2019
August
27
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In today’s edition, our five hand-picked stories explore democracy (the Senate filibuster), stewardship (the Amazon), identity (education in Turkey), progress (for U.S. automakers), and hope (in a Seattle cafe).

But first, a helping hand can make all the difference. Especially to another 8-year-old struggling on the first day of school.

Courtney Moore of Wichita, Kansas, posted a photo on Facebook of her son, Christian, gently holding another boy’s hand: “I’m so proud of my son, he seen a kid balled up into a corner crying, so he went to console him, grabbed his hand and walked him inside of the school!”

Christian’s act of generosity is going viral. April Crites replied, “Tell your son I said thank you so very much! That little boy he helped is my son and is autistic, I worry every day that he’s going to get bullied for being different and your son just absolutely warmed my heart. If there were more children like him I wouldn’t worry about such things.”

You might ask why report on one boy’s kindness when there are more “important” events in the world today. Perhaps. But when political leaders or CEOs make similar gestures, we call it diplomacy, or disaster relief, or community relations. 

In second grade, as in diplomatic circles, acts of compassion may cost you social capital. Your friends may scoff. But such acts signal that you’ve got enough courage to do them anyway.

What could be a more profound early lesson? Kindness dispels fear. It ends tears. It says, you’re not alone. 

Christian Moore, well done.

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1. Is the filibuster a drag on democracy?

The filibuster was once a democratic tool to give voice to the government minority. But it’s not working that way anymore. 

David

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Is the filibuster slowing the progress of American democracy? Both President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren say it is. The former blames it for the GOP Senate’s failure to get rid of Obamacare, among other things. The latter believes it could hinder the passage of climate and gun control legislation if a Democrat wins the White House next year.

But the filibuster is a Senate tradition. It’s meant to protect minority rights. In essence, it subjects contested bills and nominations to a 60-vote Senate threshold. In theory it forces both sides to work together to find paths forward acceptable to all.

The problem is that in practice that’s no longer how things work. Today’s polarized politics make the filibuster a procedural wall. In recent years both sides have used procedural “nuclear options” to bypass it for judicial nominations. Is it only a matter of time before the whole thing topples?

“The filibuster could be a useful tool in a more open Senate,” says Mark Schmitt, director of policy reform at the Washington think tank New America. “It all works differently when everything’s following party lines.” 

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Is the filibuster a drag on democracy?

To scrap or not to scrap? Lawmakers are again wrestling with that recurrent, abiding question about the filibuster, the wonky Senate procedure that some say is a key agent of obstruction in Congress. 

President Donald Trump has placed himself squarely in Camp Scrap, urging Senate Republicans to get rid of the filibuster so that the GOP can muscle through legislation on controversial issues like immigration without needing bipartisan support. 

Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a similar case earlier this month in a New York Times op-ed, in which he urged his party to eliminate the procedure once they regain power. Otherwise the Senate will never act on issues such as climate change and guns, he said. 

A few days later, current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issued a rebuttal, defending the filibuster and accusing Democrats of wanting to run roughshod over Senate tradition in order to “inflict” a “laundry list of socialist policies” on Middle America. 

The 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are also split on the issue. Some agree with former Senator Reid that it’s blocking liberal change. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, backs its elimination. Others warn that in the long run Senate Democrats would regret losing such a powerful legislative weapon. 

How much is the filibuster really to blame for legislative gridlock? What would it take to get rid of it, and what could the long-term effects look like?

Here’s a primer on the Senate’s favorite scapegoat, and the cases for and against it. 

What’s a filibuster for?

First, what is the Senate filibuster?

The filibuster is, in essence, any attempt by a senator to block a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote. 

One way of doing that is to physically stand on the Senate floor and speak – because according to Senate rules, a senator can pretty much talk for as long as he or she wants (with some exceptions), and a bill can’t go to a vote if any senator still wants to say something. Think “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the 1939 film where Jimmy Stewart’s character, a senator named Jefferson Smith, speaks on the Senate floor for 25 hours to postpone the vote on an appropriations bill (and defend his innocence in a villainous graft scheme). 

Today’s filibuster, though, is a lot less dramatic, most often coming by way of a clunky procedural mechanism called cloture. 

Before 1917, a senator could stand and speak until the end of time, if he wanted. Debate would end only when the senator gave up or got concessions he could live with from his colleagues. But that year, President Woodrow Wilson – pressured to act against Germany toward the end of World War I – urged senators to create a way to close debate more quickly, and Rule 22 was born. 

Under Rule 22, a group of at least 16 senators can file a cloture motion, or a motion to end debate over a piece of legislation. If three-fifths of the senators present – typically 60 – vote to invoke cloture, debate ends. The Senate then moves to an up-or-down vote on the bill in question.

These days, senators are “filibustering” when they agree to be part of the minority needed to vote against cloture on any debatable matter the Senate is considering. The bottom line is that a large enough minority can block action on a bill or personnel nomination – even if the bill or nomination itself would have had enough support to pass. 

“You’re no longer requiring a senator to stand on the floor to keep talking,” says Mark Schmitt, director of policy reform at the Washington think tank New America. “It just becomes, ‘Do you have 60 votes?’” 

The “nuclear option”

When people talk about abolishing the filibuster, what do they mean – and how would it happen? 

The word “filibuster” never actually appears in the Senate rule book. Eliminating the filibuster today means lowering the 60-vote threshold needed to block a measure to a simple majority by amending existing Senate rules. If only 51 senators were needed to end debate, the reasoning goes, then it would be much harder for the minority to block or delay the final vote on a bill.

Now, a Senate rule can be changed via majority vote on a simple resolution. But if the change is controversial and opponents are willing to mount a filibuster, rules changes require a supermajority of senators – typically 67 – in favor.

In recent years, senators who’ve wanted to change the rules haven’t been able to get that supermajority. Instead they’ve employed what’s called the “nuclear option.”

In 2013, Democrats under Majority Leader Reid ignored the two-thirds rule and voted by simple majority to lower the threshold needed to invoke cloture during the confirmation process for almost all executive nominations – effectively eliminating the filibuster for most presidential appointees. In 2017, Republicans under Majority Leader McConnell did the same to include Supreme Court nominees. 

In both cases, the senators pushing for change wanted to speed up the process of confirming appointees and rely less on their colleagues from across the aisle to do it. Each time, they used arcane legislative maneuvers that some experts judge aboveboard, but others say involved violations of previously existing Senate procedures.

Given how slim Senate majorities have become, and how difficult it is to get 67 senators to agree on anything, any effort to abolish the legislative filibuster would likely again involve the nuclear option.

Why boot the filibuster? 

It sounds like the filibuster is meant to give the minority leverage. While the 2020 map looks better for Senate Democrats, who are in the minority now, than the 2018 one did, they still face an uphill climb to the majority.

So why would Democrats push to get rid of the filibuster, which would theoretically benefit a Republican majority? The filibuster, after all, historically empowers a single senator, or a large enough minority of senators, to slow down debate and encourage bipartisan buy-in. 

Except the filibuster doesn’t really work that way anymore. Over the years, both parties have used the filibuster more as a tool to block laws indefinitely rather than to negotiate any sort of meaningful deal with the other side, congressional scholars say.

“The filibuster could be a useful tool in a more open Senate,” Mr. Schmitt says. “It all works differently when everything’s following party lines.”

Some suggest that a filibuster-free Senate could advantage the left in the long haul. While Senate majorities are increasingly short-lived, progressives could use their time in the sun to pass sweeping social reforms – and some theorize that it’s incredibly difficult to roll back major social benefits once they’ve been passed. 

But generally, those calling for filibuster reform today see Democrats beating the odds and reclaiming unified control of government in 2020, only to find Republicans blocking their agenda at every turn. Republicans tend to control states with smaller, less diverse populations, but – the argument goes – the filibuster as used today could give the GOP an effective veto over legislation supported by both a majority in the Senate and a majority of Americans. 

“More and more Democratic activists are picking up on the fact that the filibuster, either by purpose or unintended consequences, is benefiting a certain amount of small-population states,” Jim Manley, a former top Democratic aide, tells The Atlantic. “There’s an inherent unfairness to the Senate that more and more people are focusing on.”

Tradition!

What’s the case for keeping the filibuster in place?  

One argument rests on tradition. The framers of the Constitution always envisioned the Senate as a more deliberative body than the majority-run House of Representatives; James Madison described it as a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” that tended to influence members of the House. According to this line of thinking, the filibuster serves as a tool that helps maintain that deliberative quality. 

The cynical view is that the filibuster – or specifically, the supermajority requirement to end debate – makes it easier for senators to duck out of difficult votes. Because the 60-vote threshold is almost impossible to hit on any legislation, senators can take a more radical position than they’d like, or not take a position at all, without suffering blame or consequence. 

“The filibuster has become a way to shift blame to someone else, to [either] an oppressive and draconian majority or a totally empowered minority,” says James Wallner, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute who’s written extensively about Senate procedure. “It’s a way to say, ‘I can’t do X. Therefore it’s OK for me to stop trying.’”

Besides, he says, getting rid of the filibuster wouldn’t necessarily end Senate gridlock. Growing partisanship will still be a problem. So will the precedent that gives the majority leader the ability to be recognized on the floor first – because that allows him (or her) to offer the maximum number of amendments permitted on a piece of legislation before anyone else can. (The process is called “filling the amendment tree,” and it’s an effective way of preventing senators from offering amendments to a bill that the leader doesn’t want debated.) 

Using the nuclear option to get rid of the filibuster would only further destabilize the Senate and prove that senators don’t really care anymore about following the rules that govern the chamber, Mr. Wallner says. 

Indeed, in his view, the biggest obstructions to Senate productivity are senators themselves. The Senate, he says, is built to produce legislation – as long as senators are willing to work through multiple failed votes, and understand that they won’t always be able to control or predict the outcome. But that’s not how senators approach the process anymore. 

“They treat the Senate like it’s a factory that produces legislative widgets, and leaders think their job is to make sure the outcome is the widget they designed,” Mr. Wallner says. “They don’t want to put in the effort.”

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2. Inside the Amazon, a wealth of services for the whole planet

It can be easy to shrug off destruction of distant lands as someone else’s problem. But when it comes to the Amazon rainforest, what happens there touches us all.

David
Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
Smoke rises over a deforested plot of the Amazon jungle in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, August 24, 2019. Satellites have detected more than 40,000 fires in the Amazon since January, about a 35% increase over the average of the past eight years.

It’s been called the world’s most important ecosystem. The Amazon rainforest covers 3 million square miles and includes nearly 20% of the world’s river water. And even a tiny section of the Amazon is a miracle of evolution and abundance. Thousands of different plant and animal species can be found in a single acre, all perfectly adapted for a specific niche. 

Currently, a significant chunk of that ecosystem is burning. Satellites have detected more than 40,000 fires in the Amazon since January, about a 35% increase over the average seen in the past eight years. There have been worse years for both fires and deforestation, especially in the early 2000s. But “what’s so unfortunate about this year is that it basically reverses the favorable trend of a number of years,” says Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental science professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, who has conducted long-running research projects in the Brazilian Amazon. “And it’s all driven by government rhetoric.”

As global alarm has risen in recent weeks, some of the claims have been overstated – no, the Amazon does not produce 20% of the Earth’s oxygen. But this vital ecosystem provides a wealth of services that serve the whole planet, as a repository of biodiversity, as a carbon sink, as a driver of climate. Its destruction, Dr. Lovejoy insists, should concern everyone, no matter where they live. 

Many scientists fear the forest could be near a “tipping point,” and losing much more will cause it to shift from rainforest to savanna, a transition that could have sweeping effects beyond the region. “A significant portion of the world’s biological diversity is in those forests,” says Dr. Lovejoy. “And the last thing the world needs right now is additional carbon going into the atmosphere.” – Amanda Paulson, staff writer

Amanda Paulson and Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. What debate over modern education says about a divided Turkey

Turkey’s teachers are struggling with a new classroom curriculum that reflects the crosscurrents of secular and religious values shaping the society.

David
Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
History teacher Ayşe Alan, dean of the prestigious Koç School on the eastern outskirts of Istanbul, with student sculptures in the school's cafeteria, June 17, 2019. Educators are grappling with reforms set down by the ruling, Islam-leaning Justice and Development Party.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in the past called for the creation of a “pious generation,” and presented a strong education system as a “must have” for a secure national future. But educational reforms underway in Turkey are being criticized on both sides of the religious-secular divide.

Educators praise some aspects of the reforms, which are meant to transition Turkey from an agrarian to urban society, boost technical prowess, and sharpen critical thinking. But they come as Turkey’s education system is still reeling from purges of tens of thousands of teachers following a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

“Every ideology is trying to form their own citizens, that’s normal,” says Ayşe Alan, a history teacher and dean of the prestigious Koç School, speaking in a personal capacity. “Now they are playing with history courses, which is an old story. They always do that. Every government changes something.”

Ms. Alan has written against the new religious “militarism” in schools, just as she once wrote against the secular “militarism” that long dominated Turkish classrooms. “Now the danger is we have both: We have militarism, and a religious system at the same time. This really scares me.”

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What debate over modern education says about a divided Turkey

At one of the most expensive and renowned private high schools in Turkey, on the eastern outskirts of Istanbul, the impressive results of the graduating seniors of the Koç School are celebrated.

This fall several of them will begin attending top universities around the world, including at least three at Harvard and two at Yale, among many others. All their names and destinations are posted on a wall in the entrance hall, the pride of students and teachers alike.

But controversial new educational reforms are underway in Turkey, designed by the ruling Islam-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP), with the stated aim of training “science-loving, skilled and ethical individuals” who draw on their own culture and civilization to aid “the well-being of humanity.”

The reforms have been criticized on both sides of Turkey’s secular-religious divide, and are open to wide interpretation. But the fact that courses in religion are among the few to remain mandatory ­– even as history and geography become electives – have some questioning whether the new raft of reforms is an example of anti-secular, pro-religious social engineering by the AKP that reflects a broader, decadeslong transformation of Turkish society.

Previous reforms have expanded religious study at the expense of other areas of the curriculum, while the latest reforms have curtailed some religious subjects and been criticized for valuing skills over morals. The across-the-board criticism closely follows the key social fault line in Turkey, such that Turks wedded to the republic’s founding secular traditions charge that there is too much religion, while conservative Turks who often support the AKP argue the exact opposite, that the new reforms offer too little religion.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in the past called for the creation of a “pious generation,” and presented a strong education system as a “must have” for a secure national future.

And educators praise some aspects of the reforms, which are meant to transition Turkey from an agrarian to urban society, boost problem-solving and technical prowess, and sharpen critical thinking.

But for the Koç School, the retooling of Turkey’s education system may determine how prepared its students will be in the future for the best higher education in the world – and therefore how many of its students’ names will hang with pride on the admissions wall.

“Every ideology is trying to form their own citizens, that’s normal,” says Ayşe Alan, a history teacher and dean of the Koç School, speaking in a personal capacity. “Now they are playing with history courses, which is an old story. They always do that. Every government changes something.

“But the religion course, I think it is the most important course, at least for the government, because they want to keep it. They are very serious about that,” says Ms. Alan, a well-known educator in Turkey who has written against the new religious “militarism” in schools, just as she once wrote against the secular “militarism” that long dominated Turkish classrooms.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Talat Yavuz, director of Istanbul's 4th District of the pro-government teachers union Eğitim-Bir-Sen, at his desk on June 19, 2019. Critics from both sides of Turkey's social divide charge that the new education reforms require either too much religious teaching or too little.

The modern Turkish state was founded in 1923 by the secular Mustafa Kemal Atatürk from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, defeated during World War I. For decades afterward, the Turkish military saw its role as protecting that secular tradition and conducted several coups to do so.

Axing Darwin, adding religious classes

Still, the changes have been profound since the AKP was first elected in 2002. The military’s role in politics has been neutered, while Islam’s increased political stature has driven deep changes in society.

AKP changes to the national curriculum in 2017 doubled religious teaching in high schools to two hours each week and cut Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from science classes.

“You can in Turkey now easily send your child to a religious kindergarten school [where] they teach Quran and pupils are just 5 years old,” says Ms. Alan. “They teach students to be soldiers of the new system.

“They don’t say ‘system,’ but militarism is something important for us, because if you check the history of Turkey, militarism is part of our history,” continues Ms. Alan. “Now the danger is we have both: We have militarism, and a religious system at the same time. This really scares me.”

The first batch of education reforms were rolled out last October, in an “Education Vision 2023” document. Then in May, a separate set of reforms specific to high schools was published. Though short on details, it appears modeled on the International Baccalaureate program.

Educators agree that there are many positive aspects. But it comes as Turkey’s education system is still reeling from purges of tens of thousands of teachers following a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Turkey has also seen a surge in religious schools, known as Imam Hatip schools, that once were designed to produce clerics and today have a curriculum dominated by religious studies. By one count, the number of students at Imam Hatip middle schools jumped from just under 100,000 in 2012-2013 to nearly 750,000 today.

And yet even though Turkey spends a sizable portion of its budget on education – 11.9% last year, nearly double the percentage when the AKP first came to power – nationwide test results published in July were low.

The local equivalent of the global Program for International Student Assessment test found that in math, 86% of eighth graders scored at intermediate or lower levels on a five-level grading scale, with 53% scoring in the lowest two categories. For the Turkish language, some 66% of eighth graders were at intermediate or lower levels, which meant they struggled to understand idioms and satire.

Emphasis on a ‘pious generation’ or marketable careers?

In the midst of this maelstrom, it is not just secular educators who have complained about the new reforms.

“If anything, it looks like this new program has abandoned the project of raising a ‘pious generation,’” says Talat Yavuz, director for the Istanbul 4th District of Eğitim-Bir-Sen, a conservative pro-government teachers union.

“The AKP has really invested a lot in the education system, building schools,” says Mr. Yavuz. “But still there is this widespread view that we have not been able to achieve the kind of success we want in education.”

“The new program puts the onus not on issues like ethics, values, and morality, but it seems career-driven, which doesn’t encourage students to ask who we are, why we are here, but focuses instead on marketable skills,” he says.

Among a host of complaints, Eğitim-Bir-Sen’s official response said the new proposal “risks wiping out the social satisfaction achieved on the matter of religious education,” which it said was a “popular demand,” by sidelining classes on the Quran, the life of the prophet Muhammad, and basic religious knowledge.

In an outright denunciation of the reform program, Zekeriya Erdim, a longtime adviser to senior AKP officials in Istanbul and Ankara, said it “sets aside ... our religion, state, homeland, nation, culture and civilization [in favor of] the ‘world citizenship’ of a dominant culture and civilization [i.e., the West] that makes a hell out of everything it touches.”

Mr. Yavuz nevertheless says the surge in the number of religious schools is a “rebalancing” of Turkey’s education system, after decades of enforced secularism.

“This is a normalization process,” he says. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but 10 years later is there going to be another coup that will pull us in another direction?”

While the details of the reforms have yet to be published, Özgür Bozdoğan, head of the large teachers union Eğitim-Sen, which, unlike its similarly named counterpart, is pro-opposition, condemned them. The lack of mandatory classes in technology, environment, human rights, and democracy means “it will not be possible to meet today’s needs, let alone those of 2040,” he was quoted as saying.

Indeed, educators have seen how some programs, once encouraged by the AKP and lasting for years, have been canceled in recent months. They include student councils – which provided hands-on, local exercises in democracy – and an in-depth gender awareness program.

These steps are “another example of their [AKP] vision, of their ideology,” says Ms. Alan, the educator. A year remains before the new reforms kick in for Turkey’s high schools, to work out the issues and ease the raft of fears.

“The interesting thing is the AKP started these different democratic projects,” says Ms. Alan, referring to the student councils and gender program. “But the AKP knows the culture of Turkey very well. In Turkey, you can change your mind four times a day and it doesn’t matter. You just declare that you change your mind, and [people] accept it.”

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The Explainer

4. Why carmakers are revving for regulation

You might assume that all CEOs want deregulation. But our reporter looks at why certainty and consistency may be bigger priorities. 

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Historically, carmakers have opposed fuel efficiency standards. But a Trump administration plan to scale back Obama-era regulations has several key automakers siding with environmentalists in California. 

Carmakers had originally asked for a bit of easing in the Obama targets. But the administration is taking an ax rather than a paring knife to the rules, they say.

California is one of several states that are suing the Trump administration over its plan to weaken the rules. Carmakers have sought unsuccessfully to nudge the president to bargain with California. 

Amid the federal-state impasse, four major carmakers representing 30% of the U.S. market struck their own bargain directly with California. They’ll keep aiming toward the Obama targets, in a slightly eased form, for their entire nationwide fleets. In effect these firms – Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen – are casting a vote of no confidence in the Trump approach.

Between the challenge of keeping pace with regional variations in standards and the uncertainty around whether the Trump proposal will survive, litigation has some business leaders erring on the side of consistency.

As industry analyst Jessica Caldwell puts it: “The uncertainty is really hard on the auto industry.”

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Why carmakers are revving for regulation

The auto industry is learning the hard way: When facing tough times, lighter regulation isn’t necessarily a panacea. Carmakers are already confronting a cooling global economy, a trade war, and an era of destabilizing changes, such as the looming rise of autonomous cars. Now add this: uncertainty over fuel-economy regulations that the Trump administration is trying to loosen. 

What would change?

Here’s the current setup. The Obama administration boosted the nation’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) target to 54.5 mpg. The national fuel efficiency average is supposed to hit that level by 2025. 

The Trump administration’s plan would hold CAFE and greenhouse gas standards at 2020 levels of about 37 mpg. The result could keep manufacturing and purchase costs down, but would mean higher gasoline costs, and slower environmental progress for a sector that is the largest emitter of pollutants contributing to climate change.

The Trump plan was first proposed last year but is still in a period of final review.

What do automakers say? 

Carmakers had originally asked for a bit of easing in the Obama targets. But the administration is taking an ax rather than a paring knife to the rules. 

Why is that a problem in Detroit? First, businesses prefer certainty. Instead, next up could be litigation over whether the regulatory about-face is justified. 

Carmakers themselves acknowledge the reality of climate change and know that the vast majority of governments around the world expect them to help address it. (Trump environmental and transportation officials argue that aggressive emissions targets aren’t necessary and that easing them will help more people buy safer cars.)

Another factor: California has a long-standing waiver to set its own fuel-economy standards, which other states can choose to follow instead of federal rules. The Obama administration plan represented a bargain in which federal and California plans became harmonized. Maintaining one national plan is a top priority for the industry as it results in fewer quandaries over how to serve a bifurcated U.S. market. The Trump administration says it also wants one national plan. Its threat to eliminate California’s waiver looks set to become another point of litigation.

“The uncertainty is really hard on the auto industry,” with its long planning cycles, says Jessica Caldwell, an executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds in Santa Monica, California.

What are the latest moves?

California and numerous other states are suing the Trump administration over its plan to weaken the rules. Carmakers have sought unsuccessfully to nudge the president to bargain with California.

Then in July, amid the federal-state impasse, four major carmakers representing 30% of the U.S. market struck their own bargain directly with California. They’ll keep aiming toward the Obama targets, in a slightly eased form, for their entire nationwide fleets. In effect these firms – Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen – are casting a vote of no confidence in the Trump approach. Other carmakers might end up tagging along. And Canada, currently aligned with the Obama rules, might join in, too.

President Donald Trump has lashed out on Twitter at “foolish executives” who aren’t siding with him. Meanwhile two key federal officials on the issue have recently left their jobs.

Why does all this matter?

For carmakers, the regulatory uncertainty will affect what is already an anxious time for the industry. Firms face daunting strategic choices about new technologies. Some of the investments will transform transportation. Others will flop. Survival for storied auto brands is far from assured.

“The fuel​-​economy ​[regulation] ​system has been a critical energy securi​ty​ policy​ ​for ​the United​ ​S​tates since the first oil embargo​” in the 1970s, says Robbie Diamond​, president of Securing America’s Future Energy, an advocacy group in Washington.​ ​Yet “talking about regulat​io​n in a vac​u​um from the g​l​obal auto sec​to​r and the​ ​tech​nological​ shifts and revolutions that we’re seeding is a bit of a bland​ ​disc​u​ss​i​on​.”

The industry-rattling upheavals include the dawn of autonomous vehicles and a possible shift toward shared ownership​ of vehicles rather than a car or two in every driveway. The new technologies also include ones that could allow regulators to pursue faster, not slower, fuel-economy improvements, Mr. Diamond says.

On climate change regulations, the outcome will affect the pace of a transition that is still in its infancy. Against the goal espoused by many climate scientists of zero net carbon emissions by 2050, “we’re nowhere near on the path we really need to be going,” says Dave Cooke, an automotive expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.

As a huge market, the U.S. can influence auto regulations and trends in other nations, too. And for consumers, steady boosts to fuel economy can mean big savings. Consumer Reports estimates that $1 spent upfront by manufacturers on fuel economy saves $3 for consumers on fuel. 

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Difference-maker

Drivers of change

5. How Seattle cafe’s ‘radical hospitality’ serves recovery community

This story inspired me. It’s about the transformational power of a place where love, hope, and trust are served daily. 

David
Courtesy of John Jensen/Recovery Café
Recovery Café's founding director, K. Killian Noe (right), shares a moment with a member, Roxy.

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A Seattle cafe exudes a homey warmth with its tall windows and sunny yellow walls. No ordinary coffee shop, Recovery Café prides itself on its “radical hospitality.” It welcomes everyone who has been substance-free for 24 hours, no matter their stage of recovery. The cafe is where people are “both deeply known and deeply loved,” says founding director K. Killian Noe. 

The first of its kind in Seattle, the program has helped an estimated 9,000 people. It’s meant to offer visitors, known as “members,” long-term, supportive community – a critical but often missing pillar in recovery.

Jane remembers first walking into the cafe in 2011. Shell-shocked from months of living in homelessness and fear, she cowered in a corner and barely spoke. Eight years later, she is financially secure, has stable housing, and is an active volunteer at the cafe. She credits the community with saving her life. 

“Recovery Café has been a replacement for the family I don’t have,” she says.

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How Seattle cafe’s ‘radical hospitality’ serves recovery community

Jane steps into Recovery Café, flashes a smile at cafe manager Terri D Rhodes, and heads to the coffee counter where another friend, Kelly, the barista of the day, is whipping up foamy lattes.

With tall windows and sunny yellow walls mounted with “Love” and “forgiveness” in big cursive papier-mache letters, the cafe exudes a homey warmth. People gather at a dozen tables, talking, sipping coffee, typing on laptops, or doing a puzzle. A self-serve buffet offers hot, hearty meals. Housed in a 1920s-era brick neckwear factory in Seattle’s Denny Triangle neighborhood, it has the feel of a local diner back East, or a rural Midwestern coffee shop where no one’s a stranger.

But this is no ordinary cafe. It is an unconditionally welcoming community, where every member is both recovering from trauma – such as homelessness, addiction, or abuse – and actively contributing to others’ healing. Or, as founding director K. Killian Noe says simply: It is a place where people are “both deeply known and deeply loved.”

Ms. Noe co-founded Recovery Café in Seattle in 2003, envisioning a long-term, supportive community that was a critical but often missing pillar in the three-legged stool of recovery, along with prevention and treatment services. A Yale Divinity School graduate, she co-founded Samaritan Inns treatment center in Washington, D.C., and shepherded the project for 15 years before moving to Seattle.

“The heart of it is the need to really belong somewhere,” says Ms. Noe, sitting at a cafe table surrounded by friends.

“We are all recovering from many different things … but at the deepest level we are recovering from isolation and loneliness,” she says. “We all need a place where … we are loved in all of our imperfections. This is where we start to change.”

The first program of its kind in Seattle, the cafe faced no shortage of need upon opening its doors in 2004. About 11,000 people are struggling with homelessness in King County, which includes Seattle and surrounding areas. The problem is compounded by mental illness and the abuse of alcohol and drugs, including opioids and methamphetamines.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Recovery Café is located in what used to be a 1920s neckwear factory in the Denny Triangle neighborhood of downtown Seattle.

Since 2004, the cafe has helped an estimated 9,000 people, serving more than 300,000 meals. Those aided, in turn, have given back to the cafe, working alongside some 400 volunteers each year to make the cafe the curative refuge it is.

The unique program was supported last year primarily by contributions from individuals and foundations, and to a lesser extent by government grants and in-kind donations. It has won several awards, and in 2016 its leaders launched the Recovery Café Network to spread the model nationwide. Today, 19 Recovery Cafés are either operating or preparing to open across the country – in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Together they serve about 1,500 people a month, says network director David Uhl.

“Replacement for the family I don’t have” 

Jane remembers first walking into the cafe in 2011. Shell-shocked from months of living in homelessness and fear, she cowered in a corner and barely spoke. A veteran who had been assaulted in the military, she’d recently gained shelter in a Veterans Affairs-sponsored one-room studio. She was so anxious that even inside her apartment she continued to sleep curled up in a cardboard box. 

“When I first started coming here, I was a wreck,” Jane recalls. Eight years later, she is financially secure, has stable housing, and is an active volunteer at the cafe. (Jane and everyone interviewed at Recovery Café, apart from staff, asked that their real names be withheld to protect their privacy.)

“Recovery Café has been a replacement for the family I don’t have,” says Jane, who credits the community with saving her life. 

“Half of what is wrong with us, is because we are suffering from not having community,” she says, adding that visiting the space “is the highlight of my week.”              

The cafe prides itself on “radical hospitality,” welcoming everyone who has been substance-free for 24 hours, no matter their stage of recovery. 

Cafe co-founder Ms. Noe, who grew up in the Carolinas as the daughter of a Baptist minister, has a gift for genuine connection that infuses the cafe.

“She has a warm, bubbly personality that is very compassionate,” says Kelly, who discovered the cafe early this year while rebounding from major depression. “Her spirit brings out … welcoming and courage and confidence” in others. 

“Terri D, come over here!” Ms. Noe, who knows everyone by name, calls out in her Southern accent.  

Ms. Rhodes, the cafe manager, circles the tables offering jam pastries. She landed at the cafe in 2004 in recovery. “It was like I heard angels’ harps,” she says. “You couldn’t tell the staff from the members. Everyone was kind and loving. It was like God, I’ve arrived. It started making me think that nothing was wrong with me,” she says, tearing up at the memory even 15 years later.

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Cafe manager Terri D Rhodes (l.) leads a moment of silence before daily announcements at Recovery Café on July 31, 2019, in Seattle, Washington.

At noon, Ms. Rhodes calls for five minutes of silence, then makes announcements and asks for volunteers for a list of jobs posted on the wall. Her colleague Tiffany Turner, who overcame addiction and is now a recovery coach and interim operations manager at the cafe, jots down names next to each task. Adam, who sports a Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirt and is on his 10th month of sobriety, offers to run tables.

Cafe visitors, known as “members,” are required to contribute to the community, doing chores such as making coffee or washing dishes. Some, like Ms. Rhodes, are groomed as leaders. Emily, who uses a motorized wheelchair, loves welcoming new members and telling them stories.  

“Doing the next right thing”

Another core feature of the cafe are meetings of small support groups called “recovery circles,” which members must attend weekly.

“You don’t just walk into a big group and start to trust again, you start to trust in a small group, and then it expands,” Ms. Noe says. Facilitating a circle for seven women recently, Ms. Noe reminds everyone to listen with open hearts, and respond not by offering advice, but by giving a gift from their own experience. 

Sally opens up about taking a moral inventory of herself as part of the 12-step treatment program. “I am not the same person I was four years ago,” she tells the group, her eyes brimming with tears. 

Jane relates how happy she is to have recently fallen in love and to be playing her harp again at the cafe, which hosts open mic nights, and classes ranging from yoga to writing.

Ms. Noe then turns to Martha. “I relapsed last week,” Martha says softly. She describes getting a hotel room for two nights to spend time with her daughter, and finding her strung out on drugs.

“She is literally dying, doing so awful,” Martha says, stone-faced. After the encounter, Martha says, she returned to an old hangout and got high for the first time in years. 

“This is what a terrible disease it is. What scares me is thinking I can help her, when I can’t help myself,” Martha says.

“Do you know how remarkable it is that you are sitting here, that you came back?” Ms. Noe asks, giving Martha a hug.   

“I am confused,” Martha says. “I am just doing the next right thing.”

The strength to take one step in the right direction is amplified by the cafe. In surveys, Recovery Café members report an increase in their sense of hope, connectedness, and their ability to recover quickly from a relapse, says Ruby Takushi, director of programs.

At its heart, Ms. Noe writes in her book “Descent Into Love,” the cafe aspires to become a community where each person draws upon their wellspring of love to call forth the light in others. Then together, she writes, they can “‘stand in and close the gap’ between those who have what they need to fulfill their Godgiven potential and those who do not.”

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The Monitor's View

Dousing the political fire over the Amazon

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As fires have raged across the Amazon to clear away trees, France and Brazil have resorted to harsh words or threats over the future of the vast rainforest. Their clash is long on lessons about the meaning of sovereignty that lies at the heart of many climate debates.

To France, protection of the Amazon is a sovereign right for all humanity. The forest is an important carbon sink for a warming atmosphere. Yet this year, deforestation of the Amazon has escalated under a new president, Jair Bolsonaro.

“We have a real ecocide that is developing everywhere in the Amazon,” said French President Emmanuel Macron last Thursday. To many environmentalists, “ecocide” is enough of a legal trigger to send a “green-helmeted brigade” from the United Nations to douse the fires – without Brazil’s approval.

In response, Mr. Bolsonaro told a European journalist, “The Amazon is ours, not yours.”

One way around this clash is already happening in Brazil with steps to uplift those living in the Amazon. Secure in their own sovereignty, the local people can then ensure Brazil’s sovereignty while also helping protect the planet. National sovereignty is not compromised when nations work together to the benefit of all.

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Dousing the political fire over the Amazon

It could be the world’s first hostile feud between big nations over climate change.

In recent days, as fires have raged across the Amazon to clear away trees, France and Brazil have resorted to harsh words or threats over the future of the vast rainforest. Their clash, while far short of war, is long on lessons about the meaning of sovereignty that lies at the heart of many climate debates.

To France, protection of the Amazon is a sovereign right for all humanity. About twice the area of France, the forest is an important carbon sink and temperature regulator for a warming atmosphere. Yet this year, deforestation of the Amazon has escalated under a new nationalist president, Jair Bolsonaro.

“The Amazon is burning and this is an issue that concerns the entire world,” said French President Emmanuel Macron last Thursday. And then he used a word as loaded as genocide. “We have a real ecocide that is developing everywhere in the Amazon,” he said.

To many environmentalists, “ecocide” is enough of a legal trigger to send a “green-helmeted brigade” from the United Nations to douse the fires – without Brazil’s approval. For now, Mr. Macron has only threatened to block a negotiated trade treaty between the European Union and a South American bloc of nations that includes Brazil as its biggest member.

In response to the pressure, Mr. Bolsonaro told a European journalist, “The Amazon is ours, not yours.” He claimed Brazil, as a sovereign state, has the sole right to develop the Amazon as it pleases and lift up the more than 20 million people who live in it, most of them poor.

Last Friday, however, Mr. Bolsonaro’s concept of sovereignty was broadened. Under pressure from large Brazilian farmers who rely on the rest of the world to buy their beef and soybeans, he sent the  military to drop water on the burning forests. He also said he would resume enforcement of existing environmental laws that, before his presidency, had helped reduce deforestation.

Then over the weekend, France was able to persuade other major Western powers to offer Brazil $22 million to help fight the fires. But Mr. Bolsonaro saw the gesture as an imperialist plot. “The fire that burns the strongest is that of our own sovereignty over the Amazon,” he wrote on Twitter.

It is hard to say how this feud will play out. The rainy season is coming to Brazil and the fires could end, for a while. Both sides need a deeper dialogue about who is really sovereign when it comes to climate change. Mr. Macron’s view is that sovereignty lives first with the individual, and thus requires that nation-states help those in extreme jeopardy from climate change, even in other countries. Brazil’s view is that sovereignty lies first with the state and only it decides for the individuals under its control.

One way around this clash is already happening in Brazil. To prevent overexploitation of the Amazon, previous governments have signed protective treaties with other nations that control parts of the Amazon. They have designated areas for sustainable use of the Amazon’s resources while protecting the bulk of the forests. They have started to ensure land tenure for small farmers and promote the traditional agricultural methods of Amazonian Indians. They also welcomed more than $1 billion in foreign aid aimed at developing industries that restore the forests while creating jobs. 

Such steps honor both national and individual sovereignty.

Differences over concepts of sovereignty need not rise to the level of hard words and actions. Both Brazil and France can find ways to uplift the local people of the Amazon so they do not need to cut the forests. Secure in their own sovereignty, the local people can then ensure Brazil’s sovereignty while also helping protect the planet. National sovereignty is not compromised when nations work together to the benefit of all.

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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.

Drug addiction – healed

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No one is beyond the transforming power of divine Love. For one man caught in the web of drug addiction, the news that he was God’s loved child and wasn’t condemned to an unhappy ending turned his life around.

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Drug addiction – healed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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As a teen, I decided to experiment with drugs. What at first seemed like an exciting adventure turned into a dark dependence. By the time I was 19, I was getting high every day. I also smoked cigarettes heavily. When I couldn’t get the other drugs, whiskey or beer was substituted. Getting high was a way of rebelling against the “establishment” in my country and everything it represented at the time.

But by the time I was 23, I had lost a good job, had two failed marriages, was separated from my two small children, and began feeling very guilty about what I had done. The consequences of the bad choices I had made were closing in on me. I had personal and financial responsibilities I couldn’t meet, and I felt it was only a matter of time before my life would turn into a tragedy.

At this lowest point of desperation I got a job as an entry-level machine operator for a manufacturing company. During the first year or so that I was employed there, I spoke with the owner of the company occasionally as he walked by my work area. There was something different about him – he seemed to have an inner peace that I had never encountered in a person.

One day I asked him where he got his ideas, and the next day he gave me a book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science. I took it home and began to read it. I found the ideas in it both comforting and awakening. The first chapter, “Prayer,” showed me that I could reverse my course and turn to God for healing.

Soon after, I told the owner of the business that I had a bad drug habit. I’ll never forget his response: “You must never condemn yourself.” Hearing this after I had already repeatedly condemned myself to an unhappy ending was so uplifting that for the first time in years I felt as if there was hope. The news that God loved me and that I was His child and could be forgiven for all the mistakes I had made put me on the right path.

I began to study daily the Bible Lesson from the Christian Science Quarterly. My commitment to do this would turn out to be the foundation for turning my life around. Every week I gained a greater understanding of God’s goodness and the perfection of His creation. Self-centered thinking, which had led to my self-destructive behavior, gave way to a greater appreciation for others and a sincere interest in their well-being.

This change in thought began to manifest itself in my life. Not only was the desire to get high beginning to lose its attraction, I began feeling God’s presence. An outlook that included happiness and success was replacing thoughts of gloom and doom, which had dominated my thinking.

After some months, I asked a Christian Science practitioner to pray for me to support my own prayers. This help through prayer resulted in steady progress, and I stopped using the harder drugs. However, I was still smoking marijuana and cigarettes and frustrated that I wasn’t able to overcome these habits.

But then the practitioner reminded me of this simple statement from Science and Health: “The power of Christian Science and divine Love is omnipotent. It is indeed adequate to unclasp the hold and to destroy disease, sin, and death” (p. 412). Over time I realized that this was a law of God, not merely a theological concept. The power of divine Love, which I had come to understand through Christian Science, was in fact loosening me from the grip of addiction. As I studied and did my best to express this Love and all of God’s qualities in my daily interactions, my life transformed.

During the next couple of years, I gained complete freedom from tobacco and marijuana. My children grew up without any drug abuse on their part and went on to earn advanced college degrees and have families of their own. I eventually married a woman who had a young son. This gave me a new opportunity to be a good dad and husband, for which I am very grateful. Just as important, I found the inner peace, happiness, and closeness to God that every heart truly desires.

In the Bible, the book of Joel says, “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” (2:25). This was surely the reality for me. My own experience has taught me that anyone’s life can be turned around and restored to them, no matter how dire their present circumstances or how big the mistakes they’ve made.

Adapted from a testimony published in the April 2008 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

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Viewfinder

Cuddling a condor

Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix/AP
Peter Wenzel trains Molina, a young condor, in the Eagle Reserve in Bindslev, Denmark, Aug. 27, 2019. Molina came to the Eagle Reserve in November and has since been trained every day by Mr. Wenzel, whom Molina considers his parent. As an adult, the condor will have a wingspan of 3.5 meters and weigh 15 kilograms, making it the world’s largest bird of prey.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( August 28th, 2019 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about the potential reach of the $572 million decision against Johnson & Johnson for its role in the opioid crisis. 

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 27, 2019
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