2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

June 30, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Is the US national anthem a racist song?

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Is it time to ditch “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

The U.S. national anthem was written by Francis Scott Key – an anti-abolitionist who enslaved people. The seldom-sung third stanza includes these lines: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

As Americans question every racist facet of their history, some are calling for an anthem that better represents the nation’s values. And some are calling for an end to playing the song at sports events. Major League Soccer says it won’t play the anthem at a tournament next week. And a semipro soccer league in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also made the same call this week, saying, “the song does not align with the club’s core values.”

What’s the right approach here? I don’t know. But this rendition of the U.S. anthem – without the third stanza – suggests one path forward.

Madisen Hallberg, a senior at Portland State University, was recently practicing for a graduation ceremony. Emmanuel Henreid, a trained opera singer, was walking by and spontaneously joined in. The resulting impromptu duet symbolizes what our nation needs now, Ms. Hallberg told ABC News. Rather than trying to “out-sing the person next to you,” we should “blend with them and harmonize with them.”

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Principle over politics? Why Chief Justice Roberts upheld abortion rights.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts holds the ideological center of a court with a deeply conservative majority. But Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on abortion shows his respect for legal precedents. 

David
Leah Millis/Reuters
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts waits for President Donald Trump's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 4, 2020.

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Amid a fraught and polarizing election year, Monday’s ruling upholding abortion rights represents another example of legal principle outweighing legal politics. That’s particularly true for Chief Justice John Roberts, the ideological center of a Supreme Court with a narrow but deeply conservative majority.

In the long term, however, experts say the ruling lays the groundwork for the court to swing to the right on abortion.

The ruling mirrors the court’s DACA decision earlier in June, which preserved an Obama-era program protecting unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, says Mary Ziegler, a Supreme Court abortion law expert at the Florida State University College of Law. Both cases were 5-4 decisions with Chief Justice Roberts, a philosophically conservative jurist, joining his four liberal colleagues in a narrow ruling.

Both rulings “suggest that in some ways [Chief Justice] Roberts doesn’t like sloppiness, essentially,” Professor Ziegler says. “This term more than any other has signaled that [Chief Justice] Roberts will determine the court’s future, and that that future will be hard to predict.”

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1. Principle over politics? Why Chief Justice Roberts upheld abortion rights.

In its sprint to release the last of its opinions this term, the U.S. Supreme Court provided another surprise ruling Monday in striking down a Louisiana abortion regulation.

The regulation in question, Act 620, resembled “almost word-for-word” a Texas law the high court had declared unconstitutional only four years ago. For the court’s four liberal justices, that precedent – along with factual details about the regulation determined by a federal district court in the Pelican state – was enough to rule that Act 620 is also unconstitutional.

“This case is similar to, nearly identical with Whole Woman’s Health,” the 2016 Texas case, wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for that four-justice plurality. “The law must consequently reach a similar conclusion.”

That opinion, however, is not the controlling decision in the case. Instead it is the concurrence written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented from the 2016 ruling. He still believes that case was wrongly decided, he wrote in the concurrence, but the doctrine of stare decisis – which holds that courts must honor precedent – compelled him to agree with Justice Breyer’s opinion.

“The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons,” he wrote. “Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”

In the short term, amid a fraught and polarizing election year, the ruling represents another example of legal principle outweighing legal politics – particularly for Chief Justice Roberts, the ideological center of a court with a narrow but deeply conservative majority.

In the long term, however, experts say the ruling lays the groundwork for the court to swing to the right on abortion in the future.

Yesterday’s ruling mirrors the court’s DACA decision earlier this month, which preserved an Obama-era program protecting unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation, says Mary Ziegler, a Supreme Court and abortion law expert at the Florida State University College of Law. Both cases were 5-4 decisions with Chief Justice Roberts, a philosophically conservative jurist, joining his four liberal colleagues in a narrow ruling.

“The much vaunted conservative majority can evaporate depending on how cases are presented,” says Professor Ziegler. Those two rulings in particular “suggest that in some ways [Chief Justice] Roberts doesn’t like sloppiness, essentially.”

“This term more than any other has signaled that [Chief Justice] Roberts will determine the court’s future, and that that future will be hard to predict,” she adds.

“We won this battle”

The decision was the best birthday present Amy Hagstrom Miller could have asked for. Ms. Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health – the plaintiff in the 2016 case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt – now says she wants a T-shirt with “stare decisis” written on it.

“We’re standing on each others’ shoulders with each of these cases,” she adds.

Back in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the right to an abortion, but gave states the right to regulate abortion access so long as it didn’t place an “undue burden” on women seeking the procedure.

“Casey opened the door for state restrictions, but Whole Woman's Health closed that door,” Ms. Miller. The Louisiana case “was the first real test and we passed with flying colors.” 

After the ruling came out she texted Kathaleen Pittman, the clinic director of the Hope Medical Group for Women, which brought the challenge to Act 620. But while Ms. Pittman says her face “hurt from grinning so much,” she’s under no illusion that court battles over abortion access are over.

“We didn’t really advance anything. We maintained the status quo,” she says. “We won this battle. We’ve not won the war.”

While Chief Justice Roberts is usually a reliably conservative jurist – and skeptical of abortion rights in particular – he also has a demonstrated interest in preserving the court’s institutional integrity and the perception that it’s ruled by law, not politics or policy.

Thus, faced with a case virtually identical to Whole Woman’s Health, with the only major difference the addition of two conservatives justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, in place of moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy and the late Antonin Scalia, court watchers weren’t surprised to see the chief justice follow his institutionalist instincts.

That said, his conservative instincts are visible from the second paragraph of his concurrence, where he clarified that he still believes Whole Woman’s Health was wrongly decided. Further in, he writes that the 2016 ruling had misinterpreted the decision in Casey by holding that the undue burden standard requires courts to balance an abortion regulations’ benefits against its burdens – burdens he described, quoting Casey, as a woman’s “liberty interest in defining her ‘own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’ ” 

“There is no plausible sense in which anyone, let alone this Court, could objectively assign weight to such imponderable values and no meaningful way to compare them if there were,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts. “Pretending that we could pull that off would require us to act as legislators, not judges.”

Instead of trying to balance benefits and burdens, “the only question for a court,” he added, is whether an abortion regulation places “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”

In his dissent Justice Gorsuch noted, “today’s concurrence recognizes” that the court has long rejected “the sort of all-things-considered balancing of benefits and burdens.”“It’s little more than the judicial version of a hunter’s stew: Throw in anything that looks interesting, stir, and season to taste,” he added.

Opening the way for more restrictions

The practical effects of his concurrence is to technically uphold Whole Woman’s Health while simultaneously gutting it. The balancing test in that ruling heightened the scrutiny for abortion regulations beyond what Casey called for, but Chief Justice Roberts’ concurrence yesterday says courts now “don’t actually have to do that,” says Melissa Murray, a professor at New York University School of Law.

“States will be emboldened to pass new [restrictive] laws,” she adds. “There are definitely five votes on the court that are not receptive to abortion rights, and the Chief Justice is one of them.”

Supporters of strict regulations on abortion access – including Katrina Jackson, the Louisiana state senator who authored Act 620 – reacted to the ruling with disappointment and promises to continue their work.

“Considering the landscape of the court, there was a lot of hope,” says Alexandra Seghers, director of education for Louisiana Right To Life. “We view the unborn child and the woman as equally valuable. And we continue to fight for the day that everyone recognizes this as well.”

The legal battle over abortion is now likely to follow two tracks: One track seeking to  slowly and incrementally restrict access to abortion, and the other seeking a rapid overturn of the constitutional right to abortion itself.

Republican-led states have been pursuing both tracks since the Whole Woman’s Health decision four years ago. Last year lower courts blocked a half-dozen state “heartbeat” laws, which make abortion illegal as early as six weeks in a pregnancy. Earlier this month the Tennessee state legislature passed a similar law, though it has not gone into effect due to legal challenges. An Alabama law enacted last year, banning all abortions except those necessary to save a mother’s life, has been similarly delayed. 

President Donald Trump has also filled lower courts with conservative judges, which is likely to embolden more conservatives to take the second track.

There’s “a clear rebellion against the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach,” says Professor Ziegler. “We’ll continue to see a push for that even though it may backfire at the Supreme Court.” 

While Chief Justice Roberts adhered to stare decisis in yesterday’s ruling, there is ample evidence of him also doing the opposite. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, referenced three opinions (including one written by the chief justice) from the past two terms. Stare decisis “is better understood as the judicial license to adhere or not adhere depending on what policy result is desired,” wrote Andrew McCarthy, criticizing yesterday’s ruling, in the National Review.

Yet yesterday’s opinion, experts say, adds to a throughline in Chief Justice Roberts’ jurisprudence – visible in his DACA opinion earlier this month, and his opinion last term blocking a citizenship question from the 2020 Census – indicating that while he may be skeptical of abortion rights, efforts to restrict or eliminate those rights will have to meet base legal standards.

“You have to come at him with right case, argued in right way, and argue it seriously,” says Professor Ziegler. “If you don’t do that, he won’t take it seriously.”

Putin set to get his new constitution. But Russians ask, ‘Why now?’

Throughout history, changes to the Russian Constitution were based on personality rather than core principles. Our reporter finds the latest iteration seems designed to revitalize popular support for Vladimir Putin and ensure political stability.

David
Alexey Malgavko/Reuters
A woman in Nikolayevka, Russia, shows her passport to members of an electoral commission, wearing personal protective equipment, on June 26, 2020, during the referendum. The pandemic has many Russians asking why the referendum is being rushed ahead.

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Russians have been voting over the past week on a sweeping package of more than 100 amendments to the country’s 1993 charter. Its best-known feature is a clause that will enable Vladimir Putin to potentially remain in the Kremlin until 2036. The measures are expected to pass handily, but the controversy the effort has kicked up seems unlikely to die down anytime soon.

That begins with questions about why these changes were needed and why the Kremlin has rushed them through with hardly any public debate. Mr. Putin has often explicitly argued against devaluing the constitution by capriciously changing it. Now he seems committed to getting this major revision done, and quickly.

Some argue that the official haste is down to fear that public disaffection will rise, making it much harder to complete the constitutional overhaul. Mr. Putin’s personal approval ratings remain high, around 60%. But other polls suggest that trust in government institutions is declining, as the economic recession brought on by months of coronavirus lockdown deepens.

“Why the rush to get the constitutional voting done?” asks Nikolai Svanidze, a historian and popular media commentator. “I guess our authorities are scared that if they wait a few months, people’s moods might change.”

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2. Putin set to get his new constitution. But Russians ask, ‘Why now?’

Russia has had five different constitutions since the beginning of the 20th century. All of them were linked to the fortunes of a particular leader, rather than being a permanent distillation of national principles.

If exit polls are correct, after voting ends this Wednesday, Russia is about to get its sixth new constitution – this one shaped around President Vladimir Putin.

Russians have been voting over the past week, amid the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, on a sweeping package of more than 100 amendments to the country’s 1993 charter. Unsurprisingly, its best-known feature is a clause that will enable Mr. Putin to evade past term limits and potentially remain in the Kremlin until 2036. The measures are expected to pass handily, but the controversy the effort has kicked up seems unlikely to die down anytime soon.

That begins with questions about why these changes were even needed in the first place, why the Kremlin has rushed them through with hardly any public debate, and why the voting couldn’t have been postponed at least until the ongoing pandemic has finally abated.

“I really can’t understand why this is all being done in such a hurry,” says Margarita Petrikova, a Moscow pensioner, voicing a common note of confusion. “They tell us it’s still risky to enter some closed premises, yet they urge us to come out and vote. I know they say you can do it online, but that seems too complicated. And I don’t understand why the choice is just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the whole thing. What if I like some amendments, but not others?”

Reform in a hurry

Mr. Putin has long resisted introducing major changes to Russia’s fundamental law, in part because he’s managed to rule perfectly well without doing so. But he also has often explicitly argued against devaluing the constitution by capriciously changing it. Now he seems committed to getting this major revision done, and quickly.

Some argue that the official haste is down to fear that the economy will deteriorate, or public disaffection will rise, making it much harder to complete the constitutional overhaul if it is put off for a few months. Mr. Putin’s personal approval ratings remain high, around 60%. But other polls suggest that trust in government institutions is declining while protest moods are rising, as the economic recession brought on by months of coronavirus lockdown deepens.

“Why the rush to get the constitutional voting done? I can’t see any special reason for it, but I guess our authorities are scared that if they wait a few months, people’s moods might change,” says Nikolai Svanidze, a historian and popular media commentator. “It’s summer, moods are positive, but by autumn maybe people will look in their refrigerators and think differently.”

Most countries only amend their basic charters after some national shock or a sea change in public opinion compels it. It’s not clear what the Kremlin was thinking when it put forward a raft of amendments early this year.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
A voter wearing a face mask and gloves casts his ballot at Kazansky railway station in Moscow, June 30, 2020. The constitutional reform is expected to be approved, but urban liberals and members of the Communist Party are likely to vote against it.

Originally, it looked like a design for a more sustainable political system after Mr. Putin had left office in 2024, even if it created a powerful sinecure that might enable him to retain influence for awhile. A constitutional drafting committee then added a range of measures to replace the liberal tone of the 1993 document with socially conservative and nationalistic principles, like recognition of God, a ban on gay marriage, and placing Russian law above international obligations. They also added populist measures, such as indexing the minimum wage and pensions to inflation.

In March, as the coronavirus pandemic hit, the surprise amendment was added to reset the presidential clock, allowing Mr. Putin to run for two more terms. Many analysts note that, while the entire exercise clearly revolves around Mr. Putin, he might surely have found a simpler solution if his only goal was to remain in office for life.

Creating a consensus

Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, argues that the new constitution is a political project aimed at creating a fresh pro-Kremlin social and political consensus, which he dubs “Putin 3.0.”

Mr. Putin’s political longevity – he’s been in power, one way or another, for 20 years – has been based not so much on winning competitive elections, as a Western politician would. Rather, Mr. Kolesnikov says, Mr. Putin has survived by using various tools to create the impression of popular majorities that support him.

The first iteration of Putinism was from 2000 to 2008, when political stability combined with high oil prices and canny economic policies led to rapid growth and rising popular living standards. Mr. Putin’s enduring popularity is still rooted in the perception that he united the country after the disastrous 1990s and ushered in relative prosperity for most Russians.

Russia’s economic growth stalled after the global crash of 2008, and Mr. Putin fashioned a new majority paradigm by successfully standing up to the West’s efforts to sanction and isolate Russia over the domestically popular 2014 annexation of Crimea. That led to a wave of patriotism among average Russians, while the Kremlin gained popularity by successfully resisting Western pressures and asserting Russian influence on the world stage.

But those sources of political popularity are largely exhausted, and the new constitution is Mr. Putin’s way of reviving his momentum through popular mobilization, says Mr. Kolesnikov.

“The basic message is continuity of the stability of the Putin era,” he says. “People are being told that if we don’t defend our conservative-patriotic values, we will lose what we have. Putin needs social mobilization, as demonstrated in this voting, to drive home this message.”

Sending messages

Mr. Putin may take up the option to run again for the presidency in 2024. But for now he is anxious to prevent Russia’s fractious elites from squabbling over the succession.

“Putin is still the only figure who can unite all the elites. No institutions or mechanisms exist to replace this,” Mr. Kolesnikov says. “So, what Putin needs them to hear is, ‘I am not a lame duck.’”

There is also a clear message for Russia’s dissenting minorities, including restive urban liberals and the still-powerful Communist Party. About a quarter of Russians are expected to vote against the constitutional amendments.

“Dissatisfied minorities will be made to understand through the outcome of this vote that Russia has a strong majority, and it supports Putin,” says Mr. Kolesnikov. “Alternatives are not on the table.”

One pandemic, many safety nets

‘We’re invisible’: Peru’s moment of reckoning on informal workers

What went wrong with Peru’s COVID-19 response? We found that government officials misunderstood the nature of poverty in their country and lacked the ability to identify the neediest. Part 2 of “One pandemic, many safety nets: A global series.

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Early this spring, Peru was lauded for its quick action against COVID-19 – and not only in terms of health. The government designed an economic relief package that included vital cash transfers for poor, vulnerable, and self-employed people.

Yet today, Peru has one of the world’s longest lockdowns, and many people have yet to receive any assistance. What’s more, the country has the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in Latin America. Where things went wrong, experts say, was in misunderstanding the dynamics of poverty in a country that has gained “middle-income” status over two decades of growth. Particularly hidden are the 70% of Peruvian workers who labor in the informal sector – many of whom lack bank accounts, too. 

“It’s like we decided poverty is almost over in [Peruvian] cities and we only need to focus on rural areas,” says Carmen Roca of WIEGO, an international NGO advocating for informal workers. The pandemic “is exposing the fact that there are still a lot of people in poverty who we didn’t see before.”

Challenges in identifying who is in need won’t be resolved overnight, she says, but hopefully the pandemic will set priorities moving forward.

“This population working informally, in a sense, they have finally been seen and recognized,” Ms. Roca says.

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3. ‘We’re invisible’: Peru’s moment of reckoning on informal workers

When Luis David Arias Gutiérrez first learned of Peru’s strict coronavirus lockdown, the Lima-based street vendor supported it.

Sure, it would be tough. Like the staggering 70% of Peruvian workers that labor in the informal sector, the notebook and school-supply salesman lived largely day to day, without much savings to fall back on. But the government, it seemed, knew what it was asking of workers like him.

Peru set a global example of quick action in the face of COVID-19, implementing a nationwide lockdown March 16, soon after its first confirmed case. The government invested in respirators and hospital beds, and offered bonuses to medical professionals. It designed an economic relief package that not only offered low-interest loans to businesses and helped employers keep workers on payrolls, but also targeted the poor, vulnerable, and self-employed with vital cash transfers.

But today, more than three months later, Mr. Arias feels tricked.

“The state hasn’t done anything to help me. Not with cash transfers, not with food donations,” says Mr. Arias, who previously earned about $14 a day.

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

He made it through one and a half months of lockdown before heading back to the streets. He and hundreds of other vendors on the block had their wares confiscated by municipal officials, and were told that to get them back, they would need to pay a set fine for breaking the lockdown, which, for some vendors, was double the value of the merchandise itself.

“When the option is to die of hunger or hope that this illness doesn’t get you, of course you break quarantine to try and feed your family,” he says. As leader of a local informal street merchant association, he knows scores of vendors who have fallen ill. Public markets have become hot spots, with nearly 8 in 10 vendors testing positive in one fruit market alone.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Volunteers peel potatoes for a stew at a soup kitchen organized by residents in the Nueva Esperanza neighborhood of Lima, Peru, June 8, 2020, amid the country's economic shutdown.

Despite Peru’s lauded response efforts, it now has one of the world’s longest lockdowns, and the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in Latin America, with more than 264,000 cases and more than 8,000 people killed. In the region, Peru ranks only behind Brazil, which has taken a decidedly less deliberate approach to halting the pandemic. Where things went wrong, experts say, was in misunderstanding the dynamics of poverty in a country that has gained “middle-income” status over two decades of growth.

“It’s like we decided poverty is almost over in [Peruvian] cities and we only need to focus on rural areas,” says Peru-based Carmen Roca, the Latin America regional advisor for WIEGO, an international nongovernmental organization advocating for informal workers. The pandemic “is exposing the fact that there are still a lot of people in poverty who we didn’t see before: They are earning day to day and working in difficult conditions.”

Missing numbers

In a region known for economic booms and busts, Peru has been a model of steady economic success, bolstered by commodity exports and conservative fiscal policies. Millions have moved out of poverty. But that progress may have given Peruvians a false sense of security.

“For 20 years we’ve been a star country in terms of macroeconomics. We’ve grown extraordinarily, had fiscal discipline,” says Hugo Ñopo, an economist at Grade, a development think tank in Lima. “But we’ve forgotten to invest in the people. We’ve forgotten to invest in health and education.”

Peru’s $26 billion relief package is worth an estimated 12% of the country’s gross domestic product. (In comparison, the U.S. is spending about 14% of its GDP.) But reaching vulnerable households with the transfers of 380-760 soles ($110-$220) has proved challenging – particularly given outdated information on who is struggling. After Peru first announced subsidies for poor people and informal workers, so many people were accidentally excluded that two new transfer programs were created, using information from other agencies.

It isn’t for lack of trying, observers say. The government used various databases, but it became obvious early on that numbers on poverty were out of date, says Mr. Ñopo, who co-wrote a United Nations Development Program policy note on Peru’s relief package.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Patio umbrellas and tarps dot the landscape at La Parada market in La Victoria district in Lima, Peru, June 23, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Errors are unavoidable. But this is the moment when we have to learn from these mistakes,” he says. “The government needs to adapt – see the error as a tool for excellence” moving forward.

“We can’t keep running on autopilot,” Mr. Ñopo says.

The shortcomings of Peru’s ambitious package reflect the “fragility of our safety nets,” former finance minister Luis Miguel Castilla said in an April 15 online conference hosted by the Wilson Center. “Peru lacks the tools to reach vulnerable populations,” including bank accounts – only 43% of the population has one.

NGOs like WIEGO offered to create a roster of its own to share with the government, but Ms. Roca says they were rebuffed. She suspects that, given high-profile corruption scandals in recent years, the government’s hands were tied on what kind of databases to use.

Corruption has also been to blame for some of the poor execution. Food baskets, for example, were to be distributed at the municipal level, and the government has received hundreds of complaints of irregularities, like expired products or goods removed before delivery.

Ms. Roca says the challenges in identifying who is in need clearly won’t be resolved overnight, but hopefully the pandemic will set priorities moving forward.

“This population working informally, in a sense, they have finally been seen and recognized,” Ms. Roca says.

“We’re invisible”

Before COVID-19, Gloria Solórzano worked two informal jobs, starting around 4 a.m. each day. She’d sell fresh fruit, bringing home roughly $10, in the morning, and embroider in the afternoons. But she’s over 60 and says going out to work is too risky. She feels lucky that her adult children are helping her where they can, but they too are now without an income.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The day to day is grim: Ms. Solórzano eats one meal, down from two or three a day pre-pandemic. “The situation here is really critical, more so than in other countries, because the government isn’t taking us into account. We’re invisible,” she says of informal workers. She’s the leader of the National Network of Self-Employed Workers (RENATTA), with roughly 2,000 members. She knows of three who have received a government transfer.

Meanwhile, unemployment has exploded, growing to 13.1%.

“Informal workers will multiply,” Ms. Solórzano predicts. “It will be really hard to subsist. It’s not just me – it will be our reality at the national and international level. How will we move ahead after this pandemic?”

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

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

How one science hub grapples with diversifying STEM

Overcoming inertia can be both a physics and a social justice problem. Research shows better innovation results from a diversity of perspectives. We look at Woods Hole, the marine science center in Massachusetts.

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On Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, more than 9 out of 10 locals are white. The prestigious science community in the village of Woods Hole reflects a similar racial breakdown. 

On June 10, some 300 locals and scientists marched past the village’s six marine and coastal science laboratories, demanding racial equity in their community and field. They joined nationwide strikes against anti-Black racism in STEM and wider academia, with calls for concrete action. While Woods Hole leaders have led a diversity initiative since 2004, advocates say change has been incremental.

Diversity and inclusion are critical to building trust with communities affected by Woods Hole institutions’ research. Many of the topics Woods Hole’s scientists study – including climate change and the management of coastal and marine ecosystems and resources – disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations.

“If we as a scientific community want to have a broader impact and relevance across a range of communities, we must be willing to expand our professional demographic composition,” says Larry Alade, a Black research fishery biologist.

Suzanne Thomas, a white laboratory technician at the Marine Biological Laboratory, joined the June 10 protest “because diversity in science matters.”

“When we have a diversity of lives and diversity of minds, science is stronger,” she says.

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4. How one science hub grapples with diversifying STEM

As individuals and communities across the nation take a hard look at anti-Black racism and its lasting impacts, professionals and institutions in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are no exception. On June 10, they held nationwide strikes that called for reflecting on complicity in anti-Black racism and developing action plans to address it.

Woods Hole, a marine and coastal science hub on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, joined the movement, with roughly 300 locals and scientists marching past the village’s marine and coastal science laboratories and demanding racial equity in their community and field. Woods Hole hosts six prestigious institutions: the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Biological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States Geological Survey (USGS), Sea Education Association, and Woods Hole Research Center.

Formal efforts to diversify Woods Hole’s science community have been ongoing for more than a decade. Local advocates hope the current groundswell will open the door to deeper conversations and accelerate progress.

“It’s often uncomfortable to discuss race. The current surge has helped people dive in and overcome their inertia,” says Gwyneth Packard, a senior engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and co-chair of its Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, who identifies as biracial. “People are starting to have conversations they wouldn’t have had even a few weeks ago.”

She says Woods Hole’s scientists must continuously apply the same rigor and strategies they use in their scientific research to promote diversity and inclusion, and in turn enhance scientific advancement.

“Visible at all times”

Out of the six Woods Hole institutions, four provided staff demographic data upon request. The largest, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told the Monitor 88% of its employees identify as white. 

Similarly, a spokeswoman for the Marine Biological Laboratory said 85% of its year-round workforce is white. Sea Education Association President Peg Brandon said while no up-to-date diversity data on employees is available, most are white. Out of 200 students from the past year’s semester-at-sea environmental science program, around 18% identified as non-white. Ninety-one percent of Woods Hole Research Center staff identify as white, according to a spokeswoman.

NOAA and USGS, the two federal institutions, declined to provide demographic data due to privacy policies. 

The data mirrors broader trends in STEM professions, particularly earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, known collectively as geosciences. Racial diversity at the doctoral level in these fields has not improved in four decades, with 86% of doctorates awarded to white people.

A mounting body of research shows that socially diverse groups are more innovative and effective at problem-solving than homogeneous groups. Yet a study published in April by the National Academy of Sciences found that while U.S. doctorate recipients in the sciences from underrepresented groups were more innovative than those from majority groups, their contributions were more frequently discounted and less likely to result in academic positions. 

Homogeneity often self-perpetuates. “The less diverse a field, the less welcoming it is to minorities, and the more prevalent implicit biases become,” wrote diversity and inclusion researcher Kuheli Dutt of Columbia University in a 2019 Nature article

One Change.org petition with over 21,000 signatories calls for all professional geoscience societies and organizations to develop concrete anti-racist action plans. Started by geoscientist Hendratta Ali, the petition offers 15 suggestions including diversified nominations and awards committees, accountability for income parity, and the publishing of annual, data-rich reports to measure progress on serving and retaining minority geoscientists. 

For Woods Hole’s institutions, diverse representation is critical to building trust with communities affected by their research. Many of the topics Woods Hole’s scientists study – including climate change and the management of coastal and marine ecosystems and resources – disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations.

“If we as a scientific community want to have a broader impact and relevance across a range of communities, we must be willing to expand our professional demographic composition,” says Larry Alade, research fishery biologist at NOAA. 

As one of the few Black scientists in Woods Hole, where he has worked since 2008, Dr. Alade says he has had an overall positive professional experience, but that it took time to feel he could be his authentic self. Cape Cod itself lacks racial diversity – the census estimates more than 90% of residents are white and only 3.5% are Black. 

“There is a psychological effect that comes with feeling visible at all times. As an African American, there is a cognitive dissonance trying to navigate the culture when you are the only one who looks like you,” he says of his time at Woods Hole. 

Allies

On June 5, the leaders of Woods Hole’s six institutions, who have collaborated formally through a Diversity Initiative since 2004, published a statement acknowledging “profound issues of lack of diversity and systemic racism and bias present in our scientific community” and pledging to take measurable steps to address these issues.

Rob Thieler, a white scientist who is the diversity initiative chair and center director of the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, says the local science community “needs to create a climate where diversity is an explicit and well-supported goal, visible and accountable to all.”

“We can aspire to being more than just a safe space for diversity. We need to become a courageous space where we acknowledge the hard truths and work as a community to address them,” he says.

Yet change has been incremental, say the four advocates interviewed. Over the past decade, one program under the diversity initiative has brought in more than 150 undergraduates – most from racial minority backgrounds – for summer internships. Only 12 participants went on to work at a Woods Hole institution.  

In 2018, the institutions commissioned qualitative research in Woods Hole to inform diversity and inclusion efforts. The ensuing report, written by Robert Livingston of Harvard University, describes a predominant perspective among respondents that Woods Hole is “an unhealthy work environment for people of color.”

“The Livingston report revealed some uncomfortable and disturbing truths,” says Dr. Thieler. He says the institutions have been working to follow the report’s recommendations, and that unraveling systemic issues takes sustained, multilayered efforts – and time.

Hauke Kite-Powell, a white research specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and chair of a diversity initiative committee, hopes the current social movement will push individuals to challenge their implicit biases more deeply. 

“The big shift has to come from individuals, who have to recognize the filters through which they see the world,” says Dr. Kite-Powell. 

Demonstrators at the June 10 rally appeared eager to look inward and work toward creating and sustaining a more diverse and supportive community.

“I have never really been a part of anything like this, but you see [systemic racism] day in and day out, and the suffering that’s caused, starts to click,” said Ryan Null, a white researcher volunteering at the Marine Biological Laboratory. “I’ve been trying to educate myself.” 

“I’m out here protesting for my colleagues of color and future colleagues of color, which I hope are more, because diversity in science matters,” said Suzanne Thomas, a white laboratory technician at the Marine Biological Laboratory. 

“Your heritage, your background, everything, contributes to science, because when we have a diversity of lives and diversity of minds, science is stronger.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include staff demographic data from the Woods Hole Research Center received after publication.

Pandemic pricing: Are Mideast markets losing the art of the deal?

How does the art of haggling survive the rigors of social distancing? Our reporter visits shopkeepers in Amman, Jordan, to learn how they’re negotiating in a pandemic.

David
Taylor Luck
A vendor fills a bag of coffee at his now-empty spice and coffee shop in downtown Amman, Jordan, June 17, 2020. Coronavirus hygiene rules mean shoppers are no longer pausing to browse or barter, and traditional marketplaces have taken a hit.

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In Arab countries, where vast swaths of the economy are vendors, market stalls, and mom-and-pop shops, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted an age-old culture of marketplace haggling. With the gloves-disinfectant-face mask logistics of hygiene, and concern of close contact, shopping has struggled to evolve.

“No one is relaxed, no one is stopping to speak, no one is engaging,” says Abu Mohammed, slumped over the counter at his empty store in downtown Amman, Jordan. “No matter if you have your best sales pitch, you can’t get people to stop and think about bartering and buying,” he says.

Entrepreneurial merchants have come up with a handful of stopgap solutions. Some have opened WhatsApp groups updated by the hour where they can haggle with individual customers. Others rely on Facebook, posting images and encouraging bidding on limited items.

But the measures can’t replace the intrigue and adrenaline rush of “naming your price.” “No matter the amount of technology, once we return closer to normal life, people will be back in the street shopping and bargaining,” predicts Bassam Arafeh, a scarf seller. “It’s not haggling; it’s human nature.”

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5. Pandemic pricing: Are Mideast markets losing the art of the deal?

This has a mark on it. How much will you take off?

If I buy two, what price will you give me?

Buy four, and there’s a special discount – just for you.

Such phrases are as much a part of the soundtrack of the souk as crashing waves are at the beach.

Haggling and bargaining – at times a blood-sport, at times a game of poker, at others a carefully choreographed tango with each side refusing to verbalize their true desire – have been the lifeblood of Middle Eastern marketplaces for centuries; some say millennia.

It is a sport of necessity. Vendors move product, shoppers get what they think is a bargain, the circle of commerce is complete.

Haggling has continued as empires rose and fell, weathering natural disasters and war. But now it faces its most difficult challenge yet: the coronavirus.

With curfews, social distancing, the gloves-disinfectant-face mask logistics of hygiene in the beating sun, and concern of close contact, good old-fashioned marketplace shopping has struggled to evolve in the COVID-19 era.

In Arab countries, where vast swaths of the economy are vendors, market stalls, and mom-and-pop shops, the pandemic has taken a huge toll and disrupted an age-old shopping culture.

“No one is engaging”

Despite most Arab countries having been opened for weeks with relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, Middle Eastern market traffic has slowed to a trickle in Amman, Cairo, and Tunis.

In Amman, a valley of shops and street vendors running through the heart of the capital – usually thronged by crowds browsing everything from carpets to chickens – was deserted on a midday midweek.

Abu Mohammed, who normally could sell up to $150 worth of his shop’s nuts, spices, coffees, and herbal remedies to one customer, says he is now lucky to make $75 in sales in an entire day.

“No one is relaxed, no one is stopping to speak, no one is engaging,” he says, slumped over the counter at his empty downtown store, just below a government-issued decal on his shop window reading, “Social distancing, stay two meters apart.”

“No matter if you have your best sales pitch, you can’t get people to stop and think about bartering and buying,” he says. “Only health is on their mind.”

Masked customers make hurried decisions from outside storefronts, or pass by without stopping, concerned about a sudden crowd gathering around them or another shopper sneezing in their face.

“Before, I would just spend hours browsing and holding each dress or plate when I shopped, hunting for the perfect hidden gem that fits my style,” Umm Khaled, a 37-year-old Amman resident, says outside a shop as she waits for a vendor to hand her a set of tea glasses.

Having phoned ahead, she grabs her items quickly.

“Shopping is no longer browsing,” she says, “it’s like picking up a package. I can’t wait to leave.”

Then there’s the psychological impact of the lack of crowds. Deserted marketplaces in Amman, Cairo, or Tunisia’s seaside village gem, Sidi Bou Said, all send a message to shoppers: Shops are closed or something is terribly wrong.

Shopkeepers say they relied on the competition created by bustling crowds; multiple customers holding up and eyeing the same items would create an incentive for shoppers to buy what they think is “the last piece” or make an impulse offer so as not to lose a good deal to another browser.

Taylor Luck
Shemagh scarf salesman Bassam Arafeh stands at his unusually quiet stall in downtown Amman, June 17, 2020.

To want it, you need to touch it

Social distancing means shop owners can’t physically handle an item to show customers its “exquisite craftsmanship,” or present a more expensive product for comparison.

“It’s just not the same,” Bassam Arafeh says in his shemagh stall in a nearly deserted downtown Amman, where for two decades he has relied on street traffic to sell hand-knitted checkered men’s headscarves.

“Shopping is a tactile experience; you have to see and feel the item in order to truly want it,” he says, holding up the handwoven fluffy, white tassels dangling from a shemagh scarf hanging above him. 

“If you just see a photo of a product on Facebook or WhatsApp, you end up thinking more about the price than the item. Rather than thinking about how nice the item is, you just think, ‘Do I really want to spend this amount?’”

Social distancing and pandemic concerns have also disrupted a delicate economic ecosystem for limited-income citizens who relied on haggling for day-old vegetables or worn clothes and who are now wary of used items.

“We can’t afford to get sick. Instead we buy new and buy less,” says Umm Mohammed, a Syrian refugee and mother of five.

The loss of business travel and tourism has also had a ripple effect in the Arab marketplace.

“If someone is visiting from another city or country and has limited time in Cairo, this will be the first, last, and only chance to purchase from your shop,” says Khalil Muhanned, a coppersmith who sells decorative brass and stained-glass lanterns on a side street in old Islamic Cairo.

Such a dynamic allowed shopkeepers to pile items onto a visitors’ shopping list, offering discounts to encourage them to spend “just a little bit more” to get that extra carpet or lantern for their in-laws or co-worker.

“But when no one is traveling from another country, there is no longer a sense of discovery or pressure to make a purchase,” Mr. Muhanned says.

Stopgap measures

Entrepreneurial merchants have come up with a handful of solutions to bring bartering back into the shopping experience.

In Egypt and Jordan, shopkeepers have opened WhatsApp groups updated by the hour, posting their latest wares and encouraging side conversations where they haggle with individual customers; others are relying on Facebook, posting images and encouraging bidding on limited items.

Many in Jordan and the Persian Gulf are starting to rely on a fleet of masked and gloved deliverymen and women working for ride-sharing apps, summoned at the whim of a customer, to complete a transaction without ever meeting the shopper.

But rather than replace the intrigue and adrenaline rush of “naming your price,” shopkeepers say the measures are a stopgap to help them survive the pandemic.

“No matter the amount of technology, once we return closer to normal life, people will be back in the street shopping and bargaining,” predicts Mr. Arafeh, the scarf seller, as he tapes up a handwritten sign reading “25% off.”

“It’s not haggling; it’s human nature.”

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When the war on terror isn’t a war

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Is the world winning the war on terror? On a global scale, yes.

After peaking in 2014, the total number of deaths from terrorist acts has declined every year. Much of that success came through military force and sanctions. Yet those are not the only tools. A change of heart by millions of democracy-seeking activists can also bring peace. In two countries, Sudan and Lebanon, pro-democracy protests have recently put pressure on leaders to fully end the use of their countries as havens for terrorists.

Sometimes fighting fire with fire isn’t the answer. The waters of political freedom and civic equality can douse the flames of terrorism.

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When the war on terror isn’t a war

Is the world winning the war on terror? On a global scale, yes. After peaking in 2014, the total number of deaths from terrorist acts has declined every year. So has the economic impact. Both have fallen by about half. Just as humanity has largely blocked the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, it could be bottling up the weapon of mass political violence against innocent civilians.

Much of that success came through military force, such as against Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Or from economic sanctions, such as against Libya, along with a pinching of the financial flows to terrorist groups. Also, governments are better at targeting domestic terrorists like anti-Muslim individuals and violent racist groups.

Yet force and sanctions are not the only tools. In two countries, Sudan and Lebanon, pro-democracy protests have recently put pressure on leaders to fully end the use of their countries as havens for terrorists. Sometimes fighting fire with fire isn’t the answer. The waters of political freedom and civic equality can douse the flames of terrorism.

In Lebanon, the Islamist group Hezbollah – which provides terrorist fighters to Iran for its meddling in other countries – holds sway over a divided nation. Yet since October, protests have pushed back against both Hezbollah and Lebanon’s ruling and corrupt elite. Youthful activists are demanding transparency and accountability instead of a system that now divides up power by religions and allows violence by Hezbollah.

Along with COVID-19, the protests have brought the government to its knees, exposing Lebanon’s weaknesses and putting the economy on the brink. To reform itself, the country badly needs foreign financial help. Yet that help comes with strings. One is the end of Hezbollah’s anti-democratic ways and the export of its terrorists.

“We are fully prepared to support a government that conducts real reforms and operates in a way that is not beholden to Hezbollah,” says U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

While the standoff in Lebanon plays out, pro-democracy groups in Sudan are close to a major success. The United States is poised to take that African nation off its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”

Once a haven for Al Qaeda, Sudan has steadily worked to quell violent Islamists. It still has work to do. The U.S. claims “facilitation networks” for ISIS still exist in Sudan. Yet since last year, when protesters forced the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, the country inched slowly toward elections in 2022 under a joint civilian-military system of governance. While progress has been halting, Sudan earned a big slap on the back on June 26. Some 40 countries and the World Bank pledged nearly $2 billion in loans and grants to the civilian-led cabinet of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The money may help prevent economic collapse.

Most important, the fact that the U.S. chipped in $352 million indicates it is close to taking Sudan off the list of terrorist-sponsoring states. Crossing that threshold would allow Sudan to renegotiate its burdensome debt and to receive foreign investment.

The people of Lebanon and Sudan can thank street protesters for putting their countries on the path to being peaceful, terrorist-free democracies. The world can also thank them for showing that the task of ending terrorism does not always need the muscle of military might and the brawn of economic sanctions. A change of heart by millions of democracy-seeking activists can also bring peace.

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.

Achieving accountability

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The ancient King Solomon’s wisdom and good judgment went down in history. The God that guided Solomon is still here today, empowering all of us to express wisdom, humility, and accountability in situations large and small.

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1. Achieving accountability

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It was beyond frustrating! We’d purchased a large, expensive air-conditioning unit for our home in hot and humid Brisbane, Australia, and on installation the unit had turned out to be defective. It was under warranty, so I visited the retailer, who told me to contact the installer, who directed me to the manufacturer’s service agent, who sent me to the manufacturer, who told me to go back to the installer. No one, it seemed, wanted to be held accountable for the cost of replacing the malfunctioning unit, even though it was someone’s responsibility to do so.

After many weeks and phone calls, there was still no accountability from anyone involved. So, as I’ve done with other confrontational situations in my life, I decided to pause and pray. I knew from experience that this would calm my thinking and guide me, opening the door to a just resolution.

I recalled something Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of The Christian Science Monitor, once wrote: “It should be thoroughly understood that all men have one Mind, one God and Father, one Life, Truth, and Love. Mankind will become perfect in proportion as this fact becomes apparent, war will cease and the true brotherhood of man will be established” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 467).

It didn’t seem to be the case that we all had one Mind! But reasoning from the basis of this idea, I realized I had to change my view of those involved. Rather than defining them as uncooperative, I acknowledged that each one was actually the individual of God’s creating, made in God’s spiritual likeness. As such, we all had the ability to express qualities of God – divine Mind, Truth, and Love – in our dealings. For instance, this would include a spirit of cooperativeness, honesty, and caring; intelligence; and a capacity and desire to resolve this issue in an ethical and wise manner. In other words, with a loving accountability.

Praying with these ideas changed my attitude completely. And I saw these qualities expressed in practice soon afterward. The situation was resolved amicably. The defective product was replaced at no expense to me.

In looking back on this experience, it occurs to me that an excellent benchmark in accountability was set long ago, by an individual named Solomon. According to the Bible, he was king, the top man in charge of his country’s welfare. He was mindful that the obligations associated with his high office directly impacted citizens to whom he was accountable. This moral responsibility was so great that he felt like a little child – inexperienced, unqualified, unsure about his ability to make sound decisions and deliver good results.

As a consequence, Solomon realized that he needed special help. One night, the Bible says, God asked Solomon what He might give him. Solomon’s response was to ask God not for wealth or more power, but for wisdom and an “understanding heart,” to enable him to execute honest and right judgment for all (see I Kings 3:5-15).

This extraordinarily unselfish request points to a humble desire to be of service to others – to help, not injure, and to rely on God, good, to guide him. This desire served Solomon well. His wisdom and good judgment went down in history. People today still refer to needing or wanting “the wisdom of Solomon.”

God is still present to help us all be “Solomons,” as we seek the spiritual-mindedness we need to do well whatever it is ours to do, rather than prioritizing wealth, prestige, or personal gain. This takes humility, which is like an open hand outstretched to receive what’s good. Conversely, egotism – lack of consideration for others, greed, pride – is like a closed fist. By its very nature, humility – a willingness to see ourselves and others as God does, and to follow the leading of God, good – opens us up to divine intuitions that impel unselfish choices and wise actions that benefit everyone involved.

Indeed, we all have the God-given potential to exercise good judgment and follow through on responsibilities with wisdom, humility, and accountability.

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Nature finds a way

Lisi Niesner/Reuters
Plant biotechnologist Margit Laimer from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences of Vienna looks at a 32,000-year-old plant (Silene stenophylla) flowering inside a glass in a laboratory in Austria June 30, 2020. The plant holds the record as the oldest ever brought back to life by scientists. The seeds were stored by an arctic ground squirrel in Siberia and permanently frozen until their excavation a few years ago.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about the reported Russian bounty program to get the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. How will the U.S. respond?  

Also, we’re looking for stories of women who challenged what society said was possible. We’d love to hear and share yours. Email us at engage@csps.com or fill out this form.

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