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Local news can highlight division, just as much of the national media does. But it’s perfectly positioned to also foster communal thinking.
Small outlets are vanishing, leaving news deserts behind. Innovators hang on. When I read about Pam Bluhm’s story I had to give her a call.
Ms. Bluhm spent four decades as office manager at a 164-year-old Minnesota paper. This summer, two weeks after it went under, she emptied her bank account, boosted by her COVID-19 stimulus check, and filed the paperwork to restart it.
“I live upstairs anyway,” she told me after she picked up at the main number.
Our chat ran to topics as diverse as her business model (she buys some freelance copy, community members and some ex-staffers write for free) to her dislike of beets (except when pickled, but recently also in a jam that adds raspberry).
The jam was a gift from a stop-by. Ms. Bluhm gets lots of visitors, donations, and other support. The Chatfield News is growing. The last issue produced under her boss went to 759 subscribers. By late last week she had 913.
“I like working until 2 a.m.,” she says.
Ms. Bluhm’s journalistic philosophy is as disciplined as her work ethic. Take her letters policy. One writer just kept bashing one of the presidential candidates. “I told him ‘I know who you’re voting for. Just write good things about him.’
“I want [the tone] to be positive, constructive,” she says. “We’re a local paper, written by the local people, for the local people.”
Think politics and fairness belong in the same sphere? Working within constitutional bounds might not be enough. Our reporters look at how hardball tactics may be putting party over country in the Supreme Court succession spat.
The battle to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is shaping up to be a defining moment in politics – a titanic struggle that could shift a presidential election and produce enormous policy consequences, while straining the limits of constitutional democracy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, by vowing to proceed only weeks before Election Day, has enraged Democrats, who see the move as blatantly hypocritical given that Senator McConnell refused to even allow a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee to an open high court seat in 2016.
In response, some Democratic lawmakers are threatening, should their party win control of the Senate and the White House, to add seats to the Supreme Court or push for statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
All these moves are within constitutional bounds. The problem is the escalating brinkmanship of action and reaction.
When parties exercise their powers of office to the very edge, they encourage opponents to do the same if they’re elected. And as the stakes of losing rise, politics becomes more heated, voters become more polarized – and the long-standing norm that lawmakers act with the realization they will not always be the majority withers away.
“What’s gone on over the last four years is one threat after another and the weakening of our institutions,” says government professor Christine Nemacheck. “It’s got to be, at some point here, country over party.”
The battle to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is shaping up to be a defining moment in politics – a titanic struggle that could shift a presidential election and produce enormous policy consequences, while straining the limits of American constitutional democracy.
Much depends on how the Senate’s “advice and consent” confirmation process plays out. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, by vowing to proceed only weeks before Election Day, has enraged many Democrats, who see the move as blatantly hypocritical given that Senator McConnell refused to even allow a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee to an open high court seat in 2016.
In response, some Democratic lawmakers are threatening, should their party win control of the Senate and the White House, to add seats to the Supreme Court or push for statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., to dilute the Republicans’ geographic edge in the Senate.
All these moves – Senator McConnell’s included – are within constitutional bounds. The problem is the escalating brinkmanship of action and reaction.
When parties exercise their powers of office to the very edge, they encourage opponents to do the same if they’re elected. And as the stakes of losing rise, politics becomes more heated, voters become more polarized – and the longstanding norm that lawmakers act with the realization they will not always be the majority withers away.
“What’s gone on over the last four years is one threat after another and the weakening of our institutions. Our institutions of government are frayed at this point,” says Christine Nemacheck, a professor of government at the College of William and Mary. “It’s got to be, at some point here, country over party.”
If nothing else, the sudden vacancy at the Supreme Court has scrambled the way President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden plan to deal with the last weeks of the 2020 election.
Democrats have tried to make the election a referendum on Mr. Trump’s performance in office, in particular his perceived mismanagement of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some 200,000 Americans have died – the highest death toll in the world. Republicans have attempted to focus on the economy, pre-COVID-19, and the possibility of a sharp recovery from recession. Now both have to incorporate the Supreme Court in some manner, keeping in mind that “Supreme Court appointments” ranked third in a recent Pew poll of which issues voters think important in the upcoming election.
President Trump has vowed to name his nominee for the seat by the weekend. Senator McConnell will likely proceed quickly with the hearing process after that, though it remains unclear whether he will schedule votes on the nominee before or after the November election. Two GOP senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine – have already objected to voting before Election Day.
Republicans say that the introduction of the court as a campaign subject can only help their candidates, from the president on down, by raising the visibility of judicial appointments – an area where Mr. Trump has had success.
“It reminds people of one of the more critical decisions that their elected officials make,” says Eric Wilson, a GOP strategist.
It will also fire up Republican voters, they say. Taking things slow, perhaps by delaying anticipated votes, might squelch some of this enthusiasm. And voter enthusiasm is something that endangered GOP candidates such as Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona need.
“In the big picture of all the Senate races, they’re going to have a big problem if they don’t dig in and fight on this,” says Brian Darling, a GOP strategist at Liberty Government Affairs and a former Senate staffer.
Mr. Darling and other Republicans defend Senator McConnell against charges of hypocrisy by noting that in 2016 circumstances were different. A Democrat was president and Republicans controlled the Senate, as opposed to today’s situation, where Republicans control both.
And procedural debates about such things as a so-called “McConnell rule” on nominations don’t matter in the end, Mr. Darling says.
“What matters is in the Constitution, and the Constitution says the president nominates and the Senate confirms,” says the GOP strategist.
Conversely, Democrats say Senator McConnell’s actions demonstrate openly to voters that all the GOP is interested in is power, not principles or voter representation.
“I think Republicans are overreaching here. I know this is politics and we’re all big boys and girls, but I think they are going to pay a price for that,” says Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist with The Hub Project.
In the past, Democrats haven’t placed that much emphasis on the courts, but that’s changing as an organized GOP effort places more and more right-leaning judges on the bench. In fact, this year Democratic voters might be as fired up by the open Supreme Court seat as Republicans, says Mr. Payne. According to Pew, 66% of Biden supporters place a high priority on the issue of Supreme Court appointments, as opposed to 61% of Trump supporters. In the first day after Justice Ginsburg’s death was announced, grassroots donors gave $91.4 million to Democratic candidates and causes – smashing previous records, ActBlue announced this weekend.
If they forge ahead with a pre-election vote, Republicans likely will be sacrificing Senator Collins, a moderate who is already struggling in her reelection race, and perhaps other GOP Senate candidates in swing states, says Mr. Payne. And they may unite Democrats on court issues, something that’s not been the case in the past.
Court packing – adding seats to the Supreme Court via legislation, which is legal under the Constitution – has long been controversial in the party. President Franklin Roosevelt tried and failed to expand the high court when conservative justices initially blocked key New Deal reforms.
Such a move all but invites GOP retaliation. Voters might see increasing the number of justices as overreach in itself. In the past, former Vice President Biden has dismissed the idea.
But if they win the Senate and the presidency, yet face a Supreme Court dominated by conservative judges, the Democratic Party could come together to support this or other big structural changes, such as statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico.
“What you are seeing the beginning of is pretty widespread court reform becoming a mainstream issue in the Democratic Party. It’s not a far-left issue anymore because of Republican overreach,” says Payne.
The process of putting judges on the bench of federal courts, particularly at the Supreme Court level, has been political for a very long time. F.D.R.’s failed court packing attempt is just one example. Richard Nixon, the last president with three court picks in the space of a single four-year term, lost Senate votes on two nominees before successfully getting Justice Harry Blackmun confirmed.
But the tipping point was Robert Bork’s failed nomination by Ronald Reagan in 1987, says Dr. Nemacheck of William and Mary. That’s when judicial nominees began attracting concerted opposition from political activists – a trend that’s only intensified since, culminating to this point in the intense confirmation battle of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual misconduct in high school by Christine Blasey Ford.
Is there any way of getting past the cycle of grievances created by this process, with both sides feeling the other treated them unfairly? Brian Darling of Liberty Government Affairs is not sure there is, given the close political balance of the nation as a whole and the high stakes of the fights.
“This will go on for the rest of our lives because this is the way the process is built,” he says. “That’s politics, and that’s OK.”
And the court itself has some power over how it affects America’s political balance. There is some evidence that the court has responded to public opinion and acted strategically in response to the national political divide. Chief Justice John Roberts, for instance, has moderated somewhat and become the median justice, swinging back and forth to protect what he sees as the court’s legitimacy, says Lee Epstein, the Ethan A.H. Shepley distinguished professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
“It is possible, of course, that the court will pay attention to the mood of the country,” says Dr. Epstein. “Maybe some of these predictions about a super conservative court are a little overwrought. But a lot of it depends on what happens in the elections.”
You’ve probably read a few tributes to Justice Ginsburg. Make room for one more. We paired a politics writer and a justice reporter to add another layer of perspective on RBG’s life and legacy.
As an attorney, law professor, judge, and parent, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was always a fierce advocate for the equal treatment of women in every aspect of life.
Piece by piece, case by case, she helped dismantle and rebuild for the better the ways women work, are paid, acquire responsibility, and participate in American political and economic society. In doing so Justice Ginsburg became an icon of achievement.
Her influence on American law began long before she reached the Supreme Court. It was during her often-overlooked career as a law professor that she began to articulate her legal approach to achieving gender equality. In 1971, “I repaired to the library. There, in the space of a month, I read every federal decision ever published involving women’s legal status, and every law review article,” she said in a 1995 talk at Rutgers. “That was no grand feat. There were not many decisions, and not much in the way of commentary.”
It is not an overstatement to say Justice Ginsburg was one of the most significant legal minds of modern American history.
“There are only a few modern justices who would have been significant figures in American law even if they had never served on the Supreme Court,” said law professor Richard Primus, a former Ginsburg clerk. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was getting very little sleep. It was the early 1970s, and she was teaching at Columbia Law School while founding the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and litigating historic gender discrimination cases nationwide. She was also a parent, raising two children with husband Marty. Their youngest, James, was a handful. And when James had a problem at school – a common occurrence – it was Ruth’s phone, not Marty’s, that would ring.
One day the school called Ms. Ginsburg’s Columbia office after she had been up all night writing a brief. She’d had enough. Picking up the phone she said, tartly, “This child has two parents. Please alternate calls. It’s his father’s turn.”
Then she hung up.
After that the school called perhaps once a semester, Justice Ginsburg recounted gleefully in 2018 onstage at the Sundance Film Festival. They’d been fine with bothering her, but had been reluctant to interrupt Marty, a lawyer with a private firm.
As an attorney, law professor, judge – and yes, as a parent – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday, was always a fierce advocate for the equal treatment of women in every aspect of life. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she reportedly dictated to her granddaughter in her final days.
Piece by piece, case by case, she helped dismantle and rebuild for the better the ways women work, are paid, acquire responsibility, and participate in American political and economic society.
In doing so Justice Ginsburg became an icon of achievement. Rare is the Supreme Court justice able to create a distinct legacy. Rarer still is the justice able to create a distinct legacy, shape an entire area of the law, and become a pop culture icon recognized around the country: the fiery, jabot-wearing “Notorious RBG.”
There is truth in the caricature. Justice Ginsburg’s dissents could flick like switchblades. As a young attorney arguing a case before the Supreme Court, she told justices that she asked for no favor for her sex – only that men “take their feet off our necks,” quoting abolitionist Sarah Grimké.
“Our nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said in a statement. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her – a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
Soft-spoken in person while steely and passionate on the page, Justice Ginsburg, it is not an overstatement to say, was one of the most significant legal minds of modern American history.
“There are only a few modern justices who would have been significant figures in American law even if they had never served on the Supreme Court,” said Richard Primus, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former Ginsburg clerk, in an email to the Monitor. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one.”
Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was approved by the Senate 96-3, becoming the second female Supreme Court justice, following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to the high court bench.
Among a minority of liberal-leaning justices for much of her time on the high court, she has few landmark opinions to her name. But as a reliable vote for progressive interpretations of the law, and in fiery dissents later in her career, she left an indelible mark on American jurisprudence, building on her work as a law professor and advocate.
In perhaps her most significant opinion, the 1996 decision in United States v. Virginia, she wrote that the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
It was in dissent, however, where Justice Ginsburg often made her voice heard on the Supreme Court. In a 2007 gender pay discrimination case, the court ruled 5-4 against Lilly Ledbetter, an employee at a tire company, because she had filed suit after the time limitation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act had expired. Reading her dissent from the bench, Justice Ginsburg criticized the majority for “a cramped interpretation of Title VII” and suggested that Congress “may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”
Two years later, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and it became the first bill signed into law by then-President Barack Obama.
In 2013 a pair of Ginsburg dissents cemented her status as a pop culture icon: the jabot-wearing, crown-toting “Notorious RBG.”
In the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case – a decision in which the court ruled 5-4 that private companies can refuse on religious grounds to provide contraceptive care to their employees – she wrote that “the court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.” And in Shelby County v. Holder – in which the court ruled 5-4 to invalidate a portion of the Voting Rights Act requiring some states to get pre-cleared by the Justice Department before changing their voting laws – she wrote that throwing out pre-clearance “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
The Hobby Lobby dissent, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wrote in 2015, “became a cri de Coeur popularized in viral Facebook memes and a tribute song. Notorious R.B.G., crown and all, became the face of female employees in Hobby Lobby, and female workers everywhere whose bosses’ religious preferences might trump their right to birth control.”
A Notorious RBG book followed, as did numerous write-ups of her workout routine. Then, with progressives desperate for a hero in the Trump years, came the “RBG” documentary and the biographical film “On the Basis of Sex,” both released in 2018, not to mention countless “Saturday Night Live” skits starring Kate McKinnon.
Her celebrity rubbed some the wrong way, but she reportedly enjoyed it, and others credit her with making the Supreme Court accessible for a whole generation of young people. She had a crossover appeal that may not be seen on the high court for some time.
“Her life story combined with the work has created the story, and a lot of the other justices don’t have that,” says Tracy Thomas, a professor at the University of Akron School of Law. “Larger-than-life people maybe don’t come around all that often.”
Justice Ginsburg’s influence on American law began long before she reached the Supreme Court.
As a young girl in Brooklyn, Joan Bader – she started going by her middle name, Ruth, after starting school and discovering several other girls named Joan in her class – cited her mother, Celia, as a strong influence who told her “to be a lady. And for her that meant to be your own person, be independent.”
As a student at Harvard Law School she became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review, something she achieved while caring for her husband, Martin Ginsburg, as he fought cancer, and attending both of their classes.
It was during her often-overlooked career as a law professor that she began to articulate her legal approach to achieving gender equality.
When she became an assistant professor of law at Rutgers University in 1963, she became just the 19th woman in the country to be appointed to a tenure or tenure-track position at a law school approved by the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools. Nine years later, she became Columbia University’s first tenured woman law professor.
She began teaching courses focused on civil procedure, but issues of gender equality were intruding on her life nonetheless. She was paid less than male colleagues at Rutgers when she joined, and when she became pregnant in 1964 she was so frightened her contract wouldn’t be renewed she told no one, hiding her condition by wearing clothes “from my ever supportive, one size larger mother-in-law” until she signed a new contract. James Steven Ginsburg was born a few months later.
But it wasn’t until 1971 that she began to focus her scholarly energies on the legal status of women. It was around then, she said in a 1995 talk at Rutgers, that women at the school, encouraged by the civil rights movement, asked for a seminar on Women and the Law.
“I repaired to the library. There, in the space of a month, I read every federal decision ever published involving women’s legal status, and every law review article,” she said. “That was no grand feat. There were not many decisions, and not much in the way of commentary.”
By the time she reached Columbia, she was an activist. In her first month, she learned that as part of a money-saving effort, the university sent lay-off notices to 25 maids but no janitors. “I entered the fray,” Justice Ginsburg recalled in 1994, “which happily ended with no lay-offs.”
“Ginsburg did her most significant law reform work at Columbia,” writes Herma Hill Kay. “She melded her teaching, scholarship, and advocacy in the service of a cause that engaged her completely ... To put women into the United States Constitution.”
These experiences prepared her for what many gender law experts say is her most defining period: her eight years as general counsel of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. In those years the project participated in hundreds of gender discrimination cases – often cases involving discrimination against men – and she argued six cases before the Supreme Court, winning five.
“That was really where she invented new concepts to litigate these [gender discrimination] cases,” says Professor Thomas.
In 1973 she argued that a Florida law allowing a property tax exemption for widows but not widowers was unconstitutional. In 1974 she won a case for a widower who couldn’t apply for social security benefits, and in 1978 she argued that a convicted murderer in Idaho had his right to a trial by jury violated because of a state law allowing automatic jury service exemptions for women.
The feminist legal scholar Joan Williams describes Justice Ginsburg’s approach as “reconstructive feminism,” meaning an approach that instead of focusing on women and the discrimination they face, focuses on “the gender dynamics within which [gender] identities are forged” more generally.
“Ginsburg’s goal was not merely formal equality. Her goal was a society in which women could gain access to roles traditionally reserved for men, and men could gain access to roles traditionally reserved for women,” writes Professor Williams. “We can see her as perhaps the first reconstructive feminist.”
Years later, in Time magazine, Justice Scalia would praise her as “the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women’s rights – the Thurgood Marshall of that cause, so to speak.”
This was a comparison that Justice Ginsburg said made her “uncomfortable.” She did copy the approach to overturning an existing legal order followed by Marshall and the NAACP. But the social and cultural context in which she pursued women’s rights was much different than the one that the civil rights pioneers faced.
“My life was not in danger, as his was,” she said in a 2017 interview on CBS.
As inspiring as her mother was to her, there is no doubt that the defining relationship in Justice Ginsburg’s life was the one she had with her husband, Martin Ginsburg.
They met at Cornell University as undergraduates, she as a freshman, he as a sophomore. She often said he was the first man interested in her brain. They married a few days after her graduation. Later, they attended law school together at Harvard University. When he got a job in New York upon graduation, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she got her degree. Later in life he often said proudly that he did not make law review at Harvard, while she had.
“He was secure in his abilities, he never regarded me as any kind of threat,” Justice Ginsburg said in a Women in Legal Education oral history in 2014.
As a law professor and tax specialist in private practice, Martin eventually became the family’s chief breadwinner – and bread maker. When they were a young couple, a cousin of Ruth’s sent them “The Escoffier Cookbook,” the Bible of French cooking, as a gift. Marty, a former chemistry major, worked through it like a textbook, starting with basic stocks, moving on to sauces, and continuing through the entire volume.
He did it, he said, because he knew his wife was a terrible cook. His nutritional support was symbolic of the intellectual and logistical help he provided to help Ruth rise to the highest rung of her profession.
Eventually Martin became a semi-famous amateur chef. After he died in 2010, the spouses of the other Supreme Court justices got together and published his favorite recipes in the tribute “Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg.”
Throughout her life, Justice Ginsburg opposed the boxes of stereotypical gender roles. Too often these ended up making women subservient to men, she felt, or were evidence of unconscious bias.
Take symphony musicians. Justice Ginsburg loved opera and other classical music, and growing up she noticed that symphonies had virtually no women members, except for harpists, a traditionally female role. Male music critics swore they could tell whether a woman or man was playing an instrument, with their eyes closed.
Then in the 1960s and ’70s, as the women’s movement gained momentum, some symphony director had the idea of putting auditioning musicians behind a drop curtain. As Justice Ginsburg noted often in interviews and speeches, this simple act was transformational. Critics couldn’t tell a player’s gender. Almost overnight the number of women in symphony orchestras began to climb.
“I wish we could have a drop curtain in every field of endeavor,” she said in a 2018 conversation with National Constitution Center President Jeffrey Rosen.
We began with a look at the stakes behind saving a local paper. Now to a town in England for a look at the revival of the corner shop. Beyond what it says about resilience, it shows what such stores mean to communities.
For many years, there has been real concern that the heart and soul of Britain’s traditional towns and villages have been disappearing. Superstores expanded into almost every neighborhood, competing heavily on price and offering the convenience of everything under one roof.
Now, the pandemic has shoppers abandoning the big supermarkets and out-of-town stores that had come to dominate the British retail landscape. Thousands of corner shops and independent stores saw an overall 63% surge in trade at the peak of the lockdown in the United Kingdom, according to analyst firm Kantar.
Nazir Zondo, the manager of Dunorlan Park Stores in Royal Tunbridge Wells, estimates that the store rang up double the transactions since lockdown in mid-March. “There were queues outside the door, with more people than ever coming in, asking for things that we’d never even stocked before,” he says. “I was working six days a week, sometimes even coming in on my one day off.”
It wasn’t just about shopping either, says James Kilgallon, who lives a 2-minute walk away. “Where previously I was in and out, during the lockdown I’d end up staying and chatting a bit.”
For much of Britain’s economy, the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating. But the small corner shop on Windmill Street in Royal Tunbridge Wells, a historic market town in Kent, has never been busier.
Since lockdown in mid-March, Dunorlan Park Stores’ regular customers – who previously only came in to stock up on drinks for the weekend, or buy a pint of milk or treats for the children – have been coming in almost daily to get more of their groceries and household goods. Business has been so good, in fact, that the profits have been reinvested to create more floor space and a larger line of supplies.
Nazir Zondo, the store’s manager, estimates that the store rang up double the transactions during this period. “There were queues outside the door, with more people than ever coming in, asking for things that we’d never even stocked before,” he says. “I was working six days a week, sometimes even coming in on my one day off.”
For many years, there has been real concern that the heart and soul of Britain’s traditional towns and villages have been disappearing. Superstores expanded into almost every neighborhood, competing heavily on price and offering the convenience of everything under one roof.
Now, the pandemic has shoppers abandoning the big supermarkets and out-of-town stores that had come to dominate the British retail landscape. And Dunorlan Park Stores is one of thousands of corner shops and independent stores that saw an overall 63% surge in trade at the peak of the lockdown in the United Kingdom, according to analyst firm Kantar. The question plaguing the big, billion-dollar grocers such as Tesco and Asda is whether this abrupt change might become permanent.
Not three months ago, the owners of Dunorlan Park Stores had been considering shutting down the shop. Other store owners in town had died of COVID-19 and the risk seemed too great. But local residents, who were no longer making the 50-minute daily commute to London, begged the shop to stay open. They were happy to pay the extra 10 pence to 20 pence (13 cents to 26 cents) per item if it meant supporting the local business and avoiding supermarkets, says Mr. Zondo.
It wasn’t just that the pandemic had changed shopping schedules, says James Kilgallon, a sales consultant who used to spend much of his week on the road and in face-to-face client meetings. He was in the shop, a 2-minute walk from his flat, almost every day during lockdown, spending £25 to £35 ($32 to $45) each time. But in addition to the ease of getting everything he wanted in the little shop, Mr. Kilgallon says the shop served as a small bit of contact with other adults outside the household. “Where previously I was in and out, during the lockdown I’d end up staying and chatting a bit,” he says.
Mr. Kilgallon says that for his weekly shopping, he goes online, like millions of other Britons. Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, says that 1.6 million more shoppers had switched to buying groceries online so far this year than in the previous five years. “Although restrictions have eased, more than 1 in 5 households still made an online order during the latest four weeks,” he says. Shopping online “now accounts for 13% of all grocery sales in Great Britain, which is up from 7.4% in March and reflects a significant increase in capacity by the grocers.”
The trouble for supermarkets is that selling online is largely a loss-making endeavor that steals trade away from stores. Industry experts suggest that with more people now working from home, the business that’s gone online is not likely to return to brick-and-mortar stores.
The change in grocery-buying habits is a side effect of the larger phenomenon of the pandemic’s effect on cities across Britain. With just one-third of white collar workers having returned to their offices in the country – compared with 83% in France and 76% in Italy – main street businesses are shedding jobs. More than 150,000 workers are at risk or have been laid off since the pandemic began according to data gathered by the Press Association news agency, with many of Britain’s biggest companies struggling to stay afloat or calling in administrators.
The picture of post-lockdown Britain that is beginning to emerge is of a society keen to return to something like its roots. Small villages and traditional towns seem relatively unscathed, while in the City of London, businesses are boarded up and the streets lie empty. That is a reversal for historical towns, long threatened by corporate jobs luring 20-somethings away to big cities. The numbers suggest Britons, already fed up with long commutes on densely packed and expensive trains, have thoroughly embraced working from home.
“A lot of the residents of Tunbridge Wells are commuters, and so many are actually better off because they don’t have to pay train fares to London,” says David Hayward, a Tunbridge Wells councillor. He says the local community has rallied behind pubs and small shop owners and helped them to not only survive through the crisis, but thrive in spite of it.
Complaints about a lack of opportunities in the traditional communities – the same ones that voted for Brexit as a protest against the sense they had been left behind – are slowly but noticeably giving way to an awareness that they were more resilient in lockdown than the glass and steel towers of London.
Analysis of mobile phone data shows that in August, more people had returned to offices in towns such as Mansfield, in northern England, where 40% of staff have gone back to work, than in London, with only 13% returning. Indeed, a survey of 50 of the biggest U.K. employers conducted by the BBC revealed that most had no plans in place to return workers to the office this year. Demand for rail travel is at 31% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Department for Transport figures, and daily Tube journeys across the capital are less than a third of what they were in March.
Meanwhile, life has gone on in the shires, relatively uninterrupted. There were more people at home to enjoy it – and they don’t seem to want to go back to the commute. With more people working from home and shopping locally, the coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity to reestablish the character of the local communities.
In Tunbridge Wells, it wasn’t just Dunorlan Park Stores that experienced an increase in traffic – the nearby Dunorlan Park itself, popular with families and dog walkers, was busier than anyone could remember it. And the success of remote working during the pandemic has led to predictions that staff will never again return to the office full time.
“Tunbridge Wells is one of those towns where people like my wife and I who’ve done the city living thing moved out to have kids,” says Mr. Kilgallon. “Most of my mates around here were either able to work from home or had already migrated their businesses out here from London.”
Editor’s note: As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.
Of all the services that the pandemic seems poised to reboot, child care may be among the most basic. A lot rides on working parents having support. But the discussion increasingly also includes ways to offer learning opportunities to children earlier.
In Richmond, Virginia, J. David Young, the CEO of a nonprofit that runs two child care centers, is having to spend extra money on cleaning products and reconfiguring building space. Enrollment in his centers, which serve mostly low-income families, has dropped in half.
“It is taking a toll,” says Mr. Young of the pandemic. He’s confident that his organization will survive, but says “it’s not easy and it’s not guaranteed.”
Over the past six months, child care providers have faced dwindling class sizes due to pandemic restrictions and parents opting to keep their children at home. Some research suggests that when the public health crisis recedes, the U.S. may emerge with a loss of nearly half of its available child care spots.
Yet the pandemic has also focused public attention on the role that child care plays for families and the economy, advocates say, and has created momentum for a significant reevaluation of the system, which has long been unaffordable for many parents and expensive for providers.
“There is the need to build child care back better,” says Marica Cox Mitchell of Bainum Family Foundation in Maryland. “It’s now a conversation that’s happening outside of the insular child care space.”
Muluwork Kenea closed Amen Family Child Care for almost two months during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns. The business she operates out of her home in Washington, D.C., survived through a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
Although she doesn’t expect to close for good, she’s worried about her costs. She employs two other people to help operate a 24-hour facility, so she can care for children at night for parents working nontraditional hours. Prior to the pandemic, she purchased protective gloves for $42. Now they’re running $89 a box. A box of disinfectant spray has jumped from under $20 to $90.
“The federal government has to think about us,” she says. “We are super necessary, without us there is no work. We don’t want to close our businesses.”
Ms. Kenea faces challenges similar to those that have forced thousands of child care providers out of business over the past six months, as class sizes have dwindled due to pandemic restrictions and parents have opted to keep their children at home. When the public health crisis recedes, the United States may emerge with a loss of nearly half of its available child care spots, according to one study. Traditionally, closed child care businesses have not been quickly replaced.
Yet the pandemic has also focused public attention on the role that child care plays for families and the economy in a new way, advocates say, and has created momentum for a significant reevaluation of the U.S. care system, which has long been unaffordable for many parents and expensive for providers to operate.
“There is the need to build child care back better,” says Marica Cox Mitchell, director of early learning at the Bainum Family Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland, which helped establish a new private fund that provides grants to child care operators in Washington, D.C., including Ms. Kenea. “It’s now a conversation that’s happening outside of the insular child care space.”
While there’s widespread agreement on the crisis facing the U.S. child care industry, solutions vary from creating a universal child care system to focusing on reducing regulations and fostering more parent choice, experts say. Whether the political appetite exists at the state or federal levels to create long-term change is open for debate.
“I think the question is, are we going to make incremental improvements or are we going to have wholesale change?” says Elliot Haspel, author of “Crawling Behind: America’s Child Care Crisis and How to Fix It.” He says child care has not been a top political issue in the past, but that the pandemic has exposed how a lack of such care hurts the economy and child development.
A June survey of 5,000 child care providers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico found that 40% of child care businesses say they are certain they will close permanently without further public assistance, and that, on average, enrollment is down by 67%. The number of child care providers who expect to close rose to 50% among minority-owned child care businesses, according to the survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Congress allocated $3.5 billion for the child care industry in the CARES Act. Since then, the National Women’s Law Center released a report estimating that the U.S. child care system needs at least $9.6 billion each month to survive the pandemic.
In Richmond, Virginia, J. David Young, the CEO of a nonprofit that runs two child care centers, is having to spend extra on cleaning products and reconfiguring building space. Enrollment in his centers, which serve mostly low-income families, has dropped in half. He knows other child care providers who are permanently closing due to spikes in expenses coupled with revenue drops.
“It is taking a toll,” says Mr. Young of the pandemic’s impact on the finances of the nonprofit he leads, Friends Association for Children. He’s confident that the organization will survive, but he says, “it’s not easy and it’s not guaranteed.”
For communities of color in particular, “this is a crisis built on top of a crisis,” says Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at Zero to Three, an advocacy group for young children. She points to examples of pre-COVID child care deserts, predominately in low-income and rural areas, where little affordable or quality child care exists. In addition, women of color constitute about 40% of the child care workforce.
“The families who already are in crisis mode and have been for so long are disproportionately in rural, Black and brown communities,” she says. And she’s worried the pandemic will exacerbate that trend.
For families with young children, child care often serves as more than simply a place to leave kids while parents work. It also supports child development and early education for infants through pre-kindergartners, who learn initial social and academic skills.
Most developed countries put significantly more public resources toward child care than the U.S., says Samuel Meisels, the founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, who notes that education is particularly important during the earliest years, between ages 0 and 5.
“France, Germany, almost every single Westernized, industrialized country has care for children and for families that this country does not have, whether it’s the école maternelle [public preschool] in France or the payments that cover salary for new parents in Scandinavia,” he says. “We are far behind these other countries.”
Part of the problem with the U.S. investing less in child care and preschool, observers say, is that it results in both high costs for parents (a national average of nearly $10,000) and extremely low wages for child care workers, since tuition doesn’t cover the full cost of providing care, such as maintaining low staff-to-child ratios.
“We make child care operate much more like a restaurant than a public school or a library,” says Mr. Haspel. “You have to have a certain number of paying customers to keep your doors opened, as opposed to a public school or library where there’s a constant stream of public funding coming in. It’s a public good, and so they’re not facing the same existential crisis if suddenly there aren’t those paying customers.”
The idea of federal universal child care remains a political nonstarter to most conservatives, says Hadley Heath Manning, director of policy at the Independent Women’s Forum, a right-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C., because of concerns over cost, lack of quality, and government overreach.
“I think it’s tempting to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution, and that’s a red flag with a lot of universal child care policies,” she says.
Instead, there might be more bipartisan willingness to address child care at state and local levels, she suggests, and to consider proposals such as increasing tax credits for families, and reforming the dependent care flexible spending account so parents can set aside more tax-free dollars to spend on child care.
The way to create a structure where families have access to affordable and high quality child care, and providers earn a decent living, says Dr. Jones-Taylor of Zero to Three, is to transform public perception of child care from an individual family responsibility to a public good that benefits society and requires significant public investment.
“If we want the economy to get back going we have to support this critical part,” she says. “The only way to do that is rethink this entire [child care] system and imagine it as the public good that it really is,” she says. “When you think about the way we invest in K-12 education, we should be thinking of children under kindergarten in the same way.”
One area of agreement for many policymakers is on the importance of home-based day cares during the pandemic, and in the future, due to their small sizes and the role that the mostly female small-business owners can play in their communities.
Some employers and technology startups are trying to help with that. Jessica Chang co-founded WeeCare in 2017 after she struggled to arrange child care during her first pregnancy. The goal, she says, is to “empower female entrepreneurs.” The platform allows small home day cares to better advertise online and efficiently run their business.
Mr. Young, who runs the Richmond child care centers, is hopeful that the pandemic will encourage people to view child care as an educational service that deserves respect and support from the public and private sectors alike.
“I think this whole pandemic really serves to open folks’ eyes, not just politicians’, but everyone’s eyes,” he says. “People realize now just how important the job is that we do.”
Editor’s note: As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.
In Egypt, anonymity to protect survivors of sexual violence. In Guyana, farming practices that boost crop yields. In Norway, wind turbines adapted to save birds. Learn about those and other global wins in our long-running Points of Progress feature.
1. United States
A stretch of Highway 162 just west of Oroville, California, has been repaved using 100% recycled materials. Caltrans, the state transportation agency, partnered with engineering startup TechniSoil to pave the nation’s first highway with recycled plastic. The company uses reclaimed PET, a type of plastic commonly found in water bottles and other single-use containers, to bind ground-up, recycled asphalt. The binding agent in traditional asphalt paving is a black sticky substance called bitumen, produced by oil refining. TechniSoil’s process uses the equivalent of roughly 150,000 plastic bottles per mile and requires less energy than traditional repaving projects. The plastic binder resists cracking, meaning the road can last two or three times longer than traditional pothole-prone asphalt, the company’s president says. TechniSoil is also working on another plastic road project in Los Angeles. (Fast Company, Chico Enterprise-Record)
In a climate-smart agriculture pilot project, farmers in Guyana are being taught sustainable farming techniques. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) have provided training and materials to more than 30 farmers and their families. Specifically, the program is teaching participants to build and utilize a small, affordable greenhouse known as a shadehouse. In flood-prone communities, learning to embrace greenhouse crop production makes agriculture more resilient to climate change, and could result in more profitable yields and improved food security. FAO and IICA plan to expand the project to other locations, seeing it as a learning-by-doing opportunity for farmers and their children, who are home from school during the pandemic. (Guyana Chronicle)
Noor Inayat Khan, a spy who operated in occupied France during World War II, is the first woman of South Asian descent to be honored by London’s blue plaque program, which identifies buildings connected to notable people with a round blue sign. Her former family home in Bloomsbury will be recognized as an important English Heritage site.
It’s a milestone in the effort to diversify the public history program. In 2016, when English Heritage created a working group to address the lack of diversity among blue plaque recipients, only 33 of the nearly 1,000 plaques highlighted Black and Asian figures. Khan, born to an Indian father and an American mother, served as a British spy for months before being captured, and later executed, by the Nazis. Khan’s biographer describes her as Britain’s “first Muslim war heroine in Europe.” (The Guardian)
A black turbine blade could reduce fatal bird collisions at wind farms by about 72%, a new study suggests. Impact on wildlife has always been a major concern for onshore wind farms. At Norway’s Smøla wind farm, trained dogs found nearly 500 dead birds scattered among the 68 turbines over the course of a decade. But researchers may have identified a simple solution. If one rotor blade is painted black, birds seemed better able to identify and avoid the spinning blades. Compared with an adjacent, unpainted turbine, the adapted machine caused 71.9% fewer fatal collisions.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Bård Stokke, a lead author on the study. But he concedes its limitations. “So many different species of birds have different ways of seeing things,” he said. “We don’t know what they see.” While more research is needed, he hopes that future wind energy developments embrace the painted blade method, given its relatively low cost and potential benefit for bird populations. (E&E News, BBC)
With more than 95% of the continent immunized, the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission has declared Africa free from wild polio. Vaccination campaigns are credited with eradicating the virus. In 1996, poliovirus affected more than 75,000 children across the continent, with some cases in every country. Nigeria’s remote Borno state, epicenter of the Boko Haram insurrection, saw the last recorded case of wild polio in 2016. The wild strains of the disease are now found only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though the World Health Organization identified 177 vaccine-derived cases in Africa this year. This strain is a rare mutation of the oral polio vaccine, which experts say will disappear as countries achieve herd immunity and phase out the vaccine. (BBC)
Egypt’s parliament has approved a law granting survivors of sexual violence automatic anonymity. And anyone who exposes the identity of a sexual assault survivor faces jail time. The law is largely the result of a growing #MeToo movement in Egypt. Research suggests that sexual violence is widespread in Egypt, but rarely reported due to a fear of backlash. The Instagram account Assault Police has also created a space for women to come forward with accusations of abuse, pressuring authorities to act. Most recently, prosecutors ordered the arrests of a group of men allegedly involved in a 2014 gang rape in Cairo. Assault Police, which first reported the incident in July, shared the arrest announcement, saying, “Great news for the first time in a while! Praise be to God and thank you.” (Reuters, BBC)
In crafting the Constitution, James Madison warned against an “overbearing majority.” Centuries later, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited threats to the rule of law as “lack of observance of the golden rule.” These sentiments seem lost in the Senate battle over how to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Justice Ginsburg’s death.
Power dynamics may be part of how the Senate normally operates. Yet that was not always the case for judicial appointments. Courts, by their appeal to higher law, require elected leaders to also act out of principle in picking judges. With Republicans controlling both the Senate and White House and Democrats assuming they will gain majority rule after the election, each side is claiming the other is ignoring its party’s interests or making moves that set dangerous precedents.
Democracy is not just a matter of determining a majority’s interests and then acting on them. Madison expected governing bodies to achieve “the cool and deliberate sense of the community.” Wisdom and virtue are brought to light through reason and listening. Such a commitment to high-minded principles and fairness would provide a healing standard now as America finds itself at a critical turn.
During the making of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison warned against “the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” Centuries later, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked what she saw as threats to the rule of law, she replied, “The problems of indifference, of tribal-like loyalties, lack of observance of the golden rule, ‘Do unto others.’”
These sentiments now seem lost as Senate Republicans and Democrats fight over how to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Justice Ginsburg’s death. Rather than deliberate across party lines – in the spirit of “advice and consent” that the Constitution demands – the senators seem “united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens,” as Madison warned.
Power dynamics may be part of how the Senate normally operates. Yet for decades that was not always the case for judicial appointments. Courts, by their inherent appeal to higher law, require elected leaders to also act out of principle in picking judges.
Now, with Republicans controlling both the Senate and White House and Democrats assuming they will gain majority rule after the election, each side is claiming the other is ignoring thei party’s interests or making moves that set dangerous precedents.
This runs against not only Madison’s advice but also Justice Ginsburg’s view of how public officials should get along. She understood that the norms of noble governance – civility, comity, and tradition – are enduring only to the extent that officials practice them. “I am hopeful,” she stated, “that people of goodwill in both of our parties will say, ‘We have had enough of dysfunction. Let’s work together for the good of all people who compose the nation.’”
Many provisions in the Constitution were designed to forge deliberation and consensus. If Republicans and Democrats want to honor that founding document, they should look for procedures and practices that calm the fears of Americans during a time of deep polarization and a pandemic.
They could look to the example of humble listening in the friendship between Justice Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Each was a champion of a particular judicial perspective yet they had a profound respect for each other’s intellect, setting an example of deliberation.
Speaking in tribute to Justice Scalia after his 2016 death, Justice Ginsburg noted the value of their legal disagreements: “When I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots – the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’ – and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion.” She also endorsed a warning by former Chief Justice William Rehnquist that judges should act as referees and not cast their decisions to favor “the home court crowd.”
Representative democracy is not just a matter of determining a majority’s interests and then acting on them. Madison also expected governing bodies to refine the views of voters and achieve “the cool and deliberate sense of the community.” Wisdom and virtue are brought to light through reason and listening. Such a commitment to high-minded principles and fairness would provide a healing standard now as America finds itself at a critical turn.
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.
Frustrated and at a loss for how to help unify her community in the face of destructive protests, a woman turned to God. The result was inspiration that brought conviction to her prayers for peace and hope for the future.
I could hear protesters chanting outside from my bedroom window. They were peacefully demanding justice after the death of a Minneapolis Black man while in police custody. But there were also protests here in Portland, Oregon, that were doing damage to buildings and businesses, and I was upset. The worst thing was that I felt helpless.
That’s when I reached out to God in prayer – that’s what I do when I feel stuck.
As I listened, a message came: “You have a God-given mission to pray for your city, rather than get angry and criticize.”
I knew I had to let go of strong human opinions. From past experience, that’s what steers me in the wrong direction. But listening to God for a more spiritual viewpoint always – in every situation – brings progress.
That day I was struck by something Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote: “Know, then, that you possess sovereign power to think and act rightly, and that nothing can dispossess you of this heritage and trespass on Love” (“Pulpit and Press,” p. 3).
I realized that the ability to “think and act rightly” applies to everyone in my city. Each one is a child of God, created in the image and likeness of divine Love. The Bible says that God’s creation is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). That means each one of us is made to love one another, and to respect and care for each other, too.
No one is too self-centered, too angry, too self-righteous to be disqualified from being God’s child. On the contrary, being God’s spiritual child means we each have the power to think and act rightly. That was my answer: I could support my city by changing my view of others, no matter that they seemed to be on opposite sides.
There is lots more prayer we can all do, and many more steps to take to bring peace in our country. But now I have hope that there can be progress. We are God’s children, and embracing that more fully, we can move forward – together.
Adapted from the Sept. 18, 2020, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.
See you next time. We’re working on a story about the challenge faced by police as two fundamental civil rights – to free speech without fear of retribution, and to bearing arms for self-defense – increasingly come to occupy the same space.
And as always, you can track the faster-moving news stories we’re watching at our First Look page.