2021
October
13
Wednesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 13, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

One piece of ‘worker shortage’ puzzle: Stressed families

The word “shortage” is showing up these days in, well, no shortage of places, from berths to unload ships in Los Angeles to energy supplies in Europe. This, in turn, feeds both consumer anxiety and price inflation. 

Many factors need to be addressed – such as fixing bottlenecks in shipping and bringing production in line with reviving demand in the economy. But one of the most basic issues is that the dearth of “stuff” stems partly from a shortage of workers: truckers, factory operators, restaurant servers, retail staff

As economic demand has revived, the supply of workers has – to the surprise of some – been slow to catch up. Concern about health risks of public-facing work during a pandemic clearly seems to have weighed on workers, in addition to other challenges.

But here’s another factor to consider: The pandemic also strained family life. Moms, especially, are feeling exhausted amid struggles to tend to both kids and jobs. Many are now on the labor sidelines. Among moms who aren’t currently working for pay, “more than a quarter said they would prefer to be working at least part time,” one new survey finds. 

So policies that help working parents might be part of the answer for ending the shortage of workers.

Universal access to pre-K education and paid leave, for instance, are things that Princeton University economist Alan Blinder calls an honest-to-goodness form of “supply-side economics” – policies that can boost the economy by expanding its productive capacity. 

It’s not a one-step panacea. And ideas differ on the wisest ways to approach this policy puzzle. Democrats are wrangling over a budget bill that might boost funding for child care, pre-K, and continuing per-child tax credits of $300 per month. Republicans are warier of big spending, but a few have their own ideas for direct aid to parents to use as they see fit. Stay tuned: This is a priority that may well outlast the pandemic.

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Debt crisis averted, but at what cost?

Congress has resolved an immediate crisis over covering federal debt payments. But the deeper issues behind the recent impasse –  questions of trust and responsibility – will need to be faced again before the new year. 

Mark
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota looks at the final version of the bill to increase the debt limit as the House Rules Committee meets at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 12, 2021. With Tuesday's party-line vote in the House, the federal government will be able to pay its bills through early December.

Two ways to read the story

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With Tuesday’s 219-206 vote along party lines to increase the U.S. debt limit by $480 billion, House Democrats averted a possible global financial meltdown. But Congress’ – and the country’s – problems remain far from resolved.

The increase will only cover the bills through early December, which is also the end date for a temporary extension of government funding. At the same time, Democrats missed their own deadlines for passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that cleared the Senate, and for working out differences between moderates and progressives over the 2022 budget, which includes many of President Joe Biden’s top domestic policy agenda items. 

That has deflated the momentum Mr. Biden had in August, when he held up the Senate’s 69-30 passage of the infrastructure bill as proof he could still broker bipartisan deals in a narrowly divided Congress, promising progressives that Part 2 – with priorities like health care and social programs – would be coming shortly.

The longer these negotiations drag on, the greater the challenge Democrats face, in part because the high-pressure wrangling has damaged already low trust between – and within – the two parties.

“I think both sides now fully understand that the fates of their priorities are intertwined,” says Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth.

Debt crisis averted, but at what cost?

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With Tuesday’s 219-206 vote along party lines to increase the U.S. debt limit by $480 billion, House Democrats averted a possible global financial meltdown just one week before Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that the United States would run out of funds and default. But Congress’ – and the country’s – problems remain far from resolved.

The increase will only cover the bills through early December, which is also the end date for a temporary extension of government funding that passed the Senate Sept. 30 with support from more than a dozen Republicans. 

At the same time, Democrats missed their own deadlines for passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that cleared the Senate in August, and for working out differences between moderates and progressives over the 2022 budget, a $3.5 trillion version of which includes many of President Joe Biden’s top domestic policy agenda items. 

That has deflated the momentum Mr. Biden had in August, when he held up the Senate’s 69-30 passage of the infrastructure bill as proof he could still broker bipartisan deals in a narrowly divided Congress, promising progressives that Part 2 – focused on “soft” infrastructure like health care, social programs, and family benefits – would be coming shortly.

The longer these negotiations drag on, the greater the challenge Democrats face as they seek to advance all three priorities, in part because the high-pressure wrangling has damaged already low trust between – and within – the two parties.

In a pointed speech from the Senate floor on Oct. 7, just before the Senate passed the temporary debt-limit increase, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer blamed Republicans for “playing a dangerous and risky partisan game,” and manufacturing a crisis. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, responded in an angry letter that Senator Schumer had “poisoned the well even further” and that Democrats should not look to Republicans for any help next time. 

The drama over the two other key bills also thrust Democrats’ intraparty conflicts into the spotlight.

In a sign of progressives’ growing influence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi broke her promise to moderates and postponed a Sept. 30 vote on the infrastructure package. Progressives have refused to support that bill without a commitment from moderates to support the larger “Build Back Better” bill, which includes significant family and climate measures.

New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who leads the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus and has advocated strongly for the infrastructure package, called Speaker Pelosi’s decision “deeply regrettable” and accused the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus of using tactics similar to those of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus. 

Leah Millis/Reuters
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 7, 2021. Senator Manchin has been negotiating with party leaders and the White House to limit the overall cost and scope of the president's "Build Back Better" bill.

Biden’s visit to Congress

A key question now is whether the Democrats are ready to work through their differences, or if the internal feuding – with members publicly disparaging aspects of both bills – has already undercut their ability to claim a significant victory for the president. 

Rep. John Yarmuth, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee who recently announced he would not run for reelection next year, says Mr. Biden’s recent visit to the Capitol showed Democrats a path forward. 

“The president’s appearance up here really changed the dynamic, and I think it refocused both moderates and progressives on the bigger picture in a very good way,” the Kentucky Democrat says, adding that Mr. Biden underscored that the infrastructure and budget bills must be done together. “I think both sides now fully understand that the fates of their priorities are intertwined.”

Many interpreted the president’s message as signaling to moderates that he was not going to push for the infrastructure bill to be passed until they agreed to support his budget priorities.

Democrats plan to pass the Build Back Better Act through a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows them to circumvent the usual 60-vote threshold for legislation in the Senate and pass it with a simple majority. But that means they need all 50 Democratic senators on board, along with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. 

The key holdouts are Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag touted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Budget Committee chairman, who has outlined a way to pay for that spending without further running up the deficit. Senator Manchin, who called it “fiscal insanity” to spend trillions on new and expanded government programs, has said he would like to see the budget come down to $1.5 trillion. Senator Sinema’s demands remain a mystery to many in Congress, though she says she has communicated her position clearly to the White House. 

Democratic leaders are now talking about a bill in the range of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion, and are negotiating cuts to their initial framework, which includes initiatives ranging from expanded health care benefits and paid family leave to free community college and climate change measures. One option could be trimming the number of programs; another would be to shorten their duration or use “means testing” to give the benefits only to those who need them most.

Speaker Pelosi, in a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday night, indicated there was greater support for the first option. “Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well,” she wrote. But on Tuesday, she suggested to reporters she actually favored keeping most measures in the bill and paring back the time frame. 

Debt limit crisis, Part 2

After weeks of what amounted to a dangerous game of political chicken over the debt limit, Senator McConnell surprised many in his own caucus by backing down at the last minute and allowing a short-term extension to pass. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused the minority leader of a “strategic mistake,” and demanded a recorded vote to end the GOP filibuster, forcing Senator McConnell to find at least 10 Republicans to join with Democrats to end the blockade.

But Senator McConnell has made clear that, come December, Democrats will have to raise the debt limit on their own, which means they may have to use the cumbersome reconciliation process. Majority Leader Schumer adamantly refused to use reconciliation in the recent standoff and has continued to rule it out in public statements. 

Some Democrats are urging their party to just take their lumps and quickly put the issue behind them. 

“I expect Senator Schumer to not lead us up to the precipice,” says Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a moderate from Florida. While calling the GOP position “terribly disappointing,” she says Democrats cannot expect Republicans to step in at the last minute again. “There should be a real plan on how to address the debt ceiling,” she adds. “There is no room for playing games with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.”

Russia breaks the (polar) ice on its Northeast Passage aspirations

With the Arctic melting, the Kremlin hopes the Northeast Passage could rival the Suez Canal. But Russia’s military presence in the north has its rivals questioning its priorities. Part two of two.

Mark
Fred Weir
Dmitry Lobusov, captain of the 50 Years of Victory, a giant nuclear-powered icebreaker, stands on the vast bridge of his ship in Murmansk, Russia, Aug. 27, 2021.

Two ways to read the story

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As global warming steadily erodes the Arctic ice sheets, exposing new resources, the Kremlin is preparing to extend year-round economic activities into what it hopes will be a greatly enlarged zone of Russian control. It’s also banking on the Northeast Passage to rival the Suez Canal.

Murmansk, a city of about 300,000 near the border with Norway, already has a modernized commercial port. But experts say there is a lot of room for expansion.

And while Moscow’s northern ambitions are often discussed in military terms, experts say the military buildup looms large in Western perceptions because geography handed Murmansk that fate. The area is one of the only places in Russia’s far north that’s reliably ice-free year-round, plus it has open-ocean access. So Russia naturally still bases about two-thirds of its nuclear missile submarines there, along with the big surface ships of the Northern Fleet.

“It’s hard to say that there is a big military buildup here, compared to what we’ve always had,” says Vitaly Akimov, spokesperson for the Northern Chamber of Commerce in Murmansk. “But we are getting more icebreakers, and that says a lot about what Russia’s goals are. We want economic development up here.”

Russia breaks the (polar) ice on its Northeast Passage aspirations

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High up on the broad, glass-fronted, and largely automated bridge of the 50 Years of Victory, longtime captain Dmitry Lobusov says that there is no ice “born of the sea surface” that his ship can’t handle. Which means, apparently, that he doesn’t tangle with icebergs.

But for anything less, the towering, double-hulled icebreaker the size of a nine-story building is unfazed. Its two nuclear reactors generate so much power that the ship has been able to smash its way through to the North Pole almost 60 times since it was commissioned 14 years ago. In fact, the ship often takes groups of up to 100 tourists to visit the Pole, at around $30,000 apiece.

Russia’s state-owned Atomflot company currently operates five such giant nuclear-powered icebreakers, an awesome symbol of Russia’s determination to press forward the former Soviet Union’s strategic priority to dominate and develop the Arctic. Within this decade the fleet will be joined by at least five more nuclear-powered icebreakers, each about twice as big and powerful as the present ships.

As global warming steadily erodes the Arctic ice sheets, exposing new undersea fisheries and oil fields for exploitation, the Kremlin is preparing the means to extend year-round economic activities into what it hopes will be a greatly enlarged zone of Russian control. It’s also banking on the Northeast Passage – the 3,500 mile northern sea route between Asia and Europe over the top of Russia – to become a major shipping alternative to the Suez Canal.

Russia’s competitors in the Arctic worry about the presence of the Russian military in the region, and what it could signal for its future. But that is a result of geographical and climate realities, Russian officials claim, and that the government’s goal is to bolster the economic potential of Arctic ports like Murmansk, not its military might in the far north.

Nikita Greydin/Baltic Shipyard/Reuters/File
The nuclear-powered Arktika, the first of Russia's newest generation of icebreakers, is seen during the sea trials in the Gulf of Finland, Baltic Sea, Russia, June 28, 2020.

“It’s hard to say that there is a big military buildup here, compared to what we’ve always had,” says Vitaly Akimov, spokesperson for the Northern Chamber of Commerce in Murmansk. “But we are getting more icebreakers, and that says a lot about what Russia’s goals are. We want economic development up here.”

A Northeast Passage boom town?

Mr. Akimov says Murmansk’s economic growth is poised to take off as the Northeast Passage becomes a reality. “There is a federal project to develop Murmansk as a transport hub,” he says. “We have an excellent port, with good railway and road connections to Moscow and the rest of Russia, and the Northeast Passage will create a global link.”

Murmansk, a city of about 300,000 near the border with Norway, already has a recently modernized commercial port, which mainly serves to export coal from Russia’s vast interior these days. But experts say there is a lot of room for expansion. Russia’s biggest private gas company, Novatek, has a big project underway nearby to develop facilities for Arctic transport of liquefied natural gas.

In the Murmansk headquarters of Atomflot, a vast control room houses a giant electronic map showing the location of each ship in the entire Northeast Passage along with changing ice and weather conditions. They expect it to be a busy place in future. Russian President Vladimir Putin told a recent economic forum that 33 million tons of cargo transited the passage in 2020, and that amount is expected to rise to 80 million tons by 2024.

But while the Northeast Passage trek shaves at least two weeks off the traditional Suez Canal route between the Far East and Europe, the overall tonnage it sees is a far cry from that on the Suez Canal, which handles about 1 billion tons of cargo annually.

Fred Weir
Atomflot's control room for the Northeast Passage has a digital map that covers an entire wall, marking the positions of every ship currently on the trek through the region.

There are other complications, including the fact that ships making the Northeast Passage will need to be suitable for sailing in ice conditions – not a requirement at the Suez Canal – and the need for icebreakers will remain unpredictable for the foreseeable future.

“It depends a lot on changing circumstances with ice and weather,” says Captain Lobusov. “Sometimes one icebreaker can pilot a route for 10 ships. But sometimes you need two icebreakers for one ship. It’s expensive, and time consuming.”

Soldiers amid the ice

Moscow’s northern ambitions are often discussed in military terms. That’s hard to miss here on the Kola Peninsula, where Murmansk is Russia’s only ice-free port with open-ocean access, and people in military uniform abound in the streets. The nearby closed town of Severomorsk houses the Russian Navy’s northern fleet with dozens of major warships, including the country’s only aircraft carrier and a new class of ultra-modern nuclear-missile submarines.

But experts say the military buildup looms large in Western perceptions because geography handed Murmansk that fate. Thanks to the warm North Atlantic Current – an extension of the Gulf Stream – the Kola Bay is the only place in Russia’s far north that’s reliably ice-free year round. That, plus the fact that Murmansk has open-ocean access, is why Russia still bases about two-thirds of its nuclear missile submarines there, along with the big surface ships of the Northern Fleet.

“Russia has been re-opening several former Soviet air bases along the northern coast, but most activity is still on the Kola Peninsula, with all the associated air defenses and other military infrastructure,” says Andrey Zagorsky, an arms control expert with the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters/File
The Russian city of Murmansk is reliably ice-free year round and has open-ocean access, making it a key port on the Northeast Passage. It also neighbors the military town of Severomorsk, which houses the Russian Navy’s northern fleet.

“Russia is the only Arctic state with substantial armed forces permanently stationed in the Arctic. By contrast, Canada’s Arctic fleet is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’s true that Russia has unrivaled capabilities up there, but it’s not only aimed at war-fighting. Its purposes include countering oil spills, patrolling, ensuring security of the Northeast Passage, and so on,” he says.

“But we are presently living amid a confrontational atmosphere in relations with the West, and people tend only to look at capabilities and see them as threatening. It would be good if we could find ways to reduce tensions in the Arctic” and broaden the scope for cooperation on issues like climate change and resource-sharing in the far north, he says.

“Everyone is going to want to be here”

Meanwhile, officials at Atomflot say global warming may be real, but they are not depending upon it to make the Northeast Passage a reality. For that, they will have the icebreakers. Enormous as it may be, the 50 Years of Victory is a nautical pipsqueak compared to the ice-crushing behemoths presently under construction.

“In the coming years we will double the size of our fleet, and the new ships will be much bigger and more capable” of keeping the sea-lanes open in any conditions, says Vladimir Arutyunyan, head of sea operations for Atomflot.

“In 2010, there were only four ships that made the passage. Now there are several hundred,” he says. “These big icebreakers will be needed for all our lives. The idea that it will be open waters 365 days a year is fiction. In winter, ice will still be present. There will be no activity in the Arctic without icebreakers,” he says.

It is this sort of change – showing the Russian government’s determination to make the Northeast Passage a reality after decades of post-Soviet decline, and the emigration of almost half the region’s population – that has turned some local people bullish on Murmansk.

“We can foresee that Murmansk is moving from a backwater to a center of economic activity,” says Maxim Belov, a deputy of the regional legislature. “This is the gateway to the Arctic. Murmansk has everything it needs to start booming in the years to come, and everyone is going to want to be here.”

Be sure to read Part 1: With the melting Arctic opening up new opportunities and stirring old rivalries, the U.S. and Canada are trying a cooperative approach to tapping the thawing resources and trade routes.

The Explainer

Curious how systemic racism works? Check out your neighborhood.

Like most self-perpetuating systems, systemic racism masquerades as the norm. But as the history of housing discrimination illustrates, it’s a human-made system, not a natural one. 

Mark

Two ways to read the story

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The 1930s brought new opportunities for homeownership in the United States, including government-backed loans. But Black Americans and other people of color were prevented from receiving these loans through a practice now called “redlining.”

A federal agency created color-coded maps designating green and blue neighborhoods (occupied by whites) as “safe” for lenders to invest in, while yellow and red neighborhoods (where nonwhite people lived) were considered high-risk. As a result, for nearly 30 years, 98% of government-insured loans went to white families, enabling them to own a home and pass on that investment to future generations.

Redlining was outlawed in 1968. But its consequences persist, beyond the loss in generational wealth. Previously redlined neighborhoods often lack easy access to fresh food, banks, good public transportation, and well-funded public schools.

“I really think the separate and unequal neighborhoods we built intentionally are at the root of just about every other inequity and injustice,” says Margery Turner, a fellow at the Urban Institute.

The federal government is undergoing an equity assessment to address its role in housing discrimination. But Soni Gupta, director of Neighborhoods and Housing at The Boston Foundation, says a broader understanding is needed. “I wish more people could connect the dots, because we would really benefit from everyone understanding how we got here,” she notes. 

Curious how systemic racism works? Check out your neighborhood.

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Shafkat Anowar/AP
Kimberly Holmes-Ross, shown at home on April 23, 2021, is planning to apply for reparations Evanston, Illinois, is offering Black residents who experienced housing discrimination. Another longtime resident, Jo-Ann Cromer (not pictured), said she also plans to apply. “Real estate represents wealth," Ms. Cromer said. "I don’t think people understand if Black people had been allowed to buy property, there would be a lot of wealthy Black people in Evanston.”

Becoming a first-generation homebuyer was a meaningful step for Erin. Her parents came to the United States from Cape Verde and had never been able to purchase a house. She was excited for the stability it would provide and the financial investment in her future.

But as a 40-year-old Black woman in the Boston area, Erin, who didn’t want to be named for employment reasons, faced a lot of barriers. As she went to banks to get a mortgage, she began to feel that the color of her skin was affecting the opportunities available to her, despite having a stable financial situation and steady work.

“It was hard. [There was] a lot of profiling, a lot of lenders and realtors and people telling you that you can’t do it if you want to stay in Boston,” she says. 

One bank was especially bad. “The lender herself was extremely rude, extremely demeaning,” Erin says. “I told her that I wasn’t a child, because of the way she was talking to me, and she just kept saying degrading things.”

Erin is just one individual experiencing housing discrimination, but her experience is not unique. The roots of this issue are deep, and point to a history of systematic, legalized racism in the U.S. The term “systemic racism” refers to the ways in which institutions – including the government – have adopted racially motivated policies, sometimes codified as law.

Today, such policies – especially in housing – are illegal. But as Erin’s experience shows, the systems they created continue to perpetuate themselves. Historical practices such as redlining demonstrate not only the long-term effect of racist policies on would-be homebuyers but the add-on effect in education and other areas.

Symone Crawford, the director of Saving Toward Affordable Sustainable Homeownership (STASH), a matched-savings program that helps first-time homebuyers in Massachusetts, especially Boston, save money for a down payment, says there are many ways that “institutional and systemic racism rears its ugly, ugly head.” A full 97% of STASH participants are people of color, with 73% being Black. Ms. Crawford says that’s no coincidence. “While the discriminations are most times not blatant, they are there,” she says.

To help explain systemic racism in the U.S., we’ll focus on one example: housing discrimination in Boston.

For the last 100 years or so, what factors have influenced where people live?

The 1930s ushered in the era of 30-year mortgages, low fixed-interest rates, and government-backed lending through the Home Owners’ Loan Corp. (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The hope was to reinvigorate the middle class through unprecedented access to homeownership and wealth building. By insuring loans, the government provided a safety net for banks to fall back on during hard economic times.

But these homeownership opportunities were limited to white Americans. Black Americans, other people of color, and some immigrant groups were prevented from receiving government-backed loans through a practice now referred to as “redlining.” The HOLC created color-coded maps to indicate which neighborhoods were “safe” for banks to invest in. Green and blue neighborhoods (occupied by whites) were marked as “best” or “desirable” – worthy of investment and insurance. By contrast, yellow and red neighborhoods (where Black people and other people of color lived) were deemed “declining” or “hazardous” – full of high-risk, low-value real estate.

SOURCE: Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed October 8, 2021
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Due largely to this color-coding, between 1934 and 1962, 98% of FHA-insured loans went to white families, many of whom fled cities for the growing suburbs. This enabled them to own a home and pass on that investment to future generations. That opportunity was not afforded to Black people or other people of color.

“That history, it’s real and it’s deep,” says a senior official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “So when we talk about systemic racism in our history, we have to really think about federal policies, state and local policies as well, that were fundamental to the way that our nation was built up.”

Is housing discrimination still going on?

Redlining was outlawed with the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. But 30 years of state-sponsored discrimination had consequences that have gone on to affect generations of Black families in particular. 

“When you build housing and neighborhoods, they last for a long time,” says Margery Turner, a fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington. “We built separate and unequal neighborhoods. And the legacy of that ‘separate and unequal’ is really hard to overcome.”

A 2018 study found that, nationwide, homes in neighborhoods that are 50% Black are valued at roughly half the price, compared with neighborhoods with no Black residents. Even when you take comparable homes in comparable communities, homes in majority-Black neighborhoods are valued at 23% less. That averages out to about $48,000 per home, resulting in cumulative losses of $156 billion across the country.

An earlier study from 2004 shows that home-purchase loan applications for Black residents in the Greater Boston metropolitan area were denied at more than 2.5 times the rate of white applicants, with the denial rate increasing for higher-income Black applicants. Black borrowers refinancing their homes were three times more likely to receive subprime loans, which have higher interest rates. In fact, ​​upper-income Black homeowners were more than twice as likely to receive these loans as low-income white people. This discrimination in lending contributes to the disparity in homeownership levels according to race in the Boston area, where Black homeownership rates hover around 35%, at roughly half the rate of white households.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Urban Institute
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“It’s just a perpetuation and a constant cycle of poverty and a lack of wealth-building opportunities,” says Soni Gupta, the director of Neighborhoods and Housing at The Boston Foundation. “What we’re trying to do here is really peel the layers of the onion so that you can focus on correcting the racial disparities.”

Housing discrimination even persists in rental markets. In 2020, Suffolk University Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program (HDTP) found that for prospective renters in Boston, 71% of individuals were discriminated against because of their race. The study sent Black and white testers with equal qualifications – age, income, gender, family size, credit score – to seek housing in the Boston metro area. Black renters on average were shown only 48% of the apartments they asked to see, compared with white renters being shown 80% of those they requested to see. 

“We found very, very high rates of discrimination in the Boston area,” said Kelly Vieira, an attorney who works with HDTP. “There aren’t as many ramifications or consequences [for discriminating] as there should be.”

What are the lasting effects of housing discrimination? 

Ms. Turner, from the Urban Institute, says discriminatory housing practices made the segregation that already existed even worse. And that segregation led to self-perpetuating cycles of racial disparities.

“I really think the separate and unequal neighborhoods we built intentionally are at the root of just about every other inequity and injustice,” she says. 

While homeownership doesn’t guarantee wealth generation, having a stable investment that can be passed through generations and gain value over time is a key way for families to break the cycle of poverty. But even homeownership itself operates unequally, depending on the racial makeup of the neighborhood. In Boston, median home values today are much lower in historically redlined neighborhoods than in those that benefited from favorable lending policies.

What’s more, housing discrimination doesn’t operate in a vacuum; it impacts many aspects of everyday life. Formerly redlined neighborhoods often lack easy access to fresh, healthy food; full-service banks; and good public transportation. Most notably, educational opportunities are affected by housing discrimination. In many areas nationwide, public schools are funded primarily by property taxes, so if property values in a neighborhood are low, school funding is also low. A Harvard University study found that the performance gap between schools in previously redlined areas and nonredlined areas is still widening.

SOURCE: Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland, "The Lingering Legacy of Redlining on School Funding, Diversity, and Performance," Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

In the city of Boston, each school is funded according to students enrolled, regardless of tax revenues in the neighborhood. Yet the persistent segregation in Boston’s historically redlined neighborhoods continues to have adverse effects on the students of color who primarily attend them.   

How do we address it?

For many Black families trying to buy a home, they simply have to be undaunted. That was true for Erin, who, with the help of STASH, the matched-savings program, purchased a home last year in the Boston neighborhood of Hyde Park. 

Ms. Crawford, STASH’s director, says the program itself and the classes provided by its parent organization, Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, are preparing more and more people for the rigors of finding and financing a home for the first time, including the possibility of facing some of the challenges Erin experienced. About 800 people graduated from the first homebuyer class in 2018. This year, 3,000 people are poised to graduate.

But training people to work through housing and mortgage processes laden with decades of discrimination doesn’t get at the root of the problem. There’s widespread agreement that systemic racism needs to be addressed on a systemic, not individual, basis.  

The federal government is acknowledging not only the lasting effects of discriminatory housing practices but also its own role in creating them. “We are undergoing a massive equity assessment within our own walls and in our own policies,” says the HUD official. 

And, recently, Evanston, Illinois, became the first city to redress past housing discrimination through a reparations program. 

However, local efforts and federal policy changes are only part of the solution. A broader understanding of the situation is needed, especially since neighborhood demographics have shifted. The Brookings Institution found that in many previously redlined areas, including some of those in Boston, the neighborhoods are now majority-minority but not necessarily majority-Black. On the one hand, that may mean policy solutions will need to be tailored to the mix of residents now experiencing the effects of a long-term lack of investment in their neighborhood. On the other, targeting assistance to formerly redlined areas alone won’t reach the Black and other minority families no longer living in these neighborhoods whose opportunities to accumulate wealth, attend strong public schools, and so on were circumscribed for generations by the redlining maps of the 1930s. 

SOURCE: Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., “Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed October 8, 2021; U.S. Census Bureau
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The history of housing discrimination is an important part of the conversation, but so is understanding that its knock-on effects extend across decades and go beyond the neighborhood boundaries once outlined in red.

“I wish more people could connect the dots because we would really benefit from everyone understanding how we got here,” says Ms. Gupta, from The Boston Foundation. “For [many, there’s] still the belief that people are doing this to themselves.”

But gaining that understanding can be unnerving for some.

“I think a lot of white people, when they start to look at our racial history, … the only outcome that they can imagine is other people doing to them what white people collectively have done to people of color,” says Louise Seamster, an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at the University of Iowa. “That’s not what anybody is calling for. But that emotional response means that they don’t have room to hear what is actually being discussed.”

For Ms. Vieira, the attorney with HDTP and a member of the Black community, the point is not to dwell on what happened in the past, but to ensure that we don’t repeat the same racist patterns of the mid-20th century.

“I think you have to lean into the discomfort and know that past the discomfort is change,” she says.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Urban Institute
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

A deeper look

Finding resilience: Para rowers upend notions of ability

Fortitude, courage, patience, persistence – all sorts of individual qualities fuel resilience. But for these para rowers, success depends on more than themselves. 

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Para rower Pearl Outlaw (left boat, front), who is blind, trains with Brooke Moss on the Charles River, on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts. High-performing para rowers train with Community Rowing Inc., where rowers with physical, sensory, and cognitive challenges learn from coaches experienced in working with athletes with disabilities.

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Community Rowing Inc. in Brighton, Massachusetts, is the largest public-access boathouse in the country and has a highly resourced, competitive para rowing program. CRI also hosts the Paralympics National Training Camp.

Pearl Outlaw, whose vision deteriorated over the course of her childhood, rows at CRI. 

Leading up to that, her coach at Ithaca College pushed her to use all her abilities, moving her from the stern, where she could employ her strength but faced no one, to the bow where she could learn to hear the boat.

“Soon I could listen to everything: the click of an oarlock, the blades hitting the water, the wheels on the seat, the sound of blades coming out, squaring, and feathering,” she says. “Then there is the feeling of how everyone feels in front of you, the pickup of the boat, its weight in the water, and its movement under you. If you practice, you can just feel how everyone is moving.”

“There are always those who look at you like your disability is the entire definition of what you are capable of,” she continues. “Saying ‘I’m on the Para National Team,’ or ‘I do competitive rowing’ – it makes people stop and take me seriously.”

Finding resilience: Para rowers upend notions of ability

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“Cut the cake, then power 10s to Boston Latin, then we’ll do 3x3s!”

This is the pre-dawn reveille of the Charles River: coded commands shouted at scullers through megaphones by coaches steering miniature sleigh-like motorboats, or peppered with expletives from the microphones of coxswains deep in sweep boats.

Boston takes pride in its iconic rowers. These masters of balance and strength skim the river from spring thaw until the hectic boat traffic of fall that precedes the Head of the Charles, when nearly 2,000 boats race a notoriously winding 3-mile course.  

Few observers are aware that some of the athletes gliding by may normally use a wheelchair, prosthesis, or guide dog to aid their movement on land.

On the water, para rowers bear less of the weight of societal assumptions about disabilities and fewer of their myriad daily living challenges. As a result, they can focus on honing the resilience needed to compete in an exceedingly difficult sport that requires both explosive power and endurance. Behind their performance on the water lies a similar combination of day-to-day strength and grit – tested by years of facing obstacles and persevering – that keeps each of them pursuing a personal best. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Para rower Pearl Outlaw (left) holds onto Johanna Beyer as they head down the ramp to the dock for training on the river on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts. Ms. Beyer rows for the Austrian national para team. Along with rowing at CRI, Ms. Outlaw is pursuing a master's degree online in sports psychology from Ithaca College.

Community Rowing Inc. in Brighton, a neighborhood in Boston, is the largest public-access boathouse in the country and has a highly resourced, competitive para rowing program. The training offered includes a development program and the High Performance Group (HPG) for those competing to reach the national team. CRI also hosts the Paralympics National Training Camp.

Nationals and Worlds are the big competitions elite rowers face on the way up to the Olympics. It’s similar for elite rowers aiming for the Paralympics, but besides their ability level, these rowers must also prove they belong in one of several classifications of disability. The typical rowing sequence of “arms, body, legs” – a reference to how a rower moves into position to take a stroke – has a different meaning.

James Bond has Q, and CRI has Tom West, who is an engineer as well as a coach. He modifies foot plates, changes seat shapes and oar grips, and makes boats and ergometers (rowing machines) work better for individual athletes. Thanks to his inventions and adjustments, rowers can develop their natural assets despite their physical limitations. 

Many coaches say, “If rowing hurts, you know you’re doing it right!” But Mr. West points out that “a lot of para athletes are used to being in pain from the equipment not working for them.”

Then he grins, adding, “I want them to be in the right kind of pain.” 

Mr. West works closely with Para HPG Coach Beth Noll, who is also a neuroscientist. “He’s boats. I’m bodies,” she says.

Their athletes also have access to personalized attention from numerous other coaches, physical therapists, and sports psychologists, for a mind-body support team offering a holistic approach to training.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Para rower Jen Fitz-Roy chats with Coach Tom West before a training session on the river on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts. Mr. West also outfits the boats for the para athletes, most of whom need a special setup.

A new challenge 

Jennifer Fitz-Roy is one of CRI’s elite-level athletes in the HPG. She was born with severe limitations to the use of her lower body, and after a lifetime of surgeries rows with her arms and trunk only. She transfers to the boat from a wheelchair and uses footplates designed by Mr. West to balance her uneven legs. 

Ms. Fitz-Roy grew up on the tree-lined streets of a small town in New Jersey. Her parents and grandparents were involved and supportive, taking turns driving her three hours to specialized doctors at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

With using a wheelchair, being one of the few Black students in school, and having her family engaged in a prolonged struggle to get the high school to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the teenage Jennifer felt overly conspicuous.

Eventually the school installed an elevator that enabled her to go between floors without having to wait for a mandated escort, exit the building, and wheel up a steep hill. It also raised her up in other lasting ways. “All of [my parents’] actions demonstrated to me that I am worthy and I deserve equal access,” she says.

Ms. Fitz-Roy’s dad died before she graduated from high school. She moved on to Boston College, braved traveling and speaking at conferences, and explored various adaptive sports outings. “This was all way out of my comfort zone, requiring a lot of creative adaptation,” she says. “But you know, I got addicted to that feeling.”

Finding balance

When Ms. Fitz-Roy found CRI, she realized rowing was a sport she could participate in regularly, not just on weekends. She joined the program in winter, using a fixed seat on an ergometer to train. Soon after, she won her race at the biggest indoor rowing competition in the U.S. It felt amazing.

Rowing on the water presented a different challenge, though. She was strong, but she had a hard time finding her balance. As a new athlete, she was also unprepared mentally for the commitment and motivation needed to put up with that level of difficulty and discomfort. So she quit.

Around this time, one of Ms. Fitz-Roy’s surgeries resulted in chronic pain – and a dependence on prescription painkillers. Then, while she was visiting home, her mom died.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Para rower Jen Fitz-Roy sits in the boathouse after training on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts. This fall, Ms. Fitz-Roy became the para and military program manager at CRI.

Off the water, Ms. Fitz-Roy began to sink, as her addiction to facing the unknown was replaced by an urge to retreat from her pain and depression.

It took a few years, but Ms. Fitz-Roy came up for air – and managed the daunting double-challenge of finding wheelchair-accessible treatment programs and detoxing.

“I was speaking with a counselor, and I thought about the last time I felt empowered, connected, and happy. That’s how I came back to CRI,” she explains.

Ms. Fitz-Roy was soon back afloat and rowing so well that she was invited to join the HPG. She began with assistive pontoons on her boat and a bad case of imposter syndrome.

There are few steppingstone competitions to prepare high-level para rowers for the stress of races like the national team trials. Yet in 2019, even though she knew she was unlikely to win, Ms. Fitz-Roy needed the experience. She lost by more than a minute. 

“Those are the ones that make you,” says Ellen Mizner, USRowing’s paralympic high performance director. She points out that while para rowers have skills from dealing with disabilities, they still must develop toughness as athletes. “You have to see a big loss as information. If you stay home on the couch, you have no idea how far off standard you are. Once you know, you can keep going … or make changes.” 

Ms. Fitz-Roy made changes, rowed more regattas, and was invited to special training camps. 

Then the pandemic interrupted her progress, bringing stress and isolation. The constant wait-and-see status, or outright cancellation, of most major rowing events was brutal for athletes in training.

With the isolation, her plans to train abroad canceled, and the loss of her grandmother, Ms. Fitz-Roy faced another mental health crisis. She fell hard, but it was short term. She had strong support from her rowing family to help her bounce back. 

“Rowing saved her life,” Ms. Noll, the HPG coach, says of this rebound. “She wants this badly, so she was willing to make the changes she had to in order to come back and row.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Beth Noll, lead coach for the Para High Performance Group at CRI, gives pointers to her para rowers on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts.

In 2021, Ms. Fitz-Roy rowed in the same race she had lost two years earlier, facing the same competitor. She was ahead until the last 150 meters, the spectators holding their breath watching the boats race bow-ball to bow-ball. She lost by a mere second and a half. Ms. Noll says that race has been called the “single best para race in the U.S., ever.” 

This fall, Ms. Fitz-Roy became the new para and military program manager at CRI.

Learning to listen

Pearl Outlaw is a fellow rower in the HPG whose identity and resilience as an athlete came earlier, but whose identity as a person with a disability developed over many years. When she was told at 9 years old that she was going to go progressively blind, for her it just meant her doctor’s appointments got filled with super boring conversations.

Ms. Outlaw grew up in Virginia. As a child she thought, “There were people who could see, people who needed glasses, and people in pitch blackness.” She had no idea how to explain that she could see, but not always. So, she just pretended she didn’t have a problem.

As her vision deteriorated throughout middle and high school, several experiences – losing her way in a cave, failing to navigate school dances, running hard-to-discern trails in cross-country team relays – alerted her to what was coming.

“After the third or fourth time I fell down the stairs at school, I had to start using a cane,” she laughs. “I felt like I was wearing a sandwich board that said, “Look at me, I’m blind!”

A teacher mentioned learning to row at a community boathouse. Ms. Outlaw was intrigued, and soon she was getting up at dawn to learn. She talked her way onto a local high school crew team (not her own) where she could practice. Eventually she joined the team at Ithaca College, where their warm welcome eased her transition to a new environment, with new people to trust.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Decals for the U.S. Paralympic team and the CRI training center are displayed on para rower Jen Fitz-Roy’s boat on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts.

At Ithaca, Ms. Outlaw used a headlamp to see the person in front of her, and ridges were added to the edges of the dock. She was already a strong rower, but her coach pushed her to use all her abilities, moving her from the stern, where she could employ her strength but faced no one, to the bow where she could learn to hear the boat.

“Soon I could listen to everything: the click of an oarlock, the blades hitting the water, the wheels on the seat, the sound of blades coming out, squaring, and feathering. I heard the overall rhythm of the boat. Then there is the feeling of how everyone feels in front of you, the pickup of the boat, its weight in the water, and its movement under you. If you practice, you can just feel how everyone is moving.”

She began rowing at CRI in the summer, invited by Ms. Mizner, from USRowing, to join the development program for the Para National Team. Ms. Outlaw also experienced the unique kinship of high-level para rowers that summer.

New skills, abilities, and accolades

By her junior year, Ms. Outlaw experienced her vision decrease so rapidly that it became hard to keep up with school while learning to use assistive technology. She took a break from college to spend time at The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Para rower Pearl Outlaw greets her guide dog, Cinder, after early morning training with a new partner, Brooke Moss (right), on Sept. 28, 2021, in Brighton, Massachusetts. Cinder rides on the coach’s boat while Ms. Outlaw trains.

There, Ms. Outlaw focused on nonvisual learning: She attended counseling, developed basic living and tech skills, learned Braille, and fenced, for balance and body awareness. One of her favorite classes was woodworking. (“I got to use a power saw!” she exclaims.)

Ms. Outlaw now lives in Massachusetts, rowing at CRI and pursuing a master’s degree online in sports psychology from Ithaca College. She has also earned numerous rowing accolades. At practice, she carries the stern of her boat to the dock with one hand on a fellow HPG member. Her guide dog, Cinder, rides in the coach’s boat.

Ms. Outlaw drew on both her athletic resilience and her years of trusting others during the 2019 World Championships. Mid-race her partner fell off his sliding seat in the boat. They’d been rowing full bore, so he couldn’t speak to explain why the boat unexpectedly wobbled. She was able to remain calm as he resettled, and they rowed on to win the bronze medal.

Since learning to live without sight, “competing makes me feel like I’m good at something,” Ms. Outlaw explains. “There are always those who look at you like your disability is the entire definition of what you are capable of, and they question or make decisions for you as though you can’t. Saying ‘I’m on the Para National Team,’ or ‘I do competitive rowing’ – it makes people stop and take me seriously.”

Books

Set among the stacks: Four enchanting novels for bibliophiles

Why do we love libraries? They are places of refuge, learning, and personal discovery. But their most vital role may be in the building of community, as explored in four captivating novels.

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Karen Norris/Staff

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Book lovers and libraries naturally go together. That’s why such a large number of novels written each year are set in these palaces of learning. Four recent outstanding works of fiction look inside these mighty institutions to celebrate the joy of books, the inspirational power of storytelling, and the ways that library communities can uplift lives. 

In Janet Skeslien Charles’ stirring World War II-era novel, “The Paris Library,” the high stakes underscore the power of books: “No other thing possesses that mystical faculty to make people see with other people’s eyes. The Library is a bridge of books between cultures,” she writes.

Set among the stacks: Four enchanting novels for bibliophiles

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From the ancient Greek Athenaeum to your cozy local reading room, libraries have long served as a refuge for longtime book lovers and new readers alike. But a place to borrow books is just the beginning – for many people, a library is a place of opportunity, learning, and self-discovery.

“Libraries of all kinds are key to the vitality of communities,” according to Patty Wong, president of the American Library Association. “If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that America’s libraries are nimble enough to meet changing local needs and foster community resilience.” 

The keepers of these libraries are often unsung heroes who deserve praise. Four recent outstanding novels look inside these mighty institutions to celebrate the joy of books, the inspirational power of storytelling, and the ways that library communities can uplift lives.

Berkley, William Morrow, Atria Books, and Viking

A righteous fight

Freya Sampson’s winsome novel, “The Last Chance Library,” takes place in a small English village, where the local Chalcot Library is about to lose its funding. June Jones, a shy and lonely 20-something library assistant (and daughter of the town’s late legendary librarian) finds blessings in believing in herself, as she takes on the task of fighting to keep the library open with the help of a host of quirky co-workers and library patrons. From Stanley Phelps, a kindly fan of World War II novels who practically lives in the library, to an array of townsfolk, June finds a sense of family in friendships she never knew she could have.

“Libraries aren’t just about books,” our narrator reminds us. “They’re places where an eight-year-old boy can have his eyes opened up to the wonders of the world, and where a lonely eighty-year-old woman can come for some vital human contact. Where a teenager can find precious quiet space to do her homework and a recently arrived immigrant can find a new community.”

June’s reconnection with an old school chum who’s visiting town is charming. Sampson’s storytelling is refreshingly Capraesque, with messages that ring out for finding purpose, connection, and joy in embracing community and following one’s dreams. 

Literary healing

In “The Reading List,” Sara Nisha Adams’ captivating novel, a mysterious book list discovered within the pages of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” changes lives. An endearing West London widower and nonreader, Mukesh, anxiously wishes to connect with his granddaughter through books, just like his cherished late wife did. Summer library assistant Aleisha is a distraught teenager who is balancing a challenging home life. When the unlikely pair form a book club, they discover incredible stories and characters that help lift them out of loneliness and grief. “Piles and piles of books,” Adams writes. “It was as though they were floating all around him, lifted up by some kind of magic, offering up new worlds, new experiences. It was beautiful.”

Adams’ book shines with a bighearted cast finding rejuvenation in books and the community. The book explores issues of mental health, and Adams’ emotionally finely tuned prose shows a trending toward peace, even after unexpected tragedy. “The Reading List” is an ode to the power of stories and the enchantment of reading.

Real-life heroes

This third library novel brings World War II into its landscape, honoring librarians who worked for the American Library in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Risking their lives, these librarians smuggled books to isolated soldiers and Jewish patrons who had been banned from visiting libraries. In Janet Skeslien Charles’ stirring tale of courage, “The Paris Library,” the high stakes underscore the power of books: “No other thing possesses that mystical faculty to make people see with other people’s eyes. The Library is a bridge of books between cultures,” she writes.

The novel is filled with fascinating facts about the real-life American Library, engagingly narrated by young librarian Odile Souchet, whose twin brother is sent off to fight in the war. Charles, herself, worked at this library as programs manager, and integrates moving portrayals of actual staff members such as Dorothy Reeder, director of the library; Boris Netchaeff, its head librarian; and others.

Alternating chapters are voiced by Lily, a lonely teenager who befriends Odile decades later in 1983 Montana. Their unlikely friendship reveals lessons about longing, loss, and navigating hardship. Bibliophiles will adore this remarkable historical library tribute.

Soul-searching

Each of these stories uniquely captures the rewards that books can bestow upon individuals and communities. Matt Haig’s dazzling bestselling novel from last year, “The Midnight Library,” goes a step further by creating an imaginative modern fable with nods to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Nora Seed is a 35-year-old woman who feels she’s failed miserably at life, and regrets just about everything. After she finds herself at a magical library helmed by the ever-wise Mrs. Elm (Nora’s grade school librarian aka guardian angel), her enlightenment begins. Nora starts choosing “books” that all revolve around lives she could have lived. She becomes an Olympic swimmer, a glaciologist, a rock star, and more. “Librarians have knowledge,” Haig writes. “They guide you to the right books. The right worlds. They find the best places. Like soul-enhanced search engines.”

Haig’s adventurous storytelling is profound. Nora arrives exactly where she needs to be, having gained greater perspective, forgiveness, and gratitude.

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The Monitor's View

A World Cup to melt Middle East tensions

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The head of world soccer’s governing body was in Israel this week – the first visit by a FIFA leader – and hinted at the possibility of Israel co-hosting the 2030 World Cup with the United Arab Emirates or other Arab states. “Why not Israel?” said Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA. “The World Cup is magical in that it brings people together, is such a uniting event, and transcends every notion of negativity.”

His idea builds on last year’s Abraham Accords, which saw four Arab states, including the UAE, sign deals to normalize ties with Israel. In particular, the UAE and Israel are racing to find areas of cooperation, from water technology to religious coexistence.

Hosting a mega-sporting event like the World Cup or the Olympics is often driven by nationalism. It is used to gain international prestige and display dominance. In the competitions themselves, players from Arab nations or Iran have sometimes snubbed Israeli players. The notion of Israel and an Arab state cooperating to host the World Cup would help turn sports into a platform to melt stereotypes and build bridges of trust.

A World Cup to melt Middle East tensions

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At an Oct. 9 qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup, Israel's goalkeeper gathers the ball under pressure from a player from Scotland.

The head of world soccer’s governing body was in Israel this week – the first visit by a FIFA leader – and hinted at the possibility of Israel co-hosting the 2030 World Cup with the United Arab Emirates or other Arab states. “Why not Israel?” said Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA. “The World Cup is magical in that it brings people together, is such a uniting event, and transcends every notion of negativity.”

His idea builds on last year’s Abraham Accords, which saw four Arab states, including the UAE, sign deals to normalize ties with Israel. In particular, the UAE and Israel are racing to find areas of cooperation, from water technology to religious coexistence. This diplomatic momentum even led Saudi Arabia, which did not sign the accords, to hold a video conference this month with Israel’s sports minister to discuss cooperation. Saudi Arabia has its eye on hosting global football’s quadrennial event in 2030.

The 2026 World Cup will be hosted by three neighboring countries – Canada, Mexico, and the United States – so the idea of Middle East nations sharing the responsibility is not far-fetched. The host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar, is welcoming Israelis to attend matches in the Gulf state. “We do not mix sport and politics, but we would hope that Palestinians are able to make it too,” said a Qatari official in 2019.

Hosting a mega-sporting event like the World Cup or the Olympics is often driven by nationalism. It is used to gain international prestige and display dominance. In the competitions themselves, players from Arab nations or Iran have sometimes snubbed Israeli players. The notion of Israel and an Arab state cooperating to host the World Cup would help turn sports into a platform to melt stereotypes and build bridges of trust. Instead of seeing sports as simply “war by other means,” sports could be a means of peace.

In the hot spots of the world like the Middle East, sharing a sporting event can be a welcome icebreaker between peoples.

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.

Finding freedom from character flaws

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Negative character traits can sometimes seem like an inevitable part of who we are. But we are divinely empowered to live the goodness that’s natural to all of us as God’s children.

Finding freedom from character flaws

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

If you’ve ever struggled with a bad character trait, you know that it can be a beast. Shakespeare called jealousy, for example, a green-eyed monster.

It can take work to stop believing that a character flaw is baked into who we are. Greed, envy, hatred, and pride are so prevalent that we call them human nature. But is evil really our nature? What about the generosity of neighbor helping neighbor, the sacrifices people make for a cause, the decisions that individuals or nations make to do the right thing? Actions such as these point to an underlying motivating goodness. As explained in Christian Science, this powerful good is God, the Soul of all that really exists.

We may be ready to admit that God is good, but what about us? We’re not God. No, but God’s goodness must be expressed. That expression is man, the overarching term in Christian Science for the true, spiritual identity of every man, woman, and child. We might be accustomed to thinking that man is a mortal who is both good and bad, but spiritual man is actually the full expression of God, Spirit. This is true no matter how often a mortal sense of ourselves and others tries to make us lose sight of it.

Man is God’s creation, the embodiment of all the attributes of divinity. So our prayers and efforts to be free from a fault aren’t attempts to make a bad character a little nicer. Rather, we want to become conscious of what we really are: an individual expression of divine Love, God.

In my own case, I was captive to jealousy and its destructive effects until my prayer awakened me to this new idea: Jealousy wasn’t truly part of me. When I took to heart what I had learned in Christian Science – that we belong completely to God, and that it’s our real nature to express good – the jealousy dropped away, and a warm love was there in its place.

The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote extensively about overcoming evil through an understanding of good. Her words give us a spiritual foundation to do this: “All real being represents God, and is in Him.... Man’s real ego, or selfhood, is goodness” (“No and Yes,” p. 26).

Gaining freedom from a character fault must begin with the recognition that we’re not dealing with a sinful person but with a mistaken perception that we have a personal will apart from God. Gaining our freedom may also require us to counter the urge to be so ashamed or shocked by our behavior that we make no move to change. At its core, any resistance to reform is the persistent thought that an ego prone to evil exists and has power to make us sin.

Christ Jesus provided many examples of how real changes take place in human character. He rescued people both physically and morally by embodying the Christ – his relation to God – which destroyed sin. A woman accused of adultery was saved and redeemed; a tax collector named Zacchaeus was reformed, vowing that any money he had taken dishonestly would be paid back fourfold and that he would give away half of his riches. Jesus recognized in Zacchaeus the spiritual identity that had no desire to sin, and in turn, Zacchaeus saw himself in this Christ light and was free.

We can be free, too. The eternal Christ, the spirit of Truth and Love, empowers us to recognize that everything good and true in us expresses the Life and Love that are God. Mrs. Eddy gave humanity a line of hope when she wrote: “Sooner or later the whole human race will learn that, in proportion as the spotless selfhood of God is understood, human nature will be renovated, and man will receive a higher selfhood, derived from God, and the redemption of mortals from sin, sickness, and death be established on everlasting foundations” (“Unity of Good,” p. 6).

When a glimpse of that “higher selfhood” liberates us from character faults, it breathes new life into all our relationships. We see that the joy of spiritual individuality is in fact natural to everyone. Divine good is the center of our lives and is universal. What we know and live of this truth evidences for humanity that nobody needs to be imprisoned by negative traits. The good that is God is always here and near to free us.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Oct. 11, 2021, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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American pastoral

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Horses graze in a field with colorful cottonwood trees in the distance outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, on Oct. 10, 2021.

A look ahead

T​hanks for being with us today! Tomorrow, you won’t want to miss Ryan Lenora Brown’s story and photos profiling a canoe club that symbolizes widening opportunities in post-apartheid South Africa.

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