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Today, we look at one of the impeachment inquiry’s key figures, Ukrainian corruption, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s downward trajectory, Hong Kong protests from a different angle, and the reimagining of pop concerts.
But first, there’s this. You’ve heard it all before: The country is hyper-divided. Unions are passé. Blue-collar workers resent management. Corporations prefer robots to people. There are truths embedded in these clichés. Yet, when push comes to shove, old-fashioned collective bargaining still works.
General Motors and the United Auto Workers reached a tentative agreement this week that could end the monthlong strike. Both sides were hard-nosed – and for good reason. But in the end, they compromised because they saw they had more to gain from working together than fighting each other. The union agreed to let three plants close, while GM halved the time it takes for temporary workers to earn full-time pay.
The process is democratic. Union members will vote on the deal, sealing its fate.
Perhaps that spirit can prevail in the new Chicago teachers’ strike and the 2 1/2-year-old walkout against Charter Communications. The tentative GM-UAW deal is a refreshing reminder – maybe even a wistful one – of how leaders with different visions can find common ground and the majority decides if it’s fair.
He wasn’t the obvious choice to become the leading face of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry. Here’s a look at why Rep. Adam Schiff of California got that role and how he’s done so far.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California has an unflappable personality, say colleagues. And that’s a good thing, they add, since he’s increasingly a leading face of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States.
The credibility of the impeachment process, Democrats believe, rests on whether Americans believe it has been methodical and fair. Representative Schiff carries a lot of the responsibility for making that impression.
“The pressure of dealing with that ... is an enormously difficult task,” says Democratic strategist Dan Kanninen.
Representative Schiff is a Harvard-trained lawyer who represents Hollywood in the U.S. House. He hosts an annual comedy fundraiser where he sometimes performs the opening act.
As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he’s not the obvious choice to spearhead impeachment. But the whistleblower who complained of President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine came from the intelligence community, and Representative Schiff has Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s confidence.
Republicans say they distrust him. Among other things, they point to his loose interpretation of the famous call between President Trump and Ukraine’s president, performed before a House hearing. The GOP is trying to censure him for it.
Democrats have dismissed the criticism as partisan. But in a process in which credibility is paramount, public perception of integrity and honesty could make all the difference.
He’s a Harvard-trained lawyer who represents Hollywood in Congress. A former prosecutor, he has a meticulous, “coloring within the lines” approach to the law, says one political expert.
Now, he’s become a leading figure – in many ways, the face – of the fourth-ever impeachment inquiry of an American president. It’s a role for which Democrats believe Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, may be very well prepared.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to tap Mr. Schiff to head the probe into whether President Donald Trump tried to coerce Ukraine into investigating a political rival was a vote of confidence in the chairman’s ability to navigate both the investigation and the politics surrounding it.
Already, he’s fielding blows. This week House Republicans, with the president urging them on, took steps toward formally censuring him for his dramatized public retelling of the infamous July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. They’ve criticized him for misleading the public about his initial contact with the whistleblower – the unidentified member of the intelligence community who first raised questions about the Trump-Zelenskiy call – and more broadly for the secrecy of the investigation so far.
Mr. Trump has field-tested a number of derogatory nicknames for Mr. Schiff, settling in recent weeks on “Shifty Schiff,” perhaps in an attempt to throw doubt on the congressman’s often pointed observations about the White House in television interviews.
The credibility of the impeachment process, most observers agree, rests on Democrats’ ability to methodically and dispassionately communicate their findings to a deeply partisan American public. Mr. Schiff now carries a huge chunk of that weight.
“The pressure of dealing with that ... is an enormously difficult task,” says Democratic strategist Dan Kanninen. “This is a process that will test anybody.”
So far, the impeachment inquiry has been proceeding with head-spinning speed. On Thursday, Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told House investigators that Mr. Trump had rejected the advice of his top diplomats and charged his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, with overseeing American foreign policy on Ukraine. While Mr. Sondland was still testifying, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney gave a rare press briefing in which he said the administration had frozen nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure it to investigate an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had hacked the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“I think Mr. Mulvaney’s acknowledgment means that things have gone from very, very bad to much, much worse,” Mr. Schiff commented to reporters afterward. Mr. Mulvaney later walked back his statement.
Mr. Schiff’s role in all this was not a given. The House Judiciary Committee led the charge in the impeachment probes of both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. And Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler presided over the first unofficial hearing of the impeachment inquiry – a spectacle that featured mocking testimony from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. That hearing could have influenced Ms. Pelosi’s decision to give the House intelligence committee the reins. More likely, Mr. Schiff’s committee landed the assignment because the whistleblower complaint came from the intelligence community.
Colleagues and political observers alike say Mr. Schiff also has the right temperament for the role. He’s long been known for his calm, almost “boring” persona. (Although for the past 13 years, he’s hosted an annual comedy fundraiser where, “sometimes to the chagrin of the professional comics who perform each year, he is the opening act – and yes, he does write his own jokes,” one aide writes in an email.)
“He’s unflappable. He’s got a good mind,” says Rep. Jackie Speier, a fellow Californian who’s worked with Mr. Schiff on the intelligence committee for years.
During former special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into Russian interference in 2016, Mr. Schiff was outspoken in his criticism of the president. But until recently, he was reluctant to pursue an impeachment probe – reflecting a prudence that showed in his decision to pass on a long-considered 2016 bid for the U.S. Senate.
His résumé is oddly fitting for a job as lead investigator in a case involving alleged conspiracy and foreign entities. In 1990, while serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, Mr. Schiff prosecuted an FBI agent who was seduced by and sold classified information to a Soviet spy, securing the first-ever conviction of an FBI agent for espionage. Later, in his initial run for Congress, he unseated a Republican who’d helped lead the impeachment probe against Mr. Clinton.
In 2008, Mr. Schiff was tapped to co-chair a congressional panel that investigated two federal judges for misconduct. Both would eventually be impeached and removed from office.
He approaches these types of matters with a “legal-eagle kind of perspective,” says Larry Becker, a political science professor at California State University, Northridge, who studies Congress and legislative processes. “Schiff was a smart choice.”
In opening remarks before the testimony of Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, Mr. Schiff gave a loose interpretation of the call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelenskiy. “This is the essence of what the president communicates,” Mr. Schiff said. “‘I hear what you want. I have a favor I want from you, though. And I’m going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand?’”
Republicans seized on the “parody” to discredit the chairman. The motion to censure, which has been signed by at least 135 House Republicans and is expected to be brought up on Monday, called the statement “egregiously false and fabricated.” On Twitter, Mr. Trump declared, “It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”
“I wouldn’t have done it,” says veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, though he adds that the response was overblown.
Perhaps more damning was an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” during which Mr. Schiff told reporter Sam Stein that his committee had not spoken with the whistleblower. A few weeks later, media reports revealed that the whistleblower had approached a House intelligence committee staff member for guidance before filing the complaint with the Intelligence Community inspector general. The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” gave Mr. Schiff’s statement four Pinocchios.
Democrats have dismissed the criticisms as partisan. But in a process where credibility is paramount, public perception of integrity and honesty could make all the difference.
“The real question is how Schiff and the rest of the Democrats come off in the end,” says Margaret Taylor, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a former Democratic chief counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Are they going to be a repository for Americans’ trust – or not?”
Over the past two weeks, the intelligence committee has amassed hours of closed-door testimony from career diplomats and administration officials. On Monday, Mr. Trump’s former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, testified that John Bolton, then the national security adviser, had been alarmed at efforts within the White House to pressure Ukraine for political help. On Wednesday, Michael McKinley, a former top State Department aide, told lawmakers he had resigned because of Mr. Trump’s attacks on former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
The disclosures appear to corroborate the whistleblower’s complaint against Mr. Trump, though Republicans have criticized the secrecy of the process.
“They deny members of Congress, who are lent the power and the voice of the American public, [the ability] to even read what goes on,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday. “Somehow we’re supposed to trust what comes out of that?”
In a letter to his colleagues, Mr. Schiff defended the closed hearings. He pointed out that at the start of both the Nixon and Clinton investigations, independent prosecutors had conducted private interviews of witnesses. Lacking a prosecutor, members of this committee have had to conduct those closed interviews themselves.
“It is of paramount importance to ensure that witnesses cannot coordinate their testimony with one another to match their description of events, or potentially conceal the truth,” he wrote. He said the committee plans to eventually disclose transcripts of all the interviews, redacted for classified information. No date has been specified.
The committee has been on a grinding schedule so far, with some hearings lasting eight or nine hours. “It’s been very long hours and an amazing amount of incoming,” the Schiff aide says in a phone interview. “He’s splitting his time between caucus meetings, meetings with various committee chairs, conversations with the speaker, and the latest news coming from our district. And he wants to be as involved in every minute of witness testimony as possible.”
Already, some of his colleagues see a change in him. “He’s grown like anyone would grow under the circumstances,” Representative Speier says.
“You see more of the weight of history on him,” adds Rep. Ro Khanna, another California Democrat who says Mr. Schiff offered him advice and helped open doors for him when he was new to Congress. “I think that sense of the gravity of the job, the gravity of the responsibility, has hit him more.”
Ukraine keeps coming up in White House-related controversy. But it is not the first time that Americans seeking fortune or promoting positive change have become entangled in complex post-Soviet realities.
Ukraine is not a major player globally, but it has turned out to be a key stage for events in the turmoil around the Trump White House. The post-Soviet nation was the site for significant portions of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s career, the energy company board membership of Hunter Biden, and Rudy Giuliani’s subsequent attempts to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden.
Ukraine is fertile ground for such events because it is politically unstable, profoundly corrupt, and a magnet for self-dealing schemers to get involved with, says Ivan Katchanovski, a political scientist and Ukraine expert at the University of Ottawa. “Post-Soviet Ukraine has always been a corrupt, oligarchic system where rich and powerful people want to enlist the support and patronage of Westerners to whitewash themselves at home and abroad,” he says.
But it is also a place that contains many pitfalls for Americans who do not understand it, says Yevgeny Kiselev, a former Russian TV news anchor. “They cannot always play the decisive role they wish to, and it may be that they sometimes overestimate the reach of their influence.”
For most Americans, Ukraine is a strange, if not unknown place. But as unfamiliar as it might have been just a few years ago, the post-Soviet nation has become a central topic in the controversies orbiting the Trump White House.
Between Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman and onetime adviser to Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych, and Hunter Biden, the son of ex-Vice President Joe Biden who once served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Ukraine is turning out to be of disproportionate importance to the future of President Donald Trump’s administration and the 2020 U.S. presidential race.
And that is likely due to the country’s confluence of post-Soviet economic opportunity, seeming routes to reform, and hidden pitfalls for Westerners who do not understand the costs of doing business, literally or figuratively, in a place that bears many resemblances to 1990s Russia.
“Ukraine is a country still in transition from the former Communist system. This often involves ugly things, but that’s probably unavoidable. You can’t make such a transition all at once,” says Yevgeny Kiselev, who was one of Russia’s best-known TV news anchors in the 1990s, but who immigrated to Ukraine in 2008 after finding it impossible to work freely in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. “It may be that Americans don’t always understand the limits of the possible in this part of the world. They cannot always play the decisive role they wish to, and it may be that they sometimes overestimate the reach of their influence.”
Today’s Ukraine is politically unstable, profoundly corrupt, and a magnet for self-dealing schemers to get involved with, says Ivan Katchanovski, a political scientist and Ukraine expert at the University of Ottawa. “Post-Soviet Ukraine has always been a corrupt, oligarchic system where rich and powerful people want to enlist the support and patronage of Westerners to whitewash themselves at home and abroad,” he says. “Since the Maidan [Revolution] in 2014, Ukraine itself has become something like a client state of the U.S., where American politicians sometimes behave in ways that make a mockery of Ukrainian independence.”
American involvement can come in different ways: Witness the differing cases of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Biden, both of whom have found themselves in trouble back home for their Ukrainian activities. Mr. Manafort is now in prison, while Mr. Biden has had to admit he showed “poor judgment” in taking a lucrative job with a Ukrainian gas company accused of money-laundering.
Experts say that most Ukrainians remain oblivious to the scandals rocking the U.S., while their mostly oligarch-owned media has seemed reluctant to cover the odd dynamic between Mr. Trump and their new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, perhaps out of fear of crossing one or another powerful faction in Washington.
But experts say that for both men, getting involved in Ukrainian affairs was negative, if to different degrees. “Manafort was involved with notorious political figures in Ukraine, and probably knew some of the things he was doing were illegal under U.S. law. Biden Jr. might have thought he was doing something positive, but it doesn’t look good in retrospect because it’s clear he was riding his father’s coattails,” says Mr. Kiselev.
This is not the first time that Americans seeking adventure, fortune, or to promote positive change have become entangled in complex, often corrupt post-Soviet realities – with their reputations back home suffering as a result.
Though comparisons shouldn’t be overstated, the Russia that emerged from the Soviet collapse seemed a wide-open “wild east” where an American consultant or entrepreneur might find exceptional business opportunities while helping to push history’s needle in the direction of democracy and free markets. Moscow of the 1990s was full of foreigners of all different types, many Americans, including official advisers, financial investors, consultants, missionaries, and carpetbaggers.
But their legacy is not fondly remembered in Russia. American political support is blamed for helping nudge Russia back onto a more authoritarian path after Boris Yeltsin abolished his elected parliament in 1993 and then shelled it out of existence, for urging the mass privatizations that led to the rise of Russia’s rapacious oligarchic class, and for supporting International Monetary Fund programs that fueled corruption in Russia’s elite, impoverished most Russians, and led to a devastating financial crash in 1998. Even many liberal Russians blame the period of U.S.-backed reforms for creating a public backlash that enabled the rise of Mr. Putin and a mass rejection of Western ideas and counsel.
“It is often said, only half-jokingly, that there are two schools of thought in Washington on what to do about Russia,” says Boris Kagarlitsky, a veteran left-wing activist and director of the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow. “One school thinks Russia should be helped. The other thinks it should be destroyed. Ironically, both advocate exactly the same policies.”
As in Ukraine today, some Americans got entangled in the culture of corruption they were ostensibly there to work against, and reputations were destroyed. A team of economic experts from Harvard University headed by economics professor Andrei Shleifer advised the Russian government in the mid-’90s, – largely funded by U.S. taxpayer funds. But they landed in disgrace and were sued by the U.S. government after it was revealed that they had paid themselves excessive salaries and enabled relatives to engage in dubious Russian financial dealings.
Americans even dabbled in a bit of election meddling. After Mr. Yeltsin was narrowly reelected to the presidency in 1996, it was revealed that a team of U.S. political consultants had been secretly holed up in Moscow’s President Hotel directing the Kremlin leader’s campaign.
“Russian elites used American advisers for their own purposes,” says Mr. Kagarlitsky. “Perhaps they had a symbiotic relationship, having a joint interest in creating this brave new capitalist Russia, in a highly elitist, top-down form. The Russians needed that close association with Americans to confer legitimacy on what they were doing, and it is by no means certain that the Americans ever had a clear view of how their advice affected most Russians.”
Today’s Ukraine is not the equivalent of Russia 20 years ago, in part because it lacks the vast natural resources and geopolitical weight of Russia, and also because its democratic political culture is more firmly established. But it is home to concerns about Westerners dispensing equally destructive advice.
Mr. Katchanovski recalls the episode just before the Maidan overthrow of former President Yanukovych, when then-Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was secretly taped lining up the next Ukrainian government cabinet in a phone conversation with the U.S. ambassador. So too the much discussed episode in which then-Vice President Joe Biden bragged about pressuring the Ukrainian government into firing the country’s chief prosecutor.
“Americans are arguing about whether [Joe] Biden did this to help his son or to fight Ukrainian corruption, but that is beside the point. Think about how it looks to Ukrainians: U.S. officials high-handedly telling them how to run their affairs,” says Mr. Katchanovski. “The past five years have been a difficult time for most Ukrainians. They have suffered from plunging living standards, war, and political chaos.
“A lot of Ukrainians are getting disillusioned about all this. Unlike Russia, which was rich enough to break away [from Western tutelage] and chart its own course, Ukraine has much more limited choices.”
Still, he says, “let’s hope that this leads to better understanding of Ukrainian realities” so that past mistakes won’t be repeated.
Just a few years ago, Justin Trudeau was a global political rock star. Now he's struggling to ensure that his party wins Monday's elections. How did Canadians' view of their prime minister change so much so quickly?
Four years ago, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party came into office in Canada as a powerful voice for gender equality, environmentalism, indigenous rights, and ethical politics. Today, that luster has been lost due to scandal and dissatisfaction. And as the country prepares to vote on Oct. 21, the election has been recast for many Canadians as a choice for the least bad option.
Any incumbent will have disappointed a swath of voters. But two scandals this year have been particularly damaging. The one that grabbed global headlines came this fall, after Time magazine ran a photo of Mr. Trudeau in brownface as a 29-year-old teacher. But for Canadians the SNC-Lavalin affair, in which Mr. Trudeau sought to shield a Quebec engineering firm from prosecution, was more damning. It pitted him against Jody Wilson-Raybould, his justice minister and the first indigenous person to hold the post. She was then ousted from the Liberal caucus, angering voters.
“Are voters sufficiently dissatisfied ... to vote out the Liberals? I think that’s the question,” says Livianna Tossutti, a political science professor at Brock University in St. Catharines.
After his party’s stunning victory in the last election, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in front of his newly formed cabinet – half men and half women – and was asked why gender parity was so important to him.
His response: “Because it’s 2015.”
The comment generated ripples around the world and became an iconic moment in the rise of “cool Canada” – a powerful voice for gender equality, environmentalism, indigenous rights, and ethical politics. Mr. Trudeau became an international role model for progressives, especially as the path of liberalism seemed increasingly obstructed everywhere else, with the election of President Donald Trump, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the rise of the far-right across Europe, and the increasingly authoritarian grip of Chinese leadership.
Today Canada is still lauded on the international stage, despite growing disillusionment with the state of politics here and embarrassing scandals that have grabbed global headlines. Yet as the troubles of the world seem to deepen, or at least the perception of them, Mr. Trudeau still offers a counternarrative. And perhaps more important at home, the economy is strong: Macroeconomics would suggest any incumbent should handily take the Oct. 21 race.
So why is it that Prime Minister Trudeau doesn’t have the upcoming federal election in the bag?
The answer is as simple as that one from four years ago: Because it’s 2019.
Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 upset followed nine years of Conservative leadership under Stephen Harper, and the 2015 race was cast as a choice for two very different Canadas. Mr. Trudeau went further left than the leftist New Democrats (NDP) on spending promises, at the same time offering an overhaul of the electoral system. He promised a feminist, climate-friendly government that would create a haven for refugees in need – not to mention he said he’d legalize marijuana.
It was a “change election,” says Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a nonpartisan polling firm. And Mr. Trudeau embodied the change perfectly. “He at the time was the youngest leader. He was the fresh face.”
Now the election has been recast for many Canadians, essentially a choice for the least bad option. “Are voters sufficiently dissatisfied ... to vote out the Liberals? I think that’s the question,” says Livianna Tossutti, a political science professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, a bellwether federal district, or “riding,” in the Niagara region that flipped to Mr. Trudeau from the Conservatives in the last election. Now, mirroring the federal race overall, the two major parties are neck and neck.
Any incumbent will have disappointed a swath of voters. But two scandals this year have been particularly damaging. The one that grabbed global headlines came this fall, after Time magazine ran a photo of Mr. Trudeau in brownface as a 29-year-old teacher. But for Canadians the SNC-Lavalin affair, in which Mr. Trudeau sought to shield a Quebec engineering firm from prosecution, was more damning. It pitted him against Jody Wilson-Raybould, his justice minister and the first indigenous person to hold the post. She was then ousted from the Liberal caucus, angering voters who suddenly questioned whether his feminist credentials, support for indigenous issues, and pledge to do politics differently were anything more than campaign buzzwords.
Hope Tuff-Berg, a student at Brock University in St. Catharines, was a delegate this spring with Daughters of the Vote, an event that invites 338 young women from each of Canada’s federal ridings to sit in the House of Commons. The event happened as Ms. Wilson-Raybould, as well as former cabinet member Jane Philpott, were kicked out of the Liberal party. She and several other women turned their backs on Mr. Trudeau as he addressed the delegates, what she calls an act of silent protest. “He did make the first gender-balanced cabinet, and to remove two women because they wouldn’t follow through with his orders, we thought was wrong,” she says.
Like former President Barack Obama’s message of hope that captivated young Americans, in Canada Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 campaign had galvanized progressive young voters: 57% of those between ages 18 and 34 cast ballots in 2015, compared with 39% in the 2011 race, and the highest percentage of that went to the Liberals.
Ms. Tuff-Berg, who started the nonprofit First Vote in St. Catharines to rally new voters like herself to the polls, says much of the buzz today is around other candidates, such as Elizabeth May of the Greens and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.
Mr. Singh is the “fresh face” this race. Just 40, he is a Sikh and the first non-white minority to lead a major political party. And he has gracefully dealt with racism directed at him during the campaign. “I think it’s a very different election. I think Trudeau has got to work a lot harder for the youth vote,” Ms. Tuff-Berg says.
Their vote is key this year. Millennials comprise the largest voting block in Canada, or 37% of eligible voters. And the percentage of those saying they will vote Liberal has slipped to 27%, compared with 39% for the NDP, according to a recent DART & Maru/Blue poll, reflecting a federal uptick for the NDP. As the center-left vote fractures, political analysts are increasingly talking about the prospects of a coalition government.
On the Brock University campus on a recent day, second-year dramatic arts student Matthew Martin says that when his generation was introduced to the voting system, they were given two options: Conservatives or Liberals. Often times Canadians will strategically vote for one of those two parties, instead of their first choice, to ensure their “worst scenario” doesn’t prevail. He says he refuses to participate in that. “The other options always existed, but there was a perception that they didn’t. Now we are becoming aware that we don’t have to be stuck with just these two,” says the first-time voter. “When my dad asks, ‘Are you voting Liberal or Conservative?,’ now I can tell him, ‘What about the NDP?’”
Mr. Trudeau’s challenges lie not just in scandals or political fracturing but about the mood – where lofty rhetoric of the 2015 race led to bold promises that have been left only partially filled. His decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2018 to get product from oil-rich Alberta to British Columbia was a turning point both for environmentalists and many indigenous groups who suddenly questioned the authenticity of his environmental pledges.
Stéphanie Chouinard, an assistant professor of politics at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, says the Trudeau government has been unable to promote its achievements because they have been overshadowed by unmet promises. Reconciliation with indigenous people, who along with young voters came out in droves for the Liberals in 2015, is an example, she says.
“If you think of, for example, access to clean water on reserves, they haven’t attained 100% access,” she says, “but they have done a lot in four years and a lot more than the Harper government had done in the previous decade. So this is something to celebrate, but they’re probably keeping quiet in light of the fact that other issues are clouding that, Trans Mountain being one of them.”
That disappointment is keenly felt in coastal British Columbia among those who would be most affected by the pipeline. “He showed a lot of promise, and a lot of it is not unfolding in the way he said it would,” says Cecil Dawson, who was in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island this spring, helping to create a totem pole in honor of indigenous languages. “It’s just like a first date, where there is good behavior, and then you start to find out about each other after a while.”
Mr. Trudeau is also contending with a more deeply polarized society in this cycle. In part that’s because of his name. Pierre Trudeau, his father and a former prime minister, angered western provinces like Alberta over energy policy, so when Mr. Trudeau implemented a carbon tax, for example, a sense of what’s called “western alienation” was amplified.
Today, deep fault lines split Canadian society into “east” and “west,” far more so than the divides between Quebec and the rest of the confederation today. Lorie Simmerson, a small store manager who was heading to the stands for the rodeo at the Calgary Stampede this summer, is an example of a voter motivated to see Mr. Trudeau ousted. “I would go totally for Alberta to separate if Trudeau gets back in, and everyone I know feels the same way,” she says.
This campaign has done little to mend those rifts, with the parties spending large amounts of their time talking to their bases or attacking opponents. “They’re making strategic promises instead of putting forward a broader vision for what their government would eventually look like. And this is one of the other big differences between the 2015 and the 2019 election,” says Professor Chouinard. “It’s a very uninspired campaign so far.”
Yet if there is clear disillusionment with the political class, Professor Tossutti in St. Catharines says that relativity could boost Mr. Trudeau when it comes time to vote. Canadians, she says, still see their country as a hopeful place.
“If you look to the south with the debates that are tearing apart the United States, you look to Europe with the Brexit debate that are wrenching apart that particular country, you look to the rise of right-wing populism in many of the European states as well as slower growth rates and some of the demographic pressures that those states are facing and their economic challenges,” she says, “we’re in a pretty privileged position, and I think Canadians recognize that.”
As confrontations with police intensify, peaceful marches have faded from the global spotlight. But most demonstrators are peaceful, and embody the movement’s early mantra: “Be water” – resilient, flowing, nimble.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests – now in their fifth month – have captured headlines for mass marches and, increasingly, violent clashes with police. Police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protesters, and shot two teenagers with live ammunition. Some protesters have hurled bricks and petrol bombs, and damaged properties linked to government and pro-Beijing interests. At least 2,000 people have been arrested.
The protests center upon widespread concerns that Beijing is eroding the autonomy promised to Hong Kong when China regained sovereignty over the British colony in 1997. For its part, Beijing has denounced the protests as riots, claiming they are part of a foreign-backed plot.
Often overlooked as tensions rise, however, are the majority of peaceful, creative, and determined citizens who keep turning out, day after day, to call for greater democracy, and greater accountability from police and the government. Young and old, from all walks of life, these nimble protesters aspire to “be water,” as they plaster streets with colorful art and stage ever-changing demonstrations, using symbolism, humor, and wit. Mutually supportive and strong-willed, they back a vanguard of front-line protesters – viewed by many Hong Kongers as heroes – who risk arrest to confront police.
Here’s how it feels to be immersed in a typical protest. – Ann Scott Tyson, video edited by Jingnan Peng
Change happens when people aren’t afraid to imagine something different. Choreographer Annie-B Parson has collaborated with musician David Byrne to create a Broadway show that offers a new model for concerts, and dance.
Sought-after choreographer Annie-B Parson often doodles drawings of dances to get a sense for the spatial relationships of bodies on stage. Her imaginings are included in a just-released book, “Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography in Charts,” and can be seen live on Broadway in “David Byrne’s American Utopia.”
Ms. Parson and Mr. Byrne, the former Talking Heads frontman, had collaborated previously and came to this latest venture wanting to give concert audiences something completely different. The musicians are untethered from power cords and stationary instruments, and their boxy performance space with curtains made of beads works with them – reflecting shadows, or providing a hiding place so that only hands playing instruments appear.
The narrative running through “American Utopia” is about human connection. Mr. Byrne eschewed the idea of including video screens, Ms. Parson says, so that audiences would focus on the stage and thus forge a bond with the performers.
“The audience craves seeing bodies moving. I think they crave invention. I think they crave imagination,” she says. “And new ideas of how people move are like new ideas of anything – it’s stimulating.”
When David Byrne hired Annie-B Parson to choreograph his cutting-edge Broadway show, he asked her to think inside the box. Mr. Byrne envisioned a cubical stage boxed in by curtains of beads. His 11-piece backing band would be entirely untethered – no cords, no microphone stands, not even a drum kit – to allow freedom of movement on a bare stage.
“He said, ‘Nice opportunity for a choreographer, because it’s limitless, spatially,’” recalls Ms. Parson, who’d previously collaborated with the onetime Talking Heads frontman on two earlier tours and a musical.
In a bid to dazzle concert audiences, most musicians engage in a maximalist arms race with more of everything: costumes, dancers, lasers, holograms, and multiplatform stages that are architectural marvels. By contrast, Ms. Parson explores the possibilities within Mr. Byrne’s ultra-minimalist concept. In “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” which recently arrived at New York’s Hudson Theatre, the people are the special effect. Drawing on her fascination with pictograms, gestural movement, and bodies arrayed in playful shapes, Ms. Parson configures Mr. Byrne’s musicians into imaginative formations. It’s a reinvention of the pop concert. Music publications such as Q magazine and NME have called it the best live show of all time.
“It’s not based on any vocabulary that’s familiar to that audience,” says Ms. Parson, the co-founder of New York’s Big Dance Theater, during a phone interview. “It’s not drawn from jazz, or musical-theater dance vocabulary, or modern-dance vocabulary. It’s a personal vocabulary.”
During her distinguished career, Ms. Parson has worked with professional companies at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and at theaters in London and Paris. But for “American Utopia,” which marks her Broadway debut, only two members of the company were trained dancers. The other cast members had to learn precise movements while carrying heavy instruments such as drums, guitars, and keyboards.
“The movement she incorporates has influences from all over – folk dance, ballet, pedestrian movement, and of course her own invented world,” says Mr. Byrne via email. “Some of the movement is tricky, but much of it says to an audience, ‘Hey I could do that.’”
Each musician wears a gray business suit fitted with electronic sensors so that they’re followed by their very own spotlight. (One imagines that a big chunk of the production budget goes toward specialized dry-cleaning.) Sometimes the company configures itself into kaleidoscopic formations that change with each musical turn. Groups of performers also veer off in unpredictable migrations, like kinetic molecules in Brownian motion.
For Ms. Parson, the creative process begins by listening to the songs alone in a room. She begins to conjure up images of human shapes.
“Is it a rectangle? Is it a triangle? Is it a small group? Is it a large group? All these kinds of questions, without even asking myself, they just sort of float in,” she says. “And, sometimes, I just dance.”
Ms. Parson doodles drawings of dances, which resemble scattergrams, to get a sense for the spatial relationships of bodies on stage. She’s assembled many of them in a just-released book, “Drawing the Surface of Dance: A Biography in Charts.” The book offers insights into how her choreography is influenced by time, space, light, rhythm, reversal, scale, and dynamics. Her eye naturally gravitates toward composition.
“I’m looking at my kitchen table and there’s seven objects and they’re all sort of messy, thrown onto the table,” she says. “But right now I’m lining them all up in a row so there’s a piece of paper, there’s two dish cloths, there’s two bowls of fruit. They look beautiful. Because I gave them form.”
Ms. Parson’s inspirations are often witty. At one point in “American Utopia,” the musicians hide so that only hands playing instruments protrude through the beads. Later on, a single light source transforms the band’s movements into a giant shadow play on the rear drapery. And in the middle of “Dance Like This,” the music abruptly cuts out for four bars yet the performers continue dancing.
“The whole choreography of that song is based on setting up that silence,” says Ms. Parson. “We always get a sort of delighted insider laugh.”
Another suggestion that Mr. Byrne agreed to (“a little reluctantly,” Ms. Parson says, “because he’s really interested in what’s new”) was to imitate the jerky, befuddled, arm-waving movements from the original Talking Heads music video for “Once in a Lifetime.”
“She’ll come up with a staging idea and sometimes I would suggest taking it further, or I might suggest a starting point for a song and Annie-B would flesh it out,” explains Mr. Byrne. “Not everything worked; our relationship survives sometimes admitting when an idea doesn’t work as much as when it does work.”
The choreographer says the joy of the project is assisting Mr. Byrne, a longtime dance aficionado, realize his inimitable creative vision.
“All my favorite performers I’ve ever worked with love rehearsal, because it’s about process,” says Ms. Parson, who has crafted dances for David Bowie and Mikhail Baryshnikov. “Those are people that really love to break the form because that’s where it happens. Performers that are frustrated in rehearsal, and find it tiring, just want the result.”
The scripted narrative running through “American Utopia” is about human connection. Mr. Byrne eschewed the idea of including video screens, Ms. Parson says, so that audiences would focus on the stage and thus forge a bond with the performers. Mr. Byrne fosters that communal spirit by encouraging audiences to dance to the exuberant movements during Talking Heads hits such as “Burning Down the House” and “Road to Nowhere.”
“The audience craves seeing bodies moving. I think they crave invention. I think they crave imagination,” says Ms. Parson. “And new ideas of how people move are like new ideas of anything – it’s stimulating.”
By 2030 the total gross domestic product of the world will be 14% higher because of one thing: more use of artificial intelligence or AI. These sophisticated computer programs will be doing tasks such as driving vehicles, planning and waging wars, and advising humans on how to handle both their health and wealth.
Yet despite the possibility of colossal impacts from AI, the U.S. government has been doing little to study its ethical implications. France, Germany, and Japan, meanwhile, have begun joint research into what they’re calling a “human centered” AI that would respect individual privacy and provide transparency.
Such efforts are needed to provide guidance as AI advances into our lives. Intelligence, whether artificial or not, must be built on the common good. Alertness now can prevent alarm later.
By 2030 the total gross domestic product of the world will be 14% higher because of one thing: more use of artificial intelligence or AI.
That’s the conclusion of PwC, a professional services firm based in London. If such forecasts are right these sophisticated computer programs will be doing tasks such as driving vehicles, planning and waging wars, and advising humans on how to handle both their health and wealth.
One observer writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association has declared that the “hype and fear” surrounding AI “may be greater than that which accompanied the discovery of the structure of DNA or the whole genome.”
Yet despite the possibility of colossal impacts from AI, the U.S. government has been doing little to study its ethical implications. The federal government’s Office of Technology Assessment, which might have led the effort, was closed in 1995; other research groups such as the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service have seen their budgets severely cut.
AI’s effect on privacy has already become a major issue as personal data is constantly gathered in myriad ways individuals may not realize. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been meeting with members of Congress to discuss how his organization might do a better job at protecting users’ privacy. Last year a group of Google employees joined up to question the ethics of Project Maven, in which Google would supply AI image recognition capabilities to U.S. military drones.
AI has already received criticism when used to recommend prison sentences. In one case it consistently suggested longer sentences for black people than white people convicted of the same crime. Because of the increasing sophistication of AI, revealing hidden biases in the writing of the software and figuring out why they occurred is likely to become harder in the future.
Even the choice of voices for popular virtual assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, has come under ethical scrutiny. Why choose mainly feminine voices for many AI programs, whose primary role is to do our bidding submissively with little pushback?
For decades the U.S. Navy has used Phalanx automated cannons on its warships, capable of aiming and firing on their own much more rapidly than humans might. And the Navy is experimenting with a ship called Sea Hunter, which would be armed and patrol the oceans without a human crew. In a test voyage it has already sailed from Hawaii to California on its own.
Recently Germany, France, and other countries proposed a declaration at the United Nations urging regulation of lethal autonomous weapons, more popularly referred to as killer robots. While the autonomous killer robots portrayed in the “Terminator” movies still seem a ways off, they’re no longer considered science fiction. Some AI ethicists are calling for talks to create an international treaty to regulate the use of robotic weapons.
Recognizing its growing need for guidance, the Pentagon has been advertising for an ethicist to advise it. At the same time France, Germany, and Japan have begun joint research into what they’re calling a “human centered” AI that would respect individual privacy and provide transparency.
To add to the urgency for AI ethics, Google recently announced that it had successfully tested “quantum computing,” which could soon usher in much faster data crunching and, potentially, much smarter AI systems.
All these developments, and others, show that the efforts of governments, private companies, and individuals are needed to provide ethical guidance as AI advances into our lives. Intelligence, whether artificial or not, must be built on the common good. Alertness now can prevent alarm later.
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.
For one woman, a chickadee’s joyful song inspired a fresh view of our ability to let God’s goodness and joy shine in our lives – a lesson that brought about a quick healing of illness shortly after.
One morning on a family camping trip I woke up to an incredibly loud, albeit lovely, birdsong. The bird sounded not only as though it was right by my head, but also incredibly big!
I was shocked to find the source to be a tiny chickadee sitting on a nearby picnic table singing with a voice 10 times its size. “Man, you are loud!” I laughed.
But it was such a joyful song that I was struck with the thought that this tiny bird, voicing good as loudly as it could, represented the glory of God.
I thought about how no matter one’s size, shape, or position in life, each of us can brighten the world by “singing” with joy and love. What if we let our lives speak as loudly about all the blessings God gives us every day, and let our actions reflect the joy and goodness of the Divine?
I had an opportunity to do just that a couple of days later. I was to take the first shift driving home from our trip. However, as I went to get up that morning, I felt so dizzy and nauseous that I couldn’t stand. Fortunately, my husband was able to drive instead.
I reached out to God, because I have experienced since I was a child how we can always turn to God for help.
When I pray, it isn’t asking God to fix me. Rather, it is affirming what God already knows: namely, that we all are made in the image and likeness of our Maker, God, divine Spirit. Whatever God is, we reflect that.
And what is God? Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, uses a number of names, derived from the Bible, to describe God. One of those is Mind. Her book “Unity of Good” explains, “Transcending the evidence of the material senses, Science declares God to be the Soul of all being, the only Mind and intelligence in the universe” (p. 29).
Qualities of Mind include intelligence, consciousness, alertness, clarity, awareness, thoughtfulness, and so on. As the spiritual image of this divine Mind, we naturally reflect those qualities.
I clung to these ideas and was able to remain conscious through the rest of the trip. But the dizziness was such that I still could not walk. I thought again of the little bird. I realized that I could sing God’s praises, because our divine creator maintains and loves us all at every moment. I did not have to give in to the suggestion that the dizziness and nauseousness would just have to run their course. God, good, did not make illness, and therefore it has no real existence.
So I “sang” gratitude as I went about my day. I thankfully recognized the evidences of God’s constant presence and care that were felt throughout our activities, in the beauty we saw along the way, the protection we experienced during a whitewater boat ride, the love expressed during a visit with family.
Soon that divine presence and care took expression in progress toward healing. I was able to walk, and I continued to sing God’s praises by actively and joyously doing needed tasks, such as unpacking and laundry. Whenever I felt dizzy or unsteady, I literally sang verses of my favorite hymns. For example, this one from the “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603”:
My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation;
I hear the sweet though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
(Pauline T., No. 533, adapt. © CSBD)
This helped me think more productively, mentally claiming what was rightfully true of me as the reflection of the divine Mind: that I was clear, alert, and intelligent.
Soon, I was completely free of all the symptoms. And I was grateful for that, too!
I haven’t forgotten the lesson from my little bird friend: that we all can let our lives sing out the praises of God with joy and confidence and love – making the world just a bit more harmonious because of our song.
Come back Monday. We’ll resume our chat-format discussion – anchored by two Monitor-staff Britons – of one of the year’s most hard-to-follow stories: Brexit.
Also, to send you into the weekend, here’s a bonus read. Carmen Sisson went back to Mexico Beach, Florida, a year after it was leveled by Hurricane Michael and found what she so often finds in her returns to storm-ravaged sites: people helping people, and persevering.