2021
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Monitor Daily Podcast

February 10, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

This Arab science mission to Mars is powered mostly by women

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

In the United Arab Emirates, “seeing red” has taken on new meaning. Throughout the small Arab kingdom Tuesday night, buildings were lit up with a crimson glow signaling their latest achievement. 

The UAE is the first Arab nation (and only the fifth country or space agency) to successfully reach Mars. The UAE’s Hope probe, sent to study the red planet’s weather, arrived in orbit Tuesday.

By bypassing the moon and boldly shooting for Mars, the UAE is inspiring technical and scientific innovation. It’s part of a broader shift from oil to a knowledge-based economy. “If you want to stimulate growth really rapidly, and you want to enable an entire generation to develop their skills and capacity and capability at a rapid manner, you need to take on large risks,” Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, told Axios.

The UAE partnered with Japan and several American universities. But nearly half of the 450 people working on the Hope mission are Emiratis. Women make up 80% of the mission scientists and 34% of the engineers. All are developing valuable skills, and a taste for reaching for the stars. 

And every time another nation on Earth reaches another planet, it makes the cosmos less distant and more accessible. 

In the UAE, they’re savoring what’s been achieved. “Let us all look up to the dark sky and smile,” wrote the Gulf News.

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‘The country needs you’: Enlisting veterans to fight extremism

Veterans are revered in American culture, making them prized recruits for far-right and supremacist groups. We look at efforts to enlist veterans to use their moral authority to counter online disinformation.

David
Jim Bourg/Reuters
Donovan Ray Crowl (center) and Jessica Marie Watkins (center left), both from Ohio, march down the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol with the Oath Keepers militia in Washington Jan. 6, 2021. Both are military veterans who have since been indicted by federal authorities for their alleged roles in the Capitol siege.

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After supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, details emerged that more than two dozen veterans and four active-duty service members face charges for their role in the riot.

In response, the military has pledged to reexamine its recruiting and retention practices, and some veterans are seeking to step up their own fight against extremist groups recruiting from military ranks.

The stature of veterans in American culture, coupled with their tactical expertise, make them prized targets for paramilitary and supremacist groups. Only a fraction of America’s 20 million veterans belong to supremacist groups, experts say. At the same time, by some estimates, a quarter or more of the country’s roughly 20,000 militia members spent time in the military.

“There’s a pedestal phenomenon in America with veterans,” says Welton Chang, a former Army intelligence officer who seeks to counter racist and anti-government disinformation targeted at his peers.

“Society has gone way overboard in ascribing us some kind of special moral stature because of our service,” he says. “But the other part of that is, it gives us the opportunity to make a difference.”

‘The country needs you’: Enlisting veterans to fight extremism

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Kristofer Goldsmith’s discharge from the Army following a suicide attempt in 2007 sent him spiraling into anger and alienation. The Iraq War veteran, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, reentered civilian life bereft of purpose. He found refuge online, where political antagonism and anti-government conspiracy theories gave shape to an alternate reality.

“I became a pretty hardcore libertarian and almost a 9/11 truther,” he recalls. “It was a self-destructive time.”

Mr. Goldsmith regained his equilibrium with the aid of therapists at the Department of Veterans Affairs and later enrolled in college as he discovered a new life path as an activist. The former sergeant founded High Ground Veterans Advocacy in 2016, and since has earned a national reputation for exposing online disinformation that targets former service members.

In 2019, appearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, he detailed the findings of a two-year investigation he conducted for Vietnam Veterans of America. He unearthed hundreds of fake accounts for veterans and veterans groups on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms that promoted extremist content through caustic memes and bogus news articles, attracting hundreds of thousands of followers.

Mr. Goldsmith, who traced many of the pages to operatives in Russia, Nigeria, and other countries, warned lawmakers that failing to protect veterans from online manipulation could further inflame the country’s political tensions.

He waited a year for the government to act. Finally, days before the November election, federal officials launched a public awareness campaign to educate veterans about the problem.

Two months later, after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, details emerged that more than two dozen veterans face charges for their role in the riot. One member of the mob, an Air Force veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was among five people who died that day.

The news elicited frustration more than surprise from Mr. Goldsmith. “Nobody can say they didn’t see this coming,” he says.

The Capitol siege has intensified concerns about current and former service members participating in far-right militias and white supremacist groups. In response, the military has pledged to reexamine its recruiting and retention practices, and veterans advocates are imploring those who once wore the uniform to confront extremism in America.

“As a veteran, you have credibility to use,” says Chris Purdy, the project manager of Veterans for American Ideals, a nonpartisan advocacy program run by Human Rights First. “If you’re not going to use it, you have to know the consequences for the country.”

Pentagon officials have vowed to increase policing of white nationalism in the armed forces, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered an operational pause across the military within the next 60 days to address the crisis. National veterans organizations condemned the Capitol attack, and at least two – Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS – intend to expel members found guilty of illegal acts or violence.

Mr. Goldsmith and other advocates seek to prevent more former service members from succumbing to extremist ideology by appealing to their sense of honor. He envisions building an “army of veterans” who, in effect, enlist again to preserve democracy, joining the fight against right-wing radicalism online and offline.

“This is an opportunity for you to play your part and serve in a meaningful way,” he says. “The country needs you.”

Bebeto Matthews/AP/File
Iraq War veteran Kristofer Goldsmith, shown at Columbia University in New York on May 9, 2018, founded High Ground Veterans Advocacy and has earned a national reputation for exposing online disinformation that targets former service members.

Calling out extremism

Experts in extremism point out that only a fraction of America’s 20 million veterans belong to supremacist groups. At the same time, by some estimates, a quarter or more of the country’s roughly 20,000 militia members spent time in the military.

More veterans began gravitating to white nationalist and anti-government groups in the early post-Vietnam era, angered by a cold reception at home and what they perceived as the military’s betrayal of troops. Their numbers grew during the 1990s when Democrats tightened federal gun laws, and spiked again during the Obama administration in reaction to the country electing its first Black president.

Far-right activism – with the involvement of veterans – surged higher under Mr. Trump. He galvanized the movement with his refusal to vigorously condemn white supremacy and his embrace of QAnon and other “deep state” conspiracies. In the weeks before the Capitol siege, he fomented supporters with baseless claims of election fraud, House impeachment managers argued during his Senate trial Wednesday.

The stature of veterans in American culture, coupled with their tactical expertise and leadership and survival skills, make them prized recruits for paramilitary and supremacist groups. Several right-wing militias focus on attracting former military and law enforcement personnel, as much for the aura of legitimacy they lend the cause as for their ability to influence the views of family members and friends.

One of the most prominent militias, Oath Keepers, was founded by a former Army paratrooper in 2009. Federal authorities have charged three veterans linked to the militia in connection with the attack on Congress.

The allure of nationalist groups for veterans relates to a sense of purpose and kinship reminiscent of the military, explains retired Army Col. Carl Castro, who deployed twice to Iraq. An associate professor at the University of Southern California, he studies what draws veterans to far-right extremism. Other common reasons include lingering frustration over their treatment in the service, disillusionment with civilian life, and the struggle to find meaningful work.

“These groups say, ‘Join us and you’ll be a leader.’ That can be attractive for those who think their skills and experience are being undervalued,” he says.

The Military Times reported last year that more than a third of active-duty troops had witnessed examples of white nationalism or racism within the military. At least four current service members have been charged for participating in the Capitol insurrection.

Mr. Castro’s research, funded by the National Institute of Justice, will attempt to identify risk factors for extremist tendencies. The data could enable the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to detect and avert an individual’s descent into radicalization. 

“Leaders need to do better about calling that stuff out, and troops need to treat one another better,” he says. “And then that needs to carry over after they’ve left the military.”

Congress held hearings last February on white supremacy in the armed services. Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, testified that Pentagon officials and unit commanders have failed to track, report, and crack down on extremist behavior.

Ms. Beirich suggests that the military screen the social media accounts of recruits for far-right content and review the posts of service members on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms as part of security clearance background checks. She adds that last month’s riot illustrated with brutal clarity the importance of creating programs to deradicalize adherents.

“There’s no intervention process in the military or for civilians to stop extremism,” she says. “That has to change.”

In the near term, the Pentagon’s inspector general plans to review the military’s enforcement of policies that bar service members from joining far-right groups. Federal lawmakers will weigh legislation to enhance measures to screen for and root out white supremacists in the ranks, and President Joe Biden has ordered a national assessment of domestic terrorism.

“It’s long overdue,” Ms. Beirich says. “We may finally have an administration taking this problem seriously.”

A unique voice

A 2009 investigation by the Department of Homeland Security warned of growing efforts by nationalist and supremacist groups to recruit Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Republican lawmakers, veterans organizations, and conservative media charged that the report perpetuated the “disgruntled vet” stereotype, and the backlash blunted federal scrutiny and public discussion of homegrown terrorism.

Veterans advocates consider the presence of former service members in the Capitol mob as stark evidence of the report’s prescience – and the need for more veterans to counter the radical right ethos.

“We served for the ideals of freedom and democracy, and that’s not what this populist movement stands for,” says Pam Campos-Palma, a political strategist with Vets for the People, a progressive advocacy group.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, center, speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, June 25, 2017. Several members of the Oath keepers have been charged with crimes relating to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6

The former Air Force intelligence analyst, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, contends that veterans who engage in violent extremism should lose their VA benefits and other privileges. Those charged in the Jan. 6 uprising could face that punishment if they wind up court-martialed.

“Rioting at the Capitol in the name of white supremacy and racism, attempting to overturn the results of an election – that’s the exact opposite of serving your country,” she says.

Mr. Purdy, with Veterans for American Ideals, recognizes that those who devoted years of their lives to the military might feel others should bear the burden of deterring domestic extremism.

“After 20 years of continuous war, the veterans community is exhausted,” he says. “They’ve done their duty.”

Yet Mr. Purdy, a former sergeant in the Army National Guard who deployed to Iraq, has observed the eagerness of veterans across the political spectrum to preserve democratic principles and practices. His group recruited 1,000 former service members to serve as poll workers on Election Day in Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The call for volunteers lured Trump and Biden supporters alike, united by a desire to ensure the election’s integrity. He found reason for optimism in their ideological diversity.

“We’re not going to force anyone to get involved in fighting back against white extremism,” he says. “But veterans have to be aware that their voice is being co-opted and used by these groups to harm democracy. So it’s essential that those who don’t want to see that happen speak out, because the veteran’s voice is unique.”

The revered status of veterans, while giving weight to their words and actions, can hinder their reintegration into post-military life. Commanders condition them to regard their service as a form of exceptionalism, instilling a sense of “otherness” that leads some to withdraw after returning home, a symptom of the so-called military-civilian divide.

Right-wing militias and supremacist groups seek to exploit that estrangement from wider society, offering veterans a chance to join a like-minded tribe pursuing a mission to “protect” the country. Mr. Castro urges veterans to instead find renewed purpose in advocating for common dignity, to reconnect with their communities and approach their return to the civilian world with humility.

“Military service members and veterans don’t exist in a vacuum. We exist within American culture,” he says. “You can’t place yourself above or apart from civilians. We’re all citizens.”

Signing up once more

Mr. Goldsmith’s research into online disinformation draws a link between rising rancor among veterans and social media campaigns that spread misleading and false reports on veterans issues and U.S. politics. President Biden’s willingness to denounce far-right radicalism gives him a degree of confidence that federal officials will take up his recommendations to shield troops and veterans from the flow of deceptions and distortions. 

Beyond potential government action, Mr. Goldsmith suggests that veterans groups and the VA marshal a volunteer network of former service members to act as cybersecurity sleuths. The online army could monitor and flag suspicious accounts, coordinating with social media companies, intelligence agencies, and veterans organizations to inhibit conspiracy theories that corrupt notions of patriotism.

“What we’ve seen is the gamification of disinformation,” he says. “So we have to get into the same mindset if we’re going to disrupt and counter these fake accounts and the damage they’re doing.”

Welton Chang imagines a similar strategy for thwarting social media malefactors. The chief technology officer for Human Rights First, he has developed online tools to track extremist content and propaganda. He wants to enhance the ability of veterans groups and other organizations to expose fake accounts that inundate troops and former service members with far-right, racist, and anti-government tropes.

“There has to be consequences for people doing this kind of thing because we’re tearing ourselves apart,” says Mr. Chang, a former Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq. He asserts that the Biden administration must rein in online platforms to slow the advance of extremism.

“There’s got to be government action,” he says. “It’s the only entity that can go one-on-one with the social media companies.”

A few members of his old unit bared extremist attitudes online during Mr. Trump’s time in office, posting comments, memes, and articles on Facebook that scorned immigrants and racial equality. He broke off contact with them. They seemed oblivious or unmoved that Mr. Chang – who as a boy emigrated with his parents from Taiwan to America – would view the content as offensive.

The corrosion of veteran solidarity that social media has magnified in recent years mirrors the larger loss of public civility across the culture. After the dystopian spectacle of Jan. 6, Mr. Chang holds hope that more veterans will sign up once more to defend the country – this time from a threat within.

“There’s a pedestal phenomenon in America with veterans,” he says. “Society has gone way overboard in ascribing us some kind of special moral stature because of our service. But the other part of that is, it gives us the opportunity to make a difference.”

Battleground states ask: Is voting in America too easy – or too hard?

One byproduct of the 2020 vote is less faith in the integrity of the American electoral process. Each major party is trying to fix different facets. We look at how that’s going.

David

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In the first weeks of 2021, 37 state legislatures filed more than 500 bills to expand voting access, far exceeding the 188 expansive bills introduced at the start of the 2020 legislative session.

But more than 165 bills across 33 states would tighten voting rules. These include adding identification requirements to mail-in voting in Georgia and allowing state lawmakers to overturn the popular vote in Arizona.

This nationwide tug of war between expansion and restriction reflects the debate among GOP lawmakers in Georgia, which voted for a Democratic president for the first time since 1992. Some lawmakers there want to argue the party’s merit directly with voters.

Others see it differently. “They’ve got to change the major parts of [election laws] so that we at least have a shot of winning,” says Alice O’Lenick, an election official in suburban Atlanta.

Yet Georgia’s 11 restrictive voting bills face an uphill climb, in part because ease-of-voting rules are popular among majorities of Democrats and Republicans.

In the end, demographic shifts in Georgia and Arizona, which also flipped for Mr. Biden, may be changing the political makeup in these battleground states in ways that will endure past 2020 – and have little to do with voting rules.

Battleground states ask: Is voting in America too easy – or too hard?

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Brynn Anderson/AP/File
A person votes at the Dunwoody Library in the glow of a voting machine after a storm from Hurricane Zeta knocked out power across Georgia during early voting on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, in Dunwoody. The state voted for a Democratic president for the first time since 1992.

How easy should it be to vote in the United States? 

The answer to that question – like so many other things in 21st-century America – depends on where one sits politically. Republicans believe voter fraud threatens the integrity and fairness of U.S. elections. Democrats see voter suppression as one of the greatest challenges to a democratic process that values everyone equally.

Nearly 160 million people voted in 2020 – the highest number ever and the greatest percentage in 120 years. But instead of viewing that as a sign of a healthy and active democracy, many Americans have doubts about the outcome and are concerned that somehow, something went wrong. Now the election – having already been weighed in on by dozens of state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court – is being scrutinized by state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as they examine ways to shape future elections, and their own party’s political fortunes.

“We live in a country that historically has had a very strained relationship with the right to vote,” says Garrett Epps, an emeritus law professor at the University of Baltimore. “There’s a lot of leeway for anti-democratic, authoritarian ideologues to claim the blessing of the Constitution.” 

The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to determine how elections are run. However, as some 90 judges made plain in more than 60 court cases filed by lawyers for former President Donald Trump and his allies, those rules need to be established before elections are held – not after.

In just the first weeks of 2021, 37 state legislatures introduced, prefiled, or carried over more than 500 bills to expand voting access, far exceeding the 188 expansive bills filed at the start of the 2020 legislative session, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These bills would continue the trend of the past 100 years to make it easier for Americans, including women and minorities, to exercise their civic duty, including by absentee voting.

But more than 165 bills in 33 states – including the 2020 battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia – would tighten voting rules. That’s up from 35 the previous year. These include everything from adding identification requirements to mail-in voting in Georgia to one Arizona measure that would allow state lawmakers to overturn the popular vote and declare the winner themselves.

Athena Salman first heard a similar idea proposed about five years ago. When she became an Arizona state representative in 2017, a newly elected Republican lawmaker had a suggestion that took her aback: Why not abolish the 17th Amendment and return the right to pick U.S. senators to state legislatures? “It’s a power grab,” says state Representative Salman, now the Democratic minority whip. And it means “this decade will show whether Republicans can widen their umbrella or [will] further evolve into a party that fully embraces authoritarianism.”

Ross D. Franklin/AP
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, left, talks with Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Jan. 11, 2021. Representative Salman is the legislature's minority whip.

Concerns in Pennsylvania and Georgia

Some GOP election officials like Al Schmidt in Philadelphia, which livestreamed its vote count in the name of transparency, stand by election workers’ valiant efforts to uphold democracy during a pandemic. But others in his party saw Election Day chaos, and state lawmakers have filed 14 bills to restrict voting.

“I wouldn’t say that the real concern is that [states] will keep voters from voting, but it’s really about addressing legitimate integrity issues and different philosophies of what’s a good election,” says John Fortier, an election integrity expert at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, in Washington. “There’s big ideology pushing on both sides: Yes, integrity is good and openness is good, but sometimes with these practices it’s a little bit more complicated.”

Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers interviewed, while mostly not alleging widespread fraud, point to confusion and their voters’ concerns that something went wrong during the 2020 election. Constant but evidence-free allegations of a stolen election helped sow doubts that party members are now using to explain why new voting restrictions are needed.

“We are not prepared to suggest any criminal behavior – we don’t have evidence beyond reasonable doubt for that – but there is evidence beyond all doubt of mass confusion and inconsistencies between polling places, and the handling of provisional ballots,” says Al Lindsay, a lawyer and GOP chair in Butler County, north of Pittsburgh. Talk of stolen elections and revolution “lives in an environment ... where people lack confidence that it really is one man, one vote. That then becomes a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and fraud – and it’s very, very dangerous.”

Meanwhile in Georgia, 38% of the electorate believe there was widespread fraud in the election. That’s despite two statewide recounts, including one by hand. The breakdown: 76% of Republicans say the election was fraudulent, compared with 40% of independents and 4% of Democrats, according to a poll released last week by the University of Georgia.

Post-election efforts to influence Georgia’s vote tally are also raising concerns. Today, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis opened a criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the election, reportedly including the call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Mr. Trump said, "All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes.”

After making Joe Biden the first Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 to win the state, Georgia voters followed that up on Jan. 5 by booting two incumbent Republican senators in a runoff in favor of two Democratic senators, tipping the balance of power in Washington. That has left the state GOP split between those who claim the election was bogus and those who want to move on and argue the party’s merit directly with voters.

“The GOP is going to have to increase their base by appealing to minority voters and in-migration from outside the South into the state,” says Trey Hood, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, in Athens.

But some Republicans see it another way. “They’ve got to change the major parts of [election laws] so that we at least have a shot of winning,” Alice O’Lenick, an election official in suburban Atlanta, told the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Georgia lawmakers have filed 11 bills ranging from a ban on new residents voting in a runoff to ending no-excuse absentee balloting. 

The bills, however, face steep odds. For one, ease-of-voting rules are popular among majorities of Democrats and Republicans. And most people want to believe that elections are fair. One bill likely to pass would add an ID requirement to absentee ballots. Polls show that a majority of voters, regardless of race, support that idea.

Legacy of Jim Crow

In the South, Jim Crow-era voter suppression of the Black vote was justified in the name of election integrity. In fact, the phrase “voter fraud” has historically been linked in the South with the Black vote. The North saw similar disenfranchisement of immigrants, including the Irish. It appeared again in November, when Republican complaints centered on majority-Black districts while accepting results from majority-white areas. There has long been a sense in the U.S. that “we need to make sure that ... good, simple Jeffersonian farmers were represented and not the urban mob,” says Mr. Epps, author of “American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution.”

“This nostalgia for an earlier republic, this belief that the Constitution embodies certain values that we would call authoritarian, is very deep-rooted in American conservative history,” he adds.

In both Georgia and Arizona, which also flipped for Mr. Biden and sent two Democratic senators to the Capitol, widespread demographic shifts may be changing the political makeup in the states in ways that will endure past 2020.

Those demographic and political shifts underscore, says state Representative Salman, how efforts to restrict the vote ultimately failed to silence the resolve of the majority. “It’s actually very exciting that ... we are succeeding in an election system where there have been barriers put in place.”

Patterns

Tracing global connections

As EU fumbles vaccine drive, does union still mean strength?

Britain, no longer in the EU, has distributed COVID-19 vaccines more efficiently than Europe. But our columnist observes that when the EU rolls out its economic recovery plan, it hopes to show the benefits of pulling together.

David

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The European Union is struggling to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to even just its oldest and most vulnerable citizens, while Britain is surging ahead with a successful campaign that has its continental neighbors green with envy.

The United Kingdom government says this is an advertisement for Brexit, Britain’s departure from the EU that was finalized on the last day of 2020. Certainly it offers an example of how a single country can be nimbler than a large centralized bureaucracy.

But does it signal that assertive nationalism works better than international cooperation? In the longer term, Britain will have to deal with the economic downdraft from Brexit, which seems inevitable. And the EU will have a chance to redeem itself in the public eye when it begins to roll out a $900 billion pandemic recovery program.

How well it succeeds in showcasing the advantages of pulling together rather than going it alone will be of interest further afield too. Not least in the United States, where President Joe Biden has been busy talking up his support for international, not unilateral, action to solve the world’s problems.

As EU fumbles vaccine drive, does union still mean strength?

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Kirsty O'Connor/PA/AP
Municipal staff in London speak to residents as they carry out mobile door-to-door virus testing to assess the prevalence of the South African COVID-19 variant. The UK government has been vaccinating its citizens much faster than European Union authorities.

Breaking up is hard to do.

Neil Sedaka’s 1962 lament has taken on new relevance for a pair of political divorcees – Britain and the 27-nation European Union. And their fraught separation has wider implications. Now that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU has moved from rhetoric to reality, it is dramatizing a key political struggle in today’s world: between assertive nationalism and international alliances.

The immediate flashpoint has been the pandemic. A major vaccine manufacturer, the Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, told the EU it would get millions fewer doses than expected this spring because of unexpected production bottlenecks. So late last month, the EU moved to limit deliveries to Britain from the European factories where many of the vaccines are made.

Brussels quickly rescinded that threat. But the row highlighted the starkly different paths that the EU and its recently departed partner have taken. Britain has approved, purchased, and begun distributing vaccines far more quickly and efficiently than the centralized EU.

That’s left advocates of a go-it-alone Britain feeling vindicated. It has also led to internal criticism of the EU authorities – one German weekly, Die Zeit, called the affair a perfect “advertisement for Brexit.”

So does that mean the Brexit model works better? That the EU – with its pooled sovereignty and coordinated policy – is a relic of the now-tarnished idea of global connections and cooperation?

The jury is still out.

Major tests lie ahead for both sides, in their continuing response to the pandemic and the daunting task of post-pandemic recovery.

For Britain, one potential pitfall is the likely economic downdraft from Brexit.

More than half of British trade is with EU countries, and in the weeks since Brexit took effect in January, the new need to certify compliance with EU import regulations has led to complaints from companies of disruption, delays, and potentially prohibitive costs.

And an agreement on EU access for Britain’s services sector, the mainstay of its economy, has yet to be finalized.

Jon Super/AP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to members of staff as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination center in the North of England.

Politically, the impact of all this has been overshadowed by the pandemic. And while Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s initial COVID-19 response was criticized as uneven and often confused, he has been far more successful in securing and distributing vaccines.

But a test of the popular mood is approaching. Elections are due in May, for local governments in England and the devolved parliaments of Wales and Scotland, the other nations of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, polls suggest that displeasure over both the pandemic response and Brexit – which most Scottish voters opposed – could mean a resounding victory for the Scottish National Party.

If that happens, the SNP has vowed to push for a new referendum on independence, and seek separately to rejoin the EU.

Yet the EU faces complex challenges too.

Brexit is not a big economic concern, since its main cost will fall on Britain. But as the vaccine dispute highlighted, the EU faces pressure to answer Brexit’s political argument: that countries are better off running their own affairs than relying on the union’s unwieldy and sometimes unresponsive centralized decision-makers.

Ironically, the president of the EU’s executive branch made that point herself while defending her handling of the vaccine spat. “A [single] country can be a speedboat,” Ursula von der Leyen said. “The EU is more like a tanker.”

The tanker is listing.

Germany and France have been making the case that a shared European identity – and a distinct EU voice on the world stage – matter now more than ever. But some newer members have been charting a course at odds with the EU’s core ideals. Hungary and Poland have embraced “illiberal democracy,” reining in the media, curbing academic freedom, and limiting judicial independence.

The pandemic has also revealed wider tensions.

The EU’s initial response was anything but unified. Individual states scrambled last year to buy up needed protective equipment, every man for himself. The EU’s common, continent-wide vaccine strategy was meant to right that wrong. By bulk-purchasing vaccines, the EU wanted to avoid a situation in which wealthier countries bought up supplies while others waited.

But amid the slow roll-out, even Germany has made a separate arrangement with vaccine companies to supplement its EU allocation. Hungary has said it may start inoculating its population with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which hasn’t been approved by the EU’s regulatory authority.

The tanker is listing, but it can still right itself by demonstrating a capacity to deliver the everyday benefits to EU citizens that derive from strength in numbers.

A key test, and opportunity, will come in the shape of the $900 billion fund it has earmarked for post-pandemic recovery, especially for EU states that have been hardest hit economically.

And the degree to which the EU succeeds – how well its efforts make the case for pulling together rather than going it alone – will matter beyond Europe.

Similar arguments are happening elsewhere. It was one defining difference between former U.S. President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, who has championed the importance of democracies working together.

He – unlike Mr. Trump – opposed Brexit. And now, he’ll no doubt be hoping the EU manages to weather its new challenges.

Points of Progress

What's going right

Bonded labor outlawed in India

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

David

Bonded labor outlawed in India

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Staff
Places where the world saw progress, for the Feb. 15, 2021 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin became the first Black defense secretary after the Senate overwhelmingly voted to confirm him to the Cabinet post. Secretary Austin has spoken on the importance of improving racial and gender diversity in the nation’s military, where the highest ranks remain predominantly white and male. The historic confirmation follows a career of firsts, including being the first Black officer to serve as the Army’s vice chief of staff and the first to lead U.S. Central Command. He retired in 2016. 

Jim Lo Scalzo/AP
Lloyd Austin, the first Black person to head U.S. Central Command, speaks during his confirmation hearing for defense secretary before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 19, 2021, in Washington.

Some representatives and senators voted against waiving the seven-year post-military waiting period – a requirement meant to ensure civilian control of the military, and overlooked only twice in the nation’s history – but 93 senators ultimately approved his confirmation. As Pentagon chief, Secretary Austin has vowed to rid the military of racists and extremists, address sexual assault, and “create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity.” (Reuters, Military Times)

2. United States

For the first time in 80 years, chinook salmon have spawned in the upper Columbia River system in the Pacific Northwest. The construction of massive dams in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s blocked the migratory fish from returning to the habitat, but Indigenous communities and scientists have been working for years to bring salmon back. Research has involved the release and tracking of hatchery-bred fish and extensive habitat analysis.

Rick Bowmer/AP/File
A chinook salmon, second from the bottom, swims by a fish-counting window at the Bonneville Dam near North Bonneville, Washington, in 2012.

Last year, biologists from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation identified 36 redds – rocky nests where female salmon lay eggs – along the Sanpoil River, a Columbia River tributary upstream from the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state. The discovery is a major milestone for the reintroduction of the species, and a moment of hope for local tribes whose history is intertwined with the river system and salmon. (Crosscut, The Spokesman-Review)

3. Canada

The Songhees Nation and researchers from the University of Victoria have created the first scientific catalog of wildlife around the Tl’ches archipelago, establishing a baseline for future conservation efforts. Known to non-Indigenous Canadians as the Discovery and Chatham Islands, this area is the last piece of undeveloped land in Songhees territory. Although the islands have been uninhabited by the First Nation members since the 1950s, Elder Joan Morris (also known as Sellemah, her traditional name) can remember growing up on islands that were teeming with urchins, octopus, seals, and many kinds of shellfish. On recent visits, she and researchers observed notably less activity. In lieu of more expensive and time-consuming survey methods, researchers used an underwater drone to find several species that Songhees leaders identified as important to ceremonial, social, or harvest traditions. Scientists say the Tl’ches survey not only relied on Indigenous knowledge, but also produced data that will benefit the Indigenous community. “Having this information is so useful,” said Songhees Nation lands manager Kathy Bryce, a co-author of the study. “It’s a start in our goals to help protect, manage, maintain and preserve our culture ways, and teach our youth for future generations.” (Mongabay, Frontiers in Marine Science)

4. Panama

In a landmark ruling, Panama’s supreme court has cemented the Naso people’s right to govern and defend their ancestral land. For the 3,500-member Naso community, the decision upholds the community’s claim to establish a comarca – or semi-autonomous territory – across roughly 400,000 acres, including two national reserves. Indigenous rights advocates say that national park status has historically been used to bar tribes from governing their ancestral land, while mounting evidence suggests they are the best protectors. State offices often lack the will or the means to enforce environmental regulations, say analysts, resulting in higher deforestation rates in state-protected areas compared with comarcas. Under the new arrangement, reserves will continue to exist under Indigenous control, managed jointly with state officials. “By extending their recognition to national parks, Panama has a chance to be a great model for other countries,” says Christine Halvorson, program director at the Rainforest Foundation U.S., “and to end the misconceived conflict between Indigenous rights and environmental protection.” (Yale Environment 360)

5. Mozambique

Mozambique’s new fisheries law opens the door for communities to help protect a broader range of marine species and develop more sustainable policies. The revised law extends protected status to new species, including dolphins, whale sharks, and manta rays, and makes it easier for communities living along the 1,700-mile coastline to lead management initiatives. While co-management has long been the goal in Mozambique, fishery enforcement remains highly centralized. The new law clarifies the framework for local fishing councils to become autonomous, legal entities that can better assert their decision-making power. While implementing the law will take a lot of work, there are some signs that Mozambique is committed to improving environmental protection. The country’s largest marine conservation area slashed illegal fishing by nearly half in 2020 compared with 2019, mainly by tightening the inspection process and using signaling buoys to delimit the protected area. (Mongabay, Mozambique News Agency)

6. India

India’s Karnataka state has outlawed bitti chakri – a form of bonded labor in which members of the Dalit caste work in upper-caste homes for little or no pay. Debt bondage was legally banned in India in the mid-1970s, but under bitti chakri there is rarely a formal debt to repay. Instead, the system thrives on a sense of social obligation, with the expectation of free labor being passed down through generations. Anti-slavery advocates have long worked to have bitti chakri recognized as bonded labor. A 2019 report from Jeevika, a charity at the front of the fight, found thousands of Dalit families working for free throughout Karnataka. Workers were often given some grain or pulses in return, and many are afraid to lodge complaints. Advocates say enforcement will require extensive surveys to identify victims, and campaigns to overcome fear and support Dalit laborers seeking freedom. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

In Pictures

Winter can’t stop these Brits from wading in

Yes, human beings tend to gravitate toward warmth. But we found winter-swimming enthusiasts in Britain emerged with a renewed sense of resilience, showing that cold is merely a concept to be challenged.

David
JONATHAN BROWNING
A group of women from Brighton Swimming Club who meet every morning at 7:30 sharp prepare to brave the cold waters on Dec. 2, 2020. Winter sea swimming has become more popular as the coronavirus has closed indoor pool facilities.

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“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,” begins the 1902 poem “Sea Fever” by British poet and merchant seaman John Masefield. The poet might have dropped his pen had he seen the legions of Britons today who enjoy winter swimming in the island’s coastal waters. 

In this photo essay, London-based photographer Jonathan Browning has captured images of these hardy souls. They tell him that the challenge of rising early and stepping into cold water gives them a feeling of resilience and achievement – and the day’s barely even begun.

Never mind that the water temperature hovers around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. Browning’s subjects – many of whom choose ordinary swimsuits over full neoprene wetsuits – have gradually built up their tolerance to cold by swimming year-round. The challenges include more than just the cold. The Outdoor Swimming Society offers helpful tips in such startling categories as “Understanding rip currents” and “What to do if you encounter a seal.” 

Still, these photographs show indomitable people who have not only mastered their reaction to cold, but also embraced the thrill of winter sea swimming.

Winter can’t stop these Brits from wading in

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To some, life in Britain might feel a little dreary right now. The pandemic has impeded normal activities, and post-Brexit separation pains have impacted daily life. But as people search for the perfect pick-me-up, they’ve been rediscovering the pleasures of swimming in the island’s coastal waters – especially the cold English Channel.

JONATHAN BROWNING
Emma Marchant (right) and a fellow swimmer float near Saltdean, England, on Jan. 10, 2021. They like to listen to the moving shingle on the seafloor.

Sea bathing first came into vogue in the 18th century, when people believed that swimming in spas or the ocean was beneficial for their health. Today, with many swimming pools shut down in response to COVID-19, sea bathing has exploded in popularity again in coastal towns. The winter months have not discouraged devotees – nor have early mornings.

JONATHAN BROWNING
Johanna Vicat Brown enters the water in Shoreham Harbour near Brighton, England, on Jan. 8, 2021. Winter sea swimming has become more popular as the coronavirus has closed indoor pool facilities.

“A sunrise swim is particularly uplifting,” says Johanna Vicat Brown, after finishing up a dip in water that was just 41 degrees Fahrenheit. (The air, meanwhile, hovered around 26 F.) 

“A new day dawning brings hope, and the skies are often very beautiful,” she adds. “The challenge of rising early – and in the dark – increases the feeling of resilience and achievement. If the sky is clear, it’s particularly rewarding to be warmed by the sun while drying off and dressing.”

JONATHAN BROWNING
Ms. Marchant (left) and a fellow swimmer glow in the rising sun. Behind them stand England’s iconic white cliffs, which run all the way to Dover.

Emma Marchant, a veteran sea swimmer of 10 winters, says that it’s important to limit the time spent in the cold ocean. “After a while, the body begins to feel comfortable in the water and it can be tempting to prolong your exit,” she explains. “The real danger is the time between coming out of the water and getting dry.”

Thankfully, swimmers are well prepared for the chill. Hot drinks and even hot water bottles are staples at the beaches frequented by these intrepid sea-bathers.

JONATHAN BROWNING
David Sawyer, a local legend on the Brighton swim scene, sea-bathes every day. His great-great-grandmother was a member of Brighton Swimming Club.
JONATHAN BROWNING
A swimmer rests in the breaking waves near Brighton Pier on Dec. 15, 2020. She decided not to go out because the water was too choppy.
JONATHAN BROWNING
Members of Brighton Swimming Club – the oldest sea-bathing club in England – put on their flippers on a pebble beach at sunrise on Dec. 7, 2020.

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With more people displaced, high praise for gracious hospitality

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The world’s need for compassionate hospitality has risen sharply. The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes has topped 80 million, equal to a quarter of the U.S. population. No wonder global humanitarian officials are praising those countries stepping up to the task.

Jordan, which is home to more than 1 million refugees, gets high marks for including refugees in its vaccination program. Turkey receives thanks for continuing to host the largest refugee population – mainly Syrians – while Uganda, home to 1.7 million refugees, is noted for integrating refugees into its communities. Praise has also gone to President Joe Biden for a plan to expand the number of refugees resettled to the United States to 125,000 each year.

On Monday, Colombia received some of the highest praise. It is host to 1.8 million Venezuelans, or more than a third of those who have fled that country’s dictatorship. In a neighborly act, Colombian President Iván Duque announced he will provide the refugees with residence permits, enabling them access to health care and legal jobs.

A spirit of a welcoming heart for the world’s most needy people is now needed more than ever.

With more people displaced, high praise for gracious hospitality

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AP/file
Venezuelans cross the border into Colombia.

Over the past year, the world’s need for compassionate hospitality has risen sharply. The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes has topped 80 million, equal to a quarter of the U.S. population. On a larger scale, the United Nations estimates more than 235 million people now require humanitarian aid and protection, or a 40% increase. Wars, climate change, and the pandemic are largely to blame. But so is extreme poverty, which is up for the first time in 22 years.

No wonder global humanitarian officials are praising those countries stepping up to the task.

Jordan, which is home to more than 1 million refugees, gets high marks for including refugees in its vaccination program. Safeguarding their health, says Jordanian King Abdullah II, is “a global responsibility.” An estimated 51 countries have refugees high on the list in vaccine priority.

Turkey receives thanks for continuing to host the largest refugee population – mainly Syrians – while Uganda, home to 1.7 million refugees, is noted for integrating refugees into its communities. Praise has also gone to President Joe Biden for a plan to expand the number of refugees resettled to the United States to 125,000 each year.

On Monday, Colombia received some of the highest praise. It is host to 1.8 million Venezuelans, or more than a third of those who have fled that country’s persecution and economic meltdown under a dictatorship. In a neighborly act, Colombian President Iván Duque announced he will provide the refugees with residence permits, enabling them access to health care and legal jobs.

This action is an “extraordinary gesture” of humanity, said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, and offers an example for other countries to follow. (Peru and Ecuador have deployed their military to stop the flow of Venezuelans across their borders.) While a Gallup Poll indicates less public support in Colombia for Venezuelan migrants, the government has spent money to beef up services for them at the border. Last year, a number of political parties signed a pact to not pander to xenophobia during an election campaign.

Two years ago, the U.N. General Assembly approved the Global Compact on Refugees, a nonbinding agreement to better integrate refugees into host countries. That spirit of a welcoming heart for the world’s most needy people is now needed more than ever. It also serves as a moral counterpoint to COVID-19, wars, and natural disasters. Gratitude for generous host countries is indeed in order.

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.

Where does integrity come from?

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Looking at headlines across the globe, it can sometimes seem as if integrity is an elusive standard. But God has given each of us the wisdom and ability to live honorable and prosperous lives.

Where does integrity come from?

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

I didn’t notice until after I sat down to eat my lunch that the cafeteria cashier had given me extra change. When I brought it back to her, she was a little surprised. After all, it was only a few cents.

Flagrant lapses of integrity often dominate the news, but that doesn’t mean integrity has gone out of style. Far from it. I don’t think my instinct at that moment was at all exceptional. Instances of honesty and fairness play out over and over again in the everyday lives of people all over the globe.

So why was returning a few cents so important to me? Well, for one thing, I was pretty sure the cashier would be held accountable for the shortfall in her register. More than that, though, it was simply the right thing to do. And it was a matter of being true to a universal source of integrity that connects all people beneficially.

I’ve come to realize that the desire to do what’s right, the discernment to know what’s right, and the ability to follow through with honorable actions flow from the connection we all have with our common creator, the divine Principle of the universe, called God. In spite of incidents pointing to the contrary, integrity is actually built into the true nature of everyone as God’s child. This stems from the incorruptible integrity of God – as revealed in the Bible and explained in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy.

The Bible asks, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” (James 3:11). The answer, of course, is no. God’s nature is wholly uniform, entirely good, without a single taint of evil. God is wholly loving – is Love itself. God is undeviating, complete Truth. And we are God’s spiritual, whole, and flawless creation. It’s from this reliable, unchanging Principle that we derive the wisdom and ability to live honorable, healthy, and prosperous lives.

How do you gain insights into this inviolable integrity? Through prayer and spiritual study. In her “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” Mrs. Eddy included this commentary on integrity: “The upright man is guided by a fixed Principle, which destines him to do nothing but what is honorable, and to abhor whatever is base or unworthy; hence we find him ever the same, – at all times the trusty friend, the affectionate relative, the conscientious man of business, the pious worker, the public-spirited citizen” (p. 147). I like to think of integrity as keeping my thoughts and actions true to God and true to my and everyone’s true nature as God’s child.

My friend Chuck, a fellow Christian Scientist, tries to operate his small/medium-sized business on the basis of this integrity. He’s found that doing this protects the company from unprincipled practices, even as it prospers the business.

One time, a sticky situation arose involving his company’s European subsidiary. As Chuck explained the situation to me, “We were strongly advised that we should ... shelter income from the taxing authorities. We were told that ‘everyone does it’ and that ‘the governments were so corrupt and wasteful’ that doing so was justified.... We paused to consider our company’s mission-centered approach ... being in accord with that fixed Principle that destines it to do only those things that are honorable, and which will tend to raise the standard of business ethics in the community....

“We rejected the counsel.... In the end, the business and the investors could go forward prosperously without ... abandoning our values.”

I’ve found that in proportion as a person practices Principle-based integrity in his or her life, it not only elevates character, but has a positive effect on mental and physical health. That’s a strong incentive to practice integrity – and to look to the life and teachings of Christ Jesus for guidance.

Jesus fully embodied the integrity of divine Principle. When Zacchaeus, who had obtained great wealth as an unscrupulous tax collector for the Roman government, heard that Jesus was coming to town, he went out and climbed a tree in order to catch a glimpse of him. When Jesus saw him, he said, “Come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house” (Luke 19:5).

What Zacchaeus found when Jesus entered his house was that the Christ – the living spirit of Principle-based integrity Jesus fully expressed – entered his heart and mind as well. He immediately vowed to give half of his material wealth to the poor and to restore to those he had cheated four times what he had taken.

The spirit of integrity Jesus embodied is already rooted within every person in every culture. It flows from our ever-present, incorruptible, and inexhaustible source – divine Principle. It only needs to be allowed to spring up in each of us.

Adapted from an article published in the April 4, 2005, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Some more great ideas! To read or listen to an article in the weekly Christian Science Sentinel on the spiritual authority of good titled “Facing down ‘inevitabilities,’” please click through to www.JSH-Online.com. There is no paywall for this content.

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On the road

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Iranians attend an annual rally at Azadi (Freedom) Square celebrating the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, on Feb. 10, 2021. Iranians used vehicle-only rallies as the country struggles to stem a coronavirus outbreak, amid the launch of a vaccine campaign.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story that seeks to answer this question: Does a trauma in childhood define someone as an adult? The findings may surprise you. 

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