2020
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21
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Monitor Daily Podcast

August 21, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

America’s dueling festivals of democracy, in perspective

This week, national Democrats’ nightly telethon offered a mix of moving testimonials and apocalyptic warnings about President Donald Trump. Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old who struggles with a stutter, showed courage in addressing the nation – sharing how presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has also faced down a stutter, has helped him.

In contrast, the Obamas raised alarm bells against a second Trump term. The former president, speaking from Philadelphia, depicted his successor as a threat to democracy.

“We can’t let that happen,” former President Barack Obama said.

Next week, it’s the Republicans’ turn. They’ll have their own human interest speakers – including Nick Sandmann, the Kentucky teen who sued media outlets for misrepresenting his actions at a Washington rally – and dire warnings against a leftist takeover in November. Already, we know that the Trumps will not confine themselves to Washington. On Monday, they’ll visit a Farmers to Families Food Box site in North Carolina, then drop by the (small) GOP convention in Charlotte. 

It’s also a safe bet that President Trump, a student of TV stagecraft, watched the Democrats carefully and will build on what worked. As with last night, fireworks are on the program. 

But for perspective on the health of American democracy, consider events across the ocean. In Belarus, dictator Alexander Lukashenko faces the biggest threat to his rule in 26 years amid mass protests and worker strikes. In neighboring Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny is fighting for survival after his apparent poisoning. 

Here in the United States, political competition remains vibrant. But the watchdogs are on alert. Exhausting or exhilarating, an election season like no other is nearing the homestretch. 

A deeper look

Power pivot: What happens in states where wind dethrones King Coal?

In an age of global warming, coal consumption is dropping and renewable energy is rising. Nowhere is that trend – and the tension caused by the shift – more evident than in Wyoming, a state with prodigious amounts of fossil fuels and wind resources.

Linda
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A horse stands in the foreground of another wind farm on a hilltop near Mountain View in southwestern Wyoming. America’s self-proclaimed “energy state,” Wyoming is rich in fossil fuels but is increasingly harnessing wind and solar energy to power homes.

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This year, for the first time, renewable power will provide more electricity in 2020 than coal power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“We’ve reached a point where it is now cheaper to build and operate a wind farm or solar plant than it is to operate a coal plant,” says Joe Daniel of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Wyoming feels the trends acutely. More than most, it harbors prodigious amounts of both traditional energy resources and renewables – providing a window into the transition the nation is undergoing and the tensions that can accompany it.

For families like Dawn Hardy’s, the shift away from coal is about a lot more than energy. “We are talking about people’s way of life, the homes they have built. This is really hard. To tell someone everything you have worked for is worthless.”

Some former miners have found a new career path in Wyoming’s rapidly growing renewable industries. But even residents who have forged ahead with wind and solar power aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to coal for good.

Stacey Schmid and her husband bought Range Solar and Wind in 2002 and benefited from the rise of renewables in the state. But when Ms. Schmid thinks about America’s energy future, she envisions a tapestry.

“We need them all,” she says of Wyoming’s energy sources. “There’s no perfect power.”

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1. Power pivot: What happens in states where wind dethrones King Coal?

Laine Anderson scans the Wyoming prairie, a dusty expanse of sagebrush and prairie dogs scowling from atop their mounds. An antelope whips past the front of his truck. “They always cut in front of you,” Mr. Anderson says, shaking his head. It’s one of those mysteries.

Mr. Anderson doesn’t see this dry plateau near Medicine Bow as empty; he sees it as the future. The wide horizon is sliced vertically by slender towers. Below, workers hunch over machinery, assembling components. Giant propellers wait on the ground to be lifted atop the towers.  

Before year’s end, says Mr. Anderson, the director of wind operations for the PacifiCorp utility, 132 giant wind turbines will stir from air racing down the Rocky Mountains. On a breezy day, they could power a medium-sized city.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says the future that Mr. Anderson envisions, in one sense, has already come. For the first time, according to the agency, U.S. renewable power will provide more electricity in 2020 than coal power, which has reigned king of the country’s electric grid for more than 70 years. What analysts see as a pivotal point in the country’s energy supply has arrived much sooner than expected.

“This is a very exciting moment,” says Sonia Aggarwal, vice president of Energy Innovation, a clean energy think tank in San Francisco. “A lot of experts were saying we will reach this point sometime, maybe 2050. They didn’t think it would be this quickly.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Cranes hoist huge blades for wind turbines being installed outside Medicine Bow, Wyoming. The utility PacifiCorp is erecting 132 wind turbines at two locations in Carbon County.

Like most historical inflections, no single path led to this juncture. Coal did not enter a downward spiral solely because of renewables, government regulations, or cheaper natural gas. It was all of the above. Wind and solar power did not begin to expand dramatically because of a newfound ardor for the environment, the demands of climate change, or cheaper technology. It was all of the above. 

The moment demonstrates an underrated force of change. What seems an immutable trajectory can bend under the weight of tens of thousands of discrete decisions – a homeowner putting a solar panel on her roof, a business buying a cleaner furnace, a town council opting for green power, a power plant converting to a cheaper fuel – which together create a new landscape. 

“We’ve reached a point where it is now cheaper to build and operate a wind farm or solar plant than it is to operate a coal plant,” says Joe Daniel, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. “And that trend is going to continue.”

“Built on coal”

Wyoming feels the trends acutely. More than most, it harbors prodigious amounts of both traditional energy resources and renewables – providing a window into the transition the nation is undergoing and the tensions that can accompany it. Indeed, the rise of renewables and decline of coal hold searing consequences for those across the state who toil to keep America’s lights on. 

“This area was built on coal,” says Dave Freshour, who spent four decades as a welder, much of it in mines. When COVID-19 hit, he retired. Now he and his wife, Peggy, live in a mobile home between the Eagle Butte coal mine and Dry Fork coal power station north of Gillette, Wyoming, contemplating their next move.

Doug Struck
“Coal provided a fabulous living to me and a lot of people,” says Dave Freshour, a welder who worked for many years in Wyoming mines. “But the writing is on the wall. If you don’t see it, you’re living in a dream world.”

“Coal provided a fabulous living to me and a lot of people,” he says. “But the writing is on the wall. If you don’t see it, you’re living in a dream world.” 

Wyoming bills itself as “the energy state” for good reason. It produces 40% of the coal mined in the United States, along with large quantities of oil and natural gas. In northeastern Wyoming, peat that settled 60 million years ago in primordial bogs compressed into a vast seam of coal just under the surface. It is called the Powder River Basin, and just one of its many mines – the North Antelope Rochelle – is the largest in the world, by reserves.

Mining jobs are woven into the fabric here. “Where else can you earn almost $100,000 right out of high school?” asks one coal truck driver. While miners in Appalachia plunge themselves miles into the ground to pry at meandering black seams, in Wyoming they need only scrape away the earth, dynamite the sub-bituminous quarry, and haul it away in trucks. 

Gillette, logistics capital of the Powder River Basin, is built on rangeland once prowled by cowboys and citizens of the Arapaho, Crow, and Sioux. Explorer John C. Fremont and his guide Kit Carson noticed coal in the territory in 1843, and the Union Pacific Railroad started hauling coal from here even before finishing the transcontinental railway in 1869. Wyoming boomed with miners after the 1970s oil crises. Those miners now pilot the largest vehicles in the world. The open pits growl with coal-smudged trucks and excavators 24 hours a day. 

Most miners work a grueling schedule of 12-hour shifts that alternate every three or four days. “When you see the paycheck, you say, ‘Wow, that’s good money,’” says Casey Cordova, who sits 27 feet high in the cab of a coal truck larger than a house. “But the biggest challenge is the shifts. How do I adjust? How do I set my body to adjust?” 

By the mid-1980s, Wyoming produced the most coal in the country. Cheap and plentiful, it rumbled in train cars out of Gillette and powered electrical plants all over the U.S.  

Mead Gruver/AP/File
A truck hauls coal at the Eagle Butte mine near Gillette, Wyoming. Mines in the Powder River Basin have laid off workers in recent years.

But coal is dirty: Mining scars the earth, and deep tunnel mines pollute groundwater; burning coal produces ash and toxic chemicals that create acid rain and shorten lives; and carbon dioxide is overheating the planet. 

Wind and solar are clean alternatives, but for decades they were such a small portion of the nation’s electric supply they didn’t challenge King Coal. Another fossil fuel did: natural gas. When engineers figured out how to turn drills sideways and inject fluid into subterranean hideaways to force out gas, electricity plants could suddenly run on fracked natural gas that emitted only about half as much carbon dioxide.

Demand for coal began falling nationally after 2007 under the pressure of cheaper natural gas, climate concerns, and the closure of old coal power plants. At first, only Appalachian coal miners struggled: Lower rail prices made the more desirable low-sulfur coal of the West available to customers in the East. Western coal miners cannibalized the jobs of their Eastern colleagues.

But the trends finally hit Wyoming with a jolt. In 2016, four mines laid off nearly 600 workers. Last year, two mines in the Powder River Basin, Blackjewel and Cloud Peak, abruptly went bankrupt, sending home 600 workers and leaving a trail of bounced paychecks. More layoffs this year have idled another 420 miners.

“Don’t come back for your shift,” Lynne Huskinson’s supervisor told her on July 1, 2019, over the phone. “We’re all unemployed.” 

Ms. Huskinson started working for the mines just out of high school in 1979 when they were looking for women to operate big machines. It gave her 38 years of steady employment – and good money. But when the Blackjewel mine went bankrupt underneath her feet last year, Ms. Huskinson began reading up. She found, she says, that the huge coal companies were trying to sell mines, getting out of the business, while assuring workers all was fine. “We were lied to,” she says.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
A train filled with coal stops in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Fewer trains have been rumbling through the state as coal consumption has dropped.

And she found that the inexhaustible coal that for so long had fired the economy of Wyoming and the utility boxes of America had poor prospects. “People are going to renewables – solar and wind. That’s the future,” she concludes.   

The earlier 2016 layoffs were “the first time something like that had happened in more than 30 years. It was a blow,” says Gillette’s mayor, Louise Carter-King, whose father also served as mayor. “Coal was good jobs.” 

Since then, the 1.5-mile-long coal trains that block traffic in Gillette have grown shorter and less frequent. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway parked more than 100 locomotives outside town four years ago, and this June finally closed its big Donkey Creek switchyard there. 

The city suddenly lost $60 million of its $146 million budget, and began cutting services. Many miners eventually returned to work when the mines were purchased from bankrupt Blackjewel, but layoffs have continued intermittently. Scores of businesses that supply the mines are hurting. Many workers have had to leave Gillette.

“You’ve got to go where the work is,” says the wife of a railroad worker who stayed behind in Gillette to sell the house and see their son through high school graduation before joining her husband in Colorado. “There’s just nothing else here.”    

“I’ve lost seven families who were customers because they had to leave,” says Anne Fischer, who runs a small photography studio in downtown Gillette and counts on her customers’ milestones – graduations, weddings, births – for future business. She had to give up half her studio space.

It’s common to hear in Wyoming that former President Barack Obama is to blame for coal’s demise because he enforced regulations of the 1970 Clean Air Act. President Donald Trump promised he would save mines by ending what he called Mr. Obama’s “war on coal.” In fact, neither president could do little more than nudge the larger forces bearing down on the industry.    

“Trump rolled back some regulations, but it doesn’t mean anyone is buying [coal] now,” shrugs Mayor Carter-King.  

For a while, coal companies said exports would save the industry, but world markets are fickle and energy-hungry Asia is difficult to supply from far-away Wyoming. For working miners who are still picking up overtime shifts, it is tempting to believe they, and mining, can hang on. “We aren’t dead yet!” the mayor insists.

Mead Gruver/AP/File
A poster in a storefront urges locals to persevere amid hardship in Gillette, Wyoming. Coal mines in the nearby Powder River Basin have idled hundreds of workers in recent years, prompting businesses to close and the town to dramatically slash its budget.

“The time is now to start thinking of the wind-down,” says Shannon Anderson, a lawyer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Sheridan. “Right now in Wyoming we still are producing almost 300 million tons, employing 5,000 direct miners, and all of the ancillary jobs. We still have a dozen of the nation’s largest coal mines.” But, she says, “we are on a ticking clock.” 

Coal demand fell last year to the lowest level in 45 years, and the economic slowdown because of the pandemic will make 2020 worse. “We’ve gone from [fueling] 50% of the country’s electricity to under 20% in just under a decade,” says Robert Godby, an energy expert at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. “It is just incredible.”

According to the EIA forecast in June, coal will provide 17% of the country’s electricity this year, renewables 21%, and natural gas 41%. The gas share is expected to drop next year if prices rise after the pandemic. 

“We’ve always known it’s a gamble,” says Wyatt Smith, who worked in the oil fields and switched to a job in the coal fields about eight months ago. Mining is a family affair: His stepmother is his shift dispatcher. “Coal is not going to be a forever deal for me,” he says while watching his baby at his Gillette home. “It’s definitely not going to be around forever. When it does fall, a lot of people are going to be hurting.” 

The pall over the coal fields is partly one of pride. Wyoming savored a patriotic image of tough workers powering a nation; now those miners resent the widespread perception that coal is “dirty.” With a Western culture of tight-lipped endurance, some just don’t want to broach the subject.  

“We are not just talking about energy,” explains Dawn Hardy, whose family – husband, father, sons – worked in mines or related businesses. “We are talking about people’s way of life, the homes they have built. This is really hard. To tell someone everything you have worked for is worthless ...” She trails off.

Between shifts in the mine, her husband started a craft brewery in the town’s old post office. The bar’s footrest is a length of railroad track. Drill bits are part of the decor. “We sit in church with four generations of our family” in Gillette, Ms. Hardy says softly. “This is home. It’s hard to see what we are going to be able to do to keep our population.” 

She pauses, struggling as tears well up. “If my kids asked me if they should start a business here, I would say no.”

Harnessing the wind

Mr. Anderson, the wind operations director, represents the beckoning future of Wyoming’s economy. In his neat blue PacifiCorp shirt, he doesn’t look like a man who ran a dude ranch for 20 years. But he’s happy in his new job overseeing the creation of a series of wind farms that could help preserve Wyoming’s place as an electrical socket for the nation.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Wind turbines spin in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, on July 4, 2020. The state is using alternatives to coal, including renewable sources.

“If Wyoming had the transmission lines and they would let us, I’m sure this whole area would be covered with turbines,” he says, gazing across a landscape of scrub and endless horizons. 

Yet wind energy isn’t going to replace the hundreds of jobs being lost in the coal fields. Wind farms bring a spurt of employment during construction, but then need only about one technician per 10 turbines for maintenance.

The EIA forecasts an 11% growth in electricity from renewable sources this year, the largest portion of new capacity. In 2010, renewables accounted for just 10% of the electricity supply. Since then, the national chart of electric power sources looks like an “X,” with renewables and natural gas the rising leg and coal the falling one. They crossed this year. 

Cost is part of the reason behind the shift. Prices for solar panels plunged 65% in a decade, and their efficiency has steadily grown from 6% when Bell Labs made the first panel in 1954 to nearly 30% today. For wind, similar drops in the cost of machinery and improvements in turbine technology have increased generating efficiency from 7 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2009 to less than 2 cents now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.  

“There is also learning by doing,” says Ms. Aggarwal of Energy Innovation. “As you deploy more and more of this technology, people get smarter about how to cut costs.” 

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates more than 2 million solar panels have been installed for U.S. homes and businesses, sporadically spurred by on-again-off-again tax credit and rebate programs. 

Government policies to meet climate change goals have helped: Thirty states now require utilities to buy an increasing portion of their power from renewables, and in 18 states, according to the EPA, individual consumers can opt to pay a bit more for their electricity to require their utility to buy an equivalent amount of “green power.” 

Incessant gusts over the Rockies give Wyoming one of the richest wind resources in the nation. Mr. Anderson is overseeing the planting of three turbine farms in the state that will double the wind power here for PacifiCorp, a Western utility that has made a public – and partly unpopular – choice to slowly wean itself off coal and embrace wind and natural gas.

Yet turbines won’t be spinning from every mountaintop anytime soon. Wind power started with a flourish in Wyoming in 2005, and stalled by 2010 because there was no capacity on the heavy-duty transmission lines to export the power, and because Wyoming became the only state to tax wind production, according to Dr. Godby at the University of Wyoming. 

A planned wind farm called the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project near Rawlins would be the largest commercial wind generation facility in North America, with 900 turbines. Construction started in 2016 but has gone slowly, in part because the transmission lines to Los Angeles and Las Vegas are not yet built.    

Still, “we’re changing our portfolio drastically” to embrace wind, says Mr. Anderson, as he shows off the foundation for a new turbine – nearly 2 million pounds of concrete that will secure a 262-foot tower with blades each three-quarters the length of a football field. “It will change more.”  

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Jesse Solaas worked as a miner for 10 years but now supervises a wind farm near Medicine Bow, Wyoming.

In many ways, Jesse Solaas illustrates those changes. A native of a small town in Wyoming, Mr. Solaas entered the mines after college and spent the next 10 years working underground in coal and hard rock mining. But a layoff, two young children, and dissatisfaction with local schools in the “big town” of Rock Springs prompted him to move back to Hanna (population 774). For work, he applied to be a technician on a nearby wind farm in 2005. 

The only problem: He was afraid of heights. The first time he climbed a tower, “my stomach was in knots. I was wondering, ‘what did I just do?’” But he stuck with it, and after moving around several companies, he now supervises the wind farm where he started. On a ridge 400 feet above his office at the Ekola Flats wind farm near Medicine Bow, 69 turbines have been spinning for two decades, and are about to be replaced by 13 more efficient machines. 

Mr. Solaas says he thrives on the technological change. “I like staying on my toes.” As he chats, his phone bugles with updates on lightning storms. If one gets within 30 miles, his workers climb down from the towers. He expects wind power will be a growing industry for his entire career. But he still hates heights. 

“I’ve learned to listen,” he says of climbing a 285-foot turbine. “Instead of arguing with my body, I stay low, I don’t push it. I make sure my lanyard is tight. I think respecting it makes me safer.”

“There’s no perfect power”

Wind isn’t the only renewable energy here. On a sprawling cattle farm down a mostly dirt road near Glenrock, Wyoming, Stacey and Mark Schmid are assembling five long arrays of solar panels – 320 in all – on the prairie. The ranch sits at 7,200 feet. The sky is full of drama and rumbling clouds.  

Doug Struck
“It’s a battle,” says Stacey Schmid, who runs a solar company in Casper, Wyoming, with her husband, Mark. “Some people just don’t like solar. This is a fossil fuel state.”

The rancher, Billy Brenton, is eager to slash the $3,300-a-month electric bill he gets for the five homes, six barns, and farm equipment on his Echo Mountain Ranch, and he sees solar as the way to do it. “Ten years ago it wouldn’t have made sense, but now the technology has caught up,” says Mr. Brenton. When the solar array is operating, “I will basically have free power” with excess to sell back to the utility company. 

The sun is not always an easy sell in Wyoming. The Schmids took over a small company, Range Solar and Wind, after they fled the movie industry in North Carolina in 2002 and bought vacant land west of Casper for a hog farm. Their business sold simple solar panels that cost $600 each. Since then, the industry has advanced dramatically. The array they are installing today is the size of a small generating station, and the couple routinely does $12,000 jobs on residential rooftops across the state.

“It’s a battle,” says Ms. Schmid. “Some people just don’t like solar. This is a fossil fuel state.”

But the changing energy scene is illustrated in the drive to the ranch. On the rolling prairie, bobbing pumps – “nodding donkeys” – slowly suck oil from underground. Down the road, 10 wind turbines sit perched on a ridge. On days when they are not spinning fast enough, a coal-fired generator at a local power plant kicks in, belching white steam, to produce electricity. 

As she torques down a clamp on the solar array, Ms. Schmid thinks about the tableau around her and America’s energy future. 

“We need them all,” she says, displaying a classic Western pragmatism. “There’s no perfect power.”

This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

 

How do you ‘defund the police’ in Texas? Very carefully.

Activist calls to defund the police are playing out in city budget meetings in Texas, showing the limits of what is possible as well as points of agreement in funding public safety. 

Linda
Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Leon Reed, a criminal defense attorney, during his 10-day walk from Fort Worth to Austin, Texas, to raise awareness for police reform. Amid a national debate around policing reform, local police budgets are coming under scrutiny from activists and local officials.

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A summer of protests has fed into heated debates on city councils over how much public money should go to police departments, and what their functions should be. In Texas, the discretionary power of municipal councils to redirect money from law enforcement is limited by union contracts and political constraints. But cities have begun the hard work of deciding what public safety could look like if less money went to the police. 

The cuts so far are modest but represent a break with elected officials’ historic reluctance to be seen as undermining police powers. In San Antonio, for example, a share of future tax revenues earmarked for cops will be allocated to nonprofit agencies to assume functions that are currently the purview of the police. 

Tax revenues have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the pressure to find ways to fund public services. That may force a sharper look at how police budgets are spent and how to empower other actors.

“Police reform and crime reform have always been the third rail of politics,” says Manny Pelaez, a member of the San Antonio City Council. “It’s going to require a certain amount of courage to be able to have these conversations.”

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2. How do you ‘defund the police’ in Texas? Very carefully.

The mercury was around 102 degrees Fahrenheit when Leon Reed left the town of Jarrell for the last 40 miles of his journey. He had been walking for a week, mostly during dawn and dusk, to the state capital of Austin so he could talk to Gov. Greg Abbott about police reform.

Like other activists in cities across the nation, Mr. Reed, a criminal defense attorney, is pressing for policing in his state to change – from intangible aspects like workplace cultures and mindsets to the nuts and bolts of budgets and regulations. But just as in those cities, the “defund the police” slogan doesn’t fully capture activists’ demands.

“We need the police,” he said. “But the answer to everything isn’t ‘send a police officer.’”

Governor Abbott wasn’t in Austin when Mr. Reed arrived earlier this week. That afternoon he was actually in Fort Worth, where Mr. Reed had begun his walk, calling on the state legislature to freeze property tax revenue in any city that defunds its police, but offering few details.

In Texas, as elsewhere, public safety is the biggest line item on most municipal budgets. While the bulk of spending goes to salary and benefits, underpinned by union contracts, there are expenditures like equipment, technology, and legal fees, all of which are up for debate as cities explore how to shift funding and responsibilities away from police departments.

The discussions in Texas cities illustrate the variety of ways that funding of the police could change in the United States, as well as the hurdles ­– both practical and political – that stand in the way.

Some cities have already begun to redistribute those funds: the Austin City Council last week unanimously approved a plan to cut $150 million from the police department.

The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local tax revenues has added more strain on budget negotiations this year. One constraint is that a significant chunk of police funding is dictated by collective bargaining agreements in most cities; another is that local officials usually are reluctant to make budget cuts to public safety. Still, a combination of financial and political pressure is chipping away at this consensus on police budgets and what they spend it on.

“Only in the last few years have we really seen organized activism, particularly from communities of color, to challenge the requests of police departments,” says Michael Leo Owens, a political science professor at Emory University.

“The conversation isn’t just about how much money, but also a conversation about what are the proper functions that we should be asking police departments and officers to engage in.” He adds: “What are the arguments and empirical bases that municipal leaders are using when they’re determining what the budget of their police should be?”

Potholes and barking dogs

Community activists in San Antonio have criticized a 2021 budget proposal from the city council that would increase funding for police by $8 million, or 1.7%, to cover a 5% pay increase for officers. Erik Walsh, the city manager, said it was the lowest increase in police funding in five years in both dollars and percentage points.

“We know we need to make foundational changes,” he told a city council meeting last week. “We need to think through what type of encounters we want to put police officers in, or the public in.”

Shirley Gonzales has been on the San Antonio City Council for seven years, and since she was first elected she has tried to redirect spending toward social services programs like after-school programming and family services, so far without success.

“What we have never done before is perhaps redirect that from police,” she says. “What we are now seeing is a much more unified discussion about the funding.”

Stephen Spillman/Austin American-Statesman/AP
Austin police investigate a homicide shooting that occurred at a demonstration against police violence in downtown Austin, Texas, July 25, 2020.

But while police departments often have large budgets, there isn’t much flexibility. Almost two-thirds of San Antonio’s 2021 budget is focused on public safety, but as in many cities around the country, a significant chunk of the police funding is locked in by union contracts.

So while some funding could be reallocated, Councilwoman Gonzales says more meaningful change could result from empowering other departments like Animal Care and Neighborhood and Housing Services.

In a presentation to the council, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus noted that quality of life and civil calls to the police have increased 40% since 2011, including calls about barking dogs, panhandlers, and mental health disturbances.

Police budgets make up upwards of one-third of the entire general fund of large cities in Texas. In Houston, that adds up to nearly $900 million.

Yet there are about 18,000 police departments in the U.S., and fewer than 100 of them are in major cities, but all must respond to a similar range of issues that cost officers time and money.

In St. Louis, Missouri, where Heather Taylor has been a police officer for 20 years, police get called about potholes. While a different department has to fix the potholes, she says, a squad car can have to stay for two hours or more to keep traffic away from the workers.

“If we are spending time on all these nonviolent crimes that are not police matters, when do we investigate all the hundreds and thousands of violent crimes that we have?” says Sergeant Taylor.

Finding potential savings 

The major expenditures agreed under union contracts may be untouchable, for now. But one area where police departments could find potential savings is in how they choose to hire and fire problem officers and those who could present problems in future. Reformers argue that protecting “bad apples” is both expensive and counterproductive.

Between 2015 and 2019 the city of Dallas spent almost $10 million to resolve police-involved lawsuits. Chicago paid $20 million in such settlements in just the first eight weeks of 2018. In St. Louis, the city paid almost $5 million on settlements between 2010 and 2016.

“How we can address some of these funding issues is clearly through firing [problem] officers,” says Sergeant Taylor, who as president of the Ethical Society of Police advocates for racial and gender equality in St. Louis police agencies.

Fort Worth began debating police funding in January, three months after an officer fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson in her home. The former officer is being charged with her murder. Voters in the city still chose in July to renew a special sales tax that will fund the local police department over the next decade. 

Now the city’s top cop wants the city council to change how that money is spent. Outgoing Police Chief Ed Kraus has proposed that of the $85 million in projected taxes this year, more spending is redirected from equipment and enforcement in order to create a civilian response program, increase funding to nonprofit partners, and expand a mental health team, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Under this proposal, funding for nonprofits would increase from $250,000 to $2 million. 

Analysts note that given the historic gulf between funding for police and social services in most cities, such a small change can make a big difference.

A political backlash

Austin has gone further. Its $4.2 billion budget cuts $150 million from the police department. Only $21.5 million of the cuts are immediate; the rest will go into two funds that will redirect funding and functions out of the department, the Austin American-Statesman reported. One $80 million fund could see primarily civilian functions like forensics and victim services "decoupled" from the department, while a further $50 million-worth of department functions will be studied further before the city council decides if any of those functions will be taken out of the department. It's unclear if, when and how those funds will be dispersed.

The decisions prompted a swift backlash from the state’s Republican leadership, including Governor Abbott’s vow to freeze future property taxes. “Cities that endanger their residents should not be able to turn around and raise more taxes from those same Texans,” he tweeted. Details of how that could be enforced, or what defines “defund,” are unclear.

Still, local officials say changes to public safety funding generally, and police funding specifically, inevitably spark a backlash, in part because of public perceptions that crime is getting worse, even though violent crime rates have actually been declining.

City leaders are going to have to keep this in mind as they continue these discussions, says Manny Pelaez, a member of the San Antonio City Council.

“Police reform and crime reform have always been the third rail of politics,” he says. “It’s going to require a certain amount of courage to be able to have these conversations.”

In his district, many constituents tell him they want more, not fewer, police officers in their neighborhood. “I’d like to see as much data as possible that helps me understand what are the consequences of defunding a police department, and what are the consequences of maintaining a well-funded police department,” he says.

For Mr. Reed, the problem is complicated, but it’s also urgent.

When walking alone, he often listened to gospel music to help him forget his aching feet and his numb legs, or he thought about what he would say to Governor Abbott. And he’s still hoping his sweat equity pays dividends.

“Walking 200 miles in a Texas August, I’m hoping will let the governor know this is how serious I am about this,” he said. “There’s an urgency of now.” 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify how the Austin City Council is changing its police funding. Some proposed changes are being studied.

Difference-maker

Drivers of change

Russia’s peasant history, once submerged, is brought back into the light

Russia’s peasant life was destroyed during the rise of the Soviet Union, literally covered over with water and dirt. But some, like Anor Tukaeva, are doing the hard work of bringing that history back into the light.

Linda
Alexei Avdeichev/Courtesy of The Center for the Revival of the Cultural Heritage of Krokhino
“We realized this is a real historical vacuum. It was a trauma that affected many, many people and is not talked about at all.” – Anor Tukaeva, urban studies expert and a founder of the Krokhino Cultural Heritage Revival Center.

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The artificial lakes of Russia’s immense Volga River system cover the sunken ruins of hundreds of traditional villages and irreplaceable Russian architecture. But most of those who cross the waterways are unaware of what lies beneath.

They first drew the attention of Anor Tukaeva when she saw the decaying hulk of the 18th-century Church of the Nativity, once the pride of the village of Krokhino, which now lies beneath the waters of Lake Beloye.

“When I tried to find out about it, what shocked me was that there was almost no information at all about those flooded territories,” says Ms. Tukaeva. She organized an expedition to the place. “As we began to gather information about it, we realized this is a real historical vacuum.”

Now, the Krokhino Cultural Heritage Revival Center, which Ms. Tukaeva helped to found, has organized over 50 expeditions to the area in the past 10 years. It began with efforts to shore up the collapsing church, but moved on to gathering photos and artifacts saved from the flooding, and documenting the stories of people who had lived in the lost village. The center has since produced a video titled “Unflooded Stories,” with the voices of surviving inhabitants of Krokhino.

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3. Russia’s peasant history, once submerged, is brought back into the light

Every summer, the immense Volga River system is heavily trafficked by steamers, tour boats, and recreation-seekers. But most who pass by the huge artificial lakes that dot the Volga and its tributaries are oblivious to what lies just a few feet below the waves.

The lakes cover the sunken ruins of hundreds of traditional villages, including scores of ancient churches, monasteries, and other irreplaceable gems of old Russian architecture.

Anor Tukaeva, a young engineer and urban studies expert at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, is bringing that drowned history back into the light in a way that is rare in Russia.

A dozen years ago, she was drawn by a view of the decaying, flooded hulk of the 18th-century Church of the Nativity, once the pride of the village of Krokhino, which now lies beneath the waters of Lake Beloye in northwestern Russia.

“When I tried to find out about it, what shocked me was that there was almost no information at all about those flooded territories,” says Ms. Tukaeva. She organized an expedition to the place, along with other interested people. “As we began to gather information about it, we realized this is a real historical vacuum. It was a trauma that affected many, many people and is not talked about at all.”

Finding the human stories

Vast Volga territories were submerged during the titanic transformation known as the “Soviet industrialization,” a forced modernization drive that began in the 1930s and, within a few decades, wrenched what had been a peasant society into the 20th century. It’s a story that Russian schoolchildren still learn in heroic, Promethean terms, a tale of overcoming backwardness and creating a modern, industrial superpower.

During those decades of industrialization, the once free-flowing Volga River was blocked by numerous hydroelectric dams, backing up waters over the low-lying farmlands that had been the cradle of modern Russia in order to create the voluminous water reservoirs and the electric power needed to fuel Soviet urbanization. The populations of those doomed territories, estimated to have been several hundred thousand people, were evacuated and scattered to the four winds, their stories seemingly lost forever.

Krokhino, an ancient town on the banks of the Sheksna River, a Volga tributary, was flooded in 1961. The Krokhino Cultural Heritage Revival Center, which Ms. Tukaeva helped to found, has organized over 50 expeditions to the area in the past 10 years. It began with efforts to shore up the collapsing church, but moved on to gathering photos and artifacts saved from the flooding, and searching for people who had lived in the lost village to recover their stories.

Vladimir Vyatkin/Sputnik/AP/File
The ruins of the 18th-century Church of the Nativity are all that remains visible of the village of Krokhino on Lake Beloye. The rest lies beneath the lake’s surface, flooded during the Soviet Union’s rush to industrialize.

“We found that people were reluctant to speak about it at first,” she says. “They would say, ‘We don’t remember anything, we know nothing, we don’t want to talk about it.’ It was clear that the subject was still very painful, and they were suppressing their memories. Eventually we met a local inhabitant, a woman whose grandmother was from Krokhino, and she volunteered to help. She gradually got people to talk to her, to open up their family albums, and speak about the painful past. ...

“It’s amazing. We began by taking an interest in an architectural object, the half-submerged church, but it led us inexorably to the human stories. You just can’t do the first without moving on to the second.”

The center has since produced a video titled “Unflooded Stories,” with photos and film footage as well as the voices of surviving inhabitants of Krokhino. It has also prepared a full exhibition in cooperation with several local museums, though it has had to be postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. The exhibit, which has support from many quarters, including the Kremlin, is now slated for sometime in 2021.

“We are looking at just one little, tiny corner of a very big story,” Ms. Tukaeva says. “We need to join forces with people from all the regions that were flooded, look deep into the archives, if we have any hopes of putting together the full story. It’s a huge work for the future.”

The destruction of peasant life

Further downstream, lying beneath the waters of the Rybinsk Reservoir, is the historic Russian city of Mologa, which was submerged in 1937. In addition to the city, about 700 small villages, 50 churches, and several ancient monasteries were lost forever.

“We are accustomed to saying that the Volga River is Russia’s mother, but in fact we systematically destroyed it between the 1930s and the 1970s,” says Yevgeny Burdin, a historian at Ulyanovsk State Pedagogical Institute and expert on the flooded territories.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“Imagine eight hydroelectric dams, seven of them really big. Around 1.7 million hectares [about 4.5 million acres] of fertile land submerged. The Volga is a lowland river, so the flooded territories were huge, about the size of Slovenia,” he says. “We have not been able to compile accurate figures of the number of people displaced, but we think it was at least 600,000. They lost their ancestral homes, their farms, their wells, and the graves of their forebears.”

Critics say the purpose of Soviet leader Josef Stalin was not simply to rush industrial development, but also to destroy the traditional life and values of the Russian peasantry.

“Those new hydroelectric stations were symbols of the Soviet five-year plans and industrialization,” says Alexander Nikulin, director of the Center for Agrarian Studies at RANEPA, a state university. “But apart from the economic role, they also exerted an ideological influence on society. These huge projects were meant to change perceptions. They destroyed the traditional peasant way of life ... and divided families. While the older generations looked sadly upon these changes, the young were enthusiastic. The peasants made huge sacrifices, but the cities benefited from the changes. Villages, once the center of Russian life, found themselves on the sidelines of general progress.”

History was written by the winners, and now needs to be revised, says Ms. Tukaeva. “In Soviet years it was all about the triumph of man over nature, and the great advantages of channeling the rivers and building huge dams. Now we understand that cultural values and historical memory were lost during the forced migrations, and traditions destroyed. Thousands of archaeological monuments now lie at the bottom of reservoirs. ... So, our project is a long-term effort to fill in the other sides of the story.”

Mr. Burdin says that Ms. Tukaeva’s project is an inspiration he hopes many will follow in the future. “There are not many cases in Russia where one person’s initiative has produced such positive results,” he says. “One person’s example can show the way for others.”

Olga Podolskaya contributed to this report.

Online chess is thriving, a calming constant in a chaotic year

When so much else has shuttered because of the coronavirus, an unlikely pandemic success story has emerged. Online chess has not only survived, but also thrived – evolving in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Linda

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When Irina Krush was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early March, she faced a monthslong recovery and numerous obstacles that significantly limited what she could do. Her one constant in a chaotic year: chess. 

This is especially fortunate because Ms. Krush is the country’s top women’s chess player, and even represented the United States this May in the Nations Cup, in which her team placed second. Her story embodies the downs and ups of chess in 2020. Traditional over-the-board play has suffered since the start of the pandemic. But the sport has grown online – ushering in a generational renaissance in play and interest. 

As play and instruction go virtual, the game itself is changing. Gone are perceptions of stodgy intellectualism that once surrounded the sport. Chess in 2020 is younger, faster, more adventurous, and more diverse, welcoming large numbers of women to a sport that has long been heavily male. 

Yet most important to Ms. Krush and millions of other players is that chess, unlike so much else this year, never left. 

“Chess can survive these rather unpleasant circumstances,” says Ms. Krush. “It can survive and it can even thrive.”

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4. Online chess is thriving, a calming constant in a chaotic year

When Irina Krush’s symptoms began in early March, she didn’t know what was wrong. A trip to an urgent care clinic sent her to the emergency room, where doctors took a CT scan and diagnosed her with double-lung pneumonia and tested her for COVID-19. Ms. Krush tested positive.

In the months since, Ms. Krush hasn’t fully recovered. She still has trouble breathing. Despite treatment, days can be good or bad. 

“Recovery is a dream,” she says. “It just goes on and on.”

But in her long haul with COVID-19, Ms. Krush has felt especially grateful for the game of chess, one of her only constants in a chaotic year. 

Ms. Krush is the country’s top women’s chess player, and even represented the United States this May in the Nations Cup – in which her team placed second. 

Her story embodies the downs and ups of chess in 2020. Traditional over-the-board play has suffered since the start of the pandemic. But the sport has grown online – ushering in a generational renaissance in play and interest. 

Online platforms like Chess.com and Chess24 report surging activity. Chess-themed streamers, who play live on the video-sharing website Twitch, have tripled and quadrupled their followers. With the world’s best players just a click away, grandmasters are more accessible than ever – hosting events that have broken viewership records.

As play and instruction go virtual, the game itself is changing. Gone are perceptions of stodgy intellectualism that once surrounded the sport. Chess in 2020 is younger, faster, more adventurous, and more diverse. 

Yet most important to Ms. Krush and millions of other players is that chess, unlike so much else this year, never left. 

“If I was an athlete … I would have not been able to participate in my sport,” says Ms. Krush. “Chess definitely has that advantage. Even under pretty extreme circumstances like this, and even when your health goes down, you’re still able to participate.” 

An elegant evolution 

With just 32 pieces and 64 squares, chess has a gift for complexity through simplicity that has helped it survive for centuries – even remotely. Since the early 1900s, correspondence chess players living worlds apart have mailed each other their moves via postcard, playing games that lasted for months, says Tony Rich, executive director of the Saint Louis Chess Club. 

Courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club
Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana plays grandmaster Wesley So online in the Clutch Chess USA finals tournament. Amid the pandemic, interest in online chess has surged.

But the last time chess experienced a renewal like this year’s came in the 1990s, when computers began to challenge the game’s doctrines, says Mr. Rich. In that way, the boom in online play is now just accelerating the decadeslong marriage of chess and advanced technology. 

“Chess and the internet, it just works really well together,” says Jennifer Shahade, the women’s program director at the U.S. Chess Federation. “You don’t have to reset the pieces; you start a new game right away. … It can sometimes be enhanced online, which is often not the case for other subjects.”

What’s different now is the volume of interest, says Nick Barton, director of business development at Chess.com. The website added 650,000 or so users in each of the first two months of 2020, says Mr. Barton. Since March, those numbers have entered the millions – with more than 1.6 million joining in June. 

This growth involves enormous demographic change. Chess has long been heavily male, but Chess.com’s users include a disproportionately high number of women and girls, says Mr. Barton. Its new players also skew younger, he says. 

The chess personalities attracting these new users are, in turn, changing the face of the sport itself. 

“We’re kind of seeing the great chess player merged with the great entertainer,” says Ms. Shahade. 

Chess Twitch streamers – who garner an avid following – balance education and entertainment. Without an in-person audience, live commentators have become livelier as well. 

“It’s high-class entertainment,” says Maurice Ashley, a grandmaster and commentator, who helped launch Clutch Chess, an innovative international tournament developed this year. 

Part of what aids that excitement is the fast-paced nature of online chess, compared with over-the-board. Among its most serious players, in-person chess matches can last four to five hours. Many online games – known as blitz or bullet chess – last only five to 10 minutes, which forces players into more intuitive and unpredictable – and hence exciting – tactics.

“You make all these beautiful designs and plans, and all of a sudden somebody plays some wild idea that you didn’t suspect and the pieces clash,” says Mr. Ashley. “It’s just chaos, pandemonium all over.”

Forget esports or streaming, he says: Why wouldn’t someone want to watch war on a board? 

Ms. Krush certainly does, but she prefers playing. On a good day, she spends an hour or two online testing strategies against unwitting opponents. 

Since the advent of summer camps and other chess classes she runs, there’s been less time for casual play, she says. But chess is still there, even when her health is not. 

“I was always aware that chess was very good for the infirm and disabled and sick,” she says. “It’s literally the only thing I can really do. Where else can I compete in top-level events when I feel this way?”

She looks forward to the return of over-the-board play and returning to it herself. But until then, she’ll continue playing and watching, learning and teaching – adopting all the lessons chess has to offer, in a year of such tumult. 

“Chess can survive these rather unpleasant circumstances,” says Ms. Krush. “It can survive and it can even thrive.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.

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Electric vehicles near market cruising speed

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A vital piece of the climate change puzzle is falling into place faster than expected. Electric-vehicle makers are outgrowing their pioneer days when they sold mainly subcompact cars sipping juice from limited batteries. Now electric SUVs and even larger vehicles are hitting showrooms.

The sweet spot in today’s auto market is SUVs, those suburban do-it-all workhorses. Then there are the electric pickup trucks. Tesla’s futuristic-looking cybertruck and an all-electric Ford F-150 are among those on the way. To really cut tailpipe emissions in the transport sector, the EV industry is now aiming at conventional trucks and buses.

Worldwide, total EV sales of all types are expected to shoot up from 2.5 million in 2020 to 31.1 million by the end of the decade. The global trend is bolstered by government policies, especially in Europe and China, that include buyer subsidies and restrictions on emissions of CO2.  

As more people ask what they can do about climate change, the EV industry is making that choice easier with better technology and large-scale production. And as EVs start to dominate the highways, the climate change puzzle may not seem so difficult to solve.

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Electric vehicles near market cruising speed

A vital piece of the climate change puzzle is falling into place faster than expected. Electric-vehicle makers are outgrowing their pioneer days when they sold mainly subcompact cars sipping juice from limited batteries. Now electric SUVs and even larger vehicles are hitting showrooms.

The sweet spot in today’s auto market are SUVs, those suburban do-it-all workhorses. Industry leader Tesla is pursuing these customers aggressively with its Model Y. General Motors just announced Lyriq, a Cadillac SUV. Jaguar and Audi are also selling electric SUVs while BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and EV startups Fisker and Rivian have SUVs on the way.

Then there are the electric pickup trucks, such as GMC’s Hummer, planned for shipment in 2021. Tesla’s futuristic-looking cybertruck and an all-electric Ford F-150 are among those on the way too. Last September, Amazon stole headlines when it ordered 100,000 electric-powered delivery vans from Rivian. The pandemic slowed the building of a manufacturing plant for these EVs. Rivian says it’s still on track to begin delivering them next year.

To really cut tailpipe emissions in the transport sector, the EV industry is now aiming at conventional trucks and buses. Their tailpipes cough out nearly a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

Just over 2,000 electric trucks were on U.S. roads at the end of last year, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. But that number is expected to grow to more than 54,000 in the next five years. Long-haul trucks will need a system of charging stations that is still to be developed. But trucks that are used on short trips during the day, and can sit and recharge overnight, already make sense.

Trash hauler Republic Services, for example, plans to buy 2,500 garbage trucks from startup Nikola to be delivered by 2023. The trucks will have a range of 150 miles, more than enough for a day’s work.

When the world emerges from the pandemic it may find that the peak year for sales of fossil fuel-powered vehicles has already happened. Worldwide, total EV sales of all types are expected to shoot up from 2.5 million in 2020 to 31.1 million by the end of the decade, consulting firm Deloitte forecasts. GM alone is planning to spend $20 billion in the next five years on EVs and autonomous vehicles, and says it will introduce 20 EV models by 2023. The global trend is bolstered by government policies, especially in Europe and China, that include buyer subsidies and restrictions on emissions of CO2.  

Half of all vehicles sold a decade from now will be electric or hybrid, projects Seth Goldstein, chair of the EV committee at investment research firm Morningstar. “Most electric vehicles can go 300 miles or greater on a single charge,” he says, a number needed for most consumers to consider them.

In addition, the long-term costs of owning an EV in the U.S. are thousands of dollars lower than gasoline-powered models, a new study from the U.S. Energy Department has found. The study took into account variations in electric power rates and gasoline prices, and found owners would save $3,000 to $10,500 driving an EV over a 15-year period.

As more people ask what they can do about climate change, the EV industry is making that choice easier with better technology and large-scale production. And as EVs start to dominate the highways, the climate change puzzle may not seem so difficult to solve.

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.

How I stopped fighting with my sister

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Sometimes it can feel as if the only thing we have in common with someone is constant disagreements. But as a teenager experienced with her relationship with her sister, an honest prayer to think and act in a more inspired, loving way can turn things around – a lesson that’s stuck with her ever since.

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1. How I stopped fighting with my sister

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My sister and I did not get along. She was messy while I was neat. We didn’t share the same interests and couldn’t relate to each other. It seemed like all we did was argue and fight.

One day, when I went to get a skirt I wanted to wear, I found it in a crumpled heap on the floor of my closet. My sister had dumped it there after wearing it. She hadn’t even asked me if she could wear it, and then when she’d finally returned it, she hadn’t even bothered to hang it up. For me, the neatnik, this was beyond insulting.

Furious, I grabbed the skirt off the floor and headed to the ironing board in the basement. Tears of frustration and anger welled up inside me. I didn’t like my sister, but even worse was an unfamiliar feeling: I realized in that moment that I also didn’t like myself and the way I was thinking.

As a student in the Christian Science Sunday School, I’d learned the importance of Jesus’ teachings, including forgiveness and the demand to love. But Jesus did more than simply tell his followers that they should forgive and love. He showed them why and how they could: Each of us is the child of God, who is divine Love, so the ability to love is included in who we are.

I certainly didn’t feel very loving at that moment. I felt totally justified in my anger and in all the negative thoughts about my sister that were swirling through my head. And yet, as I stood there alone in the basement, something inside me changed. A beautiful, peaceful feeling spread over me.

Looking back, I know that moment was answered prayer, because beneath the anger and frustration was a real desire to love my sister and to live as the child of Love that I knew God had created me to be.

The ugly feelings vanished. I had a clear recognition that I could be the forgiving, love-filled person I wanted to be, because that was the identity God had given me. How my sister was acting couldn’t change the fact that I reflected Love. That was so freeing.

From that moment on, my relationship with my sister was different. I felt genuine love for her, and a sweet sense of my own purity and gentleness filled my heart. We actually never had another argument, and we even became very good friends.

What happened? I learned that day in the basement that my happiness, peace, and ability to love aren’t dependent on how others act. That’s not to say that others’ bad behavior is OK or that we should simply put up with it. But I did discover that all the good that we are is dependent on God alone, and when we recognize this, we can feel joy and contentment no matter what. I discovered that love is a gift from God. It is ours and can never be taken away. The expression of Love is what we are and what we will always be.

This turning point in my relationship with my sister was huge. But even bigger was the foundation this experience laid for my whole life. I came to see that anger, hurt feelings, and self-pity don’t have the payoff they seem to promise. In fact, all they do is obscure the loved and loving spiritual identity that is ours as children of God.

By contrast, turning to God and listening to God in the harder moments enables us to see the good in everyone more readily and more completely. And this in turn opens the door to the power of Love, which restores us and heals our relationships.

Originally published in the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section, June 23, 2020.

Viewfinder

Taking a dip

Visar Kryeziu/AP
Swimming against the current has felt like a theme of 2020. But imagine, for a moment, a swimming hole where that current doesn’t exist and the water only swirls lazily. Think of the feeling of floating, arms outstretched, watching the clouds pass overhead. There are no noises, other than the sound of the water, and it’s almost like being suspended in time. This year, there’s something extra-appealing about escaping to a private backyard pool or a local quarry turned swimming hole. For those moments, plunging into the cool water brings only thoughts of good old-fashioned fun. It’s simple, but refreshing. Click "view gallery" to see more images. – Sophie Hills, Staff writer
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us. Please come back Monday, when Peter Grier looks at President Donald Trump, the Republican National Convention, and the politics of the pandemic.

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