2020
January
27
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Monitor Daily Podcast

January 27, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Finding your inner globalist

If you like the World Cup, you’re a globalist. And you might just represent the best hope this century has to offer.

Just listen to Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” Speaking at Davos 2020 last week, he warned that humanity faces three existential threats that demand global solutions. 

How does that work amid rising nationalism? Mr. Harari cited the World Cup for soccer, an event he says brims with both national fervor and “global harmony.” That’s because countries can’t compete unless they all agree on the rules. 

In other words, it’s not impossible. Indeed, in recent decades, Mr. Harari says, “humanity has managed to do the impossible. ... We have built the rule-based liberal global order, that despite many imperfections, has ... created the most prosperous and most peaceful era in human history.” Yet, that order “is now like a house that everybody inhabits and nobody repairs.”

But toolboxes are in fact being hauled out. Next month, the Monitor will launch a series on how, around the world, people are working to counter prevailing winds of uncertainty and fear. We’re talking with participants in a national citizens initiative on climate in Britain, looking at democratic pushback in Brazilian communities, and listening to undaunted rights advocates in the Middle East and persistent democracy supporters in Hong Kong. 

Do long-trusted alliances still matter? Does an order that emphasizes democracy, free trade, rule of law still hold? Do people feel they can make a difference? I hope you’ll join us Feb. 17 as we start to explore these questions.

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As impeachment unfolds, Trump offers counterprogramming

Our first story: Unlike former President Bill Clinton, who chose not to say much about impeachment, Mr. Trump seems to be embracing a split-screen approach, trying to capture attention on his own terms.

Amelia

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From the start of the impeachment trial, President Donald Trump has worked hard to stay in the public eye: grabbing global attention while in Europe; hopscotching around the country for televised campaign rallies; tweeting up a storm, including a personal record for tweets in one day (142); hosting prominent foreign leaders at the White House.

Some items on the president’s busy schedule were long in the works, but they still feed into the president’s larger purpose at a time of maximum stress. He pays close attention to TV ratings, which have been low for the Senate trial. Like a TV producer, he aims to create a competing narrative designed to attract public attention, both allies and detractors say. Even now – after the leaking of a book manuscript by a former top aide that adds fuel to the charges at the heart of the impeachment trial – President Trump appears unfazed. 

“He’s trying to counterprogram,” says a source close to the White House who participates in multiple calls a day with Trump aides focused on public messaging during impeachment. 

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1. As impeachment unfolds, Trump offers counterprogramming

By all indications, President Donald Trump is drawn to drama. 

The former reality TV star loves to perform, loves being the center of attention, loves to shift the media discourse with a well-timed tweet. Even now – after the leaking of a book manuscript by a former top aide that adds fuel to the charges at the heart of the impeachment trial – President Trump appears unfazed. 

And unlike former President Bill Clinton, who “compartmentalized” his way through impeachment, Mr. Trump seems to be fully embracing the trial as part of the “Trump show” and using his time in the split screen to capture attention and keep his supporters firmly on board. In fact, by staying away from the Capitol – despite saying he’d love to attend, after a senator offered him a ticket – he may be garnering more attention than if he had to sit there in silence. 

From the start of the trial, Mr. Trump has worked hard to stay in the public eye: grabbing global attention while in Europe; hopscotching around the country for televised campaign rallies; tweeting up a storm, including a personal record for tweets in one day (142); hosting prominent foreign leaders at the White House.

Some items on the president’s busy schedule were long in the works, but they still feed into Mr. Trump’s larger purpose at a time of maximum stress. He pays close attention to TV ratings, which have been low for the impeachment trial, and he complained when his defense lawyers had to start their argument on Saturday morning, calling that time slot “Death Valley." Like a TV producer, he aims to create a competing narrative designed to attract public attention, both allies and detractors of Mr. Trump say.  

“He’s trying to counterprogram,” says a source close to the White House who participates in multiple calls a day with Trump aides focused on public messaging during the impeachment trial. 

For President Clinton, only the second U.S. president in history to be impeached, the coping mechanism was to keep any scandals he was dealing with in a separate place, mentally. 

“Clinton was always a compartmentalizer,” says veteran Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “He had an amazing talent for putting personal things into one box and public things and governing into another box.”

Mr. Trump, in contrast, “takes everything personally,” says Mr. Fenn. “He can’t operate outside the realm of, ‘It’s all about me.’”

For Trump aides, as with all presidential staff, pleasing the boss is paramount. And so staff who aren’t directly tasked with addressing impeachment have to compartmentalize to some degree, even as the boss is consumed by what he sees as a “witch hunt” – a term that many a Democrat applied to President Clinton’s 1998 impeachment. 

In a 2006 interview with scholars at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, former Clinton personal secretary Betty Currie agreed that during their impeachment whirlwind, most of the staff kept their noses to the grindstone and focused on work that had nothing to do with investigations and, eventually, impeachment. 

“We had to run the country,” Ms. Currie said

Mr. Clinton also had an impeachment “war room,” led by lawyer Lanny Davis, who pursued a “very defined” strategy. One rule forbade the president from speaking publicly about the impeachment proceedings. 

That, of course, is anathema to Mr. Trump’s style. For starters, no one tells him what to do. Or if someone does, there’s no guarantee he’ll listen. 

By having a press secretary who has never conducted a press briefing, Mr. Trump is effectively serving as his own spokesman. Thus, he lives or dies politically by his own guile and gut. The approach may be working: His average job approval rating registered Monday at its highest point – 45.5% – since the earliest days of his presidency.  

On Monday, as Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial resumed, the president’s expected story line – easy acquittal at week’s end, followed by a victory lap – may already have been dashed. The New York Times scoop posted Sunday evening about former national security adviser John Bolton’s forthcoming book has increased the chances that the Senate will vote to subpoena witnesses. If a majority of senators make that call, the trial will extend beyond this week.

In his manuscript, Mr. Bolton – long at the top of Democrats’ wishlist for impeachment trial testimony – wrote that Mr. Trump had ordered a freeze on security aid to Ukraine until the country had agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential rival, and others, according to the Times story. This represents the first time a firsthand witness has made such an assertion. 

But at the White House Monday, the programming centered on a completely different topic: Middle East peace. Mr. Trump welcomed ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, separately, Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz, for meetings on the Trump administration’s plan for the region. 

The meetings seemed to serve the domestic political goals of all concerned, but not much more. The Palestinians, who were not invited, rejected the U.S. plan sight unseen. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will hold a joint press conference. 

This week’s focus on Israel recalls comments by Elaine Kamarck, a former aide to then-Vice President Al Gore, in her Miller Center interview from 2008. She spoke of how both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush turned to Middle East peace as they struggled with domestic political challenges.

“All these presidents think, ‘Oh, well, I [expletive]-ed up my presidency, so I’ll try to make peace in the Middle East,’” Ms. Kamarck said. “As if this is going to save these guys.”

Why Trump’s Mideast splash is causing barely a ripple in Arab world

The Palestinian cause, our reporter writes, once united Arabs more than language itself. So why is the imminent announcement of a pro-Israeli “peace plan” not eliciting a regional outburst?

Amelia

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Just as startling as the suddenness of announcing President Donald Trump’s long-promised Mideast peace plan, which he is expected to unveil Tuesday, is the collective shoulder shrug in the Arab world. Gulf Arab nations, which once offered their own peace initiative in 2002, have been silent. So too Egypt, whose battles for Palestinian statehood in the 1960s and ’70s defined its post-independence identity.

The reaction has also been muted in the Palestinian territories themselves. “Palestinians are not shocked by the ‘Deal of the Century’ or the slow creep of annexation because they are living with it and have seen these types of policies in action for decades,” says Yara Hawari, a West Bank analyst.

Gulf leaders insist they’re not abandoning the Palestinians. “Gulf countries just want to smile and nod for Mr. Trump and walk away, hoping that the administration forgets about the whole peace deal in a couple of days,” says one Gulf insider.

“One reason we are not seeing a larger Arab response is that people don’t think the Americans are serious about anything. They think all of this is a show and election-year politics,” says Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian analyst and writer. “But you have to be careful, because today’s politics can become policy.”

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2. Why Trump’s Mideast splash is causing barely a ripple in Arab world

The Palestinian cause has been the lifeblood of Arab leaders, inspired countless poems and songs, been the subject of entire school textbooks, and was a factor in three regional wars.

It once united peoples from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula more than even the Arabic language itself.

Yet as the Trump administration is set to unveil a one-sided peace deal potentially legitimizing the Israeli annexation of lands Arabs across the region once vowed to die for, something has happened to Arab support for Palestinian nationalism.

A change in calculations and priorities by Arab leaders, coupled with the wariness with which young Arabs view their own governments, has muddled the message on Palestinian statehood.

Just as startling as the suddenness of announcing President Donald Trump’s long-promised peace plan, the details of which he is expected to release Tuesday, is the collective shoulder shrug in the Arab world.

Gulf Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have emerged over the past decade as the leading political and economic forces in the region, have been silent. So too Egypt, whose battles for Palestinian statehood in the 1960s and ’70s defined its post-independence identity.

Perhaps tellingly, as Palestinians braced over the weekend, the two largest regional satellite networks, Qatar’s Al Jazeera and the Saudi Al Arabiya, focused their coverage on the Jeff Bezos phone hacking scandal – with Qatar pushing the story implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Al Arabiya exonerating him.

Shift in the Gulf

It is part of a trend as Gulf states, which once offered their own peace initiative in 2002, are now more consumed with maintaining their autocratic rule at home and countering any potential democratic Arab movements abroad. In so doing, Gulf leaders are putting aside a Palestinian cause they have deemed energy-intensive and low-reward.

Another factor is their rivalry with Iran, strategically aligning them with Israel and making them ever more dependent on the Trump administration and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.

Gulf insiders say leaders have stayed silent to keep a “neutral stance” – not throwing their full weight to pressure Palestinians to accept an unpopular deal, while not vocally denouncing unilateral announcements by Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu.

Yet Gulf leaders insist they are not abandoning the Palestinians, just humoring the Trump administration.

“Gulf countries just want to smile and nod for Mr. Trump and walk away, hoping that the administration forgets about the whole peace deal in a couple of days,” says one Gulf insider close to decision-makers.

Observers point to the failure of the Trump administration’s peace efforts to produce tangible results, including the much-ballyhooed, first-phase Bahrain economic peace conference last June, which fizzled without a single project pledged.

“What has happened since Bahrain? Absolutely nothing; it was a bunch of nice Power Point presentations,” says Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian analyst and writer.

“One reason we are not seeing a larger Arab response is that people don’t think the Americans are serious about anything. They think all of this is a show and election-year politics because Trump wants Bibi in office,” says Mr. Kuttab, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “But you have to be careful, because today’s politics can become policy.”

Palestinian apathy

The reaction has also been muted in the Palestinian territories themselves, where Mr. Trump has boasted that doomsayers’ warnings of violence or instability did not materialize after he moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Palestinians are not shocked by the ‘Deal of the Century’ or the slow creep of annexation because they are living with it and have seen these types of policies in action for decades,” says Yara Hawari, senior fellow at the Al Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network in the West Bank.

Peace to Prosperity Workshop/Reuters
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks at the "Peace to Prosperity" conference in Manama, Bahrain, June 25, 2019, which regional critics say accomplished little or nothing.

Popular Palestinian action has also been limited by the violence previous protests have been met with, most recently in the Gaza Strip.

“We have very clear examples of what happens when Palestinians do mobilize – with Gaza being the most recent manifestation of this – which is violent suppression. It is a very high cost,” Ms. Hawari says.  

Politically, the largest political actors, Fatah and Hamas, have been divided, while support for each movement has dwindled.

Activists and residents say there has been encroaching autocratic rule by each group in the West Bank and Gaza that has been intolerant to criticism, muzzled the press, and cracked down on any political opposition.

Human Rights Watch has reported Palestinian Authority security services arresting dozens of journalists, protesters, and even private citizens for “writing a critical article or Facebook post” or “belonging to the wrong student group.”

“Palestinians must focus on political reconciliation among themselves and demand a legitimate leadership that goes back to the discourse of liberation,” says Ms. Hawari.

Jordan and Egypt  

For Jordan and Egypt, the lone Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel, the calculations are even more delicate.

On the world stage, Jordan has been the loudest, often the only voice defending Palestinians, denouncing Trump measures such as the U.S. Embassy move and lodging official complaints.

King Abdullah, an advocate for the two-state solution, has spent much of the past two years drumming up support for Palestinians in European and Arab capitals and has resisted “incredible pressures” from the Trump administration to acquiesce to its plans.

Jordan is also driven by internal concerns: Half of its population is of Palestinian origin, and it fears both a further influx of refugees and the security ramifications of having Israel annex territory on its borders, cutting off the last geographic connection to the West Bank itself.

Yet Jordan and its leaders are constrained by economic and political realities. The cash-strapped kingdom receives $1.5 billion in annual aid from Washington and, under a controversial natural gas deal that went into effect this month, relies on Israel for half its energy needs.

“Even though there is popular outrage, I don’t think Jordan is in a position to take serious steps to pressure the Israelis or adopt a confrontational approach with the Americans on these issues,” says Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies.

“Jordan has no influence on Israeli policy, and now it has no influence on American policy.”

In Egypt, the calculations are even shrewder, with Cairo concerned chiefly about internal stability.

Cairo is politically reliant on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which since 2013 has provided President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with more than $20 billion to cement his rule and given him a blank check to crush dissent.

While not wishing to appear to “abandon” Palestinians, Cairo is instead treating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “strictly a security issue.”

“Egypt’s position supporting a two-state solution and the ending of settlements is steadfast and will never change,” President Sisi told foreign reporters in December, writing off annexation talk and the Trump deal as Mr. Netanyahu’s “electoral rhetoric.”

“There is a difference between electoral promises and their fulfillment,” he said. Privately, Egyptian authorities say they hope the issue will go away.

Arab protesters

After the Arab Spring, which challenged the decadeslong rule of Arab autocrats who wrapped themselves in the flag of the Palestinian cause, pundits were quick to declare that freedoms and democracy at home had replaced Arabs’ concerns for their Palestinian brethren. But activists disagree.

“Before, Arab rulers would rant about imperialism, Zionists, and Palestine, teaching us that we could only resist Israel through surrendering our rights, freedoms, and resources to them,” says Hisham al Bastani, of the Jordan anti-normalization movement, which links the Palestinian cause with a lack of democracy at home.

“People have become wiser – we now know that we cannot liberate Palestine until we liberate ourselves from our corrupt rulers.”

Recent polls indicate the Palestinian cause still resonates; in a 2018 survey by the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies across 11 Arab states, 77% of respondents believed “the Palestinian cause concerns all Arabs and not the Palestinian people alone.”

Indeed, Palestinian flags are raised in ongoing protests against corruption in Beirut, Baghdad, and Khartoum, while the poem “Mawtini,” or “My Homeland,” by Palestinian nationalist poet Ibrahim Tuqan has become an anthem for pro-democracy protesters across Lebanon and Iraq.

“The target of our protests or our slogans may change,” says Mohammed, a Lebanese protester, via encrypted messaging. “But our struggle and that of the Palestinians remains one and the same.”

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The tabloids’ trouble with Harry and Meghan

Harry and Meghan have challenged entrenched assumptions about the royals and the press. That’s been disruptive, but it’s also changed the conversation around a “Faustian pact.”

Amelia
Toby Melville/Reuters/File
Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, hold their son, Archie, in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sept. 25, 2019.

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Across the United Kingdom, opinion is divided over the dramatic decision of Harry, Duke of Sussex, to relinquish his royal titles in order to strike out on his own with his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. Many are wary of the couple’s ambition to be financially independent by cashing in on their trademarked “Sussex Royal” brand.

But few doubt that intrusive British media coverage of their relationship, and particularly of Meghan, a biracial U.S. actress, played a role in the breakup. For Britain’s newspapers, royal news and gossip have long driven sales and spurred editors to push the limits of privacy and libel law.

Defenders of the press, and of the public’s right to know what their taxpayer-funded royalty is up to, say this scrutiny is justified. “The British media’s attitude to royals is that we [taxpayers] pay and you play,” says Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors.

To read the tabloids is to plunge into a daily froth of speculation about internal royal affairs and the real reason why Harry and Meghan wanted out. But the couple’s own statements tell a less flattering story, says Brian Cathcart, a professor at Kingston University. “From their perspective this is entirely about dishonest journalism and unfair journalism.”

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3. The tabloids’ trouble with Harry and Meghan

As a grandfather, Robin Burton’s sympathies lie with Queen Elizabeth, the British monarch whose royal castle’s gray crenelated walls loom over this tidy town.

Now that Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have decamped to Canada, the queen won’t be seeing much of her grandson or Archie, her great-grandson, says Mr. Burton, a self-described royalist who is in town to visit his daughter and her baby.

Such a shame that the former Meghan Markle, who married Harry in 2018, couldn’t adapt to life as a British royal, he muses.

But Mr. Burton sees another catalyst in the abrupt parting that has roiled the House of Windsor, as the British monarchy is known. “I blame the papers for all the bad publicity,” the retired airline engineer says. “They destroy people. They build them up and they destroy them.”

Across this country, opinion is divided over Harry’s dramatic decision to relinquish his royal titles in order to strike out on his own with his wife. Many are wary of the couple’s ambition to be financially independent by cashing in on their trademarked “Sussex Royal” brand.

But few doubt that intrusive U.K. media coverage of their relationship, and particularly of Meghan, a biracial U.S. actress, played a role in the breakup. “The media is never kind,” says Sally Pierce, a retiree doing her shopping in Windsor last week.

“You play the game”

For Britain’s newspapers, royal news and gossip have long driven sales and spurred editors to push the limits of privacy and libel law. While newspaper sales are in decline here, as in many countries, a clutch of tabloids retain a bite and bark that blends the flag-waving of Fox News with the celebrity-chasing frenzy of TMZ and the rule-bending zeal of the National Enquirer.

Defenders of the press, and of the public’s right to know what their taxpayer-funded royalty is up to, say this scrutiny is justified. “You can’t simply be a reigning family that we nod and bow to,” says Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, a professional association. “The British media’s attitude to royals is that we [taxpayers] pay and you play. You play the game.”

To read the tabloids is to plunge into a daily froth of speculation about internal royal affairs and the real reason why Harry and Meghan wanted out. But the couple’s own statements tell a less flattering story, says Brian Cathcart, a professor of journalism at Kingston University. “They’re saying this is about being harassed and lied about. From their perspective this is entirely about dishonest journalism and unfair journalism,” he says.

Some press-watchers say the coverage of Harry and Meghan had been relatively restrained, a legacy of the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in 1997 while being chased through Paris by paparazzi. Newspaper editors subsequently swore off paparazzi photos and refrained from photographing without permission her sons, Harry and William.

The global celebrity of Diana and her love-hate relationship with the cameras epitomized the implicit Faustian pact between the crown and the popular press, which keeps them in the public eye and shores up their legitimacy in a modern democracy.

John Stillwell/Reuters/File
Queen Elizabeth (right), Prince Harry, and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, pose for a picture at a Buckingham Palace reception in London on June 26, 2018.

“The dignity of the monarchy was to be touched by the glamour of youth, with weddings of dazzling splendour, photo-opportunities galore, state occasions and relentless pomp globally promoted,” former newspaper editor Simon Jenkins wrote in the New Statesman.

In return, members of the royal family often had to grin and bear it when the coverage was unfavorable. Some also used media interviews to advance their own agendas, most famously during the marital breakdown of Diana and Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.

Still, for royalty and celebrities as well as ordinary people, there should be no excuse for the falsehoods peddled by tabloids, insists Mr. Cathcart, who has campaigned to reform press regulation after a 2011 scandal over phone hacking. “There’s no license for the U.K. press to print lies, just because everyone says they’ve always done it.”

Diana’s legacy

Scarred by his mother’s death, Harry never accepted this pact. He called out the media for intrusive coverage of Meghan, including racist slurs by right-wing commentators. The couple later barred reporters from their son’s christening and refused to identify the godparents.

Their demand for privacy grew excessive, even as they lined up publicity for their charitable appearances, says Mr. Murray. When they got a new puppy, Harry bristled when asked about its name. “This is an instance of a person who is rather thin-skinned,” says Mr. Murray.

Penny Junor, a journalist and author of several royal biographies, including one of Harry, says the U.K. media initially hailed Meghan as a breath of fresh air. “Everybody loved her. The press thought she was wonderful,” she says.

Some of the subsequent criticism of the couple’s highhandedness has been justified, she says, though not all of it. Still, she says the newspapers aren’t the real villains. “I’m not defending the press. But I don’t believe it’s been a campaign against Meghan,” she says.

Last October, the acrimony between the couple and the press hit a new low when Meghan sued the Mail on Sunday newspaper over the publication of a letter she had written to her estranged father. The case has yet to come to trial. In a statement defending the lawsuit, a rarity by a royal, Harry drew an explicit parallel between “bullying” behavior by tabloids toward Meghan and the tragedy of Diana’s death, warning that history could repeat itself.

“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he said.

Ms. Pierce, a former school administrator, says many Britons remember the sad sight of Harry, then 12, at his mother’s funeral, and sympathize with his hostility toward reporters.

“I’m desperately sorry that this [separation] happened because we all want Harry to be happy,” she says.

“We’re not racist”

But she doesn’t extend any sympathy to his wife, who she calls a “dreadful woman” for taking Harry away from his family. “She knew what she was doing. She’s a little schemer. It’s very sad.”

In this lens, Meghan is cast in the role of Wallis Simpson, the U.S. divorcée whom Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII, married in 1937 and then gave up his title. Commentators claim that Harry’s infatuation has blinded him to his royal heritage and that it will end in tears.

Added to this sexist stereotype – Lady Macbeth meets Yoko Ono – is a racially charged debate over Meghan’s role that has become a cultural touchstone here. Black Britons have accused white male pundits of failing to recognize their own prejudices when they criticize her.

Unprompted, Ms. Pierce says, “We’re not racist,” referring to the U.K. Similarly, Mr. Burton insists that race has nothing to do with how tabloids treated Meghan. A princess was simply a bad fit for a career woman. “It’s a job. I don’t think she realized what she was getting into.”

Views on the breakup cleave along generational lines. A survey carried out last week for the Daily Express found that while more than half of adults age 55 and older said that Harry had made a mistake by giving up his royal titles, less than a quarter of those age 18-34 agreed.

Among British millennials, support for the royals is weakening. Slightly less than half agreed that the monarchy is good for the U.K., according to the same survey. In this and other surveys, the majority of all Brits say the monarchy is a net positive.

At a bus stop in the shadow of Windsor Castle, Qasim Rehman checks his phone. He’s a bus driver waiting to catch a ride to the depot and he has little time for royal drama. “We know it’s all just a show. What do they actually do?” he asks.

He points to the castle, one of several palaces owned by the crown. “They’re racists,” he says, referring to Meghan’s experience. No wonder Harry wants out. “He wants to be free. You can’t hold him captive.”

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Points of Progress

What's going right

US foster child adoption rates peak

This is more than feel-good news – it's where concrete progress is happening. This week, that involves care for children, appreciation for centenarian reptiles, and justice after conflict.

Amelia
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4. US foster child adoption rates peak

1. United States

An all-time high of 63,000 children were adopted across the United States through the foster care system in 2018, an almost 25% increase since 2014. The upturn largely reflects the thousands of families that have been broken by the opioid crisis – forcing children to be placed in new homes. But the rise also shows successful efforts by states to promote adoption, especially those hit hard by the crisis, such as West Virginia and Louisiana. Next to living with their biological parents, children succeed best when in a stable household with adoptive parents, rather than moving between families in the foster care system, experts say. (Pew Charitable Trusts)

2. Galápagos Islands

Galapagos National Park/AP
Diego, the centenarian species-saving giant tortoise, will return to his home island of Española after at least 80 years away.

A centenarian tortoise named Diego who fathered more than one-third of its living species is returning to its island of origin on the Galápagos from a captive breeding program on the islands to join hundreds of his progeny. Diego was one of 15 tortoises selected for the program, which was begun in the mid-1960s to save the species, the Chelonoidis hoodensis. Prior to that, Diego had lived in the San Diego Zoo for about 30 years. Out of the 2,000 tortoises bred in the program, Diego fathered nearly 800 of them, meaning he is responsible for about 40% of those on the Galápagos island of Española. “There’s a feeling of happiness to have the possibility of returning that tortoise to his natural state,” said Jorge Carrion, director of the Galapagos National Park. (BBC)

3. Austria

Leonhard Foeger/Reuters
Leaders from the People’s Party and Green Party meet to negotiate a coalition government in Vienna on Nov. 15, 2019.

A new coalition government between Austria’s People’s Party and Green Party means that for the first time in the country’s history, its Cabinet is majority female. Nine of the 17 ministers will be women, reflecting the population’s demographic of slightly more women than men. After months of negotiations following an election last year in which no party won a majority, returning Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced his government’s two main focuses would be immigration and the environment. Mr. Kurz has regained the title of the world’s youngest leader at 33, as the People’s Party and the Greens also mark their first attempt to govern together. (Deutsche Welle)

4. Burundi

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in Burundi in 2014 has uncovered 4,000 mass graves, a result of multiple state conflicts since independence in the 1960s. The findings, while sobering, are a starting point for the public to forgive and “forge a peaceful future for Burundi’s generations,” said commission Chairman Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye. In its two years of investigation, the commission has identified more than 140,000 Burundians who died as a result of ethnic conflict in the state, particularly between the minority Tutsi and majority Hutu groups. Many graves and remains have yet to be identified, says Mr. Ndayicariye, but he hopes confronting past trauma will help relatives and communities heal and move forward. (BBC, Reuters)

5. Bangladesh

Farmers are embracing an agricultural evolution, which uses innovative methods such as dike gardens, or growing vegetables in sacks beside rivers, to succeed in a shifting environment. Even as climate change threatens to displace 1 in 7 people in Bangladesh by 2050, the country is adapting. These new methods have helped some farmers increase their harvests nearly fivefold. Others are surviving by turning to new professions, such as fish farming and shrimp farming, which have been made more profitable by rising sea levels. (The Guardian)

6. Southeast Asia

After declining from around 200 in the 1990s to only 84 in 2018, the Irrawaddy dolphin – a beluga-whalelike species native to Southeast Asia – is increasing in number. Last year, its population rose to 92, as conservation measures addressing its two major causes of death – dams and fishing nets – took effect. “When the river dolphin is doing well, you know there’s enough fish in the river. You know the water is clean. You know there’s natural habitat. So when the dolphin is doing well, people will do well,” said Daphne Willems of the Global River Dolphin Initiative for the World Wildlife Fund. (NPR)

A letter from

Romania

Books before borders: The library on the US-Canada boundary

Children often hear that going to the library is a big adventure. They’ll definitely believe that if it’s the Haskell Free Library, which doubles as a gauge for relations along the world’s longest friendly border.

Amelia
Ashley Twiggs/The Christian Science Monitor/File
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Derby Line, Vermont, was built deliberately to span the U.S.-Canadian border in 1904. It has become a symbol of cross-cultural cooperation that has fascinated visitors for more than a century.

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The Haskell Free Library and Opera House quite literally spans two countries. A thick piece of black duct tape runs through the reading room, marking the border between the U.S. and Canada. Built in 1904 in Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, as a symbol of cross-cultural cooperation, the library has fascinated visitors for over a century.

It’s perhaps even more enthralling today, at a time when national walls are en vogue – and even the U.S.-Canada border has become more fraught.

Visitors from Canada can follow the sidewalk across the border and freely enter the library’s doors in the U.S. – they just can’t go anywhere else. It was not always this strict, says Scott Wheeler, a local historian. “We knew Stanstead and the Derby Line were in two different countries, but you didn’t really think about it as such.”

That has changed now as security has increased. More than 16,000 immigrants and refugees were stopped crossing into Canada by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2019 as the U.S. tightened its immigration policies.

But the library keeps working to serve both communities. “The best word would be ‘challenge,’” says Kathy Converse, a library volunteer. “Our job is to serve our patrons.”

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5. Books before borders: The library on the US-Canada boundary

Kathy Converse wanted to do something productive after life as an English teacher, so she decided to volunteer at her local library. A straightforward path – not prone to bumps or wild curves.

Or so she thought, she tells me one recent day at the bustling Haskell Free Library. Instead her workplace sits – quite literally – atop the US-Canada border. As such it bears witness to heartache and joy, fear and suspicion, and one time even gun smuggling.

“There’s nowhere in the world like this,” she says.

The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which was deliberately built to span the international boundary in 1904, is a symbol of cross-cultural cooperation and has fascinated visitors for over a century. It’s a place where the border at Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, is delineated with a thick piece of black duct tape that runs through the reading room, and where the theater’s stage sits in Canada and most of the seats in the U.S.

It’s perhaps even more enthralling today, at a time when national walls are in vogue. And even the U.S.-Canada border, long heralded as the longest friendly border between two countries in the world – marked outside the library with a row of potted plants – has become more fraught.

On a recent day, U.S. border officials roam the streets of small-town Vermont, watching for comings-and-goings through the library doors. But inside, borders seem irrelevant and random. As I returned from interviewing locals, I found my 9-year-old reading in Canada, while the adults who were supposed to be watching her were doing a puzzle in the U.S.

Pretty shoddy babysitting, I joked.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Monitor reporter Sara Llana's husband, sister, and brother-in-law do a puzzle in the U.S., when they are supposed to be watching her daughter. But when Sara came back, her daughter was in a foreign country by herself – on the other side of the border (marked by the black tape), reading in Canada!

People from all over the world come here – from as far away as South Korea, and as close as Montpelier and Montreal. They take photos straddling the border tape with arms spread, a Canadian flag in one hand, an American one in the other.

Laila Lima, who lives near Montreal, was visiting with her family. “I felt like crying,” she said, after hearing a story recounted by Ms. Converse. The library volunteer spoke of a grandmother and grandchild who met for the first time inside the walls, one of many foreign families split by tougher immigration policies in the U.S., but who find neutral territory in the Haskell. Visitors from Canada can follow the sidewalk across the border and freely enter the library’s doors – they just can’t go anywhere else. Visitors from the U.S. cannot walk too far down that same sidewalk or they could be detained.

It was not always this strict. Scott Wheeler, a local historian who publishes the Northland Journal, recalls growing up with a border that felt more like somebody else’s imagination.

“We knew Stanstead and the Derby Line were in two different countries, but you didn’t really think about it as such,” he says. On Saturday nights, when there were hockey games in Quebec, all you had to say was “hockey” at the border. “And they’d wave you on.”

That of course all changed after 9/11. Mr. Wheeler has become an unofficial guide for visitors in this region, and he always finds their perspective illustrative. Europeans accustomed to passport-free travel across their continent are dismayed by the restrictions now in place. The South Koreans, he says, are amazed that two countries are separated with flowers.

As for locals, some have refused to adapt. Instead, they avoid the border altogether. “I think a lot of it is our fierce stubbornness, that we don’t want things to change,” he says.

If most residents are resigned to a new post-9/11 normal, in some ways the library faces more challenges today. Irregular border crossings have spiked northbound, as the U.S. under President Donald Trump has placed more restrictions on immigrants and refugees. More than 16,000 were stopped crossing into Canada by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2019.

It plays out in the library when family or friends can’t get permission to see each other any other way, which then brings heightened attention from the border establishment. “The best word would be ‘challenge,’” Ms. Converse explains of the effort to keep their heads down. “Our job is to serve our patrons.”

That job is harder here than in most libraries, says local Peter Carragher. And that’s not just because it’s a bilingual collection and clientele. In 2018, a man was sentenced for smuggling guns into Canada, at one point via a stash in the trash bin of the library bathroom.

“There’s people who come by casing the joint. They have to be ready for them and not reveal too much,” says Mr. Carragher, who lives on the Quebec side but comes daily to Jane’s Cafe in Derby Line, where he and his wife leave their own mugs that bear their names. “It puts them on the spot, and they’re not qualified or trained for that. That’s not their function as a library.”

As I head out of the library with my daughter, husband, sister, and brother-in-law, we are stopped by a border patrol officer. He asks for our passports because another officer notified him we may have illegally passed into Canada. That’s cause for arrest, he explains. He’s kind about it as he lets us go, but it’s disconcerting.

It did give me a glimpse of life on a tighter border – and a deeper appreciation for that sanctuary within the library’s walls.

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The ‘fear factor’ in China’s epidemic

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As the world watches China trying to contain a virus outbreak, it can also watch how it is trying to contain public fear. Since the country’s last major virus outbreak in 2002-03, Chinese officials have come a long way in their capacity for calming.

Chinese officials have tried to be more transparent and precise in their daily briefings. They have allowed the official news media to be relatively free of normal censorship. And to regain public trust after making mistakes early on, some officials have apologized. In addition, the World Health Organization held off hitting its own panic button and declaring a global emergency in the first weeks of the outbreak.

Fear during an epidemic needs its own kind of vaccines. Avoiding a health panic requires a community to have a reservoir of unity, compassion, and openness. These are some of the traits for resiliency and are as needed as medical supplies and health workers. They help keep caution from escalating into fear. And when a health crisis is over, they also help heal any broken bonds of community.

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The ‘fear factor’ in China’s epidemic

Much of the world is watching China closely to see if it can contain a virus that has spread to other countries. Its government has already quarantined nearly 50 million people in 16 cities and rushed to build new hospitals. Yet what should be watched just as closely is how much China has learned about containing public fear. Since the country’s last major virus outbreak in 2002-03, Chinese officials have come a long way in their capacity for calming.

International health officials often talk of the need to battle two epidemics at once – an epidemic of disease and an epidemic of fear. With social media able to spread both falsehoods and genuine warnings, fear can propagate even faster than a disease.

In fact, unnecessary panic can do its own kind of damage. It can break community ties, increase distrust of leaders, create false narratives of victimization, or lead to temporary panic in the global economy. Once amplified, fear can prevent people from hearing accurate information.

To avoid such damage, Chinese officials have tried to be more transparent and precise in their daily briefings about what they know of this outbreak and what is being done. They have allowed the official news media to be relatively free of normal censorship. And to regain public trust after making mistakes early on, some officials have apologized. The mayor of Wuhan, the city that is ground zero for the outbreak, offered to resign “as long as it is conducive to the control of the disease and to the people’s lives and safety.”

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) held off hitting its own panic button and declaring a global emergency in the first weeks of the outbreak. It, too, has learned how to better balance issuing alerts about real danger against the possibility of provoking undue alarm.

Fear during an epidemic needs its own kind of vaccines. And what are those? A report last year from an independent panel set up by WHO and the World Bank recommended a number of nonmedical ways that officials can be ready before an epidemic to deal with the “fear factor.” In short, the 15-member panel stated: “Long-term, sustained community engagement is crucial for detecting outbreaks early, controlling amplification and spread, ensuring trust and social cohesion, and fostering effective responses.”

In other words, avoiding a health panic requires a community to have a reservoir of unity, compassion, and openness. These are some of the traits for resiliency and are as needed as medical supplies and health workers. They help keep caution from escalating into fear. And when a health crisis is over, they also help heal any broken bonds of community.

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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.

Bullying doesn’t have the last word

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Whether we face bullying in our own lives or observe it happening to others, the response that heals will always be the one that flows from God, divine Love.

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1. Bullying doesn’t have the last word

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I’m not a University of Tennessee Volunteers football fan or even an alumnus. But I wear my U.T. shirt with pride. This new bright orange T-shirt reminds me to have the moral courage to be open to intervening when possible, especially in the face of bullying.

Let me explain.

Laura Snyder, a fourth grade teacher in Florida, recently found one of her students with his head on his desk crying. At lunch, some fellow pupils had made fun of his homemade University of Tennessee T-shirt. The boy’s teacher didn’t ignore the problem. She responded by reaching out on social media to see if anyone had connections at the University of Tennessee to help get her student some gear. University officials heard about the incident and sent a box full of U.T. paraphernalia to the boy’s class and then put his hand-drawn design on official university merchandise. It quickly became a bestseller.

The schoolteacher’s actions remind me of Christ Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. The parable describes how two people passed by a man who’d been robbed, beaten, and left by the side of the road. That’s an extreme case of bullying. But it was the loving response of a third passerby, the Samaritan, that offers us a guide for how to respond to any kind of bullying: with Christly compassion and acts of love.

Jesus told that parable as an example of what it means to love our neighbor. We don’t know if the Samaritan reported the assault. I don’t know if Ms. Snyder said anything to the bullies directly. Regardless, her response was to be an active bystander (one who chooses to intervene), rather than a passive bystander. Her act of kindness completely turned that incident of bullying around, and the result was joy and a sense of pride for the boy.

But what if you find yourself the target of bullying, or an attack on your character – either in person or on social media? How do you respond to that?

At one point, a colleague at work seemed to be unfairly attacking me and the quality of my work. I didn’t understand why and felt hurt. When I turned to God and prayed, the word “respect” kept coming to mind. I didn’t listen at first. “Of course I respect that individual,” I argued. But when I couldn’t shake it, I looked up the definition online: “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements” (lexico.com).

It made me pause. Nope. I wasn’t feeling anything like “deep admiration.” My “respect” was superficial.

My study and practice of Christian Science had taught me that to truly be a Christian, we must see others in the same way that God, divine Love, sees them. To start to see that office “bully” as God saw them, I needed to not only stop myself from obsessing over the apparent negative qualities this individual was expressing, but also discover the spiritual good in that individual as God’s loved child. I needed what I think of as “a Genesis 1 perspective” of my fellow man, instead of the flawed Genesis 2 perspective where man is mortal and discordant.

In that first chapter of Genesis in the Bible, it says “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” It goes on to say: “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (verses 27, 31).

I reasoned that this individual was divinely created as “very good.” To see this more clearly, I started by making a list of qualities that I could truly admire about them: Creativity. Poise. A strong work ethic. I recognized these qualities as having their source in God. The initial list was at least 10 qualities long. And I studied it.

Over the next few days I observed that individual, not only to see those qualities being expressed, but to look for other Godlike qualities. My list grew: Intelligence. Kindness. Devotion. I prayed daily to see that person not as a flawed human but as a divine idea going about their Father’s business, expressing God’s goodness.

As I prayed daily and watched my thoughts, my own fear and frustration dissipated. That shift changed how I saw myself – I could see my true nature as gracious, generous, and open – and changed how I responded to critical comments. Over the course of two to three weeks, we gradually stopped clashing. We took steps to rebuild our relationship, and to understand and respect each other’s ideas and approaches.

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this news organization, writes: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (pp. 476-477).

True, there might be situations where we need to take additional action when we are faced with such verbal bullying. But I felt a power in removing that false concept of a “bully” and seeing the scientifically accurate man, as Christ Jesus showed us. Through consistent prayer, I got to a place of “deep admiration,” a place of true respect, not reluctant respect.

Yes, I wear my new bright orange U.T. shirt to celebrate Ms. Snyder’s response, but it also reminds me that bullying has no power and no place in our lives.

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Lasting legacy

Aaron Favila/AP
Boys play beside images of former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant at the “House of Kobe” basketball court in Valenzuela, north of Manila, Philippines, Jan. 27, 2020. Fans left flowers and messages on the walls at the newly inaugurated court after learning of Bryant’s death, along with his teenage daughter and seven other people, in a helicopter crash.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, correspondent Taylor Luck will take us to the heart of Old Cairo, where an ancient art form endures in stitching together Egypt’s rich cultural tapestry. 

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