2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

June 05, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Loaves and fishes, and a Minneapolis middle school

As you might imagine, daily life has been upended in Minneapolis, due to protests about the police killing of George Floyd, and law enforcement efforts to contain them.

In some areas access to staple products has been a problem. The problem is distribution, not supply. Supermarkets have been burned out and looted. Chain drug stores are shuttered too. There are few places to get food, diapers, or toothpaste.

Enter Sanford Middle School, in the city’s Longfellow area. The school is located only a few blocks from the 3rd  Precinct police station, which burned at the height of the city’s unrest last week. A parent raised the supply issue with principal Amy Nelson, and she put up a request on social media for 85 food kits for donation to Sanford students and their families. 

They got a lot more than that. Several orders of magnitude more. Last Sunday morning, traffic was backed up for at least 14 blocks as cars from as far as Wisconsin pulled up to unload bags and boxes of food and other necessities.

“I think people were looking for something to do,” Principal Nelson told a television interviewer.

First, they covered the parking lot. Then all the grass of the school’s lawn and play fields. It got so crowded food had to be moved to a nearby park.

Some people waited more than an hour to unload. The pile of Cheerios and other breakfast foods got so high workers dubbed it “Mount Cereal.”

Ms. Nelson quickly saw they would have more than her school community needed. The Sheridan Story, a local charity dedicated to fighting child hunger, stepped in to help. At the end of the day, Sheridan Story officials estimated that the haul represented one of the largest food drives ever held in Minnesota, netting about 18 semitrucks full of food. 

“We live in a great city, and we have people who want to help,” Ms. Nelson told the local CBS affiliate. “The response has been overwhelming in a very positive way.”

The promise – and limits – of police taking a knee

What does it mean to kneel? Officers taking a knee in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in police custody mark a powerful change in tone after the controversy over Colin Kaepernick’s career-ending protest.

Peter
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Atlanta Police Officer J. Coleman (left) and protester Elijah Raffington, of Sandy Springs, fist bump while an Atlanta Police bicycle unit kneels with protesters in a symbolic gesture of solidarity outside the CNN Center at Olympic Park, June 3, 2020, in Atlanta.

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This Sunday, many protesters were startled by NYPD officers in an intersection in Queens.

Led by the commanding officer, kneeling officers were cheered with cries of “thank you” by protesters who formed a circle around them.

Similar gestures have been occurring in cities across the United States. Often dressed in riot gear, groups of police in Portland, Oregon; Santa Cruz, California; El Paso, Texas; and Flint, Michigan, have collectively taken a knee.

The poignance of these images are not simply counterpoints to the rage sweeping across the country. For many who have watched efforts to address the long and troubling history of racial inequities in American law enforcement, the symbolic gesture of police officers taking a knee is a positive sign. But for others, it’s just the beginning.

“I know they were flipping it, yes, taking a knee to show peace and honor and humility – and that’s right, that’s a good thing,” says Veronica Bell, mother of Sean Bell, who was killed by police the day before his wedding in 2006. “But that’s not all that matters.”

“I might not see the change while I’m living,” she says, “but I pray that my children and my grandchildren will help make that change for the country they will have to rebuild.”

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1. The promise – and limits – of police taking a knee

Valerie Bell had mixed reactions this week when she watched police officers across the country take a knee as they confronted crowds of people protesting the killing of George Floyd.

There was a part of her that was grateful, especially since their actions seemed to be a much-belated acknowledgement of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt as a symbol of solidarity with Black Lives Matter during game-day performances of the national anthem, enduring widespread criticism. He has since been shunned by the NFL.

“Most of them, they were against [Kaepernick] doing that, and I felt that was wrong,” says Ms. Bell, who is among an organized group of mothers whose sons are part of the ever-growing roll call of black men killed by police. “That was what he chose to do to show honor to those who were killed by police officers. And by the cops kneeling today, to me, I guess they’re trying to do what he did. I guess by kneeling they are at least trying to show a peaceful sign to the protesters.”

Her own son, Sean Bell, was shot and killed by New York City plainclothes cops in 2006, in the early morning hours before his wedding. During his bachelor party, undercover officers said they saw a gun in his vehicle, and opened fire with a hail of 50 bullets. No weapon was found. Three officers were tried and acquitted of manslaughter. 

Ms. Bell is part of an organized group of mothers with the Justice Committee, which includes Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham; Herencia Petersen, aunt of Akai Gurley; as well as more than a dozen others who have formed a bond, she says, as the names of their sons continue to be chanted during protests.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (from left), quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game in Santa Clara, California, Oct. 2, 2016. The once-rising star and Super Bowl quarterback was blackballed in 2017 over his refusal to stand for the national anthem. An NFL executive has said he was viewed as “bad for business.”

“But when you see these officers take a knee, you also think, ‘Oh my God, the cop who killed George Floyd kneeled like that on this poor man’s neck’ – and he was a strong man, and all he could do, I mean, he was just crying out for his mother,” Ms. Bell says. “It’s not a good feeling; it’s like opening up a wound all over again.”

She pauses and then says, softly, “I mean, 50 shots. Fifty shots.”

“I know they were flipping it, yes, taking a knee to show peace and honor and humility – and that’s right, that’s a good thing,” she continues. “But that’s not all that matters.”

For the past few months, Ms. Bell, Ms. Carr, Ms. Malcolm, and 15 other mothers have been working to demand the repeal of New York’s “police secrecy law,” which keeps all disciplinary records out of public view.

Even as Ms. Bell and other activists feel ambivalent about watching police officers take a symbolic knee in the presence of those protesting the killing of George Floyd, those gestures mark a powerful change in tone after the angry controversy over Mr. Kaepernick’s career-ending protest.

This Sunday in New York, many protesters were startled by NYPD officers kneeling – apparently in solidarity with them – in the middle of an intersection in Queens.

Led by the commanding officer of the precinct, Deputy Inspector Vincent Tavalaro, the group of officers was cheered with cries of “thank you” by protesters who formed a circle around them, and captured in photos and videos on social media. “Keep that knee!” many began to chant after the officers stood up. So, they took a knee again.

“We need more of this, to see and hear each other, to work together, to recognize that our differences are our strength,” tweeted NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shae, including a photo of Commander Tavalaro embracing protesters. 

Anntaninna Biondo/The Grand Rapids Press/AP
Protest organizer Alyssa Bates (left) kneels beside Grand Rapids police Chief Eric Payne during a protest in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 3, 2020, prompted by the death of George Floyd.

On Monday, a group of more than 60 police officers in Fayetteville, North Carolina, dressed in riot gear, defused a tense confrontation with protesters by taking a knee as a group approached them just before the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.

Instead of tear gas and physical confrontations, there were tears, and even embraces, between Fayetteville police and many protesters, witnesses say. 

“The protesters first got mad when asked to step back, but once the officers knelt down, it was on,” commented Mimamo Monika on the Fayetteville Police Department’s Facebook page. “Men and women alike started crying and then cautiously came toward the police officers to shake their hands.” 

“The protesters thought they were going to be arrested, but our Fayetteville PD humbly knelt before them instead,” the commenter continued. “These are moments that will go down into history and will be taught to future generations.”

Similar gestures of humility and respect between police officers and protesters have been occurring in cities across the U.S. Often dressed in full riot gear, groups of police in Portland, Oregon; Santa Cruz, California; Coral Gables, Florida; El Paso, Texas; and Flint, Michigan, have collectively taken a knee to offer a gesture of solidarity, acts that have mostly diffused tension and drawn cheers.

The poignance of these images have been peaceful counterpoints to the rage sweeping across the country. Bands have looted and vandalized buildings, and there have been instances of police officers being attacked. 

But in other cities, police have beaten, gassed, and targeted protesters and journalists with rubber bullets. And sometimes, the very police department whose officers knelt with protesters have then been abusive. On Wednesday, Buffalo Police Department officers, too, knelt before protesters, drawing cheers. The next day, however, at the same spot they had kneeled, Buffalo officers shoved an elderly man to the ground and walked over him as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk. Two officers involved were immediately suspended, the department said. 

But for many who have watched efforts to address the long and troubling history of racial inequities in American law enforcement, the symbolic gesture of police officers taking a knee as protesters march against the killing of George Floyd in police custody is a positive sign.

“I think the image of police officers kneeling is so very powerful, given how Colin Kaepernick made that gesture the preeminent symbol of protest against police killings of unarmed black people,” says Mark Naison, professor of African American studies and history at Fordham University in New York. 

“Seeing police officers, some of whom are white, take a knee to protest the death of George Floyd is even more significant because the only way to get rid of racists and white supremacists and serial abusers on police forces is for their fellow officers to expose them and demand they be removed,” he says.

Philip B. Poston/The Aurora Sentinel/AP
Protesters and police, including Chief Vanessa Wilson (center), kneel together for eight minutes and 46 seconds during a peaceful protest against police brutality, following the death of George Floyd, June 2, 2020, in Aurora, Colorado. Floyd died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.

As many officers embrace the act of kneeling, some people are reevaluating their feelings about the protests of Mr. Kaepernick.

“It is interesting to note that Kaepernick started his protests by sitting during the national anthem, but after discussion with a veteran who was offended by his actions, he switched to kneeling because it was more respectful,” says Jennifer Lambe, professor of communication at the University of Delaware. 

“Police officers kneeling alongside protesters has been a welcome start to many, signifying hope that a new way of communicating about police brutality is possible,” she says.

In fact, there is an inherent dignity in the act of kneeling throughout history, many scholars say, and it has long been an essential act of humility and respect in the spheres of religion and politics.

“When we kneel, we recognize that we are before someone or something that is greater than we are,” says Linda Seger, a Quaker scholar and author of “Jesus Rode a Donkey,” which explores the intersection of religion and liberal politics. 

“Sometimes that something is evil, and we are forced to our knees before what is dark and overpowering,” Dr. Seger continues. “But in most cases, taking a knee is a sign of chosen humility. We realize we are vulnerable, and we even accept it. We kneel in the hope that we can be renewed and cleansed and forgiven, and with the hope that a wrong will be recognized and righted, and that goodness will ultimately be victorious.”

For Ms. Bell and others, however, the image of the Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, even as he lay prostrate, bound, and crying out for his mother, should remain the focus. 

No matter how many police officers make this gesture, she says, there can be no victory for goodness or any lasting change until significant structural changes in America’s law enforcement systems take hold. 

“They talk about the training, the training, the training,” she says. “But what type of training are you doing with these police officers, when this happens again and again? There has to be accountability and transparency – and the good ones do need to speak out about the bad ones, because now they don’t because of the ‘blue wall of silence.’”

Nearly 15 years after her son Sean was shot and killed by police, this month has been particularly poignant. Her son’s two daughters are both graduating – the youngest was five months old when he was killed, and she’s now finishing junior high. His oldest is graduating from high school and plans to attend law school. 

“We have to stay on the politicians’ back, just like we are now in New York,” Ms. Bell says. “I hope and pray they will come to a sense that to make this change, we have to do something different. Like I tell everybody, I might not see the change while I’m living, but I pray that my children and my grandchildren will help make that change for the country they will have to rebuild.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct dates.

Punish China over Hong Kong? Why Trump may pull his punches.

Even before Beijing’s decision to curb freedoms in Hong Kong, China-bashing had become increasingly popular among Americans. But it’s hard to keep principle, policy, and politics in sync, especially in an election year.

Peter

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As President Donald Trump seeks to fulfill his pledge to punish China over its new security law on Hong Kong, he finds himself in a tight spot. Actions that showcase a president playing tough with Beijing are likely to play well with Americans, who have turned increasingly negative on China, surveys show.

But with 40 million Americans out of work in the wake of the pandemic, the president can also ill afford to take any steps that risk slowing the arrival of an economic recovery in time for November elections.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signaled that U.S. actions will be forthcoming, including, possibly, a special visa program for Hong Kongers. Yet what is striking about the actions being considered is that none explicitly target the U.S.-China economic relationship.

The president’s advisers are divided on the best course of action, says Allen Carlson, an expert on Chinese politics and U.S.-China relations at Cornell. But “it is not hard to see that tensions with China – as Trump and [Joe] Biden compete with each other over who will win the mantle of being China’s most vocal critic – will continue to rise over the spring and summer. This simply makes political sense.”

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2. Punish China over Hong Kong? Why Trump may pull his punches.

With the Trump administration considering additional measures aimed at pressuring China over its revision of Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status, the White House has come to resemble a heavyweight boxing ring.

In one corner is the pugilistic trade and manufacturing policy adviser, Peter Navarro. In the other, the more conciliatory Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Let’s use the moment to hit China hard and loosen our economic bonds with Beijing. American voters will love it! advises the team surrounding the hard-punching Mr. Navarro.

Not so fast! parries the more pragmatic Mr. Mnuchin. Actions that remind America that our boss is tough on China, sure – but let’s do nothing that risks weakening the economy further and harming the president’s prospects in November.

That little allegory illustrates the tight spot President Donald Trump finds himself in as he seeks to fulfill his pledge to punish China over its decision to impose a new security law on Hong Kong. Beijing’s move would upend guarantees that residents of the former British colony would have greater personal and political freedoms than those enjoyed on the mainland.

Actions that showcase a president playing tough with Beijing are likely to play well with an electorate that has turned increasingly negative on China over Mr. Trump’s presidency, surveys show. But with the economy already weak and with 40 million Americans out of work in the wake of the pandemic, the president can also ill afford to take any economic steps with China that risk slowing the arrival of a recovery in time for the November elections.

“Rhetorical cold war”

“The angry battle over China has been going on in this White House from the beginning,” says Harry Kazianis, an expert in China and U.S. national security issues at the Center for the National Interest in Washington. “China hawks like Peter Navarro and [national security adviser] Robert O’Brien [are] pushing very much for a containment approach” and a decoupling from the Chinese economy, with “Mnuchin pushing a ‘compete but not confront’ approach to China.”

But events this year – from the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, to the disappointing payoff for the United States so far from the phase one trade accord reached with China in January, and now Hong Kong – have struck the deciding blow, he adds.

“Basically the Navarro-O’Brien camp has won this debate, it’s pretty much over now,” Mr. Kazianis says.

But he underscores that Mr. Trump’s reelection battle means that relations with China will devolve into a “rhetorical cold war” that gives the president a popular punching bag while sidestepping any actions that could further weaken the economy.

“This president needs a foe, and they have found the bogeyman they need to blame problems on in China,” he says.

President Trump announced on May 29 that China’s new security law gave him no choice but to eliminate the special status the U.S. granted Hong Kong after the United Kingdom returned the city-state to China in 1997. That would curtail special trade and investment arrangements with the island city.

Mr. Trump offered few concrete steps; however, he did announce the U.S. will pull out of the World Health Organization, which the administration has deemed to be beholden to Beijing. This prompted a sigh of relief on Wall Street, which had feared the president would cancel the China trade deal.

Economic relationship

But since last Friday’s announcement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has signaled that more action will be forthcoming. The administration has decided to revoke the visas of Chinese students with ties to the Chinese military, and administration officials hint at sanctions targeting officials with a role in Hong Kong’s security.

Moreover, sanctions concerning Beijing’s treatment of Tibet and repression of China’s minority Muslim Uyghurs are also on the table. And Mr. Pompeo has confirmed that the administration is considering a special visa program for Hong Kongers seeking an alternative location to live and develop business interests.

On Wednesday, citing Britain’s “profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents would be granted a pathway to British citizenship.

The Trump administration is “taking a look at” the idea of a special visa program, “but we will not be limiting ourselves to things that impact Hong Kong, but also doing our best to deter China from continuing its efforts to deny freedom to peoples to whom they had previously promised them,” Mr. Pompeo said in an online conversation with American Enterprise Institute foreign policy experts this week.

Yet what is striking about this list of actions is that none of them explicitly targets the U.S.-China economic relationship.

What this tells experts in U.S.-China policy is that even as China becomes that central bogeyman to the presidential campaign, White House worries over the economy – along with Mr. Trump’s desire to be able to cite the China trade deal as an accomplishment of his first term – will likely put off any action that could further disrupt ties to the world’s second-largest economy.

“The limits on U.S. actions might stem more from the politics within the administration itself than anything else,” since “the president’s advisers are quite sharply divided about the best course of action to take” concerning economic relations with China, says Allen Carlson, an expert on Chinese politics and U.S.-China relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“That being said,” he adds, “it is not hard to see that tensions with China – as Trump and [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe] Biden compete with each other over who will win the mantle of being China’s most vocal critic – will continue to rise over the spring and summer. This simply makes political sense.”

As Mr. Navarro, the trade adviser, said last month on ABC News’ “This Week,” “I do think this election is going to be a referendum in many ways on China.”

Unrest in America

But if indeed there is to be a “rhetorical cold war” between the two major powers in the months leading up to the U.S. elections, it won’t be a one-sided battle.

Already China – fortified by an increasingly assertive leader, Xi Jinping – is having a field day with the social unrest sweeping the U.S. in the wake of the police killing on Memorial Day of African American Minneapolis resident George Floyd.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying recently tweeted simply “I can’t breathe” – Mr. Floyd’s last words. That was followed by another tweet in which she highlighted U.S. “hypocrisy” for last year labeling Hong Kong protesters as “freedom loving” while now denouncing demonstrators on U.S. streets as “thugs” – a reference to Mr. Trump’s characterization on Twitter of U.S. protesters.

In the wake of the Hong Kong dispute, the Chinese government has also ordered state enterprises to curtail imports of U.S. products, including pork and soybeans – purchases that were already far behind the levels China agreed to in the trade deal.

Professor Carlson of Cornell says one factor that could weaken the public’s perception of the president as a China warrior is the mixed messaging that has emanated from the White House.

“Trump has been less than a model of consistency when it comes to China,” he says. “He certainly talks tough about the country, but at the same time has frequently professed his admiration for Xi Jinping.” 

Professor Carlson recalls the president tweeting in the midst of last summer’s Hong Kong protests that he knew the Chinese leader to be a “good man” in a “tough business.”

Mr. Trump then added: “I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it.”

‘We’ve sold thousands of bikes’: The businesses surging at a tough time

Though the pandemic has posed daunting challenges for many businesses, it has also opened up opportunities for some. These firms have had an ability to pivot – and have benefited from changing consumer demands.

Peter
Tony Dejak/AP
Store manager Josh Hayden (left) talks with Kay Amey (center) and Jackie Gee about a new bicycle at Eddy's Bike Shop in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, May 12, 2020. Although the pandemic has had a devastating impact on retail, some sporting goods businesses have flourished.

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Even in a pandemic, with unemployment high and businesses closed, winners emerge. Besides the obvious ones, like grocery stores and the online video company Zoom, there are some not-so-obvious industries and firms that are flourishing. And new unemployment numbers out Friday suggest that these unexpected winners may be leading the way toward a more general recovery.

Sometimes, it’s nimble manufacturers that find new markets to replace declining ones. Other times, opportunity falls into a company’s lap: Oak Barn Beef, a tiny farm-to-consumer firm, has seen its subscription-beef service rise tenfold since the beginning of the year.

In an era of shelter-in-place rules, games are big. Sales of traditional board games have risen, and even online chess is flourishing in unexpected ways. A recent online tournament reached 10 times the viewers that an important face-to-face match received earlier this year.

The pandemic has also inspired a bicycle boom that has caused Detroit Bikes to sell seven times the volume it sold in the same period last year. “People are going back to touchstones that are comforting,” says company founder Zak Pashak. “There’s something that feels almost nurturing about being on a bicycle.”

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3. ‘We’ve sold thousands of bikes’: The businesses surging at a tough time

For Hannah Esch, the surge was as sudden as it was unexpected.

At the beginning of March, her fledgling company, Oak Barn Beef, had a freezer full of meat. By the end of the month, it was empty. Even before huge meat processors began shutting down plants because of the spread of the coronavirus, consumers were scrambling to find alternative sources of meat – and small, direct-to-consumer operations, such as Ms. Esch’s, reaped the windfall.

Currently, she’s sold out of almost everything, her base of subscribers who sign up for periodic deliveries of meat has ballooned tenfold to 72, and she’s not accepting new subscribers until September. “The beef just started flying off the shelf,” says the newly minted college graduate from West Point, Nebraska. Her new videos on how to start a direct-to-consumer business go on sale Monday. 

Every crisis offers opportunity – even one brought on by a pandemic that has slowed economies around the world and brought U.S. unemployment to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Although businesses large and small continue to struggle, new evidence suggests that the downturn is already beginning to ease. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate fell from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May. While there’s still a devastatingly high level of joblessness, the addition of 2.5 million jobs was a stunning surprise to many analysts who had expected further losses in May.

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

And it offers new hope that the winners during the pandemic are simply leading the way toward a general recovery that is happening sooner than expected.

“We just came off our four best months in company history,” says Drew Greenblatt, president of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore, which replaced its plunging aerospace business by supplying booming medical-supply companies. “This is stuff that maybe they bought in China in the past; now, it’s being made in America. ... Nimble, adaptive companies are figuring out ways to add value in a challenging time.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Hannah Esch, shown here in Unadilla, Nebraska, on June 6, 2019, moved her family's ranching business into branded beef, selling beef directly to consumers under the name Oak Barn Beef. The business has surged during the pandemic, with almost everything sold out.

This year has seen obvious winners: online communications tools like Zoom and Slack, grocery stores, and cleaning product manufacturers. The pandemic has also created boomlets for not-so-obvious companies and industries, like cycling.

“We’ve sold thousands of bikes,” says Zak Pashak, owner and founder of Detroit Bikes, a made-in-America bicycle manufacturer. Sales are up sevenfold over the same period a year ago. And the company is taking preorders for some models that won’t be available until August.

During the pandemic, Americans have taken to biking in a big way. Families in lockdown, looking for some physical activity, have bought bicycles to roam around the neighborhood with or installed stationary bikes in their basements. According to NPD Group, a market research company based in Port Washington, New York, the cycling market grew 31% in the first quarter of the year, with half of that jump coming in March as schools closed down and lockdowns took effect.

“People are going back to touchstones that are comforting,” says Mr. Pashak. “There’s something that feels almost nurturing about being on a bicycle.”

With major league sports shut down, Americans have sought out other recreation. Online gaming companies like Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts have seen sales surge. Traditional board games have also seen rising sales – even that most ancient of games, chess.

“It’s almost like November, before the Christmas holidays,” says Quentin Turner, president of ChessUSA in North Massapequa, New York, which bills itself as America’s largest chess store. While the brick-and-mortar store had to close, online sales have boomed as people have snapped up chess sets and fancy versions of other traditional board games, like Scrabble. Mr. Turner’s biggest concern is that he won’t have enough inventory when the real Christmas season comes around.

“If everyone places their orders in June and we have lost two months of manufacturing, are they [the manufacturers] going to be able to meet the demand?” he asks.

Virtual matches

Online chess has exploded even more. Online tournaments, until now considered less serious than face-to-face matchups, are suddenly drawing big online audiences. The second-most important event in the chess world, which decides who will face the world champion in the championship match, started in Russia in March. Before the pandemic shut it down, it drew some 1 million viewers on TV and online.

But during the pandemic, world champion Magnus Carlsen helped organize an online tournament with a $250,000 purse – unheard-of for an online chess event – and convinced top players to play online from their homes. That tournament, which wrapped up last month, got 10 times more viewers than the Russia match.

“We’ve been completely blown away by the interest – and it has definitely worked and taken chess to a new level,” says Leon Watson, spokesman for Chessable, an online chess training platform and an organizer of the tournament. “We’re not trying to replace classical chess. The two can certainly run in harmony together. We’re just trying to broaden the appeal of chess.”

One reason for the online tournament’s success was its format. Unlike traditional tournaments, where players spend hours hunched over a chessboard and even the online commentators take breaks because the movement is so slow, the online tournament had only “rapid” games, where the time constraints are much tighter and players usually wrap up a game in about 45 minutes.

The event was so popular that the organizers have set up a series of online tournaments over the next few months with a total $1 million in prize money.

Good times for pets

A springtime of social distancing also fueled a boom in pet adoptions. That doesn’t mean the pet industry is recession-proof in the current upheaval, but pet-supply seller Chewy has seen sales surge – an uptick also driven by a more general migration of consumers online during the pandemic. 

What happens as the economy opens back up is anybody’s guess. Will people put away their bikes and chess sets to watch college and professional football? Will they stick with their direct-from-the-farm supplier or go back to the grocery store for their steak and chops?

“Hopefully, we’ll see the surge continue,” says Ms. Esch. “People are really starting to realize it is even more important to support farmers directly, if possible.”

It may partly depend on whether the entrepreneurs can change their mindset to broaden their appeal.

“Images of sweaty, anguished riders with no body fat, [which] abound in cycling magazines, on television, and in broad-reach periodicals ... are increasingly being replaced by a new reality of families riding together, and everyday health and fitness enthusiasts riding their bikes indoors,” writes Dirk Sorenson, an NPD analyst, in a blog post. “To attract and retain families, it’s time the industry look at short-term improvements in the way it works with non-athlete cyclists to maintain enthusiasm.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify when Hannah Esch plans to start selling videos on how to start a direct-to-consumer business. As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Essay

The Forgotten King: Commentary on protest, race, and MLK

As U.S. cities writhe in protest, columnist Ken Makin urges Americans to reach beyond the impulse to judge protesters and instead consider the roots of rage feeding the unrest. The point isn’t rioting, he says. The point is injustice.

Peter

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There is an unholy invocation that rises from some Americans in times of racial distress. It is an exclamation from the voices of the status quo, the clarion call of conservative thinking:

What would Martin Luther King do?

Even now, a narrative is being created in the midst of the protests. Gatherings are being validated or invalidated based on whether they are “peaceful.”

Dr. King was not an advocate of riots, but understood why they happened. His physical actions and his declarations confirmed his empathy with people who felt desperate enough to riot.

The economic angst surrounding current protests is a rarely-mentioned perspective. More than 40 million Americans are unemployed. The minimum wage is woefully and pitifully low. The rush to “reopen” in the midst of a prevention-less and vaccine-less response to the pandemic is inhumane and treats “essential workers” as if they are expendable.

It is time to remember the real Dr. King — a prince who petitioned on the behalf of paupers. In his time, Dr. King’s words weren’t always popular, but they were prophetic.

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4. The Forgotten King: Commentary on protest, race, and MLK

There is an unholy invocation that rises from some Americans in times of racial distress. It is an exclamation from the voices of the status quo, the clarion call of conservative thinking:

What would Martin Luther King do?

It is as unauthentic and uninspiring as it is ambiguous – and that is the point. Reducing Dr. King’s understanding of racial and social issues to a warped perspective of the “I Have A Dream” speech is propagandist and ahistorical, but it has worked.

It is easy to celebrate the “I Have A Dream” refrain and the final paragraph of Dr. King’s speech from the perspective of all lives matter:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

But what about black lives? How would Dr. King feel about the modern-day anti-police-brutality protests? How would he respond to the deaths of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and so many more? Long before he declared that a riot was “the language of the unheard,” he spoke about black unrest. Where? In the “I Have A Dream” speech:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

“The issue is injustice”

Even now, a narrative is being created in the midst of the protests. Gatherings are being validated or invalidated based on whether they are “peaceful.” This narrative avoids the perpetual provocation of the police – the actions leading up to this moment and the military-style response to protesting. Dr. King addressed this willful ignorance in his final speech, “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop”:

Let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

Dr. King didn’t bury the lede. The lede isn’t rioting – the lede is injustice. Dr. King was not an advocate of riots, but understood why they happened. His physical actions and his declarations confirmed his empathy with people who felt desperate enough to riot.

When Dr. King stood in solidarity with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he didn’t just highlight disrespectfully low wages. He highlighted the disrespect shown to black people and the determination to be treated as “men,” as “people.” It is a fight that continues in places like New Orleans, where less than a month ago, striking sanitation workers making $10.25 an hour were replaced by prison labor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The economic angst surrounding current protests is a rarely-mentioned perspective. More than 40 million Americans are unemployed. The minimum wage is woefully and pitifully low. The rush to “reopen” in the midst of a prevention-less and vaccine-less response to the pandemic is inhumane and treats “essential workers” as if they are expendable.

AP/File
Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, March 21, 1965, heading for capitol, Montgomery, during a five day, 50 mile walk to protest voting laws.

Dr. King captured it all in his final speech, which wasn’t presented in the face of dignitaries, nor held at the nation’s capital. It was a commentary shared with workers in the heart of a labor protest the day before he was assassinated. He was so “dangerously unselfish” in a moment where he addressed injustices all over the world. He touched on class warfare in a way that was true to his religious roots — with a powerful parable. He spoke boldly about life and death — and the urgency of both.

A nation “torn between selves”

Many people have forgotten this Dr. King – the man who outlined the reasons “Why We Can’t Wait.” His last full-length book asked a question which is being answered in our government and in our streets: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” An excerpt from the latter explains how this country chose chaos long before the protests and riots of the last fortnight began:

Ever since the birth of our nation, white America has had a schizophrenic personality on the question of race. She has been torn between selves – a self in which she proudly professed the great principles of democracy and a self in which she sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. This tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and ambivalence toward the Negro, causing America to take a step backward simultaneously with every step forward on the question of racial justice, to be at once attracted to the Negro and repelled by him, to love and to hate him. There has never been a solid, unified, and determined thrust to make justice a reality for Afro-Americans.

It is time to remember the real Dr. King — a prince who petitioned on the behalf of paupers. It is time for America to change her modern-day propagandist view of a conservative King and, through public and personal education, acknowledge the genius and the entirety of Dr. King’s racial and social understandings. In his time, Dr. King’s words weren’t always popular, but they were prophetic.

Ken Makin is a freelance writer and the host of the Makin’ A Difference podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @differencemakin.

The Dogs of Chernobyl: Are virtual tours the future of tourism?

Across industries, the coronavirus is inspiring innovation. In tourism, some operators are shifting from physical to virtual tours and using the opportunity to bring attention to noteworthy causes.  

Peter
Screen Grab/Courtesy of Clean Futures Fund
In this screen grab during a Zoom meeting, Lucas Hixson, co-founder of Clean Futures Fund, leads a virtual tour called “Dogs of Chernobyl” in Chernobyl, Ukraine, part of Airbnb's “Online Experiences” platform.

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COVID-19 dealt a heavy blow to many industries, but few have been as undone as tourism. As the pandemic has worn on, tourist sites around the world have scrambled to arrange virtual versions of their offerings. 

Like Airbnb’s “Dogs of Chernobyl,” a one-hour, canine-themed tour at the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, now available on a computer screen near you. As I watched from my home in Johannesburg, our guide in Chernobyl, Lucas Hixson, gave a virtual tour of the exploded reactor. Then he panned his phone camera down so we could catch a glimpse of a pack of shaggy stray dogs gathered near the dome’s entrance. 

The dogs are the great-great-grandpups of the family dogs that residents were forced to leave behind when they were evacuated in 1986. Mr. Hixson offers tours to raise money for, and awareness about, the hundreds of stray dogs that roam the Chernobyl “exclusion zone,” the 18-mile-wide area around the power plant, where permanent human habitation is still forbidden. 

“When you go through a crisis, like they did in 1986 or like we are now, the unimportant things in life fall away,” he said. “You’re left with just the stuff that really matters.” 

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5. The Dogs of Chernobyl: Are virtual tours the future of tourism?

“It’s a beautiful day here in Chernobyl,” Lucas Hixson announced one sunny afternoon last month, turning to face the group of tourists gathered in front of him.

It was a day much like this one in April 1986, he continued, when a safety test at the power plant here went awry, triggering the worst nuclear disaster in human history. 

As he spoke, I looked around. It was, indeed, a perfect day. The sky was blue, and the fields on all sides a lush green. Birds chirped. Clouds floated like wisps of cotton over the decommissioned nuclear reactors in the distance.

Or at least, that’s how it all seemed from my computer screen. I was in my house in Johannesburg, and this tour, like seemingly everything else in my pandemic life, was actually a Zoom call.

Back in Chernobyl, Mr. Hixson was explaining what happened in the hours after the explosion: First responders rushed to the scene. Nearly everyone else living in the area, meanwhile, was hastily evacuated, told to take only what they needed for a three-day trip. 

In truth, they would never return.

Courtesy of Clean Futures Fund
A worker at Chernobyl holds two small puppies a few weeks after the nuclear disaster in 1986.

“This is a place where you can learn about the most important things in life, because the most important things are the ones people were forced to leave behind when they fled,” Mr. Hixson continued, shifting his phone camera to give his virtual audience a better view of the soaring concrete dome behind him, which was built to contain the exploded reactor.

Then he panned down so we could catch a glimpse of the real reason we were all here – a pack of shaggy stray dogs gathered near the dome’s entrance, loudly chomp-chomp-chomping their way through a small mountain of dog food. Welcome to the “Dogs of Chernobyl,” a one-hour, canine-themed tour at the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, now available on a computer screen near you. 

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

COVID-19 dealt a heavy blow to many industries, but few have been as thoroughly undone as tourism. As the pandemic has worn on, national parks, museums, and historic sites around the world have scrambled to arrange virtual versions of their offerings, from 360 photos to Facebook live events with experts. But few are as intimate as Airbnb’s “Online Experiences,” which brings viewers live in small groups into the kitchens of professional chefs, the home gyms of Olympic athletes, and today, the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Courtesy of Clean Futures Fund
Several hundred dogs live in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, descendants of the family dogs left behind when people were forced to evacuate after the nuclear disaster here in April 1986. The workers here have adopted the dogs in a way, and save scraps from their own meals to feed them.

A few months ago, Mr. Hixson, an American specialist in nuclear decontamination who runs a nongovernmental organization called the Clean Futures Fund (CFF), was giving his tours with the dogs of Chernobyl in person. They were a way of raising money for, and awareness about, the hundreds of stray dogs that roam the Chernobyl “exclusion zone,” the 18-mile-wide area around the power plant, where permanent human habitation is still forbidden. 

The dogs are the great-great-grandpups of the family dogs that residents were forced to leave behind when they were evacuated in 1986. Fleeing families tacked notes to their doorways, with pleading messages like “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog,” according to “Chernobyl Prayer,” a collection of oral histories. And the dogs themselves attempted to follow their humans, “howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Soldiers later circled the zone, shooting any dogs they found, for fear they’d been poisoned by radioactivity.

But some survived, and nearly 40 years later, a few hundred of their scruffy descendants still roam the power plant site and the nearby workers’ town of Pripyat, where some houses still have dishes laid out and the newspaper folded on the table from the day of the evacuation.

When COVID-19 restrictions began here in late March, all in-person tours were canceled. But when Airbnb approached Mr. Hixson about moving his tour online, he was game.

Feeding a few hundred dogs daily, after all, isn’t a cheap operation. And Mr. Hixson was also looking for ways to bankroll CFF’s annual sterilization and vaccination drive, which has helped bring the population of stray dogs in Chernobyl down by several hundred over the last three years.

Screen Grab/Courtesy of Clean Futures Fund
In this screen grab during a Zoom meeting, Lucas Hixson, co-founder of the NGO Clean Futures Fund, pets a dog during a virtual tour called 'Dogs of Chernobyl' in Chernobyl, Ukraine, part of Airbnb's 'Online Experiences' platform.

On a recent afternoon, he jumped out of his car in front of one of the plant’s administrative buildings. On the other end of his Zoom call that day were a bureaucrat in Tasmania, an anthropologist in Finland, and a teacher in Hong Kong. As Mr. Hixson stepped into the road, two dogs ran up to him, their tails vibrating with excitement.

He pointed to the pack, introducing today’s tour group to each dog: “That’s Sasha, Kelly, Barry, Mary, and Terry. There’s Bruiser. That’s Rosco.” 

As he spread the contents of a bag of dog food onto the sidewalk in front of them, Mr. Hixson explained what he hoped today’s tour group would take away from their experience.

“When you go through a crisis, like they did in 1986 or like we are now, the unimportant things in life fall away,” he said. “You’re left with just the stuff that really matters.” 

At his feet, a scruffy German Shepherd poked her long wet nose up toward the camera, her tail swishing as if in silent agreement.

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

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For whistleblowers, an honest day’s pay

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It might seem there is no benefit in whistleblowing in the U.S., but consider this: On Thursday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced it had given its largest reward ever – nearly $50 million – to a whistleblower. The SEC did not name the recipient but said the truth-teller provided “firsthand observations of misconduct” from inside a financial firm.

The reward is the latest in a remarkable string of achievements for the SEC in promoting honest governance in corporations. Since last October, the agency has handed out more bounty than ever to tipsters whose information resulted in successful action against corruption.

Governments have learned that it is not enough to protect whistleblowers from retaliation by employers. Corporate integrity must be encouraged by rewarding individuals driven by conscience to shine a light on malfeasance.

The success of the SEC program comes at a good time. With the U.S. government handing out trillions of dollars to keep companies afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, many more employees are reporting misuse of those funds. The SEC took in about 4,000 complaints from mid-March to mid-May, or a 35% increase from a year ago.

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For whistleblowers, an honest day’s pay

It might seem there is no benefit in whistleblowing in the U.S, but consider this: On Thursday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced it had given its largest reward ever – nearly $50 million – to a whistleblower. The SEC did not name the recipient but said the truth-teller provided “firsthand observations of misconduct” from inside a financial firm.

The reward is the latest in a remarkable string of achievements for the SEC in promoting honest governance in corporations. Since last October, the agency has handed out more bounty than ever to tipsters whose information resulted in successful action against corruption. Since 2012, when the SEC first began giving monetary incentives to whistleblowers, it has awarded over $500 million. Of that amount, it gave $100 million just in the past eight months.

The Wall Street Journal did identify the recipient of the $50 million as Grant Wilson, a former currency trader at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. The bank ended up paying $714 million in fines and other compensation after Mr. Wilson led the SEC to investigate allegations of fraud at BNY Mellon.

Governments have learned that it is not enough to protect whistleblowers from retaliation by employers. Corporate integrity must be encouraged by rewarding individuals driven by conscience to shine a light on malfeasance.

The success of the SEC program comes at a good time. With the U.S. government handing out trillions of dollars to keep companies afloat during the COVID-19 crisis, many more employees are reporting misuse of those funds. The SEC took in about 4,000 complaints from mid-March to mid-May, or a 35% increase from a year ago.

The concern about fraud in coronavirus-related spending is not only in the U.S. In April, 92 organizations around the world, including Transparency International, called on governments and corporations to guarantee the safety of whistleblowers during the pandemic.

The vast majority of money recovered in U.S. fraud cases is a result of tips from whistleblowers. For their integrity and risk-taking, they deserve a portion of the proceeds. For many of them, honesty is its own reward. But if taking a reward encourages others to follow suit, their honesty is a way to pay it forward.

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.

Innocence that dissolves racism

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“Innocence” can suggest vulnerability when dealing with evils like racism. But there’s a spiritual take on this quality that shows how it can touch a hardened heart – as a young white woman witnessed when threatened with punishment for helping black children.

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1. Innocence that dissolves racism

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As I consider recent tragic events in my home state of Georgia and in Minnesota that have become global headlines, I find hope in these words by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science: “The necessity for uplifting the race is father to the fact that Mind can do it; for Mind can impart purity instead of impurity, strength instead of weakness, and health instead of disease” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 371).

I experienced the healing, purifying power of God, divine Mind, firsthand as a teenager in the 1960s, when I worked in a kindergarten program for rural black children. One evening I was at my friend’s house when her dad called an after-dinner meeting with us in the living room, which always meant he was upset with one of us, and this time it was me. He said he had heard about the work I was doing, and that I had been seen holding one of the children’s hands while crossing the street and seen with another of the children sitting in my lap. He felt these loving actions merited the harsh retribution of corporal punishment.

He asked, “Do you deny this?” Instead of immediately admitting to the facts, I reached out quickly to God as an ever-present help in trouble (see Psalms 46:1). I thought about the Bible story of Daniel, who was thrown into a lions’ den for worshipping God instead of the king. The following morning, the king went to see if God had kept Daniel safe. Daniel responded, “God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt” (Daniel 6:22).

It seemed to me that Daniel expected the king to perceive his innocence. And he did. But this meant the king must have had an innate sense of innocence himself, in order to discern it in another. Christian Science explains that as God’s children, the spiritual expression of divine purity and goodness, we each have innocence as part of our very nature.

So fundamentally, the king was a child of God, and the pull to wrongdoing was an imposition upon the king’s true, spiritual nature (and he hadn’t wanted to put Daniel in the lions’ den in the first place, but was tricked into it). God, divine Love, is the only legitimate cause. Only this Love can truly act and prevail. Man as God made him is not an evil mortal but innocent, free from all wrongdoing.

It became so clear to me that the only true power and motivator is God, divine Love, who could not let any of His children hate or harm others. In an article called “Love,” Mrs. Eddy writes: “What a word! I am in awe before it. Over what worlds on worlds it hath range and is sovereign! the underived, the incomparable, the infinite All of good, the alone God, is Love” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” pp. 249-250).

I replied to my friend’s dad: “God loves that little boy. Why don’t you?” That seemed to inflame his anger even further, and then I added, “God loves you too, and you must love all whom God loves.”

I was surprised at the reaction. He threw down the belt he’d been holding, hugged me, and began sobbing. When he regained control of himself, he stood up and said, “You girls get out of here and go do whatever it is you have to do.” That was the end of it.

It is the mistaken belief that man is fundamentally material and subject to a carnal mind that would pull us toward hating, belittling, or harming another. Innocence is native to man and woman as God created them, in His spiritual image, capable of only good and free from ill will, hate, self-righteousness, or self-importance.

The book of Revelation refers to a Lamb and to a dragon that wars against innocence. The Lamb represents Christ, Truth, which is present with everyone to overrule the seeming validity of the carnal mind. We can all bear witness to the power and presence of the Christ, revealing everyone’s true nature as spiritual, flawless, the image of Love, as God has made us.

“Innocence and Truth overcome guilt and error,” Science and Health explains (p. 568). What a powerful statement. As we take a stand for the spiritual innocence that’s native to all, we will witness more and more the all-powerful love of divine Mind “uplifting the race.”

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Love finds a way

Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/AP
While much of normal life has been curtailed under the pandemic, love continues to blossom. Undaunted, couples have found ways to adapt weddings to accommodate safety precautions. For American couple Gabrielle Schmees and Diego Grassano, that meant postponing their official ceremony to December and celebrating with just a few people in a local park on their original date in April. Other couples have turned their big day into an opportunity to help others. Sri Lankan newlyweds Darshana Kumara Wijenarayana and Pawani Rasanga canceled their reception – but still wore their wedding outfits as they delivered supplies to those in need. Others, including Ma Jialun and Zhang Yitong, have opted to livestream their wedding ceremonies so that “attendees” can witness a celebration of love that’s conducted and officiated in real time. In a time of extraordinary uncertainty, weddings stand as a symbol of the power of love – and as celebrations of life. – Nusmila Lohani
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Come back Monday. We’ll have coverage of the mood in Houston’s Third Ward, where George Floyd grew up, on the day before his funeral.

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