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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.

2017
September
22
Friday
Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Assuming that some final formalities are completed, the United States Marine Corps will have its first female infantry officer – a future platoon leader – after a ceremony on Monday.

The marine, whose identity is being shielded for now, completed the notoriously tough training at Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Thursday.

That’s a milestone on a very long march. More than 30 women tried and fell short during a test period that began in 2012. (Overall, about 1 in 4 trainees washes out.)

The halting integration of women into the military’s male bastions – including the Army Rangers – is a story that the Monitor has followed closely in recent years. That this latest surge involves the Marine Corps marks a particularly significant shift: 2017 is also the year in which a large number of marines were implicated in an online, photo-sharing scandal that was roundly scorned as an example of deeply ingrained misogyny.

Is this shift in thought real and enduring? “Officials shared few details about the lieutenant Thursday,” read a report in The Washington Post, “saying it is unlikely she will agree to do any media interviews, preferring instead to be a ‘quiet professional’ and just do her job.”

That’s the remarkable becoming more routine.

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And now to our five stories for your Friday, ones that highlight fairness, collaboration, and understanding. 

1. In election run-up, a German paradox emerges

The widely held perception of Germany as an economic juggernaut is not unfounded. But we took a closer look, and found out why some Germans see social injustice even in a boom time. 

 

The 30 Sec. ReadGermany has created more jobs than at any other time since reunification, but it has not come without a cost. In fact, while Germany has the second-lowest unemployment rate of any country in the European Union, Eurostat figures show that the risk of poverty among the employed was slightly higher, almost 10 percent, than the EU average of 9.5 percent in 2014. And the middle class has been shrinking at roughly the same rate as it has been in the United States, down 5 percent between 1991 and 2013. The increase in inequality is not visible in the political debate ahead of Sunday's national elections, in which the status quo is largely expected to remain the same. But if inequality is not driving the debate, says sociologist Stefan Liebig, perceptions of injustice are, fueling frustration and girding the far-right, which is poised to enter parliament for the first time in Germany’s postwar history. Germans don’t feel they are being treated fairly, he says. “They have the feeling they don’t have the same chances.”

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1. In election run-up, a German paradox emerges

Günter Triebe is a perfect product of high-performing Germany.

He built his start as a metalworker into a 44-year career, and today, from his cozy living room in a leafy neighborhood of Berlin, he says he enjoys a comfortable pension. He adds proudly that he has never been unemployed. It’s this sort of well-being that is driving Chancellor Angela Merkel toward a fourth term in office in federal elections Sunday.

Except that Mr. Triebe isn’t voting for her.

In fact, he’s joined a group within his union, where he still serves as an officer, called “Seniors stand up” to fight back against pensioner poverty – and the prevailing notion that everything is just fine in the Merkel era.

“I have been lucky,” he says, but many seniors and those in precarious work, including his own son, have been left behind. “Germany looks like a miracle, but it’s not.”

GŸnter Triebe is a perfect product of high-performing Germany. Having worked his way up as a metalworker with an apprenticeship program that led to a 44-year career, today from his cozy living room in a leafy neighborhood of Berlin he says he enjoys a comfortable pension. He adds proudly that he was never unemployed a day in his life. It's this sense of self-satisfaction that is driving Chancellor Angela Merkel towards a fourth term in office in federal elections Sunday. Except Mr. Triebe isnÕt voting for her. In fact, heÕs joined a group within his union, where he still sits on the board, called 'Seniors stand up' to fight back against pensioner poverty - and the prevailing notion that everything is well in Germany.
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Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor

The paradoxes he sees in his own life amid Germany’s economic boom point to a more troubling picture than this election cycle reveals. Wages are up and unemployment is down, but relative poverty is also up, and the middle class is declining, according to various data.

That has not led to a populist backlash like in the US, with Ms. Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) well out front. Most Germans are happy with the status quo in a welfare state, says Stefan Liebig, a sociologist who studies social inequality.

But he says if inequality is not driving the debate, perceptions of injustice are, fueling frustration and girding the far-right, which is poised to enter parliament for the first time in Germany’s postwar history.

“We have now the highest level of subjective well-being in 25 years, which reflects the economic situation in Germany,” says Mr. Liebig. “The puzzle is we have what seems like a lot of people complaining. … To my view the economic situation can’t be the reason for it.” Rather, he says, it’s that some Germans don’t feel they are being treated fairly. “They have the feeling they don’t have the same chances.”

‘Moderate’ populism

Germany has created more jobs than at any other time since reunification in 1990, but it has not come without a cost. The country underwent painful reforms in the beginning of the century, called Agenda 2010, that weakened some parts of the welfare safety net and deregulated work arrangements, creating mini-jobs and more agency work. The economy has boomed and unemployment fallen.

New part-time jobs have been a boon, allowing mothers or older people who want reduced hours to enter the labor market. Yet there are many who find themselves without the chance of a proper, full-time job. “Considering the strong employment increase, one could expect a marked decrease of inequality. But this has not happened,” says Toralf Pusch, an expert on labor market at the Hans Boeckler Stiftung, a foundation that is connected to the German Trade Union Confederation. “Many of the new jobs are part time, which are often not well-paid.”

In fact, while German unemployment is the second lowest in the EU, Eurostat figures show that the risk of poverty among the employed was slightly higher, almost 10 percent, than the EU average of 9.5 percent in 2014. As France under President Emmanuel Macron looks to Germany as a model to strengthen its own economy, those fighting him at home say they worry about moving in the same direction.

“Emulate Germany? You need three jobs in Germany to get by,” says Daniel Bique, a retired printing press worker from the far-left CGT union, striking against French labor reform in Paris on a recent day.

The numbers on poverty and the middle class in Germany are open to interpretation. A welfare state, there is little absolute poverty, and the middle class is still much bigger than that of the US. But in its annual report, the national welfare association said that 15.7 percent live in relative poverty, the highest level since Germany’s reunification – and higher than the 14.7 percent rate when Merkel took office in 2005. According to a 2016 report by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), the proportion of middle-income individuals fell by more than five percentage points from 1991 to 2013, roughly the same pace of decline as in the US.

This has not led to the kind of anger against the establishment as was underlined by the American election of President Trump. A recent study by the independent Bertelsmann Foundation on "populism" found that about a third of German respondents have populist tendencies, but that it is a "moderate” populism. That means that even if they are angry with the system, they don’t want to upend it.

Partially that owes to satisfaction with the status quo, and a postwar preference to stay in the political center.

“It’s not about ‘we don’t want democracy anymore,’ it’s not about ‘we don’t want the EU anymore,’ it’s not about overthrowing the elites,” says Christina Tillmann, director of the future of democracy program at the Bertelsmann Foundation. Still, she calls the “moderate populism” in Germany an “early warning sign."

Desire for fairness

When Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s main rival, announced his candidacy, he put “social justice” at the fore of his platform, promising to roll back parts of Agenda 2010. Sabine Opel, a project manager who works near a food bank around high-priced apartments in Berlin, says divides are clear even where she stands at this moment. But she believes Mr. Schulz was only seeking to differentiate himself from Merkel for votes. “Not because he was going to change anything,” she says.

His failure to sway more Germans shows income inequality itself is not a priority, argues Liebig. He measures how Germans perceive the justice of their incomes. Even in eastern Germany, which lags behind the west in terms of wages and employment and is a stronghold for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the sense of injustice about incomes has decreased since reunification, his research shows. But what fuels the AfD is “procedural justice,” or the feeling they aren’t being treated fairly.

These notions apply nationally. Income injustice has flared twice as an issue, in 2007 and 2015, some of which Liebig attributes to the strength of the German economy. “People have the feeling, ‘if I’m working very hard and the economy and my firm are getting better and making more profit, I want to have fair share,” he says. Feelings of injustice might also arise if someone in a temporary job is working next to someone in a permanent one, with full benefits.

That’s exactly what drives Triebe. Under pension reform, some elderly haven’t been able to pay enough into private plans, leaving them struggling. “It makes me feel bad. If you have worked your entire life, you need to have enough money for the rest of your life,” he says. Meanwhile his own son, who is nearing 30, has gone from temp job to temp job as a forklift driver, and so lives at home. “It’s not good for him. It’s time to go.”

He says the AfD manipulates the mood. “They are telling their supporters that they are the losers,” he says. “It is the sign of the beginning of divisions.” He believes it’s not too late for all Germans to partake in the German “miracle.” “I’m a hopeful man. If you fight for your life, you can only fight with hope.”

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2. Challenge for Democrats: a leftward shift of base

Division among Republicans – most recently over an 'Obamacare' replacement – has drawn more attention. But the Democratic Party has shown cracks, too. Some members view dealing with President Trump as an act of selling out.

'Dreamers' holding childhood pictures listened to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Charles Schumer on Capitol Hill in Washington after President Trump's decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative.
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Jose Luis Magana/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadTo many on the left, working with President Trump is anathema. It “normalizes” and legitimizes him, they say. And the left wing of the Democratic Party is growing. Today, 48 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents self-identify as “liberal,” up from 28 percent in 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. Among Millennial Democrats (those ages 18 to 36), 57 percent call themselves “liberal.” That's creating a challenge for Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. At a time when the party is shut out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, they’re looking to find common ground with Mr. Trump to secure legislative achievements – without alienating the party’s energetic, leftward shifting base. The Democrats have always faced tension between their progressive and centrist or establishment wings, “but now President Trump has made that division far more severe,” says Bill Schneider, professor of policy, government, and international affairs at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. “The question has become, should the Democrats cooperate with President Trump and try to make deals with him, or just shun him, which a lot of Democrats think they should do.” 

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2. Challenge for Democrats: a leftward shift of base

Nancy Pelosi likely never dreamed that the DREAMers would turn on her.

But that’s what happened. Days after the top House Democrat and her Senate counterpart struck a deal with President Trump to help young illegal immigrants gain legal status, several dozen immigration activists overwhelmed a press conference she was holding on the subject.

“All of us or none of us,” they chanted. And: “we are not a bargaining chip.”

It was an extraordinary scene, playing out on Representative Pelosi’s home turf Monday in San Francisco. Here, after all, was a Democratic leader – her party frozen from power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue – who had found a way to work with Mr. Trump to potentially shield from deportation nearly 700,000 illegal immigrants brought to this country as children, in exchange for enhanced border security. Earlier this month, Trump had rescinded their protected status under the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

But the challenge Democratic leaders are facing goes deeper than just DACA and immigration. Across the issue spectrum, the Democratic Party is shifting leftward – which makes dealmaking with Trump all the more fraught, and risks even wider polarization between the two parties.

The Democrats have always faced tension between their progressive and centrist or establishment wings, “but now President Trump has made that division far more severe,” says Bill Schneider, professor of policy and government at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. “The question has become, should the Democrats cooperate with President Trump and try to make deals with him, or just shun him, which a lot of Democrats think they should do.”

To many on the left, working with Trump is anathema. It “normalizes” and legitimizes him, they say. And the left wing of the Democratic Party is growing. Today, 48 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents self-identify as “liberal,” up from 28 percent in 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. Among Millennial Democrats, those aged 18 to 36, 57 percent call themselves “liberal.”

Support for single-payer

Democrats have lurched leftward in another way. Support among Democrats for “single-payer” health care – in which insurance is provided by the government - has jumped from 54 percent in April to 67 percent today, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll, while just 33 percent of Democrats supported a single-payer system in 2014, according to Pew. Trump’s push to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act may well be behind that surge, as liberals look to establish sharp contrasts with a president they are resisting.

The continuing popularity on the left of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont may also be contributing to single-payer’s rise. Last week, Senator Sanders unveiled single-payer legislation, dubbed Medicare for All. A recent Zogby poll showed Sanders as the early favorite among Democrats to challenge Trump in 2020.

Anna Galland, executive director of the liberal activist group MoveOn.org Civic Action, comes down clearly on the side of shunning Trump.

She agrees that Democrats see compromise as a “cardinal value,” but “we’re in a moment where we can’t be compromising with white supremacists and Nazis,” Ms. Galland says, making clear that she’s referring to Trump and his statements on the violence last month in Charlottesville, Va.

Galland’s advice for DREAMers is to hold out for “clean” passage of the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant qualified illegal immigrants the right to stay in the US, and work and go to school. They would also have a path to US citizenship, a point that Trump has not agreed to. Any kind of deal that twins the DREAM Act with added border security measures is unacceptable, she says.

Protesters yell as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, not shown, tries to speak during a press conference on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, in San Francisco. Pelosi later said she respects the young immigrants who shouted her down, but said their call for a comprehensive immigration overhaul was premature.
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Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle/AP

Other progressives are less orthodox on a quid pro quo that enshrines DACA into law. Money for a border wall is “bad,” as is “long, protracted public bartering that legitimizes Trump,” says a progressive activist not authorized to speak for her organization. But “if it’s token border money, it happens quickly, a strong version of DACA is implemented, and groups advocating for DACA don’t object, that’s good.”

But for Pelosi and her Senate counterpart, majority leader Chuck Schumer, the challenge is clear: find common ground with Trump to secure legislative achievements without alienating the party’s energetic, leftward-shifting base.

Trump’s inability to pass major legislation so far this year, despite the GOP’s congressional majorities, has given the Democratic leadership a newfound influence. And pushback from liberals was inevitable, Democratic strategists say. But the leftward push isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it moves the Democratic goalpost, and thus the center, to the left, just as the tea party moved the Republican goalpost to the right.

“You’ve always got to have people pushing from the left and the outside,” says Peter Fenn, a veteran Democratic consultant. “But when it comes to cutting the deal, someone has to do it.”

Let's make a deal

Jim Kessler, co-founder of the centrist Democratic group Third Way, says cutting deals with Trump is a no-brainer. “If there’s a deal that furthers a Democratic priority and helps vulnerable people and may divide Republicans also, then sign on the dotted line,” says Mr. Kessler, a former aide to Senator Schumer. “It’s not a close call.”

An aide to Pelosi says the activists who shut down her event in San Francisco were from a local group, and that her office received an outpouring of support from DREAMers and immigrant-rights activists who said they were disappointed by the local group’s tactics. In remarks to reporters after the disrupted event, Pelosi made clear that passing the DREAM Act is just the first step on the path to comprehensive immigration reform, not an end point.

And earlier this month, when Pelosi and Schumer reached a deal with Trump to extend government funding for three months, lift the debt ceiling, and fund hurricane relief, they faced little pushback from the left. It was Republicans who expressed outrage over Trump’s deal with “Chuck and Nancy.”

Going forward, any partnering between Trump and the Democrats on Capitol Hill is likely to be situational. The last-ditch effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare by Sept. 30 is yet another bid to pass legislation with just Republican votes (now nearly dead after Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona announced Friday he opposed the bill). After that comes tax reform, where Democrats can expect far less involvement than on immigration.

But Pelosi and Schumer have made clear that they’re ready to make deals. It is, after all, how government is supposed to work.

“Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are leaders in Congress, which is a separate but equal branch of government,” says Schneider. “A lot of Democrats say, we don’t want anything to do with [Trump], we want to shun him, we don’t want to normalize him, we want to treat him as an impostor. That makes a very powerful ideological point, but it’s not a way to govern.”

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3. What rise of antifa says, and doesn’t say, about ‘the left’

Another “free speech” event is scheduled to begin Sunday at UC Berkeley, and we’ll have a writer there. Will prominent acts of extremism darken the softer shades of resistance?

Members of an antifa (short for anti-fascist) group attended a 'free speech' rally on Boston Common Aug. 19. Boston Police kept rally attendees and counter-protesters separated with barricades and police personnel.
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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe loose collection of far-left-leaning and anti-racist groups, networks, and individuals known as “antifa” (AN-ti-fa or an-TI-fa) has been around in different forms for decades. But as Mark Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” has said, “It wasn’t really until West Coast antifa shut down [alt-right commentator] Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley that the term gained the mainstream attention that it has now.” The term is short for anti-fascist or anti-fascist action. The majority of its adherents are anarchists, but affiliates range from far-left factions, including socialists and communists, to citizens upset by what they perceive as state support for white nationalism. It is the disruptive presence of antifa at public gatherings that has drawn the most attention and criticism. Those who inhabit antifa’s hard core tend to see the state and its structures as vehicles for oppression. To them, it’s more the streets and less Congress or the courts that serve as a crucial battleground against racist and fascist forces. That kind of thinking, analysts say, can – and sometimes does – lead to physical conflict. But many experts warn against conflating “the left” with antifa groups.

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3. What rise of antifa says, and doesn’t say, about ‘the left’

Concerns about possible violence are surfacing again in the Bay Area as the University of California, Berkeley, gears up for “Free Speech Week.” The four-day event, hosted by a conservative student group, features controversial personalities from the so-called “alt right” – a coalition of groups that espouse white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and populism.

The occasion follows counterprotests in Berkeley and other cities such as Portland that have given critics fodder to accuse leftist activists of stirring up violence in otherwise peaceful public gatherings. At the heart of the allegations is antifa, whose appearance at neo-Nazi and white nationalist rallies has led to heated, and sometimes nasty, confrontations.

Q: What is antifa?

Antifa (pronounced either AN-tifa or an-TEE-fa), is short for anti-fascist or anti-fascist action. It refers to a loose collection of far-left-leaning and anti-racist groups, networks, and individuals. The majority are anarchists, but affiliates range from far-left factions, including socialists and communists, to citizens spurred to action by the election of President Trump and upset by what they perceive as state support for white nationalism. Uniting them is a “desire to directly and even physically confront white supremacists in the public square,” says Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the nonprofit Anti-Defamation League (ADL).  

They also associate with opposition to homophobia, sexism, and the kind of capitalism that gave rise to the Occupy movement, among other progressive ideologies.

Q: Where do they come from?

Antifa strategies draw from the clashes between militant leftists and fascists in the streets of Germany, Italy, and Spain in the 1920s and ‘30s, writes Peter Beinart for The Atlantic. “Their conviction is that the Nazis never would’ve taken power in Germany, and similar movements wouldn’t have taken power elsewhere, if people hadn’t ceded the public square to them,” Mr. Pitcavage says.

The idea saw a resurgence in the 1970s and ’80s, when skinheads and neo-Nazis began to penetrate the punk scene in both Europe and the United States. German anti-fascists in the 1980s gave the term its modern connotation, while the Anti-Racist Action Network – a similarly deregulated association that was influenced by anarchist principles – became, in the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, the core of antifa in the US, said Mark Bray, author of “Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook,” in an interview with the book’s publisher, Melville House.

“It wasn’t really until West Coast antifa shut down [alt-right commentator] Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Berkeley, however, that the term gained the mainstream attention that it has now,” he noted.

Q: How do they operate?

Antifa groups have no formal structure or national leadership. Instead they rely on local organizations like By Any Means Necessary, which originated in Detroit, and Rose City Antifa, in Portland, Ore., to engage people in direct action: anything from pressuring venues to cancel events held by white nationalist groups to tracking and exposing racists and neo-Nazis both on- and offline.

But the disruptive presence of antifa at these groups’ public gatherings has drawn the most attention – and criticism. Anarchists, who make up the bulk of antifa affiliates, tend to see the state and its structures as vehicles for oppression. To them, it’s more the streets and less Congress or the courts that serve as a crucial battleground against racist and fascist forces. That kind of thinking, analysts say, can – and sometimes does – lead to physical conflict.

Q: Does this mean the left is becoming more violent?

Not so fast. Many experts warn against conflating “the left” with antifa groups. While the antifa catalog of opposition is broad enough to resonate with progressives who don’t condone violence, even as self-defense, antifa groups make up only a small sliver of progressives and liberals, says Jody Armour, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in race, social justice, and the law. 

Even if the focus were narrowed to antifa and the far left, the claim of growing violence still lacks weight, adds Pitcavage at ADL. If anything, he says, violence from the militant left is down from the 20-year period between 1965 and 1985, when groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Symbionese Liberation Army engaged in brutal attacks and bank robberies. From 2007 to 2016, 372 people were killed by domestic extremists of all stripes, according to ADL data. Of those, only 2 percent were victims of leftist extremists, compared with 74 percent at the hands of right-wing extremists. “Zero were killed by the antifa specifically,” Pitcavage says.

None of this is meant to condone or excuse assault or other forms of violence that antifa groups employ, he and others say. And it is crucial that America remain a place where people of opposing – and even abhorrent – beliefs are able to express them without fear of violence or censorship, Professor Armour says. Which is why the idea of rationalizing violence as a necessary defense against hate can be problematic, he says. “If you start saying that, then self-defense can be used to justify anything.” 

But others note it’s also important to distinguish between those who would revive Nazism or call for the return of a predominantly white America, and groups opposing them – even if the tactics the latter employ are questionable. White nationalists’ “vision of democracy is Jim Crow Alabama,” says Cathy Schneider, who teaches urban politics and comparative social movements at American University in Washington. “But I think that [antifa is] not thinking carefully enough about the long-term solution. You’re not going to win a battle in the streets.”  

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4. Trump’s diplomatic dance on Iran: What’s his next step?

The US president’s dismissal of his predecessor’s ‘embarrassing’ Iran nuclear deal might lead you to believe that he’s poised to scrap it. This piece looks at a more likely path: tough talk around the edges, and a jolt to international partners to try a short-term fix.   

 

The 30 Sec. ReadPresident Trump says he has made up his mind on what to do about the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but he won’t say more. Addressing the United Nations, Mr. Trump called the agreement one of the worst deals the United States has ever struck. He has long threatened to pull out of the deal, and he still might, but another option appears to be on the table. According to senior advisers and foreign leaders who met with Trump this week, he could stick with it at least for the coming months – and challenge the US partners in the Iran deal to address what he sees as its grave shortcomings. Says Lawrence Korb at the Center for American Progress: “He could keep blasting away at the deal itself without pulling out of it as a way to increase the pressure for changes to it. There are things he can do to try to have it both ways.” But Iran is signaling it won’t tolerate any changes. Said President Hassan Rouhani: “This is a building the frame of which if you take out a single brick, the entire building will collapse.” 

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4. Trump’s diplomatic dance on Iran: What’s his next step?

Like DACA, like … the Iran nuclear deal?

As he considers what to do about the 2015 international agreement with Iran that he disdains, President Trump may be about to lob the ball into the international community’s court.

Rather than pulling the United States out of the deal as he has long threatened, Mr. Trump may instead agree to stick with it at least for the coming months – and challenge the US partners in the seven-nation agreement to address what he sees as its grave shortcomings.

If he indeed takes this approach – as comments from the president’s chief foreign policy advisers and some foreign leaders who met with the president this week suggest – it would be reminiscent of Trump’s decision last month to punt to Congress the fate of the 800,000 young undocumented immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

“Trump could very well do with the Iran deal what he’s doing with DACA,” says Lawrence Korb, a defense and national security analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

“He could keep blasting away at the deal itself without pulling out of it as a way to increase the pressure for changes to it,” he adds. “There are things he can do to try to have it both ways.”

If all this sounds maddeningly hypothetical, it’s because the president has said he has made up his mind, but won’t say how. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking to reporters, also has pointedly refused to say what Trump has decided.

After condemning the Iran nuclear accord as an “embarrassment” to the US in his United Nations speech Tuesday and continuing to blast it as one of the worst international deals the US has ever struck, Trump could appear to be preparing to pull out of the agreement.

And indeed that could still happen. Under US law the president must “certify” to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the agreement. The next certification deadline is October 15.

Rhetoric versus action

Trump has given ample indications over recent weeks that he could decide to walk away from the deal. He could also opt to neither certify nor de-certify, but essentially turn it over to Congress – to try to re-impose US sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the deal.

But some senior administration officials and regional experts close to the White House are suggesting that the president’s tough rhetoric may not mean he plans to withdraw.

Instead, Trump – who is twinning starkly martial language with diplomatic action in the North Korean nuclear crisis – may be trying to shake the international community into revisiting the Iran dossier. The aim may not be to reopen every aspect of a deal that took years of intense negotiations to reach, but to take up some of the peripheral issues – like Iran’s ballistic missile program – the president wants addressed.

“I don’t think Trump is going to pull us out of the deal, I think he’s going to screw around with it in an effort to get a broader and much more assertive international approach to Iran,” says James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq and deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush who maintains close links to the White House.

“His senior aides realize the problem that if you pull out, the agreement goes on,” says Ambassador Jeffrey, now a distinguished fellow in Middle East diplomatic and military strategy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “So I think the direction will be to stay in,” he adds, “but push for a broader definition of compliance.”

Not meeting 'expectations'

The UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA, continues to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities and to find Iran in compliance with the deal’s terms.

But Secretary Tillerson told reporters at the UN Wednesday that while Iran may be in “technical compliance,” it is not meeting the “expectations” underpinning the deal struck between Iran and the US, the other four members of the UN Security Council, and Germany. And the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, condemned Iran for violating the spirit of the agreement, even as she cautioned that Trump’s tough rhetoric on Iran should not necessarily be taken as a decision to pull out of the deal.

Both US diplomats have recently turned to referencing the Iran deal’s preamble, which states that the agreement was struck with the goal of delivering a more “stable” and “peaceful” region, meaning the broader Middle East.

“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed, we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region, and this is a real issue,” Tillerson said in his comments to reporters. He suggested there and in other settings that what Trump will opt for is an effort to get the parties to “revisit” the deal to add new limitations and drop others – like the sunset clause that would leave Iran free to recommence now-banned nuclear activities.

Iran is signaling its rejection of any effort to reopen the deal.

“This is a building the frame of which, if you take out a single brick, the entire building will collapse,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at a press conference Wednesday following his speech to the UN General Assembly. He called the nuclear accord a “closed issue” and added that it would collapse if the US withdraws from it.

French sympathy

But some parties to the agreement are sounding open to revisiting the deal – perhaps in an effort to stave off a Trump pullout.

At a meeting of the deal’s signatories in New York on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to sympathize with Trump’s concerns, saying the two-year-old agreement has demonstrated its shortcomings “given the growing pressure that Iran is applying in the region.”

He said the parties to the accord should consider amending it to add a ban on Iranian missile tests and to modify or drop the so-called sunset clause, which limits the duration of restrictions on Iran.

But some caution against going too far in mixing the specific issues in the nuclear accord with the broader issues of Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East.

“Reagan kept the US adhering to the arms deals even though the Soviets went into Afghanistan,” says Mr. Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. “These are separate things.”

Jeffrey of the Washington Institute says he foresees the administration sticking with the deal for the time being but working with the more like-minded partners like the French to reopen talks and try to address the deal’s limitations.

What worries him is that the president will see his blistering rhetoric and revisiting a “bad deal” as an Iran policy – and the result will continue to be an unfettered Iran doing mischief in the Middle East.

“What I find frightening is that we continue with the war of words and end up in talks that go on and on, but that’s not containing Iran,” Jeffrey says. “Trump will be like, ‘Iran, I’ve got that covered,’ but we won’t be doing a thing about what Iran is up to in Syria and Yemen and a number of other places in the region.”

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5. Social media and the cold calculus of outrage

Understanding how technology affects the way we experience – and express – moral emotions may be the key to keeping profit-driven persuaders in check.

 

The 30 Sec. ReadOpen Facebook or Twitter and you’re likely to be greeted by a bottomless feed of outrage-triggering stimuli on matters both momentous and trifling. The persistence of rage-inducing articles in news feeds is the outcome of an ad-driven business model that incentivizes anything that will keep you engaged with the platform, even if it means exploiting your psychological vulnerabilities, researchers say. “I think it's crucial that we understand how new technologies might be changing the way that we experience and express moral emotions like outrage,” says Yale psychologist Molly Crockett. At its best, moral outrage drives people to expose and rise against injustice. But the current ad-driven model underpinning social media rewards tech companies for fostering an environment where outrage is shared and amplified, rather than channeled into action. The result: an increasingly outraged – and divided – populace. This model may have to change, researchers warn, if we don't want a handful of technology companies determining how the rest of us express morality in the public sphere.

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5. Social media and the cold calculus of outrage

If you're not outraged, goes the perennial saying, you're not paying attention.

But in today's online attention economy, attending to the outrageous feels less like writing a check and more like setting up an automatic withdrawal. Open Facebook or Twitter, and you are likely to be greeted by a bottomless feed of outrage-triggering stimuli on matters both momentous and trifling, all handpicked just for you by an artificial intelligence that gets smarter each time you click, tap, and scroll.

So if you're like the two-thirds of Americans who say they read at least one thing in the news each day that makes them angry, rest assured that it's all by design. It's the result of an ad-driven business model that incentivizes anything that will keep you engaged with the platform, even if it means exploiting your psychological vulnerabilities, say researchers. This model may have to change, they warn, if we don't want a handful of technology companies determining how the rest of us express morality in the public sphere. 

“I think it's crucial that we understand how new technologies might be changing the way that we experience and express moral emotions like outrage,” says Molly Crockett, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. “Because moral emotions are, of course, central to our social lives, and we are seeing in the United States an unprecedented level of social polarization along moral lines.”

Moral outrage plays an essential role in human society. It drives people to expose and rise against injustice. At its best, social media can channel moral outrage into action, as seen in the success of petition drives, boycott campaigns, and protest planning.

But under the attention-driven model that underpins social media, there is little incentive to steer users toward action offscreen. Instead, it is in the interest of the social media companies to encourage sharing of moral outrage in a way that fosters amplification rather than action. Decoupling user attention from profit could break that cycle, say observers.

Adding fuel to the fire

Professor Crockett notes that people are far more likely to learn about violations of moral norms online than they are to witness them in person. She adds that acts witnessed online tend to elicit greater moral outrage than those viewed through traditional media.

Social media shifts the incentives for how we share and consume information. Research shows that people are more likely to share content that elicits outrage, something that social media platforms facilitate by letting you share your anger with your peers, say, by tapping on a scowling emoji. Positive feedback, such as likes and shares, arrives at unpredictable times, creating a well-known recipe for conditioning habit formation.

“We know that habits are more likely to develop if rewards are delivered unpredictably,” says Crockett. “And that's precisely how social media apps deliver social feedback.”  

“If moral outrage is a fire,” writes Crockett, in a commentary published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on Monday titled, “Moral outrage in the digital age. “is the internet like gasoline? Technology companies have argued that their products provide neutral platforms for social behaviours but do not change those behaviours. This is an empirical question that behavioural scientists should address, because its answer has ethical and regulatory implications.”

Engagement and enragement

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are anything but neutral, says Tristan Harris, a former “design ethicist” for Google. By delivering likes and shares one at a time, by limiting options in ways that continually steer you back to the platform, and by showing you whatever it will take to keep you scrolling or watching videos, they are deliberately attempting to get their users hooked, he says.

“Outrage is good for business,” says Mr. Harris, who now runs Time Well Spent, a nonprofit that seeks to “align technology with our humanity.” The “things that are good for capturing attention which are good for business are not actually good for democracy, and they're not actually good for finding or seeking the truth,” he says.

Harris points out how conspiracy theories tend to go viral more readily than facts, noting that the top ten search results on YouTube for “truth about the Holocaust” are videos that deny that the Holocaust happened.

Sarah Sobieraj, a sociologist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and the coauthor, of the 2014 book “The Outrage Industry,” points to larger societal forces driving the rise in news content that incites moral outrage. 

“There is a whole contingent of actors who are actively trying to gin up outrage,” says Dr. Sobieraj. “This has become a mode of persuasion that is everywhere.”

Sobieraj, who now directs Tufts's Digital Sexism Project, agrees that some level of outrage can be a good thing. “The question is whether that outrage is being used in productive and meaningful ways,” she says, “or whether the outrage is used simply to humiliate, shame, vilify, or intimidate people.”

Decoupling attention from profit

Social media platforms could better meet society's needs, says Harris, if they shift away from a business model that aims to capture the attention of users and serve it to advertisers. As an example of such a shift, he cites energy regulations that “decouple” a public utility's profits from its total electric or gas sales by altering the underlying mechanism used in price calculations, thus removing the utility's incentive to sell more energy.

Harris frames the attention economy in ecological terms: “Instead of pulling resources from the outer physical environment we've now pointed this addiction to growth at the inner environment. We need to mine more of people's inner resources, which is their attention. If that's not enough we need to get their social relationships, and if that's not enough we need to get their identity ... we need to get them to see themselves through our product.”

“[Corporate capitalism's] addiction to growth has gotten personal,” he says.

He emphasizes that tech companies' efforts to form habits among their user base won't resolve itself. “Cigarettes and alcohol didn't have thousands of engineers on the other side of the screen who updated how cigarettes and alcohol worked to personally adapt to your specific psychological vulnerabilities,” he says. Unless they change their business model, he says, “the news feed isn't going to get worse at keeping you on the screen. It's going to get better.”

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The Monitor's View

Why the Supreme Court is rarely in the dock

 

The 30 Sec. ReadA new poll suggests why Americans put more trust in the high court than in the other branches of government. And when polled about what they would do if the court were to make many unpopular decisions, Americans show no consensus over how to change the court or even whether to change it. This lack of consensus is important. The nine justices keep being asked to issue rulings that would impinge on the authority of the legislative and executive branches – rulings that might prove unpopular. Political parties compete over the particular principles that each stands for, such as achieving equality at the expense of liberty, or putting social order above freedom of assembly and speech. But any legal contest over each party’s specific principles stops when the high court applies the Constitution’s most basic principles, or tries to balance competing principles. Public respect for this duty of the court is really a respect for the understanding that the highest ideals must guide and protect both individuals and their society.

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Why the Supreme Court is rarely in the dock

Polls of Americans consistently show they put more trust in the Supreme Court than in the two elected branches of government (Congress and the presidency). Now a new poll may explain why the high court still enjoys legitimacy as the nation’s final arbiter of constitutional principles.

When asked what they would do if the court were to make many unpopular decisions, Americans show no consensus over how to change the court or even whether to change it. The poll, conducted for Penn State’s McCourtney Institute of Democracy, found 44 percent of people would favor imposing term limits on justices. Yet a third would do nothing with the court. A fifth would restrict the type of controversial cases that the court considers.

Perhaps most striking was that there seems little correlation between these different opinions and whether someone is a Republican, Democrat, or neither. The nation’s traditional political polarization seems to break down when it comes to judging those selected to judge for us.

This lack of consensus about how or whether to change the court’s independence is important because the nine justices keep being asked to issue rulings that would impinge on the authority of the legislative and executive branches – rulings that might prove unpopular. In the court’s coming term, for example, which starts in October, it will take up the issue of whether state lawmakers can alter the boundaries of voting districts that appear to favor one political party (partisan gerrymandering, as opposed to racial gerrymandering). In another case, the court will consider whether President Trump had the authority to impose a travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Justices, like the rest of us, pay attention to the latest polls, especially if they show the courts losing popularity. At times, the courts might feel inclined to defer to public opinion or, as they increasingly do, defer to the authority of the other two branches. Yet by the very nature of their job, justices must rise about their personal preferences or political inclinations to decide a case. They must interpret the Constitution with humility and wisdom because its ideas define the principles for the whole country.

Political parties compete over the particular principles that each stands for, such as achieving equality at the expense of liberty, or putting social order above freedom of assembly and speech. Parties help organize public opinion into broad purposes, which are then presented in elections or contested in the courts. But any legal contest over each party’s specific principles stops when the high court applies the Constitution’s most basic principles to a case or tries to balance competing principles. 

Public respect for this duty of the court is really a respect for the understanding that the highest ideals must guide and protect both individuals and their society. In a republic, only a few individuals are granted the authority – through a supreme court – to interpret the transcendent norms embedded in founding documents and case law. No wonder there is little consensus today about changing the high court if its decisions go against popular opinion.

A good example of this unique role is playing out in Kenya. On Sept. 1, that country’s high court voided the results of a presidential election because of unusual anomalies in the voting process and the refusal of the electoral commission to cooperate with the court. The court’s decision to order a new election sent shock waves across Africa, where most people only hope for an independent judiciary that applies universal ideals.

On Sept. 17, the United States celebrated the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution. Few Americans may have noticed. Perhaps they simply assume that its principles, and the court assigned to interpret them, are in working order.

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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.

Beyond the earthquake

 

As with other recent natural disasters around the world, one outcome of the devastating earthquakes in Mexico has been an outpouring of courage and caring. At the same time, many have been left reeling. One writer shares how inspiration from a favorite Bible story brought her comfort and peace when a Los Angeles earthquake left her overwhelmed with fear. As the creation of God, divine Life, our real identity can’t be touched by an earthquake. Despite what we see in news reports, each individual is infinitely loved and cared for by God. God is Life, which is eternal, unchanging, perfect, and spiritual. And God’s creation reflects Life. So the true identity of all that divine Spirit created is spiritual, and an earthquake cannot touch the real you or the real me. We coexist with God. Therefore, everyone has the innate ability to feel and experience the deep, lasting peace and care that God has bestowed on us all.

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Beyond the earthquake

I was living in Los Angeles when the Northridge earthquake struck in January 1994. While the effects of Northridge can’t begin to compare with those of Mexico’s recent quakes, I did learn something that can help inspire prayers for the victims.

For me, the most unsettling element of the Northridge quake wasn’t so much the quake itself, but the random nature of the aftershocks. For a week after the first major seismic event – periodically, without warning – the ground would shake, and whatever building I was in would rattle.

Sometimes I would be on the other side of the Los Angeles Basin, far away from my family. And even if the aftershock seemed severe where I was, the epicenter could have been anywhere. This meant that when I was feeling the ground move, disaster could have been striking somewhere else.

This scenario made me so fearful that I had trouble thinking rationally. In fact, the whole city seemed gripped by uncertainty. Although – as in Mexico – many people showed fine qualities such as intelligence, courage, and charity, many others were dazed and tense. I had to find a way to stop feeling totally unsettled.

In the past, whenever I had heard of destruction on a monumental scale, the Bible story of Noah and the ark had always meant a lot to me (see Genesis 6 – 9). I turned to it once again for comfort and resolution.

In the story, before rain that will flood the earth comes, God instructs the righteous Noah to build an ark to preserve all the species inhabiting the earth. Noah is obedient, and the ark is ready when the floods come. For “forty days and forty nights,” the ark floats on the waves, with everyone inside safe and secure. Eventually the waters recede, and Noah, his family, and the animals are able to disembark. God tells Noah: “I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you;... neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.”

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, the ark is explained as a symbol: “God and man coexistent and eternal; Science showing that the spiritual realities of all things are created by Him and exist forever” (p. 581). God’s promise that life will never be destroyed, and that you and I and everyone are God’s beloved children, goes beyond what we see in the here and now.

God is Life, and this means that Life is eternal, unchanging, perfect, and spiritual. God’s creation reflects Life. That creation includes you and me and all creatures. But even this goes beyond what we see with our eyes. The true identity of all that divine Spirit created must be like God – spiritual, and not affected by the fluctuations of anything material. An earthquake cannot touch the real you or the real me. We coexist with God.

The Bible also records a gift that Christ Jesus left us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). This peace has nothing to do with simply fooling ourselves into thinking everything is fine, or living in denial of the horror we see. Rather, this peace stems from the fundamental truth that we coexist with God; that God is omnipotent and benevolent, and therefore makes nothing to fear.

Contemplating God’s promise and Jesus’ gift of peace, I found the reassurance I needed. The intense uncertainty I felt began to ease, and I could again look to the future with hope.

Now, with events as they are in Mexico, we can pray that this same peace embraces each and every one of the struggling hearts seeking shelter and security. Our prayers can affirm that God’s covenant with us is in effect, protecting and guiding all of His creation. Despite what we see in the news reports, each individual is infinitely loved and cared for by God. We can trust our prayers to help lift the anguish and help people feel the gift of lasting peace that inherently belongs to everyone.

Adapted from a Christian Science Perspective article published Aug. 25, 1999.

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Viewfinder

Water of the welcome kind

People assembled at a water-distribution point in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Sept. 21. As of that evening, hurricane Maria – which knocked out power on the entire island – was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, with winds of 120 miles per hour, toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas.
Caption
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Carlos Giusti/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 25th, 2017 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Thanks for being here today. Come back Monday. We’re working on a report from Bangladesh, a vulnerable country that has also shown how adaptation can help mitigate the effects of flooding. (We’ll also continue our coverage of the Rohingya influx there.)

And here’s a final offering for your weekend: Mexico City correspondent Whitney Eulich reported earlier this week about that city’s response to its latest earthquake. She has also written a more personal account. It is very much worth reading (find it here). 

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