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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
December
11
Monday

What is the power of capitalism? One strong argument is that, done right, it gives every individual the greatest responsibility for their own success. This is where the “American dream” comes from, many social scientists argue. America has always interpreted capitalism with a certain gusto, and that has led to an enduring optimism. Responsibility + Opportunity = Hope, you might say.

So then why are many young Americans losing faith in capitalism, according to research and Laurent Belsie's story below? Why is Hope diminishing? In its current issue, the Economist writes: “Social mobility is essential to the working of an advanced capitalist society…. [C]itizens will accept the inequalities that capitalism generates only if they think they have a fair chance of getting ahead.”

There is progress. Latino unemployment in the United States hit a record low Friday. But more broadly, Opportunity is breaking down in Britain and the US, the Economist argues. Put simply, the countries’ economic winners are crowding everyone else out. And everyone else is becoming less accepting of these inequalities.

Economics are notoriously hard to gauge. Every side has its own lens. But the truest measure of success for any economic policy, it seems, might be how much hope it creates. 

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A lack of hope plays out dramatically in our first story, which looks at why Palestinians are accepting President Trump's Jerusalem plan relatively quietly. Today's edition also examines a shift in the way US courts are viewing Mr. Trump's travel ban, and how one French rock star came to symbolize the best of America.  

1. Jerusalem’s Palestinians struggle with deep feeling of abandonment

If President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was such a big deal, why has the response from Palestinians been so muted? In many ways, it underscores shifts that have shaken Palestinians' expectations about the future. 

Mark
An Israeli Border Police officer runs toward Palestinian protesters during a protest against President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah Dec. 11.
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Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
 

The 30 Sec. ReadSince President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel there have been clashes and demonstrations on the streets of Jerusalem and in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians have denounced Mr. Trump’s move as destroying what’s left of the Middle East peace process and disqualifying the United States as an impartial broker in the conflict. But overall the response has been muted, with many Palestinians expressing exhaustion with diplomacy and a lack of faith in their leaders. They also are beginning to look for another path forward, perhaps even abandoning the long-sought ideal of the two-state solution. “I was hoping that the outcome would be that [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] would see the folly of his ways – that the peace process, if you can call it that, has not worked,” says Diana Butto, a Palestinian lawyer and former aide to Mr. Abbas who now favors a single binational state. “Instead he is doubling down further with the 'show must go on,' and that is what is so disturbing to me, because it signals the [Palestinian Authority] is so out of touch with reality.”

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1. Jerusalem’s Palestinians struggle with deep feeling of abandonment

When President Trump officially recognized the city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, with no mention of Palestinian claims to it, critics said it was like tossing a hand grenade into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and warned it would light the Palestinian street on fire.

Thousands of Palestinians have indeed taken to the streets to demonstrate, sparking a predictable round of clashes with Israeli security forces that to date have left two protesters killed in Gaza and dozens more Palestinians wounded. A few rockets were fired into southern Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza as well, eliciting Israeli return fire.

But overall the response – especially in Jerusalem – has been muted, at least in terms of physical protest.

To be sure there is outrage, but there is also deep despair, for Mr. Trump’s declaration was issued after two decades of a Middle East peace process so stuck it has already been given up for dead by many Palestinians.

“Why would we need another intifada for our sons to die in?” asks Ziad Fawzeh, 60, wearing a navy wool hat emblazoned with the word “Jerusalem” as he stands next to a stand of fresh bread in the Old City of Jerusalem. “There’s no peace process as it is. So why should there should be violence. For what?”

Part of that “for what” sentiment stems from the reality that Trump’s declaration, dramatic as it may sound, does not change the situation on the ground for Jerusalem in any practical sense, at least for the time being.

Compounding Palestinian frustration is a deeply unpopular Palestinian leadership. And the consensus seems to be, among analysts and Palestinians going about their daily lives, that the elements for a genuine uprising at the moment are lacking: There is neither the hope that another intifada will change anything – there have been two such costly uprisings so far – nor is there the political leadership, or political will, to direct it.

Among Palestinians there is talk now that it may be time to change course dramatically – away from the much vaunted, but elusive, two-state solution that envisions an independent Israel and a Palestine living side by side, and toward a one-state solution.

For some that means a grudging acceptance that the de-facto one-state solution as pushed by the policies of a hard-right Israeli government have won out by building “facts on the ground” – settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem that make dividing the land nearly impossible. For others it means fighting for a one-state solution that incorporates respect for human rights and equality for both Palestinians and Israelis, its advocates say.

One binational state?

One of the bellwethers of this possible shift is the embittered response to Trump’s declaration from Saeb Erekat, the longtime chief Palestinian peace negotiator. Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and during countless rounds of ensuing peace talks, Mr. Erekat remained a tireless champion of an independent Palestinian state within the holy grail of a two-state solution.

But immediately after Trump’s speech Wednesday night, a visibly distraught Erekat told reporters: “Unfortunately, President Trump just destroyed any possibility of two states.”

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he said he now also endorses a single binational state for both Israelis and Palestinians to share, saying, “Now is the time to transform the struggle for one state, with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine.”

Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Information Center in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, says, “It is Trump and Israel that have brought us to a one-state solution, but one that does not want to include us in this state. Israel wants a Jewish state, but how does one make it democratic for us as well?”

Palestinians gathered at the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City protest Friday, Dec. 8, against President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
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Mahmoud Illean/AP

But a one-state solution is a firm red line (with flashing red lights) for the vast majority of Israelis if that one state is not a Jewish majority state, and the number of Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank already nearly rivals the number of Israeli Jews.

And officials in the governing Palestinian Authority (PA), run by the Fatah Party founded by Yasser Arafat and comprised mostly of his former colleagues, are so wedded to the two-state solution – and to the US foreign aid that comes with it – that it’s unlikely they would make such a dramatic pivot away from the idea.

Abbas 'so out of touch'

Indeed, as the PA threatens to freeze ties with the United States and then equivocates, its main response to Trump’s Jerusalem speech beyond verbal outrage is its declaration that the US government can no longer be considered a “fair broker” and that a new mediator must be found in the international community. China, Russia, and European nations have been floated as possible brokers to replace the US.

“I was hoping that the outcome would be that Abu Mazen [the nom de guerre of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] would see the folly of his ways – that the peace process, if you can call it that, has not worked,” says Diana Butto, a Palestinian lawyer and former aide to Mr. Abbas.

“Instead he is doubling down further with the 'show must go on,' and that is what is so disturbing to me because it signals the PA is so out of touch with reality,” she says, noting dwindling support for the Authority. Hamas, Fatah’s long-time rivals, with whom they are now in reconciliation talks, are also lagging in popularity.

Ms. Butto is among the growing minority of Palestinians who support a one-state solution. According to recent polling, about 30 percent back the idea. But she says the danger now is that in practice, a one-state model already exists, and according to her it is becoming more cemented and similar to apartheid.

“But if you strategically think about it,” she says, “you can try to make it a one state that is equal and democratic.” Butto thinks outside pressure will help achieve this vision, one that can be boosted by campaigns like the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement.

On Friday in the alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City, prayers passed quietly. Thousands of Palestinians streamed toward Al-Aqsa Mosque, revered as one of the holiest sites in Islam, and then left, also mostly peacefully. Low-level clashes did break out briefly, with Israeli police on horseback galloping into the crowds to chase down protesters.

'Generation without fear'

Mousa Resheq, a 40-something, who works at a cell phone shop across the road from Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim Quarter of the walled Old City, looked on as the horses skirted the throngs near the shop.

“I’ve seen people die here, right in front of my eyes,” he says, motioning toward Damascus Gate. “Why would I be afraid of horses, or anything, after that?”

Nearby, a pair of young men discussed their own version of a one-state solution. A state for Palestinians, for Muslims, and not Jews. After all, said one of them with a dark beard and wearing jeans, “This is our country, we want it.”

Then a pair of horses charged toward them and they scattered into the crowd.

Mr. Siyam in nearby Silwan, observing the generation gap between the graying older guard of the PA and the youth, says, “In a few years there will be a new generation ruling the street. And they believe less and less in the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“They don’t have the fear of the generation of 1967 or the generation of the first intifada. They are a generation without fear.”

And that, he cautions in this context, is “not a healthy thing.”

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2. Sifting law and policy as US travel ban nears resolution

The Trump administration's travel ban has had a bumpy road through the courts. But that could be changing. As the plan is written with more legal care, courts are showing more deference to the president's national security powers. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadResolution is nearing on the travel ban. The various versions of the order have produced a year of litigation, blending old questions of religious discrimination and judicial oversight of the White House with newer complexities of how to handle a case the president can’t seem to stop tweeting about. Friday, after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Virginia – and two days after judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Seattle – it seems that the legal issues have circled back. In an appeal to the first version of the travel ban in early February, a lawyer for the Justice Department shocked some observers when he said that the president’s decisions on national security are unreviewable by the courts. Courts are still wrestling with that. Congress has delegated significant powers to the president around foreign policy and national security, and the judiciary has, until recently, shown broad deference to the executive branch. For even longer, courts have granted presidents a “presumption of regularity” that, barring evidence to the contrary, they are properly discharging their duties. This deference could be what’s motivating recent Supreme Court decisions on the ban – including one on Dec. 8 to let it take effect pending decisions from the two appeals courts. 

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2. Sifting law and policy as US travel ban nears resolution

President Trump’s efforts to restrict entry to the United States for citizens from eight countries came a few steps closer to a final resolution this week. Two federal appeals courts heard arguments on whether the latest version of the travel ban, which would affect 150 million mostly-Muslim people, should be allowed to go ahead.

The week began with the Supreme Court allowing Mr. Trump’s latest proclamation – the third iteration of the travel ban – to go into effect pending the decisions from the two appeals courts. The various versions of the order have produced a year of almost constant litigation, blending age-old questions of religious discrimination and judicial oversight of the White House with newer complexities of how to handle a case the president can’t seem to stop tweeting about.

Friday, after a full panel of judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Virginia – and two days after a panel of three judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Seattle – it seems that the legal issues have circled back to several familiar places.

In an appeal to the first version of the travel ban in early February, August Flentje, a lawyer for the Justice Department, shocked some observers when he said that the president’s decisions on national security are unreviewable by the courts. Ten months later, courts are still wrestling with that question.

In Seattle on Wednesday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hashim Mooppan said that, hypothetically, he didn’t think that courts could step in if a president and his cabinet decided to ban all immigrants from entering the country. Mitchell Reich, a lawyer arguing against the ban, called the argument breathtaking.

And in Richmond, Va., today, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer made a similar point.

“I don’t see how we as a court should be asking the questions we’re asking today,” said Judge Niemeyer, one of three judges who ruled in favor of the travel ban last time. “We play an important role, but we play an important role domestically. We don’t exercise the sovereign power of United States vis-a-vis other countries.”

Indeed, Congress has delegated significant powers to the president in the foreign policy and national security realms, and the judiciary has, until recently, shown broad deference to the executive branch. For even longer, courts have granted the president a “presumption of regularity” that, barring evidence to the contrary, they are properly discharging their duties.

This traditional deference could be what’s motivating recent decisions from the Supreme Court on the travel ban. The justices allowed the Travel Ban 2.0 to go into effect in part over the summer, and that version had been on the court’s docket for this term until the Trump administration replaced it with the latest version.

The second travel ban order called for temporarily suspending entry to the US for citizens from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Sudan while the administration reviewed the country’s immigration processes. While it was not as sloppily written as the first order, critics still decried the second order as a “Muslim ban,” and courts agreed. In May the Fourth Circuit said in a 10-to-3 ruling that the second order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” The Ninth Circuit ruled that the order violated a section of an immigration statute that prohibits nationality-based distinctions when issuing visas.

Travel Ban 3.0, meanwhile, resulted from the recommendations of a “worldwide, multi-agency review” conducted by the Department of Homeland Security over several months. The new version excluded Sudan but added Chad, North Korea and some government officials from Venezuela. This version is also permanent, with the administration saying countries can be removed from the order if they improve their information sharing with the US on visa applicants.

The Supreme Court voted 7-to-2 to allow that order to go into full effect – Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented – but said they will hear appeals to the lower court decisions and expect appeals courts to act quickly with “appropriate dispatch.”

“I imagine what’s motivating the [high] court now is that the president generally gets the benefit of the doubt when asserting national-security reasons for a given action,” wrote Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, in The Hill.

Lower courts have consistently ruled against the administration on the travel ban, however, and some appeals court judges pressed Mr. Mooppan this week, in particular on Trump’s tweets.

Mooppan, who also represented the government in Virginia, told the Fourth Circuit judges that while the tweets represent official statements, they are not “legally relevant.”

Judge Stephanie Thacker responded that, as official statements, the tweets “could be subject to charitable interpretation.” She then referenced an August post referencing an apocryphal story about a US general who erroneously was said to have executed Muslim captives in the Philippines using bullets coated in pigs’ blood. “How am I to take that charitably?” she asked.

Judge James Wynn Jr. was more pointed. “Do we just ignore reality and look at the legality to determine how to handle this case?” he asked.

Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, also made the argument that the third travel ban has an “internal illogic.”

Trump “included Somalia even when it passed the baseline” for information-sharing requirements, she said. “He didn’t make a nationality ban against Venezuela, he only applied it to certain government officials, even though they failed the baseline, and he’s letting in a lot of people from countries [via exceptions and case-by-case waivers] even though whole justification is you can’t trust anyone coming from these countries.”

However, two justices on Friday appeared to suggest that the Homeland Security review made a difference in the scope of the court's ability to weigh in on the ban.
“The government has taken great pains to investigate,” said Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, adding, “It arguably can be illogical, it can be flawed ... [but] the president can do it, can’t he, as long as he makes the required findings?”

If the case does make it to the Supreme Court – and the speed emphasized in the justices’ order this week suggests it could make this term’s docket – the Trump administration will be confident.

The Supreme Court has yet to touch the merits of the travel ban, but Mr. Shapiro notes that when the Supreme Court has granted a stay in a case in recent years, as it has done with the travel ban, it often indicates that it disagrees with the lower courts.

“I still disagree with the travel ban as a matter of policy,” he wrote, “but it’s becoming rapidly clear that it’s fine as a matter of law.”

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3. For Republicans, the special challenge of winning over Millennials

For many young American voters, the past decade has not been the best advertisement for capitalism, unfettered. The Republican tax bill could either change their thinking – or cement it. 

Mark
Millennials attend a workshop at Society of Grownups headquarters in Brookline, Massachusetts in 2016. The society is both a cafe and a financial wellness center that offers workshops and individual checkups. Millennials have higher college debts than past generations, yet education also means many are on a trajectory from modest incomes toward the middle class and beyond.
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Ann Hermes/Staff/File
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIf Republicans want to win over Millennials – the largest group of taxpayers, home buyers, and (soon) voters – they’re going to have to do more than offer modest tax cuts. They’re going to have to sell them on the premise that tax cuts will spur economic prosperity, including better-paying jobs. It will be an uphill battle, because more than just about any other demographic, young voters are skeptical of GOP claims. “My understanding of trickle-down economics is that it is ineffective,” says Grace Kingsberry, a young math teacher in Chelsea, Mass. There are reasons for that. Millennials grew up watching their parents navigate the Great Recession, so they’re more attuned to an active role for government to ensure fairness. “The new tax plan … is essentially a tax plan for the rich and for corporations, says Grant Lyon, a young small-business owner in Los Angeles. Many Millennials are actually on a fast track from student debt to middle-class status and beyond. It’s just not clear how much of an opening that gives the GOP to sell their plan.

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3. For Republicans, the special challenge of winning over Millennials

Millennials are a key demographic for politicians. They are the biggest group of taxpayers, home buyers, and – soon – voters.

So how is tax reform, Republicans’ signature policy, playing with this pivotal generation?

It isn’t. Even more than most Americans, Millennials by and large view the proposed reforms as a giveaway to businesses and the rich. But unlike most Americans, they are on a fast track out of student poverty and low-income, entry-level jobs to middle-class status and beyond.

This trajectory offers Republicans an opportunity to win them over, if tax cuts can be promoted as a boon for the middle class and a path to faster economic growth and more plentiful good-paying jobs over the next decade.

It looks like an uphill climb. That’s partly because of the mixed nature of the tax proposals coming out of Washington, which in some ways blend new burdens alongside financial relief for young or middle-class households. It’s also because of attitudes among Millennials themselves. Many 20- and 30-somethings are skeptical of Republicans’ small-government ethos. They also define success differently than previous generations, pollsters say.

“It’s about doing something meaningful,” says John Della Volpe, polling director at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, which released a poll on Millennials last week. “Of course, that requires a certain level of economic success.”

So far, economic success has proved surprisingly elusive for many Millennials. Despite being the best-educated generation in history, they are earning 20 percent less than their baby boomer parents did at a similar age when adjusted for inflation, according to a 2016 analysis by Young Invincibles, a research and advocacy group in Washington.

'More student debt than ever before'

“They’re graduating with more student debt than ever before,” says Colin Seeberger, strategic campaigns director for Young Invincibles. “They’re being asked to do so much more with so much less.”

Their tax returns reflect this. In 2013, young people filed a third of all tax returns but only earned a sixth of all income, according to the Internal Revenue Service as reported by the Tax Foundation. Low income was particularly acute among 18- to 25-year-olds, who only earned 4 percent of all income, presumably because many of them were still in college or graduate school.

The Republican tax plans, beyond promising at least modest tax relief to most Americans, are built on the premise that tax cuts will fuel faster growth in the economy and in jobs. With economists disagreeing over how big any boost would be, the nation’s newest voters are skeptical. By a 56 to 28 percent margin, voters ages 18 to 34 said Democrats would do a better job of handling taxes, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released last week.

Skeptical of trickle-down theory

“My understanding of trickle-down economics is that it is ineffective,” says Grace Kingsbery, a young math teacher at a public charter school in Chelsea, Mass. “I’m not sure even that that kind of tax break will really motivate corporations to invest more heavily in their workforce or in the infrastructure … I think there is a great concern, though, if you reduce the tax base by so much that down the road, and not even that long, within five to 10 years, other programs are greatly going to suffer.” [Editor's note: The spelling of Ms. Kingsbery's name was corrected.]

As Republicans seek to appeal to Ms. Kingsbery and her peers, a key test will be the Affordable Care Act. Millennials have been slow to sign up for the national program. By repealing the individual mandate, which would eliminate the penalty people pay if they don’t sign up, the GOP plans are appealing to young and healthy Millennials, who would no longer be forced to buy health insurance.

These moves cheer the conservative Millennial Policy Center, which published in July its own market-based plan to replace Obamacare. The more liberal Young Invincibles is working to convince Millennials that the act and the health mandate are worth saving.

Politically, young Americans seem to be leaning toward the liberal view. Coming of age during the financial crisis, and seeing what their parents had to go through in the Great Recession, Millennials are not averse to government intervention, says Mr. Della Volpe of Harvard. In a Harvard Institute of Politics poll, for example, two-thirds of likely voters ages 18 to 29 said they would rather see Democrats control the House and the Senate.

“This generation is definitely rejecting the conventional wisdom that young people don’t need health care and that they’re not interested in receiving it,” says Mr. Seeberger of Young Invincibles.

Polls show hurdle for GOP

Republicans face a tough job selling their tax plan to these voters. The Quinnipiac poll found that 78 percent of young voters said the tax plans would primarily benefit the wealthy. That was the highest margin of any slice of the electorate shown in the polling results, except for African-Americans and Democrats themselves.

“I’m still not happy about loopholes for corporations,” says Grant Lyon, a professional comedian and Millennial small business owner in Los Angeles. “I’m even less happy about the new tax plan, because it is essentially a tax plan for the rich and for corporations. I mean it does not help anybody else, and the frustrating thing is that the Republican Party is trying to sell it as a tax cut for the middle class.”

That concern resonates widely among younger households, because so many of them have high career hopes that remain only partially fulfilled. Many Millennial households earn more than $25,400 (above the poorest fifth of Americans), but less than $49,600, which is the starting point for the middle class. For people in this income group, the GOP tax plans offer only a modest cut. On average, they would see an initial reduction of about $300 per year in their tax bills under the Senate plan ($310 in the House), according to the Tax Policy Center, a research group in Washington.

Tax plans with costs as well as benefits 

If Republicans want to reach out to this pivotal generation, which will represent the largest share of eligible voters next year, their tax plan doesn’t reflect it. In almost every area, the goodies the GOP offers with one hand, it threatens to take away with the other.

Take Republicans’ near-doubling of the standard deduction. That should be a winner for young taxpayers who don’t itemize, putting hundreds or even thousands of dollars in their pockets. Other young families stand to gain from an expanded child tax credit.

But the GOP plans also call for the elimination of personal exemptions, which erases a chunk of the gains from both of those provisions.

Some of the provisions of the House bill seemed aimed at punishing Millennials still in school. One measure – taxing the tuition waivers that schools give graduate students – prompted protests on dozens of campuses around the nation.

Another House provision would eliminate the $2,500 deduction for interest paid on federal student loans. “That’s what most of my friends have been the most outraged by,” says Jen Ferguson, a recent law-school graduate in Boston. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about it.”

The Senate bill does not include either provision. 

The importance of timing

What distinguishes Millennials from other low-income Americans is that their college and advanced degrees are likely to push them into the middle class and beyond at a fairly rapid pace. That’s why the timing of the tax provisions is also important for these young taxpayers. Ten years into the House plan, the cuts dwindle for all but the top fifth of Americans. Still, because of their move into the middle-class, Millennials would see their average tax cut increase modestly to about $360. Under the Senate plan, the tax cuts will have already disappeared in 10 years unless Congress would at some point vote to extend them.

One of Millennials’ biggest economic challenges is housing affordability. Although a House provision disallowing interest deductions on mortgages above $500,000 might cause high-end home prices to cool a bit, the impact on Millennials will probably be limited because they tend to buy cheaper entry-level homes, Skylar Olsen, a senior economist at real-estate marketplace Zillow, writes in an email. “Provisions such as changes to education and health deductions will have much more sweeping consequences” for the typical Millennial.

One area where Millennials might see gains under the GOP plans is entrepreneurship. Young people aren’t forming new businesses at the rate of previous generations. By reducing tax rates for small business to 9 percent on the first $75,000 of taxable income, the House bill would encourage more entrepreneurship, writes Justin Dent, executive director of Generation Financial Knowledge Development, in an op-ed.

“Two-thirds of millennials have thought of starting their own business, but three-quarters of respondents said the current tax code is unfriendly to small business growth,” Mr. Dent writes.

– Staffer contributed to this article. 

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4. Why asteroid threat shouldn’t keep you up at night

For one, astronomers aren't losing any sleep. For another, we're working on ways to shoot asteroids out of the sky. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadA close shave with a previously undetected asteroid last month serves as a pointed reminder to humanity that planet Earth and other celestial bodies can sometimes cross paths. To prevent us from sharing the same fate as the triceratops, in the 1990s astronomers launched Spaceguard, an international project to track potentially hazardous asteroids and comets. So far, they say they have detected more than nine-tenths of potential impactors more than a kilometer wide, and a third of the ones at least 140 meters wide. In the coming years, more powerful telescopes, both on Earth and in space, will be able to detect many of the remaining ones. And a proposed mission by NASA and the European Space Agency seeks to test the feasibility of altering an asteroid's trajectory by crashing a spacecraft into it, ensuring that, even if the sky is falling, we'll be able to catch it before it hits us.

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4. Why asteroid threat shouldn’t keep you up at night

Every once in awhile, as we Earthlings strive to explore the cosmos, we’re reminded that bits of the cosmos occasionally visit Earth, too.

One such reminder came in the form of a blazing green fireball streaking across the predawn New Jersey sky earlier this month. Police dashcam footage shot at 3:09 a.m. on Dec. 2 in Hamilton, N.J., shows a meteor plunging into the Earth's atmosphere and exploding in a brilliant flash. No injuries were reported.  

A slightly larger visitor hurtled past our planet on Nov. 9, one that astronomers didn’t detect until the following day. An asteroid designated 2017 VL2 came within 75,000 miles of Earth – less than a third of the distance to the moon. Despite news reports that the asteroid, which measures about 22 yards wide, carried enough energy to obliterate New York City, the asteroid – the 48th known one to pass within the moon's orbit this year so far – would have actually burned up in the atmosphere, causing little, if any, damage.

“The most important message to get across is that asteroid impacts are extremely unlikely,” Paul Chodas, manager for the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This one passed at a comfortable distance.”

The chance of a destructive meteor impact is small, but the consequences couldn’t be greater. Hence Spaceguard, an international project to track potentially hazardous asteroids and comets. So far, astronomers have spotted more than 15,000 objects, with an average of 30 new discoveries added each week.

“We can reassure the public that our observatories scan the night skies every dark night,” says Dr. Chodas. “Our current capabilities have been very successful in finding asteroids.”

Blind spots

In 1998, Congress mandated that NASA find 90 percent of asteroids more than 1 kilometer wide (0.62 miles) – about a tenth of the size of the asteroid believed to have abruptly ended the Age of Dinosaurs. NASA met this goal in 2011, but in the meantime, Congress expanded its mission to include include 90 percent of asteroids 450 feet or larger, whose impact could cause regional devastation. Scientists say they have detected about a third of these so far.

The bigger the asteroid, the lower the chance of impact: The odds of an asteroid 1 kilometer wide hitting Earth in any given year are 1 in about 500,000, and even an object 450 feet wide has just a 1-in-30,000 chance of impact.

Asteroid 2017 VL2, for its part, came from the direction of the sun, and it was lost in the glare. “We know less about the population of asteroids that spend time between Earth and sun since we find [asteroids] in dark sky, and those are not in dark sky much or possibly ever,” says Martin Connors, an astronomer at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada. “But chances of impact from any source are very small. We do know theoretically and statistically that there is not a huge group of such hidden asteroids.”

NASA aims to close the gap on undetected asteroids with its Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam), a space-based infrared telescope scheduled for launch in 2021. NEOCam will peer between the Earth and the sun to spot potentially hazardous space rocks by their heat signatures.

“When it comes online,” says Chodas of the space telescope, “it will have a dramatically improved capability of detecting asteroids much farther out.”

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a wide-field reflecting telescope built atop Chile’s Cerro Pachón mountain, could be operational by 2019. The LSST, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is designed to detect a variety of cosmic phenomena, including near-Earth asteroids, dark matter traces, and supernovae. Outfitted with the world’s largest digital camera, the telescope will snap full panoramas of the night sky for 10 years; each image, at full resolution, would be the size of about 40 full moons.

Redirecting an asteroid?

If astronomers spotted a potentially devastating asteroid on a collision course with Earth, could it be deflected?

A joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency seeks to find out. The Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission proposes to crash an unmanned spacecraft into the smaller body of the binary asteroid system 65803 Didymos.

The mission would consist of two spacecraft: the ESA-built Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), which would monitor the asteroid system from orbit, and the NASA-built Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) that would impact the smaller asteroid, known as “Didymoon,” at about 14,000 miles per hour.

The key in deflecting an asteroid is to hit it with just the right amount of force. “To mitigate an asteroid threat, we wish to cause a sufficient deflection to make the asteroid miss the Earth, but not more than necessary and not so much as to cause its disruption,” says Andrew Cheng, chief scientist of the space department at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Md., and co-leader of the DART team.

If approved, AIM will launch in October 2020, and DART in July 2021. The two spacecraft would begin orbiting 65803 Didymos in October 2022.

But before that, astronomers on Earth will get an up-close look at one of largest known near-Earth objects. 3200 Phaethon, a 3-mile wide object thought to be the source of the annual Geminid meteor shower, will approach within 6.4 million miles of Earth on Dec. 16.

Often called a “rock comet,” 3200 Phaethon is made of the same metallic stuff as other asteroids, but moves along an elongated orbit usually traveled by icy comets. Astronomers have dubbed the object “potentially hazardous” not so much because of its proximity – in 2017, it will be about 26 lunar distances away at its closest point – but because of its size. Though an impact would cause significant damage in populated areas, 3200 Phaethon’s predictable orbit won’t intersect our own in the foreseeable future. It will come close enough for ground-based telescopes to get detailed snapshots.

“Expect to see great images,” says Chodas.

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5. The homegrown rock star who tied France to the United States

Perhaps the most cherished cultural icon of Americanism in France is someone most Americans have never heard of. But to millions, he embodied a sense of what America is – right down to his hairdo. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadJohnny who? That was likely the reaction of a good many Americans to the news last Thursday that French rock ’n’ roll star Johnny Hallyday had died. Often called “the biggest star you’ve never heard of” in the US press, Hallyday never cracked the American market. Perhaps that is not surprising; Hallyday became a star in France by being an ersatz American – from his Elvis-style coif to his faux-American stage name (he was born Jean-Philippe Smet) and cover versions of American hits. Real Americans didn’t need him, but his American persona was key to his appeal to many millions of French people who would never see the other side of the Atlantic. Hallyday embodied their (American) dreams of rebellion and freedom and success. Over his 60-plus-year career he became more than a rock ’n’ roll star: He was practically a national monument, commanding love and respect from a wide range of very different people. As French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted to his fellow citizens within hours of Hallyday’s death, “there’s a piece of Johnny in all of us.”

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5. The homegrown rock star who tied France to the United States

Until last week, most Americans had no idea who Johnny Hallyday was and probably could not have cared less – but the feelings were anything but mutual. “Johnny,” as his fans called him, was France’s version of Elvis; his life-long love affair with America not only shaped his musical style but was key to explaining how the French came to idolize him.

Mr. Hallyday was buried Monday on the French Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy after an epic televised send-off over the weekend of the kind usually reserved for heads of state or royalty.

One million fans gathered on the Champs-Élysées to bid adieu to their national hero, his coffin flanked by an escort of 500 full-throated Harley-Davidsons. Tears fell freely. “Johnny belonged to you, to the public, to France,” President Emmanuel Macron – who, at 39, is well below the average age of most Hallyday fans – told the crowd.

Born Jean-Philippe Smet, the teenage Hallyday adopted his American-sounding stage name pseudonym after finding inspiration in Elvis Presley. He became a star when he was barely out of his teens, introducing the French public to an American rock ’n’ roll sound. Over the course of a nearly 60-year career he constantly reinvented himself, dabbling in blues, pop, country, and even opera.

Some of his greatest hits were French cover versions of songs in English – straightforward rip-offs, an American pop fan might say. But French fans had never heard the originals and they did not care. One of Hallyday’s most popular singles, “Noir, C’est Noir,” was a French take on the English language sensation “Black is Black,” popularized by Los Bravos; his version of “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” launched France’s “yé-yé” bubblegum pop era.

A French window on America

Whether America knew it or not, Hallyday was an important bridge between France and the United States. His American persona was central to his appeal to a large swath of French people who would never see the other side of the Atlantic. For many who dreamed of riding off into the sunset on Route 66 or hiking the grandiose depths of the Grand Canyon, Hallyday was as close to America as they would get.

“Johnny Hallyday contributed to the popularity of American music and American pop culture,” says Gabriel Segré, a socio-anthropology professor at University of Paris at Nanterre who has written several books on Elvis Presley and fan culture. “[French] youth imitated him, identified with him and used him as a model, while he helped promote the artists, language, images, and popular myths of American culture.”

Hallyday’s music was only part of his American image. His life story as a self-made man – a blue-collar rocker who worked hard and partied harder – epitomized the American dream for many French people. His slicked-back, Elvis-style coif, jeans, and tattooed muscles were a homage to America’s rockabilly scene. In the 60’s, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, partied with Jimi Hendrix, and socialized with the likes of Bob Dylan and Keith Richards.

Yet, ironically, Hallyday failed to crack the American market. Often referred to as “the biggest star you’ve never heard of” in the English-speaking press, that didn’t stop Hallyday from moving to Los Angeles in the mid-2000’s with his fifth wife, Laetitia, and raising their two children there, often taking his beloved Harley for runs in the California desert for fun.

While his American vibe may have launched Hallyday’s career, it was only part of why the French adored him, some going so far as tattooing his face on their chests. His fame and nearly royal status in French culture was due to something more intangible and profound.

'Staying Alive'

Hallyday became Everyman, embodying ordinary French citizens’ dreams of freedom, rebellion, and success. The husky resonance of hits such as “Que je t’aime” (How I Love You) or “Allumer le feu” (Light the Fire) exposed all of his love, pain, rage, and struggles.

Regardless of how ugly life got – a suicide attempt, colon cancer, a medically-induced coma – Hallyday bared all to his fans. Able to appeal to twenty-something hipsters, middle-aged factory workers, and even some intellectual members of the Parisian bourgeoisie, he united them all in their love and admiration for a French hero.

“Hallyday offered an identification model from the youngest to the oldest in French society,” says Dr. Segré. “He was a symbol of youth rebellion against authority, with his wild and sensual rock ’n’ roll style, and at the same time represented the success of an artist who’d reached the highest echelons of society, frequenting big bosses as well as presidents.”

Instead of becoming a “has been” – the fate of many aging rockers – Hallyday kept going; his fans admired his exceptional longevity. After each personal trial and health struggle he always bounced back – his “Staying Alive” (“Rester Vivant”) tour filled concert halls across the country in 2016 when he was 73 and he was still rocking at a concert last July, several months after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

And it was above all Hallyday’s spectacular stage shows that raised him to cult status. When he wasn’t covered in fake blood in a makeshift boxing ring at the Palais des Sports, he was jumping out of a helicopter above the Stade de France or singing eerily alongside dancers wreathed in flames.

Last Saturday night the Eiffel Tower was illuminated with a special message, “Merci Johnny,” – one national monument paying its respects to another – and Paris’s Duroc subway station was temporarily renamed “DuRock Johnny.”

A number of former presidents paid homage, and the current incumbent of the presidential palace, Mr. Macron, addressed the crowd outside the church where Hallyday’s funeral was held.

The French now felt a little more alone without their hero, Macron said. It was ironic; their hero had felt alone without them. “I often feel lonely,” the rocker said once, “but never while I’m on stage.”

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The Monitor's View

Grass-roots view of Trump’s security strategy

 

The 30 Sec. ReadSince 1986, Congress has required every president to define a grand plan for national security. The National Security Strategy is aimed at helping citizens hold their government to account and assuring them that Washington considers their safety paramount. It provides clear signals to both allies and adversaries about US goals. This year’s strategy is expected to call for a stronger focus on homeland security and better moves to raise the competitiveness of US businesses. It will present ways to deal with international threats. Yet an increasing share of the task of coping with foreign issues – or solving them – lies with the American public. They are the ones adjusting to industries disrupted by a foreign competitors. Their local election officials are trying to protect vote-counting machines from foreign meddling. Security from outside threats now lies closer to everyone’s thinking, demanding even more thoughtful responses. The global has not only become local but it also requires an awakening to the values at work in dealing with each threat.

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Grass-roots view of Trump’s security strategy

Are you now alert to Russian-backed fake news? Better able to defend your computer from hackers in distant lands? More conscious of foreign gangs in your neighborhood or possible foreign terrorists in public spaces? Are you coping with addicts who use heroin smuggled into the United States?

Do you shop for imported goods not made with slave labor? Or rely on energy sources that won’t contribute to stronger hurricanes?

Like it or not, as the world gets smaller, more Americans are now on the front lines of their nation’s toughest security issues. And like any diplomat, spy, or general, they are becoming more conscious of each new threat and setting priorities to deal with them. Most of all, they are forced to be clear about which values drive their responses.

Welcome to the process of writing the National Security Strategy. In coming days, the Trump White House is expected to release its first version of this formal document. Since 1986, Congress has required every president to define an explicit and grand plan for national security. Over recent months, Trump officials have consulted a range of people from lawmakers to foreign-policy experts to find some consensus and then lay out priorities.

The periodic document is aimed at helping citizens hold their government to account and assuring them that Washington considers their safety paramount. It also provides transparent signals to both allies and adversaries about US goals, thus reducing uncertainty and preventing new threats.

Mr. Trump has the final word on this year’s document and, according to his national security adviser, the catchphrase for the White House approach is “principled realism.” It is expected to call for a stronger focus on homeland security and better moves to raise the economic competitiveness of American businesses. And, of course, it will present ways to deal with North Korea, Iran, China, Russia, and terrorist groups.

Yet despite this latest policy setting by government, an increasing share of the task of coping with foreign issues – or solving them – lies with the American public. They are the ones coming to terms with immigrants in the country illegally, such as offering them sanctuary or refusing to deal with them. They are adjusting to industries closed down because a foreign competitor stole the technology for a patented product. They are debating the role of Islam and its followers in American society. Their local election officials are trying to protect vote-counting machines from foreign meddling.

These up-close issues require as much of a moral reckoning for individuals and local communities as does the collective process of producing the National Security Strategy. The global has not only become local but it also requires an awakening to the values at work in dealing with each threat.

Perhaps in the future, presidents will recognize just how deeply issues of national security have become everyday realities. Voting for new leaders, paying taxes, or joining the military is no longer the sum total of public engagement with foreign issues. Security from outside threats now lies closer to everyone’s thinking, demanding even more thoughtful responses.

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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.

Prayer for Southern California

 

“Be still, and know that I am God,” says the book of Psalms. It was this divine stillness and calm that contributor Deborah Huebsch sought when a friend called, asking for prayer. Her home was directly in the path of a southern California fire. As she prayed it gradually became clear to Deborah that because, in reality, God’s goodness was everywhere, there was nothing to fear. As she stuck with this conviction, every vestige of fear gave way to a sense of peace. She also learned her friend’s whole community was safe. As we continue to pray – especially for those who have experienced loss, and for those still threatened – we can find that stillness and trust in God that leaves no room for fear. Finding stillness where God’s power is felt opens the way to discover that our prayers can exert an influence for good.

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Prayer for Southern California

Last week a friend from Southern California called and told me she was evacuated from her home because her town was directly in the path of a fire. She asked me to join her in prayer. I of course agreed to pray with her, for the safety of her home and for the whole of her community.

My friend and I texted over the days she wasn’t allowed to return to her home. We shared spiritual insights we were gaining from prayer. My prayers were focused on attaining a deeper sense of the divine calm mentioned by the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). This stillness allows us to hear God’s assurances of the presence of divine power, which begin to replace fear with trust in that power. I felt God’s love embracing all, including my friend.

One night my friend texted that her town was threatened by flames, fanned by winds that were predicted to reach gusts of 80 miles per hour. I prayed diligently for the pervasive sense of fear to lift, knowing from many experiences of healing that when we turn our thought to God, with an expectant heart, asking for help, our merciful God is always there to comfort and guide us, and to reassure us of the divine omnipresence of omnipotence. I love considering this idea of the ever-presence of God’s all-power in prayer, because it deepens my sense of what God is and is doing for His creation. As I prayed it gradually became clear to me that because, in reality, God’s goodness indeed was everywhere, there was nothing to fear.

I stuck with this spiritual fact until the understanding of it had removed every vestige of fear, and I felt a sweet, quiet sense of peace. This calm was not something I had mustered up, but it was clear to me it came from God. It was a stillness so deep and encompassing that it left no room for fear in its presence. I was in awe and profoundly grateful.

Early the next morning, my friend reported that her home was safe and the whole community had been spared. In fact an article in the Los Angeles Times, naming her town, read, “It was truly a miracle that the predicted fierce winds failed to materialize…. Thank God” (Dec. 7, 2017). The sweet sense of stillness and trust in God that leaves no room for fear remains with me as I continue to pray – especially for those who have experienced loss in these fires, and for those still under threat of loss.

Undoubtedly many have been praying about the fires. And as we continue to pray we can have the confidence that prayer is a power. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, says of prayer: “In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as ‘a very present help in trouble’ ” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 12). As we discern and embrace the truth of God’s ever-presence and all-power in profound stillness, we can expect to actually bear witness to the presence of God’s loving, protecting government, which in turn has a palpable effect in our lives.

Every evidence of God’s power, however small, fills us with hope that the world can become freer of the fears that beset it. Finding the stillness where God’s power is felt opens the way for us to discover that our prayers can exert an influence for good.

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Just passing by

Two women carry a plastic reindeer past 10 Downing Street, the British prime minister’s residence, in London Dec. 11.
Caption
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Toby Melville/Reuters
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 12th, 2017 )

Tomorrow will be election day for Alabama and controversial Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, and we'll take a look at the state's political history. In the past year alone, the governor was forced to resign over allegations he used state resources to cover up an affair, and the speaker of the state House was sentenced to prison for corruption. This, some say, is the moment for change.

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