2021
August
06
Friday

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 06, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Remembering Richard Trumka, a Monitor Breakfast stalwart

Richard Trumka was a fighter. You could see that in his advocacy for workers as the nation’s top labor leader, and in his dealings with journalists. He clearly enjoyed a good argument, and in his 12 appearances at the Monitor Breakfast – every year like clockwork, pre-Labor Day, beginning in 2009 – the sparks often flew. We reporters loved it. 

The news yesterday of Mr. Trumka’s passing brought a flood of memories. Former Monitor Editor and breakfast host David Cook recalls that the AFL-CIO president always came prepared with extensive remarks, making it hard to find a way – politely – to cut him off and get to questions. 

Mr. Trumka never failed to bring up his roots as a third-generation coal miner from southwestern Pennsylvania, where he still had property – good for family time and hunting. He was also a lawyer, but he didn’t come across as an inside-the-Beltway type. 

Yet he was the ultimate insider, in union halls, in the Capitol, at the White House, mostly with Democrats. Mr. Trumka had the ear of President Joe Biden – another son of blue-collar Pennsylvania – and tried to work with President Donald Trump on trade, to limited avail.

At our last in-person Trumka breakfast, two years ago, my most memorable moment came right when we sat down. “The first thing he mentioned was his new granddaughter – and we know how tough guys melt over grandchildren,” I wrote afterward

We were scheduled to have Mr. Trumka back on Aug. 31 for our first in-person breakfast of the pandemic era. There would have been lots of questions. And he would have had plenty to say. 

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and political unity

At a time of intense partisanship in the U.S., Western state lawmakers are forging bipartisan legislation to address the region’s wildfire crisis.

Linda
Fred Greaves/Reuters
A firefighter guides a firetruck down a driveway to protect homes threatened by the flames at the River Fire, a wildfire near the Placer County town of Grass Valley, California, Aug. 4, 2021.

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At a time of national polarization, the towering flames in Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, and elsewhere have forged consensus among legislators to confront a perennial threat. Key to that consensus is a willingness to set aside discussion of what’s causing the fires.

As Washington state Rep. Mark Klicker, a Republican, suggests, debating the reasons – climate change, overgrown forests, unchecked development – matters less than enacting solutions.

“Everybody has their take on what’s causing these fires,” he says. “But whatever the causes, we have a problem. So let’s address it and do the best we can to prevent what’s happening.”

There’s also growing consensus that states need to focus on preventing fires, including starting controlled fires to clear out overgrowth. In New Mexico, a bill to ease restrictions on conducting controlled burns on private land received nearly unanimous support in March. A comparable measure appears headed for bipartisan approval in California.

“There’s a general recognition of the wildfire problem and a general recognition of some of the solutions,” says Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy. “So even if not everyone is saying ‘climate change,’ steps are being taken to address it.”

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and political unity

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The acrid smoke from massive wildfires that ignited in rural eastern Washington last Labor Day weekend drifted over the Cascades before blanketing the state’s populous western flank. Ashen clouds darkened the skies above Seattle, Tacoma, and the capital, Olympia, looming like a rebuke of state lawmakers for failing to alleviate a worsening wildfire crisis.

The memory of that spectacle lingered after the haze cleared, and when the Legislature convened in January, a sense of urgency – and unity – prevailed in the statehouse. Republicans joined with Democrats to unanimously approve a wide-ranging wildfire prevention bill, resolving differences that had derailed similar measures the past two sessions.

The show of bipartisan support marked a victory for Hilary Franz, a Democrat and Washington’s commissioner of public lands. Since taking office in 2017, she has prodded lawmakers in both parties – Democrats control the House and Senate – to work together on wildfire legislation “before the Evergreen State turns charcoal black.”

“You can’t achieve bipartisanship if you never cross the aisle,” she says. “You won’t have bipartisanship if you don’t try to listen to and understand the other side.”

As infernos ravage the West again this summer, adding to the vast destruction witnessed in recent years, Democrats and Republicans in several states have embraced collaboration on wildfire bills as they seek to save lives, land, and homes. At a time of national polarization, when pragmatism can seem a lost art, the towering flames in Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, and elsewhere have forged consensus among legislators to confront a perennial threat.

Washington’s new law commits the state to spending $125 million every two years through 2029 to expand firefighting operations, nurture forest restoration, and strengthen community resilience. The long-term planning reflects an expectation that the fiery status quo will persist.

“Had last year’s fire season been average,” says state Rep. Larry Springer, the Democratic deputy majority leader, “there probably would have been less energy behind this bill. But the explosion of fire – it’s impossible for anyone to ignore.”

A greater willingness to agree to disagree about what propels cataclysmic wildfires has proved essential to policymakers finding common ground. Republican state Rep. Mark Klicker suggests that debating the reasons – climate change, overgrown forests, unchecked development – matters less than enacting solutions in Washington, where more than 800,000 acres burned last year. 

“Everybody has their take on what’s causing these fires. Our side says it’s forest management; the other side says it’s climate. But whatever the causes, we have a problem,” he says. “So let’s address it and do the best we can to prevent what’s happening.”

Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Reuters
Scott Griffin greets his pigs, which survived the Bootleg Fire, after he and his wife were forced to leave them as they evacuated their property in Sycan Estates, Oregon, July 24, 2021.

Shared vulnerability

Oregonians endured their own Labor Day nightmare last year when a handful of infernos erupted that weekend on the western side of the Cascades. The fires scorched some 1 million acres – more than had burned in the mountain range in the previous 36 years combined.

One blaze swept through the state Senate district that Jeff Golden represents, destroying 2,800 homes and other buildings and gutting the small towns of Phoenix and Talent. The devastation prompted Senator Golden, a Democrat who lives in nearby Ashland, to introduce a $190 million omnibus wildfire bill in February to bolster fire response agencies, forest health, and community preparedness.

“After last year,” he says, “I didn’t see how we could face our constituents if we didn’t get something done this year.”

Democrats hold large majorities in Oregon’s statehouse. In 2019 and again last year, Republicans staged walkouts to protest climate change proposals, scuttling wildfire legislation in the process.

Seeking to gain bipartisan backing, Senator Golden, chairman of the Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery Committee, agreed to compromise on a land use planning clause to win over wary Republicans. More than half the party’s caucus voted for the measure in June, and he considers that support vital for reinforcing the idea that reducing wildfire risk requires collective effort.

“Without Republicans getting behind it, the narrative could’ve quickly become that we’re the bad guys – the overreaching, nanny-state Democrats,” he says. He mentions the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, which started less than two weeks after the bill’s approval and has burned more than 400,000 acres. “These fires affect everyone, so we need everyone working to prevent them.”

The shared vulnerability of rural and urban residents has created an ideological bridge in the Capitol, says Sean Stevens, executive director of Oregon Wild, an environmental advocacy group. “The bipartisan nature of wildfire is interesting. No politician – Republican or Democrat – wants to tell constituents they can’t solve this problem for their communities,” he says.

A prolonged drought and rising temperatures in the West have contributed to an increase in the intensity and magnitude of fires over the past decade. Wildfires blackened 9.5 million acres across the region last year, including almost 700,000 in Colorado, the highest total in its recorded history.

Kevin Priola, a Republican state senator, recalls campaigning door to door in a Denver suburb in October. A charred pine needle dropped from the smoke-smeared sky and landed on the file folder he held in his hands. He surmised that gusty winds carried the needle 50 to 60 miles from a blaze burning in the Front Range foothills west of the city.

The moment illuminated the inescapable reach of wildfire, and he recounts the anecdote while explaining his support for a bill to create a state fund to help communities avert future disasters. He cast the lone Republican vote in favor of the measure that passed in June.

“As policymakers, we often get tagged as reactive – we change the law after the public changes its habits,” he says. “With this legislation, we’re looking ahead. There’s no time to wait.”

Noah Berger/AP
A street sign stands in central Greenville as the Dixie Fire tears through Plumas County in California, Aug. 4, 2021. The fire leveled multiple historic buildings and dozens of homes in the community.

A growing focus on prevention

Federal and state firefighting agencies have followed an aggressive wildfire suppression strategy on public and private lands for more than a century. The policy of dousing most wildland fires as quickly as possible has wrought forests, grasslands, and shrublands choked with overgrowth and primed to burn as the climate turns warmer and drier.

The lopsided emphasis on suppression over prescribed burning and other preemptive treatments that could lower the wildfire threat has pushed state lawmakers to seek legislative remedies.

In New Mexico, a bill to ease restrictions on conducting controlled burns on private land received nearly unanimous support in March. A comparable measure appears headed for bipartisan approval in California a year after fires torched a record 4.2 million acres, including five of the six largest blazes in state history.

The spirit of cooperation has spread to Congress, where a group of Western lawmakers formed the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus earlier this year. Two of its members – one Democrat, one Republican – have co-sponsored a $600 million bill to increase prescribed burning on public and private lands.

More broadly, the bipartisan infrastructure bill now wending its way through the House and Senate would pump billions of dollars into wildfire prevention and climate resilience programs. The funding would aid forest restoration through prescribed burning and “ecologically appropriate” timber harvesting, and provide “defense grants” to communities to prepare for and ward off the flames.

The state and federal initiatives reveal a growing inclination among elected officials to redress the spiraling effects of fire even as discussing the root causes remains thorny. 

“There’s a general recognition of the wildfire problem and a general recognition of some of the solutions,” says Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy. “So even if not everyone is saying ‘climate change,’ steps are being taken to address it.”

State lawmakers in Washington avoided an ideological fight over wildfire prevention by separating that bill from more contentious proposals that explicitly focused on climate. For Rep. Tom Dent, a Republican who represents a rural district that stretches across central and eastern Washington, the smoky skies in the West offer a clear view of the need to act.

“We can argue about climate change and what it means and where it’s going,” he says. “But right now, we have to deal with the wildfire epidemic.”

In New York politics, an end to the old boys’ club?

Whether Andrew Cuomo is forced from power, the governor known for his bare-knuckle brand of politics may be among the last of the “three men in a room” version of New York state leadership.

Linda
Will Waldron/The Albany Times Union/AP
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, shown during a stop on the Paid Leave for All's national bus tour Aug. 3, 2021, in Albany, could become New York’s first female governor. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced mounting pressure to resign, including from President Joe Biden, after an investigation found he sexually harassed 11 women.

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New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has described the “aha moment” when she decided to run for politics. She saw that a young man without any apparent experience was running for the town board. “What does he have that I don’t have other than confidence?” she later told The Journal News. She entered the race and won. 

Now she could become the first female governor of New York, part of a recent wave of firsts in which women have reached the upper rungs of politics in one of the country’s largest and most influential states.

After a report from the state attorney general this week found that Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, the Democratic governor has been repudiated by his own party. Democrats from President Joe Biden on down called for him to resign, and the state Assembly began expediting impeachment proceedings.

“There really has been a huge generational shift from the time when it was ‘three men in a room,’” says Ken Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “The political leadership of New York has become much more reflective of the population of the state, and particularly of the Democratic Party, over the past few years.”

In New York politics, an end to the old boys’ club?

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When Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul first found her passion for politics as a young woman in the northern reaches of New York, she didn’t necessarily see herself running for public office. 

In high school in the mid-1970s, she’d take the bus to downtown Buffalo to volunteer for the local Democratic Party headquarters – where she was often the only woman in the room. During her years at Syracuse University, she served as an intern at the New York State Assembly. Later, after graduating from law school, she served as a legal aide to an upstate U.S. congressman and then New York’s legendary U.S. senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

“I always wanted to be the brains behind other people,” she told The Journal News in 2018, when she was running for a second term as lieutenant governor on the ticket that included Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Back then she simply lacked the confidence to run for public office, Ms. Hochul said. “It’s something that women of my generation and some of other generations still experience. I didn’t have any role models. We were just women behind the scenes making the guys look good.”

Today, however, New York’s lieutenant governor could become the first woman to hold the office of governor of New York, part of a recent wave of firsts in which women have reached the upper rungs of politics in one of the largest and most influential states in the country.

After a report from the state attorney general this week found that Mr. Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and intimidated his accusers, the governor has been repudiated by his own party. Democrats from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Eric Adams, the Democratic pick to be New York’s next mayor, called for him to resign. After he refused, the state Assembly began expediting impeachment proceedings against him. On Friday, one of the women filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Cuomo with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.

Whether he is forced from power, the governor long known for his bare knuckle and imperious brand of politics may be among the last of the “three men in a room” version of New York state governance – an expression once used to describe the decisive power held by the state’s governor, Assembly speaker, and Senate majority leader.

Indeed, while Lieutenant Governor Hochul would make history in the Empire State should she need to serve the remainder of the embattled governor’s term, in 2018 Democratic Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes became the first woman to serve as that body’s majority leader, second to the speaker. And in 2019, Democratic Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first to serve as the Senate majority leader, one of the most politically powerful posts in New York.

Mary Altaffer/Reuters
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, shown during a news conference May 10, 2021, is facing impeachment proceedings after a report found he sexually harassed 11 women and retaliated against an accuser. He denies the allegations and has refused to resign.

“There really has been a huge generational shift from the time when it was ‘three men in a room,’” says Ken Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College in Manhattan. “The political leadership of New York has become much more reflective of the population of the state, and particularly of the Democratic Party, over the past few years.”

A breakthrough of firsts

New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose report this week revealed detailed and corroborated allegations of sexual harassment, also became the first woman elected to the office in 2018 – and the first woman of color to win any statewide office in New York. Her immediate predecessor, Barbara Underwood, the first woman to hold the office, was appointed by Governor Cuomo to serve out the last few months of the term of Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in 2018 after four women alleged he sexually abused them.

This breakthrough of firsts coincided with the height of the #MeToo movement, which political experts say contributed to the many factors that brought these women to power. Their elevation upholds the kinds of role models that didn’t exist when Ms. Hochul began her career.

In her role as a legal aide for Sen. Moynihan in the mid-1980s, she was his point person during the last major immigration reform bill and other policy initiatives. In many ways she relished being the brains behind the scenes, despite being a new mother at the time.

“I loved my job, but the hours were crazy,” Ms. Hochul told the local news outlet CITY this year. “We literally pulled all-nighters when they were in session. You have a child – there’s nobody to watch the kids.”

So she moved back to the Buffalo area in the early 1990s with her husband, Bill Hochul, who President Barack Obama would appoint as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. They had a second child in the small town of Hamburg.

But she soon felt herself drawn back to politics, engaging in local quality-of-life issues and attending town board meetings. And it was then that she had an “aha moment,” she told The Journal News.  

“What really pushed me over the top was I was 35, I had been an attorney, worked on Capitol Hill, helped small businesses, was a mother, a taxpayer, a homeowner, and I still didn’t think I had enough qualifications to run for the most local form of government – the Town Board,” she said.

But then a 22-year-old man who had just graduated and was living with his parents ran for the town board. “That was the ‘aha moment.’ What does he have that I don’t have other than confidence? I decided to run,” she said.

Winning a special election

Ms. Hochul won a seat in 1994 and served until 2007, when she was first appointed and then elected as Erie County clerk. It was here that she started to garner statewide attention after vocally opposing a proposal by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer to permit unauthorized immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses – becoming known as a moderate, if not conservative, upstate Democrat.

In 2011, Ms. Hochul won a special congressional election in a conservative upstate district, receiving an endorsement from the National Rifle Association. After the lines of her district were redrawn to make it even more conservative, however, she lost her bid for reelection.

“She was a right-of-center candidate in a far-right-of-center district,” former Rep. Steve Israel, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The New York Times earlier this year. “She presented as an independent, not willing to toe the party line, but she also had a way of connecting with progressive voters on fundamental issues like choice and the environment.”

After his first running mate decided not to run again for health reasons, Governor Cuomo tapped the upstate moderate.

Like the U.S. vice presidency, there is little power and no defined role for the office she’s held since 2014. But Professor Sherrill notes Lieutenant Governor Hochul has been crisscrossing the state for years, attending events and making connections as she faithfully promoted state tourism and a number of Governor Cuomo’s initiatives, directing his “Enough is Enough” campaign against sexual assault on college campuses.

“Cuomo gave her no real responsibility – he’s never been interested in sharing power with anybody – but she’s a skilled, savvy politician who thrived in the tough politics of Buffalo, a kind of Clinton Democrat,” Professor Sherrill says. 

“I believe these brave women”

Lieutenant Governor Hochul joined a near unanimous chorus of state and federal officials urging Mr. Cuomo to resign – even as the state’s Assembly begins to prepare articles of impeachment and the Senate a possible trial.

“The AG’s investigation has documented repulsive & unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women,” Lieutenant Governor Hochul tweeted earlier this week. “I believe these brave women & admire their courage coming forward.”

Although she could make history as the first woman to hold the office of New York governor, political observers say her moderate record could prove a difficult sell in next year’s Democratic primary in which progressives are likely to extend their influence.

“The 2022 election is now shaping up as a very, very interesting one,” says Professor Sherrill. “[Democratic Sen. Kirsten] Gillibrand is up for reelection, the governor’s office is up, and there will be reapportionment next year, so everybody will all be running in new district lines.”

“But Cuomo will hover over all of this, no matter what happens,” he continues, “especially for the lieutenant governor.”

Peru elected a leftist outsider as president. Now it asks, can he do the job?

Peru’s presidential elections were meant to serve as a release valve for a country fed up with corruption and political crises. But in his first week in office, President Castillo has alienated allies and opponents.

Linda

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Peru’s newest president, Pedro Castillo, taught in a remote village school for most of his adult life. In 2017, he rose to national prominence after launching a local strike to demand better working conditions, only to retreat back to his classroom and potato crops.

Three years later, cascading political crises led to three presidents in the span of one week and set the stage for this year’s election that Mr. Castillo narrowly won. He took office last week after a hard-fought election; his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, cried fraud, but her challenges to the results were rejected. Still, the legal disputes permitted Mr. Castillo just nine days to organize a transition from the previous administration.

He had instilled hope in many Peruvians because of his status as an outsider, far removed from the political machinery and corruption that have long tainted politics. But he has already exacerbated tensions by naming a Cabinet based more on party affiliations than on experience, which is likely to set the stage for more political drama.

“The president has chosen a Cabinet without experience at a time when Peru needs capable administrators,” says Julio Guzmán, a past presidential candidate of a centrist party.  

Peru elected a leftist outsider as president. Now it asks, can he do the job?

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Angela Ponce/Reuters
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo walks out of Congress after his swearing-in ceremony in Lima, Peru, July 28, 2021.

Peru may have a new president, but the challenges he and his country face are decades old.

A rural schoolteacher and union leader, Pedro Castillo was inaugurated July 28 in a rushed transition after weeks of legal and political uncertainty. He’s not the first outsider to win the presidency in Peru, but he’s the only one to make the leap from the largely impoverished countryside to the country’s highest office. 

Mr. Castillo, a candidate of the left, took office after a hard-fought election that he won in early June by 44,200 votes out of nearly 19 million cast. His opponent, Keiko Fujimori, cried fraud, but her challenges were rejected. Still, the legal disputes meant that Mr. Castillo had just nine days to organize a transition from the previous administration.

His victory was divisive but offered hope for many – especially in poor, rural areas. Peru has had five presidents since 2018, when Congress and the president began a game of political chicken: Presidents threatened to shutter the legislature and lawmakers snapped back, threatening to impeach presidents. Peru’s Constitution makes both relatively simple.

Many Peruvians held out hope that as a political newcomer, Mr. Castillo might break this pattern of compounding crises. Instead, he seems to only have exacerbated tensions by naming a Cabinet based more on party ideology than on experience, which has reshaped relations with his political allies and opponents, setting the stage for more political drama.

“The president has chosen a Cabinet without experience at a time when Peru needs capable administrators,” says Julio Guzmán, a past presidential candidate of a small centrist party.

From rural classrooms to the national stage

Mr. Castillo taught in a small school in a hamlet in northern Peru most of his adult life. His first breakthrough came in 2017, when he and other rural teachers called a strike to demand better conditions and salaries for educators working in far-flung areas who had to also work as cooks and janitors at their schools. The rural teachers broke with the national teachers union and slowly gained public and opposition support. The strike eventually led to a full-blown political crisis: Congress used the strike as pretext to force a major Cabinet shakeup.

The future president then retreated from the national stage to teach and tend his potato crops. Running for president was not even a consideration until a year ago, when the small Perú Libre party approached him to run. He did not join the party until last October, and he had little name recognition in early polls ahead of the first round of voting in April. 

Guadalupe Pardo/AP
Demonstrators protest against Peruvian President Pedro Castillo and his new Cabinet in Lima, Peru, Aug. 1, 2021.

His success in the presidential election came down to a combination of factors. These included the pandemic, which exposed glaring inequities in Peru, including rising levels of hunger, and massive corruption among the political elite. One former president is in prison, two are under house arrest, and one may go on trial later this year for corruption. Peruvians, fed up with politics as usual, opted for the outsider who didn’t have ties to established parties and, crucially, wasn’t associated with corruption. Mr. Castillo won overwhelmingly in rural regions where Perú Libre is popular, coming close to 90% of the vote in some areas. 

Cabinet controversy 

While Peruvians hoped for a break from political gridlock, Mr. Castillo, in his first week in office, may have only worsened it. The trouble began with Congressman Guido Bellido, also a political newcomer, whom the president tapped to lead his 19-member Cabinet as prime minister. Mr. Bellido, who was elected to Congress in April, drew criticism after he praised a former combatant of the outlawed Shining Path insurgency.

As a result, Mr. Bellido faces anti-terrorism charges that carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. He’s not allowed to sit on the defense or intelligence committees in Congress while the investigation is underway, though he is still the head of the president’s Cabinet, giving him access to sensitive information. 

And he’s just one of the ministers the opposition wants out. A far-right party has demanded another five ministers be removed from the Cabinet for alleged terrorism sympathies. One is Héctor Béjar, Mr. Castillo’s foreign minister, who trained in Cuba in the 1960s and was part of a small band of guerrillas that tried to spark revolution in Peru.

The other eight opposition parties in Congress have all demanded changes as well. Of the 19 ministers, 12 have raised objections from one or more party.

The Castillo government “has chosen ideology over pragmatism,” says Gonzalo Banda, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Santa María.

Part of the criticism of the Cabinet is ideological, but a number of ministers lack basic experience: Several have little or no firsthand knowledge in the sector they were chosen to lead. In the case of the transportation ministry, which manages the government’s largest investment budget, the selected minister is a former public school principal. 

A missed opportunity?

Mr. Castillo was voted into office in an election that was meant to be a release valve from the protests and tensions that swept the nation in 2020, when Peru had three presidents in the span of a week at the height of the pandemic. But many worry his presidency may already be doomed as talk in Congress has turned to options like impeachment.

Mr. Castillo has not spoken publicly to address the criticism around his Cabinet picks. But he’s not helping himself by keeping quiet, says Jo-Marie Burt, an associate professor and Peru expert at George Mason University.

“Castillo’s silence on policy matters and the general orientation of his government is disconcerting. Peruvians want to know where the country is heading,” she says.

Mr. Guzmán fears Peru is facing yet another political crisis just as it emerges from its worst recession in three decades. While Peru has the world’s highest per capita COVID-19 death rate, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker, it is moving quickly with vaccines. Political gridlock could undermine much-needed progress on the pandemic and economic recovery. 

“Politics and macroeconomic stability have been on parallel tracks, but not any longer. They are starting to collide,” says Mr. Guzmán.

The president, in an Aug. 5 ceremony with military and police brass, sounded a conciliatory note, saying he would govern for all Peruvians.

“In my government, we will crisscross all corners of the country to listen and work with all levels of government to meet the most urgent needs of our population,” he said. “We are going to govern with and for the people.”

Solar-baked bread? Recycled loaves? Bakers try something new in France.

Bread is an important cultural symbol in France. Some bakers are trying to apply innovative techniques to its production in ways that update the beloved tradition with modern ecological values.

Linda
Colette Davidson
Arnaud Crétot holds three varieties of his organic bread, which he bakes using a solar-powered oven in Montville, France. He is the first baker in Europe to use the technique.

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A burgeoning group of “neo-bakers” around France is working to incorporate local products and ecologically friendly, ancestral methods into making bread. For some bakers, it’s a question of choosing additive-free wheat or organic ingredients. For others, it’s about method – hand kneading dough or using sourdough fermentation in the place of yeast.

But they are doing more than finding innovative ways to produce bread. They’re creating renewed enthusiasm for an iconic cultural product that has seen its popularity fade in recent decades.

Arnaud Crétot’s technique, for example, is based around using solar ovens to bake his bread. Every sunny Thursday, he will scuttle between the makeshift kitchen he’s built in his yard to his wall of 57 concave mirrors. At 10-minute intervals, the 5-square-meter contraption needs to be manually rotated ever so slightly into position, in order for the sun to fire up the outdoor oven connected to it. “Everything works like clockwork,” he says. “It’s all timed out.”

“Society is becoming more modern and we have to adapt, to constantly re-imagine and renew our products without abandoning traditions,” says historian Patrick Rambourg. “The French aren’t against innovation. They like new things – but based on something they know and love already.”

Solar-baked bread? Recycled loaves? Bakers try something new in France.

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A collection of wispy clouds floats over Arnaud Crétot’s backyard, and in a flash, a blazing midmorning sun breaks through. For Montville, this 70-degree day is practically balmy.

More importantly for Mr. Crétot, France’s – and Europe’s – first solar baker, it’s weather he needs to make bread.

Every Thursday, he takes a break from his small business NeoLoco, roasting local grains for snacks and aperitifs, to make bread using solar panels. For the next few hours, he will scuttle back and forth between the makeshift, cabinlike kitchen he’s built in his yard where he hand kneads gluey, grain-filled dough, to his wall of 57 concave mirrors.

At 10-minute intervals, the 5-square-meter contraption needs to be manually rotated ever so slightly into position, in order for the sun to properly fire up the outdoor oven connected to it. “Everything works like clockwork,” says Mr. Crétot. “It’s all timed out.”

By the end of the day – if the temperamental Normandy weather cooperates – he will have produced 40 loaves of sourdough-fermented, sun-baked bread. “It’s to the point where I have to refuse orders now,” says Mr. Crétot. “I hope more people can start using this method so we can have more of an impact.”

Mr. Crétot is part of a burgeoning group of “neo-bakers” around France who are working to incorporate local products and ecologically friendly, ancestral methods into making bread. For some bakers, it’s a question of choosing additive-free wheat or organic ingredients. For others, it’s about method – hand kneading dough or using sourdough fermentation in the place of yeast.

This small but dedicated baking troupe is doing more than finding innovative ways to produce bread. It’s creating renewed enthusiasm for an iconic cultural product that has seen its popularity fade in recent decades. It’s also challenging traditional mindsets on how a beloved and culturally ingrained food item – the French baguette – is conceived.

“Society is becoming more modern and we have to adapt, to constantly re-imagine and renew our products without abandoning traditions,” says Patrick Rambourg, a French historian and specialist in gastronomy. “The French aren’t against innovation. They like new things – but based on something they know and love already.”

A culinary cornerstone

Bread has outfitted French dinner tables since the Middle Ages. And although its origin remains speculative, most historians place its becoming central to French cuisine around the 19th century, when the long batonlike form replaced traditional round loaves.

Over time, it grew to be synonymous with French gastronomy, and this past March, France’s culture minister nominated the French baguette for UNESCO cultural heritage status. The institution will give its decision in late 2022. 

Colette Davidson
Dough sits on a table in Arnaud Crétot’s workshop before he bakes it in his solar-powered oven in Montville, France.

But in recent decades, the role of bread has diminished, as French society has moved away from high-calorie diets, and the gluten-free movement has taken hold. The French consume around 120 grams (a quarter pound) of bread per day – just a third of what they ate in 1950, according to the data website Planetoscope. 

And while around 10 billion baguettes are consumed each year in France, some 20,000 bakeries have closed since the 1970s. Shoppers are more likely than in previous decades to buy their bread at the supermarket, where it’s generally made on assembly lines instead of using artisanal methods. 

“When you look at what the French are eating commonly as bread, it’s an awful product of really mediocre quality,” says Steven Kaplan, professor emeritus at Cornell University who has written 15 books on bread, trained as a baker in 1969, and lives in southern France. “The everyday, white baguette is an insipid, denatured bread – tasteless, not properly fermented, and full of additives.” 

That’s created an opening for new techniques and ingredients for those hoping to revitalize this French staple. Among them is Paris baker Benoît Castel’s pioneering pain d’hier et de demain – “yesterday and tomorrow’s bread.” It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of meticulous work to find the right combination of ingredients and method to create a sourdough-based loaf using pieces of leftover, already-baked bread. 

At the outset, Mr. Castel set off on this baking journey to fight food waste. France wastes approximately 10 million tons of food each year, equivalent to 3% of its gas emissions. The government has passed a handful of bills in the last decade to address the problem. 

“I’m lucky to have grandparents who were farmers and it’s made me realize how much we take raw materials for granted,” says Mr. Castel. His pain d’hier et de demain is a hearty round loaf with a crusty outer layer and airy, light body, and lasts up to five days – as opposed to one day for a typical baguette. 

“That means respecting the land as well as the hard work others put in to grow wheat, cocoa, etc. We throw away a lot of food before utilizing all the energy and resources it can offer us.”

“There’s room for all types”

Local initiatives in bread-making move in the same direction as trends in France’s agriculture sector. Over 10% of French farmers work with organic products and in 2018, around 7,000 farmers registered to convert to organic farming, according to national organic agricultural agency Agence Bio. Approximately 13% of French people eat organic products everyday, according to the same agency. 

But neo-baking remains niche, and most baking schools continue to teach primarily based on dominant techniques. Thomas Teffri-Chambelland, who founded the International Bakery School in southern France in 2005, is hoping to shake up modern-day teaching. The school focuses entirely on using organic ingredients and offers the only high school-level diploma in Europe dedicated to organic and sourdough baking. Since its launch, 80% of graduates have opened their own bakeries, and none have closed since. 

“Most of our students have recently changed careers and are looking for something more concrete and meaningful,” says Mr. Teffri-Chambelland. “Working with organic materials or sourdough isn’t just about being trendy. It’s raising awareness about the benefits they have for health, conservation, and the environment.” 

Mr. Crétot in Montville is also working to impart his knowledge to others, in hopes they can make a similar impact. He learned about Solar Fire – the company that developed his solar oven – as well as the solar tech nonprofit Go Sol during a trip to India in 2014. He went on to work on developmental projects across Africa with them, teaching sustainable baking. Now, every month he gives training to those looking to learn more about his technique. 

But while Mr. Crétot says he has a group of devoted clients – who pick up his bread from one of five sales points in the local area and have enthusiastically moved “to the other side” of regular white bread consumption – there are still a few die-hard traditionalists in his midst. 

“One woman who often buys my bread said she tried to get her husband on board, but he really just wanted his ‘sponge,’ the ordinary baguette that he could dip in his morning coffee,” says Mr. Crétot, who plans to start delivering his bread to sales points by bike to further reduce his environmental impact. “There’s the idea that there’s just one type of bread. But there’s room for all types, for everyone.”

Difference-maker

In the key of joy: Pianos for People gives instruments to St. Louis children

Plinking out a tune on a family piano has, for generations, been a middle-class luxury for children. Now a St. Louis nonprofit brings unwanted pianos – and music education - to low-income families.

Linda

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Nose pressed to the window, 2-year-old Mary Pluma is excited, her smile so big it’s visible even from the street. Her four older siblings lean in behind her. Eyes wide, they track the movers outside and then run to the door: Today is the day the Pluma family receives their first piano, and they pounce on the keys the moment the movers settle it in their living room. 

The upright was delivered by Pianos for People, a St. Louis nonprofit that reduces the financial barriers to music education by providing donated pianos and free lessons to low-income families. The organization is transforming what was historically a luxury item and symbol of financial success into a tool for growth – accessible beyond the American middle-class family. 

Originally, the piano was used by Jackie Wennemann’s five children when they were growing up in the 1960s. And she wanted it to be used again, so she gave it to Pianos for People, which matched it with the Plumas, who are in the organization’s piano lesson program. 

“Our philosophy is that a piano is more than just a piano,” says Matt Brinkmann, the executive director. “We use the piano as a gateway to self-esteem and connection and community.” 

In the key of joy: Pianos for People gives instruments to St. Louis children

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Tara Adhikari/The Christian Science Monitor
Three of the five Pluma siblings rushed to play the upright that Pianos for People had just brought from a donor to their St. Louis living room in June.

Nose pressed to the window, 2-year-old Mary Pluma is excited, her smile so big it’s visible even from the street. Her four older siblings lean in behind her. Eyes wide, they track the movers outside.

But the separation of the glass pane is too much. They rush to open the door, squeezing out one by one to get a closer view: Today is the day the Pluma family receives their first piano. 

The moment the upright is nestled in the corner, three of them beeline for the bench meant for one and tap on the black and white keys. Sometimes the notes sync in harmony, more often they do not, but the room is alive with music and joy. 

The piano was delivered by Pianos for People, a St. Louis nonprofit that reduces financial barriers to music education by providing donated pianos and free lessons to low-income families. The organization is transforming what was historically a luxury item and symbol of financial success into a tool for growth – accessible beyond the American middle-class family.

Tara Adhikari/The Christian Science Monitor
Pianos for People gives new life to an old piano. Movers loaded an upright into a truck last month. It was donated by Jackie Wennemann whose children used it when they were growing up in the 1960s. Five siblings in the Pluma family will now be able to learn on it.

“Our philosophy is that a piano is more than just a piano,” says Matt Brinkmann, the executive director. “We use the piano as a gateway to self-esteem and connection and community.” 

Tom Townsend, a St. Louis advertising executive, and his wife, Jeanne Townsend, an attorney, founded Pianos for People in 2012 in memory of their son, Alex. A pianist and artist, Alex died in a car accident while attending college. Music was a shared family passion, and by spreading it in the community where they raised their son, the Townsends were able to cope with their loss. 

Their focus on saving pianos – connecting unwanted instruments with recipients who can’t afford their own – expanded to music education more broadly. They opened a piano school, in 2014, at their Cherokee Street headquarters and have since delivered more than 300 donated pianos, opened a second school, and grown lesson enrollment to 129 this past spring.

Of the families served, 92% have annual income below $25,000. While many recognize the benefits of music education – confidence, discipline, focus – paying the grocery bill takes priority. A good upright used piano can cost upward of $1,000; a new one close to $10,000; and lessons here average $50 an hour. By cutting the costs that make learning an instrument untenable, Pianos for People creates space for self-expression that, for many, wouldn’t exist otherwise. 

By closing the piano supply-and-demand gap, Pianos for People provides a service for both donors and recipients. There are far more pianos available for donation than the organization can accept, says Danny Ravensberg, piano donations coordinator. This allows Pianos for People to reject pianos in poor condition and protects recipients from repair costs. 

Every piano has a history, and donors care where their piano, often a treasured part of family memories, ends up. 

Tara Adhikari/The Christian Science Monitor
Saphira Tenny practices her part during a group lesson at a Pianos for People's summer camp last month as her teacher, Stephanie Rice, plays the same note in a different octave.

Jackie Wennemann’s five children enjoyed playing piano when they were growing up in the 1960s – so much so the family bought two, and she’d conduct from the basement door giving cues between the instruments. “Sometimes we would have duets and one would get on this piano,” she says gesturing to one in the entryway, “and one on the one downstairs. I would say, ‘Ready, set, go,’ and they’d both play the same song.”

With her children grown, Ms. Wennemann wanted the pianos to be used again. She donated the one in the best condition to Pianos for People. The organization matched it with the Pluma family, three of whom had been taking free lessons for four years. 

For most of that time, the family lived in a small third-floor apartment that wouldn’t accommodate a piano. This past spring, the Plumas moved into a house where there is finally room.

“When they come [home] from school, they are stressed,” says their mother Patricia Pluma, adding that the kids speak Spanish at home, which means in school they are having to learn in their second language. But sitting at the piano bench translating the music on the page into sounds on the keys is different. It’s freeing, she says. “They start playing the piano and they start smiling.”

Indeed, the peaceful power of pianos is emblazoned on Pianos for People staff T-shirts: “A free piano inspires peace in a child. A peaceful child becomes a peaceful adult. Peaceful adults make a peaceful world.”

Even during the pandemic, online lessons provided a stabilizing sense of normalcy and an element of healing, say parents and teachers.

Sasha Young’s great-grandmother started teaching her piano when she was 6 years old. With her great-grandmother’s recent death, the family struggled to find a teacher. Sasha, now 14, started lessons with Pianos for People over Zoom during the pandemic. The return to music helped her grieving process, say her parents. 

Pianos for People delivers the healing power of music to adults as well. 

Anthony Wilkins says taking lessons helped restore his cognitive functions after an illness and fulfilled a long-held wish: “I’ve always wanted to play the piano, and [when I was] growing up, my mother couldn’t afford it. When I get frustrated, I go to the piano and I start playing, and it calms me down.” He now gives lessons on the fundamentals to his grandchildren. 

While not every student experiences something radically life-changing,
the idea is to give students a place where they belong – where they can take center stage and be celebrated.

Virtual during the pandemic, this place of belonging returned to an in-person experience at the Cherokee Street school in June. 

Situated in the middle of a community improvement district, the school is easily accessible to those it serves. A group lesson in full swing, Kayia Baker, the school director, sits at a grand piano on a small stage elevated a foot off the ground. Hands dancing across the keys, she plays and sings “coffee and tea, coffee and tea.” Six students, playing on six pianos, join in, while their teachers, one for every student, peer over shoulders and sing the lyrics.

Tara Adhikari/The Christian Science Monitor
A chart highlighting the letter "C" helps beginners learn notes on the keyboard at a June summer camp at Pianos for People summer camp in St. Louis.

A piano community

This studio, complete with artwork, snack time, and even some dancing, is a home for the kids. For those whose home life may be less than stable, “a safe place and a happy place” can change the trajectory of lives, says Ms. Baker. Some got college music scholarships, she adds. “They’re going to be breaking generational curses of lack.”

Royce Martin, now a rising senior at Berklee College of Music in Boston, started lessons with Pianos for People in high school. Five years later, he still recalls the exact day the organization delivered his piano: “Feb. 20, 2016. It was a great day. It was a sunny day.”

The discipline of piano practice, he says, provided structure that forced him to focus: “Everybody wants to feel a part of a community. Kids, I think especially, might need to feel like they have a place where they belong ... a place to go after school as opposed to other places kids can go after school,” says Mr. Martin.

Music remains an integral part of his life. Last fall he composed the score for the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion” on HBO Max. And he plans to continue work for actor Will Smith’s production company in Los Angeles after graduation.  

“I had a lot of passion that I think could have manifested into anything. I think it just happened to be piano, and that’s because of the communal support that I felt and this social network that I had set up through Pianos [for People],” says Mr. Martin. “So in a lot of ways, it was providing me an antidote for chaos.”

Research for this report was contributed by Principia College students Lotti Bollattino, Dana Cadey, Peter Hagenlocher, Lily Oyer, Emme Schaefer, Hannah Sipe, and Marc Trinidad.

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Public apologies that aim to heal a nation

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When done right, apologies by public figures can be disarming, even opening a window for dialogue. One of the most anticipated acts of contrition came Wednesday, when two leaders from opposing sides in Colombia’s recent war jointly talked to a group of victims before the official Truth Commission. Each man provided details about his motives and wartime actions as well as an apology.

“I’ve reflected on all of the things I’ve done or provoked,” said Salvatore Mancuso, a top commander of the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. For his part, Rodrigo Londoño, the last commander of the left-wing rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said he would be asking for forgiveness for the rest of his life.

Colombia still suffers from a high level of violence and political upheaval. The peace process has been uneven. Many victims remain unhappy about its results. But one benefit may be a new political moderation. A recent survey of young people found 41% would vote for a candidate from the center. Perhaps all the apologies may have opened a window for dialogue that offers a realistic hope for lasting peace.

Public apologies that aim to heal a nation

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Francisco de Roux, president of Colombia's Truth Commission, is greeted by a woman after attending the testimony hearings of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel leader Rodrigo Londono and former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, in Bogota, August 4.

When done right, apologies by public figures can be disarming, even opening a window for dialogue. In March, for example, German leader Angela Merkel asked forgiveness for her decision to shut the country down for five days to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (The decision was quickly reversed.) One of her political opponents later said the mea culpa was “a service to democracy.”

In Iraq on Monday, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi set a precedent for his country by meeting with a teenage boy who had been tortured by government forces. Mr. al-Kadhimi expressed his pain over the abuse, noted the perpetrators would be tried, and promised an end to such practices. He also pledged to turn what happened “into a source of strength that would serve the community.”

Perhaps the country now experiencing the most public apologies is Colombia. This is a result of a remarkable peace pact in 2016 that ended a half-century of war with a leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The pact promises a measure of mercy from harsh justice for anyone on all sides – whether FARC, right-wing militias, or former officials – if they come clean on their role in atrocities and express remorse. In June, for example, former President Juan Manuel Santos asked forgiveness for the mass killing of civilians by the military when he was defense minister.

One of the most anticipated acts of contrition and confession came Wednesday, when two prominent leaders from opposing sides in the war jointly talked to a group of victims for nearly four hours before Colombia’s Truth Commission. Each man provided details about his motives and wartime actions as well as an apology and a willingness to contribute to reparations.

“I’ve reflected on all of the things I’ve done or provoked, all the things I’ve participated in, on the many people who have died, all the families who lost everything because of us,” said Salvatore Mancuso, a top commander of the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a group formed to fight FARC.

For his part, Rodrigo Londoño, the last commander of FARC, said he would be asking for forgiveness for the rest of his life. “The war has no logic and at the time it did not let us think about the damage we were doing,” he said.

The dialogue between the two former foes was as groundbreaking as the fact that they took questions from victims. “We must generate facts so that Colombian families reconcile,” said Mr. Londoño, known more commonly by his nom de guerre, Timochenko.

The truth commission, whose work has barely begun, sees its role as one of healing the pain of victims, helping them understand what happened in the war, and contributing to the prevention of similar conflict. Its president, the Rev. Francisco de Roux, promises to “bring truth to light.”

Colombia still suffers from a high level of violence and political upheaval. The peace process has been uneven. Many victims remain unhappy about its results so far. But one benefit may be a new political moderation. A recent survey of young people found 41% would vote for a candidate from the center, 25% for the left, and 5% for the right.

This shows a forceful rejection of polarization in Colombia, the director of the survey concluded. Perhaps all the apologies, along with a good measure of truth-telling, may have opened a window for dialogue that offers a realistic hope for lasting peace.

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.

Being as ‘harmless as doves’

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Letting God, Love, impel how we respond to situations enables us to face even hostile circumstances with peace and love – and to redeem past instances of self-righteousness or self-condemnation.

Being as ‘harmless as doves’

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Last spring, the governor of our state opened up the state parks free of charge during the pandemic. My family and I had always purchased trail passes to use these trails for mountain biking. They had become a sanctuary for me, and I was disturbed at the sudden influx of people from out of town hiking on the trails for free, many of whom seemed to be ignorant of proper trail etiquette, such as packing out one’s trash.

On a particularly busy day, I rode around a fast turn and found a hiker in the middle of the trail kneeling down and taking a picture of something. Although I had encountered many hikers that I kindly yielded to that day, in this instance, I had an exchange of words that wasn’t so nice. The hiker looked up at me and yelled, in what I thought was an accusatory tone, “This trail is for hiking,” and I shouted back as I sped past, “No, it’s not; it’s for mountain biking.”

At first, I felt justified in what I had said, but I also felt awful about the way I had said it. The truth is, the trail is for both hiking and biking.

I knew I needed to rethink the entire situation through the eyes of divine Love, God. Christian Science teaches that the law of God, divine Love, is supreme. It actually governs everyone, all the time. Prayerfully acknowledging this enables us to see and experience the eternal harmony of Love, the divine Principle.

For instance, I’ve found that contemplating Jesus’ instruction to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) can restore peace in situations that have seemed upsetting. It can help eliminate the self-righteousness or self-condemnation that would disrupt our rightful harmony. It isn’t always easy to do this in the heat of a situation, but I’ve found that one can always go back and remand the case.

Confronting criticism that was so much harsher and more unjust than what I’d experienced, Jesus did not respond in kind to the taunts or react to those who opposed him. Through meekness and humility he proved that the power of divine Love’s presence enables us to face a hostile environment with a sense of freedom, peace, and love. “How can I be like that?” I thought. “How can I be as harmless as a dove?”

Jesus never saw anyone as an irredeemable sinner. Instead, he saw everyone as the creation or expression of Love, God. And I realized that I could do that, too – right then! This was a glorious revelation. We can redeem the mistakes of the past by realizing the allness of divine Love in the present.

I considered that from God’s point of view, there is no accusatory, mortal mind. There is only the divine Mind, which is Love. Acting or reacting in an unloving manner is not a part of anyone’s God-given nature. Knowing this, not only could I redeem myself, but I could also redeem my thought about this other person through Love’s transforming power.

I decided to love that hiker in a spiritual way – to see her as a child of God, capable only of orderly, loving behavior. I also saw that my spiritual nature, too, is Godlike – so I am naturally inclined to selflessness, gratitude, and compassion, not selfishness, possessiveness, and ingratitude.

In that light I saw that this hiker was fully deserving to be out on those nature trails, despite the human opinion that I liked it better when I had them all to myself! I felt the peace and love of God washing over me. Driving home from the trail, I felt tangibly the beauty of divine Love’s presence. I’ve returned to those trails since that incident and have experienced – and expressed – patience, understanding, humility, and grace.

In a poem called “Love,” Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, mentions “brother birds” soaring and singing together on the same tree branch. And she notes, “The arrow that doth wound the dove / Darts not from those who watch and love” (“Poems,” p. 6). St. Paul makes a similar observation, describing charity, or pure spiritual love, as “not easily provoked” (I Corinthians 13:5).

Following this idea of love expressed by Christ Jesus in everything he said and did, we too can be harmless as doves. Then we’ll see the law of Love in action, blessing us and others around us.

Adapted from an article published in the August 2021 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

Viewfinder

Our reporter’s favorite Tokyo moments

Martin Meissner/AP
At a spectator-free Olympics, documenting the Games is more important than ever for those of us who get to watch in person. After almost a month in Japan and two weeks attending competitions, I’ve seen plenty I’d like to share. Nothing can replace a seat in the stands, or replicate the intense Tokyo humidity, but pictures help. Here’s a list of my favorite moments from the 2020 Tokyo Games – from skateboarders falling with style to high-jumpers hugging it out after winning gold. I hope you enjoy them (almost) as much as I have. – Noah Robertson, staff writer
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back Monday, when Monitor education writer Chelsea Sheasley looks at “back to school” – and the lessons of the past year-plus as students return to the classroom.

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