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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
January
19
Friday
Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

It’s a free country.

That quip still flies in the United States – even if access to the fruits of that freedom can sometimes seem uneven. That’s worth holding dear at the end of a week in which, for example, a 21-year-old Hong Kong activist drew a prison sentence for blocking a road during a protest in Beijing in 2014.

In China, a new party manifesto has just emerged citing a worldwide “democratic deficit” as an opening for some global reshaping. Meanwhile, a report this week from Freedom House indicates that democracy is in retreat worldwide. That’s not a new trend. But this year the watchdog’s report cites the sharpest one-year drop for the US in four decades of monitoring.

Separately this week, a Gallup survey spanning 134 countries indicated that confidence in US leadership had slipped to a new low – landing the US below China, incidentally, in approval rankings. (Peter Ford explores global perceptions of the US below.)

As long as we’re pulling data from the week, here’s some with a little lift: A national survey by Pew Research Center has 61 percent of Americans thinking that 2018 will be a better year.

Yes, the reasons vary by party affiliation. But from optimism, good can flow.  

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Now to our five stories for today, chosen to highlight growing acceptance, and role shifts from resistance to leadership in the US and the world. 

1. ‘America First’ at one year: what the rest of the world thinks now

A trade war with China? Just threats so far. A retreat into isolationism? The US military presence in Afghanistan has grown. The world is still trying to sort the new US president’s words and intent – and deciding whether and how to adjust.

President Trump walked with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 7.
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Kim Hong-Ji/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadFor much of the world, President Trump's declaration in his inaugural address that “from this moment on, it’s going to be America First” was a major concern. A year on, the world's worst fears have not come to pass. United States foreign policy in many places continues largely unchanged. What has ebbed, though, is US leadership in the world, both as an exemplar of Western ideals and as a creator of consensus among nations. Mr. Trump prefers a “take it or leave it” approach to foreign policy, threatening carefully crafted multilateral institutions and pacts. And he is tolerant of autocrats, which undermines efforts to encourage better behavior internationally. In the long term, this may undercut not only the US’s standing in the world, but Western soft power generally, says Xenia Wickett of the think tank Chatham House. “Trump’s pursuit of American interests to the exclusion of others’ interests has had a long-term impact,” she says, “on those who had looked to the West as something to emulate.”

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1. ‘America First’ at one year: what the rest of the world thinks now

One year ago this weekend, Donald Trump used his inaugural presidential speech to issue what he called "a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power."

"From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First," he declared. "America First."

The world winced and waited with bated breath. What would this blunt assertion of US self-interest mean?

Twelve months on, some of the biggest shoes have yet to drop. The president has not launched the trade war with China that he had threatened, for example. Nor has he retreated into isolationism; there are more US troops in Afghanistan now than a year ago, and Mr. Trump has kept up the fight against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

But his mistrust and rejection of international agreements and institutions, from NATO to multilateral trade deals, from an accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions to a pact to check Iran’s nuclear program, has transformed America’s status. Historically a global leader, Washington today is an outlier on many key issues. And only 22 percent of the foreign public trusts the US president to do the right thing in international affairs, the Pew Research Center has found.

“Donald Trump is eroding institutions, trust, and alliances,” says Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in New York. “The US role in the world will be dramatically lessened, and some of that will never come back.”

And with no other player strong enough to step up to America’s traditional responsibility for overseeing the international order, nation states large and small may be tempted to follow Washington’s example and pursue their own narrow interests, regardless of the costs to others.

That could be dangerous. “Competing individual national security policies do not create international security,” worries Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, who runs the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Business as usual?

In many parts of the world, the daily practice of US foreign policy has changed little over the past year. In East Asia, Washington’s alliances with Japan and South Korea are still strong. The US still seems intent on maintaining its hegemony in the Pacific – drawing India and Australia into its strategy to contain China. And though Trump pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the regional trade deal that was the economic pillar for that strategy – US trade with Asia-Pacific countries is still vigorous.

“America cannot just withdraw from the region,” says Chen Dingding, a professor of international relations at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. “Leaving the TPP is not a once-and-for-all cut-off.”

On North Korea, while Trump indulged in noisy, provocative tweets about “rocket man” Kim Jong-un and the size of his nuclear button, Washington followed the orthodox diplomatic playbook. The US went to the United Nations, won approval for stiffer sanctions, and leaned on Beijing to influence its ally, just as previous administrations have done.

In Africa, the US has little clear policy beyond stepping up the Obama administration’s moves to increase Washington’s engagement in counter-terrorism operations in Mali and the Sahel region. In Syria, Trump has maintained Obama’s policy of fighting ISIS, but not on the ground. In Afghanistan, he has boosted US troop numbers.

And the new US national security and national defense strategies merely sharpen the previous administration’s view of China and Russia as strategic rivals whose threats need to be countered.

Angry allies

Trump has also seemed to be at odds with America’s longest standing allies on many issues – including the Paris climate accord, from which he announced the US would withdraw unless the treaty was modified to suit his taste; the Iran nuclear program deal, on which he has threatened to renege in the teeth of opposition from every other signatory; and moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a policy rejected by almost every other country in the world.

On none of these controversial issues has the US president sought to build a supportive international coalition, or even an understanding with his partners. His “take it or leave it” style displays few traditional elements of leadership, critics complain.

To the dismay of his European allies. “Europe does not want to have to fight the US,” says Mr. Lafont Rapnouil. “But it is clear that they will have to defend some of their policies against US policies. ‘America First’ sometimes means ‘America alone.’”

Trump’s lack of appetite for global leadership, some say, has left the field open to US rivals. “The president’s single biggest impact on the world is the extraordinary opportunity he has given China to gain economic influence” in the world, says Mr. Bremmer. “The US has been losing credibility for some time; Trump has taken that and run with it.”

Washington's shrinking role in the world and Trump's tolerance for autocrats has been welcome to others besides China; Saudi Arabia has enjoyed largely free rein to wage a brutal war in neighboring Yemen, for example, and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte won the US president's blessing for a deadly extra-judicial campaign against alleged drug dealers.

Indispensable no more?

In the long term, this trend could have far reaching implications, suggests Xenia Wickett, head of the US and Americas program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank. The growing complexity of world affairs – and former President Barack Obama’s policy of “leading from behind” – as one of his officials put it, meant that “America was a necessary but not a sufficient actor” in world affairs, says Ms. Wickett.

“By the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, America may end up not being a necessary partner either, as other countries step up,” she predicts.

This trend has undercut not only US standing in the world, but Western soft power generally, Wickett adds. “Trump’s pursuit of American interests to the exclusion of others’ interests has had a long-term impact on those who had looked to the West as something to emulate.”

His "shoot from the lip" style has also shocked foreign publics. “Overall global opinion of Mr. Trump is pretty negative,” says Richard Wike, who has surveyed that opinion for the Pew Research Center. “People don’t like it when the US pulls back from international agreements and engagement, putting up barriers between itself and others,” he explains; such behavior does not seem to reflect American values.

Nor does Trump’s “insatiable desire to embrace strongmen who get things done without the checks and balances of democracy” such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte, says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

His warm words for such authoritarian leaders “undermines the human rights movement’s efforts to stigmatize these people,” worries Mr. Roth. “Our success depends on shaming them.”

Rough waters - but navigable

Trump’s attitude to human rights would be easily reversible by America’s next president, Roth says. Other current administration policies might also be changed. And citizens around the world understand that Donald Trump is not the United States.

“The trust deficit is not with America, it’s with President Trump,” says Wickett, and previous presidential handovers have worked wonders for America’s international image. Only 42 percent of respondents had a positive view of the United States when Pew did its last global survey of the George W. Bush presidency; that figure had jumped to 59 percent by the time it carried out its first survey of the Obama era.

US allies “have got rough waters ahead for the next few years,” says Wickett. “We’ll find it very, very difficult to make progress together. But the fundamentals of the transatlantic relationship are very strong; it is not breaking down.”

That relationship will survive, she says. “And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

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2. DACA and beyond: What makes immigration deals so hard?

The very human stories of young “Dreamers” are understandably attention-getting. This piece looks more closely at the preconditions for their plight, including American society’s often contradictory feelings about immigration. 

 

The 30 Sec. ReadWith Congress on the verge of another government shutdown, a range of factors can be blamed, from a budgetary process that seems increasingly broken to inconsistent messaging from the White House. But at the heart of the current crisis is a standoff over immigration – specifically, the 700,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children. Democrats have been under pressure to reject any spending bill that does not include a fix for so-called Dreamers. Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, have been split over whether or not to provide Dreamers protections in exchange for tighter border security measures and other reforms. It’s become a frustratingly familiar pattern for lawmakers. Efforts to reform the immigration system during both the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama eras came tantalizingly close but never ultimately succeeded. And the reasons are as complicated as the issue itself. “There’s broad agreement that the system is broken right now,” says Daniel Tichenor, a professor at the University of Oregon. “But we’ve been going a quarter century without a serious immigration response.”

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2. DACA and beyond: What makes immigration deals so hard?

Rabbis protesting on Capitol Hill. A president facing accusations of racism. And lawmakers from both parties risking a government shutdown amid calls from their base to refuse the other side’s demands.

This is the state of the nation’s capital as Congress stares down a deadline to approve funding for government operations. 

The issue at the heart of the chaos: immigration. Specifically, a deal that offers a reprieve for the 700,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the country as children and temporarily protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. The program is set to expire in March.

Democrats looking to their base find themselves under pressure to reject a spending bill – even a short-term one – that does not include a fix for DACA. Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, are split over whether or not to provide so-called Dreamers some protections in exchange for reforms, like tighter border security measures, that their constituents have long called for. In the middle are legislators seeking unlikely support for a compromise.  

The standoff highlights Congress’s chronic inability to pass bipartisan legislation on immigration. Efforts during both the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama eras came close, as lawmakers on either side of the aisle recognized the need to reform the system.

But none passed. And the reasons why – growing partisanship among voters, eroding trust within Congress itself, and immigration’s continuing role as one of American society’s great contradictions – are as complicated as the issue itself.

“It’s almost like an American Rorschach test, that people read into this issue all sorts of economic, cultural, social, religious, and foreign policy perspectives,” says Daniel Tichenor, director of the University of Oregon’s program on democratic engagement and governance.

“There’s broad agreement that the system is broken right now, that we need some kind of deal to address these problems. But,” he notes, “we’ve been going a quarter-century without a serious immigration response.”

A nation of immigrants

Immigrants have always occupied a unique place in American history. Nearly every American, save perhaps the 2 percent who trace their lineage back to Native peoples, has an immigrant story in the family record. Because of that, Professor Tichenor says, “We see immigration itself as virtuous.”

Humans, however, have a natural suspicion of the unfamiliar. “New immigrants have always been seen as somehow harmful, while ‘our’ forefathers, ‘our’ immigrants, are somehow better,” says Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

That tension has ebbed and flowed depending on things like economic security and social and cultural norms. Do people feel their financial prospects are stable? To what degree is society rejecting racism and xenophobia? The answers, Ms. Brown says, often color public opinion – and political will.

“Immigrants tend to be a scapegoat for fears that people have,” she says. “That drives the politics.”

Indeed, the last significant bipartisan deal on illegal immigration to make it through Congress required lawmakers who were willing to defy public opinion and cut across divisions between and within parties. The Immigration Reform and Control Act, which former President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1986, awarded green cards to about 2.7 million unauthorized immigrants at a time when nearly half of Americans wanted a decrease in immigration, and about 40 percent wanted to keep it at current levels.

That a large share of Republicans would go on to view the IRCA as a blot on Mr. Reagan’s conservative legacy – deriding it as “amnesty” that did nothing to stem illegal immigration – doesn’t diminish the herculean effort that the legislators behind the law put into its crafting and passage. The New York Times reported that Rep. Romano Mazzoli (D) of Kentucky faced down “criticism bordering on abuse” – and lost 12 pounds – during the years he spent working on the law with Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Wyoming.

“I used to be 6 foot 7 until they kept pounding me down. Then I became 5 foot 9,” Representative Mazzoli quipped to the Times. “But I wanted to prove to the country and to the leadership that we could deal with an emotionally laden and divisive subject in a way that brought credit to the House.”

A series of attempts – and failures

The idea of legislators quietly chipping away toward compromise on a tough issue seems almost fanciful in today’s era of feverishly partisan politics. Divisions on a range of issues – not least immigration – between Democrats and Republicans reached a 25-year high during the Obama years, according to the Pew Research Center. The gap has only grown since, and is reflected in the representatives the public elects and how they deal with matters on the Hill, political observers say.

“We elect the reddest of the red and the bluest of the blue and we send them to D.C. and expect them to talk to each other,” says Lisa Maatz, a policy operative who has worked in Washington for two decades. “If any compromise puts you at risk of being primaried, then where’s the incentive to do the work?”

For immigration in particular, the result has been a series of attempts – and failures – at sweeping reform.

In 2005, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and John McCain (R) of Arizona introduced a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill that petered out when it couldn’t be reconciled with an enforcement-only version in the House. Another bid, in 2007, created a path to legal status and a new temporary worker program in exchange for tighter border measures. The effort died in the Senate in the face of unrelenting criticism from the far right.  

The last major attempt at immigration reform took place in 2013, when the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Eight” passed legislation that would have shored up border security and revamped the legal immigration system while crafting a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million unauthorized immigrants. The bill never made it to a vote in the House.

So many failed negotiations threaten to turn immigration into a political no-go zone and make real reform – already a tough ask – increasingly difficult to achieve, says Sarah Binder, professor of politics at George Washington University and senior fellow in governance at the Brookings Institution.

“These deals that require you to understand what the other side wants become harder the less and less you trust the other side,” she says.

A narrow deal

DACA was supposed to be an answer. Instead of attempting to overhaul the whole system, lawmakers thought they could strike a narrow deal that provided both legal status for Dreamers – a sympathetic population even to many conservatives – and funding for border security measures (i.e., President Trump’s wall). A compromise on this single front could have served to restore public confidence in Congress’s ability to legislate and pave the way for future talks on broader immigration reform, political analysts say.

But the more extreme forces that have stalled past negotiations not only remain at play; they’re more influential than ever.

“The base of each party cares intently about different aspects of the deal, keeping them from solving the problem,” Professor Binder says.

Compounding the situation is an unpredictable president who swings, by the day, from expressing support for bipartisan efforts to standing solidly with the conservative base that elected him, critics say. Alleged comments that Trump made last week about immigrants have also led to public accusations of racism, casting a further pall over the negotiations.

“You can either have a president who sets a moral tone, who sets restraints around what members of Congress can say or do, or you can have a president who unleashes this kind of hostility,” says Norm Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute.

Congress remains gridlocked on the issue, even as Friday’s deadline to send the president a spending bill looms. Still, some are holding out for a happier ending. Addressing reporters on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said that Congress already knows what it needs to do: protect Dreamers and secure the border.

“So it’s not going to end poorly – it's going to end well,” he said. “The public is demanding for us to get our act together up here.”

“When [Congress] decides that what needs to get done is more important than scoring points or the politics of the day, they can come together,” Brown adds. “But it’s going to require leadership.”

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3. Battle over legal marijuana tests US commitment to states' rights

What happens when a party’s bedrock philosophy runs into a values conflict? The rise of legal marijuana in California and elsewhere keeps provoking a regulatory reach by Washington and providing a reminder that paradigms abhor a patchwork.

 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind a memo that allowed states to decide for themselves whether to legalize marijuana may hasten a showdown in Congress. The power struggle represents, law experts say, a monumental moment for states’ rights and a major rethink of core values by Republican power brokers. Rep. Tom Garrett, a Virginia Republican, is taking up Mr. Sessions's challenge. He has introduced SR 1227, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. He sees himself as part of “an evolution of thought on both sides of the aisle.” “The first time I ever heard the term ‘medical marijuana’ I probably laughed,” acknowledges Representative Garrett, a former assistant attorney general. But he says that an “interminable” queue through his office of veterans, parents, and other Americans pleading for deregulation helped shape a deeper rethink. Noting that he does not care whether marijuana is legal in California or illegal in Alabama, he says, “We are in a paradigm where people go to federal prison for the same exact activity that would make them a candidate for entrepreneur of the year depending on which state they are in. Justice that is not blind is by definition also not justice. If I was languishing in federal prison on a marijuana charge – and that still happens today – I would be very bitter.”

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3. Battle over legal marijuana tests US commitment to states' rights

West Hollywood is painted with rainbow flags. Known as “The Creative City,” this counterculture hub is set in rolling hills, thrumming with thrift stores, vegetarian restaurants, and, since Jan. 1, four dispensaries selling recreational cannabis.

The most populous state in the union, with 39 million people, started allowing legal recreational pot sales three days before the Justice Department threatened to step up enforcement of federal prohibition. 

As people waiting in a line outside West Hollywood’s MedMen brush off a rainstorm, Iain McDonald, an actor and Lyft driver from Australia, says he’s puzzled by what he sees as a “war on California.” “When they say state vs. federal – as an outsider – that doesn’t feel right,” he says. “The other countries I know would try to work with their states, not fight them.”

On America’s other coast, at the eastern terminus of historic Route 80, the Tybee Island Lighthouse throws shafts of light into a foggy night as war veterans gather at American Legion Post 154.

The post commander, Chuck Bolen, Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, leads a group of vets mostly living the retired life, who largely voted for President Trump.

But when asked about the American Legion begging Congress to deregulate marijuana to possibly help soldiers in pain, Mr. Bolen shrugs in agreement. In his experience, he says, weed is not a gateway to harsher drugs, but a potential “exit drug” for veterans addicted to opioid pain medications.

To the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, both the Australian actor and the Georgia veteran are wrong. In 2016, Mr. Sessions, then an Alabama senator, urged Congress to acknowledge that “this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about … and [Congress should] send that message with clarity that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

The decision by Sessions on Jan. 4 to rescind an Obama-era memo that allowed states to decide for themselves whether to legalize marijuana is in many ways a direct challenge to federalism. It also may hasten a showdown in Congress, which is under growing pressure to allow states alone to either regulate or prohibit the plant.

The X factor is whether the disparate groups pushing for federal marijuana deregulation – from pot growers in Texas to legionnaires on the Georgia coast – can see eye to eye long enough to force Congress’ hand on a prohibition that goes back to the 1930s and was enshrined in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Either way, the heated power struggle represents, law experts say, a monumental moment for states’ rights in America and a major rethink of core values by Republican powerbrokers.

“I’ve seen stories on, ‘Congratulations, Jeff Sessions, you just hastened marijuana legalization,’ ” says University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin, co-author of “Cooperative Federalism and Marijuana Regulation,” a UCLA Law Review article. “That may be wishful thinking. But the conversation is happening now.”

A year after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, then-assistant attorney general James Cole formalized the Obama White House position in the so-called “Cole memo,” which offered a semblance of certainty to states rejecting the federal prohibition of the substance. Sessions scrapped that direction, giving broader latitude to enforce federal law back to the 93 US attorneys.

Then Deputy Attorney General James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 10, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled; 'Conflicts between State and Federal Marijuana Laws.'
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Susan Walsh/AP

Former US attorney Barbara McQuade notes in a Monitor interview that some US attorneys may go the “extreme” route to target growers, dispensers, and even users. Several US attorneys have signaled they are not likely to interfere with activities that the states are regulating and taxing. But the US attorney in Massachusetts, for example, has refused to signal his intent, which could complicate a summer deadline to allow recreational sales, passed by voter referendum.

Sessions’s move sent stock valuations plummeting in what has, in five years, become a multibillion dollar industry, with markets open or opening from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine. Twenty-nine states now regulate legal sales of medical marijuana, eight of which also offer it for recreational use. It is now also legal for Americans to possess – though not buy – recreational marijuana in Washington, D.C.

“Until last week, a venture capital investor could say, ‘Hey, all of the momentum is on the side of more and more [marijuana] markets opening,’ but now their business lawyer has to say, ‘It looks like the federal government is going to muck up the works – rocky times ahead,’ ” says Doug Berman, a constitutional law professor at the Moritz School of Law, at Ohio State University.

Politically and culturally, Mr. Berman adds, the policy shift allows Americans worried about long-term health and societal impacts of state-regulated marijuana to urge caution. “Now that the federal government shows it is committed to enforcing prohibition,” he says, “it is all the more reason [for them] to take a slow approach.”

Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group, praised the Sessions announcement. “This is a good day for public health,” he said in a statement at the time. “The days of safe harbor for multi-million dollar pot investments are over.” The former Obama Administration drug policy adviser added, “DOJ’s move will slow down the rise of Big Marijuana.... Investor, banker, funder beware.” 

States meanwhile, are pushing back. Attorneys general from 20 states wrote to congressional leaders Tuesday seeking an expansion of banking options for businesses in the legal marijuana trade. 

‘Evolution of thought’ on both sides of aisle

The Trump administration is also facing pushback from its own party.

Republican congressmen such as California’s Duncan Hunter, Alaska’s Don Young, and Florida’s Matt Gaetz see Sessions’s move as an attack on voting majorities in their states, who voted to legalize.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R) did not support legalization in Colorado in 2012, but is now defending what has grown into a billion dollar a year industry in his state. He emerged from a meeting with Sessions last week saying a congressional showdown on prohibition seems imminent. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont noted that the stance may play into a January deadline to reauthorize a 2014 law that directed the DOJ to not interfere with medical marijuana regulators in the states.

Rep. Tom Garrett, a Virginia Republican, is part of a shift in thought that could move the country fundamentally. He has introduced SR 1227, which would remove marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act, which would wash Washington’s hands of weed. He predicts it would win an up-or-down vote in the House today, were leadership to allow his bill to the floor.

“The first time I ever heard the term ‘medical marijuana’ I probably laughed,” acknowledges Representative Garrett, a former assistant attorney general in Virginia. 

But he says that an “interminable” queue through his office of veterans, parents, and other Americans pleading for deregulation has, for him, helped shape a deeper rethink of the constitutional implications of pot prohibition. It took a constitutional amendment to justify banning alcohol, during the Prohibition era, which lasted for a decade.

He says most Americans have become persuaded that states are able to competently regulate marijuana as they do other potentially hazardous drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.

Noting that he does not care whether marijuana is legal in California or illegal in Alabama, Garrett says, “My problem, especially as a former [assistant attorney general], is that I find nothing in our foundational documentation or in concept that would give the federal government purview over a plant which, if left to its own devices, would grow naturally in all 50 states.”

“We are in a paradigm where people go to federal prison for the same exact activity that would make them a candidate for entrepreneur of the year depending on which state they are in,” he continues. “Justice that is not blind is by definition also not justice. If I was languishing in federal prison on a marijuana charge – and that still happens today – I would be very bitter.”

In that light, he says, he has taken Sessions up on his challenge to fix the law instead of questioning rule-of-law. The ensuing debate “is a great thing from a philosophical standpoint, [signifying an] evolution of thought on both sides of the aisle. That’s good for us as a nation.”

In fact, Gallup reported earlier this month that for the first time just over half of all Republicans, 51 percent, support legalization of recreational marijuana. Ninety-four percent of Americans support medical marijuana as prescribed by a doctor, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac Poll.

In Nevada, state Sen. Tick Segerblom says there would be “riots in the streets” if federal agents began prosecuting a nascent industry that already employs 7,000 people.

“Republicans are running away from [marijuana prohibition] because if you were to run as an anti-marijuana candidate in Nevada today, there’s only one possible outcome: You would lose,” says Mr. Segerblom.

Long-time cultural antipathy for the intoxicant is shifting even in the deepest of red states, observers note.

In Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, never a pro-marijuana advocate, signed a law in 2015 that legalized the use of cannabis extracts for a handful of childhood illnesses, including the relief of epileptic seizures. The Alabama legislature in 2016 passed Leni's Law, which decriminalized the drug for limited medical purposes.

And this month, Schulenburg, Texas, the home of the Texas Polka Music Museum, will watch as a newly-licensed farm and dispensary begins selling low-THC compounds to consumers, marking the first entrée of legal marijuana in a state defined both by its social conservatism and its staunch defense of states’ rights.

In part, says Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center, that marijuana legalization is taking root even in red state America is an acknowledgement that federal prohibition evokes “no sense of liberty, no sense of what the people want.”

‘We’re neck deep in this’

For Mr. Bolen, the Tybee Island legionnaire, a few joints smoked in the 1970s constitutes the extent of his personal experience. But classifying marijuana as a substance with no medical benefits runs counter to his assessment of the needs of a new generation of Afghan and Iraq war veterans struggling with opioid addiction, suicidal thoughts, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

That sense of American veterans being denied a treatment is why “what Sessions is doing, well, I don’t like it," Bolen says. This week,  the United States Department of Veterans once again said, given the federal prohibition, it cannot research any potential medical benefits.

But momentum toward legalization may be difficult to reverse, even for the federal government, says Daniel Yi, communications chief for West Hollywood’s MedMen.

“I mean, think about this: You can travel the whole western United States now and buy pot,” says Mr. Yi. “And by this summer you can do that all the way to Vancouver because Canada is going to legalize marijuana under federal law. We are not knee deep in this – we’re neck deep in this.”

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4. A year after the March, women are sprinting forward

A movement with its roots in resistance is becoming more about claiming a share of direction-setting and leadership. 

Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (c.), dressed in pink, participates in the Women's March on Austin on Jan. 21, 2017. Millions marched in the US and around the world in a show of defiance and solidarity on President Trump's first full day in office.
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Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe marchers who took to the streets nationwide on Jan. 21, 2017, came out spontaneously and for different reasons. One of the largest demonstrations in US history, the Women’s March was in many ways an organic response to the 2016 election and the divisiveness that attended it. Many say they were ultimately encouraged and changed by the experience. A year later, there’s something else they agree on: The pull toward political engagement has stayed with them. Indeed, Jan. 21 turned out to be only the beginning. Kitty Thuermer, a Washington-based freelance writer and editor, was so inspired by the March that she wound up participating in weekly demonstrations. As one of her friends put it: “Never mind the sorry salad at the desk – every lunch hour was spent at a protest.” Other women are contributing to campaigns – or planning to run them. More than 400 women are currently considered likely candidates for Congress in 2018, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. That's more than double the number who were on the list in 2015. 

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4. A year after the March, women are sprinting forward

Ginny Dameron didn’t know what to expect from the Women’s March in Austin, Tex., last January. She usually avoids big crowds, and worried about the potential for confrontation. But seeing tens of thousands of people show up at the state capitol, she says, “wowed” her: “It was the sense that we were not alone.”

Odelia Younge also felt conflicted over whether to join the March in San Francisco — at first. Her top causes: reproductive and social justice, especially for the black community. “I decided to show up in a way I wanted to,” she says. She made her mark that day by shouting positive chants with her friends in the crowd — shifting the focus to what they want, not what they’re against.

For Emily Porter, the decision was easier. As a mom to two daughters, she says she felt compelled to be there. Marching on the Mall in Washington, D.C., awoke feelings of empowerment and validation. “It wasn’t just me feeling angry,” she says. “There was a real sense of female community.”

These women’s stories are emblematic of marchers nationwide who took to the streets on Jan. 21, 2017: They came out spontaneously, and for different reasons. And they were ultimately encouraged – and changed – by the experience.

Now, a year later, there’s something else they agree on: the pull toward political engagement has stayed with them. Whether it’s donating to campaigns, hosting forums, or engaging their neighbors, each of them has found a personal way to participate in politics.

“I’ve called my representatives more than in my entire life,” Ms. Porter says.

The same is true of women across the country, who since the marches have rushed to file candidacies at every level of office. That energy has also seeped through to other aspects of American life, amplifying female voices on issues where women have long stayed silent and moving feminism to the center of national discourse.

“The Women's March gave me an opportunity to pull myself out of helplessness and join with others who are advocates for women,” says Miranda Orbach, who went to the march in Washington with her partner and their families. The experience, she says, “grounded and inspired me.”

A hastily organized outpouring

The Women's March ranks comfortably among the largest one-day demonstrations in recorded American history, rivaling the Vietnam War Moratoriums in 1969, the first Earth Day in 1970, and demonstrations opposing the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Crowd scientists estimated that at least 470,000 people participated on or near the Washington Mall alone. Along with 673 sister marches held in all 50 states and 32 countries, the total number of protesters reached an estimated 3 to 4.5 million.

It was in many ways a hastily organized outpouring, an organic response to the 2016 election and what many saw as the unprecedented – and unacceptable – divisiveness of the newly elected president, Donald Trump.

“The women’s marches in 2017 reflected a mass sentiment among women across the board against Trump, but for very different reasons,” says Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Some, she notes, were dismayed that Hillary Clinton had lost, after coming so close to becoming America’s first female president. Others were aghast at Mr. Trump’s perceived racism and “the arrogance of wealth and privilege that he exudes.”

“But I think all of those who turned out were outraged by Trump’s flagrant misogyny,” says Professor Ransby. To many, the election of a candidate who had boasted on tape about making unwanted physical advances was simply anathema.

And in hindsight, Jan. 21 turned out to be only the beginning – in more ways than one.

Signs direct to a women's candidate training workshop in Dallas. In the wake of the 2016 election, an unprecedented number of women has expressed interest in running for office, according to EMILY'S List, an organization dedicated to electing female candidates at all levels of government.
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LM Otero/AP

Running for office

Perhaps the clearest and most immediate new channel for the anger, emotion, and energy that fueled the March is politics.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, more than 400 women are currently considered likely candidates for Congress in 2018 – more than double the number who were on the list in 2015. In races for seats in the House of Representatives, more than 200 female candidates – mostly running as Democrats – are seeking to challenge an incumbent from the opposing party.

In December, Emily’s List, the biggest national organization to support women running for office, told The New York Times that about 1,000 women had reached out to them for help filing a candidacy or otherwise participating in politics in the months leading up to the 2016 election. The number swelled to 22,000 after the election.

California native Jessica Morse counts herself among the politically inspired. A trained national security strategist, Ms. Morse had long nursed a secret desire to run for office.

“The Women’s March gave me the courage to run,” she says.

Today she’s one of three millennial women to compete in the Democratic primary for the Golden State’s Fourth Congressional District. (The winner will challenge five-term incumbent Rep. Tom McClintock (R).)

Those who didn’t feel the pull to serve found other ways of repurposing their newfound political energies. According to a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics, there has been a surge in the number of women donating to Democratic campaigns in this election cycle.

Kitty Thuermer, a Washington-based freelance writer and editor, wound up participating in weekly demonstrations. As one of her friends put it: “Never mind the sorry salad at the desk – every lunch hour was spent at a protest.”

#METOO

The March also opened a tumultuous year in which myriad cases of sexual harassment and abuse came to light. The exposure in October of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as an alleged habitual assaulter became a rallying point for the revival of the #MeToo movement. Suddenly women – from stars to senators and everyone in between – were speaking up about their experiences, many for the first time.

Some have warned of a potential backlash, but the momentum for the most part continues unabated.

The New York Times maintains a list of the men who have been fired or resigned from high-profile positions because of their sexual misconduct, while Time magazine named “The Silence Breakers” its 2017 Person of the Year. Female representatives in statehouses and Congress are pushing for policy changes that would shift the balance of power between men accused of harassment and the women who accuse them. And early this month, more than 300 women in entertainment, law, and public relations launched the Time’s Up campaign and legal defense fund to support survivors of sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

It’s the start of a transformation that “will take generations to become the norm,” says Ms. Dameron, the marcher from Austin, who remembers a time when the sole instruction for girls was to act like a lady. “[But] I am grateful for the change.” 

Smaller-scale efforts

Not everyone who participated in last year’s March took part in sweeping movements attached to headline-grabbing figures. For many, engagement took the form of smaller-scale efforts to drive change in their communities.

Ms. Orbach, who teaches third grade in New York City, has devoted herself to prison and parole advocacy, helping prisoners in state institutions put together parole packets and prepare for their boards. “I knew that the Trump administration would affect the prison industrial complex in a negative way,” Orbach says. “It felt even more important to spend time listening to people’s stories and helping them advocate for themselves.”

In San Francisco, Ms. Younge has used her blog as a space for people who want someone to talk to about sensitive topics. She also co-hosts events that celebrate feminism and the female body. “It gets me excited to use the arts to create internal resistance,” she says. “Hopefully, it will lead to external resistance as well.”

Across the bay in Oakland, Cristine Blanco has made having difficult conversations a personal priority. She’s been active in the Black Lives Matter marches and with organizations that uplift marginalized groups.

“I think it’s great that people are more open to discuss their concerns about what is happening in America,” she says.

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Books

5. Seven reads to start 2018

Perhaps you’ve resolved to read more books this year. We’d like to suggest some starting points. Want to be delighted? Yvonne Zipp reviews Rachel Joyce’s novel “The Music Shop,” about a man with a legendary ear and a gift for music therapy that’s almost preternatural. Want to be moved? Marjorie Kehe reviews “Tears of Salt,” a memoir by physician Pietro Bartolo, whose work on Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, has put him on the front line of the refugee crisis. Finally, see Steve Donoghue’s picks for five other titles to start 2018, including “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” a posthumous collection of stories by National Book Award-winning author Denis Jonson – and a book that one Monitor staffer calls “a very big deal.”

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The Monitor's View

Forgiveness and economic justice

 

The 30 Sec. ReadHopes for peace in places like Liberia and Colombia often rest heavily on programs that use incentives, mostly monetary, to induce insurgents to turn in their weapons and disband their militias, and help them reenter civil society by providing work opportunities or training. Such programs can be fraught with problems. But despite a far from perfect record, they remain a valuable way to integrate those at the margins of a society into the economic mainstream. Can they also work in another context? South Africa has avoided civil war since its successful and largely peaceful transition out of apartheid in the 1990s, but it also needs to help those who don’t share in its wealth. Apologies given – and accepted – for past offenses were an essential step. But the healing must also include a recognition of the economic devastation for the majority of South Africans left in the wake of apartheid. The country needs to promote the kind of economic and educational opportunities that are bringing insurgents in places like Colombia and Liberia back into society.

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Forgiveness and economic justice

In the 1990s South Africa preached reconciliation and forgiveness in its successful and largely peaceful transition out of apartheid.

Today, Liberia, long torn by civil wars, has peacefully elected a new president, George Weah, who’ll take office Jan. 22. And Colombia, after a half-century of conflict, has made peace with rebels from FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), who have laid down their arms and begun an assimilation back into society. Some of these guerrilla fighters now are becoming politicians.

South Africa never fell into a civil war, though many worried that could happen. Countries that do emerge from civil war have about a 40 percent chance of falling back into chaos, according to one expert. But for every year a nation can maintain peace the potential for a lasting peace goes up another percentage point.

Hopes for peace in places like Liberia and Colombia often rest heavily on so-called DDR programs (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration), points out a recent article in The Economist. 

DDR programs use incentives, mostly monetary, to induce insurgents to turn in their weapons, disband their militias, and help them reenter civil society by providing work opportunities, job training, or other educational programs. 

Funding from international aid groups often sweeten the deal. (In 2008, for example, 15 DDR programs around the world were underwritten by $1.6 billion in aid.)

Such programs can be fraught with problems. In some cases rebels who have been given funds for training spent them frivolously. Instead of learning new work skills some joined a drug gang instead. In Nigeria rebels who were blowing up oil fields were essentially bribed by the government by being paid a monthly stipend to stop their attacks. But when the payments were cut back, the attacks resumed.

But despite a far from perfect record, DDR programs remain a valuable way to integrate those at the margins of a society into the economic mainstream. 

South Africans have lived a different story. In the 1990s as white rule and apartheid collapsed, it’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission allowed those who had committed crimes – even murder – under apartheid to publicly confess, ask forgiveness of their victims, and at the same time avoid prosecution. Truth was deemed more important than retribution. 

The commission did much to dissipate anger, promote healing, and recognize human dignity. A bloody civil war was avoided. Truth and reconciliation commission have since sprung up in dozens of other countries.

Cyril Ramaphosa is now in line to replace Jacob Zuma as South African president by 2019. He has pledged to root out corruption and promote transparency, both badly needed reforms.

But he can’t succeed unless he finds a way to spread the country’s economic prosperity more widely. Unemployment among black South Africans, the vast majority of citizens, is at 31 percent, while less than 7 percent for whites.

While South Africa’s poor aren’t an armed rebel group, they need the kind of aggressive programs of jobs and training that DDRs have given around the world, programs that will offer new hope.

Apologies given – and accepted – for past offenses were an essential step. But the healing must also include a recognition of the economic devastation for the majority of South Africans left in the wake of apartheid. The country needs to promote the kind of economic and educational opportunities that are bringing insurgents in places like Colombia and Liberia back into society.

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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.

Abundance and the global economy

In the spirit of evolving the Monitor Daily toward the best and clearest statement of the Monitor’s mission, changes are coming to the Christian Science Perspective starting Monday, Jan. 22. Learn more here.

 

Sometimes we may think of ourselves as passive recipients of whatever the global economic situation is serving up at the moment. But it’s not inevitable that those on our street, as well as those in our world, be taken for an economic roller-coaster ride. God, infinite Love, constantly pours out blessings on His beloved children. Today’s contributor has found it helpful to think of provision not primarily in terms of dollars and cents, which are finite, but in terms of spiritual qualities and ideas from God, which are infinite. Everyone has access to that abundance. A selfless purpose to give to the economy, rather than simply get from it, enables us to make better decisions about our own family’s finances, and better support economic decisionmaking on the macro level, too. In this way we realize individually and collectively this Bible promise: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

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Abundance and the global economy

One New Delhi morning some years ago, before there was much traffic, I went for a run. I thought I’d go 5 kilometers (3 miles) and then, to avoid getting lost, return along the same route.

But wild dogs thwarted my plan. Rulers of the side streets at 6 a.m., they recognized me as a visitor right away. At one point, several were chasing me, barking and rallying their canine friends. No problem going past them the first time – I simply ran faster. But on the return I had to choose between the dogs or maybe getting lost coming back another way.

As I prayed for help in deciding which way to go – something I’ve frequently found helpful in times of need – I drew level with a street person (one of millions in India) walking in the same direction. I slowed to his pace and explained that for the next while, I would just walk beside him because of my earlier encounter with the dogs. He spoke no English and I, no Hindi. I don’t think he had any idea why I desired his company. But he graciously accompanied me past the dogs, who this time didn’t show the slightest interest. After those few blocks, I thanked my host and resumed my run. My spontaneous street companion had treated me generously, and it didn’t cost him a rupee.

Is it too idealistic to think that everyone on the planet, like my Indian friend, is rich enough to have something to give – rich enough to serve others? Is it inevitable that those on our street, as well as those in our world, be taken for a roller-coaster ride by the world economy in general? In the first chapter of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” author Mary Baker Eddy writes: “If we turn away from the poor, we are not ready to receive the reward of Him who blesses the poor” (p. 8).

But does God really bless the poor? Every Bible translation among many I’ve checked confirms these words of Christ Jesus: “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor – and to everyone – because God, infinite Love, constantly pours out blessings on all His beloved children. God is ceaselessly communicating the specific, practical, spiritual ideas that each of us needs to express His intelligence, love, and goodness. In this way, the unemployed father of four in Kansas City, the mother in Kinshasa struggling to pay school fees for her two sons, the young family in a suburb of Buenos Aires looking to buy a home – to all of these people, God is sending the exact ideas needed to progress in serving others and seeing their own needs met.

The great necessity, then, is to be spiritually awake to these ideas and put them into practice. One example of this is Joseph in the Bible. He had nothing, and in fact had been unjustly imprisoned in a foreign country. Yet he had the spiritual insight and capacity to save all of Egypt and people from surrounding countries – including his own estranged family – from famine (see Genesis 37‑45), and the opportunity came to him to do so. This spiritually resourceful man wasn’t just waiting to see what the economy might bring.

Sometimes we may think of ourselves as passive recipients of whatever the global economic situation is serving up at the moment. But understanding that God has blessings for each of us contributes calm and a sense of well-being to the economic outlook for our families, countries, and world. I’ve experienced this in my own life. For instance, at one point my wife and I could see that in the next few months we would have many expenses, and it was not clear from where the money would come. Through dedicated prayer to understand, and therefore accept, that God meets all the needs of His children, and that we are all His children, each of those needs was met perfectly within a few months.

We can help the global economy by seeing that the whole universal enterprise is to recognize God’s holiness and the preciousness of each of us as His image and likeness. On that basis, we can refuse to think of ourselves, or anyone, as mere consumers in a matter-based economy that would allow ups, downs, scarcity, oppression, and inequalities. As we have the selfless purpose to give to the economy, rather than simply get from it, we can make better decisions about our own family’s finances, and better support economic decisionmaking on the macro level, too. In this way we realize individually and collectively this Bible promise: “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Adapted from an article in the Sept. 13, 2010, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Over-discovered in Iceland?

Tourists visit Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall, in December. The double-cascade waterfall has been nearly frozen solid. The natural wonder is one stop on the renowned Golden Circle, a circuit of sites outside Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. The darkness and cold here might not seem conducive to mass tourism, but even at this time of year, the Golden Circle can feel overrun. At the geyser Strokkur, lines form as visitors hope to glimpse an eruption. Tourism has helped Iceland recover from its banking collapse in 2008. But it has also taken away a sense of peace and isolation, and these concerns make their way into every conversation in Reykjavik.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( January 22nd, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Among the stories we're planning for early next week is a look at Turkey’s threats against US-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria, and what that means for the balance of power in Syria and the region. We'll also be sizing up a question of stewardship related to … space junk. Until Monday.

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