2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

May 08, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

A 1,000-year-old mill restarts to supply flour to Britain

Today’s issue looks at how partisanship now affects opinions about practically everything, from masks to Dr. Fauci; stand-your-ground laws and Ahmaud Arbery’s shooters; the struggle to determine how immunity to COVID-19 might work; whether some companies will move toward caring for stakeholders instead of only shareholders; how Vermont country stores are needed now more than ever; and when we might see a movie in a theater again.

The news can be pretty dark nowadays. But even on the darkest days you can spot glimmers of renewal.

Consider England’s Sturminster Newton Mill. It’s an ancient L-shaped building at a curve in the River Stour in Dorset. That’s a county of fields and chalk hills in the country’s southwest that was home and inspiration to the famous novelist Thomas Hardy.

There’s been a mill at the site for at least 1,000 years. The current one dates back to 1611. It’s been owned by a local heritage trust since 1994.

For years the mill has been run as a working tourist attraction. It hosts fun fairs and picnics and sells small bags of the mill’s authentically-ground flour as souvenirs. But there are no tourists nowadays, of course. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic the mill’s doors have been closed.

But the millstone is still there and turning. So miller Peter Loosmore – whose grandfather held the same position 50 years ago – had an idea. Flour has been in short supply during the lockdown, as baking by stay-at-home cooks has spiked. Why not resume commercial operation?

They started in late March, distributing through local grocers. They’ve already run through the ton of grain purchased for tourist season and are looking for more to fill their 1 1/2 kilogram bags.

“In one way we have an advantage over the bigger mills, which are used to selling large sacks to the wholesale trade and don’t have the machinery or manpower to put the flour into small bags,” Mr. Loosmore told a local paper, The Bournemouth Daily Echo.

Hardy probably would have approved of this revival. The Victorian author once lived only a few yards from the mill, and wrote one of his most popular novels there. Its title was apropos: “The Return of the Native.”

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The virus isn’t partisan. But it’s intensifying America’s red-blue divide.

Divided by geography and culture, and relying on different media sources that often emphasize different facts, Americans are experiencing the pandemic through sharply divergent partisan lenses.  

Peter
Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP
Karl Manke wears a mask while cutting hair at his barbershop in Owosso, Mich., May 5, 2020. Mr. Manke re-opened his doors on Monday in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order mandating salons, barbershops and other businesses stay closed. He says he has already given nearly 100 haircuts, and fields more calls than that each day.

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In some circles, wearing a mask is now seen as a liberal political statement while going maskless is a sign of “don’t tread on me” defiance.

In Texas, the debate over a salon owner jailed for reopening her shop early became so intense that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick paid her $7,000 fine and offered to serve the rest of her sentence under house arrest.

At a time when a shared reliance on facts and science is absolutely critical, partisan polarization is splintering a national sense of resolve over how best to combat the virus. 

Two-thirds of Americans don’t think the official U.S. death toll – 76,600 as of Friday – is accurate, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos poll. But among Democrats, 63% say it’s an undercount, while a plurality of Republicans (40%) believes the figure is inflated. Some Republicans suspect the number is being overstated to hurt President Trump. 

“We can’t even bring ourselves to accept the same set of facts, and feel compelled to question the motivations of our leaders and of each other,” says Mo Elleithee, director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and a former Democratic strategist. 

The virus isn’t partisan. But it’s intensifying America’s red-blue divide.

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Mask or no mask? Reopen businesses or keep them closed? Trust Dr. Anthony Fauci’s expertise – or not so much? 

On question after question, the debates have grown heated. Even amid a pandemic, when a sense of common purpose and shared values are essential, the nation’s red-blue divide seems as sharp as ever. In some circles, wearing a mask is now seen as a liberal political statement while going maskless is a sign of “don’t tread on me” defiance.

In Texas, the debate over a salon owner jailed for reopening her shop early became so intense that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick paid her $7,000 fine and offered to serve the rest of her sentence under house arrest.

Even the widely admired Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, has not escaped the partisan buzzsaw. True, he enjoys strong support in both parties, but there’s still a 17-point partisan gap: 88% Democratic approval versus 71% among Republicans, according to Gallup. 

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

Polarization, building for decades, was already intense before COVID-19. Now it’s on steroids – especially with a presidential election just six months away. And at a time when a shared reliance on facts and science is absolutely critical, partisanship and a deficit of trust have made fighting the virus all the more challenging. 

“For 40 years, there’s been a growing anti-intellectualism or perhaps populist resentment toward the traditional sources of informational authority – the press, academia, the scientific community, nonpartisan government agencies,” says David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. “We’ve gotten to the point, egged on by the president for four years, where maybe one-third of the country just does not trust a single word they hear from any of the traditional sources.” 

It must be acknowledged that the “traditional sources” sometimes do get it wrong. The mainstream media make mistakes. In 2003, the United States went to war in Iraq based on faulty intelligence over weapons of mass destruction. 

But each side now has its own sources of information and its own perspective in interpreting that information – coupled with a healthy dose of distrust of the other side. 

On COVID-19, two-thirds of Americans don’t think the official U.S. death toll – 76,600 as of Friday – is accurate, and faith in that figure is declining, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos poll. But partisans disagree on how it’s wrong: Among Democrats, 63% say it’s an undercount, given that some people are dying with COVID-19-like symptoms without being tested. Among Republicans, on the other hand, a plurality (40%) says the figure is inflated. Some Republicans suspect the number is being overstated to hurt President Donald Trump. 

“It just shows how sadly tribal we have become in our politics that we can’t even bring ourselves to accept the same set of facts, and feel compelled to question the motivations of our leaders and of each other,” says Mo Elleithee, director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service and a former Democratic strategist. 

Newt Gingrich sees a partisan hostility born of “deep differences in values, worldviews, goals, and definitions of reality,” the former Republican House speaker writes in an email. “The gap is now so large that each group sees its opponents as ‘the other.’”

“When the governor of Minnesota keeps open Planned Parenthood but closes churches, he is communicating a value set utterly alien to religiously committed people,” Speaker Gingrich continues. 

The rural-urban geographic divide is also shaping perceptions of the crisis, with Democratic-leaning regions hit harder by the virus than Republican-leaning areas. People who live in cities and suburbs, where population density and demographics have so far produced the highest case loads, are literally experiencing the pandemic differently from those in rural areas. 

That could soon shift: Coronavirus cases are now rising at a faster rate in rural America than in metropolitan areas, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The spread to rural, redder areas brings its own challenges, given their older populations, more preexisting health conditions, and fewer hospitals. Rural areas also face economic problems even when the national economy is strong. 

Friday’s jobs report – 14.7% of Americans unemployed in April, the highest level since the Great Depression – brought home the shocking economic impact of the virus. 

Yet on the question of reopening businesses, partisan differences are again sharp, and vary depending on the type of business. Some 61% of Republicans support opening golf courses, while only 30% of Democrats agree, according to the latest Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. 

With barber shops and hair salons, 48% of Republicans support reopening versus 15% of Democrats. Regarding movie theaters, the survey reports 33% of Republicans support reopening versus 8% of Democrats. 

Then there’s the mask question, which has become a flashpoint for partisan sniping. A majority in both parties say they wear a mask when leaving home, but Democrats are more likely to wear one by a margin of 17 percentage points – 76% to 59%. 

When Vice President Mike Pence didn’t wear a mask on a visit last week to Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, where mask usage is required, liberal outrage ensued. He said he didn’t feel the need to wear one, given he is regularly tested for COVID-19, but later he said he should have. 

President Trump has yet to wear a mask in public. On April 3, when the Centers for Disease Control changed its guidance and recommended that Americans wear masks when outside the home, the president said he preferred not to. 

His actions may have swayed some Americans’ actions. A March academic study shows that partisan affiliation – more than age, income, or education level – was a “huge divider” in people’s reported health behaviors, such as hand-washing and canceled trips, says Shana Kushner Gadarian, political scientist at Syracuse University and co-author of the study. 

“People are taking their cues from political leadership and from doctors, and to the extent that those are different, people will turn to their more trusted sources,” Professor Gadarian says. 

In other words, mixed messages – say, on mask-wearing – may be producing a mix of behaviors. 

Take Danielle Zaccagnino, a 30-something teacher in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, who says she leans liberal and has largely stayed inside since the virus outbreak started. When she does go out, she wears an N95 mask. She avoids the news, and keeps up with events via friends and social media.

“The assumption is that liberals are more panicked and conservatives are not,” Ms. Zaccagnino says. But “because I limit my exposure to the conversation, I think that’s the main factor in how not panicked I am.” 

In contrast, Stephen Hunt, a 50-something project manager in information technology, says he goes out in public all the time and doesn’t wear a mask or gloves. He watches Fox News, and thinks the official death toll from COVID-19 is “probably too high.” 

Mr. Hunt, who lives in exurban King George County, Virginia, says he identifies as “conservative” more than “Republican,” because the party has embraced big government. Most important, he says, he wants the freedom to make choices for himself and be treated by the government as an individual.

The virus, he says, “hasn’t changed the way we [he and his wife] go about our normal day-to-day business at all, other than social distancing, which we abide by of course.” 

Yet beneath these apparent divisions, certain bedrock American values are still shining through. 

“There’s plenty of evidence that on the ground, at the community level, we actually have become less polarized and have forged strong communities,” says Mr. Elleithee, former communications director at the Democratic National Committee. 

He cites stories of people delivering groceries to elderly neighbors and drives to help keep local businesses afloat.

In late March, the Next Door app added a feature that allows neighbors to help neighbors during the pandemic. Utility companies have features that allow people to round up their bill to help those who are struggling financially. Partisan affiliation doesn’t come up. 

“It’s happening all over the country, even in polarized communities and swing districts,” Mr. Elleithee says. 

Staff writer Noah Robertson contributed to this report.

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

A modern posse shot Ahmaud Arbery. Has stand your ground gone too far?

Killing an unarmed black jogger in broad daylight? The case of Ahmaud Arbery speaks to a thread of vigilantism that can spin out of control when citizens think they should stand in for cops.

Peter
Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News/AP
A crowd marches through Brunswick, Georgia, on May 5, 2020, demanding answers in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. After a video showing the Feb. 23 shooting of the unarmed jogger was released, a father and son were arrested Thursday and charged with murder.

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In many ways, the case of Ahmaud Arbery feels like Trayvon Martin all over again. In 2012, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, killed Trayvon – a black teenager in a hoodie – after falsely assuming he might be a criminal. The volunteer was protected by the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Yesterday, two white men were arrested on charges of murder. They confronted Mr. Arbery when he was jogging through their neighborhood, convinced he was behind a recent burglary. When a struggle ensued, Mr. Arbery was shot. The arrests were two months in the making and came after one prosecutor called the killing “perfectly legal.”

As details come to light, casting the accused as something of a modern-day posse, questions about the laws that initially protected them are growing. One of the lessons might be that once citizens engage as law enforcement, it can be hard to de-escalate a situation.

“There’s a study that shows people honestly believing that they’re engaging in self-defense, but actually engaging in assaults or brandishing or murder,” says a law professor at Duke University. “Once the fight starts, the self-defense argument is available to everybody.”

A modern posse shot Ahmaud Arbery. Has stand your ground gone too far?

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The two white men said they were justified in killing the unarmed black man who was jogging through their Georgia neighborhood. They never denied doing it, and one district attorney also saw nothing wrong, calling the shooting “perfectly legal.”

On Thursday, however, the two men were arrested and charged with murder by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The case turned dramatically when a video of the killing – made by a colleague of the two men – surfaced online.

The story of how a fatal shooting in broad daylight could go from something dismissed as of no legal consequence to murder – and why that shift took two months – has many layers. But at its core is the question of whether certain laws are providing cover for racist acts of violence.

Ahmaud Arbery was confronted and killed by what amounted to a modern-day posse. The case has echoes of 2012, when a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida, killed Trayvon Martin – a black teenager in a hoodie – after falsely assuming he might be a criminal. He was protected by the state’s “stand your ground” law, which allows citizens to use lethal force when they deem a situation to be life-threatening.

Now, Mr. Arbery’s death has again put a spotlight on self-defense and arrest powers, as well as the racial effects of laws that condone the open carry of weaponry.

“This is such an egregious example of an abuse of the citizen’s arrest statute and a twisting of the ‘stand your ground’ law, that it will force people to think a little,” says Joëlle Anne Moreno, a professor at Florida International University College of Law in Miami.

What happened that day

The facts of the case are not significantly in dispute. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael pursued Ahmaud Arbery when they saw him running through their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Police files indicate that they considered themselves in “hot pursuit of a burglary suspect.”

When the two men confronted Mr. Arbery – with a third colleague in a truck nearby, recording the video – a struggle over Travis McMichael’s shotgun ensued, and Travis McMichael shot him.

A new report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday suggests that the father, Greg, knew Mr. Arbery from his time as a police detective and was convinced that a surveillance video of a recent burglary showed Mr. Arbery. In high school, Mr. Arbery was sentenced to five years probation on charges of carrying a weapon on campus and several counts of obstructing a law enforcement officer, the Journal-Constitution notes. He was charged with shoplifting in 2018, violating his probation, the paper adds.

Greg McMichael “said he planned to make a citizen’s arrest,” the Journal-Constitution writes.

Regardless of Mr. McMichael’s assertions, the manner in which he and his son pursued them is deeply troubling.

“They just meted out a death penalty to this guy for what, at worst, is a crime of breaking and entering,” says Bob Spitzer, author of “Guns Across America.” “It’s a half-step away from a lynching.”

Mr. McMichael’s supposed evidence linking Mr. Arbery to burglary is also problematic on many levels.

“They said he was a suspect – well, anybody can be a suspect,” says James Yancey, a defense attorney in Brunswick. “There’s no indication that either one of the McMichaels were threatened, about to be threatened or where anything dangerous was going to happen to them – there’s no evidence of that. Instead, we’re left to say, ‘There’s this thing called a phone and this number called 911.’”

It turns out someone did call 911 to report a black man running through the neighborhood. That caller, too, suspected some kind of crime. But the dispatcher struggled with the caller’s inability to articulate evidence of a crime.

“I just need to know what he’s doing wrong,” the dispatcher said.

John Bazemore/AP/File
Capitol police clear protesters from the office of Sen. Jesse Stone, Feb. 10, 2014, in Atlanta. The protesters were calling for an end to Georgia's "stand your ground" law. Several people were arrested after refusing to leave.

Citizen’s arrests

For these reasons, the right of citizens to arrest fellow citizens focuses on the need to actually witness the crime. The legal principle is rooted in English common law dating back to 1285, which empowers anyone witnessing a crime to make a “hue and cry” against the criminal. The role of citizens in law enforcement, however, has declined as police officers have taken over the arrest function for the state and as the desire for accuracy has increased.

Unlike citizens, “peace officers were given greater leeway to investigate and arrest for criminal conduct that they did not personally witness, the presumption being that those responsible for enforcing the law were presumptively more reliable than the average private citizen,” writes Ira Robbins, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, in a 2016 journal article.

One lesson from this incident might be that once citizens engage, it can be hard to de-escalate a situation. In April, the RAND Corp. released a report recommending that states rescind stand-your-ground laws because they increase homicide rates.

“There’s a study that shows people honestly believing that they’re engaging in self-defense, but actually engaging in assaults or brandishing or murder, which ties together a lot of what we’re seeing with open carry that looks like intimidation rather than what is protected by law,” says Joseph Blocher, a professor at Duke University School of Law. “In other words, once the fight starts, the self-defense argument is available to everybody.”

Whether Mr. McMichaels engaged because of racism or simply as a former cop – “either way, it’s still violating the law,” says Professor Blocher.

“We need a change of heart”

To some, the broader conversation around law and order today is helping to fuel vigilante justice.

“When people are being taught by ... the NRA that they are the ones responsible for standing up to criminals and tyrants, and that you can’t trust the government to do it for you, it encourages people to take the law into their own hands, be armed, and act upon their fears and prejudices,” says Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

But for Mr. Yancey, the Brunswick defense attorney and an African American, what is most needed is a change of heart.

He tells of how, during a hurricane in 2007, his son and his white roommate went outside to check on a truck. A police officer emerged from his cruiser, pointing his handgun at Mr. Yancey’s son and asking the white friend to explain what was going on.

“God has given me this phrase: condition of the heart,” says Mr. Yancey, who attended segregated schools in the area until eighth grade. “When my white friends and white church members say they don’t see color, I tell them, ‘Then you need to get your eyes checked because that means you don’t see me at all, even when I’m standing right here in front of you.’

“The question is, what do you think in your mind when you see that person? What is in the abundance of your heart? To get past the stronghold of racism, we don’t need new laws or another court case. We need a change of heart.”

Reopen economy with virus-immune workers? It’s a maybe.

In the early weeks of stay-at-home orders, policymakers and the news media voiced hope that immunity tests would become a major tool for reopening the economy amid a pandemic. Now the narrative is shifting.

Peter

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For countries anxious to revive their pandemic-hit economies, the idea of immunity testing is an attractive proposition. Some have even explored the use of “immunity certificates” for COVID-19, to identify throngs of people who can safely jump back into economic activities.

But the science of immunity to COVID-19 is still uncertain. That has stayed the hand of policymakers, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who initially talked up the usefulness of antibody testing for markers of resistance to the disease.  

Medical researchers say people who recover from COVID-19 will likely have some degree of immunity, though for how long is unknown. Another issue is a flood of unreliable antibody tests on the market. Accurate testing is needed to understand how immunity works, including for people who were never tested for the virus. 

One of those people is Jayne Oh, a mother in Brooklyn who fell sick in March. She plans to take an antibody test to find out if she did have COVID-19. She knows a positive test doesn’t mean immunity. Still, “I would feel more ready to get back out there,” she says. 

Reopen economy with virus-immune workers? It’s a maybe.

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David J. Phillip/AP
Julie Janke, a medical technologist at Principle Health Systems and SynerGene Laboratory, looks over test results from a COVID-19 antibody test April 28, 2020, in Houston.

More than 327,000 people in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Of these cases, more than half are in New York City.

Jayne Oh isn’t one of them. But she’s convinced that she came down with COVID-19 in mid-March, just as the city went into lockdown. “It came on quite suddenly,” she says.

Ms. Oh, a marketing analytics consultant living in Brooklyn, stayed in her bedroom for three days. Her doctor advised her to isolate herself from her husband and two young children but not to go to the hospital, and within days she had begun to regain her health.

Ms. Oh is one of an untold number of New Yorkers who have had COVID-19-like symptoms and recovered, but were never tested.

The question matters not just to Ms. Oh – who wonders if she now has immunity to the virus – but to cities and states considering how to reopen. Immunity could influence how communities reopen, and how quickly they do so. A pool of immune workers, for example, could be a powerful tool to help reopen safely.

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

But first officials need to understand whether COVID-19 immunity exists and how it works. And that process is proving difficult.

Medical experts and clinicians understand why policymakers anxious to find a path back to economic vitality have talked up the idea of immunity. But, says Kamran Kadkhoda, who directs the immunopathology lab at the Cleveland Clinic, a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, “we have to do this [reopening] in a prudent manner.”

One test for potential immunity is a blood screening to look for antibodies that reveal a previous viral infection. The promise of antibody testing has captivated political and business leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere who hope it can help them revive their pandemic-crushed economies. In the U.S. alone, the unemployment rate surged to 14.7% in April as precautions against the virus stalled business activity.

SOURCE: Preliminary April data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

From hospitals in Michigan to college campuses in Arizona and software firms in California, antibody testing has already begun in an attempt to sort those who have and haven’t been infected. Cities and states are buying testing kits and partnering with research labs to screen residents.

But the flurry of interest in antibody testing as a shortcut to reopening hard-hit cities like New York has given way to humility. Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially seized on antibody tests as a way to get people back to work and children back to school. By last week, though, he had cooled on the idea after the World Health Organization warned there is no evidence of protection from reinfection. “There are a lot of unknowns about these antibodies,” says Dr. Kadkhoda.

That doesn’t mean nobody has acquired some immunity to COVID-19; in all likelihood the virus acts like other coronaviruses that infect humans, with some immunity for those who have had it, says Paula Cannon, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Southern California’s medical school.

But how strong any immunity is and how long it lasts is unclear. “The only way we’ll know is the numbers over time,” she says.

The wait for clarity on this, coupled with the absence of a vaccine or effective medical treatments for the disease, hangs over nascent efforts to reopen the U.S. economy. While some voters chafe at social restrictions, a majority in polls express fear at a hasty reopening amid a pandemic, adding to the pressure on political leaders. 

Goals of antibody testing

Antibody testing isn’t just about finding out who might have immunity. It can help in other ways. Epidemiologists want to track how far the virus has spread, how many people unwittingly had it, and to calculate the fatality rate. Initial tests in hard-hit places like New York City and northern Italy suggest that the number of confirmed cases is a fraction of the actual number.

But several countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, have also explored the idea of “immunity certificates” for those who test positive for antibodies, allowing them to go back to work first.

Last month, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said that the U.S. government was discussing a similar program. “I think it might actually have some merit, under certain circumstances,” he told CNN.

No country has issued immunity certificates, and analysts point to a raft of practical, legal, and ethical concerns, such as the incentive for workers to deliberately get infected or to falsely obtain certificates so they can keep their jobs. Germany’s health minister said Monday that the government would first consult a national ethics council before proceeding.

Another concern is the accuracy and consistency of antibody tests. The U.K. recently ordered 2 million home test kits from China that Prime Minister Boris Johnson said could be “a total game changer” in finding out who had immunity, only to scrap the tests as unreliable.

More than 100 different tests are now being sold in the U.S. without government approval under emergency rules, and researchers at the University of California’s San Francisco and Berkeley campuses found some produced over 10% false positives when used on pre-pandemic blood samples from patients who were thought not to have been exposed. Others showed false negatives from former COVID-19 patients. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said it was tightening rules on which tests could be sold.

Until we know more, antibody tests won’t provide certainty as to who can safely be exposed to the virus, says Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If people take actions based on inaccurate tests, or if they presume that antibodies reflect immunity and they don’t,” they could contribute to another wave of infections.

“We all want .... normalcy”

At first, Ms. Oh figured she, her husband, and two small children must have immunity, which was a comforting idea during lockdown until she read up on the issue. Now she plans to get an antibody test at a local clinic to see if she’s positive.

“I [would] know that I had it, I’m OK, and I survived. I would feel more ready to get back out there,” she says. Six or more weeks into the lockdown, she says “we all want to take some steps towards normalcy, what we had before.” 

Antibody tests can offer “a certain peace of mind,” even though a positive result provides no guarantee of immunity, says Dr. Cannon. “I think there’s value as an individual, if you understand what the result means.” 

New York City Council member Ritchie Torres knows he had COVID-19. He tested positive in March and self-isolated in his apartment in the Bronx district he has represented since 2013. It was a relatively mild case, and he was soon back at work remotely, shoring up services in what has become the city’s coronavirus epicenter.

Mr. Torres knows that he can’t assume he has immunity, so he’s not visited his mother, who lives alone, out of caution.

But he also knows that every day that New York is closed for business, the city sinks deeper into a financial black hole. The city’s comptroller said Tuesday that 1 in 5 New Yorkers is likely to be out of work by the end of June and that it would take years for employment to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

“The whole ecosystem of New York City is at risk,” says Mr. Torres.

He understands the risk of antibody testing that could give New Yorkers who test positive a false sense of security. For now, he says, there is no failsafe option. “We [would] have to be honest and say that we’re opening the economy based on a presumption of immunity rather than a knowledge of it.”

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

SOURCE: Preliminary April data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Is this crisis giving capitalism a moral nudge?

New thinking was already percolating in corporate boardrooms. Now many corporations are acting to address the pandemic – or risking criticism if they don’t care for “essential workers.”

Peter

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Even before the coronavirus, leaders of many corporations were already acknowledging public pressure to shift toward a “stakeholder” model of corporate purpose, with emphasis on societal and worker interests as well as profits.  Times of crisis, historically, add momentum to existing trends.

“Economic shocks tend to accelerate the pace of structural change,” says Neil Gregory, chief thought leadership officer of the International Finance Corporation, the private investment arm of the World Bank Group. Thus, corporate moves already underway toward greener, more sustainable operations, as well as wider use of online services, should speed up, he says.

Many businesses are focused on survival more than do-goodism. But some have also moved to boost pay for lower-wage workers, avoid layoffs, maintain health insurance for those they do lay off, or to offer fuller protections for frontline workers in the pandemic. 

“I feel like we’re in a musical chairs moment,” says Shelley Alpern, director of shareholder advocacy at Rhia Ventures, a social investment firm in San Francisco. “When the self-quarantining phase is over, it’s basically like the music stops and we see where the economy has landed.”

Is this crisis giving capitalism a moral nudge?

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Andrew Harnik/AP
A Trader Joe's employee takes in a shipment as the line to get in the store stretches down a city block on 14th and U Streets in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2020. The pandemic is focusing more attention on the economy’s reliance on lower-paid workers.

Stories keep rolling in of corporate good deeds in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Carhartt, the clothing maker known for its sturdy work pants, has redirected factories in Kentucky and Tennessee to produce gowns and masks for medical workers.
  • Shoe company Allbirds of San Francisco, which brands itself around low environmental impact, has donated $500,000 in footwear as part of an effort “to lift up our healthcare community.”
  • In Baltimore, steel-basket manufacturer Marlin Steel got an order one Friday evening in March to make test-tube holders for companies testing patients for COVID-19 – a product it had never made before. Employees volunteered to work the weekend to design and build them. Then, due to a canceled airline flight, two Marlin employees drove more than 1,000 miles overnight to deliver them to the first client by Monday morning.

Such examples of corporations helping a broader community are spurring hopes among some that the coronavirus crisis can hasten a shift – even if the steps may be modest and gradual – toward a more benevolent capitalism. The latest signs of movement aren’t limited to the United States. The company Allbirds has roots in New Zealand as well as the U.S., and the coronavirus has prompted companies around the world to make moves beyond the interests of their shareholders. 

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

“I feel like we’re in a musical chairs moment,” says Shelley Alpern, director of shareholder advocacy at Rhia Ventures, a social investment and advocacy firm based in San Francisco. “When the self-quarantining phase is over, it’s basically like the music stops and we see where the economy has landed. … It’s an amazing opportunity that’s coming up before us. It’s whether the government and civil society with the aid of companies can help to re-envision the future and design an economy where the rewards are more broadly distributed for workers and we’re all in a far more resilient place.”

Of course, a quest for shareholder profits and an often-charitable spirit have long coexisted in capitalist economies. And for now, legions of businesses are focused more on survival than on do-goodism. 

But even before the pandemic, leaders of many large corporations were already acknowledging public pressure to shift toward a “stakeholder” model of corporate purpose, with a stronger emphasis on societal and worker interests as well as profits.  And times of crisis, historically, can add momentum to existing trends.

“Economic shocks tend to accelerate the pace of structural change,” says Neil Gregory, chief thought leadership officer of the International Finance Corporation, the private investment arm of the World Bank Group. Thus, corporate moves already underway toward greener, more sustainable operations, as well as wider use of online services, should speed up, he adds.

One of the biggest challenges now facing businesses is massive layoffs. The Labor Department reported Friday that 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs last month, causing unemployment to soar to 14.7%, a level not seen since the Great Depression. Some companies have tried to soften the blow by allowing workers to hang onto their health care benefits. Gravity Payments, a credit-card processor in Seattle that won plaudits five years ago for raising workers’ minimum pay to $70,000 a year, found a different solution. 

Losing $1 million a month, the CEO turned to his employees for cost-cutting ideas and within a day they had them, including workers volunteering to take temporary pay cuts. The CEO and chief operating officers were so impressed they cut their own salaries to zero, doubling the amount of time the company can continue to operate before running out of cash and having to lay off workers.

“Workers are the No. 1 stakeholder” 

The pandemic has also shined a bright light on weaknesses of contemporary capitalism. Any lasting changes in CEO thinking may end up being spurred most heavily from the outside the boardroom – by workers and watchdog groups or consumers and socially conscious investors. 

Will the pandemic really force social change? “I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic,” says Ms. Alpern of Rhia Ventures. Yet she adds: “What does give me some optimism is that I think ... there is rising awareness of how vulnerable so many people in certain sectors of the economy are.”

The economy’s reliance on low-paid, often part-time employees, has suddenly become more starkly visible, as truck drivers and grocery clerks have become front-line workers in the battle to keep households supplied while citizens are largely sheltering in their homes.

“Workers are the No. 1 stakeholder in this particular instance,” says Julie Gorte, senior vice president for sustainable investing at Impax Asset Management. “It’s so easy to expose your workers to the potential for infection.”

Individually, many companies have stepped up to the plate to help out these workers. Large chains such as Walmart, Target, Kroger, and Albertsons have increased pay temporarily. CVS and Trader Joe’s have handed out bonuses.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Contract drivers paid by Amazon collect bags of free groceries to deliver from the Bread for the City social services charity during the coronavirus outbreak, in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020. The charity is sending out as many as 500 or 600 bags a day using the drivers.

 

Even many firms that weren’t seeing a surge in business have acted to help their lowest-paid employees. Restaurant chain Chipotle raised hourly pay 10% and handed out first-quarter bonuses. Darden Restaurants, owner of the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse chains, extended paid sick leave to all of its hourly employees.

It’s not always clear when companies are acting from high ethical standards and when they’re simply trying to avoid bad publicity. 

Seattle-based Amazon has won praise for stepping up its operations and hiring 175,000 new workers to keep consumers supplied with goods when so many stores are closed. But the result is also extra market share in a now-shrinking economy. And Amazon workers have held public protests at several locations, including at its Whole Foods division, complaining the company hasn’t done enough to protect them. 

So last week, when announcing first-quarter earnings, executives told shareholders to “take a seat” in case of shock because the company planned to devote all its expected $4 billion second-quarter profit to pandemic-related activities. The actions will include protective equipment for all workers, stepped-up cleaning and monitoring, and the building of a facility for its own coronavirus testing.

Even so, Amazon’s public image took another hit this week, when vice president Tim Bray resigned, citing the firing of employee whistleblowers on safety concerns.

Actions under public scrutiny

Bad press has dogged some corporations – and perhaps prompted corrective changes – during past economic downturns, too. During the 2008 financial crisis, several corporations that got government bailouts gave their executives huge bonuses, which raised a public furor. 

“There’s nothing like that during this crisis,” says Ms. Gorte at Impax. In fact, some corporate CEOs have gone out of their way to emphasize that they’re trimming or even eliminating their pay for the year. 

Still, a controversy this year involves participation in emergency federal loans for small firms, which are forgivable if used to keep workers employed. The program’s rules were loose enough that some large publicly traded companies managed to qualify for the program, partially draining it of cash. When they faced the glare of media headlines, several returned the money.

Another prod for corporations is the prospect of legislative efforts to address the treatment of workers or income inequality. The crisis has added to hopes on the political left that ideas like a higher minimum wage, universal health care, or even a universal basic income could gain political traction.

Whether through political leverage or investor and consumer activism, some experts say the social forces that guide corporate behavior are already shifting, if slowly. 

“We already are at that inflection point,” says Barbara Dyer, executive director of the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative at the Sloan School of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We’ve known, for example, that the policies and laws that shape our employment and labor systems are antiquated. … They came out of the New Deal. And there are many people who have been working to think about what the 21st century legal structure ought to be. And they’re ready.” 

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

Milk, bread, and comfort at Vermont’s country stores

The quintessential country store has long been a New England bedrock. As social distancing shutters Vermont, these stores continue to keep their communities fed and nurtured – perhaps more than ever before.

Peter

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Around noon each Friday, Simi Johnston dons a mask and puts out brown paper bags with grocery orders, each labeled with the customer’s name for pickup. For Ms. Johnston, co-owner of Vermont’s South Woodstock Country Store, continuing to serve the community while keeping everyone safe is critical. The store closed to the public in late March, two days before the state required restaurants to shut down.

“The reason we run the country store is because we care about our community,” she says. “Without it, South Woodstock is very different. Closing the doors of the country store, for myself and my staff, was surprisingly emotional.”

Hers is one of many country stores still serving the public during the crisis, during which many customers are self-isolating with limited grocery options. Country stores across the U.S., from New England to the south and the Midwest, are the heartbeat of their communities, often standing in the same spot for generations, growing up with the town.

With most businesses closed during Vermont’s state of emergency, country stores have become more than essential food hubs – for many here, these stores are a lifeline holding the fabric of the community together.

Milk, bread, and comfort at Vermont’s country stores

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Gareth Henderson
Messages of hope fill the right-front window of the Barnard General Store in Barnard, Vermont, on a sunny April day. One reads, ‘We got this Vermont!’

As COVID-19 restrictions were tightening in mid-March, Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva made a big decision: They pledged to keep the doors of the Barnard General Store open, no matter what.

Now, the Barnard store has a grocery home-delivery system supported by volunteers, and they also offer curbside pickup. But it’s been a long haul for the store, in this remote Vermont town of about 900 people, located a half-hour from the nearest grocery establishment.

“Most days we are working 10 to 12 hours a day, but we are happy to do it for our community,” Ms. Bradley says.

Theirs is one of many country stores still serving the public during the crisis, during which many customers are self-isolating with limited grocery options. Country stores across the U.S., from New England to the South and the Midwest, are the heartbeat of their communities, often standing in the same spot for generations, growing up with the town.

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

Eight years ago, the Barnard store closed for about a year but came roaring back after a community trust with hundreds of local members raised the funds to save the business. It reopened in 2013, with Ms. Bradley and Mr. Minerva as the new owners. The community simply would not let the store fail.

The couple keenly feels that support now, amid a time of need for many Vermonters. Grateful emails have been flooding Ms. Bradley’s inbox.

“Everyone has been so kind and it is honestly the reason we keep getting out of bed every morning and hustling as much as we possibly can,” she says.

Each day, wearing masks and gloves, they and their staff sanitize all surfaces and equipment.

Customer Russ Hebert, from nearby Sharon, picked up a sandwich order recently as a few customers wearing masks dropped by for groceries. He said local stores are showing how important they are to their communities.

“It’s not like everybody has a garden anymore,” Mr. Hebert says.

These Vermont stores have become essential food hubs. With most country store buildings closed during Vermont’s state of emergency – which was extended beyond May 15 – online ordering and curbside pickup has become the trend. Such is the case a 40-minute drive south at the South Woodstock Country Store, which has been running its curbside operation since early April. Around noon each Friday, co-owner Simi Johnston, donning her mask, puts out brown paper bags with grocery orders, each labeled with the customer’s name for pickup.

For Ms. Johnston, the main focus is continuing to serve the community while keeping everyone safe. The store closed to the public in late March, two days before the state required restaurants to shut down.

The entire operation is sanitized, and the store tries not to touch deliveries for 24 hours. The first week of curbside, the store saw 20 orders – which is nothing like being fully open.

“It’s a huge hit, for sure, but we’re definitely hoping there’ll be a lot of understanding from everyone around that,” Ms. Johnston says. 

It’s been tough not to see people dining and chatting inside, she adds. Almost every morning, a local group used to gather for coffee at one of the wooden tables just inside the store. Some grab a morning paper and sit down for breakfast near the deli, while others grab a breakfast sandwich on the way to work.

“The reason we run the country store is because we care about our community,” she says. “Without it, South Woodstock is very different. Closing the doors of the country store, for myself and my staff, was surprisingly emotional.”

Giving back

With Vermont’s unemployment rate soaring to more than 20% during the pandemic, many stores are also finding a way to give back, even while they themselves struggle. In Craftsbury, which sits an hour south of the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, businesses have joined forces to set up a pop-up food pantry. The Craftsbury General Store put out a call for donations, and they came in fast.

“There’s been a lot of generosity in that realm,” says co-owner Kit Basom. 

At the store, the doors are closed to the public, but they’re doing business seven days a week, filling online and phone orders for curbside pickup. The store’s owners have added a third person to help with phones, and everyone is on deck to be a “personal shopper.”

“It’s busy in a whole new way,” says co-owner Ms. Basom.

The Craftsbury store has also added a “virtual tour” on its website, so customers can browse the shelves digitally. The staff regularly updates an online list of items people can order in bulk – think flour, rice, or pasta.

“We’re moving a lot more product from our grocery section than we ever did before,” Ms. Basom says.

For many here, these stores are a lifeline holding the fabric of the community together. There is growing concern about the warmer months, from May to October, when these small village stores usually make the majority of their annual income. Though it’s been on their minds, Ms. Bradley from the Barnard store says she is confident they will find a way to make it.

“It’s sink or swim time and there is no way we will let ourselves sink,” she says. “There is no way this community will let us sink, either. It takes a village.”

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

The Explainer

When can I go see a movie? Theaters ponder what’s next.

How long until moviegoing returns? Hollywood and theater owners are weighing a host of issues, including when to distribute films and the logistics of gathering indoors in groups. 

Peter
Chris Pizzello/AP
A pedestrian looks up at the marquee of the currently closed Vista Theatre, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, in Los Angeles. Movie theaters across the United States are considering the best way to reopen.

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James Bond has narrowly escaped sharks, tigers, and even a tsunami. But in March, 007 finally met his match in the coronavirus. The 25th Bond film, “No Time to Die,” was the first movie to delay its release. Originally scheduled for April, James Bond will return in November. As COVID-19 escalated, other movies followed suit, with no summer blockbusters planned until mid-July.

The coronavirus has brought a number of changes to Hollywood, including a recent announcement that movies that have gone straight to streaming can be considered for Oscars.

With no new films in the pipeline, theater owners are taking their time considering the best way to reopen, even in states where they are allowed to do so. The future of moviegoing depends on the effectiveness of movie-house practices, says Katherine Tallman, executive director and CEO of the Coolidge Corner Theatre, an independent art-house cinema in Boston. Even so, she anticipates audiences will return. 

“People really want to get together,” says Ms. Tallman. “I don’t see that desire, that human desire to collect and share experiences, ever going away.”   

When can I go see a movie? Theaters ponder what’s next.

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How will social distancing change going to the movies, one of the most popular leisure activities of the past century? The coronavirus affects every aspect of the big-screen business, from release dates to cinema attendance. Your popcorn may be on hold for a while.

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

How has the COVID-19 shutdown affected Hollywood’s schedules?

James Bond has narrowly escaped sharks, tigers, and even a tsunami. But in March, 007 finally met his match in the coronavirus. The 25th Bond film, “No Time to Die,” was the first movie to delay its release. Originally scheduled for April, James Bond will return in November. As COVID-19 escalated, other movies followed suit.

“I told somebody at Paramount ... ‘When are you moving ‘Top Gun 2’ to Christmas?’” recalls Pete Hammond, chief film critic for Deadline. “He got all mad at me. Then, only two days later, they ended up moving ‘Top Gun 2’ to Christmas.”  

As of now there won’t be any summer blockbusters until Christopher Nolan’s action flick “Tenet” on July 17, followed by the belated arrival of a pair of heroines: the live-action “Mulan” (July 24) and “Wonder Woman 1984” (Aug. 14). Mr. Hammond wonders if those dates will shift again.

When cinemas reopen, studios will likely avoid bunching the releases of delayed movies. A measured rollout will give each film space to maximize its audience share. That’s why “F9” (or “Fast and Furious 9”), Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” have been pushed back a full year to 2021. Rescheduling release dates in global markets has created a multiyear domino effect. For example, Indiana Jones – originally due to return in a fifth movie next summer – will now crack his whip in July 2022. 

Spacing out the release dates also gives studios time to complete movies whose filming was suspended by COVID-19. The scrambled production timelines may create conflicts for in-demand talent, who might have to turn down other movie opportunities because of prior commitments.

What will moviegoing look like when cinemas reopen?

That is literally a multimillion dollar question. Cinemas will have to incorporate stringent social distancing measures – think fewer seats available in each theater – as well as boost disinfection procedures. No one knows yet whether cinemas will uniformly implement policies such as taking customers’ temperatures before allowing entry. But the future of moviegoing depends on the effectiveness of movie-house practices, says Katherine Tallman, executive director and CEO of the Coolidge Corner Theatre, an independent art-house cinema in Boston.

“We want to make sure that people have a perception that everything is really carefully handled, really clean,” says Ms. Tallman.

The last thing anyone needs, she adds, is a false start in which theaters open and are blamed for spreading the virus. The three largest movie chains – AMC, Regal, and Cinemark – remain closed for now. Theater owners in Georgia have expressed reluctance to reopen even though the state permitted them to do so in late April. And in Texas, only a handful of small cinemas have taken advantage of the green light to resume business. Evo Entertainment opened a couple of its theaters near San Antonio and instituted checks of customers’ temperatures. The Santikos company opened 3 of its 9 locations in San Antonio, but capped capacity at 25%. All eyes will be on Germany’s biggest state, North Rhine Westphalia, where cinemas are due to reopen on May 30. 

Most movie theaters aren’t in a rush to reopen because there aren’t new movies to screen. For many owners, it will likely only make sense to open when they know enough customers will attend. Drive-ins may benefit first. 

Long term, it’s unlikely that COVID-19 will put an end to moviegoing. After all, cinemas have survived the introduction of television, videotapes, and streaming. 

“People really want to get together,” says Ms. Tallman. “I don’t see that desire, that human desire to collect and share experiences, ever going away. In fact, I think that now that none of us can have it, it’s even more evident.”  

How will the Oscars be affected?

In recent years, the Academy Awards decided to forgo a host. Will the 2021 ceremony eschew a theater audience? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has had more immediate concerns than whether to, say, bring back Billy Crystal to host via videoconference. In late April, the academy’s board of governors voted to waive its long-standing requirement that movies must screen in a Los Angeles theater for one week to qualify for consideration. The temporary rule change will benefit contenders that have had to skip a theatrical release and go straight to streaming. Once theaters reopen, the academy will also allow movies to screen in several other cities across the U.S. to meet eligibility requirements.

“The bigger question is, when will this really get ramped up again to the point where you have an awards season, where you have the ability to get all these movies out and seen?” asks Mr. Hammond. “Will they have to move the Oscars [from February] back to April?”

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

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A light of truth on racial violence

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Last Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp watched a newly released video of the killing of an unarmed black man outside Brunswick, Georgia, last February. “Follow the truth,” he then told state investigators. It was a simple command, yet one with a powerful legacy for improving racial justice.

Two days later, the investigators arrested two white men, charging them with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who had been jogging in a suburban neighborhood.

Just the day before the governor gave his command, a Pulitzer Prize was awarded posthumously to Ida B. Wells, a journalist whose reports on lynching in the 19th and early 20th centuries eventually led to the end of that heinous practice. The award was long overdue. Yet it is a timely reminder of the need for rigorous truth-telling in racial crimes.

A black woman born into slavery, Wells documented the lynchings in the South and exposed the myths that justified them. Her reporting forced many Americans to embrace the sanctity of all life and the equality of all races. “The way to right wrongs,” she wrote, “is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

A light of truth on racial violence

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Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, who led a crusade against lynching during the early 20th century, holds a portrait of Wells in her home in Chicago. Wells was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize on May 4.

Last Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp watched a newly released video of the killing of an unarmed black man outside Brunswick, Georgia, last February. “Follow the truth,” he then told state investigators. It was a simple command, yet one with a powerful legacy in the United States for improving racial justice.

Two days later, the investigators arrested two white men, charging them with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who had been jogging in a suburban neighborhood. Both the video and the arrests help undercut the claims of the two men that they had acted legally to stop a burglar. A grand jury will take up the case in June.

Just the day before the governor gave his command, a Pulitzer Prize was awarded posthumously to Ida B. Wells, a journalist whose reports on lynching in the 19th and early 20th centuries eventually led to the end of that heinous practice. The award, coming 89 years after her death, was long overdue. Yet it is a timely reminder of the ongoing need for her kind of rigorous truth-telling in racial crimes.

A black woman born into slavery, Wells used her newspapers in Tennessee to document the lynchings in the South and to expose the myths that justified them (to “shield” white women from being raped by black men). She revealed that fewer than one-third of lynchings involved any allegations of sexual offenses.

Her reporting cut through the evil of such acts in a way that forced many Americans to embrace the sanctity of all life and the equality of all races. “The way to right wrongs,” she wrote, “is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Her journalistic crusade against lynching began in 1892 after friends of hers were lynched in Memphis. “I felt that I owed it to myself and my race to tell the whole truth,” she stated.

Until recently, Wells was often overlooked in American history. Yet her pioneering work as an investigative reporter has received more attention as the U.S. deals with cases of white-on-black violence, such as the recent shooting in Georgia.

These days, the prevalence of video cameras provides the kind of evidence that took days for Wells to uncover. But the effect on justice is often the same. As she herself put it, “Truth is mighty and will prevail.”

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.

Our divine Mother’s day – every day

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Don’t we all have moments when we long for motherly comfort and care? Even in troubling times, the tender yet powerful love of our divine Parent is here for each of us to feel and express.

Our divine Mother’s day – every day

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Right now the world is in great need of a big dose of motherly love and a huge, comforting hug. Where could a loving embrace big enough to cover the whole earth and encircle all humanity come from?

It seems clear to me that this size hug and love could only come from God, “divine and eternal Principle; ... Love” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 592), whom I’ve come to understand through Christian Science as our Father as well as Mother. With the power of God behind it, such an embrace is more than just an expression of affection. It includes God’s protecting, healing power.

Leaning wholeheartedly on this divine Love has helped me navigate this period of widespread fear. I trust God, divine Mother, Love, to meet all my needs and to care for me as a loving parent would care for a child who was afraid. Each morning I pray that the whole world can also feel this healing Love hugging it and telling it not to be afraid.

The reason I feel so confident in divine Love is that I’ve experienced evidence of God’s protecting care for me and my family over the past 25 years. One message in particular that I have consistently been inspired by as a mother is a poem by Mary Baker Eddy titled “Mother’s Evening Prayer” (see “Poems,” pp. 4-5), which has been set to music in the “Christian Science Hymnal.” Its words help me better understand the message of God’s protecting power conveyed in the 91st Psalm in the Bible.

In raising my children in five countries over the years, in Africa and North America, I have sung this hymn hundreds of times. The mothering presence of divine Love that shines through the words has brought not only much-needed comfort in times of sickness or danger, but also healing. The hymn’s opening words, “O gentle presence, peace and joy and power,” point to qualities that God expresses and is the source of – qualities that are also expressed in each of us as God’s spiritual offspring.

Another line refers to God as “Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight,” and another speaks of being under God’s “mighty wing.” This echoes the 91st Psalm, which explains that God covers us “with [Her] feathers, and under [Her] wings shalt thou trust” (verse 4).

For me, this imagery depicts divine Love as a mother goose with her baby gosling peeking out from under her wing, safe in the refuge of its mother’s protection. It brings the sweet message that we are not alone. Divine Love is present – guarding, guiding, protecting us. As the children of God, the spiritual image of the Divine, we can never be separated from the tender care of this Love.

I know these are more than just comforting words and pleasant imagery because I have felt the palpable peace and healing presence of divine Love many times. Just a few examples, from a time when our young family lived in Ethiopia, include healings of hepatitis and recurring episodes of food poisoning. (To read more about these healings, check out “Healed of hepatitis” and “Spiritual insight ends bouts of food poisoning” on JSH-Online.com.) There was also abundant evidence of our divine Mother’s love and care when I really had to rely on God during pregnancy and childbirth during these years.

The dearest example of Love’s powerful mothering care came one night when I was awakened by the sound of my 6-month-old daughter gasping for breath. I went to her crib, and she was so congested she couldn’t get a breath. It was a very scary moment, and options for help were very limited where we lived.

But rather than giving in to the fear, I took a mental stand for the presence of divine Love, the only true power, which is always here, ready to heal. I started to say aloud the final verse of the poem mentioned earlier:

No snare, no fowler, pestilence or pain;
No night drops down upon the troubled breast,
When heaven’s aftersmile earth’s tear-drops gain,
And mother finds her home and heav’nly rest.

I felt the authority of God’s all-power behind the words. This broke the fear, and the most gentle and calm feeling came over me. Divine Love’s gentle presence and firm authority to meet the need were palpable. The baby coughed, expelling the blockage, and immediately started breathing normally. A wonderful keepsake is a picture taken of her the next day, smiling and completely well, unaffected by the events of the night before.

For these and countless other proofs of Love’s ever-presence and tender care, I am an eternally grateful mother. Truly, as Science and Health explains, “Love, the divine Principle, is the Father and Mother of the universe, including man” (p. 256).

This Mother-Love is free to all to know and feel this day and every day, in every corner of the earth.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the coronavirus. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

Viewfinder

Mum’s the word this weekend

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
When I was a little girl and it was parents’ day at my elementary school, I was so proud to have my mother visit. She was beautiful and statuesque, and she had perfect posture. Her wardrobe was impressive; my grandmother and I used to tease her by telling her she was a clotheshorse. But I know her collection didn’t cost a lot. Her dresser drawers were filled with jewelry – mostly costume – that went with each outfit. Her purse always matched her shoes. She held an impressive job at a time when not many women worked out of the house. And she was a single parent who gave up a lot to provide a safe and loving home for me. Though she’s been gone a long time now, I’ll think of her on Mother’s Day this year. And I will also celebrate the love expressed by mothers around the world, whether their children are biologically their own, adopted, fostered, or chosen in another way. Through my work as a photographer, I’ve witnessed and captured many moments of connection between mothers and their children in every one of the 70-plus countries I’ve visited. As the saying goes: Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever. Click on the link below to see more photos. –Melanie Stetson Freeman
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Come back Monday. We’ll have an in-depth look at China’s disinformation campaign about COVID-19 in Europe, and what that might be doing to the cohesion of the EU bloc.

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