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Monitor Daily Podcast

October 22, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Reporters on the Job: What being trapped by a volcano taught me

When I was growing up in Minnesota, “Joe Versus the Volcano” was one of my favorite movies. I longed to be swept away to a tropical island. But as I found myself in La Palma reporting on the Cumbre Vieja eruption in the Spanish Canary Islands, I quickly realized that there’s nothing romantic about volcanoes or being stranded – even on an island.

I had come prepared – an N95 mask, baseball cap, and a ridiculous-looking turquoise swimming mask my Spanish mother-in-law lent me. But nothing could prepare me for the invasiveness of the volcanic ash. It fell from the sky like a rainstorm, lining streets, covering doorways and windowsills, and filling the crevices of my ears. 

It wasn’t long before the airlines canceled all flights. When tourists began panic-buying all the ferry tickets as I was interviewing residents about their futures, I realized I had, quite literally, missed the boat.  

For two days, I wandered empty streets awaiting the resumption of travel, carrying a backpack and feeling progressively stuck – and at times panicked.

And then I realized I was being given the chance for deeper insight. Here I was experiencing, albeit in much lesser degree, what the people I was writing about were feeling: uncertainty, frustration, and fatigue from living next to an erupting volcano with no end in sight. 

Like the people of La Palma, I leaned on others to get me through – from the English woman who gave me a bag of oranges from her garden to the church that let me use the bathroom after being stranded at the top of a mountain.

As I finally left – via boat – I realized how grateful I was to have experienced the humanity of the people in La Palma in the face of crisis. I know it’s what will pull them through it. 

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Americans are angry about ... everything. Is that bad?

Americans are angry, but what are they doing with their outrage? We talk to Americans of all political affiliations who have channeled that emotion in creative or productive ways.

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Take a panorama of the United States in 2021. The FBI is reporting a rise in violent crime. The Federal Aviation Administration is recording higher-than-ever numbers of unruly passengers. This month, Attorney General Merrick Garland released a memo on threats of violence against school board members. A year preceded by mass protests, marred at times by rioting, began with a deadly riot at the Capitol.  

It’s a portrait of an angry nation, and it’s backed up by polling. In early September, almost 3 in 4 respondents told CNN that they felt at least somewhat angry at “the way things are going in the country today.” In January, 54% of participants in a CBS News poll said that the “biggest threat to America’s way of life” was “other people in America.” 

This is scarcely the first year that anger has defined life in America – a country built by revolution. Anger is a complicated emotion. It unites and divides. It fixes social problems and creates them. It led to both the civil rights movement and the Civil War.

But as Americans’ frustrations pile up, the need to cope with that anger rises too. Different Americans might be angry for different reasons, but the need to express it without targeting others is the same.

Americans are angry about ... everything. Is that bad?

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Julio Cortez/AP/File
An argument between Trump supporters and protesters breaks out during a rally outside Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Aug. 26, 2020, in Baltimore.

Early this year, country music artists Jeffrey Steele and Aaron Lewis spent hours at Mr. Lewis’ house in Nashville, trying to write a song to their fans. It was going poorly. 

Mr. Steele and Mr. Lewis are Nashville veterans. They know how to write songs about summertime and sweet rural life that sell, but they didn’t want to follow the formula. Both conservatives, they wanted a song that would make them feel connected to a community of fans with similar views. Writing one had been hard. 

So Mr. Steele looked up something he’d already written on his phone. It was called “Am I the Only One?,” an explicit half-vent, half-lament that America is changing.

The song is about “that feeling of being the only one sitting here tonight, watching my TV, feeling like the whole world is falling apart,” says Mr. Steele, a conservative Christian. “[Mr. Lewis] lit up on it.”

Released this July, “Am I the Only One?” debuted atop country charts, though some outlets wouldn’t play it due to the edgy right-wing lyrics. The songwriters interpret sales – just under 60,000 in its first week – as a sign that other people share a sense of frustration. While not everyone may agree with his politics, in a broader way, Mr. Steele is right. He’s not the only one who’s angry. 

On the left, parts of the public are equally outraged about what they also see as America’s moral drift: They point to a lack of care for one’s neighbor in a public health emergency, the GOP embrace of “the big lie” about the 2020 election, and disregard for the planet amid a climate crisis.

Take a panorama of the country in 2021. The FBI is reporting a rise in violent crime. The Federal Aviation Administration is recording higher-than-ever numbers of unruly passengers. This month, Attorney General Merrick Garland released a memo on threats of violence against school board members. A year preceded by mass protests, marred at times by rioting, began with a deadly riot at the Capitol.  

It’s a portrait of an angry nation, and it’s backed up by polling. In early September, almost 3 in 4 respondents told CNN that they felt at least somewhat angry at “the way things are going in the country today.” In January, 54% of participants in a CBS News poll said that the “biggest threat to America’s way of life” was “other people in America” – not economic or foreign threats or natural disasters. 

This is scarcely the first year that anger has defined life in America – a country built by revolution. Anger is a complicated emotion. It unites and divides. It fixes social problems and creates them. It led to both the civil rights movement and the Civil War. 

But as Americans’ frustrations pile up – from the botched Afghanistan withdrawal abroad to a lingering pandemic at home – the need to cope with that anger rises too. Different Americans might be angry for different reasons, but the need to express it without targeting others is the same. 

“It’s sheer frustration,” says Mr. Steele. “I’m telling you, I got so many rocks thrown at me: ‘Jeff, you’ve never written anything like this before.’ I really look at this as like you have an outlet – I’m only a writer, but I have an outlet – so it’s my responsibility to say something.” 

Wade Payne/Invision/AP/File
Jeffrey Steele performs at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction Ceremony at the Music City Center on Oct. 11, 2015, in Tennessee.

American tradition turned partisan warfare

Anger is an American tradition. The country’s founders used it to rouse ambivalent colonists against the British. The country’s great social movements – from abolition to suffrage to civil rights – united around a sense of righteous outrage. America’s Civil War was, in part, the result of regional animosity. America’s most famous sermon, delivered by Jonathan Edwards, is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

But the pace of anger has accelerated in recent decades. Partisan sorting, or the tendency of voters to interact only with those who agree with them, has left the country increasingly divided. Cable news, talk radio, and social media often entrench it. It’s now easier than ever to become angry, and easier for political leaders to stoke that anger, says Steven Webster, assistant professor of political science at Indiana University and author of “American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics.”

That cascade “moves us outside a competition of ideas and into the realm of tribal warfare – it’s us against them and my loss is going to lead to some unfortunate consequence for the health of the country,” he says.

Anger makes speech powerful, and powerful speech has its place in politics. That’s been true since Plato argued in the Agora, says Myisha Cherry, author of “The Case for Rage” and a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. The emotion is an important way to communicate and reflect, she says. Strong feelings make people more likely to change the status quo, say by protesting against police brutality.

Or by storming the Capitol – an extreme example of unchecked, misdirected anger, and a clear sign of its risks, says Professor Cherry. Anger is a way to express fear, says David Rosmarin, assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. The emotion activates the fight-or-flight response, he says, leading people to act on instinct. That leaves people vulnerable, and, in the worst cases, dangerous.

“Is it good anger or bad anger?”

David Grimmett, an attorney in Tennessee’s Williamson County, saw as much at a school board meeting this August. 

Almost 2,500 people showed up to debate a school mask mandate. Mr. Grimmett came to oppose it, but with a different tone than some who agreed with him. Anti-mask chants outside were so loud he could hear them through the building’s walls. The board received verbal attacks and threats following the meeting – part of what led the Department of Justice to release a memo on the risk of violence against school boards and teachers. 

“At the meeting, out in public, we had some people who were very, very logical, methodical, good speakers, and then other people who were attacking the board members,” says Mr. Grimmett. “That’s the problem: when it comes out as an attack versus a public discourse or disagreement.”

The mask mandate eventually passed. Mr. Grimmett accepted the loss, in part because he understands both positions: guaranteeing protection for others versus allowing parents to decide what’s right for their children. But that’s an emotional debate, he says, and he can also understand why parents could get angry – up to a point.

“It comes down to whether it’s good anger or bad anger,” says Mr. Grimmett. “In these types of situations, do we believe that people are hearing us when we are angry? It’s OK to be angry. If you bottle it up, it can just explode.”

“Driven by what’s supposed to be”

A year earlier and hundreds of miles away, residents of Richmond, Virginia, showed what happens when people repress their anger too long. 

Many longtime Richmonders were frustrated with the city, once haven to the Confederacy, and its record on race. Then came the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and, locally, Marcus David Peters, killed by police during a mental health crisis. The city took to the streets. 

Photojournalist Regina Boone of the historically Black Richmond Free Press was watching. At one point she spent 60 straight days photographing protests around the city. Her parents founded the RFP in the early 1990s, and Ms. Boone has been in and out of Richmond for 30 years. When the demonstrations started, she knew what residents were letting out.

“It’s anger, but it’s anger that’s driven by what’s supposed to be,” says Ms. Boone.

As people expressed their pain during those marches, Ms. Boone felt a sense of community sometimes elusive in a gentrifying city. At times, she says, it felt like a festival. Strangers shared stories of past trauma. People printed T-shirts and marched together. Artists performed in public, including a Black cellist who played classical music on Monument Avenue, where the statue of Robert E. Lee used to stand. 

The anger was “meant to correct the wrongs, to right the wrongs, to shine a light on all of the ugliness that we’ve all been living through for generations,” says Ms. Boone. 

“It’s all about empathy”

One of the people Ms. Boone found was Hamilton Glass, an artist with frustrations of his own last year. 

When the protests began, Mr. Glass couldn’t understand why so many people didn’t care about police brutality until they watched Derek Chauvin kneel on George Floyd’s neck. “I in general, I guess as a Black man, have seen myself and my friends in conditions like that,” says Mr. Glass. “I just felt like we should have been outraged a lot sooner.”

There was an understanding gap, he says, one that made more sense after he spoke with a friend who expressed how George Floyd’s murder made issues of police brutality so clear. That conversation “kind of put a fire and a spark in my back to do something,” says Mr. Glass.

He started the Mending Walls Project, which paired Richmond-based artists from different backgrounds. The artists would design and paint a mural on the theme of social justice. “The hope was that that conversation would inspire empathy throughout the whole city,” says Mr. Glass. 

Since then, he and his partners have finished more than 20 murals, recorded podcasts, filmed a documentary, and spoken to teachers and artists from other cities who want to join. Some of the artists’ partnerships were difficult. That was the point, says Mr. Glass. Americans need a way to process strong emotions in a way that doesn’t force them apart. 

Mr. Glass’ politics are nothing like those of Mr. Steele, the country songwriter. But their projects show an effort to express anger in ways that create, rather than corrode, a sense of community.

There’s something to learn from that kind of effort, says Mr. Glass. 

It’s “healing through art,” he says. “It’s all about empathy.”

Did Fauci mislead Congress? New NIH letter deepens concerns.

A lack of transparency has undermined trust in public health officials and scientists, who are not only dealing with the current pandemic but also trying to understand how to prevent future ones. 

Thomas Peter/Reuters/File
A security member keeps watch outside Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of the COVID-19, in Wuhan, China, Feb. 3, 2021.

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“‘I told you so’ doesn’t even begin to cover it,” tweeted GOP Sen. Rand Paul this week. 

In a heated exchange earlier this summer, the Kentucky senator accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of not being straight with Congress about whether U.S. taxpayer dollars had been used to carry out a risky type of coronavirus research in Wuhan, China.

Dr. Fauci was unequivocal: “The NIH [National Institutes of Health] has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

NIH still maintains that position. But in a letter to Congress this week, the agency admitted that U.S.-funded work in Wuhan from 2018-19 produced “unexpected” results that the grant recipient, EcoHealth Alliance, should have reported immediately. Instead, it did not submit a report until August of this year.

The published experiments involved viruses genetically distant from the one that caused the current pandemic. But critics point to a lack of transparency and oversight of such research that undermines public trust in the officials and scientists at the heart of understanding, communicating, and preventing current and future pandemic risks.

“The type of research that could have created COVID-19 – that type of research was occurring,” says Senator Paul.

Did Fauci mislead Congress? New NIH letter deepens concerns.

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“ ‘I told you so’ doesn’t even begin to cover it,” tweeted GOP Sen. Rand Paul this week. 

In a scathing exchange earlier this summer, the Kentucky senator accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of not being straight with Congress about whether U.S. taxpayer dollars had been used to carry out a risky type of coronavirus research in Wuhan, China.

“The NIH [National Institutes of Health] has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” responded a clearly perturbed Dr. Fauci.

At issue was research overseen by a New York-based organization, EcoHealth Alliance. Together with its partners in China, EcoHealth has worked extensively on identifying bat coronaviruses that could spill over into humans, with the idea that such work could help researchers get ahead of and thus prevent a pandemic. Dr. Fauci has long been a proponent of such research, and EcoHealth funneled at least $600,000 of NIH grant money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to carry out this research since 2014. But many scientists see such work as unnecessarily risky, especially when carried out in foreign labs that don’t have the same safety protocols and reporting requirements as in the U.S.  

In a new twist, the NIH admitted this week that the U.S.-funded research had produced “unexpected” results. The agency, which wrote a letter to Republican lawmakers who have been demanding answers for months, maintained it had done no wrong. But it blamed EcoHealth Alliance for failing to immediately report back when a bat coronavirus it was tinkering with started killing humanized mice at an unusually high rate during the fifth and final year of its grant in 2018-19. EcoHealth filed its progress report on that research on Aug. 3 of this year. NIH told the Monitor it requested the belated report in July, and EcoHealth Alliance said it was working with NIH to address a “misconception” about its research and the reporting requirements. 

The NIH letter fuels mounting concerns about funding and oversight of this risky type of research. The data published by EcoHealth involve viruses genetically distant from the one that causes COVID-19, and no one is pointing to those viruses as the cause of the pandemic. But two years into a public health crisis blamed for millions of deaths and widespread economic damage, critics say the letter reveals a lack of transparency that undermines public trust in the officials and scientists at the heart of understanding, communicating, and preventing current and future pandemic risks.

Visko Hatf/National Geographic/AP/File
Dr. Anthony Fauci does an interview with National Geographic at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, during the filming of the documentary "Fauci," in June 2021.

The NIH stands by the statements of NIH Director Francis Collins, who will be stepping down at the end of the year, and Dr. Fauci, who oversees the NIH institute that deals with infectious diseases. Even in light of the new information, Dr. Fauci could argue his statements were accurate according to the definition NIH uses to determine whether risky virus research merits additional review. But GOP lawmakers say the documents, which were produced as the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit launched by The Intercept, reveal a fuller picture than either official previously divulged to Congress.

“We now know for certain that Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins have been misleading the American people for months,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the leading Republican member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, in a statement to the Monitor. She has called for a bipartisan investigation. “It is also clear there are significant failures at the NIH to properly oversee grant funding. EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of their grant, has refused to cooperate with NIH, yet NIH continues to fund EcoHealth Alliance. This a serious breakdown of trust, accountability, and transparency.” 

A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee run by Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, when asked whether it would hold hearings on the risks, review, and oversight of U.S.-funded gain of function research, replied: “The Committee is focused on expanding the vaccination program, continuing mitigation efforts, saving lives, and finally bringing an end to this terrible pandemic.”

“Unnecessarily risky experiments”

Representative McMorris Rodgers, one of the leading Republicans pressing the NIH and other government agencies for detailed answers over the past year, said that the documents released “show that NIH was in fact funding gain of function research in China through EcoHealth Alliance.” But NIH rejects that characterization. 

Part of the issue is that scientists don’t agree on what “gain of function” means, or the risks involved, which led to a 2014-17 moratorium on such research involving certain viruses. 

When the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lifted the moratorium and issued new guidelines, it focused on “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens.” HHS established a review process for grant proposals that could be “reasonably anticipated” to involve those pathogens, but left it up to individual funding agencies like NIH to determine which proposals to flag for review. 

In a statement to the Monitor, the NIH said that EcoHealth Alliance’s grant proposal, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” was not flagged for review – and would not have been even if the unexpected results detailed in EcoHealth’s Aug. 3 progress report had been known beforehand. That’s because the viruses they were researching weren’t known to infect humans and the research wasn’t expected to make those viruses more of a threat to humans. 

The NIH letter to Congress, written by principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak, downplayed what he called a “limited experiment” that was in no way linked to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

In a statement, EcoHealth Alliance said it was “working with the NIH to promptly address what we believe to be a misconception about the grant’s reporting requirements and what the data from our research showed. These data were reported as soon as we were made aware, in our year 4 report in April 2018. NIH reviewed those data and did not indicate that secondary review of our research was required, in fact year 5 funding was allowed to progress without delay.” The August 2021 report included significantly more detailed research results, however.

David Relman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University and one of the leading voices for the 2014 moratorium, says the term “gain of function” has a complicated and confusing history and usage. 

“I suggest we avoid this term and talk instead about unusually and unnecessarily risky experiments,” he said in an emailed comment, saying that this work falls into that category in his view, resulting in enhanced pathogenicity of an already dangerous agent. “I personally would not have undertaken these experiments, and would have advised NIH not to have funded them, despite the worthiness of the questions they sought to address.” 

“Political witch hunt” no excuse for lack of transparency

Indeed, the purpose of gain of function research is well-intentioned, says Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican pressing the government for answers. It’s not like Dr. Fauci or EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak set out to cause the next pandemic, he says.  

But, he adds that, in his mind, the only thing that explains their unwillingness to be transparent to Congress is that their well-intentioned effort to prevent a pandemic resulted in “a massive screw-up.” 

“They have egg on their face – and they don’t want to admit it,” he says.

He calls for complete transparency, including releasing every document related to EcoHealth and other organizations doing this type of virus research. He’d also like to see the Biden administration declassify all the intelligence related to the outbreak of the coronavirus, and says it’s “eminently sensible” to stop all taxpayer funding of gain of function research pending an investigation of the origins of the pandemic – including the possibility that it started with a lab leak. USAID recently announced another $125 million to detect viruses with pandemic potential.

Representative Gallagher, Senator Paul, and other critics acknowledge that the viruses detailed in the new NIH documents are substantially different from the one that causes COVID-19, and thus is not direct proof of the lab leak hypothesis.

A U.S. intelligence community review this summer about COVID-19's origin proved inconclusive, and many scientists including Dr. Collins still favor the theory that the virus evolved in nature. But for others, the new  documents reveal another reason: lax oversight and a lack of compliance with grant guidelines. 

“The type of research that could have created COVID-19 – that type of research was occurring,” says Senator Paul. “Is there a possibility that the Chinese researchers haven’t been completely forthright, and haven’t told us about other viruses they had in their lab?”

On June 3, Senator Paul wrote to Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters requesting hearings on the security and health risks of such research. In a brief hallway interview Thursday, Senator Peters, a Michigan Democrat, said he wasn’t aware of the NIH letter. His staff did not respond to follow-up requests with links to the letter.

Angela Rasmussen, a University of Saskatchewan virologist, has been one of the most vocal critics of the lab leak theory, and has defended EcoHealth Alliance’s mission and said they have been subjected to unfair criticism. However, she is calling for EcoHealth Alliance [EHA], which received funding from multiple U.S. government agencies, to proactively release all its data – not just what NIH is asking for. 

“The only path forward is unmitigated transparency. While I condemn the political witch hunt this has become, that doesn’t excuse the obligation to the public that has funded most of EHA’s work via USAID, NIH, & DoD,” she wrote in a Twitter thread. Dr. Rasmussen wrote that hoarding data obtained through taxpayer funding doesn’t help improve pandemic preparedness – and undermines not only the organization but the profession as a whole. “Release the data and set yourselves free. It’s the only way.”

A volcano erupts in Spain – and challenges notions of recovery

Natural disasters always upend lives, but a volcano in La Palma on Spain’s Canary Islands continues to erupt with no end in sight. It is challenging recovery efforts – and residents’ notions of home. 

Daniel Roca/AP
Lava flows from a volcano in La Palma, Spain. A month after it first erupted, experts say, it has run only half its course, leaving homeless residents in limbo.

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Cumbre Vieja, the powerful volcano engulfing the Spanish Canary Islands, is only halfway through its course, experts say, and no one can predict when it might end. It’s creating a unique set of challenges for first responders and local authorities who are rushing to address immediate needs while the longer-term consequences mount.

For residents in neighborhoods already destroyed, it could be years before the ground cools enough to rebuild, and many wonder if they will ever feel confident enough to return. Amid so many unknowns, islanders are relying on the solidarity of local charities, churches, military, and neighbors who are scrambling to preserve a sense of home, whatever form that takes.

As of this week, the Red Cross has received €3.3 million in donations for immediate needs, but they say this relief work is unlike anything they have done before. “Our aid efforts are completely different this time,” says Miguel Angel Reyes, a technical coordinator for the Red Cross in La Palma. “With a forest fire or flood, people can go back home after about a week. With this type of emergency, it’s been a month and we can’t do anything to stop the volcano.”

A volcano erupts in Spain – and challenges notions of recovery

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In the first few days after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted, Roberto Leal frantically helped his family evacuate their homes in a rush to escape the spewing gray plumes of smoke and rivers of lava engulfing his isle on the Spanish Canary Islands. But soon, it swallowed up his own lifetime of memories too.

“I always thought it was going to stop,” he says. “But then the town church fell, my uncle’s house, my parents’ house, my brother’s and sister’s houses. On the 20th day, mine fell as well.”  

Now, he and his extended family have been dispersed across the island in temporary housing – with little idea of when they might return if ever. “Where will we go for Christmas? New Year’s?” he asks, his eyes welling.

He joins some 7,000 people who have been forced from their homes since the La Palma volcano shot up from flat ground on Sept. 19. It has since destroyed more than 1,900 homes and more than 2,000 acres of land, including 600 acres of banana, grape, and avocado plantations – the island’s primary economic resource along with tourism. 

Experts estimate that Cumbre Vieja is only halfway through its course, and no one can predict when it might end. On Wednesday and Thursday the area around the volcano registered 124 earthquakes. It’s creating a unique set of challenges for first responders and local authorities who are rushing to address immediate needs while the longer-term consequences mount. 

Colette Davidson
Roberto Leal, posing for a photo on Oct. 15, 2021, lost his house in Todoque, La Palma, after lava flattened his entire town. He and his family members have lost eight homes and several banana plantations.

It could be years before the ground cools enough to rebuild, and many whose homes have been swallowed up wonder whether they will ever feel confident enough to return. Amid so many unknowns, islanders are relying on the solidarity of local charities, churches, the military, and neighbors who are scrambling to preserve a sense of home, whatever form that takes.

“Completely different this time”

La Palma has seen a swell of volunteerism and donations since the volcano first erupted, some organizing with the Twitter handle #MasFuertesQueElVolcan, or “Stronger Than the Volcano.” People with second homes or extra rooms are offering their beds; hotels, recreation centers, and schools are also coming forward.

The Red Cross has received €3.3 million (about $3.8 million) in donations for immediate needs, but they say this relief work is unlike anything they have ever done before. “Our aid efforts are completely different this time,” says Miguel Angel Reyes, a technical coordinator for the Red Cross in La Palma. “With a forest fire or flood, people can go back home after about a week. With this type of emergency, it’s been a month and we can’t do anything to stop the volcano.”

Gen. Fernando Morón Ruiz of the Spanish army, which has provided shelter and emergency services to displaced people, says that “the situation of uncertainty and leaving everything behind has been very intense. We want to give people a sense of control and support. When they come (to shelter in army barracks) they can share the same experience as others, and this has provided a sense of resilience against fate and a bit of hope.”  

General Morón’s soldiers are also working in the exclusion zone, removing ash that has piled up on roofs to heights of 1 ½ feet, to prevent their collapse.  

Sergio Perez/Reuters
Fernando Quindos, a volunteer with NGO World Central Kitchen, gives bottles of water to Spanish Civil Guard officers at a security checkpoint in a controlled area in La Laguna, as the Cumbre Vieja volcano continues to erupt on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain.

“What can we learn from this?”

The residential hillsides in Tajuya, about three miles from the mouth of the volcano, offer a direct view of Cumbre Vieja, and full audio too. Deafening booms, as the volcano spits out rocks, are incessant. Piles of black ash collect on top of Sandra Riccoboni’s newly planted potato patches and leave a fine dust on her beloved orange trees.  

“It’s horrid, like having a plane inside my head. … Sometimes the volcano goes berserk and the house starts to shake,” says Ms. Riccoboni, who has lived in her home for nearly 50 years. “You start crying at night, thinking maybe it’s your time to go. I’ll have nowhere to live. … I’m a bit old to start over again.”  

This sense of control lost is something the Rev. Domingo Guerra is trying to help residents in the area sort through. Since the eruption, his church in Tajuya has become a meeting point, remaining open 24/7. Donations have poured in from around the world, and local churches are collaborating to distribute clothes and personal care items and provide floor space to sleep.

“There’s so much frustration. People are perplexed about what to do now,” says Mr. Guerra. “Humans aren’t owners of the earth, we’re the caregivers, and things like this make us seem even smaller. God is asking us, what can we learn from this? What do we really need in order to be happy?”   

That question is measured in the tangible and intangible. In all, Mr. Leal’s family lost eight homes, as well as several banana plantations on which they had relied to make a living. The cedar chest that Mr. Leal’s grandfather handcrafted for his grandmother decades ago was too heavy to carry and had to be left behind, consumed by fiery crimson lava and pulled down the hillside into the Atlantic. 

Some residents already have return on their minds, though. Local architect Jose Henry Garritano Pérez, for example, knows what he wants to do once Cumbre Vieja finally calms down, and he says history gives him hope.

Sweeping a fine layer of ash from his desk, he pulls up a photo on his mobile phone of the land where the San Juan volcano struck the south of the island in 1949. It’s now covered in leafy green trees, growing on soil spread over the lava.

Colette Davidson
Architect Jose Henry Garritano Pérez, from the town of Todoque, lost his house as a result of the Cumbre Vieja lava flows. He thinks it will be possible to rebuild on that same land in the future.

Mr. Garritano Pérez has the same hopes for Todoque, the neighborhood where his home was among the many flattened by lava from Cumbre Vieja. He is working with architects across Spain to create plans for a natural park, comprising residential areas and agricultural patches currently covered in lava. He says that once it cools, homes can be built and fresh soil can be laid down. 

“We can do it again”

“We already live on lava. Towns [in Tenerife] like Garachico are built on lava. People once said that was impossible, but nothing is impossible,” he says. “If for some reason people don’t want to live there again, we can at least do this for agriculture to bring money to the island. Whatever happens, we need to do this.”  

Not all experts agree. Some geologists say the ultimate thickness of the hardened lava will determine whether it takes weeks or years to fully cool. Others say the magma will need to be broken up by dynamite in order for the soil to be usable again.

For local photographer Jonatan Rodríguez, the notion of home is comforting in this time of uncertainty. Mr. Rodríguez says he cried last week as he locked up his house in La Laguna, the latest town to receive an evacuation order, not knowing if he’d ever see it again.  

He says if he has to start over and build a new house, he will, but it’s the daily routine he’ll miss most – going out to get bread, saying hello to neighbors in the street, playing racquetball with friends. Still, he’s confident the people of La Palma can restore what has been lost.   

“We have a beautiful expression in the Canary Islands: ‘We’re made of sea salt and lava,’” says Mr. Rodríguez. “I think if the lava takes my house, I’ll rebuild on the land. We’ve built on a volcano before, and we can do it again.”

Why an ex-president's return to Ivory Coast threatens a fragile peace

The return of Ivory Coast’s disgraced ex-President Laurent Gbagbo has stirred division among survivors of the violence surrounding his fall in 2011. We ask how fragile is the current peace process. 

Luc Gnago/Reuters
A supporter holds posters of Ivory Coast's former President Laurent Gbagbo during a meeting to launch the formation of a new political party, at the Sofitel hotel, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Oct, 16, 2021.

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In 2010, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the election. He declared himself president, triggering a constitutional crisis and a conflict between his supporters and those of his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, which divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. 

At least 3,000 people were killed in the war that ended with Mr. Gbagbo’s defeat in April 2011 and his transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. 

In the decade since, the West African country has stabilized. Thousands of victims were compensated under a government that enacted political reforms and honored the victims of the bloodshed. The Ivoirian economy improved as cocoa sales boomed.

Now Mr. Gbagbo is back. And he recently set up a new political party, suggesting he’s planning a comeback.

Already the peace was fragile for this West African nation, with a justice scheme announced under President Ouattara deemed one-sided. Many still await reparations. How Ivoirians navigate this chapter will have implications for peace and political stability ahead.

Why an ex-president's return to Ivory Coast threatens a fragile peace

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A decade after post-election violence tore Ivory Coast apart, Mamadou Coulibaly has rebuilt his life by focusing on survivors like himself. His organization compiled the names and stories of thousands of citizens caught up in the 2010-11 conflict, which ended in the defeat and extradition of a disgraced former president.

Since then, the West African country has stabilized. Thousands of victims were compensated under a government that enacted political reforms and honored the victims of the bloodshed. The Ivoirian economy improved as cocoa sales boomed.

Now the former president, Laurent Gbagbo, is back.

And that has survivors like Mr. Coulibaly, who runs the National Federation of Victims of the Crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, or Fénavipelci, reflecting on how much work is left to be done.

For Mr. Coulibaly, true peace can only be achieved when political leaders like Mr. Gbagbo publicly take responsibility for their actions and apologize to victims like him.

“I prefer the truth be told about who did what,” Mr. Coulibaly says. “We could do a public plea for mercy in front of Ivoirians or between ourselves. And then we’ll forgive one another.”

So far, that hasn’t happened. And Mr. Gbagbo recently set up a new political party, suggesting he’s planning a comeback.

In 2010, Mr. Gbagbo had refused to step down after losing an election. He declared himself president, triggering a constitutional crisis and a conflict between his supporters and those of his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, that divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. Mr. Gbagbo is from the country’s south; Mr. Ouattarra is a northerner with roots in neighboring Burkina Faso.

At least 3,000 people were killed in the war that ended with Mr. Gbagbo’s defeat in April 2011 and his transfer to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

So when he landed in Abidjan, the Ivoirian capital, in July, to the cheers of his supporters, he had been out of the country for almost a decade. He was the first former head of state to be put on trial at the International Criminal Court, which acquitted him in April for crimes against humanity; he had won an earlier case in 2019 that went to an appeal.

Luc Gnago/Reuters/File
Soldiers attend a rally of supporters of Ivory Coast's then-President Laurent Gbagbo in Yopougon, Abidjan, Dec. 18, 2010.

In Abobo, the neighborhood in Abidjan where Mr. Coulibaly lived, the conflict was devastating. Both pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces carried out mass executions, torture, and sexual abuse. He had to flee.

“For someone like me who had a family to pass through that kind of situation, we began asking ourselves if we shall get out of this bad situation,” Mr. Coulibaly says. “It’s God that wanted us to be alive.”

Truth and reconciliation program

After Mr. Ouattara took power, he got to work on building peace. A truth and reconciliation program, known as CDVR, was formed in 2014, along with a state-sponsored program for inter-tribal dialogue.

President Ouattara also announced initial funding for reparations. Of a list of more than 700,000 people who applied for the money, the government approved around one-third. Eligible families received about $1,800 for every relative who died, and those who suffered injuries received $260. Nearly 5,000 people have actually received money, according to Mr. Coulibaly. But it’s unclear whether the reparations fund will be replenished so that others can be paid.

Critics say the reparation and justice process is one-sided. Despite recommendations from the CDVR, most of President Ouattara’s associates were spared jail sentences. 

The consensus is that the president couldn’t risk putting his own associates on trial and have their atrocities revealed.

Although the government approved for reparations to be extended to 317,000 victims, analysts say that process, too, has been flawed with many victims omitted.

“The reparations process was a mess,” says Kouame Remi Oussou, a sociology professor at the Alassane Ouattara University, a public university named after the current president. “It was corrupt and perceived to favor one tribe. If you wanted to get compensation as a victim, you had to pay the people in charge. It’s difficult to reconcile in this type of condition.”

Grassroots reconciliation

Feeling that justice was only half done, Mr. Coulibaly has continued his work. Survivors in his network have tried to find common ground, share their pain, and advocate for more government action, including a formal, public apology. They’ve tried to make peace, he says, by reconciling tribal and political differences on a personal level.

The parties that people supported, as well as the tribes they came from, determined whether they would live or die during the war, he says. Those tensions sometimes play out today in daily life.

“People have accepted their fates,” Mr. Coulibaly says. “I try to sensitize them on the need to return to their normal lives as before.”

Saye Awa, the manager at Fénavipelci, says members regularly go door to door, preaching reconciliation and peace in order to avoid another conflict. When possible, they bring disputing members of different tribes and parties together to talk and settle quarrels.

While government efforts to achieve peace and justice have been criticized, a more practical peace, analysts say, could emerge from the informal one-on-one meetings that Mr. Coulibaly and others like him have facilitated.

Luc Gnago/Reuters
Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara (right) shakes hand with former President Laurent Gbagbo during a meeting at the presidential palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, July 27, 2021.

Still, despite criticism, President Ouattara’s government has been largely willing to settle the score with his rivals. Many of Mr. Gbagbo’s associates who were accused of ordering the killings during the war have been freed prematurely.

In 2017 Mr. Gbagbo’s wife was acquitted of crimes against humanity by local courts, and Ivory Coast has refused to transfer her to the ICC to face war crime charges. 

Two years later, Mr. Ouattara invited his former rival to return after his first acquittal by the international court.  

“I am happy to see you,” President Ouattara said after the two finally met and hugged in July. “The past events have been painful. Too many died and we must try to put that behind us.”

Ivoirian courts sentenced Mr. Gbagbo in absentia to 20 years in jail for stealing state funds during the crisis. In theory, he faces arrest and imprisonment for this conviction.

For his part, Mr. Coulibaly welcomed the reunion of the two former foes, saying it could mean a wider peace for Ivory Coast. “I am happy to see them reconcile,” he says.

While he knows some victims will resist, he’s convinced that putting Mr. Gbagbo on trial at home would only cause more fighting as the former president still has a large following.

“We dare to believe that the truth will come out one day so that everyone will know their responsibilities. ... If we were to point fingers, everyone would be implicated,” he adds, referring to the accusations against Mr. Ouattara’s forces.

Mr. Gbagbo has said he would meet with victims of the conflict he incited but didn’t say when.

Still, many questioned his return and asked what the 2010-11 war meant as videos circulated on social media of the two men hugging.

In July, Issiaka Diaby, the leader of another survivor’s association, joined protests in Abidjan to call for the arrest of the former president on his return.

“Laurent Gbagbo, for some victims’ communities, is like a wolf that has been chased away from the sheepfold and is now coming back,” Mr. Diaby told RFI, the French broadcaster.

Eyeing the next election

While the calls for Mr. Gbagbo’s arrest were loudest with his return in July, they have since quietened. It’s unclear if the government either wants to jail Mr. Gbagbo or arrange a pardon.

In October, the former president formed a new political party, and he’s likely to either run or play kingmaker in elections due in 2025.

Some analysts say the apparent detente between Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo belies bad blood that could plunge the country into another crisis if nationwide reconciliation isn’t addressed more seriously.

“You may feel like nothing is going on,” Professor Oussou says. “But one morning, everything goes poof! It’s a fragile peace.”

That shaky peace was tested in 2020 after Mr. Ouattara won a controversial third term. He had promised not to run in 2016 when a new constitution was adopted. But last year, the country’s constitutional council ruled that the new reforms reset Mr. Ouattara’s terms and allowed him to contest. Riots broke out in protest, leaving 85 dead. Professor Oussou warns the same could happen in 2025.

In the meantime, Mr. Coulibaly says victims expect public apologies from both leaders and an official commemoration of the 2010-11 killings. “All the high authorities are responsible for what happened to Ivory Coast,” he says. “We are all responsible. Let us just forgive one another and move on.” 

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Taking flight, breaking barriers, and letting Black pilots soar

What happens when an industry’s evolution creates a pressing need? In the case of commercial aviation, new opportunity arises for an able but long sidelined cohort. This school promotes equity.

Ashley Lisenby/The Christian Science Monitor
Jaylen Bush is one of a handful of Tuskegee NEXT cadets who trained at the Illinois Aviation Academy this summer in Chicago. He stands near one of his favorite planes, a Cessna 172, on Oct. 5, 2021.

During World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Years later, underserved youths are learning to fly at an aviation school in the suburbs of Chicago as a continuation of that legacy of service and excellence.

Jaylen Bush is a Tuskegee NEXT cadet and member of the organization’s ambassador program. He completed his private pilot training this summer along with eight other students at the organization’s flagship program location at the Illinois Aviation Academy. 

“I couldn’t have been more blessed to have the people around me to help support me,” he says, standing near a hangar full of the Cessnas in which students train. “I will always remember the moral obligations to repay and to look back and help those who are in my position because that’s the future of aviation.”

Tuskegee NEXT, in its seventh year of programming, is a nonprofit that receives funding to help students gain aviation skills and life skills, and meet their career goals. In preparing students for the future of flying, the organization is also a small part of a growing effort in the industry to supply a new wave of qualified pilots as many in an aging workforce reach retirement age and demand resumes post-pandemic. And in an industry where 3.4% of pilots are Black, many close observers realize that inclusion efforts are key considerations in filling the pipeline.

“[The original Tuskegee Airmen] embodied Black excellence, and their mindset echoes to myself,” says Mr. Bush. “So being part of this legacy is more than just being a pilot. It’s pushing boundaries.” – Ashley Lisenby, Staff

This story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears (audio player below), but we understand that is not an option for everybody. A transcript is available here.

A more equitable new-pilot pipeline

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A clean wind in Europe’s dirty corners

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When a survey last month asked people in Europe if corruption had increased over the previous year, four countries ranked among the worst: Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Yet all four now have something else in common. In October, they each saw political stirrings for clean governance or rule of law.

The most dramatic shift was in Hungary, where democracy has been eroded by a populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Six opposition parties have united against him and on Oct. 17 chose a small-town mayor, Péter Márki-Zay, to run in the next election. He promises to uphold the values of the European Union and support efforts to prevent the theft of EU money in Hungary. Mr. Orbán’s party is now behind in the polls.

These recent events point to another result of last month’s poll of Europeans by the watchdog group Transparency International. Nearly two-thirds say ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. That’s a mighty force for honesty and accountability in government. In October, many politicians felt that moral force.

A clean wind in Europe’s dirty corners

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Supporters of the opposition candidate for Hungary's prime minister, Peter Marki-Zay, attend a rally in Budapest Oct. 10.

 When a survey last month asked people in Europe if corruption had increased over the previous year, four countries ranked among the worst: Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Yet all four now have something else in common. In October, they each saw political stirrings for clean governance or rule of law.

The most dramatic shift was in Hungary, where democracy has been eroded by a populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Six opposition parties have united against him and on Oct. 17 chose a small-town mayor, Péter Márki-Zay, to run in the next election. He promises to uphold the values of the European Union and support efforts to prevent the theft of EU money in Hungary. Mr. Orbán’s party is now behind in the polls.

In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned Oct. 9 over new allegations that his People’s Party used government money to buy positive coverage of him in the media. In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babis lost badly in an election after revelations that he used undeclared wealth to buy a castle in France.

In Poland, more than 100,000 people took to the streets last weekend in protest over the ruling party’s stacking of the judiciary and a recent ruling by the constitutional ctribunal that Poland can ignore EU laws. More than 80% of Poles do not want to jeopardize the country’s EU membership. They see it as a check on political corruption.

These recent events point to another result of last month’s poll of Europeans by the watchdog group Transparency International. Nearly two-thirds say ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. That’s a mighty force for honesty and accountability in government. In October, many politicians felt that moral force.

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.

Parsley learns about Love

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No one – including pets – is beyond the reach of God’s healing, comforting love.

Parsley learns about Love

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

Parsley was a beautiful black-and-white cat who lived down the road. But when his family had to move away, I took him in.

Poor Parsley. He didn’t like his new home, or the cat and dog who were living there already. He kept going back to his old house, and then I would have to go and fetch him home. When he did stay home, he mostly hid in the cupboard and only came out for meals. And one day I noticed that Parsley had a large lump on his ear.

In my study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve experienced and witnessed many healings through prayer. Most of the time this has involved people, but I’ve also prayed for my other pets, and they’ve had healings, too. So I knew I could pray for Parsley as well.

Parsley allowed me to pick him up. As I stroked him, I prayed by opening my heart to God, asking to see Parsley as God sees all of His creation – spiritual, unblemished, joyful. As I did, I felt the most overwhelming sense of love. It was a small moment, but it felt bigger than any love I’d ever felt before, so I knew it must come from God, who is divine Love itself. It was all-embracing, and I could feel that it included everyone, everywhere – even animals.

I felt very peaceful, knowing that divine Love takes care of its entire spiritual creation.

Parsley continued to sit quietly with me for a little while, then jumped down and went on his way.

The next day, Parsley’s ear was completely healed. It was like no bump had ever been there.

But something even bigger and better had happened. From then on, Parsley was loving and affectionate. No more hiding away in cupboards. No more running away to his old house. He had become one of the family, making friends with my other cat and dog and acting like he really belonged. He especially liked to sit on my lap when I prayed and read the weekly Bible Lesson found in the “Christian Science Quarterly.”

Parsley now knew he was truly loved, and he lived happily with us for many years.

Through prayer, each of us can feel the healing touch of divine Love and reflect it outward toward others. This brings change for the better.

Adapted from an article published in the Kids section of the June 14, 2021, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Search for the great pumpkin

Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
Laura Yan and her son Arlo, age 2, pick pumpkins and squashes at The Pop Up Farm ahead of Halloween, in Flamstead, St. Albans, England, on Oct. 22, 2021.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Have a great weekend! Come back Monday, when Kendra Nordin Beato profiles the leader of New England’s first all-female mariachi band for the Monitor’s Finding Resilience project.

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