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2019
March
26
Tuesday

Pax et bonum. Peace and good.

That’s the motto that Peter Tabichi, a Kenyan teacher, has painted on the box behind his motorcycle saddle where he keeps his helmet.

Mr. Tabichi is a Roman Catholic Franciscan brother; the motto was St. Francis’ favorite saying. But Mr. Tabichi has turned a pious greeting into a daily challenge.

He teaches math and physics to a 60-strong class of overwhelmingly poor children in a remote rural school in Kenya. The school has one desktop computer and patchy internet. But Mr. Tabichi’s kids have won national awards, and some of them have qualified to take part in an international science fair in Arizona this year.

Mr. Tabichi just won a million-dollar prize for being “the world’s best teacher.” And he is as inspired by his students as they are by him. “I am only here because of what my students have achieved,” he said. “It tells the world that they can do anything.”

Since he has always given away 80 percent of his salary, the prize is probably good news for somebody else. But his work is good news for everyone in his village.

Not just the children (though enrollment in Mr. Tabichi’s school has doubled in three years and discipline issues have fallen by 90 percent). Mr. Tabichi also teaches his students’ parents how to grow drought-resistant crops to ward off famine, and he has founded a “peace club” to encourage harmony in a district where tribal rivalries led to a massacre in 2007.

That’s a strong dose of pax et bonum. And Mr. Tabichi administers it with another saying in his Global Teacher Prize introductory video.
“To be a great teacher,” he says, “you have to do more and talk less.”

Now for our five stories of the day.

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1. ‘Too cozy.’ Boeing crashes raise doubts over FAA certification.

Recent crashes have left Boeing’s top-selling jetliner grounded. They could also signal the need for new thinking about regulation and certification in an era of rising reliance on computer software.

Peter
Lindsey Wasson/Reuters
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 Max jets at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, on March 21. The company is working on a software fix to address concerns related to two recent crashes.

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After the crash of two Boeing 737 Max airliners within five months, the cozy relationship between the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing is drawing intense scrutiny by everyone from accident inspectors to the FBI.

On Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing on air safety. Among the questions that may be probed: Did Boeing compromise safety in its rush to revamp its 737 to compete with the Airbus A320neo? Is the FAA irresponsible to enlist company workers to act on its behalf in certifying aircraft? Does the United States need a new model of regulation as manufacturers stuff more and more intelligent software into its products? The regulation question pertains to more than planes.

“Increasingly, regulating these products is regulating software,” says Daniel Carpenter of Harvard University. “That’s not only true with respect to planes, [it’s true] with respect to drugs, with respect to financial products, with respect to medical devices…. I think we’re going to need to look carefully at the way that these software programs are created and managed and how we simulate them.”

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‘Too cozy.’ Boeing crashes raise doubts over FAA certification.

For Boeing engineers, the crash of two new 737 Max jets within five months of each other is a software puzzle. How did a sensor apparently go awry and make the airliners unmanageable within minutes of takeoff, resulting in the deaths of all aboard?

For Congress and the public, the twin accidents raise larger issues. Did Boeing unreasonably rush the plane’s design in the face of mounting competition? Did federal regulators have the necessary independence and resources to oversee the plane’s certification? In an era when automation is transforming the man-machine interface, can today’s regulatory system keep up with change?

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee’s aviation panel will give Congress its first crack at seeking answers to some of these questions.

These issues affect not just the flying public. For example, car drivers and other consumers face many of the same challenges of adequate oversight and spreading artificial intelligence.

“Increasingly, regulating these products is regulating software,” says Daniel Carpenter, a professor of government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That’s not only true with respect to planes, [it’s true] with respect to drugs, with respect to financial products, with respect to medical devices…. I think we’re going to need to look carefully at the way that these software programs are created and managed and how we simulate them.”

Faulty sensors and a loss of control

Officially, investigators have yet to determine what caused the crash of Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610 in October and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in the morning hours of March 10 shortly after takeoff. Both planes were versions of the Boeing 737 Max, the manufacturer’s bestselling update of its workhorse plane. After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the planes were grounded worldwide, pending investigation. The Federal Aviation Administration has said there are similarities between the two crashes.

In the earlier Lion Air accident, reports suggest a faulty sensor caused the automated flight-control system to nose down repeatedly shortly after takeoff. The day before the crash, the plane’s crew, with the help of an off-duty pilot, managed to wrest control of the aircraft from the automated system. The crew the following day failed to gain control. The crash prompted Boeing engineers to begin work on a software fix.

It also caused federal prosecutors in the United States to launch a highly unusual criminal investigation into the safety procedures and certification of the 737 Max. After the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the inspector general of the Transportation Department also began looking into the Max certification.

On the face of things, the certification process looks problematic, earning the ire of everyone from consumer advocate Ralph Nader to Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a safety expert and retired pilot who famously landed a plane in the Hudson River after a bird strike disabled its engines. “There is too cozy a relationship between the industry and the regulators,” he wrote in a recent op-ed. “And in too many cases, FAA employees who rightly called for stricter compliance with safety standards and more rigorous design choices have been overruled by FAA management, often under corporate or political pressure.”

Rising safety, but new risks?

Increasingly, the FAA has relied on Boeing employees to act as FAA inspectors to certify their own planes. A 2013 Government Accountability Office report found that more than 90 percent of the certification tasks were carried out by these FAA-approved private employees.

Under that deregulatory regime, starting in 2010, domestic airlines recorded eight straight years without a single fatal accident in the United States – a remarkable record. But some critics say that both Boeing and regulators grew complacent about the mounting challenges of the deregulated certification process.

“The regulator went to sleep,” says James Hall, a safety consultant and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “What we have now is a system that essentially provides Boeing with a system of self-certification.”

Another potential compounding factor: Boeing’s rush to build the 737 Max to compete with the Airbus A320neo. “It was go, go, go,” one engineer told The New York Times about the expedited process to design, build, and certify the plane. None of the Boeing staff interviewed by the Times said the speedup compromised safety.

Outside the company, however, there’s skepticism.

“No one wants to build a bad plane,” says Mike Perrone, union president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, based in Washington, D.C. “But when there are other pressures, like to get the plane approved, to get it out so you could get competing with your competitors, certain things can take a back seat. And maybe some things don’t get tested as much as they should.”

That’s especially true as manufacturers pack in more and more automation.

A compromised design?

To accommodate larger and more fuel-efficient engines on the older 737 airframe, Boeing implemented modifications that made the plane less stable during a steep takeoff. To compensate, it created the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, software that would automatically nose the plane down if it was in danger of stalling. But if a sensor designed to detect stalling was picking up erroneous data, as apparently happened in the earlier Lion Air crash, then MCAS could push the plane into a nosedive unless the crew disabled it.

The company’s initial safety analysis didn’t account for the fact that MCAS could repeatedly reset itself after the pilot pulled the nose upward, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times. Also, it underestimated by a factor of four the distance MCAS could move the tail. Meanwhile, pilots complained that the plane’s documentation was inadequate to explain what was going on.

In addition to a software fix, Boeing has announced it will make a safety feature standard rather than extra – a “disagree light” that warns pilots if two sensors are misaligned.

More-complex products, less money for oversight 

Some experts say the company’s scramble also signals the need for a new approach to regulation. That’s the case even though software and artificial intelligence systems are designed to make planes and other vehicles safer.

“In many instances, AI can fly an airplane safer or drive a car safer than you or I,” says Sid Shapiro, an expert on regulatory policy at Wake Forest University’s law school. “So there’s certainly a promise there of increased safety. On the other hand, you’ve got to get it right for that to happen. And it’s not clear that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or, for that matter, the FAA is really up to this job and it has the sophistication to do it.”

Funding for many regulatory agencies, including NHTSA, has been declining for the past quarter century when adjusted for inflation, he says. “Making those kinds of technological transitions can be very resource intensive and they don’t appear to have the resources.”

Compared with the FAA, NHTSA is even more underfunded, says Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer watchdog in Washington, D.C. The agency has issued only voluntary guidelines for the various automated safety systems now going into cars.

“It’s impossible for consumers, or even safety professionals, to know which of these work, which of these work well, which of these work well in different circumstances, because there’s no required standards,” he says. “When used correctly and when operating as designed, yeah, [the technology] is amazing. But there’s a lot of ifs.”

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2. Center court: Why Chief Justice Roberts is moving toward the middle

As chief justice, John Roberts must both protect the U.S. Supreme Court’s integrity in a polarized era and be true to his conservative values. How might he balance those obligations?

Peter

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When Justice Brett Kavanaugh replaced the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy this term, Chief Justice Roberts became the court’s new ideological center, or “swing vote.” And, observers say, there are some signs that the conservative chief justice is becoming more willing to join his more liberal colleagues than in the past.

In this regard, Chief Justice Roberts now finds himself in a nearly unprecedented position: There is arguably only one other chief justice who has also been at the ideological center of his court. Amid a national climate of escalating partisanship, and the constitutional stress tests brought by the Trump presidency, he is likely to become one of the most closely-watched individuals in the country.

“Roberts, like many chief justices before him, has felt a duty to safeguard the institution’s reputation,” says Joan Biskupic, author of “The Chief,” a new Roberts biography, in an email. “The chief justice is leading a Court increasingly in his own image,” she adds. “He is positioned at the center in every way, and the law will likely be what he says it is.”

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Center court: Why Chief Justice Roberts is moving toward the middle

There is a convention that U.S. Supreme Court history is described not in “eras” or “ages,” or even decades, but by chief justices. Think “the Marshall Court” and “the Brennan Court.”

Chief Justice John Roberts has never understood that convention. The chief doesn’t have that much more power than the other justices, he has said. Nevertheless, “the Roberts Court” has been the shorthand since his confirmation in 2005.

Years from now, 2019 may be seen as the court term when that moniker starts to reflect the reality.

When Justice Brett Kavanaugh replaced the retired Justice Anthony Kennedy this term, Chief Justice Roberts became the court’s new ideological center, or “swing vote” when justices are deadlocked. And, observers say, there are some signs that the conservative chief justice is becoming more willing to join his more liberal colleagues than in the past. That said, this Supreme Court is the most conservative in decades.

Tuesday provided another data point, with the justices hearing oral arguments in two cases regarding partisan gerrymandering – one of several issues where Justice Kennedy was considered a pivotal vote.

In this regard, Chief Justice Roberts now finds himself in a nearly unprecedented position. He is only the 17th chief justice in U.S. history, and there is arguably only one other who has also been at the ideological center of his court. Amid a national climate of escalating partisanship, and the constitutional stress tests brought by the Trump presidency, he is likely to become one of the most closely-watched individuals in the country.

Chief Justice Roberts, raised a Roman Catholic, has been consistently conservative on social issues, including same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, as well as on voting rights, gun control, and campaign finance. But he has oscillated in a few recent cases, and appears more mindful of the court’s institutional role in American democracy.

“Roberts, like many chief justices before him, has felt a duty to safeguard the institution’s reputation,” says Joan Biskupic, author of “The Chief,” a new Roberts biography, in an email. “The chief justice is leading a Court increasingly in his own image,” she adds. “He is positioned at the center in every way, and the law will likely be what he says it is.”

Guarding institutional integrity

In practice, the chief justice only has a few extra powers that associate justices do not. The chief moderates conferences, where the justices discuss cases, and he assigns the opinion when he is in the majority.

More importantly, perhaps, the chief justice guards the Supreme Court’s institutional integrity. “The court has this position institutionally where the only power it has is people’s voluntary compliance with its decisions,” says Sara Benesh, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The court needs to appear above politics whenever possible, she adds, and “the chief is in a particularly important position on that.”

Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts’ public comments this term have emphasized the apolitical aspirations of the judiciary. “People need to know that we’re not doing politics.... We’re applying the law,” he said in Nashville last month. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” he said in response to criticism from President Donald Trump last November about a migrant asylum ruling.

Ms. Biskupic says that when it comes to safeguarding the reputation of the court “his mission has become more complicated in our polarized times.”

“He had to think long and hard about when to go public with concerns about President Trump’s complaints regarding the judiciary,” she adds.

More broadly, Chief Justice Roberts has a long-held dislike for what he has called the “personalization” of politics and law. The court should function as a single voice, not nine individual interpretations of the law, he told Jeffrey Rosen of the Atlantic in 2007. “I think it’s bad, long term, if people identify the rule of law with how individual justices vote,” he told Mr. Rosen.

The Marshall Model

That belief is a reason why, soon after Justice Roberts became chief, he took former Chief Justice John Marshall as a role model.

The architect of unanimous opinions, including two that shaped the high court’s power of judicial review and the scope of Congress’ power over the states, Marshall “established the institutional prestige and power of the court,” says Timothy Huebner, a history professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

But Chief Justice Roberts told Rosen that over the past few decades the Supreme Court “has been eroding, to some extent, the capital that Marshall built up.”

Chief Justice Roberts has acknowledged that Marshall worked in a different age. The law was relatively undeveloped, and the court had to unify if it wanted any institutional power at all. Legal philosophies have hardened now – including the chief justice’s – and as Congress has lost institutional strength to partisan gridlock, the country has turned to the high court to guide American democracy.

“On [polarizing] issues the court is likely to be split like the country is, and in those circumstances an institutionalist is only going to get so far,” says Professor Huebner. That has forced Chief Justice Roberts “to really cut his own path.”

The chief justice has been prolific at forging unanimous decisions – nine of the court’s first 10 decisions this term were unanimous, the third time that has happened since he became chief – but often only by deciding cases on narrower grounds.

When a case has hit on firm ideologies, unanimity has been elusive. Up to this term, the chief justice himself has rarely joined his liberal colleagues in a 5-4 decision. One of those exceptions was his support of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, which earned the wrath of conservatives.  

In her book, for which she interviewed the chief justice (in eight off-the-record interviews) and many of his colleagues, Ms. Biskupic writes that the chief justice is often torn between guarding the court’s institutional integrity and carrying out a conservative agenda.

“He has had considerable influence on his colleagues. Sometimes, however, he runs into the firm ideologies of his colleagues,” she says. “Sometimes he himself is fixed in his ideology and refuses to compromise.”

More oscillation ahead?

There has been only one other chief justice who was also a swing justice, historians say: Charles E. Hughes, a moderate progressive chief in the 1930s who voted with conservative colleagues to strike down New Deal laws before shifting to join liberal colleagues in upholding other New Deal laws.

Most academics have described Hughes as being his court’s ideological center, wrote William Leuchtenburg in a 2005 law review article. “But [he never] had a cohesive centrist position. Rather, [he] oscillated from one side to the other.”

That is perhaps what can be expected of Chief Justice Roberts in the coming years, some court-watchers say. And there has been some recent evidence to suggest the chief justice may be oscillating more than in the past.

In December, he sided with the court’s four liberals in refusing to lift a lower court stay on a policy that would have denied asylum to those who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border. In February, he joined them again to stop a Louisiana abortion law from going into effect, and they voted together later that month to order a state court to look again at the mental competency of a death row inmate who can’t remember his crime.

“While Roberts is by no means moving into the Court’s liberal camp, the data concerning his ideological voting behavior does intimate a mild liberalizing over time,” wrote Adam Feldman in a recent analysis for the Empirical SCOTUS blog.

Some say it’s too early to know if he will change how he decides issues when unanimity isn’t possible. Based on his record, today’s oral arguments on partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and Maryland are unlikely to provide new hints.

While Justice Kennedy had expressed some openness to the high court placing limits on the inherently partisan redistricting process, Chief Justice Roberts could barely hide his alarm at the thought. “We will have to decide in every [partisan gerrymandering] case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win,” he said during oral argument in a similar case last term. “That is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this court in the eyes of the country.”

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3. Life after Mueller: How Trump, Democrats, and the nation can move on

After two years of judicial investigations in Washington, how can Americans and lawmakers find a path forward? By going back to paying attention to the issues that matter to voters most.

Peter

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For the first time since Donald Trump became president, the Department of Justice is no longer looking into whether President Trump or his associates conspired with Russians to tip the 2016 election in his favor. But the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation hasn’t changed the fierce partisanship coursing through Washington.

So how can an exhausted nation move on? By renewing focus on the business of governing, analysts say. For politicians across the board, including members of Congress, Mr. Trump, and the 16 Democrats running to replace him, that means addressing the issues Americans care about – starting with the economy, health care, and education.

Historians note that in past times of American turmoil, the “winner” traditionally behaves with some magnanimity and that all parties exercise some humility. That doesn’t seem to be operative today, says David Pietrusza, most recently the author of “TR’s Last War.”

“A little grace in times of victory, goes a long way toward the healing process,” writes Mr. Pietrusza in an email. “Unfortunately, neither Trumpites this day or Democrats in 2018 seem disposed to even insincere displays of much grace, mercy, or sympathy.”

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Life after Mueller: How Trump, Democrats, and the nation can move on

Two days after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the Mueller investigation, everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Everything has changed, in that special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election meddling is finally over. For the first time during Donald Trump’s presidency, the Department of Justice isn’t looking into whether President Trump or his associates conspired with Russians to tip the 2016 election in his favor. Mr. Trump did not collude, and will not be charged with obstruction of justice, the Barr summary said.

Yet nothing has changed. Washington partisanship is as fierce as ever with Mr. Trump crying “treason” over the initial launch of the investigation and some Democrats still pushing for impeachment. Mr. Trump still faces a raft of litigation and investigations at the federal and state level and numerous inquiries by Democratic-run House committees.

So how can an exhausted nation move on? By renewing focus on the business of governing, analysts say. For politicians across the board, including members of Congress, Mr. Trump, and the 16 Democrats running to replace him, that means addressing the issues Americans care about – starting with the economy, health care, and education.

The Barr summary of the Mueller report “took the air out of everything,” says Cal Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It allowed Republicans to claim total vindication, even though that’s not quite the case. And it completely disoriented Democrats, who thought the Mueller report would give them some momentum.”

Democrats eager to end Mr. Trump’s presidency now know that to remove him from office, they’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by nominating a strong opponent, and defeating Mr. Trump in the November 2020 election. Impeachment is effectively off the table.

Republicans, too, are focused on 2020 and making sure they hold on to the White House. And like the Democrats, they are trying to show they can walk and chew gum at the same time – dealing with investigations while also focusing on policy.

“My advice to the president, for whatever it’s worth, is that you’re probably stronger today than you’ve been any time in your presidency,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill. “The question for you is, how do you use it?”

The president continues to cite infrastructure as the top area for common ground with Democrats. But he’s also stepping up his battle against the Affordable Care Act. Late Monday, the Trump administration said in a court filing that it now backs full repeal of the Obama-era health care reform, in a case pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

House Democrats had already planned to unveil their own plan for health care Tuesday, which aims to lower costs and protect people with pre-existing conditions. In remarks to reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she welcomed the opportunity to address the issue. Indeed, it was a winning one for her party in the 2018 midterms, which saw Democrats regain control of the House.

“We won control of the House of Representatives, not focused on Russia, not focused on collusion, not focused on impeachment, not focused on obstruction of justice, but focused on health care and on infrastructure and on cleaning up corruption in Washington, D.C.,” New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters Tuesday. “That is why we’re focused on those issues now that we’re in the majority.”

On the campaign trail, Democrats running for president also say that issues are driving the discussion with voters – health care, guns, climate change, college debt – not the Mueller investigation. Though since Friday, when it was announced that Mr. Mueller had finished his investigation and handed in his report to Mr. Barr, Democratic candidates have one by one argued loudly that the full Mueller report should be made public.

And the Democratic House committee chairs who have waited for their time in the majority to use the investigative tools at their disposal and conduct serious oversight of Mr. Trump are hardly going to stand down. Democrats insist they can maintain the right balance in doing both – issues and investigation.

Republican strategist Rick Tyler, a Trump critic, says the Democrats face a danger of overreach.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t need oversight,” says Mr. Tyler. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find out where all the inauguration money went. But if it looks like they’re just going after the president because they don’t like him, that’s a dangerous precedent to set.”

The chairs of the main House investigative committees aren’t backing down. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who heads the House Intelligence Committee, still insists that evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is “in plain sight.” Also, Democrats note, Mr. Barr explicitly states in his summary that on the issue of obstruction of justice, “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Therefore, gaining access to the Mueller report and the underlying materials on which it is based – after the expected redactions to protect classified and other privileged material – will be crucial for Democratic investigators. It could also help Mr. Trump, if it supports his message that he’s in the clear.

Historians note that in past times of American turmoil, the “winner” traditionally behaves with some magnanimity and that all parties exercise some humility. That doesn’t seem to be operative today, says David Pietrusza, most recently the author of “TR’s Last War.”

At Appomattox in 1865, he notes, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant allowed his vanquished foes to keep their sidearms, and even then the nation’s wounds festered for a very long time.

“A little grace in times of victory goes a long way toward the healing process,” writes Mr. Pietrusza in an email. “Unfortunately, neither Trumpites this day or Democrats in 2018 seem disposed to even insincere displays of much grace, mercy, or sympathy.”

Staff writer Francine Kiefer contributed to this report.

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4. ‘It has to be us.’ Zimbabweans abroad rush to help after Cyclone Idai.

The images flashing across TV screens and news feeds after a natural disaster can make it seem as if victims’ communities and countries are just passively waiting for help. But there’s always more to the story than that.

Peter
Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
John Manake, a parent and volunteer, helps a child cross a temporary footbridge after Cyclone Idai on the way to Pagomo primary school in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 25.

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Everywhere Cyclone Idai hit, it seems, people had the same idea: We can’t wait. We have to act.

In Zimbabwe’s capital, an elderly woman walked more than 6 miles to deliver a heavy sack of donations she balanced on her head, because she didn’t have money for bus fare. In Mozambique, a massive search-and-rescue operation by the Indian Navy was preceded by Mozambican fishermen, bobbing through the vast planes of water to rescue survivors.

And in Ohio, a Zimbabwean refugee named Freeman Chari logged into GoFundMe, a crowdfunding website, and launched an appeal for flood relief. A week and a half later, after the page traveled across Zimbabwean and diaspora social media, there is more than $84,000. “People are saying our country is broken, our government is broken, but we still want to do something,” says Mr. Chari.

Their generosity has created new opportunities – and challenges – for the organizers, as they consider longer-lasting ways to contribute. “Suddenly, the scale of what we can do has changed,” Mr. Chari says. “It has become this huge responsibility that I never expected.” But even as he was speaking, the votes of confidence were pouring in. Another $15. Another $30. Another $100.

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‘It has to be us.’ Zimbabweans abroad rush to help after Cyclone Idai.

It wasn’t much. Just $5. But as Tatenda Murecha sent the small donation hurtling across the internet from his home in Turkey last week, he felt a little less helpless.

Nearly 6,000 miles away, in his home country of Zimbabwe and neighboring Mozambique and Malawi, hundreds of thousands of people had seen their world disappear underwater, devastated by a tropical storm called Cyclone Idai that experts were already beginning to call the worst natural disaster in the Southern Hemisphere’s recent history.

Images from the pummeled region showed exhausted victims clinging to treetops or balancing on tin roofs as floodwaters rushed past them. Survivors described waterways clogged with bodies and rescuers admitted they might never know exactly how many people had died, with many of the victims’ bodies washed away into the open ocean.

Far away, studying for his degree in mining engineering, Mr. Murecha had been reading these horrifying details when he stumbled across a GoFundMe page titled “Zimbabwe Cyclone Relief,” run by a Zimbabwean living in the United States.

“My thought was, if we’re going to wait for foreign organizations or our government or anyone else to help us, we might be waiting a very long time,” he says.

On the other side of the world, in Hamilton, Canada, Zimbabwean Moleen Makumborenga had made a similar calculation.

“Nobody else is going to save us,” she thought to herself as she punched in her credit-card details on the same crowdfunding page and clicked send. “It has to be us. We have to save ourselves.”

It was a scene repeated again and again over the last week and a half, as the communities devastated by Cyclone Idai jump-started their own recovery efforts, often before the floodwaters had even begun to recede. In Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, for instance, an elderly woman walked more than 6 miles balancing on her head a heavy sack of donations she had cobbled together from her own house for flood survivors, because she didn’t have money for bus fare to a pick-up point. In Mozambique, the arrival of a massive search-and-rescue operation by the Indian Navy was preceded by Mozambican fishermen, bobbing through the vast planes of water to rescue survivors. And in the Zimbabwean border town of Mutare, private helicopters diverted from ferrying tourists over Victoria Falls carried air drops into flooded areas where road access was still cut off.

Everywhere the storm hit, it seemed, were people with the same idea: We can’t wait. We have to act. 

That had also been the thinking of Freeman Chari, a Zimbabwean refugee living in Ohio, when he logged onto GoFundMe on Saturday March 16 and typed out a description of the fundraiser he wanted to launch.

“Tropical Cyclone Idai has hit most parts of the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe.... There are many fatalities,” he wrote. “The funds raised will be used for relief efforts including food, shelter and water.”

He threw in a grainy photo of a submerged village and clicked submit, hoping he might drum up a few thousand dollars to add to the relief efforts of a Zimbabwean church group he had raised money for before.

Instead, the page traveled quickly across Zimbabwean social media. One day in, Mr. Chari, a lab technician and software engineer, had $10,000 in his coffers. Three days later, the total hit $50,000, much of it collected in small sums – $5, $10, $20. And most of the donors’ names were recognizably Zimbabwean, a tribute to the country’s sprawled diaspora, the result of years of political repression and economic hardship under the regimes of Robert Mugabe and his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“People are saying our country is broken, our government is broken, but we still want to do something,” says Mr. Chari, who thinks Zimbabweans supported his page because he is well connected with activists and has in past GoFundMe campaigns provided exact breakdowns of where donors’ dollars went. “They didn’t think twice. They rose to the challenge.”

By March 26, the fund had raised more than $84,000 from 1,889 donors. The average donation was just $44.50. (A GoFundMe initiated by a Mozambican living abroad, meanwhile, has raised more than $22,000 from 347 people.)

But the scale posed an unexpected opportunity for organizers to contribute in ways that were bigger and would last longer than they had originally anticipated.

As they continued to collect money, after all, many of the victims’ immediate needs were starting to be taken care of. Broken roads leading to devastated areas were crowding with donated semitrucks from around the region, loaded down with supplies. In nearby Mutare, warehouses filled with donations of food, water, and clothing from local individuals and organizations and international NGOs.

“So far the response has been amazing, with people from all over the country donating, but it’s also been very ad hoc, and very focused on the immediate needs [after a disaster],” says Wellington Mahohoma, another of the GoFundMe page’s organizers, who has known Mr. Chari since they were both student activists at the University of Zimbabwe in the early 2000s.

With the money from the GoFundMe page still ticking upward, Mr. Mahohoma, Mr. Chari, and the other organizers began to wonder if their dollars wouldn’t be put to better use rebuilding schools and houses, or piecing together roads and water pipes washed away by the storm. 

“Suddenly, the scale of what we can do has changed,” Mr. Chari says.

But that comes with its own dilemmas. Unlike charities or governments, which could divert donations as needed, the GoFundMe page made a promise to donors on how it would spend their money. More complicated projects would also be harder to track, and Mr. Chari has promised his supporters a dollar-by-dollar accounting of how their money is spent. 

“It has become this huge responsibility that I never expected,” he says.

But even as he was speaking, the votes of confidence were pouring in. Another $15. Another $30. Another $100. He no longer recognized the names of any of the donors. They were all strangers now, hundreds and then thousands of them, trusting his promise that he would do right by people who were suffering.

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Books

5. Our reviewers’ 10 favorite books of March

From an exploration of the medieval world that English poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s characters lived in, to a novel about women deep-sea divers on an island off Korea, these are the 10 books that captivated our reviewers in March.

Peter
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Our reviewers’ 10 favorite books of March

Discover the books that Monitor reviewers found engrossing and intriguing this month. 

1  The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Lisa See draws readers into the fascinating history of Korea’s Jeju Island and its women divers (haenyeo) who risk danger to collect shellfish while the men raise the children. Mi-ja and Young-sook are soul sisters who find joy and heartbreak in this unforgettable epic spanning 50 years, as their culturally rich island’s legacy is forever changed by world events. Readers will witness the fortitude of these women to transcend tragedy and find forgiveness.

2  The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor spins a fictional tale inspired by a factual event – a young Kenyan woman’s discovery, through DNA, of her Chinese ancestry. From her African island home, she sets sail for China on an adventure that raises questions about identity, family, and assimilation. The story also speaks to the age-old allure of the sea as a means of escape, but also as a force that can bring us home again. 

3  The Parade by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ latest book is an eye-opening political fiction centered in a nameless country torn apart by a decade of civil war. Two foreign contractors, polar opposites by nature, are under a deadline to pave a road to unite the country’s north and south. Eggers’ tense and intricate storytelling reveals complex moral and ethical issues as the mission escalates, and the foreigners’ presence poses devastating repercussions. 

4  The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett Davis

Bridgett Davis’ memoir of growing up in Detroit during the 1960s and ’70s focuses on her mother, Fannie, a successful numbers runner. While not ignoring that her mother stepped outside the law, Davis illuminates her mother’s efforts to provide for the family despite the racial antagonism of the time. Her beautiful prose turns a tale of perseverance into a love story. 

5  First by Evan Thomas

Evan Thomas shows what shaped the character of future Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Raised on a ranch along the Arizona-New Mexico border in the 1930s and ’40s, Sandra Day grew up in a man’s world, always persevering while building the determination and confidence that would lead her to shatter the glass ceiling, culminating with her nomination to the court in 1981 and her remarkable 25-year tenure.

6  Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was a fixture in Parisian society during the 1930s. Once World War II broke out, she became the leader of the largest and most influential spy network in occupied France. The story of this iron-willed, smart, and fearless woman and the contributions her agents made to help the Allies is recounted in Lynne Olson’s book. It’s a compelling story of the capacity of seemingly ordinary people to act in remarkable ways. 

7  Horizon by Barry Lopez

Barry Lopez takes readers on a memory trip to locales he previously visited and now recalls with fresh eyes. From the plains of East Africa to the frigid depths of Antarctica, Lopez wraps elegant delineations of place around a sharp critique of Western economic, social, and political values. 

8  An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz

Journalist Alex Kotlowitz doesn’t provide solutions to the violence that plagues Chicago. Instead, he eloquently bears witness to a single summer on its streets, chronicling a community’s ongoing struggle with murder, misery, and rage. This deeply empathetic and perceptive book isn’t easy to read. But we can only see into the neglected corners of America when someone shines a light.

9  Armies of Deliverance by Elizabeth Varon

Elizabeth Varon contends in her deeply fascinating book that standard accounts of the American Civil War often fail to grasp why the North fought the war in the first place: to liberate not only slaves but also all Southerners from the Confederacy.

10  Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England by Liza Picard

In all of English literature, only the plays of Shakespeare offer a richer cast of characters than those found in the poems of Geoffrey Chaucer. In her sparkling new book, Liza Picard takes readers into the world of Chaucer’s most famous characters: the pilgrims of “The Canterbury Tales.”

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The Monitor's View

Plan now to heal a post-Maduro Venezuela

Two ways to read the story

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  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

Three months after Venezuela’s National Assembly swore in Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president, more than 50 nations have recognized the legitimacy of his rule. Many of those countries have tried tough tactics, such as sanctions, to bring a return of democracy. Yet with the sitting president, Nicolás Maduro, still holding the reins of state power, now may be a time to try a bit of honey beyond merely the vinegar of pressure.

One idea is for Mr. Guaidó and the National Assembly to prepare for the day when Mr. Maduro departs. They should gather core partner countries and international organizations to prepare for the relief and recovery of a nation in dire need of humanitarian aid and basic restructuring.

The goal: a successful transition to a democratic and once again prosperous Venezuela. The United States and others have learned much from past successes and failures that the proper planning of such transitions can make all the difference. Venezuela’s legitimate authorities should begin that hard work now.

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Plan now to heal a post-Maduro Venezuela

Three months after Venezuela’s National Assembly swore in Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president, more than 50 nations have recognized the legitimacy of his rule. Many of those countries have tried tough tactics, such as sanctions, to bring a return of democracy. Yet with the sitting president, Nicolás Maduro, still holding the reins of state power, now may be a time to try a bit of honey beyond merely the vinegar of pressure.

One idea is for Mr. Guaidó and the National Assembly to prepare for the day when Mr. Maduro departs, which is difficult to predict. Guaidó said last week the regime is “falling apart day by day.”

They should gather core partner countries and international organizations, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, to prepare for the relief and recovery of a nation in dire need of humanitarian aid and basic restructuring. The goal: a successful transition to a democratic and once again prosperous Venezuela.

The United States and others have learned much from past successes and failures that the proper planning of such transitions can make all the difference. In places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and post-earthquake Haiti, the key was tight cooperation with local groups and between allied nations.

Venezuela’s legitimate authorities should begin that hard work now. Mr. Guaidó and his advisers have already developed an initial concept called “Plan País” that can serve as a starting point. It needs far more details on how to deliver humanitarian assistance quickly and effectively. This may well include ways to manage an early return of millions of refugees. 

Plans also need to address key sectors of the economy for delivery of basic services, such as electricity, water, and sanitation. Special attention must be given to the oil and gas sector because of its vital importance to Venezuela’s economy. The core group will also need to examine what legal steps are needed to allow the economy – and society – to rapidly begin a return to healthy activity.

At the same time, international partners can address ways to deal with Venezuela’s international debt and other financial needs. This will help make it easier for the country to gain grants and loans for its recovery.

One critical step will be plans to hold early presidential elections that are seen as secure, free, and fair. Again, international partners can provide invaluable assistance.

The most difficult area to prepare will be security. A new government may face resistance from remnants of Mr. Maduro’s armed militia or members of the military as well as from common criminals, drug cartels, and insurgent elements originally from Colombia. International support will be invaluable for establishing security.

Collaboration on all these preparations will enable Venezuela’s new authorities to begin with strength from day one. Starting the work with international partners will also send a clear message to the Venezuelan people that they will have help once the transition of power and recovery begin.

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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.

Keeping civil discourse civil

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Today’s contributor explores the idea that more harmonious and productive discourse results when we take to heart the counsel of Jesus to love even those who seem like enemies.

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Keeping civil discourse civil

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I once heard Stephen Carter, an eminent scholar of United States constitutional law, tell a thought-provoking story about the first African-American who served on the U.S. Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. When Marshall was a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he would sit down respectfully with white segregationists and talk with them, listening to their points of view. Marshall, who spent his life working for racial equality, strongly disagreed with them. But that didn’t prevent him from talking to them civilly.

Truth be told, words and tone matter. I’ve found inspiration in this regard in the Bible Gospels, which indicate that Jesus emphasized this point. He often took the teachings in the Hebrew scriptures and explained them in such a way as to raise the bar, lifting his listeners to a more spiritual understanding of the concepts in what we now know as the Old Testament. With specific regard to the violence of words, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21, 22, New Revised Standard Version).

Jesus understood that God is a loving God, so this doesn’t point to a God-inflicted punishment but rather to the idea that we lose sight of goodness when our motives aren’t loving because we’re not living consistently with our true nature as God’s spiritual offspring. Beyond condemnatory words, insults, and the attitudes that spawn them stands a beautiful truth: We all shine as children of God. And those who don’t share our views, political or otherwise, are still our spiritual sisters and brothers.

This doesn’t mean that we abandon critical thinking or avoid speaking out when there is a need. Jesus’ own example showed that taking a stand with a well-intentioned rebuke is exactly what’s needed sometimes. But it does mean that we don’t needlessly antagonize others through harsh language or a strident tone.

Jesus urged his followers to pray for their enemies and to seek to do good to those who spitefully used them. When someone expresses a view opposed to ours and maybe in a particularly vociferous way, is this not an opportunity to do this? In an article titled “Love Your Enemies,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes: “Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? ...

“... Can height, or depth, or any other creature separate you from the Love that is omnipresent good, – that blesses infinitely one and all?

“Simply count your enemy to be that which defiles, defaces, and dethrones the Christ-image that you should reflect” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 8).

That “Christ-image” which we should reflect brings out our true spiritual nature as children of God, that nature being loving and intelligent. Keeping this true sense of ourselves and others in thought guides us in productive conversation and behavior. On the other hand, if we feel impatience, disgust, or worse rising in our thought, we can immediately stop thinking those thoughts by recognizing that they are not from God, infinite Love.

I’ve also found it helpful to cherish that “Christ-image” in others, including those who may have views that differ from our own. Even if from our human standpoint there may be little good to see in another, that limited view need not hold us back. God sees each and every one of His children as created in His likeness, spiritual and good. Relinquishing self-will and what may be our own hardened opinions frees our thought and makes us open to seeing divine qualities in others, to seeing and expressing more of God’s love in our interactions.

God by His very nature blesses one and all infinitely. Sometimes the most fundamental need is to quietly and trustingly know this. Divine Love, nurturing the human heart, has the capacity to take off rough edges, to unite those with disparate views in gracefully settling questions and disputes. We best allow that to happen by giving in to God’s grace in our own hearts, allowing God to soften our attitudes and tone – leading to more harmonious and productive discourse that benefits all.

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Viewfinder

Can I get this in a medium?

NASA/Reuters
NASA astronaut Anne McClain is seen during a spacewalk in this photo from the International Space Station on March 25. NASA had originally planned to have the first all-woman spacewalk this week, but canceled when only one medium-sized torso component was readily available at the International Space Station. Astronaut Christina Koch will still participate in Friday’s mission to install lithium-ion batteries to power the research laboratory. Astronaut Nick Hague will now substitute for Ms. McClain, who completed her first spacewalk last week.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 27th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’ll have a dispatch from inside the Yurok Tribal Court in Northern California, where Judge Abby Abinanti is working to restore the state’s largest Native American tribe through community-based justice.

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 26, 2019
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