2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

February 25, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

What Katherine Johnson did for my mom

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

I never met Katherine Johnson, but my family owes a personal debt of gratitude to the NASA mathematician whose extraordinary life was portrayed in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures.”

Let me explain. 

Ms. Johnson, who died on Monday, was responsible for making the calculations that safely delivered Americans into space. Ms. Johnson and other black women initially worked in a racially segregated computing group in Hampton, Virginia. Later, she joined Project Mercury, NASA’s first human space program.

When it was John Glenn’s turn to orbit Earth in 1962, he didn’t trust the new IBM 7090 computer that had plotted his course. “Get the girl to check the numbers,” the astronaut insisted, referring to Ms. Johnson, who was in her 40s at the time.

Ms. Johnson was a pioneer, first and foremost for African American women. With courage, intelligence, and grace, she challenged narrow stereotypes. 

On Monday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called Johnson an “American hero.” “She ... opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space.”

Ms. Johnson helped all of humanity slip the “surly bonds of earth.” She inspired girls to study math, science, and engineering. She paved the way for all women, including my mom, who was one of the first female computer programmers hired by Honeywell Information Systems, an emerging competitor to IBM, in 1960. 

“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing,” said Ms. Johnson in a 2011 interview. Then she added, “Sometimes they have more imagination than men.”

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How coronavirus offers stress test of Trump’s management

Republicans tend to like small government. But President Trump’s approach of leaving posts vacant and favoring loyalty over experience may be undermining his ability to get things done.

David

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The coronavirus could become an unexpected stress test of President Donald Trump’s churning approach to executive management.

Early Tuesday President Trump tweeted, “The coronavirus is very much under control in the U.S.A.” Later in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans should begin preparing for possible outbreaks.

At a Senate hearing, Republican Sen. John Kennedy pressed acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf for an estimate of the number of people who might be affected.

Acting Secretary Wolf could not provide one.

“I think you ought to know that answer,” Senator Kennedy said.

Three years into the Trump presidency, perceived loyalty to the president is perhaps the job qualification prized above all. Vacancies are numerous and inexperienced “acting” personnel common.

It’s true that presidents deserve their own team, says Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. Political purges of the bureaucracy aren’t uncommon.

But some of President Trump’s methods weaken his ability to get the executive branch to work his will, says Dr. Glassman. Vacant jobs can’t steer anybody. “Acting” officials are weaker than Senate-confirmed appointees.

“Acting officials are like substitute teachers. They might listen to the principal more, but they can’t control the students,” according to Dr. Glassman.

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1. How coronavirus offers stress test of Trump’s management

On Monday, acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli took to Twitter to ask for help with some research.

Mr. Cuccinelli – the top member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force – was having difficulty accessing an online map of the virus’s spread compiled by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. So he tweeted out a question: Was the map blocked for other people, too, or just him?

In the end it appeared overwhelming traffic had temporarily crashed the Hopkins site. Hours later Mr. Cuccinelli tweeted he had access to the data. But for critics, the original question, from a top official with all the resources of the United States government at his fingertips, was itself a warning sign of the confusion and turmoil inherent in the Trump administration’s singular approach to bureaucratic staffing.

Three years into the Trump presidency, perceived loyalty to the president is perhaps the job qualification prized above all. Top White House and executive branch officials seem unsure of their status, vacancies are numerous, and inexperienced “acting” personnel are common.

Currently this approach is particularly visible in the area of national security. Almost all the positions created after Sept. 11, 2001, intended to help prevent another 9/11, are now vacant or lack permanent appointees, points out Garrett Graff of Wired. That includes the director of national intelligence, the secretary of homeland security, the deputy secretary of homeland security, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, and heads of border security agencies.

It’s true that presidents deserve their own team, says Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. Political purges of the bureaucracy aren’t uncommon.

But some of President Trump’s methods weaken his ability to get the executive branch to work his will, says Dr. Glassman, an expert on government leadership and personnel. Vacant jobs can’t steer anybody. “Acting” officials are weaker than Senate-confirmed appointees.

“Acting officials are like substitute teachers. They might listen to the principal more, but they can’t control the students,” according to Dr. Glassman.

The shuffle at the top of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has brought administration staffing back into the spotlight. Earlier this month, President Trump removed one acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with another deemed more loyal, Richard Grenell.

The swap followed reports that an intelligence official had briefed the House Intelligence Committee on an assessment that Russia is working to influence the 2020 election, and in particular wants President Trump to be reelected. (Later reports said that Russia backs Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination as well.)

Current acting Director of National Intelligence Grenell is serving concurrently as ambassador to Germany. Such dual hatting is not uncommon in the Trump administration. Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Cuccinelli, after his appointment to the job last November, continued to serve as acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Meanwhile, Johnny McEntee, a former personal aide to President Trump who was fired by former chief of staff John Kelly over security clearance issues, has returned to the White House as head of the Presidential Personnel Office. Mr. McEntee’s assignment is to rid the administration of officials deemed disloyal and replace them with pro-Trump people, according to an Axios report.

Overall, the turnover for the “A” team of Cabinet officials and other top appointees in the first three years of the Trump administration has been 82%, according to data compiled by the Brookings Institution’s Kathryn Dunn Tenpas. That is higher than the turnover experienced in the first four years of any presidency, back to and including that of Ronald Reagan.

Furthermore, that number reflects just departures from the president’s original team. Many jobs – chief of staff, press secretary – have seen multiple departures. According to Brookings data, 38% of President Trump’s “A” team departures have undergone serial turnover.

The administration’s filling of top positions has improved since the president’s first year in office, when many remained vacant for months. A cumulative list compiled by The Washington Post says that of 743 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, 508 are now filled by confirmed personnel. One hundred seventy have no nominee.

In the American system of government as outlined under the Constitution, executive branch officials, including, and perhaps especially, Senate-confirmed top appointees, don’t report to the president alone, according to experts.

“The basic idea is when you’re an appointed official in the federal government, particularly a Senate-confirmed one, you have multiple relationships,” says Dr. Glassman of Georgetown University.

Above this layer of officials sits Congress. With their appropriations and oversight powers, and confirmation votes, lawmakers have a significant role to play in executive department activities. Effective Cabinet secretaries either know this from experience or learn it very quickly.

Below the officials sits the bureaucracy. Career workers know their subject better than any appointee can learn in a limited time in office. They know they can outlast and perhaps outmaneuver their big bosses.

Presidents can rail at the “deep state” all they want, but the fact is they cannot directly control the executive branch as they would a family business that runs hotels and golf courses – or even as they would a big corporation. The essential point of the classic work on presidential power by the late political scientist Richard Neustadt is that presidents can rarely get things done on a sustained basis by command or unilateral action. They must persuade others to do what they want.

“The most effective presidents ... are those who understand the sources of their bargaining power, and take steps to nurture those sources,” writes Matthew Dickinson, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, in a recent post on his blog Presidential Power.

This is why “acting” officials are seldom as powerful as permanent ones. They are weak links in the chain of persuasion.

President Trump has said he likes to use “acting” tags because it keeps the people in question on their toes and eager to please him. But their other important relationships are flawed. They don’t have the implicit backing of Congress provided by confirmation. The rank and file know they could be gone at any moment, and that delay is thus even a blockade tool. This is why Dr. Glassman calls them “substitute teachers.”

Overuse of these temps is a sign of weakness, he says. “If you’re really so powerful, how come you can’t get your own guy confirmed?”

For the Trump administration, the new coronavirus, now labeled COVID-19, could become an unexpected stress test of the president’s churning approach to executive management.

Early Tuesday morning President Trump tweeted, “The coronavirus is very much under control in the U.S.A.” But later in the day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans should begin preparing now for possible outbreaks.

At a Senate hearing, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed skepticism that the administration is ready for such a crisis. Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana pressed acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf for an estimate of the number of people who might be affected.

Acting Secretary Wolf could not provide one.

“I think you ought to know that answer,” Senator Kennedy said.

‘Should you exist?’ Billionaires face rising criticism alongside rising power.

The Democratic backlash against billionaires reflects a populist unease with rising financial inequality in American society. But our reporter also finds that philanthropy by the wealthy complicates the issue. 

David

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Do billionaires have a place in modern America?

At the turn of the 20th century, an ultra-wealthy financier helped bail the United States out of financial crisis. Now, more than 100 years later, Jeff Bezos, the second-wealthiest man in the world, has pledged an astronomical sum – $10 billion – toward addressing a climate crisis in the absence of federal leadership. But at the same time, a billionaire backlash is surging in response to both President Donald Trump (the first billionaire occupant of the White House) and current presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.

Even as the sheer number of billionaires has surged in recent years, so has their ability to translate money into influence. Defenders of capitalism warn that a tax-the-rich policy agenda could end up harming the overall economy.

But billionaires’ outsize influence doesn’t sit well with people like Alexandra Acker-Lyons, a political adviser in California and Colorado. “The issue of income inequality and of equity generally has risen” as a priority, she says. “People are just seeing it in their daily lives.”

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2. ‘Should you exist?’ Billionaires face rising criticism alongside rising power.

The United States was at the precipice of a financial crisis – and the wealthy and well-connected worked out a plan to avert disaster.

That was the narrative in 1907, as John Pierpont Morgan brought fellow financiers into a room and coaxed them to prop up a tottering banking system. Their action eased a potentially devastating financial panic. But it also troubled many Americans by revealing how, even within an already mighty nation, a relative few wielded extraordinary power. 

Today, those concerns still resonate. They punctuated the 2016 presidential race when candidate Donald Trump poured $66 million into his campaign and went on to become the first billionaire president in the United States. Last week they became especially pointed in a Democratic presidential debate, as a billionaire candidate on stage confronted another candidate’s assertion that “billionaires should not exist.” 

“We’re in this populist moment, and the populist sentiments are playing out in different ways,” says David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy. Where President Trump has tapped into anger at the media and coastal elites – even while being a person of big wealth himself – on the left “Bernie Sanders is really tapping into anger at the billionaires and wealth inequality, also taking on his party establishment.”

At the same time, another American billionaire is throwing his wealth behind one of the pressing problems of the day. Jeff Bezos, the world’s second-richest person pledged an astronomical sum – $10 billion – toward addressing a climate crisis in the absence of federal leadership.

No one thinks the money of Amazon founder Mr. Bezos or even other billionaires could by itself become a viable solution to climate change. But, as 100 years ago, the financial and political power of the very rich today is stunning. And, although the public mood isn’t one of complete hostility toward wealth and big-money philanthropy, there are signs of heightened questioning of that power. 

All this is very different from the mood that prevailed when, in 2005, Time magazine named Bill and Melinda Gates “Persons of the Year” along with rock star Bono for their varied efforts in global philanthropy. It’s not that the mega-rich faced no scrutiny then or that actions to rein in their wealth and power are inevitable now. But the throes of a modern-day financial crisis, an era of financial struggle for average Americans, and an ongoing rise in big wealth have all contributed to a shift.

“The billionaire backlash is part of this larger populist moment that we’ve been living in since the tea party and Occupy Wall Street in 2010 and 2011,” Mr. Callahan says.

Turning money into influence

Even as the sheer number of billionaires has surged in recent years, so has their ability to translate money into influence. For instance, U.S. Supreme Court rulings like the 2010 Citizens United case have removed constraints on political giving.

Whether wielded through political spending, philanthropy, or their business decisions, the influence of the rich often occurs with little direct accountability to the voting public. 

“This is a huge issue,” says Alexandra Acker-Lyons, who advises individual campaign donors in California and her home state of Colorado.

One example of the potential for disconnects: Polls show broad public support for higher taxes on the rich, even among Republicans. Yet the 2017 tax cuts reduced taxes on the wealthy, even as President Trump said the measure would be “bad” for his own personal finances. (He has not disclosed his personal taxes to the public.)

“The issue of income inequality and of equity generally has risen” as a priority, says Ms. Acker-Lyons, as members of her party increasingly see interconnections with other big issues the nation faces, such as climate change. “People are just seeing it in their daily lives.”

In her own life, it means she is supporting Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate, even though the senator from Massachusetts is seeking campaign finance reforms that, symbolically at least, seek to put Ms. Acker-Lyons out of her current job.

It’s not so much that campaign donations necessarily buy direct political results, Ms. Acker-Lyons says. But in her view, Senator Warren understands the unfairness that exists when “money gets you in the room to make your case.”

The left’s currents of outrage were on display on the debate stage in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Feb. 19. Instead of being welcomed as a big donor to the causes of gun control and combating climate change, billionaire Michael Bloomberg faced relentless criticism in his first appearance alongside the other Democratic candidates in a televised debate. 

“We have a grotesque and immoral distribution of wealth and income,” Senator Sanders said at one point. “Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That’s wrong. That’s immoral.”

Wealth and inequality are nothing new, of course. And the influence of money in society has antecedents dating back to the linkage of voting rights to property ownership in the nation’s early years. 

But inequality has widened as corporate fortunes have skyrocketed. When Forbes magazine introduced its “richest 400” list in 1982, the top-ranked American was shipping executive Daniel Keith Ludwig, with wealth equal to less than $6 billion in today’s dollars. Today Mr. Bezos and Bill Gates each surpass $100 billion. 

Despite the excesses and imperfections, some social scientists warn against a frontal assault on big wealth. They say it could easily backfire, since economic innovation and job creation are tied to inventor and investor ability to profit. 

“Jeff Bezos is fabulously wealthy, but he has captured only a small, small share of the total value that he’s created for society. So that doesn’t strike me as unjust at all,” Michael Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said in a recent podcast. 

In the debate, as a moderator paraphrased Mr. Sanders to ask, “should you exist?,” Mr. Bloomberg replied that he “worked very hard” for his fortune. “And I’m giving it away.”

Even within the Democratic Party, the concern about inequality is balanced for many by an enduring allegiance to free enterprise – and a fear that the “socialist” part of Sanders’ self-described democratic socialist agenda might hurt Democrats politically or even damage America’s economy. 

Rise of the billionaire philanthropist

Similarly, experts see tension over the role of billionaires in philanthropy. Often they can pioneer new ideas that are then passed along for further adoption, by governments or other institutions.

Yet often billionaires appear to give their money away only when facing public pressure. Mr. Bezos’ company, Amazon, has been criticized for not doing enough on climate change, for example. 

There’s also the risk that philanthropists’ actions are taken as a justification for government inaction. 

Aaron Horvath, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University who studies philanthropy, has co-authored research finding a shift in recent years toward “disruptive philanthropy” that, while it may have an entrepreneurial-style energy, is distanced from public accountability.

Mr. Horvath supports the idea of higher taxes on the very rich, encouraging more dialogue with citizens in their philanthropic efforts, and expanding “the ability for citizens to have a voice ... and to reform government so it works for their interest.” 

Back in the wake of that 1907 crisis, the fallout led to the creation of the Federal Reserve system to safeguard the economy. Other Progressive Era reforms curtailed the power of Gilded Age business leaders. 

Today, too, it’s possible that populist dissent could result in new policies that curb the wealth and influence of billionaires. At the same time, with billionaires now in the White House or seeking it, it’s far too soon to know if any “billionaire backlash” will become more than outcries.

“The wealthy have too much power. We need to find ways to reduce that influence,” says Mr. Callahan of Inside Philanthropy. But whether in politics or the related realm of nonprofits, “that’s easier said than done.”

How Donald Trump is driving some Israeli Arabs to vote

What is self-determination? At the community or national level, certainly in the Middle East context, it is often taken to mean political independence. But on an individual level, our reporter finds, it can also mean voting in elections.

David
Dina Kraft
A street in the Israeli Arab village of Kafr Kara, in "The Triangle," Feb. 19, 2020.

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Maysaloon Abu Ahmad doesn’t plan to vote in Israel’s parliamentary elections March 2. “As long as the Knesset does not serve our interests, I will not vote,” she says. She’s not alone. Many Arab Israelis still don’t vote, often out of frustration.

But in recent elections, the community has asserted itself, making the Joint List, an Arab coalition, the third-largest party in parliament. And Ms. Abu Ahmad herself illustrates another trend: the community’s increasing identification and integration as Israeli. She directs a gap year program in the “Triangle,” an area home to some 300,000 Arab citizens of Israel, that brings high school graduates more deeply into Israeli society.

A proposal in President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan to include the "Triangle" in a possible land swap with a future Palestinian state sparked rage and fear among Arab Israelis. For many, that made the upcoming vote an important chance to push for their place as equals.

“In my opinion everyone needs to vote, because we are all in a situation we don’t want to be in. It feels very bleak," says Monira Falahen, a nurse from the village of Kafr Kara. “I also want ... to make things better, so there will be true equality between Jews and Arabs.”

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3. How Donald Trump is driving some Israeli Arabs to vote

The people of Kafr Kara, an Arab village of about 18,000, are proud of their highly educated populace and quick to share a favorite statistic: They are home to the highest number of doctors per capita in Israel.

That pride in their communal contribution to society is part of why for many, voting in Israel’s March 2 parliamentary elections is about voting against the negative messaging about them as Arab citizens, and for their place in Israel as equals.

Escaping the rain outside, Monira Falahen, a 29-year-old nurse, has dashed into a neighbor’s shop to buy dried apricots and almonds for her family. And she wonders aloud if this time the elections will bring a new era – one that repudiates the racism and delegitimization against Arab citizens fomented by the political right.

“In my opinion everyone needs to vote, because we are all in a situation we don’t want to be in. It feels very bleak. I hope the election will push Netanyahu out,” says Ms. Falahen, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly suggested the Arab minority poses a threat to Israeli Jews. “But I also want to change the way things are – to make things better, so there will be true equality between Jews and Arabs.”

Kafr Kara is one of a cluster of villages and towns in an area known as “The Triangle,” home to some 300,000 Arab citizens of Israel. In President Donald Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the area was slotted as part of a possible land-swap, to be included in a future Palestinian state.

The proposal has since been disavowed by mainstream politicians, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, but the notion sparked rage and fear. Residents view the idea as an affront to their sense of themselves as citizens of Israel who are proud of their Palestinian heritage. Despite being labeled by some as a fifth column, they see their lives and futures in the state of Israel, where they are increasingly economically and socially integrated.

On Highway 65, the main road that cuts through the verdant valley containing Kafr Kara and other villages, stands a billboard. It features Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi, the leaders of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab parties that joined forces and in the most recent election ranked as the third-largest party in Israel. Flanking them are President Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, but with lines crossing out their faces. In Arabic is written the message: “Your vote determines who represents you.”

Khaled Msarwe, 62, a retired construction worker, says he will be voting for the Joint List. “We feel like we are not wanted here,” he says as he packs up his groceries. This is why, he says, it’s essential to amplify the Joint List’s impact with as many votes as possible. “We need to give our sector a voice in the Knesset,” he says.

Outside support

The March vote is an unprecedented third round in a year. The previous two ended in a stalemate between Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing and religious bloc and a cluster of center-left parties.

Benny Gantz, a retired general and former military chief of staff who is leading the centrist Blue and White party and is desperate to woo potential swing voters from the right, has ruled out including the Joint List in a future government, alienating some Arab voters.

No Arab party has ever been part of an Israeli coalition, but there is precedent for their providing tacit support from outside. Mr. Gantz’s rejection appears a gambit to fight the central message from the right – that he can only win a majority with the help of the Joint List.

“Ahmed Tibi or Bibi, why does he have to say that?” bemoans Karem Zahalka of Mr. Netanyahu, referring to sloganeering on the right reducing the election to a simple choice: “Bibi or Tibi.” Bibi is Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname, and Tibi refers to Ahmed Tibi, whom the right paints as more loyal to the Palestinian cause than to Israel.

Mr. Zahalka, 53, who helps run his friend’s coffee, dry goods, and candy shop, then rattles off a list of Israel’s past prime ministers. “No one else has ever done this. But he [Netanyahu] keeps trying to divide people in Israel, and I can’t stand that. A prime minister is supposed to look out for all of their citizens.

“I want my vote to go to getting rid of Netanyahu,” he continues, explaining his vote for Mr. Gantz’s party. “Ultimately Blue and White and the Joint List will find a way to work together, from inside or outside the government. What we are hearing now is just political noise.”

A vote for integration

Sami Smooha, a Haifa University sociology professor and researcher, foresees the potential for especially high voter turnout this election among Arab citizens of Israel.

“They see that this time their vote really matters, that they might have power, and this power could yield some results,” he says. “They are not going to be part of the coalition, but they will see some level of involvement.”

He cautions that, according to his surveys, between a quarter to a third of Arab Israelis don’t vote. Not out of indifference, he says, but out of frustration with a system that they view as discriminatory and dismissive of them.

Dina Kraft
Rani Haykil, a resident of Kafr Kara, says he is boycotting Israel's upcoming election, since he does not see that voting helps Arab citizens improve their status in Israel, Feb. 19, 2020.

Yet this is happening against the backdrop of another trend: the process of ongoing identification as Israelis and integration into a country founded as a homeland for Jews on land they also claim as theirs.

“They view themselves as part of Israel. They are bicultural, bilingual, they know the Israeli system,” says Professor Smooha.

Joint List officials say they may gain an additional seat on the strength of left-wing Jewish voters who, they say, can find in them a new political home as the Jewish left shrinks.

“The Jews are flocking to the Joint List, and the hope for change begins with a Jewish-Arab partnership,” Mr. Odeh told Walla! News, an Israeli news site. “Together we will create a citizens’ majority that will provide a crushing response to incitement.”

The party has been savvy in its marketing to Jewish Israelis. In one ad, soundbites of presumably Jewish Israelis making racist remarks are played over the images of various Arab citizens listening to them in silence. And it has put up billboards in neighborhoods of two other disaffected Israeli minorities – Ethiopian Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Not voting

But some Israeli Arabs say they are not voting, citing both frustration and resentment.

Among them is Maysaloon Abu Ahmad, 27, from Nazareth.

“It only lends legitimacy for Israel to be able to say it is a democracy, but really, the Arab Knesset members don’t have a real voice or influence,” she says. “As long as the Knesset does not serve our interests, I will not vote.”

At the same time, she is very much part of the integration trend. She directs a local gap-year program in Kafr Kara for high school graduates from Arab towns and villages that brings them more deeply into broader Israeli society ahead of college.

Rani Haykil, 32, who works with Kafr Kara’s children, running informal education programs, echoes Ms. Abu Ahmad’s frustrations and says he does not vote, either.

“The balance of powers doesn’t shift at all, even if Arabs vote. We see the hatred and racism of the parties saying there is no way they would work with Arabs. It’s incredibly frustrating,” he says.

“We are people who studied, and learned, and want to integrate and represent the state, and we do so much in high-tech, medicine, and engineering. We lead and we take part, but when it comes to politics, they push us backwards.

“All because you are born to an Arab mother, you are not seen as equal.”

Land mines are back. Why the U.S. wants them in its arsenal again.

Attention to land mines (see Princess Diana and the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize) helped drastically reduce their use, and civilian deaths. The Trump administration wants to bring back land mines, touting effectiveness and high-tech safeguards.

David

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With an estimated failure rate of 6 in 1 million, “smart” land mines are supposed to deactivate after a period of time. It’s a safety feature that the U.S. Defense Department highlights as one reason land mines should be back on the table.

In late January, the Trump administration rescinded a U.S. prohibition against anti-personnel mines, citing their power as a deterrent.  In addition, the Pentagon can now “turn to our industries to start developing land mines that are even more reliable,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Victorino Mercado.

Human rights groups and some former military officers are among those who are not as convinced that land mines are necessary to bolster American defense. As recently as 2016, an average of 23 people were killed or injured every day by land mines, with 78% of victims being civilians.

For now, the 1997 land mine treaty that prohibits use and development is “surviving and thriving,” says Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch. “164 countries are signatories, and there have been more every year since the treaty was created. They’re not going to tolerate any land mine use, and we’re not going to stop the monitoring that we do.”

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4. Land mines are back. Why the U.S. wants them in its arsenal again.

After being banned from planting land mines since 2014, the United States military can now use them once again, and Victorino Mercado admits it’s “a very emotional subject” – including within the halls of the Pentagon.      

That said, “we’re not talking about what you see on TV,” added Mr. Mercado, the acting assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans, and capabilities, during a Pentagon briefing last month. The prohibitions against the old tripwire and pressure-plate land mines that have “really wreaked havoc” remain in place, and any newly deployed land mines must have safeguards to protect civilians. “If we weren't comfortable ... that we can mitigate the risk to our forces and ensure that we minimize civilian casualties, then we wouldn't probably put this policy in place.”

It’s that “probably” that has prompted unease among some former U.S. military generals and an outcry from human rights groups. Their concerns hinge in part on just how effective the “safety valves” for modern land mines are. Even granting technological advances, opponents argue that they don’t justify bringing back weapons of war that nonetheless remain indiscriminate. 

As recently as 2016, an average of 23 people were killed or injured every day by land mines, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which notes that the vast majority of victims – 78% – are civilians.

The Obama administration decided that while it wouldn’t sign the 1997 international treaty banning anti-personnel land mines – known as the Ottawa Convention – it would abide by its requirements, except on the Korean Peninsula. Commanders there lobbied to retain the capability to counter the threat of hundreds of thousands of North Korean troops and armored trucks ready to pour over the border.  

The White House statement rescinding the ban authorizes four-star military commanders “in exceptional circumstances” – and with the express approval of the secretary of defense, according to Mr. Mercado – “to employ advanced, non-persistent landmines specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians.”

Modern land mine designs include a deactivation mechanism, which is supposed to kick in after a period of time, between, say, 12 hours and 60 days. The minefields are also “smart,” in that they can “talk to each other and be command-activated, and link into other sensors so that they know when enemy formations are coming,” says retired Col. Mark Cancian, senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who previously worked on land mine issues at the Pentagon. 

Better, but still risky

But reducing the threat does not mean eliminating it, notes a U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines statement released last week by 63 nongovernmental organizations that came together to condemn the policy. “If the self-destruct or self-deactivation mechanisms were to fail, they would remain lethal, and the potential exists for the components to be repurposed into improvised explosive devices,” it says. “While there are still too many casualties annually, we have seen a dramatic decline since the Treaty came into being. To roll back the progress the global community has made would not only be a tragedy but an affront to the dignity of landmine survivors.”

Mr. Cancian argues that cameras and infrared heat signature sensors can help to bring real-time surveillance of minefields. And more generally, he places a high degree of trust in the technology. “I have a great deal of confidence that they’ll do what they say they will,” he says. Pentagon officials say the odds that the mines will fail to self-deactivate as they’ve been programmed to do is 6 in 1 million.

“That’s pretty good. Can we make it better? We can make it better.” said Mr. Mercado, who added that besides the land mines that it already has stockpiled – most of which will expire in 2030 – the Pentagon can now “turn to our industries to start developing land mines that are even more reliable.”

This acknowledgment of room for improvement, however, points to the underlying threat that even the most recent land mine technology poses to civilians, says Mary Wareham, advocacy director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch. “I’ve heard land mines called everything from ‘safe’ to ‘pure’ to ‘area denial systems.’ There’s definitely been efforts by the defense sector to make more precise and accurate weapons. We’ve seen that with the more sophisticated cluster weapons that do not leave many unexploded remnants – but they still leave some.” 

Even when the U.S. military “is out there laying down so-called ‘nonpersistent smart mines’ that will time out after 30 days, there’s still a field of mines out there,” adds Stephen Pomper, senior director for policy at the International Crisis Group. “Are U.S. troops going to be comfortable walking through there? Are people going to send their children to play in them?”

Tactic with tight controls

The Trump administration argues that the greater risk is to U.S. national security. “[R]estrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama Administration’s policy could place [U.S. forces] at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries,” according to the White House statement. “The President is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops.” 

Analysts point out, however, that U.S. military leaders outside the Korean Peninsula haven’t been clamoring for land mines. Rather than in their underuse, the danger lies in their overuse, retired Gen. Carter Ham, former head of U.S. Africa Command, tells the Monitor. “I think what we need to do is be very, very careful in the application of land mines. It’s kind of like nuclear weapons – we should never take anything off the table, but we should make sure we have very tight controls.”

The current argument for land mines lies chiefly in their deterrent value – sowing uncertainty is a useful war tactic. They “cause the adversary to have to pause and say, ‘Do I need to clear this field or not?’” Mr. Mercado said. This is particularly true, some analysts argue, against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy, which cites U.S. jockeying with “great powers” like China and Russia – neither of whom are Ottawa Convention signatories – as a bigger threat than terrorism.

In the event that Moscow decides to invade a neighbor, for example, “a [land mine] capability like this would be very helpful to slow Russians until we bring in NATO,” Mr. Cancian says. Yet in an era of drones, cyberwarfare, and hypersonic weapons, “I guess I’m a little bit skeptical that if, God forbid, the U.S. were to end up in a ground war with Russia,” Mr. Pomper adds, “that the outcome would be determined by the availability of anti-personnel land mines.” 

The idea that “they are a vital tool of warfare – it’s a joke,” argues Ms. Wareham. At the same time, the fact that NATO members, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, are signatories to the Ottawa Convention “creates a huge logistical – interoperability – nightmare,” since these countries do not allow land mines to be stockpiled or transited over their borders, she notes. “Is it worth the trouble? I doubt it.”

For now, the land mine treaty is “surviving and thriving – 164 countries are signatories, and there have been more every year since the treaty was created,” Ms. Wareham adds. “They’re not going to tolerate any land mine use, and we’re not going to stop the monitoring that we do.”

Next up for the world’s museums: Social responsibility

Museums tend to be trusted institutions, and some say they should become centers of community activism, helping solve problems. Our reporter visited the Bahamas for a glimpse of what that might look like.

David
Jackson Petit/Courtesy of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas
The painting “Everybody and Dey Grammy #hurricanedorian” (2019) by Christina Wong is part of the “Refuge” exhibition on display at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas through March 2020. The exhibit traces Bahamian experience before and after last fall’s Hurricane Dorian.

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Housed in a pretty yellow mansion on a hill above downtown Nassau, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas was not physically struck by Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, last fall.

But its response turned the institution into a de facto distribution center, with boxes of toiletries and bags brimming with toys stacked in galleries. Museum officials suspended the temporary exhibition they were preparing and instead asked Bahamian artists to create work that contemplated the storm. It was part of an effort to explore “what it means to be a socially responsible institution in the age of climate crisis,” the call for art read. The outcome is “Refuge,” a haunting exhibit on display through March that traces Bahamian experience before and after the storm. 

Besides helping the nation heal, the museum’s outreach reflects a changing mindset about the role of museums in sustainability efforts.

“There’s no other institution like them,” says Robert Janes, founder of the Canadian Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. “They’re grounded in their communities. And they are at the top of social institutions in terms of how much they’re trusted.” And, he adds, “the lightbulb is going on for a variety of institutions.” 

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5. Next up for the world’s museums: Social responsibility

In the days after Hurricane Dorian last fall, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) in Nassau immediately suspended the temporary exhibition it was preparing and instead asked Bahamian artists to create work that contemplated the storm.

It was part of the museum’s effort to explore “what it means to be a socially responsible institution in the age of climate crisis,” the call for art read. The outcome is “Refuge,” a haunting exhibit on display through March that traces Bahamian experience before and after the storm.

Besides helping the nation heal, the NAGB’s outreach also reflects a changing mindset about the role of museums in sustainability efforts – and issues of the day. Numbering 55,000 globally, according to the International Council of Museums, these trusted institutions have reached a point in their evolution where such participation is both needed and possible, experts say.

“There’s no other institution like them,” says Robert Janes, founder of the Canadian Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice. “They’re grounded in their communities. And they are at the top of social institutions in terms of how much they’re trusted. Governments aren’t. Corporations aren’t. The media aren’t. But museums still are.” And, he adds, “the lightbulb is going on for a variety of institutions.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas sits on a hill in the capital city of Nassau. It was not hit by Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, but staff has helped with relief efforts.

Over the years many museums evolved, says Dr. Janes, from “warehouses of imperial loot” into educational institutions, but ones that occupied a neutral stance. In the past 20 years, a third wave began, he says, where museums have become “malls” and success is measured in visitors and sales from gift stores and restaurants. He argues it’s time for the next phase: social responsibility, community well-being, and even outright activism. 

The Bahamas offers an example. Among the works included in “Refuge” is “Everybody and Dey Grammy #hurricanedorian,” a painting by Bahamian artist Christina Wong. It captures the waiting – and overwhelming social media – people dealt with. 

“This was a new thing,” says NAGB executive director Amanda Coulson of the Category 5 storm. “And we have to really rethink all of our actions.”

The Commonwealth Association of Museums, a Canada-based international nongovernmental organization, focuses on encouraging museums in Commonwealth countries, like the Bahamas, to use resources to address the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. That includes everything from indigenous and women’s rights to migration, according to Catherine Cole, secretary-general of CAM. 

In some cases, NGOs and activists are creating learning spaces to mobilize the public. Heifer International, which aims to end global hunger and poverty, created Heifer Village in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2009. There, the public can experience realities in developing countries. We “realized to end hunger and poverty internationally and in our own backyard we must educate the masses about the issues,” says Jessica Ford, who spoke as director of marketing and engagement before leaving the group recently. 

Climate change has been a natural subject for museums to tackle as the sense of urgency about global warming has moved from fringe to mainstream. Some of that work includes institutions reviewing their own often heavy carbon footprints, from printed catalogs to traveling exhibits to climate control. A study by Joyce Lee, president of IndigoJLD, concluded that many museums consume as much energy as hospitals.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Women pack donated food for those affected by Hurricane Dorian at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. Besides being a de facto distribution center, the museum has also sent art supplies to schools and established art therapy programs. To date, it has served at least 3,500 survivors and their families.

Today there are museums dedicated exclusively to the subject, like the Climate Museum in New York City, which launched in 2015. Its aim is to “inspire action on the climate crisis with programming across the arts and sciences that deepens understanding, builds connections, and advances just solutions,” the mission statement on its website reads.

Not all institutions have the luxury of contemplation. Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands on Sept. 1 and then Grand Bahama, decimating entire communities and forcing the evacuation of thousands of survivors. No place was more affected by the influx of people than the dense capital, where resources – and in some cases patience – were strained. The NAGB staff, like all Bahamians, is used to hurricanes – but not of this magnitude. Housed in a pretty yellow mansion on a hill above downtown Nassau, the museum was not physically struck. But part of its immediate relief response turned the institution into a de facto distribution center, with boxes of toiletries and bags brimming with toys stacked in galleries. The museum also sent art supplies to schools whose enrollments swelled with evacuee children, and established art therapy programs.

To date, it has served at least 3,500 survivors and their families. But staff members see a role for the institution long after recovery – and they grasp an opportunity to engage the public in new ways.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Amanda Coulson, executive director of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, says Hurricane Dorian prompted a rethinking of the institution's role. When reaching out to artists for the "Refuge" exhibit, the NAGB said it was exploring “what it means to be a socially responsible institution in the age of climate crisis.”

“We’re really not doing anything different than we’ve ever done, because the whole point of art is to help people express themselves, to see the world in a different way,” Ms. Coulson says. “It’s just that the hurricane has highlighted why it’s necessary. Because I think maybe six months ago, people were like, does art really help anyone? I think now people are actually beginning to realize, yes, it does.”

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Germany’s response to a racist rampage

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On Feb. 23, close to 10,000 people marched in the German town of Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt. They carried signs with messages like “Love for all, hate for no one.” The march, while large, was just one way that Germany has reacted to a mass shooting in Hanau four days earlier, when a lone gunman killed nine people of foreign background in the city’s bars.

The killer’s anti-immigrant rampage has shocked a nation that set a model in the late 20th century in how to deal with a racist past. Yet it also may be reviving a spirit of national reflection over how Germany defines its identity and values.

The most compelling reactions have been local attempts, like the mass march in Hanau, to embrace Germany’s large immigrant community. Many Germans realize such killings are not done in isolation and have many causes. This leads them to work together to heal the country’s racist rifts. Those who want to divide German society will not succeed, said Hanau Mayor Claus Kaminsky at the march, “because we are more and we will prevent that.”

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Germany’s response to a racist rampage

On Feb. 23, close to 10,000 people marched in the German town of Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt. They carried signs with messages like “Love for all, hate for no one.” The march, while large, was just one way that Germany has reacted to a mass shooting in Hanau four days earlier, when a lone gunman killed nine people of foreign background in the city’s bars.

The killer’s anti-immigrant rampage has shocked a nation that set a model in the late 20th century in how to deal with a racist past. Yet it also may be reviving a spirit of national reflection over how Germany defines its identity and values. Citizens should “show what Germany actually stands for ... what our democracy and our freedom are here,” one German student of Afghan origin told a reporter for Deutsche Welle.

The killings were widely viewed as a dangerous escalation of violent right-wing extremism. Last year a gunman tried to attack a synagogue while another killed a politician who supported immigration. In addition, the rise of an anti-immigrant party, the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has roiled politics and weakened the country’s traditional parties.

The Hanau shootings have pushed top leaders into action. Security for mosques is being beefed up. Some politicians are calling for tighter gun control. Others seek to toughen rules covering online hate speech. “If we don’t learn lessons, it’ll happen again and again,” said Green politician Cem Özdemir.

After the killings, Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the “poison” of racist hatred in Germany, a statement perhaps aimed at trying to distance her center-right Christian Democrats from any political dealings with AfD.

Yet the most compelling reactions have been local attempts, like the mass march in Hanau, to embrace Germany’s large immigrant community. At one funeral for a victim of the shooting, for example, a clergyman told the crowd, “If we hate from the start, we cannot love.”

Many Germans realize such killings are not done in isolation and have many causes. This leads them to work together to heal the country’s racist rifts. Those who want to divide German society will not succeed, said Hanau Mayor Claus Kaminsky at the march, “because we are more and we will prevent that.” The “love for all” signs in the crowd are a good start.

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.

Stopping contagious fear and disease

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Each of us has a God-given ability to know and feel our true nature as the pure, peaceful, and whole children of God.

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1. Stopping contagious fear and disease

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Each morning I wake up and check the weather app on my phone to see what kind of day it’s going to be outside. Weather forecasts are based on the best of meteorological science. Nonetheless, as most of us have likely experienced, they’re not always accurate!

This recently got me thinking about a forecast of a different type – forecasting the spread of disease. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor and the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote, “Predicting danger does not dignify life, whereas forecasting liberty and joy does; for these are strong promoters of health and happiness” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 240).

Over many years, Mrs. Eddy healed people of all kinds of illnesses, including those considered contagious and life-threatening. Her work was inspired by the Bible’s record of spiritual healing, especially the healing practice of Jesus. I like to think of Jesus as an expert in stopping the contagious effects of fear. Christian Science shows Jesus’ oft-repeated, simple words, “Be not afraid,” to be the keynote to healing.

I’ll give you an example. When I was in high school, I came down with a serious case of strep throat. My dad took me to see a doctor, who prescribed penicillin and bed rest. Two painful weeks later, I made my way back to school. The next year, when I came down with the very same illness, I took a different approach. Instead of seeking medical treatment, I called a Christian Science practitioner for help.

All I remember from the call was an overwhelming feeling of being loved by God and being utterly safe. After I hung up, I could literally feel fear melting away from my thought, and all the painful symptoms of strep throat melting away at the same time.

That was it. I was completely healed and welcomed back at school the next day.

“There is no fear in love,” one of Jesus’ earliest followers wrote, “but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18, New King James Version). This “perfect love” is God’s love, and we’re never outside it, because God is infinite, all-inclusive Love itself. Nothing unlike this limitless Love, including illness, has true power or legitimacy. Even a glimpse of this spiritual reality lifts fear and impels healing.

Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist who was a contemporary of Mrs. Eddy, said that God is “a great ocean of love, and we live and move in Him as the fishes in the sea.”

Isn’t that a great image? More than an image, it hints at the deeper reality that God, infinite Love, is the environment we truly live in. This healing Love is disease-free, and it’s right here, empowering us to know and feel our true nature as the pure and whole children of God.

Adapted from the Feb. 11, 2020, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Short stack

Alastair Grant/AP
Schoolchildren from local schools take part in the children's races prior to the annual Pancake Race in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. Every year women clad in aprons and head scarves from Olney and the city of Liberal, in Kansas, run their respective legs of the race with pancakes in their pans. According to legend, the Olney race started in 1445 when a harried housewife arrived at church on Shrove Tuesday still clutching her frying pan with a pancake in it.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about U.S. parents using ride-hailing companies to transport their kids. Is this safe? 

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