy, “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 307

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Viewfinder

Photos of the Week, July 29 to Aug. 2

Carlos Barria/Reuters
Photojournalists strive to capture moments that tell a full story, bringing news from the remotest corners of the globe in an instant. Through them we learn more about the world, and ourselves. Here is a roundup of photos from this week that Monitor photo editors found the most compelling.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( August 5th, 2019 )

That’s all for this week. Thanks for tuning in. Come back next week when we look at “glamping” – that’s glamorous camping for you indoor types.

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 02, 2019
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