2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

September 23, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Why Michael Jordan invests in racial justice on the NASCAR track

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

On Saturday, the lone full-time Black NASCAR driver was showered with boos from fans at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway.

Bubba Wallace ignored them. And Monday night, we found out why.

Mr. Wallace is now a partner with one of the most iconic figures in sports history. NBA legend Michael Jordan and NASCAR superstar Denny Hamlin have formed a new Cup Series racing team. Mr. Wallace will be their driver. 

This team is aimed at supporting a shift in progress. “Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Mr. Jordan said in a statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”

Mr. Wallace is a rising star and advocate for Black Lives Matter. In June, he called for a ban on Confederate battle flags. A week later, NASCAR obliged. “Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him,” tweeted Mr. Hamlin. 

This isn’t the first time Mr. Jordan has put money behind his principles. In June, he pledged to donate $100 million over 10 years to groups “dedicated to ensuring racial equality and social justice.” 

Mr. Jordan has been a lifelong racing fan and this is a business investment. But it’s also an investment in turbocharging equality. He said, “I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Will Supreme Court fight help or hurt Trump with women? Likely both.

Replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a woman on the Supreme Court may be seen as progress on gender equality. But our reporter looks at why some suburban women voters might not see it that way.

David

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Amid a high-stakes battle for a Supreme Court seat that could tilt the court further to the right for years to come, the women’s vote is once again front and center – particularly in suburban parts of battleground states. 

Some political observers speculate that President Donald Trump may win over some so-called Never Trump Republicans by nominating a conservative woman to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Conservative women who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump four years ago because they found him personally offensive “can potentially be brought back into the fold,” says Jennifer Braceras, director of the conservative and libertarian Independent Women’s Law Center, which takes no position on abortion. 

Yet in 2016, voters with mostly pro-abortion-rights attitudes actually made up more than a fifth of Mr. Trump’s support in key battleground states, according to David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. And many of those voters may react negatively to Mr. Trump’s likely pick.

“If he picks a woman who is deeply conservative, which he will,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, “that is not going to make women who are uncomfortable or worse with his positions on a host of issues feel like he’s a champion for women.”

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1. Will Supreme Court fight help or hurt Trump with women? Likely both.

President Donald Trump knows he has a woman problem. 

It was evident during last month’s Republican National Convention, when female speaker after female speaker presented a caring and empathetic picture of the president, in contrast to his public persona and policies that have alienated some women. 

It has been evident since the Sept. 18 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and President Trump’s pledge to nominate a woman to succeed her. The announcement is slated for Saturday.

It’s been in evidence, frankly, since the start of Mr. Trump’s presidency, which he won with 53% of men’s votes but just 42% of women voters. Polls show the gender gap has only widened over the past four years. And the president’s recent references to “suburban housewives,” seen by some as a dog whistle to women on the issue of urban unrest, may not be helping.

Now, amid a high-stakes battle for a Supreme Court seat that could tilt the court further to the right for years to come, and with the Nov. 3 election just 41 days away, the women’s vote is front and center – particularly in suburban parts of battleground states. But for all the last-minute efforts by the president to woo women, in the end nothing is likely to alter the larger dynamic: that for four decades, women have favored Democrats for president by larger margins than men, a phenomenon that has become turbo-charged by Mr. Trump’s controversial style. 

“At this point, the gender gap is completely baked in,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. 

Emily Elconin/Reuters
A woman waves a Trump flag as she takes part in a classic car cruise in support of President Donald Trump and law enforcement in Frankenmuth, Michigan, September 13, 2020.

“If he picks a woman who is deeply conservative, which he will,” Ms. Walsh adds, “that is not going to make women who are uncomfortable, or worse, with his positions on a host of issues feel like he’s a champion for women.”

Those issues include the president’s handling of immigration, family separation on the U.S.-Mexico border, and more recently, the pandemic. 

Mr. Trump also faces the possibility that replacing Justice Ginsburg with a conservative woman could cost him votes: the subset of Trump voters from 2016 who might be motivated to vote for his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, now that the future of abortion rights could be headed for the Supreme Court. 

Survey data from 2016 shows that voters (women and men) with mostly pro-abortion-rights attitudes made up more than a fifth of Mr. Trump’s support in key battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Iowa, according to David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. He cites data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study at Harvard University. 

Nationwide, Mr. Wasserman notes, 22% of Trump voters “leaned pro-choice” and another 13% held mixed views. 

Dreama Clark, a retired professor of nursing in Toano, Virginia, calls herself economically conservative and socially liberal, including being “pro-choice.” She voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but soured on him over his persona and his handling of the pandemic. 

Justice Ginsburg’s death has only reinforced Ms. Clark’s plan to vote for Mr. Biden – but she’s not sanguine about the future, including what she sees as an erosion of America’s separation-of-powers system and a judiciary that is becoming increasingly political. 

“If Trump wins, I worry about the country,” she says. “If Trump loses, I worry about the country.”

Even some voters who call themselves “pro-life” had already turned against Mr. Trump before the death of Justice Ginsburg, and now say they are all the more motivated to vote for Mr. Biden. 

Alex Brandon/AP
People pay respects as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose under the portico at the top of the front steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. Justice Ginsburg, 87, died on Sept. 18.

“I feel as passionate as ever about defeating Donald Trump,” says Sandy from suburban Des Moines, Iowa, who asked that her last name not be used. She attends an evangelical church, opposes abortion, and voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but objects to his behavior and language. 

“I say, what good are conservative judges if we still have a country where we hate each other so much and can’t get along,” she says.

Energy on both sides

Still, some political observers say Mr. Trump may pick up support over his promised nomination of a conservative woman justice. 

“It may help him with undecided voters, and it may help him with so-called Never Trump conservative women, of which there are many,” says Jennifer Braceras, director of the conservative and libertarian Independent Women’s Law Center, which takes no position on abortion. 

Some conservative women didn’t vote for Mr. Trump four years ago, because they found him personally offensive, and “really don’t want to vote for him this time,” Ms. Braceras says. “But the courts are very important to them, and they’d be thrilled to see a female replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They can potentially be brought back into the fold.” 

There are also Trump voters from 2016 who will be more enthusiastic about voting for him again with a Supreme Court seat at stake. Felicia Stafford, a resident of Bedford, New York, who works in advertising sales, calls herself a “progressive Republican” who doesn’t much like Mr. Trump’s personality. She supports gun control and climate change measures. But she’s also a practicing Catholic and firmly anti-abortion, and thus welcomes a Trump nominee to the court. 

Ultimately, then, the Supreme Court confirmation process of Justice Ginsburg’s replacement might well energize voters on both sides, and so the net political impact could be a wash. 

This election is all about who’s motivated to turn out. And if women “turn out in larger numbers than they did in 2016 or 2018, then Trump loses,” says Morley Winograd, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. 

The debate will sharpen when Mr. Trump announces his nominee. The front-runner is believed to be Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. As a devout Catholic with seven children, she is a favorite of movement conservatives and opponents of abortion rights. 

Another prospect is Judge Barbara Lagoa of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Judge Lagoa, a Cuban-American from Florida, is reportedly favored by some Trump political advisers as a way to excite voters in the nation’s biggest battleground state, a must-win for Mr. Trump’s reelection.

No guarantee of support

Still, naming a woman to a high-level government position does not, in and of itself, guarantee the support of women voters, says Lee Epstein, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. 

But if Mr. Trump is using his high court nominee as an electoral plea to certain demographics, he would certainly not be the first president to do so. Professor Epstein offers some examples: President Dwight Eisenhower nominated William Brennan to appeal to Northeastern Catholics. President Richard Nixon nominated Lewis Powell, from Suffolk, Virginia, as a signal to Southerners. 

Most relevant to today, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, as the first woman Supreme Court justice. President Reagan, whose election in 1980 saw the debut of the gender gap, was eager to appeal to women. With Justice O’Connor, he ended up with someone less ideologically conservative than he would have preferred, owing to the dearth of qualified women at the time. 

Today, presidents have more top female talent from whom to choose. 

“Because the judiciary has grown more diverse, presidents no longer face such an either-or, and can check multiple boxes in each nomination,” Professor Epstein says. 

We’re ... No. 28? Behind the US slide in global rankings.

Americans often see their nation as exceptional. Its many strengths include economic might and world-leading universities. Yet new global rankings tell a sobering story of backsliding on health and social progress.

David
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Chicago police crime scene tape is posted at the scene of a gun shooting on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, July 26, 2020. The U.S. ranks 95th among nations in homicides per 100,000 people, according to the recently released 2020 Social Progress Index.

From responding to the pandemic to encouraging equality for minorities, the United States is not living up to its billing as the world’s superpower. Its performance on social indicators has been slipping for at least a decade, even though the country has the biggest economy and strongest military.

The U.S., coming No. 28 out of 163 nations in the latest Social Progress Index, ranks behind its peers in categories such as access to quality health care (97), discrimination and violence against minorities (100), and even property rights for women (57).

Europe and Asia have dealt more effectively so far with the coronavirus than has the U.S., whose performance is on par with Brazil. And in the Social Progress Index, released this month, the U.S. was one of only three nations to post a lower score than in 2011. (Brazil and Hungary were the other two.)

The biggest declines were in categories such as personal safety, personal rights, and inclusiveness. Even the World Happiness Report, an alternative social ranking, suggests Americans are less content than a decade ago.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots. The U.S. retains a university system that is the envy of the world and top-notch e-government performance communication. And it is making progress in various areas, including on some environmental measures. The pandemic may spur more progress if fewer people have to commute to work. But the first priority now, policy experts say, is a better public-health response to the pandemic.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins / Social Progress Imperative
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Laurent Belsie and Karen Norris/Staff

Why does Germany make so little room for working moms?

Germany is considered a European leader in governance, business, and health care. But our reporter looks at why it hasn’t made more progress on workplace gender equality, especially for moms.

David
Isabelle de Pommereau
Felicitas Sochor, in her Frankfurt home with daughter, Lola, and son, Bosse, put aside her dreams of opening a cafe when Bosse was born.

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the change it has brought to work habits has hit mothers particularly hard around the globe. But in Germany, it has revealed that a country that is at the vanguard of progressive policies on many fronts, including health care, business, and governance, remains remarkably conservative when it comes to its views on motherhood and women in the workplace.

Most women in Germany work “on the side,” often taking low-paid part-time work, or “mini-jobs,” precarious positions with no social coverage created in 2002 to jump-start the economy. Those “women’s jobs” may facilitate their return after having children, but dampen their career prospects.

Germany continues to foster an “asymmetrical division of labor” that consigns women to a path of dependence and poverty, says Ute Klammer of the Institute for Work, Skills and Training at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Thus it lags behind most advanced industrialized economies in terms of the gender pay gap, women in top positions, and gender equality.

“When it comes to gender equality and women in the work market [Germany] is miles away from the situation in France, northern Italy, not to mention Scandinavian countries,” says Barbara Vinken, author of “The German Mother: The Long Shadow of a Myth.”

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3. Why does Germany make so little room for working moms?

It was about six years ago, after the birth of her second child, that Felicitas Sochor quietly began to worry about being called a Rabenmutter.

Ms. Sochor had long dreamed of starting a cafe. But even if she could balance the work commitment that would require with the needs of her two young children, that split time could be seen as the taboo of leaving her children to “fly off to work” as a Rabenmutter, or raven mother.

She settled for an administrative job at a youth center in order to care for her children in the afternoon, with her husband as “the real breadwinner.” But when the pandemic upended her life and shut down the schools, and her husband, working from home, felt it was natural she should take over the child care, she rebelled. “Why do I have to be responsible for everything?” she says. “I said, ‘This isn’t my corona!’”

The COVID-19 pandemic and the change it has brought to work habits has hit mothers particularly hard around the globe. But in Germany, it has revealed that a country that is at the vanguard of progressive policies on many fronts, including health care, business, and governance, remains remarkably conservative when it comes to its views on motherhood and women in the workplace.

“When it comes to gender equality and women in the work market [Germany] is miles away from the situation in France, northern Italy, not to mention Scandinavian countries,” says Barbara Vinken, a professor at the University of Munich and author of “The German Mother: The Long Shadow of a Myth.”

An old view of motherhood

The German pandemic response is rooted in “retraditionalization” schemes that prevailed in the postwar 1950s, the heyday of patriarchal Germany. Partly as a repudiation to both Nazi ideology, when women were expected to reproduce for the Führer, and socialistic East Germany, where mothers routinely left their children in state nurseries, West Germany re-embraced an insular vision of motherhood. In a Germany morally decimated by the Holocaust, the nuclear family emerged as the heart of its reconstruction.

While France in the decades after the war built an extensive network of day care and after-school centers, allowing French mothers to enter the labor force in droves, it was mostly men who fueled the “German economic miracle.” Under the 14-year Christian Democratic tenure of West Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, mothers were seen as the sole guarantors of their offsprings’ happiness. Preschools were rare, and schools ended at midday. Schoolchildren coming to an empty home for lunch because their mothers were working were disparaged as Schlüsselkinder, or latchkey kids. Although the stigma no longer openly exists, many in Germany still implicitly frown upon mothers who work.

Real change came when, concerned about the economic impact of sinking birthrates, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first family minister and now head of the European Commission, took a battery of steps to encourage women to combine work and family. Dr. von der Leyen, a physician and mother of seven, multiplied child care options and focused on gender equality measures.

But her milestone came in 2007 when, defying the most conservative Bavarian wing of her party, she pushed through a 14-month shared Swedish-style parental leave, with two optional months reserved for the father. Tax money would now explicitly encourage mothers to go back to work.

Yet the pandemic has shown how fragile the evolution had been. “While we were slowly heading toward a fairer division of tasks, the slightest shock and everything collapses,” says Ute Klammer, the director of the Institute for Work, Skills and Training at the University of Duisburg-Essen, who wrote Germany’s first report on gender equality in 2011.

Mothers in the workplace

Today most women in Germany work “on the side,” often taking low-paid part-time work, or “mini-jobs,” precarious positions with no social coverage created in 2002 to jump-start the economy. Those “women’s jobs” may facilitate their return after having children, but dampen their career prospects.

Isabelle de Pommereau
Lena Stenger is a banking executive turned entrepreneur with two children, Flora and Hugo, shown here in their Frankfurt home. As such, she was an exception of sorts in a country where top executive jobs are rarely held by women and even less frequently by mothers.

Germany continues to foster an “asymmetrical division of labor” that consigns women to a path of dependence and poverty, Professor Klammer says. Thus the economic powerhouse Germany lags behind most advanced industrialized economies in terms of the gender pay gap, women in top positions, and gender equality, according to recent studies by the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.

Attitudes toward gender roles, and the entrenched view that women should stay at home to care for their children, have failed to adapt to a changing society. Women who divorce can no longer count on the generous family allowances from their ex-spouses that, in the past, might have reduced the incentive for them to work. But while divorce rates are rising and women are increasingly expected to stand on their own feet, many are ill-prepared to reenter the workforce to provide for the family and start contributing to a pension after the birth of a child. The result? Poverty rates among older women in Germany keep increasing.

Married couples pay a joint tax rate that reinforces the patriarchal “one breadwinner” models where one partner – usually the wife – stays at home or works part time, in that generous tax breaks are given to the higher earner, usually the husband.

“We women have to fight all the time”

One early summer evening, a group of women gathered as part of a women’s initiative called FrauenWelten, or “Women’s Worlds.” It was, via Zoom, their way to cope with the ramifications of a crisis that has wreaked havoc on their careers and family plans.

“There is so much anger, so much disappointment,” said group moderator Lena Stenger, a banking executive turned entrepreneur with two children. She created FrauenWelten with Frankfurt mother Arnika Senft “to help women navigate through the road of career and motherhood” and help them “overcome the feeling of being torn inherent to being a mother that is universal but extreme in Germany.”

“We women in Germany have to fight all the time, to constantly justify our life choices, with others, your family, yourself,” says Ms. Stenger, an exception of sorts in a country where women hold only 2% of the top corporate jobs and mothers with top jobs are even rarer.

The government has stepped up efforts to change that. In July the Bundestag approved a new plan for fighting gender inequality that includes more boardroom quotas. And a push to abolish precarious “mini-jobs” is gaining momentum. But the real pushback – to change mentalities – is coming from women like Ms. Stenger.

Vicky Temperton is the only tenure-track professor with children in her department at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. Since the start of the pandemic, the number of young female professors coming to her for advice has been rising steadily, she says. And earlier this year, Dalia LaChance, the founder of online furniture company Westwing in Munich, launched #Stayonboard, a lobbying group aimed to help female board-level executives keep their jobs after taking maternity leaves.

For Ms. Stenger, her biggest barrier to reaching the top of the banking world was the deep cultural bias – and sexist attitudes – against talented women, she says. It wasn’t until she created her own company with her husband that she found peace with herself.

With FrauenWelten, she wants to help women overcome the hurdles she experienced. And she provides hands-on tips on how to become business angels and create startups, two fields she feels German women are grossly underrepresented in. “We need more women who create, who invest.”

“This is the culture I was born in,” Ms. Stenger says. “In Germany, it is deeply ingrained in society.”

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

Essay

Poverty vs. school choice: Commentary on equity in education

Addressing the problem of failing schools is difficult when a child is too hungry to learn. Compassion starts with a free meal. But for these children, our columnist writes, school choice is often a false choice. 

David
LM Otero/AP
Second grader Joseph Alvaran carries a bag of food during the weekly school meal distribution for students in Dallas, April 9, 2020. For families coping with hunger, district-based food programs often make school choice a moot point.

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A school choice voucher doesn’t mean much to a hungry child. I should know. My mother, a longtime teacher, fed her students encouragement­ – and peanut butter crackers – before big tests. She knew she couldn’t expect kids to succeed when their stomachs were rumbling.

Yet a hungry belly isn’t the only sign of failing infrastructure in education. Consider the digital divide. Recently, in Salinas Valley, children sat on the ground outside a Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet to do their homework. “Salinas Valley is 45 minutes from Silicon Valley,” County Supervisor Luis Alejo said at the time, “and here we have such a huge divide that’s gone on for years but now it’s only amplified because of this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, the governor of South Carolina faces a lawsuit for using education funds from the CARES Act to prop up private schools instead of public education in a low-income county where schools perpetually underperform even when there’s no pandemic. 

As much as we talk about politics and preference in education, we are missing a key component: poverty. It’s time to sort through the chatter of the school choice debate and address a fundamental issue affecting far more than where kids go to school.

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4. Poverty vs. school choice: Commentary on equity in education

Discussions about school choice, like most political issues, have been polarizing in the current political climate. The pandemic has only exacerbated that, but it may also be clarifying a fundamental choice lurking behind the public vs. private debate: whether we’re going to let parents fail – because if parents fail, life becomes much harder for children.

I’ve written about my working-class father, who spent nearly 40 years at the United States Postal Service. Now, it’s time to tell you about my working-class mom, whose career in education spans four decades.

As most teachers will tell you, they don’t just have their biological kids. They nurture hundreds or even thousands of kids over many years. That was certainly true of my mom, who used to give her students peanut butter and cheese crackers before a standardized test, along with a rhyme for the times: 

Bust the test.
Bust the test, baby.
Bust that test,
Ain’t no maybe.
Bust the test. 

Bust the test, baby.
You can do it.
You can do it.
You can bust that test!

My mom’s rhyme was cool, but those crackers represented her conscientiousness. I can’t help but wonder how many of her students – her other kids – had those crackers as their first meal of the day.

As much as we talk about politics and preference in education, we are missing a key component: poverty.

Back in 1999, my mom took a job as a teacher specialist in Allendale, South Carolina. She was part of a state-based takeover that lasted from 1999 to 2007, initiated by then-State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum due to poor academic performance. It’s worth mentioning that Allendale County isn’t just one of the poorest school districts (and counties) in South Carolina – it’s one of the poorest in America.

According to census data, Allendale County has a median household income of $24,560, which is below the poverty threshold of $26,200 for a family of four, based on Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines.

The state of South Carolina took over the school district again in 2017 due to the same concerns, but it’s worth asking, Is the problem strictly academics? Could another force be at work?

It could be argued that South Carolina’s state government had failed the residents of Allendale County long before it took over their schools, due to its neglect of this rural community. Ideally, education should provide a level playing field for children, regardless of race, gender, or their parents’ wealth.

The reality is different – and dire. How can we expect kids to succeed on standardized tests when their stomachs are rumbling? 

Yet a hungry belly isn’t the only sign of failing infrastructure in education.

Last month, a photo of two children with their computers in front of a Taco Bell went viral. What were they doing? Using the restaurant’s Wi-Fi to do their homework.

The photo reignited discussion about the “digital divide” in America. Reports indicate that nearly 16 million kids in K-12 public schools don’t have adequate internet connections.

That divide was especially glaring for the kids in front of Taco Bell, because they were within an hour of Silicon Valley, a tech mecca. Luis Alejo, the county supervisor, retweeted the photo and challenged state officials to create a universal broadband infrastructure bond for students. “Salinas Valley is 45 minutes from Silicon Valley,” he told CNN, “and here we have such a huge divide that’s gone on for years but now it’s only amplified because of this pandemic.”

The girls and their family were eventually given a mobile hotspot, and fundraising efforts yielded a six-figure sum. That type of charity shows the goodness of people. Still, what do we do about the other children suffering through disparities in access?

Finding stopgaps in educational inequities will require good faith discussions about public and private education. Public and private options shouldn’t be seen as competitors, but as complements. Yet those conversations get muddied when governments act in bad faith.

More than 20 years after the state of South Carolina took over Allendale County’s school district the first time, Gov. Henry McMaster dedicated $32 million (of $48 million) in CARES education relief for private schools. Dr. Thomasena Adams, a retired South Carolina public school educator, rebuked Mr. McMaster’s move in a lawsuit, stating: “These subsidies and payments to private schools purport to assist about five thousand students in the State of South Carolina. There are over eight hundred thousand students in public schools in the State of South Carolina.”  

What Governor McMaster billed as a “school choice” option felt like a deliberate transfer of public school funding to private education. In a state and country with clear disparities in education, the move appeared insensitive.

Yet Mr. McMaster’s ideology regarding school choice is in lockstep with the current administration and its education secretary, Betsy DeVos. It’s out of step, however, with the National Education Association, the largest labor union and interest group for public school teachers and staff in the country, whose website flatly condemns the administration. 

The evidence is damning, but it’s also heartbreaking. What’s happening in education reflects what’s happening in our country. Our inability to address the fundamental issues behind the polarizing politics leaves us with perpetually bad choices.

In the case of areas such as Salinas Valley and Allendale County, far too many parents and children are left with two choices – slim and none.

It’s the illusion of choice.

An appreciation

To my mom, she was ‘Ruthie’

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an icon who inspired legions of Americans. But to this Monitor writer’s mom, Justice Ginsburg was also a caring friend, who recognized the courage and integrity of others.

David
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/AP/File
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Martin, play with their daughter, Jane, in 1958. Later they had a son, James. When Marty had fallen seriously ill at Harvard, Ruth took notes for him.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg first came into focus for me in 1993, when she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was a trailblazer, like my mom, and they were friends. In 1956, Mom was Jinnie Lyn Davis. Jinnie and Ruthie were the only two women in their section that first year of law school.

I never met Justice Ginsburg. But this summer, in a Slate interview about the 10 other women in her Harvard Law class, Justice Ginsburg singled out Jinnie as her closest classmate. I was so moved that I wrote a letter thanking her for remembering my mom so fondly.

Justice Ginsburg graciously wrote me back in August.

“Dear Kendra,” she wrote. “Your mother was the only other woman in my [first-year] section. We were good friends in law school, and remained occasionally in touch in the ensuing years. She cared about the right things and was brave as can be.”

I never experienced sitting next to Justice Ginsburg in a lecture hall full of men. But as I read that, it was as though I could feel her hand on my shoulder.

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5. To my mom, she was ‘Ruthie’

“My Harvard classmate Ruth is being appointed to the Supreme Court,” my mom told me casually one spring day in 1993. 

That’s when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg first came into focus for me. She was a trailblazer, like my mom, and they were friends. In the years since that day, I’ve often wondered what it was like to sit shoulder to shoulder with Ms. Ginsburg in the intimidating halls of Harvard Law.

In 1956, Mom was Jinnie Lyn Davis. Jinnie and Ruthie were the only two women in their section that first year of law school. They had come from Detroit and Brooklyn, respectively, both top of their class, both only children, both having lost their mothers a few years before.

I can picture walking across Harvard Yard in the brisk fall air; I can imagine living in a small apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that rattled whenever the Red Line subway passed beneath. I have a harder time feeling what my mom must have felt sitting down next to a male classmate, giving him a friendly “hello,” and hearing a gruff “I’m married!” 

I found an unsent letter in my mom’s belongings, a letter to a friend that first fall. She doesn’t mention Ruth or any of the nine other female law students among the “millions of men.” But it makes sense. The handful of women in her class of 500 were keeping their heads down, trying to prove themselves. And, in my mom’s case, babysitting on the side. 

Ruth had a toddler at home and was laser-focused on law. Her husband, Marty, became gravely ill her second year. The couple’s friends rallied around them. Mom recalled visiting Marty in the hospital, something not lost on Ruth.

Courtesy of Kendra Nordin Beato/Staff
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) and Virginia Davis (Jinnie Davis) are pictured in the 1958 Harvard Law School yearbook.

After law school, Mom worked for a time on Wall Street, then turned to academia. In 1971, when Ruth persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate an Idaho law stating that men should be preferred above women to administer legal estates, Mom gave birth to me. She taught law and chaired the Commission on Women at the University of Michigan, charged with ensuring the equitable status of women there. She co-wrote a legal tome with Harry T. Edwards, later appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he joined Judge Ginsburg on the bench. 

Mom rarely kept up even with her closest friends. It’s how many glass-
ceiling smashers of her generation operated: full steam ahead, no time for sentiment. She and Ruth kept in touch with knowing nods of solidarity over the years.

I never met Justice Ginsburg. I tagged along when my mom went to an event celebrating 50 years of women at Harvard Law School. I shadowed her as she chatted with former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and waved to Justice Ginsburg from afar. Women on panels told how there had been only one bathroom for women on the whole campus.  

When “RBG,” the documentary about Justice Ginsburg, came out in 2018, Mom and I watched the trailer on a tablet in her room at a care facility. She wouldn’t be with us much longer.

“Was it hard to be one of few women at Harvard?” I asked her then.

“No,” she said, adding, “I was often the only woman in the room.” 

This summer, in a Slate interview about the 10 other women in her Harvard Law class, Justice Ginsburg singled out Jinnie as her closest classmate. I was so moved that I wrote a letter thanking her for remembering my mom so fondly. I also said how I’d struggled to sum up Mom’s extraordinary life in an obituary.

Justice Ginsburg graciously wrote me back in August. Her kind words did what I could not, reflecting the same brevity and brilliance of her legal opinions.

“Dear Kendra,” she wrote. “Your mother was the only other woman in my [first-year] section. We were good friends in law school, and remained occasionally in touch in the ensuing years. She cared about the right things and was brave as can be.”

I never experienced sitting next to Justice Ginsburg in a lecture hall full of men. But as I read that, it was as though I could feel her hand on my shoulder. 

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An ideal of innocence kept alive

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Fifteen years ago this month, 113 member states of the United Nations voted to commit themselves to a responsibility to protect their own citizens from genocide, war crimes, and gross human rights abuses. If they failed, other states had a responsibility to step in.

The principle, called a “responsibility to protect” and shorthanded as R2P, grew out of global anguish over a failure to stop the genocides or “ethnic cleansing” massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan. Since then a series of events has tested the world’s resolve for humanitarian intervention. Despite the setbacks, two cases now provide an opportunity to renew the promise of R2P. On Sept. 23, the U.N. Human Rights Council took up an exhaustive investigative report that accuses the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro of gross violations of human rights. Sudan, meanwhile, is considering how to hold a former dictator accountable for genocide in Darfur.

Sudan’s case and the U.N.’s case against Venezuela represent humanity’s closer embrace of a universal ideal: compassion for innocent lives. Even these recent small breakthroughs show the power of a good idea against the guns of dictators.

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An ideal of innocence kept alive

Fifteen years ago this month, 113 member states of the United Nations voted to commit themselves to a new ideal. They each signed on to a responsibility to protect their own citizens from genocide, war crimes, and gross human rights abuses. If they failed, other states had a responsibility to step in.

The principle, called a “responsibility to protect” and shorthanded as R2P, grew out of global anguish over a failure to stop the genocides or “ethnic cleansing” massacres in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan.

Early on after the U.N. voted for R2P in 2005, the ideal had a galvanizing effect. “Regions once blighted by atrocity crimes moved towards sustainable peace,” says Alexander Bellamy, director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

The new norm led to practices by governments and civil society groups aimed at protecting the most vulnerable people. “It became more difficult – though certainly not impossible – for perpetrators to get away with deliberate attacks on civilian populations and more likely that the world would respond,” according to Mr. Bellamy.

Then a series of events tested the world’s resolve for humanitarian intervention. The Syrian government and Islamic State militants used chemical weapons against civilians during Syria’s war. Myanmar slaughtered or displaced hundreds of thousands of its Rohingya citizens. China imprisoned at least a million Uyghurs in concentration camps. The international community failed to prevent these “atrocity crimes” or effectively care for the victims.

Despite the setbacks, two cases now provide an opportunity to renew the promise of R2P. On Sept. 23, the U.N. Human Rights Council took up an exhaustive investigative report that accuses the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro of gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial executions and the jailing and torture of its political rivals. Sudan, meanwhile, has convicted its former dictator, Omar al-Bashir, of corruption and put him on trial over a 1989 coup. Now it is considering how to hold him along with other top officials accountable for genocide in Darfur.

The Venezuela case is being reviewed by the International Criminal Court, a legal body set up in 2002 by the U.N. It is unclear what actions that tribunal can take. Mr. Maduro is still in power and unlikely to allow himself to be put on trial.

But the two cases reflect important shifts among Africans and Latin Americans in democratic expectations and diplomatic norms. Since 2018, for example, Sudanese protesters have linked freedom and democracy to justice for past atrocities against the country’s minorities. The current transitional government seems to be paying attention.

The U.N. investigation of Mr. Maduro followed a request for such a probe two years ago by Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Paraguay. That represented a significant break from a long-standing regional bias toward noninterference among Latin American countries.

Despite uneven progress on R2P, the world at least has crossed a threshold. Nations now are on notice that their “sovereignty entails obligations as well as rights, and that when these obligations go unmet, governments forfeit some of their sovereign rights,” notes Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Such a principle is needed in a world where much of what occurs inside countries affects the interests of others beyond their borders, often in fundamental ways.”

Sudan’s case against its former dictator and the U.N.’s case against Venezuela represent humanity’s closer embrace of a universal ideal: compassion for innocent lives. An old unwritten rule no longer holds among state leaders that they can avoid scrutiny for violence against their people. Even these recent small breakthroughs show the power of a good idea against the guns of dictators.

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.

Whose world do you live in?

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“It’s a man’s world,” it often seems; despite progress, gender inequities persist. But as a young woman found during a “topsy-turvy” period in her life, the idea that we’re all God’s children offers a powerful basis for experiencing more freedom and equality in our interactions with others.

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1. Whose world do you live in?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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What a topsy-turvy world I found myself in. I had left my job, moved across the country, and – totally unplanned – started a romantic relationship. It should have been an expansive time of new possibilities. But increasingly I felt unsettled, directionless, even floundering in life – and that included the relationship. There were times I thought I risked losing the relationship if I voiced preferences or opinions that were different from my boyfriend’s.

This was my dilemma. The relationship felt unequal; I felt as though my ideas were of little value.

Now, as then, the broad issue of gender parity still cuts through all kinds of relationships, be they romantic or business, and all manner of social and economic policies. In my case, I could certainly see this underlying sense of gender inequity having an impact on my own situation and mental well-being.

My human reasoning wasn’t bringing clarity, and I realized I needed to change my perspective to a spiritual one in order to gain some sense of balance and a measure of peace. I reached out to someone whose full-time profession was the practice of Christian Science healing to help me pray about the situation.

When I explained my quandary, the practitioner responded with an unexpected and powerful spiritual insight: “You don’t live in a ‘man’s world,’ you live in the kingdom of heaven.”

Ah! This stopped me in my tracks. Despite outward appearances, I felt it to be true – I was more than a mortal woman living in a material world. I was a spiritual daughter of God, living in a spiritual universe!

I was awed by this simple glimpse of spiritual fact: that a higher power, not I or men, was in control for the benefit of all. Prayer that leads us to better understand this brings out the inherent equality within each of us as God’s children, equality that can’t be thwarted by people or circumstances.

At the beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry, the Bible says, “Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus showed what it looks like to experience this realm of heavenly harmony here and now. Throughout his healing ministry, Jesus called forth the undeniable worth of women as well as men, defying centuries of religious and legal tradition.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this news organization, has been a model for me in overcoming limiting circumstances. At a time when women possessed few legal and social rights, Mrs. Eddy discovered the Science of healing, including the basis for harmonious relationships, grounded on the teachings of Christ Jesus. She demonstrated this Science extensively, authored the book describing it (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”), and established a worldwide church and publishing company that still to this day connect people with healing ideas for the good of humanity.

So, I realized, since spiritual equality is inherent within each of us through our unbreakable relation to our divine creator, then my responsibility was to acknowledge God’s supremacy, yield to it, and faithfully follow where it led in daily life.

From this perspective, the purpose of the relationship wasn’t to “get” something I thought I needed. It was to “give” what I already had from God: happiness, wholeness, and success. Relationships provide an opportunity to express the fullness, the magnificence, of God’s goodness ourselves, and to recognize and appreciate this expression in others. God’s goodness includes strength, order, joy, justice, and love – in equal measure for all of God’s sons and daughters.

Letting these qualities flow freely, I trusted God to guide and care for both my boyfriend and me. Like a plant growing in life-giving sunlight, I began living more fully and happily.

Soon, it became clear that while my boyfriend and I were each doing our best in our own way, the relationship wasn’t a fit. We parted amicably and went on to express those God-given qualities in new ways that benefited us individually as well as others. For me, this period of spiritual growth marked a turning point that brought clarity and confidence. I moved to a new employment opportunity, working for a worldwide organization with equality for all at the core of its mission.

In Science and Health, Eddy gives this call to action, which brings progress to all kinds of issues that need healing, including parity and equality for relationships of any kind: “Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love – the kingdom of heaven – reign within us...” (p. 248).

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Day of remembrance

Mindaugas Kulbis/AP
A man places stones at the foot of the Paneriai memorial in remembrance of the Jewish people of Vilnius killed by the Nazis, during national Holocaust Remembrance Day in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sept. 23, 2020. The Nazis liquidated the Vilnius ghetto on Sept. 23, 1943. More than 90% of Lithuania's 200,000 Jews were murdered during World War II.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’ll have a story about how a Canadian city went from being a big polluter to one of the country’s greenest.

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