2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

March 30, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

The power of ‘How can I help you?’

Today we look at an infusion of goodwill for local journalism, accelerating competition between the U.S. and China, the Pentagon's view of its role in fighting the coronavirus, performers getting creative about keeping their art alive, and a city's experiment with making some bus routes free. But we'll start with some examples of what a call for help can yield.

“How can I help?” 

That powerful question comes with a touch of uncertainty amid coronavirus constraints. Yet as needs are communicated from governments and individuals alike, people are underscoring that a moment many associate with feeling overwhelmed is producing overwhelming evidence of caring.

In Britain, as the Monitor reported, a government initiative to help lonely shut-ins (after training) resulted in what’s being called “the largest volunteer recruitment drive since World War II.” Closer to home for me, a neighbor’s call for homemade masks, sent around with an approved pattern, has resulted in a tidy stack of donations she’ll deliver Tuesday to a Boston hospital.

Or there’s Boloco, a small New England restaurant chain known for its ethical practices. A last-stand announcement that several locales would likely close yielded instead what CEO John Pepper called a “miraculous day” of orders that  “will put over 2,000 meals in the hands of frontline workers” and keep the doors open. Similarly, Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, is bringing back 100 full time workers after online orders soared on news of imminent closing. And in the Bhardwaj family kitchen in Toowoomba, Australia, two girls are finding the nourishment that comes from providing an astonishing number of meals for emergency health responders.

It’s a spirit flagged by Tobias Jones, a writer in Parma, Italy. It is a difficult time, he wrote in The Guardian. But, “there’s something profound about what’s happening. ... We’re hunkering down together to discern what really matters in life.”

The other first responders: Local journalists

Good local news outlets are gaining new audiences amid the coronavirus crisis. But many face deep financial strain. This story puts a very human face on the struggle to keep the lights on – and communities informed. 

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

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For the Salt Lake Tribune staff, the last couple of weeks have been earth-shattering.

Shortly after they started working at home due to the coronavirus, an earthquake hit, rendering their offices uninhabitable. “That’s when our work is so important – to make sure that people have good reliable sources of information so that they can make important decisions on questions of safety,” says editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce.

At a time that has exposed the dangers of misinformation, local journalism is getting an infusion of goodwill. But amid a sudden dearth of advertising and event revenue, many outlets have been forced to lay off employees, cut pay, reduce publishing schedules, or shut down. If there is an upside, the same crisis that is sorely testing their capacity and resources is also underscoring the value of the services they provide. And it could help restore public faith in media.

“I have long believed that the No. 1 job of the press in this country is to regain the trust of the American people,” says Les Zaitz, an award-winning journalist. “If we make it through this, this makes us even more solidly a part of the community than we’ve ever been before.”

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1. The other first responders: Local journalists

In the heady days of anti-Vietnam War protests, the burgeoning women’s movement, and Richard Nixon’s sweep of 49 states in his 1972 reelection, Jeff vonKaenel went home to sell Fuller brushes. His future wife, Deborah Redmond, lived in her car.

The idea was to save up enough so they could afford to work for the new alternative weekly in Santa Barbara. Soon the ragtag publication got the local district attorney indicted, and brought a new raft of people to City Council through their endorsements. In 46 years of publishing alt weeklies, Mr. vonKaenel and his wife have never missed a single issue.

Until this month.

When the coronavirus shut down local businesses, advertising suddenly dried up for their News & Review papers in Reno, Nevada; Sacramento; and Chico, California. They had already mortgaged their house earlier this year to keep things going, so their reserves were basically gone.

And thus, after achieving circulation rates as much as sixfold that of traditional papers in the same cities and readership far beyond that, they had to shut down – at least temporarily.

[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]

“We started the paper with no money, so we’re good at figuring out how to do things with little resources,” says Mr. vonKaenel, who is reaching out to various organizations in hopes of pivoting to a new economic model that would include nonprofit or reader support, such as the $100 check that a reader slipped under the Chico News & Review’s door with a handwritten note begging them to stay online. Still, the publisher says, “I don’t think it’s going to be easy to have a phoenix moment when there’s massive unemployment.”

At a time of crisis that has exposed deep deficits of trust in American democracy and the dangers of misinformation, local journalism is getting an infusion of goodwill – including through subscriptions and donations. But it’s often not enough to make up for the sudden dearth of advertising and event revenue. Many outlets have been forced to lay off employees, cut pay, reduce publishing schedules, or shut down altogether.

If there’s an upside for local journalism, however, it’s that the same crisis that is sorely testing their capacity and resources is also underscoring the value of the services they provide, both inside and outside the newsroom. So even as the crisis exacerbates existing financial woes, it could also accelerate new models for sustainable journalism that have shown promising results in recent years. (See sidebar, below.)

“I am worried that [the crisis] could wipe out all of that progress. But I think there is also a hopeful sign, which is that the philanthropic sector is seeing that trustworthy local news is essential to a healthy community” – quite literally, says Steven Waldman, co-founder of Report for America, which deploys young journalists to local outlets around the country. “If that leads to a sea change in how philanthropy sees local media, then that would be a long-term positive development.”

The current crisis could also help restore public faith in media, which has suffered amid deepening political polarization.

“I have long believed that the No. 1 job of the press in this country is to regain the trust of the American people,” says Les Zaitz, an award-winning investigative journalist whose turnaround of the Malheur Enterprise in rural Oregon has been so successful that local delivery has gone from a grocery-cart tour of town to a 100-mile sweep of the county. “If we make it through this, this makes us even more solidly a part of the community than we’ve ever been before.”

Pandemic, followed by earthquake

For Salt Lake Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce, the last couple of weeks have been earth-shattering.

Shortly after her staff started working at home, an earthquake hit Salt Lake City, rendering their offices uninhabitable. Rumors began circulating on social media that another, larger quake would strike within the hour.

“Our role is ... to get authorities on the phone and on the record and shoot down those rumors,” says Ms. Napier-Pearce. “That’s when our work is so important – to make sure that people have good reliable sources of information so that they can make important decisions on questions of safety.”

“If you hear my dog, sorry about that,” she adds, as Slack messages ding in the background.

Even as senior editors juggle pets and kids, often on little sleep, they say their mission keeps them going. Misinformation at a time like this, they say, can be a matter of life or death.

The Salt Lake Tribune has made its coronavirus coverage free as a public service, yet it’s seen a significant uptick in readership and annual subscriptions. Other outlets across the country are seeing a similar phenomenon, with traffic increasing as much as 10-fold, new subscribers signing up at a record rate, and readers sending in unsolicited donations. A donor has offered the Nevada Independent up to $100,000 in a matching grant. Yet for most, it’s not nearly enough to offset the advertising losses.

Many newspapers, and particularly local outlets, were already operating on the thinnest of margins after years of budget cuts and staff reductions. From 2008 to 2018, the number of newsroom employees dropped by nearly half. The current crisis is exacerbating those financial strains.

“We’re dealing with the same problems, on steroids,” says Mary Lou Nemanic, author of the just-released “Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalism,” which tracked five newsrooms over six years. “Over the years that I studied them, it was really tragic to see how the staffs of three of the five papers were reduced to bare bones,” she says, blaming “corporate profiteers.”

Wide swaths of rural America have become “news deserts,” while suburban areas have seen a reduction in coverage from metro papers. Take Falls Church, Virginia, which is less than seven miles from Washington, D.C., but rarely gets coverage in The Washington Post. So the Falls Church News-Press is essentially the only game in town, says managing editor Jody Fellows, who is one of three full-time editorial staffers turning out as many main stories a day as they usually publish in a week – as well as an updated list of restaurants open for take-out and delivery.

“We are so fortunate to have The Fourth Estate on duty in our City!” wrote City Council member and retired journalist Phil Duncan, a 35-year resident of the city, in a Facebook note.

“This is such a huge story”

In 2018, as the massive Camp Fire raged through Paradise, California, Melissa Daugherty headed into the hills where she had gotten her start as a beat reporter years before. The scenes were devastating. Two staffers at the Chico News & Review, where she now served as editor, had lost their homes. Others were banned from returning home for a time. Yet they threw heart and soul into the story.

After The New York Times and big TV stations had packed up and gone home, they discovered contamination in the water as a result of the unusually swift, hot fire – yet some local water authorities were telling residents the water was safe to drink. They requested public records, and found the state water board had withheld for months information about significantly increased risks of cancer from drinking the local water, which now included elevated levels of benzene. 

“Nobody had done this and we were like, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this?’” recalls Ms. Daugherty. “And then after we did it, we were like, ‘This is such a huge story, why isn’t anyone else picking up on this?’”

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Daugherty – one of the staffers Mr. vonKaenel had to lay off – went into the Chico News & Review’s shuttered offices, and found the $100 check from a reader begging them to at least stay online. 

The paper has been promised a reporter from Mr. Waldman’s Report for America corps, and she had secured the matching funds needed from a local community foundation. Now she’s trying to find a way to restart operations before losing that reporter.

“I have to make things move really fast here – on my own time, as a volunteer, essentially,” she says, noting that her health insurance runs out at the end of the month.

“I’m super invested, and people from the community are really looking to me for an answer,” adds Ms. Daugherty. “I just think about the consequences of not having a newspaper that does what we do. It would be devastating to the community.”

[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]

Editor’s note: The sidebar has been updated March 30 to include Facebook’s announcement of $100 million to support local news outlets.

New financial models

Here are some alternative models for funding local journalism: 

  • Philanthropy: Facebook, citing the rapid decline in ad revenues and their impact on news outlets, has pledged $100 million – $25 million in grants for local news and $75 million “in additional marketing spend to move money over to news organizations around the world.” Facebook separately gave $1 million to the Poynter Institute to counter false information, while WhatsApp gave $1 million to support fact-checking of coronavirus information.
  • Student journalism: “There’s a certain clarity that comes with having no money,” says Erica Beshears Perel, general manager at The Daily Tar Heel, an independent student newspaper in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Revenue has dropped by more than half over the past decade, but through cost-cutting and the development of new revenue streams, the paper made money last year. And they had an impact. As the only print newspaper in town, their reporting helped undo the University of North Carolina’s secret deal to take down a controversial statue on campus and give it – along with $2.5 million – to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “I have become really convinced that student media is going to have to be a big part of community journalism,” says Betsy O’Donovan, Ms. Perel’s predecessor who now teaches at Western Washington University and advises the student newspaper. “I can dispatch 45 reporters at one time; the local newsroom has six staffers total. In order to cover the community properly, you need both.”
  • Donations: Another possible solution is increasing donations. STAT, a for-profit news source focused on health and medicine, had toyed with the idea but it never felt like the right time – until now. When a reader asked to donate, they opened the door – and have since gotten contributions from more than 300 people ranging from $5 to $1,000. The overwhelmingly positive response surprised co-founder and executive editor Rick Berke. “The thing I hadn’t thought about is the act of people giving a contribution I think gives people a feeling of investment in STAT and gives them a sense of community,” he says.
  • Membership: That sense of community is at the heart of another model: membership. The Evergrey, a daily newsletter in Seattle backed by digital media innovation company WhereBy.Us, allows people to subscribe for free but offers an enhanced experience for members, who pay $8 a month or $80 a year. When director Caitlin Moran put out an appeal for new memberships earlier in March, she got nearly as many in a single day as she sees in an average month. “At the Evergrey, our members are more than just paying readers,” she says. “They’re people who are really buying into our community and saying that they want to be a part of it.”

Containing coronavirus: Why US, China compete about that, too

The handling of the pandemic poses a major test for America’s position as a global leader, especially from China. But it could also present an opportunity for the U.S. to reassert its role in the world and better challenge China.

Amelia

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prefers the term “Wuhan virus” to remind the world that experts trace the novel coronavirus back to the Chinese city. It’s not just a matter of nomenclature, he says, but a means of calling out China for a lack of transparency and for early attempts at a cover-up of the virus’s existence that he says contributed to its spread.

For many experts, perceptions of how the world’s two major powers handle the pandemic both at home and on the international stage will go a long way in determining whether China or the U.S. comes out of the crisis with the upper hand. For some, the early absence of the U.S. from a leadership role in addressing the crisis could cement the perception of a U.S. in retreat.

“This pandemic is going to upend many aspects of the international order in ways that will further challenge U.S. global leadership, but it will also be an opportunity,” says Muqtedar Khan at the University of Delaware. “The authoritarian model may appeal even more to a lot of developing countries, so this also becomes about saving the American model globally – private enterprise and capitalism, liberal democracy, human rights,” he says. “All of that’s at stake.”

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2. Containing coronavirus: Why US, China compete about that, too

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on a mission when he took part in a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven foreign ministers last week: Get Western allies to join him in using “Wuhan virus” to describe the coronavirus behind the global pandemic.

Mr. Pompeo’s colleagues didn’t bite. If anything, there was public rejection of any effort to pin responsibility for the crisis on one country.

In a post-meeting statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had “underscored the need to combat any attempt to exploit the crisis for political purposes,” adding that “the unity of all in order to effectively combat the pandemic” is now the priority.

The brouhaha over virus terminology and provenance has taken center stage in the rising tensions between the United States and China. The two world powers have added the coronavirus crisis to the other battlefronts – from South Asian sea power to trade and 5G technology – in their accelerating global competition.

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

Moreover, for many geopolitical experts looking ahead to the post-pandemic period, perceptions of how the world’s two major powers handle the pandemic both at home and on the international stage will go a long way in determining whether China or the U.S. comes out of the crisis with the upper hand.

For some analysts, the early absence of the U.S. from a leadership role in addressing the global health and economic crises could cement the perception of the U.S. as a retreating leader of a creaking international order.

China is busy filling that leadership void with a double-edged global messaging campaign – painting a picture of domestic success in addressing the virus while at the same time sowing disinformation and a sense of disarray about the West’s response – that it hopes will serve it well in the post-pandemic period, Western intelligence officials and analysts say.

“Opportunity” to challenge China

But others see an opportunity for the U.S. to seize on the disruption the pandemic will wreak on international governing structures and diplomacy to reassert its role in the global order.

“This pandemic is going to upend many aspects of the international order in ways that will further challenge U.S. global leadership, but it will also be an opportunity to reset our grand strategy and to reassess the strategic options available to the United States,” says Muqtedar Khan, a professor of international relations at the University of Delaware in Newark. “The U.S. can use this opportunity to better challenge China while reasserting its role in the world.”

So far, the Trump administration has largely focused on keeping China in the international hot seat by putting a spotlight on its role as the source of a virus that has spread to much of the world.

While Mr. Pompeo has preferred “Wuhan virus” to remind the world that experts trace the virus back to the Chinese city, President Donald Trump has used “China virus” and “Chinese virus” to drive home the same point. But with Asian-Americans citing the nomenclature as a factor in rising racist attacks, Mr. Trump backed off that practice last week, saying “everybody knows” already where the virus originated.

Mr. Trump held a phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Friday and said in a tweet that the two countries are “working closely together” to address the pandemic, though he did not specify how. He added he had “much respect” for Mr. Xi’s handling of the crisis. 

Mr. Pompeo says his use of “Wuhan” is not just a matter of nomenclature, but a means of calling out China for a lack of transparency in the Chinese system and for early attempts at a cover-up of the virus’s existence that he says contributed to its global spread.

And despite the president’s pledge of cooperation, the State Department is not backing off its crusade against what Mr. Pompeo describes as the Communist Party’s “disinformation campaign” concerning China’s response to the coronavirus.

Aly Song/Reuters
Barber Xiong Juan cuts a customer's hair at a residential compound in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of China's coronavirus outbreak, March 30, 2020. China says its domestic policies have been successful in containing the spread of the virus.

Diplomats at the United Nations report that U.S. demands that China be held responsible for actions that contributed to the pandemic have stymied passage of a Security Council coronavirus resolution.

And on Friday U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Secretary Pompeo encouraging him to launch a “multilateral” inquiry with like-minded “democracies” into China’s “coverup and disinformation campaign.” Beijing’s censorship of early information about a new virus is now “putting millions of American lives at risk,” he said.

Chinese make their case

China, for its part, has not sat idly by. First Beijing circulated unsubstantiated claims that the virus was introduced to Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, by visiting American military officials. Then China’s media seized on the notion that the first cases of coronavirus may actually have surfaced in Italy.

But more recently, the Chinese have seized on mounting signs of the virus’s weakening hold on the country by touting their intervention measures, comparing them favorably to Western efforts, including in the U.S. Moreover, they have taken to intimating that their authoritarian system is a better match for such a social threat than are democracies prioritizing personal freedoms.

“China’s signature strength, efficiency and speed in this fight, has been widely acclaimed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declared recently, adding that China was now recognized as having set “a new standard for the global efforts against the epidemic.”

For some analysts, the sparring between the U.S. and China simply adds a new chapter to the ongoing great-power competition.

“We’re in a long-term competition where this [pandemic] messaging battle enters as a new element, but I don’t see that anything is going to change drastically,” says James Carafano, director for foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“This administration has been calling balls and strikes on China from early on,” he adds, citing Mr. Trump’s frequent warm words for Mr. Xi even as the administration has taken China to task over its trade practices, human rights violations, “predatory” economic relations with developing countries, intellectual property thefts, and more.

“We’re going to be in the middle of this messaging war for a long time,” Mr. Carafano says, “but the administration knows the U.S. can compete there.”

Other experts in international relations are not so optimistic.

Some cite the generally good press China is getting, particularly in Europe, for its pledges of assistance to stricken countries, and they are contrasting that with what they see as America’s absence from its usual leadership role. A common narrative is that China is demonstrating increasing sophistication at soft-power diplomacy, a realm in which the United States long excelled and China didn’t even attempt to compete.

Some go so far as to warn that the pandemic could one day be looked back on as the turning point that marked the end of the American century of global leadership.

Comparing lockdowns

Yet no one is calling that outcome inevitable or deeming China’s victory in the pandemic messaging wars a foregone conclusion. The U.S. can still carry the day by showcasing the strengths of a system that promotes democratic responses and individual ingenuity, some say.

“You’re absolutely seeing the difference between lockdown policies in authoritarian regimes and lockdown policies in democracies,” says Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “What we’re seeing in the West [is] the bottom-up approach, that you have neighbors helping neighbors and you have states making decisions. Certainly it’s ad-hoc and looks chaotic,” she adds, “but I think there are some strengths in that response as well that a top-down state-led government cannot allow for.”

The U.S. needs to take China’s successes in the soft-power arena as a wake-up call that America’s pullback over recent years from its leadership role in the international arena is not going to go unchallenged, says Dr. Khan of the University of Delaware.

In the post-pandemic period, he adds, the U.S. will have to undertake a robust return to multilateral dialogue and institutions, and be more proactive about challenging China’s efforts to undercut U.S. leadership and the Western governance model.

“The authoritarian model may appeal even more to a lot of developing countries, so this also becomes about saving the American model globally – private enterprise and capitalism, liberal democracy, human rights,” he says. “All of that’s at stake.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

Troops on streets? Not so fast. US military sends hospital ships.

Some public officials propose calling up the military to support the U.S. pandemic response. But there are many reasons, as this story explores, why the Pentagon is extremely cautious about the scope of its role.

Amelia
John Minchillo/AP
National Guardsmen are in formation at the Jacob Javits Center, March 23, 2020, in New York. The city's hospitals were just 10 days from running out of "really basic supplies," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday. He has called upon the federal government to boost the city's quickly dwindling supply of protective equipment.

Two ways to read the story

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States are struggling to support health systems that are increasingly strained by the coronavirus pandemic. As in past emergencies, states have called up their National Guard to help with logistical challenges. That mobilization has fueled social media speculation that troops will soon be policing American cities.

Not so, insists the Defense Department, which is keen to stress that the military is definitely not on the march. Indeed, the idea that martial law is imminent belies a history in which the use of such powers are exceedingly rare. By contrast, the National Guard has long played a role in aiding civil responses, from Hurricane Katrina to border protection. 

In times of crisis, many public officials want to call in the troops to show they’re taking threats seriously, notes retired Col. Mark Cancian at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But that doesn’t mean putting Guardsmen in charge of law enforcement. 

For now, the active-duty military’s most visible role will be in deploying hospital ships to New York and California to relieve pressure on emergency wards. Behind the scenes, troops will also be moving medical supplies into place. Supply chain logistics is a military strength. As the Army saying goes, “Amateurs talk strategy, experts talk logistics.”

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3. Troops on streets? Not so fast. US military sends hospital ships.

As political leaders across America call for more troops to fight the coronavirus, Pentagon officials are pushing for a U.S. military role that is decidedly, well, unmilitaristic.

This will be no small challenge, they privately allow, as all states and territories have declared emergencies, and governors have activated some 12,000 of their National Guardsmen. Last week, President Donald Trump separately announced the call-up of thousands of National Guard troops for New York, California, and Washington. And naval hospital ships are being deployed to take the pressure off coastal city hospitals. 

These rapid developments have triggered a spate of social media posts speculating that these call-ups mark the beginning of martial law to tamp down civil unrest. Defense officials have been quick to shoot down these conjectures, with only a hint of exasperation. 

There has been no behind-the-scenes “conspiring” to use the National Guard “to do some sort of military action to enforce shelter in place and quarantine,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard, said in a briefing with reporters last week. Asked if U.S. troops would help carry out curfews, or take on other law enforcement roles, General Lengyel was unenthusiastic. National Guardsmen could, he allowed, but he didn’t see any great call for this.

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

It is an illustration of a tension between public officials under pressure to “do something” during national upheaval and a military anxious to demonstrate its deference to civilian control. In times of crisis, many public officials want to call in the troops “almost as a symbolic act,” a sign they’re taking things very seriously, says retired Col. Mark Cancian, senior analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies – even as the Pentagon is trying to stay far away from anything resembling military rule on the streets of America.

Martial law has been used rarely in U.S. history. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, for example, trial by jury was suspended and Hawaiians – more than one-third of whom were of Japanese descent – were issued identity papers they had to produce on demand. The National Guard, on the other hand, is frequently called out by state governors, mostly during national disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the California wildfires of 2019.  

Complicating matters, public officials “don’t always fully appreciate what the military legally can and cannot do,” notes Colonel Cancian. 

For starters, the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) of 1878 bars active-duty troops from policing fellow citizens – including seemingly innocuous jobs like dispersing crowds – unless there’s an invasion of foreign troops or an “insurrection.” The mass looting of grocery stores for toilet paper likely wouldn’t qualify here, Colonel Cancian says.

A presidential declaration or a congressional statute can override the PCA, a move that Kori Schake, director of defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sees as a possibility to protect medical workers and deliver supplies to hospitals, for example, if the pandemic continues to worsen. That said, “it ought to be a last resort,” she says.

Tony Dejak/AP
Members of the Ohio National Guard assist in repackaging emergency food boxes for distribution at the Cleveland Food Bank, March 24, 2020. Around the country, Guardsmen responding to the coronavirus emergency are now helping to transport medical supplies, distribute food, and even direct traffic at drive-through testing sites.

“Lousy policemen”

Barring such a move, the National Guard can legally take on law enforcement duties – though it’s not at the top of its to-do list. 

“The reason is that soldiers make lousy policemen” – and they know it, says Colonel Cancian. “It’s nothing wrong with them personally, but the way they’re trained. Policemen are [ideally] trained to look at people and say, ‘These are citizens that need to be protected.’ Soldiers are trained to look at people and say, ‘These are threats that need to be neutralized.’”

For this reason, when U.S. troops deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border, as they have in successive administrations, they support law enforcement chiefly through “administrative, logistical, and operational support,” a Defense Department report last year noted. 

As the old Army saying goes, “Amateurs talk strategy, experts talk logistics.” It is keeping the supply chain running during times of crisis that is the U.S. military’s secret weapon for winning wars of all sorts. 

Many of these logistics in the coming weeks will involve moving medical supplies into place and providing hospital beds, defense officials say. President Trump has dispatched the Pentagon’s two hospital ships to try to relieve city emergency services. The USNS Mercy arrived Friday in Los Angeles, while the USNS Comfort should dock in Manhattan early this week. 

These ships are more helpful for treating trauma than dealing with infectious disease, since the bunk-style beds don’t have segregated recovery areas. They can, however, along with temporary treatment tents set up by the military, be used to free up space at hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients.

“As trauma patients come in, instead of going into the hospital, they would go into the field hospital, where we could treat the broken legs, the lacerations, the falling-down-hit-your-head type of stuff. We can handle them in our big open bays,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at a recent press briefing. 

Distraction and war games

The U.S. military can also help provide vital transportation links. But even as all this is happening, military strategists will be keeping an eye trained outward, says Dr. Schake. “Our military are good strategists, and good strategists worry in this time of national crisis that our (foreign) enemies might try and take advantage and do something damaging to our national interests.”

This may include disinformation campaigns on social media that stir up fears of martial law, Secretary Esper said Tuesday. “We probably have external actors, countries that want to sow chaos in the United States and are injecting some of this into the ecosystem.”

Against this backdrop, one recurring theme in military war games “is the temptation to overcommit – then you don’t have resources for subsequent challenges,” Dr. Schake adds. For this reason, “There’s a tendency for the military to always want to keep something in reserve.” 

This might come in handy for America’s allies as well, Mr. Esper added. “As the coronavirus hits different countries differently, and as they react differently over time, it may present [national security] challenges for us,” he said. “With allies, it may be incumbent upon us to help them.” 

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Monday, March 30. As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

Live from anywhere: Musicians find new ways to connect with fans

Performers have been hit hard as halls and venues have been shuttered. But many are getting creative about how to keep their art alive – and so are those who are trying to support them in tough times. 

Amelia
Kevin Fogarty/Reuters
Musician Justin Trawick and his girlfriend, Lauren LeMunyun, perform a concert via Facebook Live March 15, 2020, in their Arlington, Virginia, apartment.

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Being stuck at home is an unusual experience for Candace Fowler and her husband, Southerners who attend at least 200 live concerts a year. In a bid to help struggling musicians, Ms. Fowler began listing schedules of online shows at her newly created Facebook group, Viral Music – Because Kindness Is Contagious. 

She thought she might attract 500 people, but the group now has more than 32,000 members. “It’s about the performance,” she says, “but it’s also about the community.” 

Live events from stadium shows to symphonic concerts have been among the first to face the economic impact of COVID-19. Many performers, and the crews that back them, are relying on support from a variety of newly created relief funds and from fans who are mobilizing online to help, aware of what’s at stake amid the silence. Many musicians are also performing online concerts.

Crowded House’s Neil Finn is broadcasting a daily show on Mixlr.com. “It sure helps to put focus and meaning in the day,” he wrote to fans recently, “and I like feeling connected to all of you there in isolation right now.” 

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4. Live from anywhere: Musicians find new ways to connect with fans

A few songs into his recent solo acoustic set at Boston’s Club Passim, John Paul White cracked a wry joke about the empty seats. Though the 100-capacity show on March 11 sold out in advance, some ticket buyers hadn’t shown up. The fan nearest the stage was wearing a face mask. Mr. White implored the audience to support musicians who would soon be affected by the COVID-19 shutdown.  

Two days later, the rest of his tour, including three financially lucrative shows in Canada, was canceled as live venues across North America closed. 

“I definitely took a loss,” says the Americana songwriter, who spent two days driving home to Alabama because his wife didn’t want him to fly. “But I got a lot of friends that had records coming out and were getting ready to start their album-release tours, which is like they’re going out to harvest their crops. Without those crops, a significant part of their year is gone. They don’t have day jobs and they don’t have writing, publishing deals.”

[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]

Live events from stadium shows to symphonic concerts have been among the first to face the economic impact of COVID-19. Many performers, and the crews that back them, are relying on support from a variety of newly created relief funds and from fans who are mobilizing online to help, aware of what’s at stake amid the silence. Hundreds of musicians are also performing online concerts, via couches and empty rehearsal spaces, to bring in income and remind people of the value of both their music and live performances.

“Until we are free to return to the people who come to see us and consume our art in a live venue, it’s going to be very, very difficult for musicians to make a living,” says Ray Hair, president of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM). “Musicians key off an audience. That’s when we’re the most emotional, and many times that’s when we’re the most spontaneous and the most creative.” 

Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of Sacks & Co.
Americana musician John Paul White recently had to cancel his spring tour.

Dozens of national and state-based aid groups are raising money to assist musicians with medical and other financial needs. Musicares, the Recording Academy’s charitable foundation, announced a $2 million fund March 17. Since then, industry groups such as Warner Music Group, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube have donated to the fund. Even so, Forbes magazine says the loss to the global music business will be at least hundreds of millions of dollars and maybe even as much as $5 billion.

During the shutdown, bands and individual musicians are setting up webcams in their garages and living rooms. For some, it’s an opportunity to spread some cheer. Crowded House’s Neil Finn and his family of musicians rehearse songs ahead of his daily show on Mixlr.com. “It sure helps to put focus and meaning in the day, and I like feeling connected to all of you there in isolation right now,” he wrote to fans.

But for others the online shows are a matter of economic necessity. Last week, Erykah Badu and her band charged fans $1 to drop in on the first of a series of concerts in her living room. “I got a house full of masked engineers, musicians, techs, who are all out of work,” she said. 

Grassroots efforts are also helping musicians. Stageit, a web-based performance platform that bills itself as “a front-row seat to a backstage experience,” has been hosting singer-songwriters such as Caleb Caudle, Lori McKenna, and Jill Sobule for an ongoing “Shut-in & Sing” virtual festival. Viewers can decide how much to pay for tickets. Other streaming sites offer virtual tip jars.

Artist Home, a company in the Pacific Northwest geared toward helping newcomers break into the regional music circuit, is streaming “Songs of Hope and Healing” concerts by those affected by COVID-19. The company has also created a database that lists music teachers who offer lessons on Skype and Zoom. 

“A lot of our working musicians are music teachers already. But then a lot of the ones who are finding themselves out of work are turning to it,” says Kevin Sur, founder of Artist Home. “If you’re stuck inside or if schools are shut down for six weeks, here’s a perfect way to go about teaching yourself a new skill.”

The boom of online performances got the attention of music fan Candace Fowler, who divides her time between Atlanta and New Orleans. Being stuck at home is an unusual experience for Ms. Fowler and her husband, who attend at least 200 live concerts a year. In a bid to help struggling musicians, she began listing schedules of online shows at her newly created Facebook group, Viral Music – Because Kindness Is Contagious. It also includes links to artists’ stores and other resources.

“I thought maybe I’d end up with 500 or so members and then it just exploded,” says Ms. Fowler, whose group now has more than 32,000 members. “It’s about the performance, but it’s also about the community. And so we’re able to cling to a little bit of that through this.”

Similarly, actor and playwright Nick Green started The Social Distancing Festival website, which offers a schedule of online music shows worldwide, as well as dance, theater, and visual arts performances.

Mr. White, who co-founded a tiny indie record label called Single Lock, is grateful for how easy technology has made it for him to organize upcoming livestreaming shows for himself and his acts. It’s no substitute, he says, for gigs in which he and fans are in the same space. But the upside is that underserved followers in, say, Saskatchewan have an opportunity to see him. The virtual gigs are also a handy advertisement for proper live shows when venues open again.

“I think people are going to realize how much live music supplements their lives and how much they need it when it’s gone,” says Mr. White, who came to prominence as half of the now-disbanded duo The Civil Wars. “And I think musicians are going to also really value that part of their career and realize the value and the weight of it.” 

[Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.]

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Why a small city made bus routes free to low-income residents

As climate change and income inequality spur conversations across the country, many cities are considering changes to make public transportation work better for their citizens. For one city in Massachusetts, that meant making some buses free. (Watch the video.)

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Self-isolation opens a door to national service

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Just in time for National Volunteer Month, Americans are discovering the meaning of sacrifice in service to others. They are self-isolating during a pandemic, both to protect themselves and their communities. This latest type of mass goodwill could have an impact long after the final defeat of COVID-19.

Staying at home is not the only good turn in a bad time. Some are tapping the internet to tutor low-income students, reduce loneliness in seniors, or ensure people get accurate information. Others who know how to travel safely have responded to calls for volunteers to deliver meals, help hospitals, or just mow a neighbor’s lawn.

Since its founding, the United States has frequently sought to enhance a spirit of service through programs such as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. That spirit picks up after a major crisis, such as the 9/11 attacks. Now the coronavirus crisis again puts a spotlight on volunteering for the greater good. When faced with a common threat, more people view service to others as a reflection of a higher good, one able to dispel the threat. When seen in that light, enduring a sacrifice like self-isolation is made easier.

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Self-isolation opens a door to national service

Just in time for National Volunteer Month in April, Americans are discovering the meaning of sacrifice in service to others. They are self-isolating during a pandemic, both to protect themselves and their communities. This same awareness of service could be said of paying taxes, joining the military, or doing jury duty. Yet this latest type of mass goodwill, already seared into the collective memory, could have its own impact long after the final defeat of COVID-19.

Staying at home is not the only good turn in a bad time. Some are tapping the internet to tutor low-income students, reduce loneliness in seniors, or ensure people get accurate information. Others who know how to travel safely have responded to calls for volunteers to deliver meals, help hospitals, or just mow a neighbor’s lawn.

The exact measure of volunteering may never be known. But for those who are participating in this unique civic engagement, there is a new blueprint on how to continue the experience.

On March 25, a federal commission set up three years ago to bolster America’s culture of service issued its final report. Its key recommendation: create a national roster of Americans with critical skills ready to serve in a public emergency. The panel set a goal of expanding national service opportunities so that 1 million Americans participate annually by 2031.

Congress established the 11-member National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service mainly over a question on how to improve expand the selective service system. Indeed, the panel recommended that women be required to register for the military draft. But its mandate included all aspects of service that might improve security in any type of emergency. Or as one commissioner, Debra Wada, put it, “Including women in the registration process reaffirms the nation’s fundamental belief in a common defense, and signals that all Americans may be expected to serve.”

Since its founding, the United States has frequently sought to enhance a spirit of service through programs such as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. That spirit picks up after a major crisis, such as the 9/11 attacks. Now the coronavirus crisis again puts a spotlight on volunteering for the greater good. When faced with a common threat, more people view service to others as a reflection of a higher good, one able to dispel the threat. When seen in that light, enduring a sacrifice like self-isolation is made easier.

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.

Calming the waves of fear

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During a frightening, turbulent English Channel crossing, inspiration from a Bible story helped a woman tangibly feel God’s care – bringing poise and peace to her and her family.

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1. Calming the waves of fear

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The waves on the English Channel were buffeting the ferryboat that my family was in to cross over to France. As the boat plunged up and down violently, nearly everyone on board seemed afraid. Even the staff looked worried, explaining to us that they had never seen such tumultuous water during a channel crossing. Soon the fear was heightened by an acute feeling of seasickness.

Normally I am a praying person, but as the panic heightened I was having trouble just keeping calm. Initially, I was simply focusing on myself and willing myself not to be ill. Then I lifted my head and glanced around at my family. While most of us were hunched over and looking a little green, my sister-in-law had the most peaceful look on her face, as if she were just enjoying the ride. I marveled at her calm, but it also made me aware that this ride could definitely go a different way.

I thought of a Bible story related in the Gospel of Mark (see 4:36-41). As the story goes, Jesus and his disciples were in a ship when a great wind began whipping up the waves, filling their boat with water. His disciples were afraid. There seemed to be no other possibility than that the boat would sink. However, when they turned to Jesus, they found him sleeping peacefully, apparently unconcerned.

Without a word to them, Jesus stood up and commanded the sea, “Peace, be still.” Instantly the situation shifted; the waves and wind ceased. He asked his disciples, “Why are ye so fearful?”

To me, “peace, be still” seems a command to the disciples as much as to the storm, an encouragement to be calm and at peace. One of the many lessons Jesus had taught the disciples during his ministry was that God’s love for everyone was so great that God would never leave, would always care for them. The love of our heavenly Father is all-powerful and ever present. “Nothing shall by any means hurt you,” Jesus explained at one point (Luke 10:19).

Even when a situation seems hopeless, God – the only legitimate power – is at the helm, guiding us and holding all of us, His spiritual sons and daughters, safe at every moment.

Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian theologian and founder of The Christian Science Monitor, wrote in her collection “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” what it is to be sure of God’s care. In a comforting article called “Angels,” she describes how angels aren’t beings with fluttering wings, but spiritual ideas sent from God that inspire and lift our thinking (see pp. 306-307).

These divine ideas reassure us of God’s care and inspire healing and solutions. As Mrs. Eddy notes, “... divine Love is an ever-present help; and if you wait, never doubting, you will have all you need every moment.” The article closes by explaining what an understanding of the ever-presence of God, infinite Love itself, offers us: “This sweet assurance is the ‘Peace, be still’ to all human fears, to suffering of every sort.”

Seeing how calm my sister-in-law was, coupled with the inspiration that was coming to me, made me realize that the way I was thinking about the situation – feeling helpless and vulnerable – was at the root of my great distress. But I’d experienced before how that idea of God, divine Love, as an “ever-present help” in any storm or trial can remove fear and bring calm and poise to our response to a situation.

While the waves did not subside, I gradually began to feel a sense of peace. It wasn’t a willful thing, but stemmed from a growing sense of God’s presence, a conviction of God’s care that lifted my spirits. I even started humming some favorite hymns from the “Christian Science Hymnal.”

The boat ride ended safely and uneventfully, with no one in our family getting sick. Later my brother told me that he was sure it was listening to the hymns I was humming that kept him from getting sick.

We can be confident, even when we feel overwhelmed by waves of fear, that we are safe in God’s powerful care. Willingness to let God’s spiritual ideas into our thought, assuring us of His protection, brings more peace and evidence of that protection. We may even find that our peaceful poise in the midst of the storm helps calm someone else’s fear, too.

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Comfort station

Mike Segar/Reuters
The USNS Comfort passes Manhattan as it enters New York Harbor in New York City, March 30, 2020. The ship will provide some relief for the city's network of hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, we hope you’ll check out our video that looks historically at the intersection of health scares and racism. It’s part of the Monitor’s new “(un)Precedented” series.

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