2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

August 13, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

A touching solution: 3D printer brings ultrasounds to visually impaired

For parents-to-be, the ultrasound is typically a powerful moment: They get a first glimpse of their child. But traditional ultrasound technology doesn’t allow that experience for people who are visually impaired.

So a doctor in Maryland has turned to 3D printing technology for a touching solution. Using specialized ultrasound technology, she was able to print a model of the face of the fetus that the expectant parents could feel. 

In recent years, 3D printing has been used for all kinds of innovations – silly and meaningful alike. People have printed art, musical instruments, prostheses, and even a beak for an injured toucan.

Receiving the 3D printed model was “really emotional,” Taylor Ellis, the mother-to-be, told The Washington Post. “I was a little bit nervous about opening the box,” she said. “I had never seen a 3-D [image], and now, it’s your baby, and it’s, like, wow.”

For Melissa Riccobono, president of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children, who is visually impaired herself, this is an exciting possibility – not just for visually impaired parents.

“For families, instead of having to show them a picture of an ultrasound, how cool it would be for them to get their hands on it, what the baby is like now,” she told the Post. “It’s a really cool way to meet that little being inside of you before you actually meet that little being.”

NRA lawsuits come amid changing face of American gun owners

Outside lawsuits and internal revolts for the once-powerful organization come at a time when more Americans – and more diverse Americans – are buying guns. Not all say the NRA speaks for them.

Eva
Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle/AP/File
National Rifle Association members listen to speakers during its annual meeting in Houston in 2013. The NRA has been cutting staff and salaries amid the pandemic. The cuts come against the backdrop of internal turmoil, legal challenges, and a revolt among some of its members.

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Jennifer Bailey, a digital marketer near Richmond, Virginia, is a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which held a massive rally in Richmond earlier this year to protest new gun control measures after Democrats took control of the statehouse. She is not, however, a National Rifle Association member.

If government should be small and by the people, she says, then advocacy should be, too.

“It’s pretty natural for people to come together in their own communities first and foremost,” says Ms. Bailey. In that way, “it seems only natural that we would come together in a community-based way more powerfully than a national organization or even a national government would be able to.”

Such attitudes have fueled questions about the source of the NRA’s political might, as New York prosecutors aim to dissolve the NRA in a lawsuit alleging self-dealing and mismanagement. Even as more Americans, including more women and people of color, are exercising their Second Amendment rights, the NRA’s framing of that right as a conservative political ideal is losing potency.

In that way, the NRA’s troubles are occurring at a time of shifting attitudes about the role of the Second Amendment in American life.

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1. NRA lawsuits come amid changing face of American gun owners

Babu Omowale says he needs the National Rifle Association – but only until he doesn’t.

As the national firearms organization finds itself under existential threat, Mr. Omowale, the co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club in Dallas, is emblematic of a shifting gun-owning population in the U.S., some of whom say they do not identify with the NRA’s message.

On the one hand, the NRA certifies gun owners in many states. But that narrow utility makes it expendable, especially for Black gun owners, whom the NRA has historically struggled to engage as members.

“The NRA is just a political tool for us to be able to arm ourselves, but we don’t buy into the politics of any of it since it’s the right of every American to take advantage of [the Second Amendment],” says Mr. Omowale, who has joined armed rallies recently on behalf of Black rights. “I believe it’s time for [Black people] to start our own NRA.”

As New York prosecutors aim to dissolve the NRA in a lawsuit alleging self-dealing and mismanagement, one thing is becoming clear to Mr. Omowale: Even as more Americans are exercising their Second Amendment rights, the NRA’s framing of that right as a conservative political ideal is losing potency.

At a time when guns have marched to front and center of political debate, the NRA’s use of the Second Amendment as a political cudgel has run headlong against the growing diversity of the gun-owning public, many of whom tell pollsters they support some forms of gun control, including background checks for private sales – a longtime sticking point for the NRA.

In that way, the NRA’s troubles are occurring at a time of shifting attitudes about the role of the Second Amendment in American life.

The NRA’s “insularity is intimately connected with the ideological alignment ... with politically conservative culture warriors,” says Wake Forest University sociologist David Yamane, founder of the Gun Culture 2.0 blog, in an email. Now, “the proliferation of gun clubs, groups and organizations representing diverse gun owners – [National African American Gun Association], A Girl and a Gun, Liberal Gun Owners, to name a few – fills the vacuum left by the NRA.”

Chartered in New York in 1871, the NRA grew from a firearms training organization to, by the 1980s, a political kingmaker that politicians were wary of crossing.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference to announce a suit to dissolve the National Rifle Association, in New York on Aug. 6, 2020.

Flush with money and success in the 2016 election cycle, the NRA and its political fortunes faded in the “blue wave” of the 2018 election. Expensive lawsuits and internal revolts – as the Monitor’s Simon Montlake chronicled last year – have dwindled its resources to the point where it had to borrow money against the deed to its Virginia headquarters.

Even as the organization’s cash on hand turned from a $28 million surplus to a $36 million deficit between 2015 and 2018, CEO Wayne LaPierre secured a $17 million post-employment package, prosecutors say. The attorney general in Washington, D.C., also filed suit alleging the organization used its charitable arm to fund its political activities. In New York, prosecutor Letitia James called the NRA “a breeding ground for greed, abuse, and brazen illegality.”

The speed and span of the NRA’s buckling has stunned even longtime gun policy observers.

“Pride goeth before a fall,” says Bob Spitzer, author of “Guns Across America. “The announcement [of the New York lawsuit] was a surprise, but not the reason for it. That’s kind of not just sad, but tragic, in a Shakespearean way. They weren’t brought down by gun control forces, but by their own avarice, and nobody watching them.”

After the lawsuit was filed in New York last week, the NRA countersued on First Amendment grounds. It says it still plans to spend tens of millions of dollars in battleground states to help reelect President Donald Trump. A gun-buying spree has led to thousands of people joining the group every month, it reports.

“The NRA is well governed, financially solvent, and committed to good governance,” says Mr. LaPierre in a statement to the Monitor. “We’re ready for the fight. Bring it on.”

It may be an epic battle even for an organization that grew to prominence on what Mr. Spitzer calls “sky is falling” hyperbole.

The country’s political tides have shifted after a string of mass shootings across the U.S. failed to sway Congress to enact gun control laws. Long sidelined, gun control groups now match the NRA dollar for dollar on the campaign trail. The grassroots lobbying by student survivors of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, helped to frame a raft of gun control measures introduced in states.

And critically, the prototypical face of gun ownership – long that of an older white man – is changing. Women now make up 40% of first-time buyers. And as gun sales hit historic highs amid the unrest of 2020, Black Americans represented 58% of gun purchasers, outpacing all other groups.

The exploration of the Second Amendment as a civic duty rather than a political rallying cry came to light this year at political events featuring armed demonstrators, including both Black and white militias.

“The historical origin [of the Second Amendment] is about overthrowing an oppressive government,” says Sanford Levinson, co-author of “Fault Lines in the Constitution.”

Gun rights on a local scale

Jennifer Bailey, a digital marketer near Richmond, is a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which held a massive rally in Richmond earlier this year to protest new gun control measures after Democrats took control of the statehouse. She is not, however, an NRA member.

If government should be small and by the people, she says, then advocacy should be, too.

“It’s pretty natural for people to come together in their own communities first and foremost, and I also think that’s the way our country was designed and I also believe that’s how God created us,” says Ms. Bailey. In that way, “it seems only natural that we would come together in a community-based way more powerfully than a national organization or even a national government would be able to.”

Such attitudes have fueled questions about the source of the NRA’s political might, and what would happen should it disappear or be severely hobbled.

Adam Skaggs, the New York-based chief counsel and policy director at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, is skeptical that a neutered NRA would automatically translate to more gun control.

“If the NRA disappeared tomorrow,” he says, “there would still be a number of Americans who ... would continue to resist any strengthening of the gun laws.”

What’s more, the NRA’s “power came from the ability to organize and drive action by that very small, but very passionate group of single-issue voters,” he says. That means that “for many years – decades – the NRA claim to speak for American gun owners has not really been credible.”

NRA defenders

David Adams, an NRA member in Virginia’s Chesterfield County, disagrees. His now-15-year-old daughter received her lifetime membership to the NRA when she was in diapers.

That New York and Washington authorities decided to file a civil suit instead of criminal charges suggests that “it’s totally political” – a bid by Democrats to weaken the NRA ahead of an election, says Mr. Adams. Allegations of financial improprieties, including C-suite lavishness, amounts to c’est la vie in corporate America, he says.

“I don’t have any complaints about what I’ve gotten in return” for contributions, he says.

But Mr. Adams also believes that the NRA’s legal troubles come at a critical time for the role of guns in society. Failures to stem several new gun control measures in Virginia earlier this year, he says, set up a broader test of America’s unique and complicated relationship with firearms. Those took effect July 1 and include limiting handgun purchases to one a month.

“Gun owners showed up a day late and a dollar short” for the Richmond rally in February, says Mr. Adams, who is the vice president of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association. And “if they want to make sure that we don’t get closer to [firearms-cautious] New Jersey or California, they better keep the same energy they had at the beginning of this year going into this election, because if they don’t like what they saw in Virginia, they’re not going to like what they see at the national level.”

How Jordan’s crackdown on teachers puts pandemic success at risk

From arrests to media blackouts, Jordan’s harsh response to teachers’ protests has been a surprise. Spurred, perhaps, by an economy weakened by the pandemic, the government is imperiling its own public health success.

Eva
Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Teachers protest in Amman, Jordan, Oct. 3, 2019. A strike last fall secured a government pledge to honor a promised pay increase beginning this fall. Now a dispute between the teachers union and the government is undermining trust in Jordan's coronavirus response.

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Jordan had “crushed” the curve. To take the country’s coronavirus cases from dozens a day to zero, Jordanians diligently followed government guidelines and quietly coped with the mounting economic costs. Jordan’s economy saw a smooth reopening in late June.

It was amid this positive atmosphere that Jordan’s teachers, whose average salary is below the country’s poverty line, demanded that the government live up to a $50 to $70 monthly raise first promised in 2013 and set to kick in this fall.

The government response was harsh. The teachers union’s leadership council was dissolved. Union leaders and teachers were arrested. A gag order was issued blocking media from discussing the issue. Cellphone footage of clubbings and knee-to-the-throat arrests is circulating on social media, pushing citizens to side with the teachers’ demands.

Support for coronavirus efforts is waning. The government has cited the pandemic as the reason to increase police presence across the country and threatened a renewed lockdown if case levels remain high. Citizens are voicing suspicions that Amman is manipulating coronavirus statistics for its political needs.

“Everywhere people no longer believe the government’s stats or statements on corona. They think it is a conspiracy,” says Oraib Rantawi, a researcher. “The government has lost all this credit and goodwill for nothing.”

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2. How Jordan’s crackdown on teachers puts pandemic success at risk

When he first insisted on his $60 a month raise in July, Omar did not expect to wind up in a jail cell.

The Jordanian public-school teacher, who makes $450 a month, says he thought that with the country recovering from its pandemic lockdown, getting paid the raise granted by the government last year was a just, and unremarkable, demand.

Now, with his teachers union dissolved, colleagues arrested or on the run, and daily protests growing amid a violent government crackdown, he is left wondering how the issue of teachers’ salaries could have rapidly pushed his country to the brink.

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

As the union-government showdown escalates into a bitter nationwide struggle over speech freedoms and the right to protest, there are signs that the Jordanian state’s old way of doing business can no longer quell discontent, and risks harming its coronavirus response.

“Things are growing and escalating by the day,” Omar (his full name and others in this story are known to the Monitor) says over a secure messaging app, four days after his detention and release for participating in a protest in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid in the face of “unprecedented” force by anti-riot police.

“These actions may aggravate matters, and it is all becoming a mess; but our demands are just, and we will not back down.”

The teachers union crisis has been a sudden twist of fate for Jordan, which had emerged relatively unscathed as a COVID-19 success story.

A three-month lockdown imposed in early March – among measures implemented by a government given broad emergency powers to keep businesses afloat and citizens at home – helped Jordan “crush” the curve. Jordanians diligently followed government guidelines and quietly coped with the mounting economic costs. After dozens of new coronavirus cases per day came multiple weeks of no new daily cases and a total of 10 deaths.

With a smooth reopening in late June, Jordan avoided the protests and unrest over lockdowns and joblessness that hit European countries and neighboring Israel. Jordan’s pharmaceutical sector was positioned to produce regional batches of a future vaccine. The country began exporting personal protective equipment.

Harsh response

It was amid this positive atmosphere that the teachers union demanded that the government live up to a raise – calculated according to years of service and their starting base salary – first promised in 2013 and set to kick in this fall.

When the government refused to negotiate, citing a March order freezing all public-sector salaries, the union published a call for activism on its website for the raises to be honored.

The government response was as swift as it was harsh, a shocking assault on civil society in a kingdom that has allowed professional unions relative freedom for decades.

On July 25, the attorney general ordered the union’s leadership council dissolved and shuttered union headquarters – a move that has no judicial basis in Jordanian law. Police raided the homes and offices of union leaders across the country, arresting them and putting them in pretrial detention, often without warrants.

The same day, a Jordanian court issued a gag order blocking media from discussing the teachers union under threat of arrest; a Jordanian media blackout continues today.

As of Friday, police have arrested more than 250 teachers and detained dozens more without charges; cellphone video footage of clubbings and knee-to-the-throat arrests is circulating on social media, outraging Jordanians.

A dozen union leaders are on a hunger strike in its 19th day. Two were rushed to the hospital Thursday for emergency care.

The government’s response is reminiscent of previous crackdowns on economic protests in the 1980s and ’90s, some here say. Yet hundreds of Jordanian citizens are gathering in near-nightly protests in support of teachers in towns across the kingdom, defying emergency orders restricting large gatherings.

Hearts and minds

Observers say the sudden government crackdown may be rooted in a desire to prevent wider economic protests at a time of budgetary stress and recession.

To be sure, the government’s financial resources are especially meager, with Jordan’s deep-pocketed Gulf Arab neighbors also feeling the effects of the coronavirus-fueled recession. It’s an economic climate that also has robbed teachers of vital supplementary sources of income in the form of home-based businesses.

With each side surprised at the other’s intransigence and convinced it can win a battle of wills, the showdown has led to rapid escalations neither was anticipating.

With more than 100,000 members, the teachers union is the largest civil society group in the kingdom with potential large political sway.

It first showed its strength last September, when a four-week strike forced the government to put the previously promised monthly raises of $50 to $70 in the 2020-21 school year budget. Teachers earn average wages of $600 per month, below the government-acknowledged poverty line of $880.

“When the union started to organize sit-ins and demonstrations, it alarmed” the government, says Musa Shteiwi, professor of political sociology at the University of Jordan.

“In the mind of the state it was another attempt to push for something more in these uncertain times when the government budget is under strain due to the coronavirus,” he says. “The government saw it as the wrong time and wrong approach to discuss economic demands.”

A segment of society agrees, worrying that protests may rock the stability in the resource-poor kingdom.

“All of us are suffering economically. The time is not right for a protest,” says Hussein, a farmer whose exports have been hit by pandemic logistics, and who only gave his first name. “Do they want to destroy the country for a 40-dinar [$56] raise?”

Yet as the crisis escalates, security forces are crossing previously-held red lines, such as assaulting and arresting women and journalists. That is pushing more citizens once skeptical of the teachers’ demands to side with the union.

“If the teachers are arrested for criticizing the government for cutting their salaries, then any of us could go to jail for being unhappy with the government,” says Abu Laith, an Amman shopkeeper who counts himself among those initially opposed to the teachers’ demands amid the pandemic.

“All of Jordan is unhappy with the economic situation and the government; all of us could be in jail right now,” he says. “Any one of us could be a teacher.”

Impact on pandemic policies

The crisis has started to dent the reputation of West-friendly Jordan, which has drawn rebukes from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others.

Yet the greatest casualty so far has been citizens’ support for – and belief in – the government’s coronavirus efforts.

The Jordanian government had built up goodwill for its pandemic response, which citizens treated as a war effort. The government’s approval rating shot from 45% in January to 77% in late March, according to public opinion surveys for the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.

Yet a few months later, and with cases rising again, Jordanians on the street and on social media say they have soured on the government’s response.

In its arrests of teachers, the government has cited “defense orders” banning gatherings of 20 people or more. This week it also cited the pandemic as the reason to increase police presence in cities and towns across the country and enforce electronic monitoring of residential areas, and said the whole country could be put back under lockdown if case levels remain high. In response, citizens are voicing their suspicions, on social media and in the streets, that Amman is manipulating coronavirus statistics for its political needs.

Public doubts come amid a surge of coronavirus cases owing to the arrival of infected truck drivers from neighboring states. This week new infections reached 12 to 15 cases per day.

“Everywhere people no longer believe the government’s stats or statements on corona. They think it is a conspiracy and the government wants to put Jordanians on a lockdown to prevent public gatherings,” says Oraib Rantawi, director of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies. “The government has lost all this credit and goodwill for nothing.”

Middle class struggling

As protests continue, the debt-ridden Jordanian government, which boasts it protected 70% of salaries and expanded health care during the lockdown, insists it must freeze government salaries and new hiring for the rest of 2020.

Yet while the most vulnerable have been bolstered, heading into September, Jordan’s middle class is under serious strain, with many having lost jobs or income and are struggling to pay mortgages, car loans, and groceries.

Teachers are emerging as a symbol of this struggle.  

“If the government thinks they can silence me like they are trying to silence the teachers, they have another thing coming,” says banker Um Samer, who is selling her Amman house after losing her job. 

Observers say it is a lesson that in these extraordinary times, what had been tried-and-true regime tactics have unexpected consequences.

“If the government is not aware of what is lying around the corner for us, I think we are risking the stability of our country,” says Mr. Rantawi. “We must turn back.”

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

‘I have a right to be here’: German Muslims push back against Islamophobia

Anti-Semitism is a constant concern in Germany, but as great a worry is Islamophobia. The country's 5 million Muslims are increasingly part of the fabric of society, but anti-Muslim incidents are on the rise too.

Eva
Newscom/File
A teenage Muslim girl wearing a headscarf stands near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 2016. Germany's Muslim population has grown tremendously in recent years, in large part due to the 2015 refugee crisis that saw a million arrivals, mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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When it comes to Germany’s acceptance of its Muslim community – its largest religious group after Christians – 2020 has been a year of fits and starts. The German government has promised more security at mosques this year. But at the same time, the interior minister halted an audit of racial profiling by the police, in a country where the largest racial minority groups are predominantly Muslim. And last month, the German state of Baden-Württemberg banned children from wearing hijabs and niqabs in school.

Such tensions are a growing issue for Germany. The incidence of anti-Muslim hate is on the rise. Transgressions range from daily microaggressions (everyday slights, conscious and unconscious, that reinforce discrimination) to horrific attacks that capture national media attention, such as the February Hanau shooting in which a far-right extremist killed nine people.

“About half the population sees Islam as a threat, and the picture has become cemented,” says Yasemin El-Menouar of research foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung. Her research also shows that contact between people of different religions is key to dismantling stereotypes, and that results are strongest among young people. “We need to deconstruct social distance so you realize people who practice a different religion aren’t necessarily that different.”

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3. ‘I have a right to be here’: German Muslims push back against Islamophobia

Israa Alsabagh started wearing a headscarf to school when she was 10 years old.

A practicing Muslim born and raised in Germany, she had begged her mother to let her wear the head covering. When she finally wore it to class for the first time, “I had the feeling everyone was looking at me, because I looked different.”

Over time, it became clear her classmates wouldn’t be problems. It was older teachers – and strangers – who were occasional headaches. “Every once in awhile, I’d get a dumb remark [from a teacher] like, ‘Well, why don’t you ask your God?’” says Ms. Alsabagh, now 16 years old. Another time, a stranger on the metro asked, “‘Go home, what are you doing here?’”

“I always answer, ‘I am German. My mom is German, too,’” Ms. Alsabagh says. “And they are always surprised.”

While much attention has been shone on anti-Semitism in Germany, anti-Muslim bigotry is potentially even more damaging to the country’s social fabric by targeting a group 5 million strong, compared to Germany’s roughly 150,000 Jews. The incidence of anti-Muslim hate is on the rise. Transgressions range from daily microaggressions (everyday slights, conscious and unconscious, that reinforce discrimination) to horrific attacks that capture national media attention, such as the February 2020 Hanau shooting in which a far-right extremist targeted two hookah bars and killed nine people, or the murder of the pro-refugee politician in the state of Hesse by a neo-Nazi in June of last year.

Courtesy of Israa Alsabagh
Israa Alsabagh started wearing a headscarf to school when she was 10 years old. “I had the feeling everyone was looking at me, because I looked different,” she remembers. But she found that it was older teachers and strangers, not classmates, who were most critical of her choice.

Progress towards acceptance of Germany’s second-largest religious group after Christianity has come in fits and starts. The German government has promised more security at mosques this year. But at the same time, the interior minister halted an audit of racial profiling by the police, in a country where the largest racial minority groups are predominantly Muslim. And, last month, the German state of Baden-Württemberg banned children from wearing burqas and niqabs in school.

“About half the population sees Islam as a threat, and the picture has become cemented,” says Yasemin El-Menouar, a researcher at the German research foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung. “But 15 or 20 years ago German society had much to say about Muslims, while they didn’t get to speak. Now we have a generation [of Muslims] who were raised here, are well educated, and who say, ‘I have a right to be here and be part of the discussion.’”

‘Racism is a dynamic phenomenon’

Lamya Kaddor is one of that generation.

An author, activist, and teacher, she has fielded countless questions from colleagues when she teaches her classes on Islam. They include, “‘Are you teaching students to build bombs?’ or ‘How can such an emancipated woman like yourself teach such antiquated beliefs?’” says Ms. Kaddor, author of the 2010 book “Muslim, Female, German!”

Other times people might say, “‘Go back to Turkey.’ No one cares that I’m not actually from Turkey,” she says. Meanwhile, media continue to associate Islam with violence or oppression, and Muslims are now suffering more severe exclusion than Jews, both in the rates and in the scope of alienation, says Ms. Kaddor, who has studied both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

“Unfortunately many Germans think racism has been defeated in our country because Adolf Hitler isn’t here anymore,” says Ms. Kaddor. “But racism is a dynamic phenomenon. It adapts quickly and adjusts to societal conditions.”

Those conditions include Germany’s intake of a million refugees in 2015, after Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended a protocol to send them back to other “safe” countries. The influx of migrants, mostly Muslims from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, helped trigger the rise of a far-right political party that campaigned partly on an anti-Muslim platform. In 2017 it won 94 seats in Germany’s federal parliament.

Politics, media, and society must change, says Ms. Kaddor, who adds that she has received death threats once she began publishing books. “It’s about seeing Muslims as victims and active members of this society. As equal Germans.”

Dismantling stereotypes

Young Germans are growing up in a society that’s the most ethnically diverse in generations. That means they’re ideally coming into contact with people of all kinds, who practice all sorts of religions.

On religious acceptance, there’s progress. German society is already starting from a strong base of tolerance of all religions, save Islam, points out Ms. El-Menouar of Bertelsmann Stiftung. Her research also shows that contact between people of different religions is key to dismantling stereotypes, and that results are strongest among young people. “We need to deconstruct social distance so you realize people who practice a different religion aren’t necessarily that different.”

This work is critical, she says, especially as the Muslim population will only increase in Germany and across Europe. And, as Germany’s population continues to age, migration will help relieve a graying labor force, with many of those new immigrants likely to be Muslim.

Back in Berlin, Ms. Alsabagh has faith in people. “Racism doesn’t come intrinsically. It is something that is taught to you,” she says. “After [exposure], people are more open. I think the generation after us will be more open as well.”

In fact, with the last teacher who gave her trouble, she began pushing back with remarks of her own. Then, five or six fellow students spoke with him on Ms. Alsabagh’s behalf. “They sat down with my teacher. And it did get better.”

There’s hope, she says. And social media is a powerful force to help connect people, and also enable talk about differences and individualities. “Never get riled up,” she says she has learned. “That doesn’t help. It only reinforces the opinions they have.”

Clara Suchy contributed research assistance from Berlin.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that children’s burqas and niqabs were banned in Baden-Württemberg.   

Essay

Delivering under pressure: What the USPS means to my family

While many Americans have come to associate the U.S. Postal Service with junk mail, for many in Black middle-class families, the post office has long been a source of stability.

Eva

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There’s one thing I can say about Dad. Whether at work or at home, he always delivered.

My dad is retired now, but he spent nearly 40 years working for the U.S. Postal Service. For many Black middle-class families like mine, the uncertain future of the USPS is about more than mail delivery or even the November election. Around a quarter of USPS employees are Black. Even with its struggles, the post office still represents a beacon of opportunity.

When my dad became a postmaster, his upward mobility wasn’t just about money. It was about the time that he had to spend with my brothers and me on weekends. Advancement doesn’t always show up in your wallet. Oftentimes, it shows up in childhood memories. I hardly remember many of the things my dad bought me as a kid. I do remember the time we spent together.

My dad always delivers for his family and community. When it comes to the matter of the post office, I’m hoping for a bit of deliverance, because I know what losing the post office will mean for working-class Black families.

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4. Delivering under pressure: What the USPS means to my family

During his nearly 40-year career with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), my dad worked countless hours. Some of that time poured over at home, when I begrudgingly typed up documents for him as a teenager.

There’s one thing I can say about Dad, though – whether at work or at home, he always delivered.

For many Black middle-class families like mine, the uncertain future of the USPS is about more than mail delivery or even the November election. Around a quarter of USPS employees are Black. Even with its struggles, the post office still represents a beacon of opportunity.

In some cases, those humble working-class upbringings have yielded professional and celebrity prestige. One example is Rep. Karen Bass, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the women listed as potential picks for vice president on the Biden/Democratic ticket. Representative Bass’ father was a letter carrier. Another example is actor Danny Glover, who mentioned his parents and the post office in a USA Today op-ed last year. 

Courtesy of Ken Makin
The author with his father, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for nearly 40 years.

The story of African Americans in the post office is similar to the story of Black folks in America – a story of hard-fought advancement in the face of cruel racism. Enslaved Africans were used to deliver mail between plantations and towns since the origins of human chattel enslavement in America (and the country itself). While there had always been some unrest about enslaved Black mail carriers, a slave rebellion in modern-day Haiti that began in 1791 crystallized that angst. At the turn of the 19th century, postal officials banned African Americans as mail carriers. Congress upheld the decision after a specific request from then-Postmaster General Gideon Granger to Georgia Sen. James Jackson, who was the chairman of the Committee of the Senate on the Post Office Establishment:

After the scenes which St. Domingo has exhibited to the world, we cannot be too cautious … plans and conspiracies have already been concerted by [slaves] more than once, to rise in arms, and subjugate their masters. 

… The most active and intelligent [slaves] are employed as post riders. … By travelling from day to day, and hourly mixing with people … they will acquire information. They will learn that a man’s rights do not depend on his color. They will, in time, become teachers to their brethren. 

… One able man among them, perceiving the value of this machine, might lay a plan which would be communicated by your post riders from town to town, and produce a general and united operation against you.

On May 3, 1802, Congress passed an act which declared that “after the 1st day of November next, no other than a free white person shall be employed in carrying the mail of the United States, on any of the post-roads, either as a post-rider or driver of a carriage carrying the mail.” The act was upheld for over 60 years until 1865, which also coincided with Civil War-ending legislation.

The Reconstruction period was a time of great promise for African Americans, and the post office was an example. The ability to work as wage laborers would yield the opportunity for middle-class living. Black folks were appointed as postmasters, letter carriers, and clerks. Those gains subsided toward the end of the period, as white violence and Jim Crow reared their ugly heads. 

As it turned out, the ’60s – both the 1860s and the 1960s – were prime eras for Black advancement and the Black middle class within the context of the post office. During the course of the decade, Black postmasters were appointed to the country’s three largest post offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The demand for fair and equal treatment in the 1940s and 1950s yielded the opportunity for upward mobility and established protections for African Americans in the postal service. 

Black postal workers not only fought for equal treatment, though. They also fought for the right to unionize. The great postal strike of 1970 was a multicultural triumph that protected the wages of all postal employees.

Fair wages, fair treatment, upward mobility – in many ways, these are tenets of the American dream. These ideals manifest themselves uniquely when it comes to family life. When my dad became a postmaster, his upward mobility wasn’t just about money. It was about the time that he had to spend with my brothers and me on weekends. Advancement doesn’t always show up in your wallet. Oftentimes, it shows up in childhood memories. I hardly remember many of the things my dad bought me as a kid. I do remember the time we spent together.

My dad is retired now, but like any good postal employee, he’s still on the move. He’s the primary caretaker for my grandmother – his mom. He’s a volunteer for a local church league basketball team. During his days as a postal employee, he was a youth mentor in the inner city. 

My dad always delivers for his family and community. When it comes to the matter of the post office, I’m hoping for a bit of deliverance, because I know what losing the post office will mean for working-class Black families. 

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

For New England lobstermen, resilience in ‘a season of uncertainty’

Before the pandemic, New England lobstermen benefited from warming waters and high demand. Choppy waters lie ahead.

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Sophie Hills/The Christian Science Monitor
Yvonne 'Beba' Rosen (right) puts a trap line through the hauler on her lobster boat, "Gimmie a Hulla," in Carvers Harbor, Vinalhaven, Maine.

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Yvonne “Beba” Rosen has spent 15 years lobstering off Vinalhaven, Maine, but she’s never experienced a season like this one. With far fewer tourists visiting Maine, and with restaurants across the country closed or limited, demand for the edible crustaceans has plummeted.

To make ends meet, Ms. Rosen has had to get creative. She picked up an afternoon gig delivering packages and now she fishes for her own bait instead of buying it. Others have turned to selling their catch on the retail market, or occasionally catching tuna instead.

“It’s a season of uncertainty,” she says, looking over the bow of her boat toward the horizon. 

Across New England, lobstermen are doing what it takes to keep operating their boats, exercising the resilience for which the industry is known. 

“There’s a lot of anxiety because [lobstermen] really don’t know what the season’s going to hold,” says Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. “People are also really grateful that they’re able to be out there and work.”

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5. For New England lobstermen, resilience in ‘a season of uncertainty’

“Gimmie a Hulla” motors across the glassy harbor, backed by the silhouettes of trees and the rocky shoreline. Yvonne “Beba” Rosen is heading out to haul her lobster traps at 5:30 a.m., as she does five days a week, April through November.

This is a tough season so far for Ms. Rosen, but over her 15 years of lobstering off Vinalhaven, Maine, she’s always been a better fall fisherman, she says. This season is like no other – the lobsters are slow to appear, but more than that, the coronavirus has caused trade to plummet and tourists to stay home.

Ms. Rosen squints into the sun, now sitting just above the horizon, and half shouts over the guttural diesel engine. “Tourists come to Maine to eat lobster. That’s what they do,” she says grimly, hands on the wheel.

Without the regular influx of tourists, and with restaurants across the country closed entirely or open with limitations, lobstermen in Maine and Cape Cod have gotten creative to keep operating their boats, exercising the resilience for which the industry is known.

A slow spring is not unusual, although this one was difficult because “markets were really feeling the brunt of the supply chain,” says Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

“There’s a lot of anxiety because [lobstermen] really don’t know what the season’s going to hold,” she says. “People are also really grateful that they’re able to be out there and work.”

Sophie Hills/The Christian Science Monitor
Yvonne ‘Beba’ Rosen navigates her lobster boat, “Gimmie a Hulla,” from Carvers Harbor, Vinalhaven, Maine, out to her traps in the bay.

“A wave of abundance”

Over the last several decades, global warming has produced  “a wave of abundance” of lobsters from southern New England into Atlantic Canada, says Richard Wahle, a research professor at the University of Maine and founder of the American Lobster Settlement Index, which tracks lobster populations in the region.

“We seem to be falling off the crest of that wave now,” he says, and the fishery has been slowly declining in southern New England as the waters warm too much, while seeing record-breaking numbers in the north and east of the Gulf of Maine.

In Maine, Ms. Rosen is selling her lobster for $3.35 per pound – a dollar less than last year – and she’s torn between wanting to catch more and worrying about flooding the market by catching too much. To supplement, she picked up a job with UPS in the afternoons after fishing. On the cape, some lobstermen supplement their incomes with rental properties or the occasional tuna, which can sell for hundreds of dollars.

Ms. Rosen often fishes for her own bait rather than buying it. The day before, she went fishing for pogie, catching $400 worth of bait.

From getting a lobstering license, to operating and maintaining a boat, to paying a crew, “nothing’s cheap in this business,” says Ms. Rosen, peering over the gunwale, ready to snag the next float and feed the line into the hauler.

Finding a market

On Cape Cod, Glen Sveningson has been getting about $5.30 a pound wholesale, but it’s starting to fall. “Last year was one of the best years I’ve seen,” he says. 

This season is going fine, but not particularly well, he says as he speeds up the hydraulic hauler, whipping 70 feet of line into a rope locker at his feet. “It’s definitely a little bit of an off year,” he says, though he’s optimistic. “It’s just a late start. Every year’s different.” 

In the spring, before it was clear how supply chains would adapt, some lobstermen began selling directly to consumers. While it’s a good way to supplement, it’s not a strategy “that’s going to take care of all of the volume that we land in Maine,” says Ms. McCarron.

Sophie Hills/The Christian Science Monitor
Glen Sveningson (left), captain of The Resilience lobster boat, baits traps while Mark Holbrook, his sternman, checks underneath a lobster’s tail for eggs near Chatham, Massachusetts.

Mr. Sveningson has been selling around 50 pounds of lobster directly for about $9 a pound every time he fishes, but he didn’t do it in past years. “I don’t like to do it,” he says. “It’s a pain. It’s one more thing.”

It’s not worth selling directly to consumers on Vinalhaven, where the year-round population is only 1,200. Ms. Rosen has some customers she sells directly to every summer, but never more than a dozen or so lobsters. Still, “it helps,” she says, shrugging. It’s just not worth it to drive her boat 15 miles from the island to Rockport to sell a greater quantity. 

The pandemic has already produced a concerted effort to connect fishermen with consumers. Ali Farrell, who is soon publishing a book about women fishermen, started the United Fishermen Foundation just a few months ago when an effort to help her friends by posting on Facebook when they had seafood to sell turned into a page with over 6,000 followers. The foundation’s website now lists fishermen in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Florida, and Cape Cod, and they just added one in Rhode Island. 

About 70% of Maine’s seafood is eaten out of state, so the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, which serves as the marketing arm for fishermen and suppliers, typically focuses on chefs and restaurants. Following the pandemic, the collaborative pivoted to focus on grocery stores and online shippers. Lobster is shipped all over the world, but foreign markets are volatile, so the collaborative focuses on the U.S.

Lobstermen are “a very resourceful people and they’ve met a number of challenges in the past that they’ve adapted to,” says Marianne LaCroix, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. “I think it’s going to be a very tough year, but … I think they’ll pull through it.”

Sophie Hills/The Christian Science Monitor
A rainbow rises over Carvers Harbor at sunset in Vinalhaven, Maine, where Yvonne "Beba" Rosen keeps her lobster boat, on July 30, 2020.

A helping hand

The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association works with a number of fisheries coastwide to help fishermen navigate policy and support them at the federal and state level, says Monique Coombs, director of marine programs. The association began hosting webinars in the early spring and hired accountants to help fishermen receive funding and small-business loans – of which lobstermen received more than any other sector in Maine. 

Since 2018, the association has been working with the mental health nonprofit NAMI Maine. “The mental health and well-being of fishermen is important all of the time, but especially so during this pandemic,” says Ms. Coombs, “as many of them have exacerbated uncertainties in their business.”

The season may be tough. But back on the bay, baiting bags and hoping for the next trap to be full, there’s nothing else Ms. Rosen can imagine doing. She spins the wheel, preparing to haul another line of traps. Until she can’t, she’ll keep hauling trap after trap, hoping for business to become more profitable again.

She shakes her head as she looks over the bow toward the horizon: “It’s a season of uncertainty.” 

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College football’s unexpected opportunity

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No one wanted this. The 2020 U.S. college football season is teetering on the verge of collapse, leaving behind a host of emotional, cultural, public health, and financial questions. Future fans may look back at this moment as a turning point, when the sport made its most radical changes in many a year.

Earlier this week two top football conferences – the Big Ten and the PAC-12 – announced they were canceling their fall schedules. Teams in lower-level leagues are opting out too.

At best it will be the strangest season in memory, with the remaining teams trying to play without endangering the health of players, coaches, or fans during a pandemic. 

For many, no games will add to disorienting feelings of the loss of normalcy. College football represents many things, but one of the best is that it is fun, a diversion from the cares of everyday life. 

The pandemic also magnifies an issue already simmering in college football: whether players are being properly protected and compensated as the central performers in what has become a multibillion-dollar entertainment enterprise.

Where this will lead remains unclear. But those who love the game have an opportunity to improve it.

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College football’s unexpected opportunity

No one wanted this. The 2020 U.S. college football season is teetering on the verge of collapse, leaving behind a host of emotional, cultural, public health, and financial questions. Future fans may look back at this moment as a turning point, when the sport made its most radical changes in many a year.

Earlier this week two top football conferences – the Big Ten and the PAC-12 – announced they were canceling their fall schedules. So far the other conferences in the Power Five – the Big 12, ACC, and SEC – still plan to play. But a steady stream of individual players, including some seen as future professional stars, are deciding to sit out the season. And more teams in lower-level leagues are opting out too.

At best it will be the strangest college football season in memory, with the remaining teams trying to play without endangering the health of players, coaches, or fans during a pandemic. Will fans be allowed in the stands? Can the pregame and postgame celebrations be held safely? Can a national championship be determined when many teams won’t even be competing?

The loss of revenue will severely impact athletic department budgets, and revenue-starved universities are unlikely to make up the difference. Millions of dollars in football revenue underwrite the cost of other collegiate sports, many of which will now be canceled as well. Local businesses will suffer as fans no longer travel to games or spend money before and after.

Last spring few could imagine that the pandemic would linger into the fall. Now only tough choices remain. 

For many, no college football will only add to disorienting feelings of the loss of normalcy. College football represents many things, but one of the best is that it is fun, a welcome diversion from the cares of everyday life. 

Now concerns for the safety of the athletes and others have, for some, made cancellation an unwelcome but necessary option. After long discussions with experts, “it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren explained in a statement.

The pandemic has also magnified an issue already simmering in college football: whether players are being properly compensated as the central performers in what has become a multibillion-dollar entertainment enterprise. Last year $1.7 billion was spent on advertising during games alone.

Talk of forming players unions has grown, both among those athletes who want to skip this season and those who want to play. The student athletes receive scholarships, but at least for stars they hardly represent the players’ true financial value to the school. If teams insist on playing this fall, and players’ health is seen as having been jeopardized, the move toward players organizing to protect themselves will only strengthen. 

These young athletes must each weigh the pros and cons of playing during a pandemic. At the same time, the huge financial underpinnings of big-time college football are being further exposed.

Where this will lead remains unclear. But those who love the game will have an opportunity to improve it.

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.

Prayer: A powerful resource now and anytime

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Sometimes our health or other circumstances seem uncertain. But praying with Bible-based ideas from Mary Baker Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” empowers us to feel God’s healing, guiding love – as a man experienced when he came down with a sore throat in a country far from home, right when the coronavirus began rapidly proliferating around the world.

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1. Prayer: A powerful resource now and anytime

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During the current pandemic, many people around the world have turned to prayer. Research by Jeanet Bentzen, an economist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, found that internet searches on prayer skyrocketed during the period of time when COVID-19 began to rapidly proliferate around the globe.

But what is the best way to pray? Over several decades, I’ve found “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” to be a wonderful resource, filled with practical ideas about how to pray – and how to pray specifically regarding disease.

The book evolved from the experience of its author, Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), a devoted Christian from New England in the United States and the founder of The Christian Science Monitor. Throughout her life, Eddy faced many painful circumstances, which compelled her to lean heavily on the Bible and its promises of God always being with us. Much of her life was given to learning how to see those promises fulfilled – how Jesus healed so consistently and how to rely on God alone for solutions.

Eddy and her students healed people of many illnesses. She shared much of what she learned about prayer and healing in Science and Health.

The book teaches protection from and healing of all kinds of difficulties based on the understanding that what gives us our individuality is God, who is also infinite Spirit and Love. Beyond all human appearances, God knows us eternally in our real, spiritual substance, which includes spiritual qualities such as joy, strength, intelligence, integrity, and health.

This is a dependable basis for prayer that brings healing, as the first chapter in Science and Health, “Prayer,” brings out. Such prayer is an awakening to the present spiritual reality – what we have and what we are as God’s creation.

In March of this year, having just given my last talk in Nigeria on a speaking tour of three African countries, I began to have a very sore throat. I prayed to see more clearly the innate health that is mine as the spiritual reflection of God. A friend gladly agreed to pray for me as well.

Late that same night, I learned that the Canadian government was asking all Canadians, if they were not exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, to return home while commercial flights were still in operation. I decided to go home to Ottawa as soon as possible. Because my throat was still sore, I asked my friend to continue praying with me.

My circumstances were uncertain. Would I be able to get flights? If so, would I be considered healthy enough to travel? Or would I have to stay where I was for weeks or even months?

I wanted to be healthy, and I wanted to travel, but there was no question that I would comply with pandemic regulations in order to protect others. Science and Health teaches that applying the practical ethics of Jesus’ teaching to do to others as you would have them do to you is the very basis of harmony, including health. One can’t really pray effectively without being fair, honest, and thoughtful toward others.

Consequently, I wanted to obey the letter and the spirit of any regulations required by my home country, by the countries through which I passed, and in all airports and airplanes.

I prayerfully affirmed that as God’s pure, spiritual reflection, each of us receives all that we have directly and exclusively from God – just as a ray of sunlight gets everything from its source, not from the other rays. God, who is infinite good, certainly doesn’t cause sickness!

Through prayer, I was able to find and purchase a ticket online that enabled me to leave the next day. I then spent much of the day praying to recognize the true, God-given health of people around the world, including my own.

By the time I started my journey, I was completely free of the sore throat. I followed all pandemic health requirements, including passing through a thermal scanner in Accra, Ghana. It confirmed that my temperature was normal. And when I returned to Canada, I self-isolated for two weeks, as required of all travelers coming into the country.

While this was a modest experience, the Bible-based ideas that fill Science and Health can help us pray effectively in all circumstances. The book says, “Tell the sick that they can meet disease fearlessly, if they only realize that divine Love gives them all power over every physical action and condition” (p. 420). Knowing who and what we are as children of God empowers us to overcome fear and illness.

Whatever we face, we have the most powerful resource of all – God’s ever-present, never-failing love.

Adapted from an article published in the Aug. 10, 2020, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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

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Wildfire season heats up

Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP
A firefighter fixes a U.S. flag hanging on a firetruck during the Lake Hughes fire in Angeles National Forest on Aug. 12, 2020, north of Santa Clarita, California. The fast-moving blaze spread to 10,500 acres overnight.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow. We’ll explore how a group of former prisoners is helping newly released offenders in California transition back into life on the outside.

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