2020
March
12
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 12, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

'We Are Nashville': In tornadoes' wake, Volunteer State comes together

Today’s issue includes stories probing how coronavirus is shaping how Americans think about health care access, the power of presidential messaging in a time of crisis, the future of German politicsthe role of transparency in building trust, and 10 book recommendations for March.

Tony Gonzalez doesn’t know where they all came from, but the “roving bands of volunteers toting chainsaws” were a welcome sight last week. Tornadoes had just ripped through middle Tennessee, killing at least 24 people and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes and businesses. His East Nashville home was spared, but just a block away almost everything was destroyed. 

The tornadoes came in the predawn hours of Tuesday, March 3, and before the sun had even risen, neighbors were already helping one another. While reporting for The Tennessean, Emily West watched a neighborhood come together in the dark to free an older couple that had been trapped in their home by debris.

And it just continued from there.

“The volunteer and neighbor-to-neighbor response has been totally epic,” says Mr. Gonzalez, a reporter for Nashville Public Radio.

Starting that first day, people flocked in to help clear debris from homes and roads. Stations have been set up with supplies and food. Restaurants and food trucks – including some that sustained damage – have been giving away food. Over the weekend some 22,000 volunteers showed up to help.

 “I’ve always known that Nashville is giving and wonderful, and that we’re a place where neighbors help neighbors no matter what,” Ms. West says. “[But] I’ve never believed more in the statement that ‘We Are Nashville.’”

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Why a frayed safety net tests the U.S. coronavirus response

While partisan debate over health care has become deadlocked, the coronavirus has exposed the public health challenge in testing and treating individuals, as well as the hardship of workers who lack paid sick leave. 

Eva
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is followed by reporters as she arrives for a meeting with fellow Democrats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 10, 2020. President Donald Trump says his administration will ask Congress to pass payroll tax relief as he looks to calm financial markets' fears over the impact of the coronavirus.

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The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. has roiled businesses and workers alike. But for tens of millions of workers who don’t have sick leave, it presents an acute dilemma. Staying away from work because of illness, or simply as a precaution, means going without pay. Most rich industrialized countries require paid sick leave for workers. 

Moreover, around 30 million Americans lack health insurance. Others have high deductible insurance plans that can lead to hesitation in getting tested and seeking treatment, adding to the public health challenge of preventing a rapid and debilitating spread of the coronavirus. 

This week, major insurers said they will cover the cost of testing for the virus, as will federal health insurance programs. And some companies that rely on hourly workers are changing their time-off policies so as not to penalize employees affected by the outbreak. 

This flurry of responses, along with emergency legislation under consideration in Washington, could bring a temporary relief. Congress agreed last year to extend sick leave to federal employees. Twelve states and the District of Columbia require all employers to do the same. 

So far, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t ended the partisan divide over the overall failings of the U.S. health care system in tackling such outbreaks. Washington’s actions are more “like a natural disaster response,” says G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

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1. Why a frayed safety net tests the U.S. coronavirus response

Mohammed Salarzai is part of the vanguard in Seattle’s fight against coronavirus. A minimum-wage airport worker, he greets passengers arriving on international flights.

“The virus has not stopped us from working,” says Mr. Salarzai, even though, he says, “it’s the frontline, and we are very scared.”

But without sick leave or benefits, Mr. Salarzai worries that if he fell ill and had to stay home for more than two weeks he couldn’t pay rent. Worse, he fears he would lose his job at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

“If I miss [work] for too long, they won’t keep me there,” says the father of five from Kent, Washington.

About a third of U.S. workers in the private sector do not have paid sick leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That adds up to tens of millions of workers who face a trade-off between their health – and the nation’s virus containment efforts – and their financial security.

But the fast-spreading virus and the plight of workers such as Mr. Salarzai may be changing attitudes about access to health care. The subject is already top of mind for voters. While the big questions about America’s health care system will be debated in this year’s presidential campaign, more targeted changes, such as paid sick leave, look to be gathering more support. 

Major companies such as Walmart and McDonald’s that rely heavily on hourly workers are adjusting their time-off policies because of coronavirus concerns. Both Uber and Lyft, for whom Mr. Salarzai works part-time, have announced help for drivers affected by the virus. This week, the nation’s major health insurers said they will cover the entire cost of testing for the virus – though not treatment – as will Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. 

State and local governments have swung into action, and Washington is also getting to work on a second tranche of virus-related federal assistance – much as it would respond to a natural disaster.

“There’s been a greater awareness now about people who either don’t have health insurance or have very-high deductible health insurance and might hesitate to get tested or seek care if they get sick,” says Paul Ginsburg, director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy in Washington. The lack of sick leave also “makes it harder to control the epidemic.”

Will the outbreak – now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization – break through the partisan gridlock over the cost and availability of health care? Probably not, says Mr. Ginsburg, given fundamental differences between the parties over health care. 

But Mr. Ginsburg and others say the crisis could be a catalyst for real change in sick leave, one reason being cost. Unlike health insurance, paid time off for illness is a proportional expense for employers, depending on wages and hours worked. Paid leave generally is inching forward: Congress agreed in December to provide paid family and medical leave for federal employees. Twelve states and the District of Columbia now require employers to offer paid sick leave (though other states have specifically forbidden such mandates).

“The big issue we have is that many people are ... not full-time employees where there is paid leave, so unless you’re literally at death’s door, people don’t take time off,” says Amanda Glassman, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

Mr. Salarzai is taking precautions to stay well. He wears gloves while at work, but says face masks are often not available. “They train us to keep away from people, but when you talk with them, you need to be close,” he says, explaining how he assists travelers with scanning their passports, as well as those with disabilities.  

Companies roll out policies

Restaurants rely on part-time and hourly workers. Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Longhorn, is among those companies that have responded to the virus by announcing paid time off. Its policy covers all of its hourly workers with 1 hour of leave for every 30 hours worked.

Spokesman Rich Jeffers said the new policy was in the works for the better part of a year and was rolled out early. Feedback from managers and employees was “overwhelmingly positive,” he says.

But help can’t come fast enough for workers such as Bridgette Robertson, a part-time employee at Café on The Ave in Seattle’s University District. Usually, this is a bustling eatery, but this week its tables are mostly empty, as they are at other local restaurants.

“It’s a lot slower than usual,” says Ms. Robertson, a part-time employee, in between wiping down tables with Lysol and washing her hands. “If we don’t get hours and tips, it’s bad for us,” says Ms. Robertson, who has no sick leave.

Small businesses in Seattle, which employ more than 200,000 people – many without sick leave – are being hit hard by virus-related disruptions. The area is one of several concentrations of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Revenues for restaurants in Seattle’s Chinatown International District are down between 20% and 50%, and some hotels that normally have 70% occupancy now are down to less than one-third, says Bobby Lee, director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. 

Emergency federal aid

That’s why lawmakers and the White House are gearing up to help.

Last week, Congress passed and the president signed $8.3 billion aid package to pay for vaccines and treatment and to help state and local health officials fight the virus. Now they are working on an economic stimulus that includes a stronger safety net for individuals who may be affected by the virus – though whether Republicans and Democrats can quickly agree on a package remains to be seen.

On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump announced a 30-day ban on most travel from Europe beginning on Friday. 

Asked Thursday about the Europe travel restrictions, Mr. Salarzai says his schedule is set for the next two weeks but he expects very limited hours after that period. “It will definitely effect everyone,” he wrote in a text message. “I hope this crisis doesn’t last long. The airport looks dead.”

House Democrats on Thursday are expected to pass a bill that includes temporary paid sick leave, food aid, unemployment insurance, and widespread free testing for the virus. It’s not clear what will actually become law. 

Nor is it clear whether this emergency response is a sign that federal lawmakers will eventually take long-term steps that bring the U.S. up to speed with other wealthy countries that provide broad health care coverage as well as paid sick leave. 

G. William Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, thinks a second rescue package would be less a remedy for what ails America’s health care system and more “like a natural disaster” response. Indeed, he hopes that epidemics will be added to the list of urgent crises that qualify for federal emergency aid.

As with natural disasters, state and local officials are on the front lines. Late Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California announced new statewide health guidelines canceling or postponing nonessential gatherings of more than 250 people through at least the end of March. It followed an announcement by Washington state Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee that morning, legally prohibiting such gatherings under the authority of a state of emergency. 

“These changes will cause real stress – especially for families and businesses least equipped financially to deal with them,” Governor Newsom said in a statement. But the state is trying to relieve some of that stress by, for instance, encouraging workers affected by the virus to apply for paid family leave, unemployment insurance, or paid sick leave under California law.

Also on Tuesday, Governor Inslee announced an expansion of unemployment insurance for workers whose jobs are impacted by the coronavirus.

Tech giants step up

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says that while big local companies are resilient, help is critical for small businesses and their employees who lack paid leave, and she is urging federal relief for those businesses. In the meantime, she unveiled initial recovery measures including a deferral of some business taxes. 

Seattle’s tech giants Microsoft and Amazon have recommended employees work remotely if possible and pledged to continue paying normal wages to hourly workers even if their hours are cut back. 

Microsoft and Amazon, together with Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, and nonprofit foundations, have donated millions of dollars to a local support fund that will help ensure access to food and housing for needy people in the Seattle area.

But many of the steps that are being taken, both in government and in the private sector, are temporary.

The pandemic has exposed “weak links” in America’s health care system that need to be fixed, says Daniel Derksen, a health policy expert at the University of Arizona in Tucson. For the second year in a row, the number of uninsured people rose to 30 million in 2018. Health costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the country, he says. States that have not yet expanded Medicaid could do so, even temporarily, and that would improve access during the coronavirus outbreak, but it looks like the larger issue of access and affordability lie ahead to tackle.

“Once again, in this election cycle, health care is the number one issue on voters’ minds,” says Dr. Derksen. “This is a teachable moment for Americans about why it’s so important to make primary and preventive services widely available.” 

At key moments, the power of a president’s words

Allaying fear and rallying the nation is a critical task for any leader at a time of crisis. But downplaying the challenge or misstating fundamental facts can severely undercut the public’s confidence.

Eva
Tom Brenner/Reuters
President Donald Trump addresses the nation in a live television broadcast regarding coronavirus, from inside the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, March 11, 2020.

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At a time of crisis, one of the most effective things a president can do is speak to the nation directly, in an effort to keep the public informed and allay fears. 

But not all presidential addresses hit their mark.

When President Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office Wednesday night about coronavirus, he appeared ill at ease, misstating numerous aspects of his government’s own plan, and even sprinkling in campaign rhetoric. 

The speech was “not reassuring,” says Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. “It will not go down in history as one of the great moments of calm, where the president has used his or her great skills at reassurance to get people to relax, and say, ‘This is going to be OK.’”

Perhaps Mr. Trump’s biggest challenge right now is a trust deficit, given his own well-established history of misstatements. All presidents dissemble or lie at times, but Mr. Trump’s verbal habits are unprecedented for an American president – though perceived in sharply different ways, depending on voters’ party affiliation.

Since the start of the coronavirus situation, Mr. Trump has blamed “fake news” and the “Democrat Party” for trying to sow panic and hurt him politically. 

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2. At key moments, the power of a president’s words

At a time of crisis, one of the most effective things a president can do is speak to the nation directly, in an effort to keep the public informed and allay fears. 

But not all presidential addresses hit their mark.

When President Donald Trump spoke from the Oval Office Wednesday night about the coronavirus pandemic, he appeared ill at ease, misstating numerous aspects of his government’s own plan, and even sprinkling in campaign rhetoric. 

Thursday morning, investors spoke. Within minutes of the markets’ opening, the S&P 500 plummeted 7%, triggering the “circuit breaker” and halting trading. 

The president’s instinct to try to project calm was no doubt correct – and part of a long-standing American tradition of presidential efforts to rally the nation at times of crisis, from Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats to Bill Clinton’s speech after the Oklahoma City bombing to George W. Bush’s bullhorn moment in New York City after 9/11. 

But as a norm-busting leader who is often short on the nuts and bolts of governance, Mr. Trump has so far struggled to meet this moment.

The speech was “not reassuring,” says Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. “It will not go down in history as one of the great moments of calm, where the president has used his or her great skills at reassurance to get people to relax, and say, ‘This is going to be OK.’”

Public health experts say the speech failed to level with Americans about just how much their day-to-day lives may be about to change – or how important their own actions will be in helping to address the challenge, with specific social-distancing measures, for example. 

Most glaring were the three factual errors: Mr. Trump asserted, incorrectly, that the suspension of travel from Europe would include “trade and cargo.” He failed to mention that the ban on flights from Europe would not apply to U.S. citizens, legal residents, or immediate family of citizens. And he misstated the “waiver” of insurance copayments around coronavirus; it applies to testing, but not treatment. 

After the speech, the White House quickly corrected the mistakes, but not before U.S. stock futures and overseas markets spiraled. 

Mr. Trump’s performance stood in stark contrast to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a physicist by training, who spoke to her own nation on Wednesday, and delivered bad news in her signature, no-nonsense style: Two-thirds of Germans may become infected, she said. 

AP/File
President Franklin Roosevelt delivers an address in the White House in Washington April 28, 1935. For his "fireside chats," Roosevelt was actually seated in front of three microphones in a White House room with no fireplace.

Not all presidents get it right when trying to reassure the nation. And while sugarcoating bad news is never a good idea, an overly negative tone can be problematic as well. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered a downbeat speech as the United States grappled with gas lines, unemployment, and inflation. It is now famously remembered as the “malaise speech,” even though President Carter never used that word. The following year, he lost his reelection bid. 

Since the start of the coronavirus situation – and as recently as Monday – Mr. Trump has blamed “fake news” and the “Democrat Party” for trying to sow panic and hurt him politically. 

When asked Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today Show” about Mr. Trump’s word choices, Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged that “there’s been some irresponsible rhetoric,” without saying whom he was referring to. 

“The American people should know President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety and well-being of the people of this country,” Vice President Pence added. 

Perhaps Mr. Trump’s biggest challenge right now is a trust deficit, given his own well-established history of misstatements, misleading assertions, vague language, and even outright lies. All presidents dissemble or lie at times, but Mr. Trump’s verbal habits are unprecedented for an American president – though perceived in sharply different ways, depending on voters’ party affiliation.

On his handling of coronavirus itself, voters so far are just as divided: Eighty-seven percent of Republicans approve, 83% of Democrats disapprove, and independents are split 50-50, according to a Quinnipiac poll. Overall, 43% of registered voters approve, and 49% disapprove. 

Add to the mix the November election, and Mr. Trump’s drive for a second term. In his Oval Office address, even as he warned the American public about the potential grave dangers ahead, he threw in campaign-style flourishes. 

“Because of the economic policies that we have put into place over the last three years, we have the greatest economy anywhere in the world by far,” the president said. 

Indeed, the American economy remains a bulwark against the challenge that coronavirus presents, experts say. But there’s no doubt that the virus is presenting a serious economic threat, as reflected in the tanking markets. 

Mr. Trump’s political team has not skipped a beat since the Wednesday address. On Thursday morning, the Trump campaign – working in concert with the Republican National Committee – sent out an email slamming “liberal reporters” that begins, “The mainstream media has become completely UNHINGED.” 

Former Vice President Joe Biden, now in a strong position to win the Democratic presidential nomination, delivered his own address to the nation on the coronavirus situation on Thursday. It all seemed aimed at creating the appearance of a “shadow government,” waiting in the wings to take power, as in a parliamentary system. Mr. Biden announced he was releasing a comprehensive plan to combat the virus, calling it “a road map, not for what I will do as president 10 months from now – but for the leadership that I believe is immediately required at this very moment.”

He added, “President Trump is welcome to adopt all of it today.”

Germany without Merkel: Where does Europe’s engine go next?

Angela Merkel has set the path of Germany and Europe for two decades. But with the chancellor’s tenure nearing its end and her one-time heir apparent now out, the vision of Germany's future is suddenly unclear.

Eva

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Germany is at a political inflection point. Helmed by Chancellor Angela Merkel since 2000, the once formidable Christian Democratic Union has presided over a prosperous Germany that earned the world’s respect.

Now, with Dr. Merkel’s hand-picked successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, stepping down from party leadership and a battle for succession underway, the path forward for Germany’s political mainstream looks shaky. Will Germany’s next leader continue Ms. Merkel’s risk-averse status quo, or will he use the muscle that comes with being Europe’s largest economy to chart a new course for the country – and for Europe?

Stamping out the far-right is a domestic challenge that could easily consume the leadership; its rise in Germany was enabled, in part, by the issue of migration. In 2015, Dr. Merkel suspended a protocol about “safe” countries, which ultimately led to 1 million refugees entering the country.

There’s also a feeling that Germany has long-neglected domestic issues of great importance. But at the same time, Germany’s role in foreign affairs has become a real concern. Attention to national security has slipped, and Europe can no longer rely on the United States to police the Middle East.

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3. Germany without Merkel: Where does Europe’s engine go next?

Nina Schönefeld speaks of growing up in Berlin with a half-Korean best friend, and Turkish, Serbian, and South African classmates. Multicultural, inclusive, and forward-thinking: That’s the vision that she, as an artist and documentary filmmaker, believes should be Germany’s present and future.

There’s just a small problem: “The far-right wing has taken over these villages in Germany,” says Ms. Schönefeld, whose most recent film deals with a dystopic future in which autocrats pushed democracy underground. She’s worried Germany is headed in the same direction.

Germany’s traditional parties are partly to blame, says Ms. Schönefeld. “They’re too old-fashioned, too honest, too out-of-touch. They haven’t been knocking on doors,” she says. “You have whole villages with signs saying, ‘This is the way to Adolf Hitler’s birth town.’ They have to take care of this movement.”

Germany is at a political inflection point. Helmed by Chancellor Angela Merkel for nearly two decades, the once formidable Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has presided over a prosperous Germany that earned the world’s respect. But over the last decade, the far-right and far-left have steadily picked away at its flanks.

Now, with Ms. Merkel’s hand-picked successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, stepping down from party leadership and a battle for succession underway, the path forward for Germany’s political mainstream looks shaky. Will Germany’s next leader continue Ms. Merkel’s risk-averse status quo, or will he use the muscle that comes with being Europe’s largest economy to chart a new course for the country – and for Europe?

“It would be tempting for the next chancellor to fill his calendar with domestic issues,” says Jan Techau, director of the Europe Program at The German Marshall Fund. “But that’s a luxury that won’t happen. You need to be gutsy.”

Migration issues, whopping losses

Late-February elections in the city of Hamburg saw the CDU’s support whittled down to 11%, pegged by analysts as a 70-year low. Earlier in the year came another sign of weakness: The local CDU in the state of Thuringia aligned with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) to help defeat a left-wing governor, the first time a mainstream party had aligned with the far-right since the Hitler era. The resulting furor ultimately had national repercussions, prompting Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer to step down.

That local party’s defiance demonstrated not only Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s tenuous grip on power, but also the complexity in figuring out what to do with extremist parties. In short, not everyone agrees. Meanwhile, after enjoying peak popularity in 2013, polling at more than 40%, the CDU is now logging support nationally around 26%.

Stamping out the far-right is a domestic challenge that could easily consume the leadership; its rise was enabled, in part, by the issue of migration. In 2015, Ms. Merkel suspended a protocol about “safe” countries, which ultimately led to 1 million refugees entering Germany.

Ms. Merkel’s party was seen as “too open and welcoming, and not tough enough,” says Mr. Techau, the analyst. “Both on security, but also not demanding enough from newcomers to integrate and learn the language.”

Neglect, and the rise of the Greens

Then there’s the feeling that Germany has long-neglected domestic issues of great importance, including failing to upgrade digital infrastructure that’s among the oldest and slowest in Europe. A recent survey from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in fact, found that Germany ranked 29th out of 34 industrialized economies for internet speeds.

“We have a low degree of digitization, and in order to get a permit to run fibers from Point A to Point B, it takes forever,” says Yorck Otto, president of Germany’s leading business association for small and medium-sized companies.

“Crazy levels of bureaucracy,” he says, are also hindering startup culture and miring companies in months, if not years, of paperwork. Taxation rates in Germany are also among the highest in Europe, a point that comes up in almost every conversation about domestic politics.

Enter the Green Party, which has swept into the European mainstream with its timely emphasis on social justice and climate change. It has resounded with a progressive middle class that’s finding it increasingly difficult to identify with the older, more staid mainstream parties. The Greens are no longer the forbidding no-meat, no-car eco-nerds of yesteryear, and are now the second-largest party in Germany after the CDU.

“You can drive an SUV and vote Green and feel good about yourself,” says Josef Janning, a political scientist and former fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They’re cashmere sweaters now – soft and very convenient.”

“Extremist parties make everything more complicated,” continues Mr. Janning. “As they gain power it begs the question of whether to align with them, or ignore them. Squeeze them out, or integrate them?”

Meanwhile, Germany’s role in foreign affairs has become a real concern. Attention to national security has slipped under Ms. Merkel, and Europe can no longer rely on the United States to police the Middle East.

“Does Germany feel any sense of agency? To do the geopolitical hedging, taking fights, picking sides, and create outcomes?” asks Mr. Techau. “We’ve been shying away from that, but without Germany, Europe cannot move.”

Jockeying for position

A handful of men have raised a hand to rule Germany’s biggest party. A special conference to choose the next leader is scheduled for late April.

Armin Laschet, premier of Germany’s largest state of North-Rhine Westphalia, is the most moderate of the declared candidates, and is among the favorites to win. Health Minister Jens Spahn, a young politician who’s recently enjoyed high visibility dealing with COVID-19’s arrival in Germany, earlier announced his own ambitions, but Mr. Laschet recently recruited him as his potential deputy, with the idea that he shores up the conservative wing of the party. The former parliamentary-leader-turned-financier Friedrich Merz, who ran against Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer in the last round, is the most business-friendly of the bunch. Ms. Merkel’s former environment minister, Norbert Röttgen, is also in, representing the least likely bid.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff, Photos by Reuters and AP

Thus begins months of “navel-gazing and soul-searching,” says Mr. Janning, the analyst, who expects a more “Germany-centric political rhetoric” in the future.

Yet others believe Germany’s next leaders should resist the temptation to focus only on domestic challenges. “Germany is aware of its responsibility for a strong Europe,” says former parliamentary journalist Verena Köttker, who remarks that closing ranks with the rest of Europe will increase the bloc’s negotiating power on everything from trade to peacemaking. “Only together can we face the USA, China, and Russia on equal footing.”

Timing is important. The businessman, Dr. Otto, says the CDU must figure out its organizational setup “now, not tomorrow. Now.” Even so, he expresses confidence in the bench that’s been waiting patiently. “The CDU has the ability, the power, the people, the talent to bring Germany forward within Europe and the world, though the world has gotten very difficult and violent.” Among other issues, Dr. Otto says he’d like to see stronger efforts to stamp out cyberterrorism against German companies.

“These are our voters”

On a cold February night, one week after Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation announcement, Bernd Pfeiffer joined a dozen CDU members in a backroom of a popular pub in Friedrichshain. It’s a district where the far-right has succeeded in plucking away CDU voters. The worry – as well as the excitement in the room – was obvious.

“It is our duty to do the hard work to push the right out so that they are no longer in parliament,” opined Mr. Pfeiffer. “These are our voters. These are our voices. We need them in order to be a people’s party again.”

The words “left” and “right” were dominant in the meeting, as the attendees mulled over what kind of leadership team might best tackle that task. One said that center parties are always strong when an outstanding personality shored up both the left and right flanks, such as legendary, blue-chip politicians Helmut Kohl and Franz Josef Strauss, respectively. The group murmured.

Later, in an interview, Mr. Pfeiffer said he’s working behind the scenes to make sure the CDU remembers its roots. Though he’s vowed never to join the far-right, Mr. Pfeiffer said his inflection point as a longtime CDU loyalist came over Ms. Merkel’s controversial decisions on immigration. “We have a strong asylum policy, and that’s great. But we also have 450 people a day who cross our borders without papers. And no one does anything.”

A tax adviser who grew up in a village outside Hamburg, Mr. Pfeiffer is president of the Values Union in Berlin, a faction within the party that advocates for conservatism. Since the party’s leadership has been in question, his phone has been ringing. And ringing. “Twenty-four hours a day,” he says, giving his black Samsung a concerted shake. “Hundreds and hundreds of messages. Offering support, wanting to join.”

His excitement is palpable, but so is that of Ms. Schönefeld, the artist, whose studio is just a mile or so west of his district. Like Mr. Pfeiffer, she also talks about reforming high taxes on the middle class, but she also speaks of fixing the education system. “You have to refresh the whole system. You have to start from scratch.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff, Photos by Reuters and AP

Is transparency always best? EPA weighs controversial new rule.

Concerns about public trust in scientific expertise abound. Could increased transparency around research promote confidence in science?

Eva

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When it comes to the scientific research that policymakers use to set rules, how much transparency is needed? That’s the question that scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency are now grappling with, in the face of a proposal that would require the agency to give preference to studies whose underlying datasets and models are publicly available when drafting environmental and public health regulations.

The proposal, titled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” is a revised version of a rule first suggested in 2018. Since then, it has drawn fire from critics who say that it represents an attempt by the Trump administration to cherry-pick scientific research to suit its political aims. Proponents of the rule see it as a safeguard to ensure trustworthy research.

Many scientists agree that sharing raw data is, in theory, good for science. But, says Wendy Wagner, a professor in the University of Texas School of Law, there are “a lot of steps between that kind of idyllic in the abstract and mandating it as a prerequisite to considering the scientific information.”

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4. Is transparency always best? EPA weighs controversial new rule.

If a revised rule proposed last week is finalized, the Environmental Protection Agency could soon change how it uses science.

“Transparency” lies at the heart of the controversial proposal. Initially suggested in 2018, the revised version of “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” would mean that, when drafting environmental and public health regulations, the EPA would give preference to research studies for which the underlying datasets and models are publicly available. In the previous draft, all aspects of a scientific study had to be publicly available for research to even be considered. A 30-day public comment period opened March 3, and EPA administrators aim to have the rule finalized by May.

Since its conception, the proposed rule has drawn sharp criticism. While supporters assert that it would be a safeguard to ensure trustworthy research, opponents see it as a Trump administration attack on science that co-opts the positive connotations of “transparency” for political aims. 

Sharing raw data makes sense “in the abstract,” says Wendy Wagner, a professor in the University of Texas School of Law, who studies use of science by environmental policymakers. But, she says, there are “a lot of steps between that kind of idyllic in the abstract and mandating it as a prerequisite to considering the scientific information.”

Indeed, transparency does hold scientific value. At the same time, with policy around hot-button issues from coronavirus to climate change being guided by scientific research, it’s vital that both policymakers and the public trust the findings. Transparency might play a role in earning that trust.

A matter of trust

Public trust in science is indeed higher than some headlines might lead you to believe. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2019, 86% of Americans surveyed said they had confidence in scientists to act in the public interest – a number greater than that for most other institutions, and on a par with the military. 

Transparency does seem to play a role, as the Pew survey also revealed that 57% of surveyed Americans said that open public access to data and independent committee reviews of research would boost their confidence and sense of trust. 

That’s not to say that they are actually interested in parsing through that data. Rather, says Cary Funk, director of science and society research at Pew Research Center, it’s likely an underlying assumption that “when you’re open and transparent, you don’t have anything to hide.”

As an abstract concept, transparency gets at one of the main tenets of science: open communication among researchers in a way that allows them essentially to check each other’s work. But the specifics – especially when sharing datasets with the public – get a bit thornier.

For one thing, not all raw data can be released to the public easily. Some data is trade-secret protected. There’s also an issue of data from study participants, often medical data, that might have too much personally identifiable information and thus requires privacy. 

That is an especially challenging aspect for many of the public health studies underpinning landmark EPA regulations, such as air quality standards. Critics were quick to point this out during the initial comment period for the “transparency” rule in 2018, and the revision allows such studies to be included, although weighted with less consideration than those for which the data is freely available.

Starting a “conversation”

Transparency also doesn’t just have to mean dumping it all out there for anyone to parse through, says the University of Texas’ Professor Wagner. In some ways, it might be less helpful for nonscientists to be able to interpret that data. 

“You do need to know what you’re doing with your data,” says Dominique Brossard, who co-directs the Science, Media and the Public research group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “You need to be trained. You need to be able to actually understand statistics.”

“Because at the end of the day,” she says, “you can make the data tell a lot of things, you know, in a way that it can be massaged to reach a certain conclusion.”

Furthermore, Professor Wagner says, with some of this data, especially with big data and models, you need computer science expertise, resources, and time. 

“It becomes even more of a pay-to-play system as a result of that approach to transparency,” she says. “And, when you have all those advantages, you also can do a lot of mischief with datasets.”

So instead, both Professor Wagner and Professor Brossard suggest a different approach to transparency: a conversation. Rather than saying, here’s the data for you to explore on your own, they suggest that more trust will come from explaining the process of the research to the public and stakeholders in a clear, honest way. Walking through the research process, the peer-review process, and explaining how independent reviewers were selected, as well as the problems and uncertainties in the results, may build more trust and confidence.

“In the study of science, one of the big concerns is trust in expertise. And I don’t think the way you get the trust is to throw downloadable models and datasets at people,” Professor Wagner says. “Trust is a process.”

Books

In March, a bounty of authors at the top of their games

For those feeling overwhelmed by the news, books can offer a means of contemplative escape. Here are the Monitor reviewers’ top 10 books for March, including a story that takes the stuff of midlife misery and makes it not just relatable but downright funny, and a novel that weaves issues of contemporary American racial identity into a vivid urban fantasy.

Eva
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5. In March, a bounty of authors at the top of their games

1. The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

This long-awaited and utterly riveting conclusion to Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s ruthless lawyer, finds Cromwell at the height of his power and influence at court – and therefore ripe for a fall. Click here for a full review.

2. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich 

Louise Erdrich’s novel follows night watchman Thomas Wazhushk as he leads his Chippewa tribe to defeat the passage of a 1953 Senate bill that would end treaties with Indian nations, depriving them of their land. Erdrich’s blend of pathos, earthy humor, and reverence for nature makes this a captivating read. Click here for a full review. 

3. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Every city has a beating heart – New York has six. The multiracial avatars of New York’s boroughs have to fend off the infiltration of an alien intelligence. N.K. Jemisin’s fantasy novel doesn’t waste time on explanations or pleasantries – it’s an unapologetic examination of modern race relations. Click here for a full review.

4. The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Readers needn’t be fans of “Pride and Prejudice” to enjoy this debut novel in which Mary, the middle sister in the Jane Austen classic, steps out of the shadows. It’s a historical novel told for contemporary times.

5. Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman

While Marie Kondo-ing her basement, Judy Vogel, a failing children’s writer in a failing marriage, finds one thing that sparks joy: stuffing her sheltie in her son’s old baby sling and wearing her dog. Readers won’t think, “Wow, this mom has lost it,” but rather, “What a great idea. My pooch loves to snuggle.” That’s Laura Zigman’s comic genius, that she can take the stuff of mid-life misery and make it not just relatable but downright funny.

6. Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Australian expatriate Nancy Wake was a courageous spy and a revered leader in the French Resistance during World War II. She was known by the Gestapo as the elusive White Mouse. Ariel Lawhon’s historical novel, based on the real-life Wake, celebrates her astonishing bravery. 

7. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi 

Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers
“The Henna Artist” by Alka Joshi, MIRA, 368 pp.

Alka Joshi’s culturally rich debut novel sweeps you back to 1950s post-independence India. Henna artist and herbal healer Lakshmi Shastri is determined to get ahead, but her past might trip her up. Vibrant characters, evocative imagery, and sumptuous prose create a satisfying, unforgettable tale.

8. Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Lily King’s novel follows Casey, a 30-something writer working on her novel while also putting in hours as a waitress. The book captures how taking that last step into adulthood – juggling relationships, expectations, student debt – can seem even harder while holding onto a flame of creative energy that the workaday world tries to extinguish. 

9. Hammer to Fall by John Lawton

In this third Joe Wilderness spy thriller, John Lawton’s MI6 protagonist is on the move from Germany to Finland. Not your typical James Bond-style spy, Wilderness’ postings get more interesting by the minute. He ends up in Czechoslovakia just before the Soviets send in tanks to quash the 1968 Prague Spring uprising. Lawton is a master of the genre, and his writing is not only historically accurate, but also rich, ribald, cynical, informed, inventive, and hilarious.

10. Pharma by Gerald Posner

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster
“Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America” by Gerald Posner, Avid Reader Press, 802 pp.

Built on years of research and interviews with key players, “Pharma” lays bare the greed, hypocrisy, and systematic deceptions of the pharmaceutical industry. In writing that’s both highly technical and intensely gripping, Posner describes a growing malignancy affecting health care.

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The way to shed imperial instincts

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In a few nations whose ancestors once ruled empires, such as Russia and Iran, leaders can’t seem to shake historical memories of having once controlled lands that are now independent countries. Others, like Germany, have largely given up old impulses for imperial-style power. On Tuesday, the Netherlands provided an example of what a former colonizer can do to exert a different kind of influence – through humility.

During his first visit to Indonesia, the Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, apologized for the “excessive violence” used by the Dutch empire to hold on to its former colony. For 350 years the Netherlands ruled what was then the Dutch East Indies, killing thousands in the late 1940s during the Indonesian war for independence.

The world’s era of colonization largely ended by the late 20th century. Yet in recent years, Russia has retaken parts of Ukraine. Iran commands other parts of the Middle East by proxy militias. And China has taken many islands far from its coast. When a former imperial power tries to clean up its past rather than re-create it, the world makes progress. The Dutch king’s apology is an example.

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The way to shed imperial instincts

In a few nations whose ancestors once ruled empires, such as Russia and Iran, leaders can’t seem to shake historical memories of having once controlled lands that are now independent countries. Others, like Germany, have largely given up old impulses for imperial-style power. On Tuesday, the Netherlands provided an example of what a former colonizer can do to exert a different kind of influence – through humility.

During his first visit to Indonesia, the Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, apologized for the “excessive violence” used by the Dutch empire to hold on to its former colony. For 350 years the Netherlands ruled what was then the Dutch East Indies, killing thousands in the late 1940s during the Indonesian war for independence.

The apology was a first by a Dutch monarch. The king made a point of acknowledging “the pain and sorrow” of families whose loved ones were killed as independence fighters. In 2013, after a court suit, the Netherlands compensated many widows and children of those killed. But now the apology marks a new level of bilateral reconciliation.

In a highly symbolic gesture, the king laid a wreath at a cemetery for Indonesia’s fallen soldiers. And scholars from both countries have been collaborating on a history of the war for independence.

For his part, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, graciously accepted the apology. “We try to learn from history to strengthen our commitment to build an equal relationship that respects and benefits each other,” he said. The countries used the occasion to seal deals for $1 billion in new trade.

Despite such steps, the king and his government probably know the difficulty of shifting public opinion in the Netherlands. In a YouGov survey last year, half of Dutch people said the old empire, which included Indonesia, is something to be proud of. Only 6% said the empire was a shameful period.

The Dutch, in fact, are prouder of their former empire than people in seven other countries surveyed by YouGov: Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Japan, and Germany. In most of the European countries, the prevailing attitude toward former colonies is one of indifference.

The world’s era of colonization largely ended by the late 20th century. Yet in recent years, Russia has retaken parts of Ukraine. Iran commands other parts of the Middle East by proxy militias. And China has taken many islands far from its coast. When a former imperial power tries to clean up its past rather than re-create it, the world makes progress. The Dutch king’s apology is an example.

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.

Finding immunity from sickness

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After contracting a contagious skin condition, a woman found that welcoming God’s perfect love into one’s heart lifts fear, protects, and heals.

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1. Finding immunity from sickness

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I know someone who used to schedule his sick days in advance because he expected to catch some type of illness every year about the same time. Then he learned about Christian Science, and his experience completely changed. He soon noticed that he didn’t need to take sick days with regularity anymore. And on the rare occasions that he did fall ill, he returned to work in good shape much more quickly than in the past. What made the difference?

Christian Science brings out what Jesus taught of the intersection between one’s relation to the Divine and practical daily experience, bringing health and healing. Jesus’ understanding of the nature of God and God’s children as good and pure empowered him to not only safely come into contact with those suffering from highly contagious conditions, but actually heal them. And he taught that each of us could follow in the path he pointed out, too.

Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and a consecrated follower of Jesus’ teachings, explained that contagion is fundamentally mental in nature rather than physical, and is engendered by fear. “Many a hopeless case of disease,” she wrote, “is induced by a single post mortem examination, – not from infection nor from contact with material virus, but from the fear of the disease and from the image brought before the mind; it is a mental state, which is afterwards outlined on the body” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 196).

This is key. Prayer that leads to a better understanding of the divine Love that governs us brings out the tangible expression of that Love in daily experience. Mrs. Eddy illustrated this, healing highly contagious cases of diphtheria, tuberculosis, and membranous croup, and experiencing complete immunity in her contacts with these cases.

A number of years ago while working in a care home, I contracted a contagious skin condition that had rapidly spread among the patients and caregivers. We, along with most other care homes across the region, were required by the public health authority to quarantine those affected and follow a strict regimen of medical treatment. I requested and received permission to forgo the medication in order to practice Christian Science prayer for healing, with my agreement that I would remain quarantined until the healing was complete.

My prayer didn’t ask God to come heal the condition. Rather, in prayer, I sought to deepen my understanding of what it meant that God is Love and is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). Mrs. Eddy wrote, “Christian Science erases from the minds of invalids their mistaken belief that they live in or because of matter, or that a so-called material organism controls the health or existence of mankind, and induces rest in God, divine Love, as caring for all the conditions requisite for the well-being of man” (“Rudimental Divine Science,” p. 12).

My prayers affirmed that God is the ever-present divine Principle, Love, and that God’s creation, including each of us, is made in God’s spiritual likeness, fully reflecting His attributes. This includes health and immunity from evil in any form, which is utterly devoid of legitimate power in the face of God’s supremacy.

These ideas helped me to realize that health is not controlled by a material organism, and to trust in Love’s care for me and for all. I found that letting perfect Love, or God, into our hearts truly does lift fear (see I John 4:18).

Following a brief period of prayer lasting but one day, I was healed quickly and permanently. I was authorized to return to work and care for others with the same condition, and I did so with complete immunity. And within a shorter than expected time, everyone in the home was also free of the condition.

Each of us can turn to the Divine and experience the healing power of divine Love. Prayer that brings to the fore of thought God’s true nature as the source and maintainer of good, and our true nature as reflecting or including all the elements of divine good, destroys fear. And it brings to light the healing and protecting power of divine Love, and the good that flows ceaselessly from God to us.

Viewfinder

A host of golden daffodils

Joe Giddens/PA/AP
A worker makes her way along rows of daffodils, removing any rogue varieties, at Taylors Bulbs in Holbeach, England, March 12, 2020. The fourth-generation family company plants over 35 million bulbs every year, and has held The Royal Warrant as Bulb Growers to Her Majesty the Queen since 1985.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’ll look at how educators are helping to fill the void left by schools shut down for coronavirus containment. For those interested in all of the Monitor’s coverage of the outbreak, we’re collecting all our articles on the topic in one place and they may be accessed for free.

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