2020
February
21
Friday

Monitor Daily Podcast

February 21, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

For Harry and Meghan, finally some good news

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry only follow one account on Instagram. No, it isn’t the social media site for Netflix’s series “The Crown.” The couple already have enough royal drama in their life. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are highlighting Global Positive News, whose Instagram posts feature items such as “Greyhound reunites runaway teens with their families” and “The Coral Gardeners are rebuilding dying coral reefs by hand.” 

In January, the couple explained that they’re highlighting accounts “that remind us of all the good that is happening in the world.” Given that Prince Harry has accused the tabloid press of bullying Ms. Markle, it’s not surprising that the couple is keen to focus on uplifting news. But they’re also recognizing a growing appetite for it. Websites such as Positive News, The Optimist Daily, and Good News Network offer an alternative to doom-and-gloom sensationalism. The New York Times, MSNBC, and Fox also include silos that focus on instances of kindness, bravery, and goodwill. 

The Monitor, too, shines a light on the abundant activity of good in the world. At the same time, we don’t shy away from difficult stories. But we strive to counter undue fear and hopelessness because we believe that understanding the world’s problems and possibilities moves us toward solutions. 

That spirit will be on display on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 5pm EST, when the Monitor’s Washington bureau chief, Linda Feldmann, will moderate a panel discussion “Facts, Fake News, and the Media.” Panelists include New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and Fox News correspondent Chris Wallace. Those who cannot attend in person can watch the Common Ground Committee event live.

From vision to spectacle – the optics of Trump’s trip to India

How to draw in an American president? India is at the center of the Trump administration’s strategic vision for countering a rising China in Asia. But the country’s real allure may be the promise of adoring crowds.

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According to recent international polling, India, with its 1.3 billion people, is one of the few countries in the world where positive views of President Donald Trump outweigh negative assessments.

Never mind that it stands at the center of his administration’s Indo-Pacific strategic vision for countering a rising China across Asia. Or that the level of diplomatic and defense cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies has approached that of other key non-NATO allies.

What is enticing a president notoriously impatient with long-distance overseas travel to visit next week may just be the promise of throngs of well-wishers along his motorcade route and a Bollywood-worthy event with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a stadium of 100,000 cheering fans.

Yet many regional analysts say the president’s visit, at its core, is about solidifying the great strides the U.S.-India relationship has taken over the last decade. “This trip really is about continuity,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA South Asia analyst and now a senior fellow at Brookings. There is “a very strong bipartisan consensus in Washington that India really is a strategic partner.”

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1. From vision to spectacle – the optics of Trump’s trip to India

By almost any measure, the Trump administration has elevated India in the hierarchy of U.S. strategic relationships to a level envisioned but never attained under recent administrations.

On the eve of President Donald Trump’s trip to India next week, the South Asian country stands at the center of his administration’s Indo-Pacific strategic vision for cementing U.S. influence and countering a rising China across Asia.

Under President Trump, the United States has joined with India to begin fashioning an infrastructure development alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative for a booming Asia. Diplomatic and defense cooperation between the world’s two largest democracies has advanced to a level approaching that of other key non-NATO allies.

Perhaps most gratifying to India, the U.S. no longer sees the relationship primarily through the lens of the India-Pakistan confrontation.

“There was a time when a Pakistan visit would have been an automatic part” of any American leader’s trip to India, says Jeff Smith, South Asia research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington. Mr. Trump’s trip to India only, with no reflexive Pakistan stop, “is a sign we’ve de-hyphenated the relationship.”

Yet none of that may be the central reason a president notoriously impatient with long-distance overseas travel will make a trip to India beginning Sunday that will have him in the air almost as much time as on the ground.

Great optics

Instead, the showman in Mr. Trump appears to have been enticed by plans for a Bollywood-worthy event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a stadium of 100,000 cheering fans – bigger by far than any of the president’s recent “Keep America Great” rallies.

Add to that the promise of a motorcade route lined with 7 million waving well-wishers – Mr. Trump keeps repeating that 7 million figure in amazement, although it is not clear exactly where it came from – and it becomes evident why the president is making India his showcase foreign travel of a year otherwise largely dedicated to his reelection campaign.

Indeed India, with its 1.3 billion people, is one of the few countries in the world – Israel may be another – where positive views of Mr. Trump outweigh negative assessments, according to recent international polling.

That, together with the ebullient reception that the visiting Indian leader and his host received from thousands of Indian Americans at last year’s “Howdy, Modi!” rally in Houston, appears to have convinced Mr. Trump that India will be his kind of place.

“Prime Minister Modi will make an extra effort on great optics,” says Tanvi Madan, director of the Brookings Institution’s India Project in Washington. “He’ll want to be sure that President Trump, whom they see as transactional, feels like he got something” from the trip, she adds.

Showing American presidents the love is nothing new for India, Ms. Madan notes. She says President Dwight Eisenhower spoke to a throng of a half-million people during his visit in 1959, and that President George W. Bush – like Mr. Trump not generally loved internationally – was received enthusiastically in 2006.

Trip “is about continuity”

Still, she says there will not be 7 million people lining the streets for Mr. Trump, “but there will be a lot,” and the Indians are confident that, “if there are a lot of people, the president will be pleased.”

Yet even if the U.S. public’s takeaway is a spectacle rivaling anything India has ever staged for a U.S. president, many regional analysts say the visit at its core is about solidifying the great strides the U.S.-India relationship has taken over the last decade in particular.

“This trip really is about continuity,” says Bruce Riedel, a former CIA South Asia analyst and counterterrorism expert and now a senior fellow at Brookings. Since President Bill Clinton traveled to India in 2000, he says, “there has been a very strong bipartisan consensus in Washington that India really is a strategic partner.”

Amit Dave/Reuters
Border Security Force soldiers ride past billboard images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Donald Trump, and first lady Melania Trump as they take part in a rehearsal for a road show ahead of Mr. Trump's visit, in Ahmedabad, India, Feb. 21, 2020.

An India visit may now be a must for a U.S. president, Mr. Riedel says, but he underscores that if the relationship has risen in strategic importance, “it really is because institutions on both sides – particularly the military and intelligence – have come to value the relationship.”

That does not mean all is smooth sailing for the two countries.

Trade, citizenship issues

Topping a list of tensions is bilateral trade and the two countries’ inability to reach a trade deal in time for Mr. Trump’s visit. Heritage’s Mr. Smith says he was “frankly surprised” that negotiators failed to deliver a deal that Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi could sign in New Delhi. But he notes that both sides had recently taken to accusing the other of “moving the goal posts” for a trade accord.

Stubborn issues in the trade negotiations range from e-commerce regulations to opening markets to specific products, including medical supplies and almonds.

Other points of contention include India’s purchasing of military equipment from its traditional supplier, Russia – although India has increasingly turned to the U.S., buying some $17 billion in American military equipment since 2007. During the trip, the two countries will trumpet the signing of some new deals, including India’s purchase of $2.6 billion in Seahawk helicopters.

More broadly, there is growing concern in some sectors on the U.S. side over what is seen as India’s turning away from its secular and pluralistic founding principles under the Hindu nationalist Modi.

Mr. Trump will visit an India still torn by passage last December of a citizenship law widely viewed as “anti-Muslim” because it creates a path to citizenship for refugees from all religious minorities except Muslims – who at about 14% of the population make up India’s second-largest religious group.

Mr. Trump seems likely to hail India’s democratic and pluralistic traditions in his speech, some experts say, though Mr. Riedel says no one should expect the president to upbraid Mr. Modi for “Islamophobic” laws given the president’s own actions, including travel bans, that are perceived as anti-Muslim.

Afghanistan distraction?

Other “elephants in the room” of an otherwise flashy and feel-good visit, regional analysts say, will include China and Afghanistan.

The Indians are unhappy that the Trump administration appears to have afforded Pakistan a “kingmaker’s role” in the advancing negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban that are heading toward a peace agreement between the two parties by the end of the month.

Indeed, some see the potential for an imminent U.S.-Taliban deal stealing the thunder from Mr. Trump’s India visit. A seven-day cessation of violence in Afghanistan, a precursor to the deal, is slated to begin tonight.

“If a deal really is to be signed, Trump will very much want to be in the picture,” Mr. Riedel says. “He very much wants to check the box of having done something about the endless wars.”

However, having the U.S. president participate in a signing with the Taliban would be “very risky,” Mr. Riedel says, given not only everything that could go wrong with a peace agreement over the coming months, but also given the very fresh memory many Americans have of U.S. service member deaths perpetrated by the Taliban.

Still, “it’s the kind of risk [the president] relishes taking,” Mr. Riedel says. And he takes from his recent conversations with State Department and other official contacts the hint that “a presidential side trip to Afghanistan just might happen.”

“When I ask, they all say a Pakistan stop is very unlikely,” he says. “But when I ask about Afghanistan, they all go mute.”

Gay rights, religious freedom, and the battle over adoption

Should adoption agencies be able to discriminate against LGBTQ families? Some say that the way forward is to set aside differences and focus on a common desire to help children.

Sue Ogrocki/AP
Sean Freiley (left) and husband Mitch Dailey (right) listen to adopted daughter Jasmine Freiley talk about her day as adopted son Jerimiah McWilliams uses a tablet in the kitchen of their home in Bethany, Oklahoma, May 10, 2018. The state enacted legislation that year that protects religious adoption and foster care agencies.

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The question of what constitutes a family has long been mired in a cultural clash between advocates of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. But when it comes to adoption and foster care, the stakes may be more profound – because children are caught in the middle.

While the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a universal right in 2015, the rules governing child placement vary widely from state to state. Many Democratic states have instituted nondiscrimination rules, while Republican states have taken the side of religious freedom.

The irony of the situation is that religious people and gay advocates are among those most interested in taking in children. “Those two groups, more than almost any others, are drawn to adoption,” says Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who adopted a son with his husband.

Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois, was herself adopted as a child. “The most important thing in my view, and I think in the view of most Americans,” she says, “is to find these kids homes and permanent families.”

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2. Gay rights, religious freedom, and the battle over adoption

When Walter Olson and his now-husband, Steve Pippin, first enrolled their adopted son Timothy in preschool more than 15 years ago, they weren’t exactly sure what to expect.

At that time, before seismic social changes helped reshape the daily rhythms of LGBTQ Americans and redefine the legal definition of marriage, it was still more or less a socially daring act for a gay couple to seek to adopt, Mr. Olson says. 

“People expect that we must have faced more barriers than there actually were,” notes Mr. Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies in Washington, D.C. “But almost every local experience that we had was totally friendly and welcoming,” he says. The school district in their suburban New York community had, in fact, officially begun to recognize same-sex parents the year they enrolled their son in preschool.

Still, the process was neither simple nor without its frustrations. “As adopters, we knew that not all agencies would serve us,” he says, noting how they were prepared to encounter rejection in the process.

In certain respects, the issue of LGBTQ families seeking to foster or adopt children has only become more volatile since the time Mr. Olson and Mr. Pippin decided to adopt. Like other arenas of American society after the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a constitutional right in 2015, the country’s array of local and interstate placement agencies has become yet another battlefield in the cultural clash between the advocates of religious freedom and LGBTQ equality.

As a thinker with libertarian and conservative leanings, however, Mr. Olson also sees a deeper ideological clash between those who understand the country as well-served by the robust traditions of American pluralism and religious freedom, and those who would seek instead what might be called a rigorous egalitarian secularism.

In Democratic states, legislators have instituted nondiscrimination rules for adoption and foster care agencies that receive government funds. Many Republican states, on the other hand, have gone the opposite route, passing religious freedom laws that permit faith-based agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples – or even with those who do not share their religious views.

“You have kind of a push-pull in opposite directions in the U.S. right now,” says Robin Fretwell Wilson, professor of law and the director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

Back in the news

Last month, Tennessee became the 11th state to protect religious adoption and foster care agencies, allowing them to work only with families that conform to their religious beliefs. At least eight of these states, including Alabama, Michigan, South Dakota, and Texas, have passed such protections in just the past three years.

Some religious agencies have also declined to place children in the homes of those who do not share their religious views. In South Carolina, the state’s largest agency and the recipient of federal funds declined to offer foster services to a Jewish woman in 2018, since she did not share its Christian views. In early February, the Trump administration granted the agency a waiver from federal nondiscrimination rules passed during the Obama administration. 

In states like Massachusetts and Illinois, as well as in cities like Washington and Philadelphia, however, long-standing agencies run by Catholic Social Services have felt forced to shut down after officials required those receiving government funding to abide by newly instituted nondiscrimination rules.

Similar disputes have roiled many states over the past few years as certain religious wedding vendors have also sought to decline to participate in the ritual aspects of same-sex weddings, in many cases running headlong into various nondiscrimination principles that govern public accommodations and businesses. 

The stakes surrounding foster care and adoption are in many ways more profound, experts say, since children, most of whom are coming out of dire life situations, are caught in the middle of this ever-rancorous culture war.    

“The most important thing in my view, and I think in the view of most Americans, is to find these kids homes and permanent families,” says Professor Wilson, who was herself adopted as a child. “And to get that done, I think we have to have all hands on deck, meaning that if you look at those who adopt or foster most in the United States, it’s single women, it’s gay and lesbian couples, and it’s religious people.”

Mark Humphrey/AP
Republican state Sen. Steven Dickerson debates a proposal allowing faith-based adoption agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs, Jan. 14, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee. That month, the state became the 11th to enact such protections.

But the issue is not simply a matter of pragmatics, says Dana Prince, a professor at the school of applied social sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Allowing religious agencies to reject LGBTQ families is part of a larger ideological animus that is often expressed in harmful ways across society. 

“What we have at stake here is more than just discriminating against a couple or an individual who wants to step into a role as a foster parent,” says Dr. Prince. “We’re also potentially allowing more discrimination against youth who are in care, and who may be LGBT themselves.”

In fact, at 19% to 25% of foster care children, LGBTQ youth are overrepresented among the estimated 400,000 children currently in the system, according to researchers at The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Many have been rejected by their biological families.

“And what are we doing with those kids?” she says. “For whatever reason, if your case ends up being managed through a religiously based organization, you might then face rejection from their caseworkers, who aren’t trained or aware or sensitive to the particular needs of LGBT kids.”

In her work with LGBTQ youth in Ohio, she’s witnessed children who have been moved from home to home up to 25 times, often because of religious incompatibilities. Such moving around in the system has long-term effects on children when they become adults, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, she says. 

A mix-and-match system

Advocates of a more pluralistic system like Mr. Olson, however, believe that specialized agencies that serve specific populations can be beneficial for their special needs. There are Native American agencies that seek to place children with Native American families, and Roman Catholic agencies that try to maintain the religious needs of Catholic kids, as well as specialized agencies serving those with special health needs.

Some have concerns. “I guess I’m troubled by a vision of diversity and pluralism that says the way that we respect diversity is by allowing LGBTQ people to be excluded from certain parts of public life, and from certain publicly funded agencies,” says Susan Hazeldean, a professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. “I don’t think that’s the right way to have a diverse society that would welcome everyone.”

Mr. Olson, however, believes a mix-and-match system can be beneficial for a wide range of populations with specific needs – and that those battling each other on this issue should be, in theory at least, natural allies. 

“Even though gay advocates and religious advocates have gotten to be on opposite sides of these legal battles, there are reasons why they should understand each other, because those two groups, more than almost any others, are drawn to adoption,” he says. “These two groups, I’d like to think, in a good world should be cooperating with each other, recognizing that the other is doing something that they also value.”

Indeed, one of the most important reasons America became a pioneer in same-sex adoptions decades ago was the number of gay and lesbian couples and individuals who felt called to give care to infants born with HIV.

“It was one of the first crossings of the bridge to gay adoption,” he says. “Extraordinary cases in which gay couples and individuals with humanitarian motives made the case to let those kids have a parent, at least for the couple of years that they were going to be alive. Often it was only gay people who would step forward.”

And part of the reason this was possible, he says, is that there is still a robust pluralism in the U.S. system, with numerous choices available to Americans.

“The fact is, because we don’t have a centralized set of rules in this country, it means that people who are determined to become parents, or to help kids in need, will often find a good match,” he says. “America might have taken longer than European countries to get to gay marriage, but it was still the pioneer on gay adoption, because in America, to a large extent, if you wanted to adopt or start a family, you could just go ahead and do it.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Coronavirus and China’s global image

Many of the costs of the coronavirus for China are immediately apparent, but some are not. One thing to monitor going forward is any impact on the country’s assertive campaign to extend its influence internationally. 

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Economically, the aftershocks of China’s coronavirus outbreak are being felt. But the geopolitical rumblings will also be worth watching.

China’s economy, the world’s second largest, has been hamstrung. World carmakers are feeling the repercussions, as are high-tech computer and electronics companies. In Britain, the Burberry clothing firm has seen its share price hit after sales in its Chinese outlets collapsed in recent weeks.

Global economic growth – which had begun to look a bit rosier after a stage-one tariff agreement between the United States and China – is certain to suffer temporarily.

There have been potentially seismic political effects as well. China has increasingly clamped down, even amid open signs of anger toward authorities.

But there’s a further question: the possible effect on China’s influence abroad, especially through investment infrastructure projects. Economic strength has been key in muting political reluctance overseas.

For now, the authorities’ fumbled response to the epidemic has undercut their image worldwide as a functioning, high-tech 21st-century version of the old Communist world’s command economies. It has also served as a reminder of the politics of China: the authoritarian underside of its economic success.

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3. Coronavirus and China’s global image

The human cost of China’s coronavirus outbreak is already painfully evident. But another kind of challenge – economic and political – is beginning to take hold.

It’s as if the sprawling city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China, was not just the birthplace of the virus, now officially dubbed COVID-19, but the epicenter of an enormous earthquake, sending tremors and tsunamis around the globe.

Economically, the aftershocks are already being felt. The only question is how long they’ll persist, and how lasting their impact will prove. And the geopolitical rumblings will also be worth watching, particularly the possible effects on China’s image and influence abroad.

The Chinese economy – the world’s second largest – has been suddenly hamstrung by the need to halt the spread of a virus that the Communist authorities at first tried to hide. Wuhan and other cities have been placed under lockdown. Much of the rest of the country has been subject to large-scale quarantines, restrictions on movement, interruptions in public transport, and the closure of factories and other businesses.

And China’s economy is not just much larger than it was a decade ago. It’s more integrated into the world economy, and no longer merely as a low-cost option for producing household goods for Western consumers. Thousands of overseas firms now have factories or supply partners in China, providing key components in their supply chain for everything from automobiles to electronics and computer products.

China’s own manufacturing and industry rely on commodities from overseas: above all, energy, for which it’s the world’s main importer. Chinese people have also become important customers for Western consumer imports. The more well-off are traveling abroad in ever-growing numbers, spending large sums while abroad.

All that has now been thrown off track.

Supply shortfalls, fewer orders

In Cambodia, textile factories rely on China for well over half their raw materials, and some could be forced to close. In Australia, a major chunk of exports – from iron ore and liquefied natural gas to meat and seafood – goes to China. With the Chinese economy slowed by COVID-19, orders are taking a major hit.

World carmakers are feeling the repercussions. Nissan in Japan and Hyundai in South Korea have had to scale back production at some facilities due to a shortfall in parts from China. In Europe, Fiat Chrysler temporarily shut one of its factories, in Serbia, for the same reason. Jaguar Land Rover has also warned it could face supply-chain problems if the economic disruption in China persists over the coming weeks.

Also affected are high-tech computer and electronics companies, including Apple, whose iPhone production is dependent on factories and component suppliers in China. To make things worse, its retail stores there have been closed, and China is now the largest single market for Apple’s smartphones.

In Britain, the Burberry clothing firm has seen its share price hit after luxury sales in its network of Chinese outlets collapsed in recent weeks, and it is predicting a further effect from the likely decrease in Chinese visitors abroad.

The big picture is that global economic growth – which had begun to look a bit rosier after a stage-one tariff agreement between the United States and China – is certain to suffer at least temporarily.

And there have been potentially seismic political effects from the COVID crisis as well.

Unquestioned loyalty

The most visible sign has come inside China, where Xi Jinping has departed from the more pragmatic approach of his 1990s predecessor Jiang Zemin. In its place, he has stressed the need for unquestioned loyalty to the Communist Party and his own position as party leader. China has increasingly clamped down on any sign of dissidence, while using high-tech tools to build the world’s most pervasive surveillance society.

None of that seems under immediate political threat. But there have been startlingly open signs of anger toward the authorities. The main focus has been on a young doctor in Wuhan, Li Wenliang, who was among the first to identify the appearance of the new virus. He was detained and forced to swear off this “illegal behavior.” When he died from the virus earlier this month, not just anger, but explicit criticism of the authorities, briefly flared on China’s tightly controlled social media platforms.

The censors have since reasserted control. The hope of Mr. Xi and the ruling party, almost certainly, is that any political blowback will prove temporary. When the crisis is over, they may well seek to make the argument that the tight control championed by Mr. Xi was indispensable in the aggressive measures taken to stem the spread of COVID-19.

But there’s a further, big-picture question: the possible effect on China’s increasingly assertive campaign to extend its influence internationally, especially through the offer of trade deals, investment, and infrastructure projects as part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road economic partnership program.

Just as the headlong growth of China’s domestic economy has helped limit political dissent at home, Chinese economic strength has been key in muting political reluctance overseas to engage with Beijing.

At least for now, however, the authorities’ early, fumbled response to the epidemic has undercut their image worldwide as a smoothly functioning, high-tech 21st-century version of the old Communist world’s command economies. It has also served as a reminder of the politics of China: the authoritarian underside of its economic success.

How coal mine waste could help build your next phone

A West Virginia mining company is piloting a vital recycling program: It's transforming an environmental pollutant into valuable minerals. Imagination is the ultimate resource.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Wes Edge (left), an environmental engineer, and Chris Vass, a research engineer, stand in the laboratory of the mineral extraction project at the Water Research Institute at West Virginia University, on Jan. 22, 2020. The project is researching how to extract rare-earth minerals from acid mine drainage.

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For years, U.S. companies and the military have worried about their reliance on China for key minerals used in everything from smartphones and electric cars to satellites. These 17 minerals, called rare-earth elements, sit at the bottom of the periodic table, with strange names like scandium and yttrium. 

Now a project near Mt. Storm, West Virginia, aims to change the supply equation – by extracting rare earths from mining runoff. If it works at a viable price, the process would incentivize companies to clean up waters and streams, while also filling a strategic gap for the United States.

In a cavernous lab, dozens of glass containers filter the mine drainage. The end result is a handful of tan powder with the rare earths. Work remains to be done to efficiently separate those minerals from one another. 

“We think it’s going to be much more competitive than opening a brand new hard rock mine,” says Paul Ziemkiewicz, the West Virginia University researcher who discovered the link between acid mine drainage and rare-earth metals. “There really isn’t a domestic supply chain for rare earths.”

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4. How coal mine waste could help build your next phone

Near Mt. Storm, West Virginia, a pilot plant under construction will soon test a potential win-win for industry and the environment.

It aims to turn a major pollutant of streams and ponds – acid mine drainage – into badly needed minerals for everything from smartphones and electric cars to jet fighters and satellites.

If it works, at a price that can earn companies a profit, the process would provide a major incentive for companies to clean up waters and streams, cut costs for the mining industry, and plug a strategic hole for the United States, which currently imports most of those minerals from China.

“We think it’s going to be much more competitive than opening a brand new hard rock mine,” says Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute here at West Virginia University, and the researcher who discovered the link between acid mine drainage and rare-earth metals. “There really isn’t a domestic supply chain for rare earths.”

For years, U.S. companies and the military have worried about their reliance on China for rare earths. These are 17 elements, sitting at the bottom of the periodic table, with strange names like dysprosium, scandium, and yttrium. These metals are key for the manufacture of smartphones, advanced batteries, ceramics, satellite communications, and magnets used in everything from hard drives to antilock brakes. Some 80% of U.S. imports come from China.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Researcher Wes Edge at the mineral extraction project in Morgantown, West Virginia. Currently most of the global supply of 17 rare-earth elements is from China. The minerals are vital for making everything from smartphones and advanced batteries to the magnets used in computer hard drives.

And China has sometimes used that dominant position to sharply reduce its supply to nations (like Japan, temporarily, in a 2010 dispute) and threatened obliquely last year to do so again, this time against the U.S. in the middle of the trade war.

In 2014, the U.S., Japan, and the European Union won a World Trade Organization case against Beijing after it sent the average price of rare earths soaring nearly 25-fold. China also may have restricted access to rare earths to foreign manufacturers unless they produced their goods in China and shared their technology with a domestic partner, according to a 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service.

“China’s domination of the rare earth element market illustrates the potentially dangerous interaction between Chinese economic aggression guided by its strategic industrial policies and vulnerabilities and gaps in America’s manufacturing and defense industrial base,” said a 2018 report by the U.S. Defense Department and other federal agencies.

Now, Dr. Ziemkiewicz and his team in West Virginia are trying to change that strategic balance. In a cavernous laboratory, dozens of glass containers with miniature mixers in each one filter the acid mine drainage to create a greater and greater concentration of rare-earth metals. For all the impressive infrastructure, the end result is a handful of tan powder, like cocoa.

To test if the process can deliver commercial-sized quantities of the metals, the team has won a $5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy to build the pilot plant near Mt. Storm in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and two companies. If it works, Dr. Ziemkiewicz estimates the acid mine drainage in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio alone could yield annually up to 2,200 tons of rare-earth elements, more than three times what the U.S. produced last year. The nation has up to 500,000 abandoned mines.

“This is a green, green solution,” says Tom Stephens, commercial director of TenCate Geosynthetics Americas, one of the partner companies in the project.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A small pile of powder, which is 90% rare-earth minerals, is the result of filtering drainage from mines, in the lab of the mineral extraction project at West Virginia University in Morgantown, on Jan. 22, 2020.

 

Mining operations or any large disturbance of land, such as a construction project, often create deposits of rock and waste that can leak an acidic runoff that kills fish and plant life in ponds and streams. The continued ingestion of water or fish contaminated by that runoff has been linked to health problems for humans. Since the late 1970s, coal mines have been responsible for cleaning up that water. If mine companies can make money from that process by selling concentrates of rare earths, then it would at a minimum reduce their cleanup costs and, possibly, eliminate them, giving companies an incentive to clean up acid mine drainage.

When West Virginia mines are abandoned, the state picks up the job, using a fund paid for by the mining companies. “If we can recoup some of the money that we are using it would be a huge benefit,” says Mike Sheehan, deputy director for reclamation programs at the state Department of Environmental Protection. The state is currently spending some $3.5 million a year to treat 254 contaminated sites.

Even if the pilot project shows promise, there is one more hurdle. The researchers still have to figure out a way to separate out the individual rare-earth minerals from the powder.  

“We have a piece of it, but we haven’t connected the dots,” says Paul McRoberts, industry manager for North America for Rockwell Automation, the project’s other commercial partner. “The current government seems to be very interested in figuring out that missing link.”

It was a government request that sparked the original idea of using acid mine drainage to create rare-earth metals. 

“I hadn’t given rare earths much thought,” says Dr. Ziemkiewicz, who had made a career of researching how to mitigate acid mine drainage. But when the National Energy Technology Lab sent out a request for proposals in 2015 on how to use coal byproducts to make rare earths, he had an inspiration. Sure enough, old data showed that the rare earths existed in the runoff, and he and his team have found a way to precipitate them out.

His team isn’t the only one working on making rare earths from mining operations. In Colorado, USA Rare Earth LLC and Texas Mineral Resources Corp. have announced they plan to open a pilot plant this quarter to separate and purify rare-earth metals from a Texas deposit. 

“Our advantage with AMD [acid mine drainage] is that 45 to 50% of the rare earths present are heavy rare earths,” typically the most valuable, Dr. Ziemkiewicz says.

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

For these homebound seniors, poems offer food for the soul

A meal service for seniors has started slipping extra nourishment into its deliveries – cards with verses and sonnets. Call it soul food.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Carmella Parry, a poetry enthusiast, is seen in her apartment in Gramercy Park on Jan. 22, 2020, in New York. Ms. Parry is a recipient of Citymeals on Wheels, a meal program for older people that paired up with the Poetry Society of America to provide poems in deliveries.

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Carmella Parry moved into her fourth-floor walk-up in Gramercy Park when she was 24. She’s lived here alone since her husband died in 1987. At 94, she hasn’t been able to leave her small studio for quite a while.  

Which is why composing, sharing, and receiving poems brings Ms. Parry immeasurable delight. A few months ago, she received a poem, “Luck” by Langston Hughes, printed on a card that was slipped into one of her Citymeals on Wheels deliveries. Sometimes a crumb falls / From the tables of joy, / Sometimes a bone is flung. / To some people / Love is given, / To others / Only heaven.

The poem is part of Poems on Wheels, an ongoing partnership between the Poetry Society of America and Citymeals on Wheels, which delivers poems along with 2 million meals to 18,000 older New Yorkers every year. The poems offer a balm to the social isolation that many of the city’s homebound seniors experience.  

As Beth Shapiro, executive director of Citymeals on Wheels in New York, says, “For us, it’s just an extension of what we believe, that we’re nourishing both body and soul.”

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5. For these homebound seniors, poems offer food for the soul

Carmella Parry has lived in her fourth-floor walk-up in Gramercy Park for over 70 years.

At 94, she hasn’t been able to leave this small studio on the east side of Manhattan for quite a while. Her sisters Tessie and Yolanda, also in their 90s, live just a few blocks away, but like tens of thousands of older New Yorkers, they just aren’t able to get out anymore.

But Ms. Parry is a little tickled today as she tells some guests how she likes to compose a few limericks for her sisters now and then. She’ll slip them into a birthday card – which she sends through the mail – or even just recite them over the phone, since the sisters do talk every day.

“‘A sister is someone you grow up with, but never outgrow’ – I always liked that one,” she says with a chuckle. She keeps a lot of handwritten riffs in a metal box.

“You know, if you know words, like real poets do, you could really go on – and better,” she says, still beaming. “But I just don’t know that many words!”

But words mean a lot to her, she says, and a few months ago, she received a poem, “Luck” by Langston Hughes, printed on a card that was slipped into one of her Citymeals on Wheels deliveries. Sometimes a crumb falls / From the tables of joy, / Sometimes a bone is flung. / To some people / Love is given, / To others / Only heaven.

The poem, which Ms. Parry posted on her refrigerator last month, is part of Poems on Wheels, an ongoing partnership between the Poetry Society of America and Citymeals on Wheels, which delivers poems along with meal trays to older New Yorkers. The poem cards, featuring the work of poets like Walt Whitman, Sara Teasdale, and Emperor Koko, offer a balm to the social isolation that many of the city’s homebound seniors experience. 

“The reason that it resonates with people is, first of all, it’s a very simple idea, but one that’s very powerful,” says Matt Brogan, executive director of the Poetry Society of America in New York. “I think people recognize that elderly or otherwise homebound people not only face issues around food, insecurity, and social isolation, but also a kind of cultural and intellectual and emotional isolation.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Carmella Parry displays a handwritten poem that's been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as a poem that Citymeals on Wheels sent to her New York studio.

Citymeals supplements the city’s meal delivery service, delivering more than 2 million meals a year to 18,000 of New York’s seniors, 200 of whom are over 100 years old. The program delivers meals on weekends and holidays, when the city does not provide meals. Some 57% of its meal recipients live alone and 40% rarely or never leave home, making the poem cards an important source of connection and delight. 

After helping to launch New York’s Poems on Wheels in the fall of 2018, Mr. Brogan says, the poetry society partnered with other Meals on Wheels affiliates in Los Angeles last October, which reach 2,200 people each month, and plans to launch another partnership in San Francisco later this winter, which will reach 3,500 clients at least four times a year.

Nourishing body and soul 

Considered a birthright to many New Yorkers, love of poetry can hold a particular resonance. Since 1992, the Poetry Society of America has been placing poems in New York City subway cars with its Poetry in Motion series, an idea that later spread to 30 other U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, and Salt Lake City.

As she talks about her own limericks and the poems she likes, Ms. Parry gets caught up remembering the New York she knew as a little girl. She and her sisters were born on Mott Street on the Lower East Side, part of a wave of first-generation Americans born to Italian immigrants from Sicily and Calabria. 

She vividly remembers a distant afternoon in 1935, when she was just 10 years old, and she nearly became a star. After hearing her sing near her family’s apartment, a man from an Italian vaudeville theater on 14th Street asked her parents if she could perform. 

“So they took me, and I sang “Senza Mamma E Nnammurata,” Ms. Parry says, remembering the mournful Italian classic. “At the time, it was good!” she laughs. “I got a standing ovation. My dad came running down the aisle with flowers!” 

She moved into her apartment in Gramercy Park when she was 24, after she married her husband, Frank, who drove a tugboat on the Hudson. She’s lived here alone since he died in 1987.

Today Ms. Parry received another poem with her delivered meal, “Una Gran Familia” by the Mexican American poet Francisco X. Alarcón, in Spanish with an English translation: a paragraph / a page / perhaps / we are / in this book / with no end — / at the end / all of us / are family. 

“It’s wonderful! Can I keep it?” Ms. Parry says.

The Poems on Wheels idea originated with the American poet Kimiko Hahn, a professor at Queens College in New York and president emeritus of the Poetry Society of America. She came across a group of elementary school children who were making cards to place in Meals on Wheels boxes.

“And I thought, wow, well, we could do that pretty easily, too, with a really good short poem, sort of similar to our Poetry in Motion idea,” Ms. Hahn says.

“A good poem stops us, and yet, we’re moved by it,” she says. “For me personally, I feel that poems provide this moment of pause – you just kind of hit pause, which I think is increasingly important. But I think it also is a connection to other people, and also to ourselves.”

Which is precisely why the Poems on Wheels idea fit so perfectly with her organization’s mission, says Beth Shapiro, executive director of Citymeals on Wheels.

“For us, it’s just an extension of what we believe, that we’re nourishing both body and soul,” Ms. Shapiro says. “I’m very moved when I go on meal deliveries and meet people who I believe built the city for us. It’s our duty to just keep them in their own homes and neighborhoods, where they want to be.”

“You know, they have outlived family, friends, often even their own children, so a meal coming to the door is vital,” she continues. “But so is the visit. So, seeing a poem that we sent on their refrigerator, or taped to a wall, it’s just confirmation of the value that not only the food we bring, but the caring that we do as well – it is a true lifeline for so many.”

Ms. Parry smiles at the guests who have come to talk about these poems, and offers another verse she’s kept in her box of cards. It’s been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and she wrote it out in her elegant cursive script – the kind of handwriting few have today.

Paraphrasing the verse, she says, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know when it will be too late.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correctly attribute the author of a quote cited in the piece.

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Africa’s quiet moves to ‘silence the guns’

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Three years ago, the African Union declared with grand purpose that its 55 member states wanted to “silence the guns” on the continent. On Saturday, the AU could claim its biggest success yet in South Sudan. In that war-ravaged country, the two main political rivals, President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, plan to set up an interim “unity government.” If the deal sticks, it would end seven years of civil war in Africa’s youngest nation. The AU’s once-inconceivable goal could then be an inspiration for conceiving an even grander future for Africa.

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Africa’s quiet moves to ‘silence the guns’

Three years ago, the African Union declared with grand purpose that its 55 member states wanted to “silence the guns” on the continent. War violence was taking too heavy a toll on plans for prosperity. Since then, the regional body has mediated in three conflicts (Madagascar, Sudan, and Central African Republic). On Saturday, the AU could claim its biggest success yet in South Sudan.

In that war-ravaged country, the two main political rivals, President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, plan to set up an interim “unity government.” Their power-sharing agreement, given a final push at a recent AU security summit, calls for merging their respective forces into a national army of 83,000 and holding an election in three years.

If the deal sticks, it would end seven years of civil war in Africa’s youngest nation. South Sudan was carved out of Sudan after a 2011 referendum. Two years after independence, it erupted into conflict, driven mainly by ethnic differences. Nearly 400,000 lives have been lost and a third of the population has been displaced. Floods, famine, and lately a locust swarm have worsened South Sudan’s conditions.

Previous attempts at a political deal have failed, but they did leave a shaky truce that has lessened violence since 2018. A breakthrough came this month when President Kiir made a big concession. He agreed to cut the number of states from 32 to 10. This will reduce the “ethnic gerrymandering” of political entities that now favor his majority Dinka group. Mr. Machar’s ethnic group, the Nuers, welcomed the move. But the concession has been complicated by the president also creating three administrative areas on top of the 10 states.

The two men still have much to negotiate, especially in joining militias. They will be nudged along by the AU’s mediating skills. If South Sudan can silence its guns, that success may help end other conflicts in Africa. The AU’s once-inconceivable goal could then be an inspiration for conceiving an even grander future for Africa.

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.

A Bible in ... the kitchen?

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It may seem an unusual place to keep a Bible. But the Bible in her kitchen is one woman’s most utilized “recipe book,” offering inspiration that comforts, guides, and heals.

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1. A Bible in ... the kitchen?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Years ago, a neighbor who’d stopped by for a kaffeeklatsch saw a Bible on the cookbook shelf in my kitchen. She chuckled and said, “Who ever heard of a Bible in the kitchen?”

“Perfect place,” I answered. My next words came out so quickly and naturally: “The Bible contains the recipe for all healing.”

This was actually a quote from the book sitting right beside my Bible, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science (p. 406) – and I knew it to be true from experience.

We proceeded to have a neighborly visit, and I forgot all about the incident. Then, some weeks later, this neighbor stopped by again. “I just had to talk to someone,” she said. “I’m absolutely inundated!” Through tears, she proceeded to list the overwhelming tasks that had unexpectedly come up all at once, including caring for a family member in need across the country and selling her family’s house due to a work relocation.

Taking that handy Bible off the shelf, I shared this verse with her: “With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). I’d read that verse just hours earlier, and it had spoken to me because I needed it, too. We can all have that assurance: None of us is stuck doing anything alone. God is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).

A month later was our last kitchen visit. She shared that things were working out so smoothly for her. Likewise, the pressing needs that I’d been thinking about that morning had also been met in a timely, orderly fashion.

This friend and I lost touch, but a few years later we ran into each other in an airport. We hugged, and the very first words out of her smiling mouth were “The Bible contains the recipe for all healing.” She’d remembered that all those years. She said she’d thought of that many times.

I’ve moved several times since then, but there’s still a Bible in my kitchen (and in nearly every other room in my home, too). It is by far my most utilized “recipe book.” In fact, I use it every day. It teaches of God’s ever-presence, almightiness, and invariable love for His children. God’s Word, expressed in the Bible’s message of God’s love and care, continues to comfort, strengthen, guide, and even heal me. I wouldn’t trade it, or the inspiring lens Christian Science brings to it, for anything in the world!

Just before our first child was born, while I was making breakfast one morning, a sudden fear of “What if I’m not ready for mommyhood?” grabbed me. Reaching for my Bible, here’s what I opened to: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11).

This said volumes to me. That first part spoke to me of God’s fatherhood and motherhood, Deity’s strong and tender care for all His children (all of us). And the last part assured me that my husband and I wouldn’t be doing this parenthood thing alone. God would always be with us, guiding and guarding. And as God’s spiritual offspring, made in His image, we each reflect this divine Father-Motherhood, which inspires in us the ability to be responsible, loving parents.

The next day our son was born. I can’t tell you how meaningful and precious that inspiration was as we embarked on parenthood, and how many times it continued to help us along the way.

The Christ – the natural, necessary activity and power of God, divine Love – breaks through the mist of materially based, fearful, frazzled thinking, restoring harmony and health. The Bible, together with Science and Health, continues to help me grow in my understanding of God, experience God’s healing presence, and help others do this, too. In fact, that very verse from Isaiah that had so inspired me as a mother later inspired me to devote my life to the Christian and public healing ministry, as a Christian Science practitioner.

Is there a Bible in your kitchen? If not, you might think of it. You just may find, as I have, that nothing could be handier or more helpful.

Viewfinder

Winter fun

Petr David Josek/AP
Despite rising global temperatures, there are still times when some areas of the world are blanketed in snow. And for thousands of years, people have found ways to stay active during those icy seasons, giving rise to winter sports and festivities. Still 45% of Americans polled in a 2019 HuffPost/YouGov survey still said winter is their least favorite season. But what about snowball fights, sledding, and building snowmen with the family? Winter has so much to offer. You just have to find the fun. – Nusmila Lohani, Staff writer
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thank you for engaging with our stories today – we hope you’ll share them with others. When we return on Monday, one of our stories examines a military policy that’s a land mine issue in more ways than one. What are the likely consequences of the Trump administration lifting a ban on land mines, even ones with greater safety features?

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