2019
September
30
Monday

Welcome to a new week. Today’s five stories tackle solutions to the decline in local news, questions about Ukraine and the Biden family, the assumptions rooted in identity politics, adjusting aid to refugees’ changing needs – and how taking a different view of fellow summer travelers at a crowded Yellowstone changed the whole experience.

But first, a question: Is there a kinder, gentler capitalism to be had?

The Business Roundtable recently caused a stir by asking firms to “continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.” Billionaire hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio has questioned if there’s “equal opportunity for the American dream.”  In “The Economist’s Hour,” Binyamin Appelbaum writes, “[the market revolution] has come at the expense of economic equality, of the health of liberal democracy.”

So it’s worth taking note of those setting a compassionate example.

The CEO of Gravity Payments in Boise, Idaho, announced last week that starting pay would be increased $10,000, with further bumps to come – and cut his own pay to do it. Having done this once before, Dan Price says the move was difficult – but the payoff is employees who can save more or get out of debt.

Briton Julian Richer recently announced he would sell a majority stake in his company, Richer Sounds, to a trust owned by staff, who would also get a bonus. He has written that “organisations that create a culture based on fairness, honesty and respect reap the rewards.”

And then there’s Hampton University in Virginia. Setting a standard for future leaders, it just welcomed 46 undergraduates from the hurricane-devastated north campus of the University of the Bahamas. They’ll attend for free – no small offer for a university to make. But as President William Harvey told them: “I want you new Hamptonians to understand that giving of yourself to others is one of the greatest things you can bestow.”

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A deeper look

1. Local news takes a stand

“News deserts” are a reality, and big revenues a thing of the past. To keep providing a public service, local news publishers are using unconventional methods to forge individual models of success.

Amelia
Richland Source
To engage community members, an online news startup in Mansfield, Ohio, the Richland Source, holds free Newsroom After Hours concerts in its offices that feature local bands and are open to the public.

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Paralyzing partisanship, government corruption, less civic engagement: For years, observers warned of these effects as local news coverage has shrunk across the United States. But like mad inventors, stubborn reporters and creative entrepreneurs are furiously writing and rewriting plans to find what works to deliver the news, often in small-scale, community efforts.

Some use guilt and civic spirit to garner support. Some have found deep pockets in local owners. Others get help from foundations or philanthropists. Tran Longmoore, who rides his bike while reporting and photographing in the town of Saline, Michigan, says, “Even if I’m just kind of scraping by ... I think the Saline Post is providing a service the community really needs.”

To serve their coastal California town of 13,000, the Half Moon Bay Review’s local investors formed a “community benefit corporation,” a for-profit entity pledging to use profits for public good. They saved the century-plus-old newspaper, and one year into the experiment, says editor Clay Lambert, it is working. “On Saturday, I was invited to throw the first horseshoe out in a horseshoe contest. The fact that they considered the editor of the local newspaper to be a sort of dignitary is kind of telling.”

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Local news takes a stand

Noah Jones is working. The young reporter for the Richland Source, a local news startup in the heart of Ohio’s Rust Belt, listens to the jazz quartet warm up and eyes the crowd. Then he takes the mic.

“Thank you for coming out tonight,” Mr. Jones intones, in his best master-of-ceremonies voice. “Now let’s welcome the Mansfield Jazz Orchestra quartet!” 

The small concert, with free beer and food for the public, is in the middle of the shared-space newsroom of the Richland Source, an online site started by a businessman who thought his city needed more news.   

The monthly Newsroom After Hours concert – from jazz to pop to hip-hop – is just one of the unfamiliar roles for some journalists and publishers trying bold experiments to buck the wholesale die-off of local news sources around the country. Like mad inventors, they are furiously writing and rewriting plans to find what works, often in small-scale, community efforts.

“This is how we make connections between people. This is how we roll,” says Carl Fernyak, founder of the Richland Source, lounging in bluejeans against a newsroom desk. Jazz singer Kelly Knowlton, with new-age orange hair and an old-age lusty voice, wraps up with “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

For much local news, the train is at the end of the line. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year found that in the past 14 years, 1,800 newspapers have closed – 1 in every 5 across the country – creating a U.S. map spotted with “news deserts.” A Pew Research Center analysis in July showed newspaper circulation since 1990 dropping by half, to 31 million last year. Pew noted jobs in all newsrooms plunged by one-quarter in the past decade. A Wall Street Journal study published in May said Google and Facebook have sucked up 77% of digital advertising revenues from local markets.  

And of the 400 to 500 online news startups that were supposed to replace newspapers? A 2016 analysis sponsored by the Knight Foundation found only 1 in 5 startups had the visitors and funders to be self-sufficient.

Richland Source
The Richland Source asked 15 local artists to create pieces inspired by two solutions journalism projects it produced and then invited the community in to see them. Dubbed “reimagined,” the project was intended to engage readers with the news site’s work in a different medium.

“Local news looks pretty grim,” says Dan Kennedy, who has written two books on media models and teaches journalism at Northeastern University in Boston.

For years, observers have warned of the effects of this loss of news coverage: paralyzing partisanship, lower voting rates, government corruption, little accountability among public officials, less civic engagement. But the bulk of the industry has not been able to stop the diversion of advertising to Craigslist, Google, and Facebook, or slow the flight of readers to social media and free online news feeds. Equity firms have bought up many local news outlets at fire-sale prices, often slashing staffs and coverage to drain the last bit of profits, with what Mr. Kennedy calls “the dead hand of corporate ownership.”

Dotting this bleak landscape, though, are stubborn reporters and creative entrepreneurs. Some use guilt and civic spirit to garner support for news outlets. Some have found deep pockets in local owners. Some get help from foundations or philanthropists. Some just start reporting and hope to find the money. “There are reasons to be optimistic,” Mr. Kennedy says. 

Experiments in survival

Many, like Mr. Fernyak, acknowledge they are figuring it out as they go. He says he knew “zero, nothing” about news publishing when he began the Richland Source six years ago, but predicts the organization is now within 18 months of breaking even. 

Five reporters cover surrounding communities and Mansfield, a town of 47,000 reeling from shuttered industries. The town’s daily newspaper, the Mansfield News Journal, with roots 134 years deep, has shriveled in circulation and staff, and – in the eyes of Mr. Fernyak – does not offer much to the community.  

In 2013, Mr. Fernyak joined a Chamber of Commerce study of the sagging Rust Belt town. “Without fail, each one of the businesses said we have an image problem, a self-esteem problem,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of the coverage was crime.” 

Mr. Fernyak was in the office equipment business, but within six months he had hired a president, a veteran managing editor, and a few journalists, and started the Richland Source. “I decided it was time to make an impact on the community, by talking about what was right, what was working, and talking about our successes.”

Richland Source
“This is how we make connections between people. This is how we roll,” says Carl Fernyak, founder of the Richland Source in Mansfield, Ohio, on the website's unique efforts outside of its newsgathering.

The site, which Mr. Fernyak adamantly keeps free to readers, offers up a smorgasbord of hard news and homespun stories. A recent front page included a shooting-suicide next to news that Barb Weaver had once again won the county fair’s lemon meringue pie contest. The site has local sports, summer parades, short features on business owners, and occasionally a deep dive into a social problem.  

To support this, and to bond with readers, the Richland Source and its owner do some decidedly untraditional things. There are the newsroom concerts, trivia nights at a local brewery, movie nights, and roundtable discussions with high school students – all staffed in part by Richland Source employees. 

The Source has a marketing arm that crafts social media strategies and ads for businesses, the editors are trying to sell an artificial intelligence program they use to generate short stories on high school games, and the staff solicited $70,000 from businesses and community groups to pay for two extensive reporting projects. Reporters are expected to make an “ask,” through email and social media appeals, for readers to sign up for memberships at $5 to $20 a month.

“We try not to talk about it like ‘the business side’ and ‘the news side.’ We try to think of ourselves as one team that’s pulling together,” says Jay Allred, hired by Mr. Fernyak as president.

All of this is being done under the banner of saving not just the news operation, but Mansfield. “Our role is to show Mansfield and our audience the way forward. Not the way, but ways forward,” says Mr. Allred.

Serving community, beyond news 

That goal is ambitious. Vacant and broken-window buildings still glower darkly over Mansfield streets, but more than 800 empty structures have been torn down, the city’s mayor says. Yes, big industry is long gone, but the toxic empty lots it left behind are being cleaned up and made into green spaces. Sure, one can walk the length of Main Street on a warm summer night and pass no one else, but you should see the crowd at the “Last Friday” monthly music jam downtown, they say. 

“Look at this,” says Mr. Fernyak, leaping to open his laptop. He shows pictures of Mansfield decades ago, scenes of decrepit, foreboding buildings, many now brightly refurbished, like the 102-year-old space that houses the Richland Source. His father dreamed up the idea of putting a colorful carousel in the middle of town, displacing massage parlors and seedy bars. Now the pump of organ music and whirl of hand-carved horses rule the square.

“This city was dead,” says Mr. Allred. “DOA. Nothing. No hope. And with no help, and by ourselves, the citizens of this community and other communities in Ohio have just sort of collectively said, ‘We are not going to die.’ ”

And that, say the folks at the Richland Source, is why the local news site is needed, and why it is unapologetically promotional. People in Mansfield seem approving.  

“I like it,” says Cheryl Moore, a clerk at the 111-year-old Hursh Pharmacy. “It’s current, it’s true, and it’s factual.”

The mayor of the town concurs. “They’ve been a breath of fresh air,” says Timothy Theaker, who was first elected in 2011. “If the news is always negative, it starts tearing down the community.”   

Doug Struck
Mansfield, Ohio, is a Rust Belt town deserted by big industry. A local businessman founded the Richland Source news website to serve communities in three counties of the north central part of the state.

A more traditional approach

About 100 steps from the Richland Source, in an imposing two-story brick building that takes up most of the block, the News Journal remains, largely inaccessible to its readers. All the doors are locked, there’s no doorbell, and calls to its posted number enter an endless automated vortex. In one of the grimy windows, someone has posted a puckish fake headline: “Man Indicted for Everything.”

But inside, editor David Yonke bristles at the “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” image of the newspaper’s coverage. Finally reached by email, he unlocks the door and escorts a visitor to the second floor, past dark and empty rooms. His staff has shrunk to nine, and daily circulation has plunged to 15,000, he says. He doesn’t know how high either was; he was just named editor in January by the owner, the Gannett chain now being merged with GateHouse Media, another chain known for its brutal staff cuts. Mr. Yonke commutes two hours each way from Toledo.

“We do a lot of other stuff besides crime,” says Mr. Yonke, who spent a career at the daily Toledo Blade. He digs into a pile of newspapers in his office. “Here. We covered the county fair. We covered the blood drive and shortage of blood. We covered the county commissioners cutting back. Here’s a story on a big meteor shower. And this week we’ll have ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ anniversary” – the movie was shot at a reform­atory here 25 years ago and is a big tourist draw.

“They say they want to do positive journalism and have an impact on the community,” Mr. Yonke says of the Richland Source. “I think it’s all marketing. We all want to do positive stories and have an impact. That’s journalism. But there’s more to the world than sunshine and rainbows.”

On a recent day when the News Journal led with a follow-up story to a domestic shooting (the couple had “relationship issues,” the story said), the Richland Source had stories on a legendary area footballer and the city council’s capital budget. But in the Richland Source newsroom, a screen flickered with readership updates from the site, and engagement editor Brittany Schock ruefully acknowledged that the most-read story of the moment was the monthly list of criminal indictments. “We’d even decided not to feature the list,” she says, “but people find it.”

The journalists at the Richland Source squirm a bit over whether the publication is serving the adversarial role that has long been journalism’s check on public officials. Mr. Allred says that initially promising “positive” news was a mistake. “In my opinion, that was the wrong tack to take.”

But he and the news staff say there are more ways to serve the community than “scanner chasing” – listening to the police radio to rush out to crimes and accidents. When Ms. Schock came to the Richland Source in 2014 from a small-town Ohio paper, she told Mr. Allred, “I don’t want to be someplace that does just PR. I want to do real journalism.” He assured her she would.

She did what became a six-part series on the high infant mortality rate in the county. The series explained the problem in Richland County, but she also talked to people in California and Cleveland and she traveled to Massachusetts to look at why other places have low baby death rates. Then the Richland Source held a baby shower in the newsroom for 500 people – many new or expectant mothers – to connect them with pediatricians and community services, and distribute baby “sleeping boxes,” a bed for infants developed in Finland. 

Doug Struck
“We all want to do positive stories and have an impact. That's journalism. But there's more to the world than sunshine and rainbows,” says David Yonke, editor of the News Journal, in Mansfield, Ohio. The Journal pre-dates the Richland Source website and its approach to news and serving the community.

“That was something at the time that was just completely novel to me,” Ms. Schock says of the newsroom event. “Now, it’s something I think of all the time.”

“We are simply presenting another narrative, another part of the story, which is the solution,” she adds. “Instead of just ending the narrative at the problem, which just makes people feel bad about themselves, it’s much more hopeful to know that there are people out there working on solutions.”

Nonstop work 

Tran Longmoore pulls up on his bicycle with his heavy Canon Mark IV camera slung over his shoulder. It’s his usual way of covering his beat – Saline, Michigan – in the summer. He unlocks a dark office owned by a community group, mostly empty. He’s got a desk in the back, largely unused. That’s fine with him; Mr. Longmoore works from his home, from coffee shops, from the field on his mobile phone.

He is a mostly one-man source of local news here. He is, along with a few freelan­cers, the Saline Post, online and free. He epitomizes the ear-to-the-ground approach that can win the heart of a community. 

“I go to a soccer game – he’s there. I go to my daughter’s T-ball game, he’s there. I go to lunch, and he’s outside taking pictures,” chuckles Rick Richter, manager of a mortgage company in Saline. “That guy never sleeps.”

“He’s the proverbial Energizer Bunny,” agrees the mayor of the town, Brian Marl. 

Saline (named after salt springs, but pronounced like the singer, Celine Dion) is a community of 9,000 just 10 miles south of Ann Arbor. It used to be mostly farmland, but the biggest crop now is suburban developments, whose residents stream into large tech and auto component plants nearby. 

After a career in small newspapers, Mr. Longmoore started his website in 2012. Saline was ripe for news. The local weekly newspaper was swallowed by a larger paper, gutted and closed. The Ann Arbor News peeked in only occasionally to cover Saline.  

Mr. Longmoore began filling his site. Maybe not Pulitzer Prize stuff, he admits – “I’m not a great writer. I’m OK.” But he was at every town function, every fire, almost every high school game, and he delivered straight reporting and photos.

“Saline has news,” he says now of his site. “It has somebody watching local government. Has somebody covering their schools and their sports. ... I think there’s still a need for this stuff.”

But it takes its toll. Mr. Longmoore hasn’t had a vacation in a decade. He says some days are “groundhogish,” and he admits the financial demands bore him: “I’ve got to do better” at selling ads, but he would much rather cover a breaking story.

Doug Struck
“Your know, I like to do what I do ... even if I'm just kind of scraping by. But on another level, I think the Saline Post is providing a service the community really needs,” says Tran Longmoore, founder of an online news site in Saline, Michigan.

Two years ago, he concluded he needed a job to pay his bills. He and his wife talked about it on a walk with their pet beagle, and then he posted a short “thanks and goodbye” note on the website announcing its closure. The reaction was instant. “I got a bunch of texts that day from people in town who said, ‘Are you serious about this? Well, don’t. Don’t quit just yet.’ ” Suddenly readers began “joining” the free site for $5 a month, local advertisers stepped up, and Mr. Longmoore figured he had enough support to keep going. He’s still doing it.

He is modest about his achievements, though Stephanie Cole, who used to work as an emergency dispatcher, credits his coverage with saving the jobs of Saline’s locally hired dispatchers. Mr. Longmoore has a newsman’s sense of outrage: He gives the city council grief for closed sessions, stays to the end of six-hour government meetings, and reports on every agenda item and even on sniping among its members. (“Mrs. McClelland,” he quoted one councilor as saying, “would you stop rolling your eyes at me?”)

“You know, I like to do what I do, so I’m happy about that, even if I’m just kind of scraping by,” he says. He pays dearly for his own health insurance and has no retirement plan. “But on another level, I think the Saline Post is providing a service the community really needs.”

Bottom-line needs

As the losses of local news have deepened, a flurry of philanthropic efforts has blossomed. Craigslist, eBay, Google, and Facebook, all of which played leading roles in the decline of local news, have offered up slivers of their multibillion-dollar profits to journalistic causes. Other foundations, such as Knight, have contributed, and a crop of nonprofit journalism sites – at least 196, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News – has sprouted with that help.  

But foundation support is typically short-lived; only organizations that find their own financial legs will last. The Wall Street Journal noted “online ads fetch a mere fraction of the price of print ads,” and, with the exception of a few national news sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, readers are reluctant to pay for news through subscriptions or pay walls.

That reality, though, has prompted experiments with new models of supporting news. In Weare, New Hampshire, Michael Sullivan, director of the public library, began printing Weare in the World – a newsletter with local announcements and events, complete with a crossword puzzle – when someone asked what the library could do about the dearth of local news. Several news sites like Madison365 in Wisconsin began with crowdfunding campaigns. In Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a retired district court judge took on the task of saving a fabled local newspaper, the Berkshire Eagle, by marshaling a group of investors to buy the publication. In small Harvard, Massachusetts, 35 miles west of Boston, staffers at the Harvard Press depend on “Dinner at Deadline” donations from local restaurants to feed them on Wednesday production nights.

Doug Struck
The Mansfield Jazz Orchestra quartet and vocalist Kelly Knowlton perform for the public in the newsroom of the Richland Source. It is one of many unusual moves by the online news organization to connect with the community.

For profit, but for the public

Thirty miles south of San Francisco, the owners of the Half Moon Bay Review, a local weekly newspaper serving the town of 13,000, announced they were selling the paper in 2017, and began courting the usual liquidation prospects: private equity owners who bleed local papers for revenue while curtailing coverage. Alarmed, five local investors teamed up to buy the newspaper, take over the mortgage on the charming yellow-trimmed news building, and keep its 15 staffers. 

They formed a “community benefit corporation,” a for-profit entity pledged to use profits for public good, not just as dividends to owners. A year into the experiment, says editor Clay Lambert, it is working.  

“The community is supportive of local ownership and they like a local newspaper,” he says by phone. “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear that. On Saturday, I was invited to throw the first horseshoe out in a horseshoe contest. The fact that they considered the editor of the local newspaper to be a sort of dignitary is kind of telling.”

What’s clear is no single answer exists to saving local newspapers. In fact, the founder of one of the older online news startups is critical of the sudden interest by the likes of Facebook and Google in saving local news.

“They are trying to mimic the corporate journalism models that failed,” says Paul Bass, who started the New Haven Independent 14 years ago. “What’s really been lost is the local reporter who covers a local beat. The real lesson is to get out there and do reporting again.”

Mr. Bass does that with six full-time staffers who cover the Connecticut city, focusing heavily on crime, courts, cops, and politics. The $660,000 nonprofit is funded largely by foundations, many of them local. Mr. Bass has added a daily news talk show on low-power FM radio and regular Facebook Live videos. (“It gives us a C-SPAN element.”) He partners with a Spanish language outlet.

“We’re just scrappy, engaged. We live here and we care,” he says. “While we are figuring out the business model, I think we are in the golden age of journalism.”

Few of his contemporaries in local news would embrace that rosy view. But back in Mansfield, Mr. Fernyak thinks newsrooms and owners are figuring out models that will work. “We’ve had a crazy amount of support from our community for this,” he says. “I had people saying, ‘It’s about time.’ ”

This story was supported by a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network. SJN has also funded Richland Source projects.  

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The Explainer

2. Joe and Hunter Biden: Three questions about Ukraine corruption

There are a lot of conspiracy theories and justifications being floated about Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Here’s a look at what is known about the legal and ethical claims against the Bidens.

Amelia

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In a July 25 phone call to the president of Ukraine, President Donald Trump was “pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals,” specifically 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, according to an official whistleblower complaint. 

Ukrainian officials say Hunter Biden did nothing illegal while working for the largest natural gas company in Ukraine. But if his role wasn’t illegal, was it ethical? It was not, according to Sarah Chayes, author of “Thieves of State.” She sees this as an example of a global culture of U.S. “consultants” – including former officials of the Obama and Bush administrations – being paid large sums to help legitimize theft by kleptocrats, she writes in The Atlantic. “How did dealing in influence to burnish the fortunes of repugnant world leaders for large payoffs become a business model?”

Unless there’s evidence that Hunter Biden was hired only to whitewash the company’s reputation, “Is it morally appropriate to give the worst possible interpretation? That’s not fair,” says ethicist Michael Davis. “If it is true,” he adds, “then they’re doing something that’s not moral: trying to deceive people.”

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Joe and Hunter Biden: Three questions about Ukraine corruption

In a July 25 phone call to the president of Ukraine, President Donald Trump was “pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the president’s main domestic political rivals,” specifically 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, according to an official whistleblower complaint. A pdf of the complaint is available here. The president’s personal lawyer has met with Ukrainian officials multiple times seeking information about Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. Here’s a look at the legal and ethical claims leveled at the Bidens.

1. What was Hunter Biden doing in Ukraine?

In April 2014, Hunter Biden joined the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, the largest natural gas producer in Ukraine. At the time Burisma was whitewashing its image, say anti-corruption activists, by inviting high-profile Americans and Europeans to join the board. The former president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, had recently been added to the board, as had one of Hunter’s investment company partners, Devon Archer. 

Hunter Biden had no previous experience in the natural gas industry, Ukraine, or regulatory oversight, as his title at Burisma suggested. 

Adding these people with these fancy names to the board made Burisma, [which] got licenses to extract gas in Ukraine through very suspicious means, look like a Western, legitimate company,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a nongovernmental organization in Ukraine, told The Washington Post. 

Burisma was founded by a former minister of ecology and natural resources, Mykola Zlochevsky. Two months prior to Hunter Biden joining Burisma, U.K. authorities opened a money-laundering investigation and froze $23 million in company funds. But by 2015 the money was released (for lack of evidence) and by 2017, all legal proceedings against the company and Mr. Zlochevsky had been closed. 

“From the perspective of Ukrainian legislation, he [Hunter Biden] did not violate anything,” Yuri Lutsenko, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine, told The Washington Post recently. “Hunter Biden cannot be responsible for violations of the management of Burisma that took place two years before his arrival.” 

Mr. Lutsenko also told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday that he had met twice with Rudy Giuliani and spoken with him numerous times by phone, but had rebuffed Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to get him to launch an investigation into Hunter Biden.  

Ukraine’s current top prosecutor hasn’t launched an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden or his son. “As of now, there is nothing there,” Nazar Kholodnitskiy, the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, said in an interview with NV radio.

2. Why did Joe Biden push to remove a prosecutor in Ukraine?

In short, corruption. But not the kind that President Trump has alleged. 

Joe Biden was the Obama administration’s point person on relations with Kyiv. In 2015, Joe Biden, along with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, called for Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin of Ukraine to be fired. But that was not because Mr. Shokin was investigating Burisma, as Mr. Giuliani has said, but because he wasn’t, Ms. Kaleniuk, the Ukraine anticorruption investigator, told the Daily Beast.

During a visit in 2016, Joe Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless Mr. Shokin was fired. “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,’” Joe Biden said during a 2018 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Shokin was fired. The move was praised in Europe as a step toward tackling corruption.

But Mr. Shokin told The Washington Post earlier this year that he was ousted in March 2016 because he was investigating Burisma. He also questioned Hunter Biden’s qualifications to be a Burisma board member, noting that “this person had no work experience in Ukraine or in the energy sector.” 

3. If Hunter Biden’s role wasn’t illegal, was it ethical? 

It was not ethical, according to Sarah Chayes, author of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security.” In an Atlantic opinion piece, she suggests that Burisma was using the Biden name to scrub its reputation and Hunter Biden was cashing in. She sees the Ukraine case as an example of a global culture of U.S. “consultants” – including former Obama and Bush officials – being paid large sums to help legitimize theft, by “trading on their connections and their access to insider policy information – usually by providing services to kleptocrats...,” she writes. “How did dealing in influence to burnish the fortunes of repugnant world leaders for large payoffs become a business model? How could America’s leading lights convince themselves – and us – that this is acceptable?”

But unless there’s evidence that Hunter Biden was hired only to whitewash Burisma’s reputation, “is it morally appropriate to give the worst possible interpretation? That’s not fair or ethical,” says Michael Davis, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. But he adds, “If it is true, then they’re doing something that’s not moral: trying to deceive people.”

As for Hunter Biden using his surname for profit, Professor Davis says, “there’s nothing immoral about trading on your name, unless you’re a government official. If you have a famous brother, it may help you sell shoes. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

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3. ‘Rural values’ can tilt voters Republican – even for some minorities

Democrats might assume a minority people in North Carolina’s poorest county would support them. But a blunt focus on identity politics may hamper understanding of the range of values in a community. 

Amelia

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In the recent do-over election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, Robeson County proved pivotal. It’s home to the Lumbee people, a tribe with polyglot roots that blend Native American, escaped slave, and European colonist traditions. And, though nearly all of them are registered Democrats, about half ended up voting Republican.

“Bottom line: We are red-blooded Americans,” says Lumbee member Jason Locklear, a health care executive. “There are guns in the trucks in the church parking lot – not AR-15s, but shotguns. We are deeply Christian. And we are self-determined.”

They helped push Republican Dan Bishop to victory in this district. And some political analysts see lessons here for a coming national election in which rural voters are sure to play an important role.

“Now we know there are swing votes in that part of the world because the Democratic Party has moved so far to the left,” says Larry Shaheen, a local GOP strategist who has worked on federal recognition for the tribe. “This is not about Native American identity. This is about rural Indian values.”

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‘Rural values’ can tilt voters Republican – even for some minorities

The Lumbee Indians of Robeson County about broke Dan McCready’s heart.

The former Marine and clean-energy investor spent 27 months wooing the Lumbee Tribe in rural North Carolina, in a bid to turn the state’s 9th Congressional District Democratic for the first time since 1963.

They were so close. Mr. McCready’s Carolina-blue signs were all over the suburbs of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where Republicans had always ruled. A GOP fraud scandal had invalidated the 2018 election, forcing the do-over. President Donald Trump had won the district by 12 points in 2016 but, days before a special election, Mr. McCready had a small lead in the polls.

The Lumbees, nearly all of them registered Democrats, could put him over the top. Yet in the end, by some estimates about half the Lumbees voted for the Republican, Dan Bishop, the architect of the state’s controversial 2016 “bathroom bill.”

The hard-right turn of the Lumbees didn’t just turn the election, but turned identity politics on its head, political scientists say. The conflict among the Lumbees goes to the core of how identity politics plays at the ballot box: whether to be defined or to define oneself. At the crux of that divide in this case: minority voting rights versus rural values around guns, faith, and self-reliance.

“Bottom line: We are red-blooded Americans,” says Jason Locklear, a health care executive and member of the 55,000-strong Lumbee people. “There are guns in the trucks in the church parking lot – not AR-15s, but shotguns. We are deeply Christian. And we are self-determined.”

What played out in southeastern North Carolina in September could offer a path for the GOP to woo rural Democrats and perhaps stave off deep gains by Democrats in red-state suburbs.

“NC-9 could very well be the road test for 2020,” says J. Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. “This district went from a 12-point Republican win in 2016 down to 2 points in 2019. That math seems to indicate that there’s real pressure for Republicans to ... really figure out where they need to go in a state that is shifting more and more competitive.”

Suddenly a group with its divides exposed, the Lumbee people of Robeson County say they have come to embody how polarization is straining societal bonds.

“People of the dark water”

In these scrubby plains along the South Carolina border, dotted with swamps around the Lumber River, “the people of the dark water” were born – in a kind of backcountry melting pot.

On a day in the mid-1700s, company surveyors stumbled on native people wearing European clothes, farming using modern methods, and hailing them in the King’s English. Over time, escaped slaves and Confederate deserters joined their ranks, Lumbee identity based more on culture than blood.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor
Brothers Donovan (left) and Jason Locklear were among an expanding bloc of Lumbees who, while traditionally voting Democratic, helped Republican Dan Bishop win a recent special congressional election in North Carolina's 9th District. Their swing was largely based on rural values like gun rights, Christian faith, and self-determination.

That polyglot identity – and the difficult path it has presented for federal recognition, which the tribe only partly won in 1956 – has always involved a deep sense of assimilation and patriotism. The Lumbee never went to war against the U.S. Instead, its members have fought for the Republic going back to the Civil War. Yet their love of country hasn’t always been reciprocated, forcing them to endure a label: “those Indians.”

“We do come from a long history of having to be very self-reliant, because nobody would give us anything,” says Mary Ann Jacobs, a Lumbee who chairs the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke. “Lumbees couldn’t get bank loans, wouldn’t be seen by doctors, or be served in stores. Jim Crow was a very long and hard time here in Robeson County, so that really did ingrain this idea that you could or should make it [if you worked hard]. But we also had a lot of people who didn’t make it.” Too often “we don’t talk about them,” she adds.

One of those who did make it is farmer Donovan Locklear, Jason’s brother. Their great-great-grandfather, W.L. Moore, helped establish a teaching college which became UNC-Pembroke.

In 2016, Mr. Locklear voted for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the Republican primary. Today, he is a huge Trump supporter. But it has come with a cost. After the pastor at the church his grandfather founded backed Mr. McCready, Mr. Locklear left the church.

Mr. Locklear says part of the tribe’s identity is tied to the Battle of Hayes Pond in 1958. In reprisal for Ku Klux Klan leader Catfish Cole’s burning of crosses on Lumbee front yards, several hundred of them, firing rifles into the air, routed the klansmen away.

“Not being on a reservation is what made us what we are today,” he says. “We’ve had to fight for everything we’ve got.”

For the Lumbees, that has meant a long struggle over whether they are a legitimate tribe deserving of rights or a group of African Americans trying to pass themselves off as American Indians to get government handouts.

“The Lumbee theory has always been that they were a marooned community of escaped slaves and native people – a refugee community in the swamps that had coalesced,” says Mark Miller, author of “Claiming Tribal Identity.” “The biggest issue is that the government doesn’t believe they can prove what tribe they came from, and then they cast aspersions on their acknowledged African-American blood, and that affects how they’re perceived into the present. They have spent a lot of history trying to distance themselves from the African-American community, not in a racist way, but to assert their identity.”

That conflict is now exacerbated, some Lumbees say, by a sense of decline: of people, of values, of livelihoods. In 2015, Robeson was the poorest county in North Carolina. Racial tensions have dogged the post-Hurricane Florence consolidation of two rival high schools: one largely black, the other largely Lumbee.

“There’s always been sort of a dangerous mix in Robeson around politics and race, and as times get tougher that gets more challenging,” says Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson, who worked on Mr. McCready’s campaign. “In Trump’s America, this is the rhetoric that works. As folks are sliding down the scale, they are pointing at each other.”

That rural Democrats are increasingly voting Republican is nothing new of course, but part of an ongoing political realignment. But it has taken on greater relevance now as Americans square up to “two competing world views” – capitalism versus socialism – that will likely define next year’s election season, says Larry Shaheen, a GOP strategist in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Whether there are enough votes among rural Americans – including other tribes across the U.S. – to provide winning margins for Republicans is far from assured, notes Mr. Miller, the Utah historian.

“This is about rural Indian values”

A few weeks before the recent vote, someone brought a box of brand-new red “Make America Great Again” hats to Linda’s Restaurant, a Lumbee hangout. Half of the room cheered and doffed them. The other half was aghast. One MAGA hat wearer was told, referencing President Trump: “You know he doesn’t care who you are, right?”

“What you have stumbled upon in Robeson County is the method by which Trump is going to be reelected in 2020,” predicts Mr. Shaheen, who has worked on federal recognition for the tribe. “That part of the world has traditionally been the worst for Republicans, period. But now we know there are swing votes in that part of the world because the Democratic Party has moved so far to the left. This is not about Native American identity. This is about rural Indian values.”

After the state election board invalidated last year’s election – which Mr. McCready lost by 900 or so votes – Mr. McCready came back to the campaign emboldened to fight for the voting rights of minorities and Native Americans who had in part been the target of election abuses by the GOP in 2018.

For his part, rival candidate Mr. Bishop embraced Mr. Trump. He called Mr. McCready an “Elizabeth Warren Democrat.” Mr. McCready ended up returning a donation by Rep. Ilhan Omar, part of a minority bloc among Democrats pushing for broader benefits for the disenfranchised.

According to Sarah Baxley, a Lumbee who voted for Mr. McCready, “lots of Lumbees” attended Mr. Trump’s rally in nearby Fayetteville the night before the election.

On election night, Mr. Bishop added more than 3,000 votes to the 2018 winning total – with Robeson County, crucially, seeing support for Mr. McCready drop by more than 10% in key Lumbee-majority precincts, compared with 2018. At play were national political currents joined with local issues – ranging from full recognition to grants for a new swift water rescue program secured by a Republican senator.

“The Republican Party has showed a particular interest in working with us, which broke down some barriers, that the Republican Party is not evil or against us, and, in fact, that they represent a lot of our same values,” says Lumbee businessman Jarrette Sampson.

That is not to say that Democrats in Robeson County don’t share a lot of those same values, adds Mr. Sampson.

“I have many good friends who are die-hard in the Democratic Party here in the county, and they don’t represent [the far-left] at all. They go hunting with us, they go to church, they are the same people as we are.”

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4. As generation of Syrian refugees comes of age, what future awaits?

As conflicts drag on, aid that once effectively supported refugee populations may need recalibrating. That is particularly relevant for students who have excelled academically but face huge barriers to college.

Amelia
Taylor Luck
Syrian medical student Shahem Al Boni, fresh off his first week of on-the-job training at Prince Hamza Hospital, stands on the rooftop of his apartment in Amman, Jordan, on Aug. 31, 2019.

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Muath Al Hariri recently traveled 50 miles from his family’s apartment in Irbid, Jordan, to the capital, Amman, for a scholarship interview with a United Nations agency that could determine his university dreams.

“If I don’t get a scholarship,” he says, “I will only have one choice: migrate to Europe.”

Seven years since the outbreak of a civil war drove 5 million Syrians into neighboring states for safety, an entire generation of Syrian children educated in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt is now coming of age.

Billions of dollars have been spent on primary and secondary schooling for these students. But when it comes time for university, most Syrians suddenly find themselves alone competing for limited opportunities. Besides scholarships, online learning opportunities are being developed to give students more options. But without a clear pathway, especially for tackling the financial burdens, many Syrian students are struggling to achieve their dream of college. 

Helping refugees pursue degrees and return to their countries should be a priority, say diplomats and observers. Reversing the brain drain of failed states such as Syria, they note, will fast-track reconstruction, improve regional stability, and slow future waves of refugees heading to Europe’s shores.

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As generation of Syrian refugees comes of age, what future awaits?

Staying up late into the night buried in his textbooks, Shahem Al Boni couldn’t fight the feeling that it was all a waste of time.

Long a top student at his Amman high school, he turned page after page of chemistry, physics, and math formulas to shake off the voice telling him that university was not meant for him.

“You are in the middle of cramming for exams that will dictate your future, and you keep asking yourself: Why am I even doing this?” says Mr. Al Boni. “I am a refugee.”

Seven years since the outbreak of a civil war drove 5 million Syrians into neighboring states for safety, an entire generation of Syrian children educated in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt is now coming of age.

Even though billions in donor dollars have been spent on primary and secondary schooling, when it comes time for university, most Syrians suddenly find themselves alone competing for limited opportunities. Nongovernmental organizations are helping develop options, such as online learning, and some scholarships are also available. But without a clear pathway, especially for tackling the financial burdens, many Syrian students are struggling to achieve their dream of college. 

“Despite the strong commitment to supporting access to education for refugee children, many of those who arrived at the beginning of the crisis are now finishing their schooling and await an uncertain future,” says Lilly Carlisle, spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in Jordan.

Helping students pursue degrees and return to needed positions in their countries should be a priority, say diplomats and observers. Reversing the brain-drain of failed states such as Syria, they note, will fast-track reconstruction, improve regional stability, and slow future waves of refugees heading to Europe’s shores. 

Currently, 5% of all Syrian refugees have access to higher education – slightly higher than the international average of 3% of refugees worldwide, but well below the 37% global enrollment rate, according to the U.N

In Jordan, more than half of Syrian students say their family’s financial difficulties are the greatest obstacle to going to university, according to a 2018 survey by the University of Jordan Center for Strategic Studies. Prior to the start of the 2011 civil war, tuition in Syria was free and a right guaranteed by the state.

“The No. 1 challenge for displaced and refugee students who want to continue their studies is funding,” says Nele Feldmann, head of student emergency initiatives at the Institute of International Education (IIE). “Many students drop out of their studies because they become caregivers for their families and need to work; others are discouraged by the lack of employment opportunities after graduation.”

In Jordan, 145,000 Syrian refugees are in the education system. Syrian students consistently place among the top 10 scores for the General Secondary Education Certificate (Tawjihi) exam. Results from the test are a main criterion for university admissions in the Arab world. 

But as noncitizens, they must pay international student tuition fees, which can be many times more than their Jordanian counterparts. A four-year degree at some Jordanian universities can reach $80,000 – an amount that is out of reach for families that are in debt, rely on aid to pay rent, and are restricted to working in low-wage sectors. 

Rama Darawish, who scored a 98.8 on the 2019 Tawjihi exam, has resorted to making appeals in the local news and social media to raise funds to allow her to study medicine and become a doctor.

Dina, 16, who requested that only her first name be used, is preparing for the Tawjihi exam this fall. She hopes to be the first woman in her family to go on to university, and is cautiously eyeing her peers’ struggles.

“It is as if they told us to reach for a life that is not open to us because we have no country,” she says.

Scholarships and technology offer hope

With no programs in place to provide student loans, Syrians often turn to scholarships. 

“Due to the high cost of university education in Jordan, the majority of refugees rely on scholarships to continue their learning, but places are limited – and it is a challenge they face all over the world,” says Ms. Carlisle, from the UNHCR.

According to the Center for Strategic Studies survey, 22% of Syrian university students in Jordan say they have secured scholarships. 

Muath Al Hariri traveled 50 miles from his family’s apartment in Irbid, northern Jordan, to Amman for an interview with UNHCR staff that could determine his university dreams.

He is counting on help from the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI). Since 1992, it has handed out more than 15,500 scholarships for refugees worldwide and has become Syrian refugees’ best hope. DAFI offers full tuition for universities in host countries; this year 1,000 refugees will compete for 40 scholarships in Jordan through the U.N.

Mr. Al Hariri scored 91 on his Tawjihi exam – recognized as excellent – but is concerned that it will not be enough. “I knew I had to be among the very best to even have a shot at university,” he says. More than 5,000 Syrians graduated high school last spring in Jordan, a number increasing with each school year.

“If I don’t get a scholarship,” he says, “I will only have one choice: migrate to Europe.”

Mr. Al Boni, who is now in college, received a DAFI scholarship. His family has lived the past seven years in Jordan by selling off their properties and ancestral home in Hama, Syria. He says university would be impossible without help.

Another potential solution for students is blended learning – a combination of online e-learning and face-to-face instruction, which practitioners say would allow refugees to study remotely and at their own pace, introduce them to different learning styles, and allow them to retain jobs or provide care to their families in host communities.

Mosaik, an NGO supported by UK Aid and the Open Society Foundations, is pioneering a model by providing English classes and workshops at community centers and online to help refugees identify scholarships and overcome language obstacles.

Studies by UNHCR in Jordan last year saw a potential for blended learning, with large acceptance among Syrian refugees for online courses, but noted that connectivity issues remain for many Syrians either due to cost or network coverage.

“Students living in displacement often don’t have the physical space to study in a quiet environment, they may not have access to a personal computer at any time, and many students want to connect to other students and teachers as part of their higher education experience,” says Ms. Feldmann, at the IIE.

“Our nation will be lost”

Clad in his white lab coat, stethoscope looped around his neck, Mr. Al Boni has just returned home from the end of his first week of on-the-job training at Prince Hamza Hospital.

Entering his third year studying medicine at The Hashemite University, he has perfected his bedside manner and already latched onto his field of choice: neurology. 

He insists he is not looking to practice in Jordan or the West; he is anxiously waiting to return to Syria to open up practice in his hometown of Hama.

“Doctors, engineers, and lawyers all left Syria during the war; if no one comes back our nation will be lost for 100 years,” Mr. Al Boni says in perfect, crisp English. “What Syria really needs right now is a good doctor.” 

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Essay

5. Lost in Yellowstone: Bison, elk, and crowds, oh my.

It’s hard to put a price on introducing a child to the wonders of the wilderness. Still, one Monitor writer was nervous about joining the crowds at Yellowstone this summer. Turns out, he shouldn't have been.

Amelia
Ann Hermes/Staff/File
Tourists flock to Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park on June 16, 2016, in Wyoming. When Monitor writer Mark Trumbull traveled to Yellowstone this summer, his family made a conscious decision to see other visitors as companions rather than obstacles.

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America’s national parks are being “loved to death,” and now I’m about to be part of the problem. That was my lurking worry as my family and I planned a parks-oriented vacation in peak travel season.

It’s true, the parks have their challenges with hordes of people. But we went, and what I saw was a park system rich in both beauty and largely responsible visitors.

Much as we looked forward to the trip, nothing really prepared us for the thrill that came when we found ourselves gazing across a valley in Yellowstone at bison and elk in the wild.

“Will we see a bear?” asked our wide-eyed 10-year-old (not for the first time on this day). The hope was disappointed. But during the trip, we found it was possible to find places of seclusion not far off the parks’ beaten paths. And we chose to view our fellow human visitors as companions, not spoilers.

Ken Eaton, a frequent park visitor, told me he thinks in a similar way. “This kind of renews my faith in humanity,” he says.

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Lost in Yellowstone: Bison, elk, and crowds, oh my.

On Day One we took a wrong turn. OK, we took several wrong turns. But on this particular turn, we were seeking the iconic lower falls in the Yellowstone River’s grand canyon. With no canyon in sight, we hustled along in a park that’s bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Soon, there it was.

Not the falls, but a herd of bison, munching on meadow grass and cavorting with their young. 

My wife rolled down the rental-car window to listen. I marveled at my first-ever sight of these creatures – who once ranged through inland America by the millions – prospering again in the 21st-century wild.

“Will we see a bear?” asked our wide-eyed 10-year-old (not for the first time on this day).

Overlooking a portion of Yellowstone’s expansive Hayden Valley, he used binoculars to scan. Could that one dark shape, half hidden by a hillside, possibly be a grizzly? The hope was disappointed.

When my turn came, I turned the binoculars toward another part of the valley and watched two elk walking and then running through a meadow until their hoofs splashed in the Yellowstone River.

America’s national parks are being “loved to death,” and now I’m about to be part of the problem. That was my lurking worry as my family and I planned a vacation visiting some of the best-known during the summer peak-travel season. And it’s a fair worry to have. Some of America’s most cherished wildlands are also among the most congested. A maintenance backlog has been estimated at $12 billion. Fewer rangers are on patrol, even as national park visits regularly top 300 million people per year.

Is “America’s best idea” running amok? Or, to put it in personal terms, would our experience with the bison have been better if there hadn’t been other people standing a few feet away from us?

Ann Hermes/Staff/File
Bison create a traffic jam on a main road in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, May 13, 2011.

Maybe. But here’s the thing. The parks are meant to be for people as well as for animals and the lands they live on. Roads and parking lots intrude, but they also make major portions of the parks accessible to baby-toting parents, to users of wheelchairs, and to travelers like us whose schedules didn’t allow multiple-day visits.

“If we don’t have people coming to our parks, then they lose interest,” says Ken Eaton, a frequent park visitor whom we met during our trip. As he puts it, if the parks don’t have people coming, “then they lose funding and they go away.”

Given all this, and given that our schedule required making the trip at a time of peak visitation, my family made a pact before the trip. We determined to view other visitors as companions, not spoilers on the journey. We would look for ways to connect or to be helpful along the way.

Mr. Eaton told me he thinks in a similar way.

“I just encounter people. This kind of renews my faith in humanity,” says the Atlanta resident who describes growing up in the shadow of a smokestack in Akron, Ohio.

We met as he packed his gear for photography along a trail in Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

We had come to see ancient bristlecone pines, which at 3,000-plus years are considered the oldest living things on Earth.

So had Alex Steinhoff, another hiker climbing the rocky trail as the sun dipped low. When he and Mr. Eaton met, their shared interest in night-sky photography prompted Mr. Steinhoff to hustle back to his car for gear – knowing that he’d have Mr. Eaton as a companion on unlit trails.

“Here we are, two people who have never met before, sharing an experience,” Mr. Eaton says.

As they were taking long-exposure pictures and then hiking down together by flashlight, my family was also gazing up into some of the darkest skies in America – from an outdoor program the park had arranged, led by an avid stargazer and former NASA worker.

Courtesy of Ken Eaton
Ken Eaton is a frequent visitor to national parks, because nature photos are part of his business, but also because of what being out in wildlands does for him as a person. It “renews my faith in humanity,” he says, even as he also sees in nature “something much bigger than me.” He took this photo of himself at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah this summer.

Even as human connections enriched our travels, the flip side is also vital. The parks offer plenty of seclusion. Yes, the most popular hikes are crowded. But in many cases, stepping half a mile down a less-traveled trail is enough to feel a world away.

And the parks’ less-traveled areas provide lots of animal habitat. We were heartened to learn that Zion National Park in Utah is now home to a baby California condor, a rarity for that endangered species struggling to recover in the wild. Meanwhile, by allowing only park-managed buses to drive into Zion Canyon, the park has smoothed a path for human throngs to visit without clogging the road. 

On our day in Zion, we didn’t see any condors, but we drew inspiration from seeing the terrain they call home.

Mr. Eaton, who’s now prepping for a fall trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, speaks for himself but also for lots of others, including me.

“I always come back different” after being out in nature, he says. “Every time I go it moves me.”

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The Monitor's View

The headwinds against legalized sports betting

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In the 16 months since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, the country’s wealthiest sports league, the NFL, has slowly moved to put its football games and its players into the middle of the online gambling industry. By 2024, the U.S. sports wagering market may grow to $5.7 billion in annual revenue. The NFL, like other professional sports leagues, has found it hard to pass up this new source of wealth.

Yet something in the U.S. is slowing down this rush toward online sports gambling, especially in Western and Southern states. Only about a dozen states have some form of legal sports betting, often with tight restrictions. Perhaps most Americans do not want to turn games of talent into games of chance with all the well-known effects on players, young people, poor people, and those prone to gambling addiction. One big cost would be an increase in the superstitious belief in luck as a force in society rather than hard work, learning, talent, teamwork, and new ideas.

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The headwinds against legalized sports betting

In the 16 months since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, the country’s wealthiest sports league, the NFL, has slowly moved to put its football games and its players into the middle of the online gambling industry. The league has partnered with casino giant Caesars Entertainment as well as sports data distributor Sportradar. Last Thursday, it signed a deal with the largest fantasy sports operator, DraftKings, which already has betting operations in four states. And when the NFL’s current broadcast rights deals expire in 2022, it will likely make sports betting a key part of negotiations for new contracts.

That last step may have the most impact on the future of sports gambling in the United States. The league’s games have more viewers than anything else on live television. Of the top 100 live broadcasts last year, nearly two-thirds were NFL games. Prepare for TV announcers to speak directly to bettors about every micro-moment in a game that might influence wagers. Information on the pregame health of each player will become a profit center. By 2024, the U.S. sports wagering market may grow to $5.7 billion in annual revenue, according to the research company GamblingCompliance. The NFL, like other professional sports leagues, has found it hard to pass up this new source of wealth.

Yet something in the U.S. is slowing down this rush toward online sports gambling, especially in Western and Southern states. Only about a dozen states have some form of legal sports betting, often with tight restrictions. Lawmakers in 18 states rejected sports betting bills in 2019, according to The Associated Press. Legalized sports betting is available to less than 20% of the U.S. population. In Colorado, legislators have punted the issue to voters with a referendum in November.

Perhaps most Americans do not want to turn games of talent into games of chance with all the well-known effects on players, young people, poor people, and those prone to gambling addiction. An NCAA survey found 26% of male student-athletes reported making sports wagers. In a poll by Seton Hall University, 61% of Americans said legal betting on sports events leads to cheating or fixing of games. “What we legalize, we legitimize,” says Louisiana lawmaker Rep. Valarie Hodges.

The hidden costs of all types of gambling are now more well known. Land-based casinos end up costing a community about $3 for every $1 made, according to Earl Grinols, an economist at Baylor University, mainly in the effects on problem gamblers and in local crime. If sports betting is now made available on every mobile device, the U.S. needs to consider such costs.

One big disadvantage is an increase in the superstitious belief in luck as a force in society rather than hard work, learning, talent, teamwork, and new ideas. The Seton Hall University poll found that less than a third of Americans would be more likely to bet on games if their state legalized sports betting.

Perhaps another factor slowing down sports betting in the U.S. is that the United Kingdom is currently trying to restrict its market after an explosion of interest among young people online. The British government is setting up its first health clinic for children with gambling addiction. Overall, more children place bets than consume alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.

The NFL, more than any other organization, should take note. The purity of sports should remain pure, especially for the young.

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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.

Freedom from bullying and its effects

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For a young man who was bullied in high school, gaining a spiritual view of his identity proved life-changing – and also brought lasting peace of mind decades later when feelings of victimization cropped up again.

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Freedom from bullying and its effects

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Millions of US students stay home from school at some point in the year for fear of being bullied. Young people may also face a subtler form of bullying – mental bullying – through advertising, movies, and social media that present images of “perfect” bodies and beauty that are nearly impossible to attain in real life.

How can any of us – whatever our age – face down the bullies or bullying thoughts that have the potential to tyrannize us? Experience has shown me that it is by gaining an unshakable conviction of what we really are as children of God. And then by acting accordingly.

I vividly remember how I had to cope with bullying during my teenage years. At my first high school, other students called me names every day. One even gave me a black eye. But that was nothing compared to my damaged self-esteem. My tormentors only reinforced my own low opinion of myself – that I wasn’t making it academically, athletically, or socially. I stumbled through that school year friendless and withdrawn.

Then I had an experience that was invaluable to me. I attended a summer camp for Christian Scientists, and it was such a contrast to my school life. No one seemed predisposed to put me down. And during weeks of outdoor fun, the counselors and adult staff guided us campers toward a spiritual view of ourselves. I learned that it was simply not true that one’s body equals one’s identity, as much of popular culture attempts to persuade us. I learned instead that we’re each spiritual, made in God’s very likeness.

My parents were astonished when the morose kid they’d sent to camp returned home full of zest. They enrolled me in a new school, and from the first day there my life changed astoundingly. My grades soared. I earned a starting spot on a sports team. And I made lots of new friends.

One more thing. At my old school I had always concealed a prominent wart. After camp, though, I was determined never again to feel put down because of my body. I was inspired by what the Bible prophet Jeremiah wrote in the Old Testament about priorities. Don’t brag about your wisdom, your exploits, and your riches, he said. As the New King James Version puts it, “Let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me [God]” (Jeremiah 9:24).

This helped shift my focus away from hiding the wart. Instead, I prayed to know that when God created me, I was made spiritual and flawless, like God, as we all are. Within a few weeks, the wart had just plain vanished. I knew that this healing, as well as my changed life at school, had come as a result of getting to know God better.

I was never again bullied by other students, and my self-esteem was now solidly grounded. Yet many years later the mailman brought an invitation to a reunion at my first high school, and although I lived too far away to attend, the mere thought of that school made me squirm. I found myself reliving all my old anger and resentment. Most startling was the impulse I felt to apologize to those people for having deserved bullying, and to offer assurances that I had changed. It was mortifying to feel myself lapse into that long-abandoned thought pattern. Silly as it may sound, I was disturbed about it for days.

I realized that my reactions showed classic bully-victim behavior. Praying for comfort, I gained this insight: In God’s eyes, I never had been someone else’s victim. No one has the power to alter or damage any aspect of God’s creation, because God, who is good, is supreme. No one can take away another’s value. Yes, I had overcome an instance of bullying. But real victory required my casting out the very concept of bullying as an inescapable part of my own or anyone’s life.

That’s how, some 30 years later, I finally disowned victimhood and exonerated those whom I had formerly blamed. In doing this, I had fulfilled a long-overdue responsibility – that of taking charge of my own thinking. And I regained my peace of mind.

A quote that has meant a lot to me says, “Mankind must learn that evil is not power” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 102). We can always find occasions to grasp the spiritual reality that we are all forever governed only by God, and I was grateful for this opportunity to prove that.

Adapted from an article published in the Sept. 13, 2004, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Beware the ‘lamb jam’

Christian Murdock/The Gazette/AP
Sheep herders create a traffic jam on a warm fall day as they move their flock down Gunnison County Road 12 below Kebler Pass toward Paonia, Colorado, Sept. 25, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 1st, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, we'll have an on-the-ground report from staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Hong Kong, where the intensifying protests are a dark spot for Beijing as it marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. 

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September 30, 2019
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