2021
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 07, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Lessons from Iceland on working smarter, not longer

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

When is less, more? 

In Iceland, the answer is fewer hours of work equal the same pay and the same or better productivity. And a shorter workweek means a better work-life balance, less stress, and more family time. 

A four-year trial of a 35-hour workweek – across multiple kinds of businesses employing 2,500 workers – was an “overwhelming success,” according to a new study. As a result, 86% of Iceland’s workers now have contracts that include shorter workweeks or give them the right to shorten their hours. 

Iceland’s findings are especially timely as companies worldwide rethink traditional employment models, consider hybrid work plans, and reflect on the lessons of remote work. 

Managers and workers in Iceland made the shorter week successful by shortening meetings, reprioritizing tasks, and giving workers greater autonomy. Managers reported more focus, more discipline, and higher morale. Spain may soon adopt a similar three-year trial. 

But perhaps the most noteworthy change was the rebalancing of life at home. Children saw more of their parents. Single workers reported having more time for exercise, hobbies, and the occasional pedicure. The Iceland study also found: “The division of household labour did change in many cases ... with men taking on greater responsibilities.”

Who knew a shorter workweek could be the path to gender equity in the laundry room?

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A deeper look

‘Personnel is policy’: How progressives shape Biden administration

Borrowing a strategy from conservatives, progressives are placing key people in often obscure but powerful U.S. government posts, especially in the executive branch. Is this a path to real change?

David

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In the first six months of the Biden administration, progressives have scored a series of landmark achievements. 

They got Congress to approve $4 billion for minority farmers as part of the spring COVID-19 relief bill, though it now faces a court challenge. They have broadened the mandate of the Federal Trade Commission. And they are running, for now, the gatekeeper office that reviews new regulations. 

Soon, they are expecting to notch another victory: an executive order from President Joe Biden designed to curb the power of corporations.

These moves may in part reflect a general leftward shift within the Democratic Party. But they’re also the result of a concerted effort on the part of progressives to place allies in specific executive branch roles. Ahead of the 2020 election, following presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s mantra, “Personnel is policy,” they set out to identify key governmental positions and create a database of preferred candidates for the incoming administration. 

“Liberals are great dreamers. The question is whether they are doers,” says Paul C. Light of New York University. With this effort, progressives are showing that they “understand that there are bureaucratic levers – and you can pull them, and you can get things done.”

‘Personnel is policy’: How progressives shape Biden administration

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Saul Loeb/AP/File
Lina Khan, the youngest chair of the Federal Trade Commission, at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, in Washington, April 21, 2021.

In the first six months of the Biden administration, progressives have scored a series of landmark achievements – beyond what even they had expected. 

They got Congress to approve $4 billion for Black farmers as part of the spring COVID-19 relief bill, in what some have called the most significant legislation for Black land ownership in America’s history, though it now faces a court challenge.

They have taken the helm and broadened the mandate of the Federal Trade Commission, one of the government’s two main levers for breaking up business monopolies.

And they are running, for now, the office that acts as a gatekeeper for all new regulations, known by its acronym, OIRA.

Soon, they are expecting to notch another victory: an executive order from President Joe Biden designed to curb the power of corporations, including Big Tech and Big Ag.

These victories may in part reflect a general leftward shift within the Democratic Party, particularly among those working in government and politics. But they’re also the result of a concerted effort on the part of progressives to place allies in specific executive branch roles.

After eight years of fighting with the Obama administration mostly from the sidelines, progressives took a new tack ahead of the 2020 election to try to maximize their influence. Following Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s mantra, “Personnel is policy,” they identified key governmental positions from which they could advance a progressive policy agenda and formed a coalition to fill a database with preferred candidates. After Mr. Biden won, they turned over the names to his transition team.  

To date, the administration has hired 87 from that list. And while that may seem like a drop in the bucket among 2.2 million federal employees, these were carefully chosen perches, some of which sound obscure but are surprisingly influential. 

“One person in the right position can wield more power than thousands of people in other positions,” says Jeremie Greer, co-founder of Liberation in a Generation, a nonprofit focused on empowering people of color to transform the economy, and one of the groups involved in recommending names.

Perhaps the most plum position progressives have landed is chair of the Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency that, together with the Department of Justice, enforces antitrust regulations already on the books. For that key role, Mr. Biden appointed Lina Khan, a wunderkind of antitrust law who rose to prominence as a Yale law student with a 2017 article that called for placing a check on Amazon’s dominance.

“I am stunned that Lina Khan has ended up as head of the FTC,” says William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “That’s a pretty important position to have captured for the [progressive antitrust] cause.”

A shift in power

To be sure, various groups – particularly on the right – have long sought to get their people into key positions. Leading up to the 2016 election, the Heritage Foundation created a 3,000-name database from which hundreds of people landed jobs in the Trump administration.

They included cabinet members like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a school choice advocate, and Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who had previously sued the EPA more than a dozen times and questioned whether climate change poses an existential threat, as many scientists maintain.

The Federalist Society, meanwhile, drove a surge in appointments of conservative federal judges under former President Donald Trump. It also helped him place three new conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

Alex Brandon/AP/File
The Federal Trade Commission building in Washington.

Now progressives are showing they can wield a similar strategic tool to sharpen their influence. 

“Usually the activists are trying to influence Congress or trying to influence the agencies from the outside,” says Mr. Greer. “But I think this has opened a doorway where people have started to see … you can actually get your people in the government.”

The initiative also reflects a shift in the balance of power between America’s branches of government. As Congress has become increasingly gridlocked in recent years, both parties have responded by looking to the White House and executive agencies like the EPA or the Department of Homeland Security to enact policy. 

When former President Barack Obama met with resistance from a GOP-led Congress, he famously said, “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” – referring to his ability to make rules through executive power. In his first seven years, he pushed through 560 major regulations – 50% more than President George W. Bush, The New York Times reported. Mr. Biden, who served as vice president during that time, got off to an even faster start than his former boss, issuing more than twice as many executive orders as Mr. Obama did in his first 100 days.

“There has been this massive shift in the policy process away from Congress and toward the executive branch,” says Dr. Galston. “The Trump administration was well aware of this. And on the other end of the spectrum, the progressives have clearly been going to school.”

A herculean effort

Before it was even clear who would win the Democratic nomination, Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Institute, tasked a group of full-time researchers with combing through the Plum Book, a list of more than 7,000 positions in the federal government that can be filled by appointment rather than a competitive hiring process, including 1,700 presidential appointees. They were less interested in splashy positions than powerful low-profile ones – people who could write regulations for an agency, or head a smaller office. 

“There’s not a tremendous amount of discussion about who’s going to be deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation – but we’re really interested in that,” says Ms. Taylor, who calls the project a herculean effort. From that research, her group published a 90-page guide that detailed the budgets, number of employees, and authority of 330 selected agencies and offices, which represent about a third of the federal government.

“Every progressive needs to understand the federal government in order to understand how to influence it – where the power lies, and which positions have control over the issues that we care about and work on,” they wrote. “We also need to understand the federal government better in order to fully understand (and reverse) the attacks on its functions.”

Alex Brandon/AP/File
Jared Bernstein, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaks with reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Feb. 5, 2021.

Together with Jeff Hauser, executive director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, which scrutinizes executive branch appointees for corporate ties, they started soliciting recommendations for who could best fill such positions. They cast a wide net, involving more than five dozen groups whose focus ranged from racial justice to agriculture to scrutinizing corporate power. Each group could endorse others’ nominations, giving a gauge of the depth of each candidate’s support.

When Mr. Biden won the election, they handed over more than 700 names

The two departments where they landed the most people, with nine hires each, were the Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They also secured nine economic advisory positions to the president, including Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein, whom Ms. Taylor says she is confident had a voice in shaping the massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats fast-tracked through Congress this spring. 

“It feels like there is a lot of alignment in where progressives want to go and where Biden wants to go, whereas during the Obama administration there were a lot of very public fights,” says Ms. Taylor, who also cofounded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a million-member grassroots organization that has long supported Senator Warren. “Now the question is whether the Biden administration personnel will use the full scope of their power to get done what needs to get done, and tackle the full environmental and economic urgency of the moment.”

Return of trustbusting

Many of the progressive hires represent a shift in thinking about the role of big corporations in society. A number are proponents of increasing and expanding antitrust regulation and enforcement, in order to prevent firms from dominating an industry. 

Evan Vucci/AP
Heather Boushey, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaks during a press briefing at the White House, March 24, 2021.

Proponents see it as the dawn of a collective realization that power has become too concentrated in the hands of business, rather than the people.  

“In some ways, the most important thing is for people to wake up to the fact that we’ve been thinking and living a lie for the last 40 years – a lie about the nature of power,” says Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute. He penned a Washington Monthly article titled “How Biden Can Transform America,” in which he argued that the president could enact his agenda through anti-monopoly tools – without waiting for Congress.

Arguably, the most consequential hire is Ms. Khan – “Jeff Bezos’ least favorite person in the world,” quips Mr. Hauser. Over the past two years, she investigated companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Facebook as counsel to a congressional investigation into competition in digital markets. Now, at age 32, she is carrying that work forward as the youngest chair of the FTC, an agency born during another antitrust boom over a century ago that, in the name of protecting American consumers, reviews corporate mergers in markets ranging from meat to social media.

On July 1, Chairwoman Khan held the agency’s first public meeting in decades, at which she advocated a series of reforms to strengthen and streamline the FTC’s ability to investigate certain industries, including technology platforms, health care, and pharmaceuticals. She led a 3-2 vote to approve the changes along party lines, with one of the GOP commissioners issuing a lengthy statement of dissent. Supporters were elated; one head of a watchdog group said that that one meeting represented more progress than had been achieved in the past quarter century

Other key antitrust proponents in the administration include Tim Wu, a former Columbia law professor like Ms. Khan, who joined the White House’s National Economic Council and serves as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy. Mr. Wu has reportedly been a driving force in shaping the antitrust executive order that is expected to come as soon as this week. 

And K. Sabeel Rahman, who appeared alongside Ms. Khan at a 2019 panel that advocated putting more guardrails on capitalism, has been appointed counsel in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the administration’s regulatory gatekeeper. 

“Progressives have long identified this little agency as wielding shocking amounts of power,” says Mr. Hauser – something he says corporate America has leveraged to its advantage. 

Last year, former Obama Department of Labor official Sharon Block advocated “reimagining” OIRA to reduce corporations’ outsize influence on regulations. Now she is the office’s No. 2, and is currently serving as acting administrator until President Biden appoints a new administrator, which requires Senate confirmation. 

Susan Dudley, who chaired the office for two years during the George W. Bush administration, took issue with Ms. Block’s vision for OIRA in a Forbes article about the “seismic shift” in Mr. Biden’s approach to regulation. She says that the office’s overall direction under Ms. Block appears to be one of aggressive implementation of new regulations – without, in her view, sufficient analysis of the trade-offs.  

“They seem to feel the need to move very quickly with more regulations,” says Professor Dudley, who adds that political appointees in OIRA – an office with about 50 career staff – wield significant influence.

Why Big Ag is a focus

Another focus for those looking to break up corporate monopolies is the Department of Agriculture.

Joe Maxwell, a livestock farmer and former lieutenant governor of Missouri, believes Big Ag poses at least as big a threat to American democracy as Big Tech. When four companies control 85% of the beef industry, they can hire workers for cheap, force farmers to sell their animals at a loss, and gouge customers at the grocery store. In Mr. Maxwell’s eyes, they’re hollowing out rural America, undermining the lives of not only their employees but whole communities, including rural Black communities. 

“We place these corporations on the same level as a threat to our democracy and our way of life as … the Facebooks and Googles,” says Mr. Maxwell, president of Family Farm Action, which also recommended candidates for the progressive personnel project.

He’s long wanted someone in Washington to do something about it – and now he feels like it’s finally happening. In particular, he points to a June 11 announcement from the USDA, promising three new rules that he sees as crucial to breaking up the power of agricultural corporations and enforcing the 100-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act, designed to protect farmers and ranchers from “unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive practices in the meat markets.”

At a July 6 briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the president’s forthcoming executive order on competition would build on those USDA initiatives, including more transparent meat labeling so that foreign companies would no longer be able to ship beef to the U.S. for processing and then label it “Product of USA.” 

“Liberals are great dreamers”

Some such initiatives are already facing pushback in the courts. One federal judge recently dismissed two antitrust cases against Facebook, though the FTC has 30 days to file an amended complaint. And another federal judge temporarily blocked the COVID-19 relief bill’s $4 billion package that was seen as a form of reparations for Black farmers, which were estimated by a Tufts University study to have lost $120 billion in farmland value due to the USDA’s decades of racial discrimination. The judge acknowledged the department’s past racial discrimination but took issue with the package’s race-based qualification for aid.  

Of course, it’s still too early to know just how much influence this progressive project will ultimately have within the vast executive branch and beyond. 

Eighty-odd people seem unlikely to tip the scales of a massive federal bureaucracy, says Paul C. Light, professor of public service at New York University. “It will certainly influence some of the conversations, but it’s a small number in a big thicket of layers and competition for voice and action,” he says.

But there’s another aspect of the personnel project that intrigues him, and that is the focus on implementation.

“Liberals are great dreamers. The question is whether they are doers,” he says. With this effort, progressives are showing that they “understand that there are bureaucratic levers – and you can pull them, and you can get things done.”

Staff writer Dwight Weingarten contributed to this report.

A bipartisan election fix? New York test run was a mess.

Ranked-choice voting is often seen as a way out of political polarization, a cleaner form of democracy with bipartisan support. We look at how the New York City election may undermine that perception.

David
Mary Altaffer/AP
A New York City Board of Election staff member shows a ballot to a campaign observer as primary election absentee ballots are counted in New York on July 2, 2021.

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Ranked-choice voting has been used across the United States for more than a decade. From Burlington, Vermont, to Alaska, it is set to roll out in blue cities and red states alike. But New York City was its big test. Could America’s biggest city help this bipartisan election reform go mainstream?

Maybe not.

The election was something of a debacle, with the New York City Board of Elections making repeated missteps. The result now seems clear, with law-and-order candidate Eric Adams winning the Democratic primary. But the damage to ranked-choice voting – where voters get to rank multiple candidates in order of preference – could be severe.

At this early stage, experts watching the election say the problems were more with the Board of Elections than the process itself. But it’s been a “public relations nightmare,” says one advocate.

And at a time when Republicans in particular have little trust in the electoral system, “when you have something like this that happens, it has national repercussions,” says Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program.

A bipartisan election fix? New York test run was a mess.

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This was not the big debut for ranked-choice voting that many were hoping for.

After many twists and turns, New York’s mayoral race now seems settled. The Associated Press called the Democratic primary for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams Tuesday, though the Board of Elections said final vote certification might take another week. The winner of the Democratic primary is widely expected to win the general election in November.

But the story ended up being the election itself. New York voters for the first time used ranked-choice voting, meaning they had the option to rank candidates in order of preference. When no candidate won 50% of the votes, an “instant runoff” was triggered using voters’ alternate choices – leading to Mr. Adams’ presumed victory.

Ranked-choice voting has been used in other places for more than a decade, but New York City was its biggest test, tripling the number of Americans who use the system.

The initial report card: It was a gigantic mess.

As the electoral reform debate nationwide has become increasingly partisan, ranked-choice voting has been one of a few measures with some bipartisan support. From Burlington, Vermont, to Alaska, ranked choice voting is set to roll out in blue cities and red states alike over the next three years. The question now is: Did the New York debacle just damage that momentum?

Critics are certainly using the election to their advantage. The system “is confusing, complicated, and it’s ripe for fraud,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted last week.

But experts say the lessons from New York look more like growing pains than a fundamental failure of the concept.

“This was a screw up by the [New York City] Board of Elections but it didn’t have anything to do with RCV [ranked-choice voting],” says Lee Drutman, a political scientist and senior fellow at New America. “You give someone a new computer and that’s better than the old typewriter but they don’t know how to operate it and screw it up. It’s not because of the computer, it’s because of the user not knowing how to use it.”

What happened?

In the weeks ahead, much of the focus will be on discerning what went wrong, with particular scrutiny of the New York City Board of Elections, which has a history of missteps and mismanagement.

John Minchillo/AP
Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams smiles and points as participants gather for a parade Wednesday honoring essential workers during the pandemic.

On June 29, the New York City Board of Elections released an unofficial first round of results before rescinding them for erroneously counting 135,000 sample ballots. During the past two weeks, as the pile of to-be-counted absentee ballots loomed, projections for the final tally varied. Even the much-promised midday Tuesday release, which would incorporate most of the 125,000 absentee ballots, was delayed for hours.

The past two weeks have been a “public relations nightmare,” says Rob Richie, president of FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for ranked-choice voting. But he’s confident that the mayoral race will reaffirm ranked-choice voting’s democratic benefits.

“The conversation around this election will shift,” says Mr. Richie. “Ranked-choice voting has a very real potential of moving in a bipartisan way.”

Advocates argue that competent election officials can – and have – run ranked-choice elections smoothly. In 2017, Minneapolis declared the mayoral winner within 24 hours, after five rounds of tabulations. In 2020, Maine called its electoral votes for President Joe Biden even faster.

In the New York City Democratic primary, no candidate reached 50%. Mr. Adams won the first round with 31% of the vote, followed by civil rights activist Maya Wiley, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Lower-performing candidates were gradually eliminated over the next five rounds, as these four candidates expanded their totals. Mr. Yang was eliminated in round seven, at which time Ms. Garcia overtook Ms. Wiley for second place behind Mr. Adams.

This likely means that many of Mr. Yang’s supporters ranked Ms. Garcia second – a strategy that the two candidates had laid out on the campaign trail, telling their supporters to rank one another second.

Opponents of ranked-choice voting have criticized this strategy as a way for candidates to game the system. Mr. Adams, understanding that a widely implemented strategy like this could hurt his chances of winning, condemned the alliance as an effort to suppress Black voters.

If anything, ranked-choice voting in New York City has supported minority candidates’ campaigns, says Mr. Richie, the advocate. None of the top three Democratic finalists for mayor was a white man, and the primary results suggest the number of women on New York City’s city council will likely more than double, with the majority of them being people of color and under the age of 40.

Mark Lennihan/AP
Kathryn Garcia, a Democratic candidate in the mayoral primary, concedes the race to Eric Adams during a news conference Wednesday in New York.

And he turns the criticism of voting alliances on its head. Candidates reaching out to their opponents’ supporters is actually one of the reasons why ranked-choice voting is needed in today’s political climate, he adds

“There is a lesson for candidates: Never stop competing for votes,” says Mr. Richie. “Everyone’s voters are fair game. You just have to look for connections. ‘If I can’t be your first choice, this is why I can be your second choice.’”

National repercussions

Instead of being a case study of why ranked-choice voting doesn’t work, many experts say New York’s Democratic primary was actually the opposite.

A post-election poll from pro-ranked-choice voting groups, for example, found that 83% of primary voters ranked at least two candidates on their ballots, and 95% of voters found their ballot simple to use.

Without ranked-choice voting, observers add, Mr. Adams would have won the race with a small plurality. But the various rounds of vote reallocations allowed more voters to have a say in the outcome. Mr. Adams eventually won the race with a majority.

“[Ranked-choice voting] produced two law-and-order candidates, which tracks with the cross-partisan worries about crime among New Yorkers,” says Kevin Kosar, an election reform expert at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to both the Democratic and Republican primaries. “RCV also encouraged fringe candidates to get into the race, but ultimately showed them that their radical proposals are not what city dwellers want.”

Yet at a time when only 9% of Republicans say they can trust the government, New York City’s Democratic primary has potentially done more harm than good.

At a rally in Texas last week, former President Donald Trump compared his loss – and his false claims of election fraud in the 2020 election – with the New York City chaos, calling U.S. elections a “disaster.”

“At this time there’s so much disinformation and desire among people to undercut confidence in elections generally, that a poor administration anywhere can have a big impact nationally,” says Lawrence Norden, director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program. “When you have something like this that happens, it has national repercussions.”

Why police violence proves a stubborn problem for democratic Tunisia

What happens when the promise of a democratic revolution meets entrenched police impunity? Our reporter looks at how young working-class Tunisians are channeling the racial justice movements in the U.S. and France.

David

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The protests in Sidi Hassine, a working-class Tunis neighborhood, first erupted in early June with viral footage of the fatal beating of a neighborhood resident, whom police detained for a drug search. Protests spread more broadly across Tunis after another videotaped incident just 24 hours later, when police detained, beat, and stripped a 15-year-old boy in the same neighborhood.

The victim’s age, public humiliation, and the sheer brazenness outraged Tunisians across the political spectrum and from all economic classes.

“We thought we would prosper with the revolution, but the police state never changed,” says Abdallah Raddadi, a neighborhood resident whose beating by police also was taped. 

Tunisia’s prime minister said the officers who beat and humiliated the 15-year-old had been suspended and would be referred to the courts. But with powerful police unions obstructing reforms, and a court system that upholds a culture of impunity, public trust and expectations of accountability are at rock bottom.

“It is true that impunity exists,” says Yamina Zoghlami, who represents Sidi Hassine in parliament. “Impunity is making people lose confidence in policemen and authorities, particularly youth who believed in the revolution.”

“Both the judiciary and the security and police need to be reformed and democratized.”

Why police violence proves a stubborn problem for democratic Tunisia

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Ahmed Ellali
Abdallah Raddadi, who says police knocked him unconscious, holds up a medical report in his home in the Sidi Hassine neighborhood of Tunis, Tunisia, July 1, 2021.

Abdallah Raddadi says he didn’t know what hit him.

The 30-year-old was walking down the street in his working-class Tunis neighborhood of Sidi Hassine when everything went black. He woke up in the hospital four days later.

But he says he is certain who hit him.

“The police,” says Mr. Raddadi, whose family obtained video footage of the attack.

“Policemen are hostile to young men and they are now beating us in public,” he says. “We thought we would prosper with the revolution, but the police state never changed.”

Mr. Raddadi’s beating is one episode in a summer of discontent in Tunisia. As it navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, the young democracy in North Africa is having a public reckoning with a feature of its past and present: police violence in marginalized communities.

Facing political deadlock, powerful police unions obstructing reforms, and a court system that upholds a culture of impunity, working-class youths and activists are tapping into the spirit of protest movements in the United States and France to keep the issue at the forefront of the public debate.

In the process, Tunisians are reevaluating police officers’ relationship with working-class citizens, who say they have long suffered in silence.

“It is true that impunity exists,” says Yamina Zoghlami, who represents Sidi Hassine in parliament and is a member of the largest parliamentary bloc, Ennahda. “Impunity is making people lose confidence in policemen and authorities, particularly youth who believed in the revolution.”

“Both the judiciary and the security and police need to be reformed and democratized.”

Spark of protests

The protests in Sidi Hassine first erupted in early June with viral footage of the police killing of Ahmed ben Ammar, a 30-something neighborhood resident who was detained for a drug search while walking with his fiancée.

When Mr. ben Ammar refused to be searched, the police beat him until his body lay motionless. He later was pronounced dead in police custody.

Protests spread more broadly across Tunis after another incident just 24 hours later, when police detained a 15-year-old boy in the same neighborhood.

In a video captured by passersby, police stripped the boy naked and brutally beat him on the side of the road in broad daylight, parading him naked and placing him in a squad car.

The victim’s age, the public humiliation, and the sheer brazenness outraged Tunisians across the political spectrum and from all economic classes.

Prime Minister and acting Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi, pressured to provide answers under threat of a no-confidence vote in parliament, said the officers involved in the incident had been suspended and would be referred to the courts.

Yet public trust and expectations of accountability are at rock bottom.

Tunisia’s politicians refer to what they describe as “isolated” incidents, a few bad apples in the ranks who are ill-equipped to deal with protesters and rioters in the hardscrabble neighborhood.

But residents and advocates say it is part of a deep-seated culture of abuse and police impunity that leaves working-class residents fearful of police, worried that they may not make it home alive, simply for being in the wrong ZIP code.

“I’m really concerned when I walk in the street. I ask myself: Will police attack me because I spoke out? Will they beat me, too?” says Zakia Ayari, mother of the abused 15-year-old. “Who can guarantee my safety and prevent them from threatening me?”

Tallying attacks

Since January, the Tunisian League of Human Rights has registered 2,000 complaints of police abuse nationwide, one-third of them from minors.

Ahmed Ellali
Faisal Haraghi and Zakia Ayari, whose 15-year-old son was subject to police abuse, at their apartment in Tunis, Tunisia, July 1, 2021.

Families of seven people killed in alleged police violence have filed lawsuits over the last four years, yet courts have failed to bring a case forward or issue a single indictment or verdict, according to the rights group.

The lack of legal action is at odds with Tunisia’s vibrant civil society, which documents abuses and provides legal counsel. The constitutionally mandated National Authority for the Prevention of Torture details abuses in annual reports to parliament.

“These abuses were documented, but with the ongoing impunity a kind of normalization of gratuitous police violence has set in,” says Romdhane Ben Amor, director at the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

“When the incident in Sidi Hassine happened, the policemen felt they were above the law,” he says, calling for “real reform” to “prevent a return to the practices of the old regime.”

Blue wall

Tunisians have a complicated history with the police.

The police and secret police were a separate arm of the state answering only to the former dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who used security services to cement his grip on power, eliminate political rivals, and intimidate critics.

In the months following the 2011 revolution, the interim government dissolved the secret police and sacked dozens of high-ranking officials. But the reforms stopped there.

Without the protection of the ousted strongman, security forces took advantage of Tunisia’s new civil society freedoms and formed police unions – 100 different unions in 2011 alone.

Although their stated intent was to advocate for better wages and pensions, the national unions in recent years have flexed their muscle, mobilizing and threatening work stoppages to prevent attempts to reform the police, to keep Ben Ali-era officials in place, and protect colleagues from prosecution – forming a blue wall running across Tunisia.

With Tunisia’s political factions wary of going up against the police unions, a culture of impunity has grown.

“We see the Interior Ministry as increasingly powerless in front of these unions, which are becoming stronger and more independent each year,” says Hélène Legeay, legal director at World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) Tunisia.

This comes amid frequent interactions between police and youths in low-income neighborhoods, who are increasingly protesting over high unemployment, rising prices, and the revolution’s unfulfilled promises. 

Activists say the increasingly emboldened police, facing anti-police chants and fearing any further democratization in Tunisia as a threat to their remaining power, are meting out violence to young Tunisians and threatening activists and families of victims to ensure their silence.

“I have witnesses who saw the whole attack on my brother, who have recorded it on video,” says Rawdha Raddadi, Abdallah’s sister. “But they are afraid to give testimony. They are afraid of police revenge.”

Colonial legacy

Many victims refuse to lodge complaints for fear of cooked-up criminal charges or a lifetime of harassment from police unions.

Activists point to articles in Tunisia’s penal code that date to the French colonial occupation and contradict its post-revolution 2014 constitution, which enshrines individual and human rights.

One vaguely worded article allows police to charge people for “aggression towards an officer” – increasingly used by some officers to intimidate victims. The definition of torture is restricted to “violence used to extract a confession.”

As attempts to reform stall in parliament, the judiciary appears intimidated, hesitant to act against a police force they rely on, with multiple cases of union-organized police officers storming courthouses and releasing officers facing trial.

But protests and activism continue, inspired by the George Floyd protests in the United States and Adama Traoré demonstrations in France, to keep a spotlight on the issue and attract the attention of the international community and countries that Tunisia relies on for financial and military support.

OMCT is working with members of parliament to expand the definition of torture in the Tunisian legal code. 

Lawmakers like Ms. Zoghlami say they are also pushing the government to “focus on what type of daily relationships and interactions police have with the ordinary people of Sidi Hassine” and other working-class neighborhoods.

The National Union of Tunisian Journalists, which are at the forefront of documenting abuse and activism, sees hope for change.

“Although some policemen abuse people, we are not in the same situation as the Ben Ali era,” says Amira Mohamed, a journalist union deputy. “There is progress that simply needs more support, laws, and training to make police familiar with the culture of human rights.”

“There is change. But it is still incomplete.”

Going cashless? Not everyone has an app for that.

Shifting to a card-only payment system has many advantages, but it can also widen the inequality gap for low-income Americans. Our reporter explores the challenges and solutions for navigating a cashless economy.

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As phone apps and electronic banking have become seemingly ubiquitous, many are asking if society needs cash at all. The answer is still yes, and it shines a light on the shrinking but significant number of people who rely on cash for purchasing – a group that, overwhelmingly, also faces poverty and other related issues. 

Around the world, cashless systems are playing out in different ways. In Sweden and Norway, some concerns are rising as banks back away from cash. In Africa, use of mobile money transfers has exploded. Some researchers credit the systems with lifting people out of poverty, though others dispute that or worry about predatory fees.

Across America, some states have banned businesses from going completely cashless, calling it discriminatory against those who are  unbanked. The need, say advocates, is to help those people get bank accounts in the first place. 

“Cashless restaurants, cashless services – what initially came to mind for me was, ‘That wasn’t created with me in mind,’” says Washington, D.C., social worker Wendell Williams, who himself has been homeless and without a bank account. “The average person experiencing homelessness, or [who is] poor, is probably not likely to have that kind of stuff at his disposal.”

Going cashless? Not everyone has an app for that.

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Steven Senne/AP/File
Cashiers at a grocery store sanitize a card reader and the checkout area March 26, 2020, in Quincy, Massachusetts, as an extra precaution out of concern about the spread of the coronavirus. An often invisible 5% of Americans don’t have checking accounts, making cash important despite its declining use.

When the pandemic hit, Cincinnati restaurateur Jean-François Flechet saw the opportunity he had been looking for: Finally, it was a good time to ditch cash payments, as well as the time spent counting change and running to the bank that went along with it. Starting in May 2020, most of his stores went card-only.

“That was 100% because of the pandemic. At the time everybody was sanitizing everything. Cash is dirty to start with,” says Mr. Flechet, owner of a handful of Belgian eateries. The pandemic-induced cash shortage only made the switch more obvious. “I wanted to do cashless for a long time, so the pandemic provided one more argument at the time to really flip the switch.”

Mr. Flechet isn’t alone. While statistics on businesses in the U.S. that have completely dropped cash are scarce, payment-processing company Square reported that the percentage of payments its clients processed in cash dropped just over 8 points in 2020, to about 30%, an acceleration of a downward trend the company has been recording since 2015. And as businesses of all stripes embraced varying strategies – from contactless payments, to online orders, to home delivery – to avoid human contact during the health crisis, some companies responded by dropping cash acceptance altogether.

As cards and payment apps become ubiquitous, 95% of Americans probably wouldn’t bat an eye at Mr. Flechet’s cashless establishment. But in our increasingly digital world, there’s an often invisible 5% of Americans who don’t have checking accounts, according to Federal Reserve data. That means a significant number of Americans face one more disadvantage in their financial lives, which is overwhelmingly a struggle for this group to begin with.

“Cashless restaurants, cashless services – what initially came to mind for me was, ‘That wasn’t created with me in mind,’” says Wendell Williams. Mr. Williams, now a Washington, D.C., social worker, has faced bouts of homelessness, during which time he didn’t always have access to a bank account. Bank accounts come with fees and ID requirements that can be onerous for low-income people and immigrants. “The average person experiencing homelessness, or [who is] poor, is probably not likely to have that kind of stuff at his disposal.”

The accelerated pandemic shift away from cash follows a wave of businesses that have dropped the payment method in recent years or never accepted it in the first place. But opposition to electronic-only payment has been around for decades, long before Square, Apple Pay, or COVID-19 were household names. The concerns now are the same as they were in the 1970s, when Massachusetts banned businesses from not accepting cash: It discriminates against people without – or with limited – access to bank accounts, notably poor people, immigrants (authorized or not), and people who are homeless. In addition to people without accounts at all, another 16% of Americans are “underbanked,” the Federal Reserve estimates. This group has checking accounts, but still uses services like payday loans or check-cashing services – often due to low incomes, a lack of banks in their neighborhood, or poor transportation.

Amid reluctance by some stores to handle cash during the pandemic, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey doubled down, tweeting, “I understand that essential businesses need to take extra precautions right now. But not everyone has a credit card, and consumers should not face economic barriers to accessing necessary goods and services.” 

Massachusetts isn’t alone in having banned stores from going cashless. Similar measures were passed in recent years in New Jersey and Rhode Island on the state level, and Philadelphia and San Francisco on the city level. 

“Removing the option for cash is bad for low-income people, for the undocumented, for privacy, and it in general reduces consumer choice and control over their lives,” says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. He’s quick to point out credit card data is tracked and sold to advertisers, raising concerns for the privacy-minded. “To get a credit card or other cashless payment system requires getting enmeshed in bureaucratic banking systems, showing ID, proving residency – things that a lot of people have trouble doing. It often involves a lot of fees that poor people who are living an economically difficult existence don’t want or are not able to pay.”

Left behind

These issues were on Mr. Flechet’s mind when he made his transition to cashless restaurants. But the problems of people being unbanked are not evenly distributed: Only a small percentage of Mr. Flechet’s customers used cash, making tracking it, counting it, making change, and depositing the day’s earnings in the bank a hassle. But a small percentage for Mr. Flechet translates to bigger numbers nationwide. In the Bronx, a borough of New York City, for example, nearly 1 in 5 households were recorded as unbanked in 2017. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data from 2019 showed that Jackson, Mississippi, held a similar rate, at 17%, and in the Houston metro area it was 1 in 10 – but in the Seattle metro area, it was below the national average, at 2.6%. The biggest challenge cited to having an account by those surveyed was not being able to meet minimum balance requirements, followed by trust issues, privacy concerns, problems related to fees and credit, and bank locations and hours.

Advocates say an important solution comes from nonprofits and credit unions specializing in first-time account holders, willing to take on nontraditional clients. In June, financial technology startup MAJORITY announced it had raised $19 million in funding for its mobile banking system targeted at immigrants and others who struggle with banking bureaucracy. 

Mr. Williams felt that way – even though he was born in the U.S.

“Fear is the major enemy of any kind of change. And you work under the assumption that you’ve had so many noes, and doors closed in your face, that you say, ‘They won’t possibly give me a bank account,’” he says. He got his first account through a teachers credit union that was willing to take him on, after a friend recommended it to him. Without that direct outreach, he doesn’t think it would have happened. Now, as a social worker, part of his job involves tracking down people without housing or without bank accounts in order to get them money they deserve, such as their federal stimulus checks, many of which are still outstanding and unclaimed. 

Mixed results 

Around the world, cashless systems are playing out in different ways, and with different results. In Sweden and Norway, where the use of cash has dwindled in recent years, financial authorities have actually spoken out about their economies leaning too far into cashless payments. In Africa, mobile money transfers – which fall somewhere between a bank account, a money order, and Venmo – have exploded in recent years. Some researchers have credited the systems with lifting people out of poverty, though others have disputed the findings, and worry about predatory fees and rates.

Mr. Flechet decided to allow one of his locations to continue accepting cash, a stand located in Cincinnati’s historic Findlay Market. Though the surrounding neighborhood has gone through a wave of gentrification, Mr. Flechet was concerned about unbanked people in the area being locked out of his business.

“It would be too difficult to be cashless” in that location, he says, stressing that his decision to go cashless in other locations wasn’t based on any aversions to unhoused or poor people, but rather a business decision. In Findlay Market, which has a long history of cash-only spots, turning down cash doesn’t make sense: “Sometimes traditions and habits are hard to change.”

It wasn’t far from Findlay Market where Mr. Williams, while unhoused and living in Cincinnati, was able to get a bank account with a local credit union. While he was a vendor for the local street paper – produced and sold by poor and unhoused people in the community – the Communication Workers of America credit union let newspaper workers get paid through in-house accounts. With documented pay, he was able to get his first apartment.

It was a simple solution, he says, but a powerful one – more powerful than just banning a business from ditching cash. “See,” he asks, “how it can play into getting a better life for people, access to banking?”

Pop music: Fewer gatekeepers, more opportunities

As it has with TV, streaming is reshaping the pop music industry, spawning creative and financial opportunities for new artists. Our culture writer explores this shift, which is a kind of democratization of music.

David
Kelia Anne MacCluskey/High Rise PR
Billie Eilish is among those breaking through the sea of same-sounding songs in pop music. Her latest album, “Happier Than Ever,” arrives July 30.

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Every day, at least 60,000 new songs are uploaded to Spotify – a whopping 22 million per year. There’s never been more recorded music, but given pop culture silos, few songs become really well known.

In a bid to score a breakout hit, many songwriters are risk averse and formulaic. Record labels, focused on quick returns, have been signing artists who blow up on TikTok only to become one-hit wonders.

Yet some observers say that this democratized system also offers new opportunities. There’s more space for quality craftsmen with entrepreneurial savvy to carve out sustainable, middle-tier careers. And fewer gatekeepers means exciting disrupters can emerge to shake the system and keep it fresh. Just ask Billie Eilish, whose new album, “Happier Than Ever,” comes out July 30. Or Lorde, whose third album, “Solar Power,” arrives in August.

“It is really just about figuring out how to get as many people as possible to give you about $50 a year,” says J.R. McKee, a music executive. “There are a lot of artists I’ve never heard of, but they’re making a great amount of money. They have a fan base. That was impossible 10 years ago when it was only the top [artists] at the top.” 

Pop music: Fewer gatekeepers, more opportunities

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Quick, name the No. 1 song on the pop charts.

It’s OK if you don’t know. Most people don’t. Nowadays, very few songs manage to fully saturate our siloed popular culture. Only songs such as Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” – recent winners of the informal annual competition to be crowned song of the summer – tend to become ubiquitous. This year it may be the turn of Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u.” The teen pop star’s edgy breakup anthem, Gen Z’s version of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” is ahead of the pack in the 2021 song of the summer derby. It has almost half a billion streams on Spotify. 

The paradox is that even as fewer songs become well known, there’s never been more recorded music. Anyone can now cheaply record and release compositions directly to streaming platforms. Every day, at least 60,000 new songs are uploaded to Spotify – a whopping 22 million per year. The deluge of releases, with less room at the top, has made it harder to get noticed. In a bid to score a breakout hit, many songwriters are risk averse and formulaic. Record labels, focused on quick returns, have been signing artists who blow up on TikTok only to become one-hit wonders.

Yet some observers say that this democratized system also offers new opportunities. There’s more space for quality craftsmen with entrepreneurial savvy to carve out sustainable, middle-tier careers. And fewer gatekeepers means exciting disrupters can emerge to shake the system and keep it fresh. Just ask Billie Eilish, whose new album, “Happier Than Ever,” comes out July 30. Or Lorde, whose third album, “Solar Power,” arrives in August.

Courtesy of Benjamin Groff
Music executive Benjamin Groff, who has signed artists such as Kelly Clarkson and Kid Cudi, says, “There’s corners of Spotify for everyone.”

“If they’re great – and the key word is ‘exceptional’ – their tribe is going to find and support and nurture that artist,” says Benjamin Groff, a music business executive who has signed acts such as Kelly Clarkson, The Lumineers, One Republic, and Kid Cudi. “There’s corners of Spotify for everyone.”

In the streaming era, however, fewer artists truly stand out. In part it’s because everyone’s using the same pre-made beats, auto-tune, and production software. But it’s also because contemporary compositions are often as simple as nursery rhymes. Of course, pop music has always included repetitive songs that claim squatter’s rights in one’s head and then never leave. (Many wish there were warnings before the airplay of “I’m too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, and “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.) Even so, pop song structure used to be more adventurous. The trend toward generic musical conformity coincides with the wane of the physical album format in the digital era. The focus is getting traction for singles. 

“The opportunity cost of marketing is so high, a record company does not want to promote anything that they don’t think is a guaranteed hit,” says Bob Lefsetz, the music business analyst behind the influential Lefsetz Letter. “You have multiple writers. They’re trying to buy insurance.”

Labels started pairing artists with producers to co-write tunes that copy other successful songs. The result is a proliferation of the same very basic diatonic chord progressions – meaning no key change – that tends to produce similar melodies because only certain notes sound good over those chords. 

“When I went to Nashville, I did a bunch of writing sessions in late 2013, early 2014,” recalls producer Rick Beato, whose YouTube series “What Makes This Song Great?” has 2.4 million subscribers. “Everyone I wrote with had multiple No. 1 hits. They wanted to write different things, but they also wanted to feed their families. So they were stuck writing what they called ‘bro-country.’”  

The diatonic chord progression that’s ubiquitous in bro-country – I–V–vi–IV – also dominates other genres in the song-oriented streaming era, says Mr. Beato. You can hear it on Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” Ms. Clarkson’s “Stronger,” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” By contrast, Mr. Beato notes that only one of The Beatles’ 27 No. 1 hits – “Let it Be” – utilized that chord sequence.

But as fans of the Fab Four can attest, rock ’n’ roll thrives when rule-breakers upend the status quo. For example, Mr. Groff recalls the first time he came across a pre-fame Lady Gaga in the Myspace era. At the time there was no dance pop in the charts. 

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh, it’s not going to work,” says Mr. Groff, who owns the music publishing company Brill Building as well as We Are: The Guard, a talent and record label business. “There’s always that artist that ultimately then changes what is perceived as being the norm.”

Mr. Groff points to rap star Big Freedia, whom he signed, as someone who fits that description. The hip-hop sound she helped pioneer, called bounce music, draws from New Orleans parade drums, jazz horns, and Mardi Gras call-and-response chants. 

Chris Bernsten/Ballin PR
Rap artist Big Freedia has found a following via streaming. Beyoncé and Drake have now sampled the New Orleans rapper on hit songs. Collaborations with Lizzo and Kesha have also introduced her to new ears.

“I just continue to be myself and be authentic and not try to follow the pack,” says Big Freedia, a Louisiana native. “My mom always taught me to be a leader and not a follower.” 

She released her first album, “Queen Diva,” in 2003. Back then, her underground music wasn’t as easily discovered – it wasn’t on mainstream radio. Her lyrics are too explicit for airplay, anyway. Now, streaming platforms facilitate music discovery. Beyoncé and Drake sampled the New Orleans rapper on hit songs. Collaborations with Lizzo and Kesha have also introduced her to new ears.

“Every time I did a song with a different person that took me to another level, I would call my manager, and say, ‘The price just went up again!’” she says.

Today, musicians such as Big Freedia are empowered as never before to forge direct connections to fans via Instagram and TikTok. A catchy hook embedded in a 30-second video reel often spurs TikTok users to listen to the entire song on streaming services. Record labels have less sway on influencing what goes viral on TikTok, so it’s more possible than ever for unknown musicians to have hits.

“It’s about algorithms. Spotify looks at what is saved and what is played and they move that into more significant playlists,” says Mr. Lefsetz. “No matter who you are, you’re not guaranteed success. And you see this all the time. People put out tracks – like Justin Bieber – that go nowhere. So the system is somewhat democratic.”

Indeed, musicians have never been less beholden to the old power centers. That’s especially true for mid-tier level artists. Who needs record labels when you can sell music and merchandise directly to fans on Bandcamp? Many artists also receive monthly donations from their most ardent fans via Patreon. Playing live gigs is essential.

Robert Adam Mayer/Courtesy of J.R. McKee
Music executive J.R. McKee is among those helping musicians find direct paths to the public, often via streaming platforms. Artists “don’t have to be No. 1 to thrive,” he says.

“It is really just about figuring out how to get as many people as possible to give you about $50 a year,” says J.R. McKee, a music executive who’s played an instrumental role in boosting streaming numbers for hip-hop stars such as Lil Durk and Rod Wave. “We don’t have to be No. 1 to thrive. There are a lot of artists I’ve never heard of, but they’re making a great amount of money. They have a fan base. That was impossible 10 years ago when it was only the top [artists] at the top.” 

Musicians at that mid-tier level can find an audience for whatever type of music they’re making, says Mr. McKee, who hosts an online course on how to be a music industry entrepreneur. “So there’s no need to copy anyone.”

The music industry may have changed, but the ingredients for success haven’t. 

“It’s about hard work,” says Big Freedia. “And even when the world tries to knock you down or when you go to situations where you may have a hiccup, you get up, you dust yourself off. ... You continue to bring great music to the world and they can’t deny you.” 

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Is Haiti really ‘ungovernable’?

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The assassination of Haiti’s president seems to confirm the worst about the impoverished Caribbean nation – that it is ungovernable. Even the embattled president, Jovenel Moïse, often said so. Yet Haiti is not alone in stoking an impression of chronic instability.

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s prime minister warned that the Middle Eastern country is days away from a “social explosion.” In Afghanistan, the pullout of American troops has led to predictions of civil war. From Ethiopia to Yemen, news headlines create a global image of myriad ungoverned spaces.

What’s often overlooked are the many successes of failed or failing states being patched back together. Since World War II, the world has built up international institutions that bring a collective wisdom on when and how to intervene in a troubled country.

A key lesson is that even countries in chaos still have communities that rely on local norms of self-governance. These communities often have rules for inclusion. They allow people the independence to present ideas and organize. They set informal boundaries on authority.

The difficulty for outside powers lies in identifying those groups and playing to their ideals and norms. After the assassination in Haiti, that process will begin anew.

Is Haiti really ‘ungovernable’?

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Protesters in Haiti hold signs against escalating gang violence last year.

The assassination of Haiti’s president on Wednesday seemed to confirm the worst about the impoverished Caribbean nation – that it is ungovernable from within and unfixable from the outside. Even the embattled president, Jovenel Moïse, often said his country of 11 million was ungovernable. Yet Haiti is not alone in stoking an impression of chronic instability and potential collapse.

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s prime minister warned that the Middle East country is days away from a “social explosion,” caused by a deep political and economic crisis. In Afghanistan, the pullout of American troops and the military advances of the Taliban have led to predictions of civil war. In Myanmar, a military coup in February has led to what the United Nations calls a “multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe.” From Ethiopia to Yemen to tiny Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), news headlines create a global image of myriad ungoverned spaces.

What’s often overlooked, however, are the many successes of failed or failing states being patched back together. Since World War II, the world has built up international institutions that bring a collective wisdom on when and how to intervene in a troubled country. Each victory, even small ones, provides critical lessons often applicable to other hot spots.

In Libya, for example, a decade of near-chaos appears closer to an end, a result of careful, U.N.-led negotiations and war fatigue among big powers meddling in that country. Talks to end Yemen’s long civil war also have some traction with help from astute mediation by Oman. In the Central African Republic, an armed rebellion that might have led to state failure was prevented earlier this year by troops from neighboring Rwanda, which did not want to see a genocide like it experienced nearly three decades ago.

One recent success was the ouster of Islamic State’s caliphate from Iraq by international forces. ISIS’s success in exploiting religious differences in Iraq helped in bringing some unity to Iraq. Youthful, pro-democracy protests there have led to the recent selection of a reformist prime minister.

A key lesson from such successes is that even countries in chaos still have communities that rely on local norms of self-governance. These communities often have rules for inclusion. They allow people the independence to present ideas and organize. They set informal boundaries on authority. Peace-makers have learned to tap these wells of self-governance to put a country back together.

That peace tactic builds on the work of the late Elinor Ostrom, a Nobel prize winner in economics. She challenged the assumption that humans are inherently selfish, or what is called “the tragedy of the commons.” In her field work, she proved that many societies have deep traditions of local groups developing shared ideals and cooperative norms.

The difficulty for outside powers lies in identifying those groups and playing to their ideals and norms. After the assassination in Haiti, that process will begin anew. Haiti is not really ungovernable. It just needs help in bringing forth the people and places where self-governance already exists.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

How forgiveness helped my family

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When a misunderstanding within her family spiraled out of control, a teen asked God for help in forgiving her dad. The healing effects of that love-fueled prayer were profound and lasting.

How forgiveness helped my family

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

The author's name has been withheld at their request.

Like many teenage siblings, my sister and I fought. We loved each other, but there was definitely a lot of bickering. Still, it caught me by surprise when one time, out of nowhere, she threatened me. I was shocked because this was so uncharacteristic of her, and shaken because of what she’d done. So, the next day I decided to pretend to do the same to her.

I had no intention of harming her. I just wanted to get back at her – maybe scare her enough so she’d never threaten me again. Only this time, my father saw what was happening, and he didn’t realize I was just fooling around. Neither did my sister, who ran away from me, shrieking, and hid under her bed. My dad was upset and sent me to my room, telling me that if I stayed there, he wouldn’t mention to my mother what had happened.

After having a long cry over what felt like a great injustice, I turned to my Bible, as I had done so many times before. I opened to the scene of the crucifixion, in which Jesus asks God to forgive his crucifiers “for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). While I knew my injustice paled in comparison to the crucifixion, I’d learned in Christian Science Sunday school that each Bible story and passage has relevance to our lives when we pray with it and understand its deeper meaning. So, that’s what I did.

As I prayed with this idea, I was so inspired by Jesus’ example that I saw that I could forgive, too. And I felt compassion for my father, because he hadn’t understood what was going on. Through my prayers, I grasped to some degree the goodness and innocence of each of us as God’s children. I felt a shift of thought away from feelings of hurt and injustice and toward love and forgiveness. And with that, I let go of the whole ordeal and felt so at peace that I fell asleep.

A little while later, I was awakened by a knocking on my door. When I emerged from my room, my mom was waiting for me at the end of the hallway. My heart sank; my dad had told her what had happened after all.

Even worse, when she said something to me firmly, I must have responded in a way that my dad didn’t like, because suddenly he raised his hand to hit me. The few seconds that followed felt like minutes. Time slowed down, and in that moment I felt God, who is divine Love, stir my thoughts. I found myself thinking, “Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he does.”

What followed was amazing. It felt like I’d been struck by a pillow, even though the force of the slap was enough to send me to the floor. I was so in awe of how protected I had been that I was only half aware of my dad telling me to say, “Yes, sir.” Though I promptly did.

After that, things calmed down a bit, and I was able to tell him my side of the story. (I had tried earlier, but apparently he hadn’t really heard me.) When I explained what my sister had originally done to me, my father said that she would have to be punished. I heard my sister shriek with terror from her bedroom. But before he could do anything, I told my father I forgave her. He then told my sister that since I’d forgiven her, there was no need for her to be punished.

Not only did I have this complete feeling of forgiveness, but when I looked in the mirror not long afterward, there was no mark on my cheek, even though I had been slapped forcefully. I’d been completely protected.

After this experience, I was never again intimidated by my father, in spite of his short temper. And things in our family went back to normal – between my parents and me, and between my sister and me. Also, my dad never struck either of us again.

This healing taught me just how powerful genuine forgiveness is. When my dad raised his hand to hit me, I didn’t pray to protect myself, nor did I know the outcome would be protection. I simply felt love for my father, and that love naturally impelled me to ask God for help in forgiving him. The ripple effect of these prayers left a big impression on me, and I’ve been able to trust more in the power of Love to harmonize my relationships, including those with my family, ever since.

Originally published in the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section, June 15, 2021.

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Conquering the Giant of Provence

Stephane Mahe/Reuters
Rigoberto Urán of Colombia and Richard Carapaz of Ecuador descend the iconic Mont Ventoux (6,263 ft.) during Stage 11 of the Tour de France, July 7, 2021. This is the 16th time in 69 years that the Giant of Provence, or the Bald Mountain, has been part of the world's most famous bicycle race.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about the abrupt U.S. exit from Afghanistan and the trust deficit it’s creating.

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