2021
January
05
Tuesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

January 05, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

No more punts

For the National Football League, the end of the regular season Monday marked the beginning of something else. Can the league finally begin to make headway on hiring coaches of color?

Three coaches were fired Monday, and of all the major American sports leagues that have significant racial diversity, the NFL has the worst record in hiring coaches of color. This season, 13% of NFL coaches were minorities, compared with 74% of players. That declined further Monday; one of the three fired coaches is Black.

Yet elsewhere Monday, diversity made gains. The Boston Red Sox announced that it has hired Bianca Smith as a minor league coach, making her the first Black woman to coach in professional baseball. And in November, the Miami Marlins went further, making Kim Ng the first female general manager in any of the major men’s pro leagues. Last week, assistant coach Becky Hammon became the first woman to take charge of a National Basketball Association team during a game when the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs was ejected.

Barriers are falling, and many Black coaches in the NFL are distinguishing themselves, whether coach of the year candidate Brian Flores or offensive mastermind Eric Bienemy. The coming month is not just the road to the Super Bowl, but a chance to take a step forward.

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Why GOP is splitting over Electoral College results

The decision to contest the results of the presidential election is forcing some Republicans into a choice many dread: whether to oppose President Trump.

Mark

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As Congress heads for a once-in-a-century showdown over the counting of Electoral College votes on Wednesday, the Republican Party is displaying sharp divisions and an emerging struggle to redefine the party as it begins to chart its future in the wake of President Donald Trump’s loss.

The move by dozens of GOP lawmakers to object to the electors from up to six battleground states Joe Biden won won’t change the outcome, and it has been condemned by Democrats and other Republicans – including some Trump allies – as unconstitutional and anti-democratic. But it gives those hoping to seize Mr. Trump’s mantle an opportunity to bolster their credentials with the base, by airing concerns about electoral fraud and irregularities. That could complicate the reemergence of more establishment Republicans who have done their best to weather the Trump years without becoming a target of his Twitter outrage.

“It is beginning to show the Republican Party grappling with the transition away from Trump as the unquestioned leader of the party,” says Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant based in Austin, Texas. “The fact that you have Trump-like presidential [candidates] on opposite sides of a major, major vote should tell you how politically complicated this is.”

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1. Why GOP is splitting over Electoral College results

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Workers build a stage on the ellipse near the White House on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, ahead of expected rallies on Jan. 6 in support of President Donald Trump.

Congress is heading for a showdown not seen in more than a century on Wednesday, as dozens of Republican lawmakers, under pressure from their constituents and their president, plan to object to the counting of Electoral College votes from up to six battleground states. GOP Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who is spearheading the House objections, said that he knew of at least 50 members of Congress who planned to object, while at least 13 senators have publicly committed to doing so.

The effort won’t overturn Joe Biden’s win, given that Democrats hold a majority in the House and two dozen Republican senators have publicly expressed opposition to the move. But it would give Republican lawmakers up to two hours of debate per contested state to air concerns about electoral fraud and irregularities that some GOP lawmakers and many of their voters say warrant further examination. And as the party begins to look ahead to 2024, it would give presidential hopefuls an opportunity to bolster their credentials with the base.

Democrats have decried the move as a subversion of democracy and an attempt to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans who cast votes this fall. Some of the most vigorous opposition, however, is coming from the objectors’ own side of the aisle. More than a dozen Republican members of Congress – including strong supporters of Donald Trump and the third-most powerful House Republican Liz Cheney – have publicly opposed any congressional intervention. They said it would infringe on states’ rights and undermine American democracy and particularly the Electoral College. 

Susan Walsh/AP/File
GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, shown speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 27, 2020, says it’s "a dangerous path to go down to let Congress override the Electoral College."

“I think it’s a dangerous path to go down to let Congress override the Electoral College,” says Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, one of 12 signatories to a joint statement that expressed outrage with “significant abuses” in the electoral system but said that “to unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

The larger backdrop is how the Republican Party will regroup in the wake of President Donald Trump’s loss. His campaigns and presidency strengthened a populist strain in the GOP that puts pressure on Republicans to hew to his line on issues like electoral fraud – a strain that is likely to remain strong in the next few years. That could complicate the reemergence of more establishment Republicans who have done their best to weather the Trump years without becoming a target of his Twitter outrage.

A big wild card is how involved and influential Mr. Trump himself will continue to be within the party.

In some ways, the GOP divide over Congress’s role vis-a-vis the Electoral College results is an early indication of the struggles the party will face as it navigates its future without Mr. Trump in the White House.

“It is beginning to show the Republican Party grappling with the transition away from Trump as the unquestioned leader of the party,” says Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant based in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C. That said, he adds, there are many factors at work. “The fact that you have Trump-like presidential [candidates] on opposite sides of a major, major vote should tell you how politically complicated this is.”

Electoral count

On Jan. 6, Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as president of the Senate, will open and count the electoral votes certified and submitted by each state in the presence of the House of Representatives and the Senate, as provided for in the 12th Amendment of the Constitution.

Under the 1887 Electoral Count Act, Congress can object to the electors submitted by any state if such an objection is put in writing and signed by at least one representative and one senator. Upon such a written objection, the two bodies separate into their respective chambers for up to two hours of debate, followed by a vote in each chamber. A simple majority is needed to exclude a state’s electors from the total tally. Currently Democrats have a slim majority in the House while Republicans hold 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had privately urged GOP senators not to sign on to any objections, which would put Republicans in the politically difficult situation of having to vote against something President Trump has advocated for. Many worry that such a vote could get them ousted in their next primary election.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri speaks to reporters before a vote on overriding President Trump's veto on the National Defense Authorization Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 1, 2021. Senator Hawley was the first member of the Senate to declare he would object to the the counting of Electoral College votes from up to six battleground states.

But Josh Hawley, a young Republican senator from Missouri, broke ranks last week. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas soon followed, issuing a joint call with 10 other senators to appoint an emergency electoral commission to investigate allegations of fraud and irregularities. He cited a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Nov. 18 showing that two-thirds of Republicans as well as 31% of independents and 17% of Democrats said that they “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the statement, “I am concerned that the election is rigged.” 

Senator Cruz, who like Senator Hawley is a Trump ally and likely presidential contender in 2024, cited the 1876 election as a historical precedent for his electoral commission proposal. 

In that election, unlike this one, three Southern states sent competing slates of electors to Congress and it was up to lawmakers to decide which slate to accept from each state.

Before Congress intervened, Democratic presidential candidate Samuel Tilden was one electoral vote short of a victory and his Republican rival Rutherford B. Hayes trailed well behind. However, in those three Southern states there was evidence of voting fraud and blatant suppression of Black voters, who tended to support the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. A bipartisan commission comprised of lawmakers and Supreme Court justices worked out a deal behind closed doors that ultimately awarded Hayes the presidency and ended Reconstruction, which was unpopular with Southern Democrats, opening the way for the Jim Crow era. Ten years later, Congress passed the 1887 Electoral Count Act designed to guide how Congress should address election disputes.

Mr. Cruz’s joint statement cited “allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities” as necessitating a similar commission. But as Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, yet another likely 2024 contender, pointed out in a long statement explaining his rationale for not objecting, two months and dozens of lawsuits have so far failed to produce any evidence of fraud or irregularities on a scale that would come anywhere close to overturning the results of the election in the six states in question: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Georgia.  

While acknowledging his constituents’ distrust in the electoral system – and blaming the media for compounding it by “flatly declaring on high that ‘there is no fraud!’ – he disagreed with a key premise of Senator Cruz and his fellow objectors: that it is in the public interest for Congress to investigate these claims more thoroughly and thus put to rest concerns about the legitimacy of U.S. elections.

“I take this argument seriously because actual voter fraud – and worries about voter fraud – are poison to self-government,” Senator Sasse wrote. “But there is no evidentiary basis for distrusting our elections altogether, or for concluding that the results do not reflect the ballots that our fellow citizens actually cast.”

The view from Georgia

Another key difference between 1876 and 2020 is that no state has submitted a rival slate of electors. The judiciary committee of Georgia’s state Senate did recommend decertifying the current slate of electors and appointing new ones, but the Georgia General Assembly has not acted on that recommendation.

GOP Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, a freshman representative to Congress, told reporters on Capitol Hill this week that he planned to object to at least his state’s electors on Jan. 6. “My objective is not to have Donald Trump as president – that’s not the objective here,” he said. “The objective is to have an honest election, and I don’t see that we’ve had that, especially in these six states that are going to be contested.” 

But Baoky Vu, a Republican member of the Board of Registrations and Elections in Georgia’s DeKalb County, sees it differently. A day after the release of a recording of President Trump pressuring Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to declare Mr. Trump the rightful winner, Mr. Vu called the president’s efforts “baseless and destructive.”

“I was born in Saigon, I value the right to vote, and it’s sad to see this attempt to destroy American democracy for one’s personal gain,” said Mr. Vu in a phone interview. “I think Donald Trump is out to destroy American democracy; at the same time, he’s out to destroy the Republican Party, I suppose.”

Part of the challenge for Republican politicians is navigating the gray area between examining the integrity of the electoral process but not challenging the validity of the election results.

In addition, it’s unclear how quickly Mr. Trump’s influence within the party may begin to wane after Jan. 20. “Does the Republican Party remain the party of Donald Trump or does the party assess that he has jumped the shark with his behavior and decide to move on?” says Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

One thing is for sure, she says, as Georgians go back to the polls to choose their senators, which will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.

“If Republicans lose Georgia, the blowback is going to be vicious,” says Ms. Pletka. “Because there will be one person to blame.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

A tale of two pandemics: What a difference a century makes

Some precautions have not changed since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. But the need for global cooperation to combat COVID-19 is clearer in our newly connected world.

Mark

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At New Year’s 1919, the world was on the brink of a third wave of the deadly Spanish flu pandemic. There are some parallels with our current plight. But it’s the differences that a century has made which offer some hope.

Masks, social distancing, self-isolation – these are still the same. But the new instant connectivity means citizens worldwide are aware of the pandemic’s effects everywhere, and of how well governments are coping with them.

That has heightened the understanding that no country can successfully contain the pandemic, nor manage its economic fallout, on its own. It will take international cooperation – a commodity in short supply recently.

But there are signs it might be staging a comeback, in new moves to ensure 2 billion vaccine doses for the developing world, for example.

In the face of the 1919 flu, people did not turn in on themselves; they reached out to each other. That human instinct was sometimes fatal on an individual level. Today, on a global level, it could prove to be our saving grace.

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2. A tale of two pandemics: What a difference a century makes

Toby Melville/Reuters
A government public health information message is seen on a roadside sign, amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, in London, Jan. 4, 2021.

There’s no shortage of items on the world’s to-do list as we enter 2021, but one will likely loom largest: the search for common ground to meet a raft of common challenges, at a time when powerful political currents have been pulling us apart.

So will multilateralism and cooperation start staging a comeback against the forces of narrow nationalism?

That won’t be easy, and it will be a while before we’ll know. Yet a trio of early tests will offer clues – stemming the spread of the pandemic, rolling out vaccines to turn it back, and dealing with its huge economic fallout.

And one hint that a new measure of cooperation might prove possible comes from an unlikely source: a Ghost of New Year’s Past, to misquote Charles Dickens.

The new year in question was way back in 1919, at the outset of the third wave of the Spanish flu pandemic. It was a moment with clear similarities to our own struggle with COVID-19. But less obvious – and potentially more telling for 2021 – are the differences between the two.

I’ve been drawing on an expert guide to the pandemic world of a century ago: British science writer Laura Spinney, whose book “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World” has kept me company over the self-isolated holiday period.

It’s not what you’d call easy reading. But it is an eloquently told, assiduously researched story of the 1918-19 pandemic that also paints a vivid portrait of the world as it then was. And it’s hard not to be struck by the differences between that world and our own – and how they might boost the chances of greater cooperation in the months ahead.

The similarities between the two pandemics, such as the impact of common-sense responses (heightened hygiene and social distancing, quarantines and isolation, for example), are intriguing. Still, it’s the differences that could carry the more important message for our post-pandemic future.

Even in the early 1900s, the world was interconnected, and the flu spread around the globe within a few months. Yet our world is far more immediately connected. People are more aware, often in real time, of the pandemic’s effects worldwide – and of how well their governments and others are doing to contain it.

In 1918, Ms. Spinney points out, “Telephones were rare. Long-distance communication was mainly by telegraph, or, in parts of China, carrier pigeon.” And, she might have added, there was no internet. No smartphones. No Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

In the past few days, for instance, people worldwide have been following detailed reports of the appearance in dozens of countries of COVID-19’s latest “British” mutation – a new reminder of the truly borderless nature of the pandemic.

So, too, with the country-by-country scorecard as developed nations begin their uneven rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, while the less-developed world seems likely to be left waiting for many months.

It has already become clear that the challenge of economic recovery is one that pretty much every country in the world will have to face.

And there’s another related difference between the world of New Year’s 1919 and ours in 2021: the greatly accelerated pace of political decisions.

Ms. Spinney records a range of political aftereffects from the pandemic a century ago. Yet many of them came only years later. In today’s world, our immediate access to information and the breadth and speed of communication put pressure on governments and other institutions to respond much more quickly.

So will nations join forces to deal with the global challenges in their New Year’s inboxes?

In the short term, there are obvious obstacles, not least the overriding priority of most governments to deal with the pandemic at home.

But the reality – inescapably and immediately clear in a way that wasn’t true in 1919 – is that no country can successfully cope with the pandemic and its aftershocks in isolation. If COVID-19 isn’t controlled elsewhere there’s the obvious risk it will return. If the pandemic’s crushing economic effects are left unaddressed in poorer nations, there’s every chance of a new surge of migrants seeking work and sustenance in wealthier countries.

If the emerging picture on vaccinations is any guide, there do seem to be prospects for at least some new sense of cooperation.

Nationalism remains a potent force. Individual governments are focused mainly on ensuring availability for their own countries. But the companies behind the vaccines have publicly acknowledged the need to provide sufficient, affordable supplies for all.

And COVAX – an initiative supported by governments in the developed world, multilateral institutions like the World Bank, and private donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – recently announced new agreements giving it access to nearly 2 billion vaccine doses for distribution in the developing world.

Whether this kind of cooperative approach will extend to economic recovery may hinge on another lesson from New Year’s 1919 – not so much about politics as about human nature.

When the Spanish flu began spreading, Ms. Spinney points out, “Your best chance of survival was to be utterly selfish. Assuming you had a place you could call home, the optimal strategy was to stay there … not answer the door … jealously guard your hoard of food and water, and ignore all pleas for help.

“In general, however, people did not do this. They reached out to each other.”

That instinct was sometimes fatal on an individual level in 1919. In 2021, on a global level, it could prove to be our saving grace.

In US-Mexico border towns, pandemic hits businesses especially hard

The economy on the U.S.-Mexico border has long been a little bit different. But this past year has been unlike any other.

Mark
Megan Janetsky
Isabel Navarro at the front of her empty store near a pedestrian border crossing in Nogales, Arizona, on Dec. 19, 2020. Cross-border traffic by shoppers has evaporated due to pandemic restrictions, and she has had to close two of four shops she owns.

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With pandemic border restrictions stretching on, the U.S. side of the boundary in Nogales, Arizona, feels like a ghost town. Normally, businesses here rely heavily on shoppers from Mexico. Now a sales drought persists, even while the harshest effects were felt in the just-finished holiday season.

“This is when we make all of our money,” says Isabel Navarro, owner of a clothing and trinket business here, just a block away from a pedestrian border crossing. 

Regular foot traffic from Mexican shoppers has come to a near standstill. As those restrictions run until at least Jan 21, economies across the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border are reeling.

“Border economies are interdependent,” explains Irasema Coronado, director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. “There are many businesses on the U.S. side of the border that rely and thrive on Mexican shoppers. ... Likewise, there are businesses in Mexico that rely on U.S. shoppers to come and buy.”

“I had four shops, I had to close two already. And if things don't get better, I will have to close another,” Ms. Navarro says.

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3. In US-Mexico border towns, pandemic hits businesses especially hard

The deafening silence seems to wash over Isabel Navarro as she watches the empty aisles of the clothing and trinket store she’s owned for the past 11 years.

It’s among dozens of businesses selling low-priced clothing, shoes, toys, perfumes, and a vast array of products that make up the once-bustling downtown of Nogales, Arizona.

Ms. Navarro’s shop, Mis Divinas, sits just a block away from a pedestrian crossing connecting the small 20,000-population border town to its sprawling 200,000-population sister city of Nogales, Mexico. 

Every year, business owners like Ms. Navarro wait in anticipation for crowds of Mexican families and workers touting their aguinaldos, end-of-year bonuses, to flood over the border and through their doors.

But as border closures from the beginning of the pandemic stretch on, the U.S. side feels more like a ghost town. The challenge persists into the new year, even while the harshest effects were felt in the just-finished holiday season.

“This is when we make all of our money,” Ms. Navarro says in the days leading up to Christmas. “But this year, their aguinaldo isn’t going to be spent here. It’s going to stay in Mexico.”

Peering out to an empty street, she adds, “It looks very sad.”

The U.S., Mexico, and Canada imposed restrictions on land border crossings in March to stop the spread of the virus. Eight months later, land ports on the Mexico border are open for essential activities like work and medical appointments, and to U.S. citizens and green card holders.

But regular foot traffic from Mexican shoppers vital to businesses on the U.S. side of the border has come to a near standstill. As those restrictions run until at least Jan. 21, economies across the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border have crumbled.

“Border economies are interdependent,” explains Irasema Coronado, director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. “There are many businesses on the U.S. side of the border that rely and thrive on Mexican shoppers. ... Likewise, there are businesses in Mexico that rely on U.S. shoppers to come and buy.” 

Megan Janetsky
Once packed to the brim during the week before Christmas, downtown Nogales, Arizona, sits empty on Dec. 19, 2020, due to border restrictions.

Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, describes the extended closures as an “early stay-at-home order that never went away.”

“It’s partially the closure of the border, but also a result of the COVID recession everyone is facing,” Mr. Wilson says. “These communities are getting a double dose of what communities across Mexico and the United States are facing.”

Small-business owners like Ms. Navarro were left reeling. 

Ms. Navarro, born on the Mexican side of Nogales, once crossed with her family to do holiday shopping in stores like the one she currently runs. Now a permanent resident in the U.S., she opened Mis Divinas in downtown Nogales in 2009 and slowly built her business up to four locations.

In the pandemic, she says she lost at least 90% of her customers. Other business owners and employees say the number is closer to 99%.

Aisles of sparkle-studded jackets, hair baubles, bed sets, strollers, bows, and plastic toys lie dormant. Once, she explains, the place was so full she wouldn’t have been able to walk. Now they’re fortunate if 10 people a day come through.

Megan Janetsky
Two shoppers wander through a massive clothing, household items, and trinket shop left largely empty by ongoing U.S.-Mexico border closures in Nogales, Arizona, on Dec. 19, 2020.

“I had four shops, I had to close two already. And if things don’t get better, I will have to close another,” she explains. “I feel sad, really sad. Because it was a lot of work to build it ... then everything began to collapse.”

Before the pandemic, an estimated 350 million people would cross through ports along the U.S.-Mexico border by foot or vehicle every year. 

In April 2020, the first full month of closures, crossings by foot, car, and bus in Nogales fell to just a fifth of what they were in April 2019, data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows.

The impact has been felt up and down the border in other sister cities like El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua; and San Diego, California, and Tijuana in the Mexican state of Baja California.

One report by the Baker Institute for Public Policy concluded that counties along the Texas-Mexico border had lost nearly $4.9 billion in economic activity between March and November 2020 due to COVID-19 border closures. 

The retail sector in those regions has lost approximately $2 billion in eight months, and local governments have lost around $242.6 million in sales tax revenue alone, according to the report.

Dr. Coronado grew up on the Arizona side of Nogales and says she remembers watching her mother write a shopping list for Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora every week. 

“A good binational shopper knows, ‘I can buy this in the U.S., I can buy that in Mexico, and I live better by using both economies,’” she says. 

Megan Janetsky
A barbed wire-lined barrier separates the sister cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, on Dec. 19, 2020.

Both sides of the border survive off one another, she says, and when they’re cut off, both sides wither. She worries that such economies may never fully recover.

Peter Han, the owner of a sportswear shop down the street from Ms. Navarro, wonders the same.

Perched behind his register, he leans back in his chair with a checkered fedora on his head. 

He’s owned the store for 30 years, but says he left his shop closed throughout the pandemic. He has opened the week before Christmas with an inkling of hope that there might be business.

“I’m checking to see how many people come. Maybe next year I’ll close. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. That’s why I came in,” he explains.

But Mr. Han has long stopped peering toward the entrance. Instead, he rather lazily watches Korean singing shows from an old TV set tucked in the corner. The muffled songs are the only sound coming from the shop.

Outside, handwritten signs dot empty display windows of nearby stores. They read, “local en renta,” or “spot for rent,” and “A todos nuestros clientes, se les comunica que permanecerá cerrado hasta nuevo aviso,” or “To all of our customers, this is an advisory that the store will remain closed until further notice. 

Padlocked and chained doors stretch down the street, and a few stray shoppers wander between the handful of stores that still remain open.

“No one has come in. Yesterday, only three people came in. Yesterday, I only earned $10,” Mr. Han says, laughing. “Today, it’s nothing.”

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

#TeamUp

From escapism to learning: How the arts got me through 2020

2020 wasn’t all bad. Our columnist found enrichment and uplift through two of the industries most upended by the pandemic: the arts and education.

Mark
Courtesy of Emily Kikta Peter Walker/Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform Jamar Roberts’ “A Jam Session for Troubling Times.”

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Last year wasn’t easy, but by staying “connected to the arts,” our columnist turned 2020 into an enriching – even uplifting – year, enjoying virtual concerts and dance performances almost every day and going back to school.

“Since last March,” she says, “I have romped through a variety of remote classes: Bach and the Fugue, the Harlem Renaissance, Beethoven’s 250th Birthday, and Origins of the Blues.” Through a chamber music lecture series, she came to appreciate composers she used to avoid. And she reveled in Alvin Ailey dance performances, as well as discussions led by Artistic Director Robert Battle.

Complimenting her “discipline,” a friend told her, “You kept your eye on the prize, despite the pandemic.” She sees it a bit differently: “I like to think I proved that, as David Finckel, co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, said, ‘Music is immune to the virus.’ He’s right. Finding ways to stay connected to the arts, despite my own and the performers’ literal confinement, helped hold any hints of sadness or loneliness or depression at bay.”

Though she’s glad to bid 2020 farewell, she’s bringing her immersion in the arts with her into the new year.

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4. From escapism to learning: How the arts got me through 2020

I know I’m not the only one who’s grateful that 2020 has ended!

After an incredibly busy year launching a new book and starting this column, I paused during the holiday season, took a couple of digital detox days (deliberately not turning on the computer), and began to try to put the past year into context. How could I hold two (or maybe three or more) conflicting thoughts in my head at the same time? 2020 was marked by so much death and misery and disruption, some of which might have been avoided with more coordinated federal leadership.

And yet, thanks to the rapid adoption of new technologies, I have been able to connect with so many colleagues and groups, and spread messages of hope, optimism, and Black brilliance. I could literally Zoom or Google Meet anywhere in the world, all from my home office in New York City.

Many have said that because of the pandemic, technology leaped ahead two years in just two months. That has been a mixed blessing in terms of education. On the one hand, schools’ shift to remote learning left behind children lacking access to technology and robbed those able to log into virtual classrooms of the social interactions so critical to effective learning. On the other, technology expanded people’s locked-down lives with everything from animal cams to nightly operas. I am fortunate to be in the latter group – technology has enriched my experience immeasurably this year.

The “pure joy of learning”

I have always loved education – and always been good at it. It was important to my parents, and therefore to me, that I earn excellent grades, so I did. As an adult, I have been able to transcend the quest for A’s and perfect scores, and now I luxuriate in the pure joy of learning.

My Juilliard Evening Division music studies are a good example. Since last March, I have romped through a variety of remote classes: Bach and the Fugue, the Harlem Renaissance, Beethoven’s 250th Birthday, and Origins of the Blues. Coming up, I will be studying the work, history, and influence of jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker. 

I have also discovered scores of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center talks by resident lecturer Bruce Adolphe and have come to appreciate a number of composers whose work I had tended to avoid. As Mr. Adolphe explains in lectures from 2013 and 2015, French composer Gabriel Fauré “flirted with keys as he lived his romantic life.” Hungarian composer Béla Bartók “used the total chromatic spectrum” and “invented polymodal chromaticism.” And British composer Benjamin Britten “created a world of harmony and bitonality” to express the loneliness and isolation he felt as a gay man before homosexuality was legal in the United Kingdom.

Throughout the pandemic, I have attended almost daily concerts and dance performances, the vast majority of them free. Appropriately (and happily, from my perspective), several of the arts organizations I frequent have begun to charge for their online programming. There is something breathtakingly sad, though, about spending just $15 to hear pianist Jeremy Denk perform brilliantly before scores of empty seats at New York City’s 92nd Street Y.

I have been particularly impressed by the creativity of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I am a patron of the Ailey company and have urged all my friends to join me in watching several new socially distanced ballets created specifically for video. I have also watched illuminating taped conversations between Artistic Director Robert Battle and a range of experts, including Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis. Their dissection of the creative collaborations between composer Duke Ellington and choreographer Alvin Ailey was so rich that I listened to it twice while it was available as part of the Ailey Forward virtual season. I judge an event to be successful if my brain cells tingle, and those cells tingled every time I tuned in to an Ailey performance or conversation! 

Courtesy of MatthewSeptimus
The New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinet, Anthony McGill, performed as part of the Lincoln Center's "Memorial for Us All" concert series, which honored the pandemic's victims. In his concert, Mr. McGill also honored Black men, women, and children killed by police.

Beauty, sorrow, and progress

A dear friend complimented my “discipline,” saying, “You kept your eye on the prize, despite the pandemic.” I like to think I proved that, as David Finckel, co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, said, “Music is immune to the virus.” He’s right. Finding ways to stay connected to the arts, despite my own and the performers’ literal confinement, helped hold any hints of sadness or loneliness or depression at bay.

And yet sometimes you are supposed to cry. 

New York City’s Lincoln Center organized an online series of Sunday concerts this past spring called Memorial for Us All. The series honored the pandemic’s victims, with some of the names of those who died scrolling by during performances. On Sunday, June 7, the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinet, Anthony McGill, did something different. The orchestra’s only African American principal player (yes, in 2020!) included the names of some of the Black men, women, and children killed by police – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and too many others – alongside those lost to the pandemic. Their names scrolled past while he performed two compositions by Damien Sneed and his own arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” a deliberately discordant version that I choose to call “America the Not-So-Beautiful.” After the final note, Mr. McGill took two knees.

Sometimes, you are supposed to cry – and then march forward, if you are able, to see what the new year will bring. 

Jacqueline Adams is co-author of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive.”

As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.

In remote hilltop town, new pride in a biblical empire

Residents of the town built on the ruins of a biblical empire’s capital don’t know if they are descended from the Edomites. But the history, they insist, is their inheritance.

Mark
Taylor Luck
A resident carrying vegetables passes through an archway proudly claiming "Capital of Edom," in the town of Busayra, southern Jordan, Oct. 11, 2020.

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The area around Busayra, a hilltop town in southern Jordan, is famous for apples and guava, not empire. That wasn’t always the case. Biblical Bozrah was the capital of Edom, an empire from 3,000 years ago. At the civilization’s peak, archaeologists estimate, as many as 1 million Edomites lived in Bozrah and its surrounding villages.

Edomites leveraged their capital city’s position on an ancient caravan route to make it a crossroads for trade and make Edom the beating heart of Iron Age globalization.

Not many years ago, Busayra’s residents knew little of the origin of the rock piles, stone walls, and pottery shards that poked out between homes and littered the hillside town. But educational and tourism initiatives have instilled great pride.

Safa Faris Hamed Al-Rfooh, director and co-founder of the Busayra Foundation for Cultural Heritage, grew up across the street from the remains of the Edomite ruling palace. “I heard it was built by the Edomites,” she says, “but I had no idea who they were or what was inside.”

“Now there is a sense in our community that we are home to a great civilization, and everyone wants to share it.”

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5. In remote hilltop town, new pride in a biblical empire

The unusual yet familiar name is etched in Arabic on an imposing, blinding-white limestone archway at the entrance to the sleepy town, a welcome sign from millennia ago: “Capital of Edom.”

A passerby stops to reassure a wayward visitor.

“You’re in the right place,” he says, gesturing to the arch. “Welcome to the land of Edom.”

Mentioned in the Bible and other Jewish texts and by Egyptian pharaohs and Roman historians, the Edomites ruled a closely guarded empire 3,000 years ago in southern Arabia and the southwestern Levant from mountainside fortresses and a fortified walled capital city, Bozrah.

Here in modern-day Busayra, a small farming town in southern Jordan built on and around the Iron Age Edomite capital, residents are anxious to welcome the world and share their Edomite heritage. 

It’s more than a tourism opportunity. It’s a matter of civic pride.

Yet despite being just an hour’s drive on a direct road from the famed rock-carved Nabataean city of Petra, which drew 1 million visitors in 2019, few tourists have come to Edom.

The only traffic to this town of 10,000 people are dented fruit and vegetable pickup trucks chugging up from the Jordan Valley and nearby orchards.

The area is famous for apples and guava, not empire.

Plans are afoot to change that, though the first hurdle was local education.

Sustainable heritage

Not many years ago, local residents knew little of the origin of the rock piles, stone walls, and pottery shards that poked out between homes and littered the hillside town.

Even fewer knew exactly what were the hilltop remains of what is now known to be the heart of the ancient capital, a site shared with the local boys school.

“I used to play in the site, but I didn’t know what it was,” says Safa Faris Hamed Al-Rfooh, director and co-founder of the Busayra Foundation for Cultural Heritage, who grew up across the street from the remains of the Edomite ruling palace. “I heard it was built by the Edomites, but I had no idea who they were or what was inside.”

Busayra Foundation for Cultural Heritage
Safa Faris Hamed Al-Rfooh, a researcher into the Edomite site of Bozrah and director of the Busayra Foundation for Cultural Heritage, stands at the entrance to a cultural festival in Busayra, in southern Jordan.

In 2014, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the American Center of Oriental Research teamed up with community activists to raise local awareness of the Edomite site’s importance, as part of the Sustainable Cultural Heritage through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP).

USAID-SCHEP organized residents to improve the site’s presentation and management and run activities in schools and other events teaching the site’s history to other residents.

Signage and paths were developed to guide visitors through the foundations and walls of the Edomite palace, temple, baths, a meandering market, and city gates, which stand at the highest peak in the town.

From this hilltop town overlooking windswept plains of wheat, olive groves, and guava trees, the Edomites ruled as early as the 13th century B.C. At the civilization’s peak in the 8th century B.C., some archaeologists estimate, as many as 1 million Edomites lived in Bozrah and its surrounding villages.

Edomites leveraged their capital city’s position at the midway point of the King’s Highway (still used today as Jordan’s Route 35), an ancient caravan route that ran from the Red Sea north to Damascus and beyond. The crossroads for trade between ancient Egypt, the Mediterranean, Babylonia, the Red Sea, and Arabia made Edom the beating heart of Iron Age globalization.

From here they controlled the trade of incense from interior Arabia, glass and papyrus from Egypt, Edomite copper, medicinal herbs from the north, and reportedly silks as far away as India.

Newfound passion

Today, Busayra residents have become passionate cheerleaders for the history and archaeology, ready with a sports fan’s fervor to discuss the Edomites’ greatness at a moment’s notice.

“People talk about the Nabataeans and the Romans as civilizations, but no one hears much about the Edomites who were an empire, and they only lived right here,” Khaled Saoud, a resident who works in ecotourism, says as he leans down and pats the ground with his hand. “We have to get visitors to see this for themselves!”

Taylor Luck
Stone walls and foundations of the ancient hilltop city of Bozrah, the 3,000-year-old capital of the biblical Edomites, are seen in Busayra, southern Jordan, Oct. 11, 2020.

“There were millions of people living on this soil 3,000 years ago,” says Ibrahim Rifai, carrying groceries through the modern Edom city gate. “We are walking on the foundations of a great civilization.”

“The Iron Age was a period of great civilizations; Ammon, Moab, Babylon,” says Ms. Al-Rfooh, who is completing her master’s dissertation on the Bozrah site. “And the Edomites were among the strongest of them all.”

“Now there is a sense in our community that we are home to a great civilization, and everyone wants to share it.”

To raise Busayra’s profile and continue conservation work, Ms. Al-Rfooh and others began promoting Edom and the range of Byzantine and Islamic sites later built upon its foundations to Jordanians and the wider world.

While COVID-19 has put tourist travel to Jordan on hold, Busayra residents have been hard at work creating experiences to welcome visitors once it returns.

Cooking classes

One initiative is the Edom trail, running past the sites in the city, and a second, longer 7-kilometer trail winding down the jagged valley below to the imposing, honeycomb rock-cut Edomite fortress of Sela. 

The Busayra Foundation has trained local residents to create pottery modeled off the shards found here. Visitors will be able to take mosaic workshops and a cooking class to learn to make ragaga, a local staple made of wheat dough strips, yogurt, and lentils – ingredients available to the Edomites.

Yet much is left to be learned from the site itself, and questions remain unanswered, such as the Edomites’ fate.

Several archaeologists believe Edom never recovered after the Babylonians sacked Bozrah in the 6th century B.C., leading the Nabataeans to claim much of their empire in the 4th Century B.C.

Edomites slowly migrated to Wadi Araba and the Negev in southwest Judea, where some say they produced historical figures such as Herod the Great, melded with the local population, and then disappeared from the historical record.

With centuries of migration between the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula, it is impossible to say whether Busayra’s residents are the Edomites’ direct descendants, but they insist it is their inheritance, and one they will share with all.

“The Edomites left this as our inheritance, and the best way to protect this 3,000-year-old treasure is to share it,” says Yazen Falah, a volunteer who now serves as the Foundation’s program manager.

“Our doors are open, our food is ready, our buildings are ready; as soon the coronavirus pandemic lessens and people can come – Edom is open again.”

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Why 2021 brings hope on climate change

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Buried in the $900 billion, 5,593-page economic stimulus bill recently passed by Congress lies a significant boost to efforts to address global warming: some $35 billion that will fund solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean energy programs. 

Is it a big deal? “This is perhaps the most significant climate legislation Congress has ever passed,” Grant Carlisle, a senior policy adviser at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Washington Post.

During his campaign President-elect Joe Biden vowed to make climate change one of his top priorities, along with defeating the pandemic and repairing its economic damage. These new funds give his efforts a kick-start. Plenty of evidence can be cited raising concerns that global warming is already underway.

But new hope has emerged too. If greenhouse gas emissions can be brought down to net zero, the warming will level off, says climate scientist Joeri Rogelj at the Imperial College London, and “the climate will stabilize within a decade or two. There will be very little to no additional warming. Our best estimate is zero.”

That encouraging news should help dispel a sense of despair or hopelessness. 2021 becomes a crucial year to step up international efforts to bring about that brighter climate future.

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Why 2021 brings hope on climate change

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Activists light candles spelling 'Fight For 1 Point 5' in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Dec. 11, 2020. The number refers to hopes for limiting global warming.

Buried in the $900 billion, 5,593-page economic stimulus bill recently passed by Congress – by far the longest bill ever passed by that body – lies a significant boost to efforts to address global warming: some $35 billion that will fund solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean energy programs. 

Is it a big deal? “This is perhaps the most significant climate legislation Congress has ever passed,” Grant Carlisle, a senior policy adviser at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Washington Post.

During his campaign President-elect Joe Biden vowed to make climate change one of his top priorities, along with defeating the pandemic and repairing its economic damage. These new funds give his efforts a kick-start.

So will some $40 billion in loans available to the Department of Energy, funds allotted to the agency but not used under the previous administration. 

Together they still represent a tiny fraction of the spending that will be needed to curb global warming in coming years. The Biden plan offsets some of that cost through programs that promote a robust clean energy economy, generating many new jobs. 

To what extent Congress will go along remains to be seen. Which party controls the Senate, to be determined by today’s election of two senators in Georgia, will be a factor. But regardless of that outcome bipartisan cooperation will be important.

Dec. 12, 2020, marked five years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries, that called for vigorous efforts to cut climate-warming emissions. It seeks to halt global warming before it reaches an additional 1.5 degrees Celsius (or, at worst, 2 degrees C). Research and current models predict that exceeding these levels could have disastrous effects on global weather. While some progress has been made, the 2 C threshold may be exceeded as early as 2034, the World Economic Forum says.

Mr. Biden has pledged that the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement, which the U.S. left under President Donald Trump.

While the pandemic did cut world greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 7% to 8% in 2020, emissions are expected to soar again as world economies recover. 

2020 also saw vast wildfires tear through forests from Australia to the U.S. West. Arctic sea ice shrank to an extent exceeded only once before. The Mojave Desert in the U.S. hit the highest temperature ever recorded, 54.4 degrees C (130 degrees Fahrenheit). And 2020 may be one of the two hottest years on record. 

Plenty of evidence can be cited raising concerns that global warming is already underway.

But new hope has emerged too. Earlier climate models assumed that global warming is baked into Earth’s future for decades, if not centuries, to come, regardless of what is done now. 

That no longer looks to be true. If greenhouse gas emissions can be brought down to net zero, the warming will level off, says climate scientist Joeri Rogelj at the Imperial College London, and “the climate will stabilize within a decade or two. There will be very little to no additional warming. Our best estimate is zero.”

That encouraging news should help dispel a sense of despair or hopelessness about climate change. The world is capable of making changes that will head off a disaster and assure a livable world in coming decades. 

2021 now becomes a crucial year to step up international efforts to bring about that brighter climate future.

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.

A year crowned with goodness

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“Crowned with goodness” may seem an unlikely descriptor of 2020 and the start of 2021. But the recognition that God imparts goodness to His children at every moment empowers us to feel and share God’s love, care, and peace more fully.

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1. A year crowned with goodness

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The holiday decorations went up earlier than usual in 2020 (at least in our neighborhood). As they now get stored away for the next 11 months, it occurs to me there may well be some lingering reflections of their hopeful sparkle to carry into – and through – the new year.

Admittedly, there remain looming elements of sickness, danger, entrenched self-interest, etc. But to the extent that our resolutions and aspirations for 2021 reflect higher – that is, more spiritual – goals, we can help forward progress, peace, health, fairness, and compassion in our world. Our prayers can help the “peace on earth, good will toward men” celebrated during the holidays find their way more fully into thought and activity all through the new year – starting right now.

Through my study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the lasting nature of spiritual blessings. Because God, good, is supreme, there is no power that can rob us of the richness and fullness of the blessings God imparts to each of us. The Bible offers this promise of God’s love: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness” (Psalms 65:11).

Recently, I asked myself the question, When does this crowning take place: at the year’s end or beginning? I saw that the answer is both – and all through the middle, too! God is always crowning every year with goodness. Thinking back to last year, and to the difficulties that lie ahead, we may find ourselves wondering if we can really describe either the previous or the coming years as “crowned with goodness.” Again, the answer is yes, to both.

Amid the untold hardships of the year just finished, there has also been moving evidences of the courage, fortitude, compassion, intelligence, insight to find solutions and answers, and other qualities that God has given us – crowned us with. As divine Love itself, God expresses goodness and care in all of us. As the new year opens, through prayer we can take solid hold of that divine goodness, and play our part in radiating God’s truth and love outward. In this way, we help our communities feel the crowning embrace of infinite Love.

Some years ago, our family discovered how a genuine need can be crowned with goodness in advance, and how we see it when trusting in God’s infinitely loving, healing presence. Our growing family needed a different home, but there was such tension – financially and emotionally – about the whole idea that it was eroding family harmony and progress.

When we finally did begin searching for a different home, we just couldn’t find one that met our needs. Earnestly, we reached out in prayer to God. As we did, we began to let divine Love, rather than fear or willfulness, shape our motives and guide our path. This enabled us to better perceive God’s grace as already present, always in operation, and blessing us each step of the way.

The tension lifted, and in time an unexpected opportunity arose to purchase a home that met our family’s needs perfectly. It was a unique solution because the sellers wished to purchase our home, which perfectly met their own needs. The transaction helped all involved in wonderful ways.

A lasting takeaway from our relocation experience was that cherishing divine Love’s universal, infallible goodness can become an unfailing guide day by day, year by year. And this applies to problems of all kinds, whether large or small.

Nothing unlike pure, infinite goodness ever comes from God, including disease, division, hatred, injustice, or any other form of discord. Realizing the spiritual fact that we are made and forever maintained in God’s image, spiritual and entirely cared for, gives us a truer sense of security and more lasting health and harmony. Affirming in prayer that God is infinitely good, we draw nearer to the Divine and become ever more certain about God’s readiness and ability to provide everything we need.

The discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote on New Year’s morning in 1910,

O blessings infinite!
O glad New Year!
Sweet sign and substance
Of God’s presence here.
(“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 354)

Each wish for a “Happy New Year” carries with it the potential to foreshadow uncompromised blessings in 2021. What encouragement we can find in knowing that even such a simple phrase, when undergirded by spiritual conviction, offers a crowning vision of the goodness of the Christ, divine Truth, making itself known and felt among our friends and neighbors.

Some more great ideas! To read or share an article for teenagers on the value of a more spiritual understanding of manhood titled “What does it mean to be a real man?” please click through to the TeenConnect section of www.JSH-Online.com. There is no paywall for this content.

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Ice sculpture on a grand scale

Chinatopix/AP
Visitors tour the annual Harbin Ice and Snow World in Harbin in northeast China's Heilongjiang province on Jan. 5, 2021. In recent years the event has become known as the largest ice and snow festival in the world.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when we look at President-elect Joe Biden’s relationships in the Senate and how they could shape his administration.

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