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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

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

2018
May
21
Monday
Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

What can prompt a desire to ditch an unsatisfactory status quo?

Another “enough” moment on gun violence arrived at a Texas high school late last week. For some it seemed like a moment to lean on the early and hard-won maturity of a generation that has been deeply affected of late (if not as deeply as at times in the past). It’s a generation that’s becoming known not only for activism but also for tolerance of differences, a form of love.

An African-American preacher spoke with conviction at last weekend's British royal wedding about the redemptive power of love, offering assurance of its omnipresence – and that “when we discover [it] we will be able to make of this old world a new world.”

Redemption can be about many things, including clearing debt. A report saying that, despite all sorts of upward-pointing economic signs, more than 50 million US households – 43 percent of households – don’t pull in enough income to cover basic necessities may spark a critical look at how our expectations may have driven us into silos. One possible path out of those: consideration of different forms of intentional community, partnering with others who share values, even around areas like housing.

Laura Rozza, who helped create such a sharing arrangement a decade ago, spoke to Yes! Magazine about her motivation. “It was the idea,” she said, “of sort of creating a new world we want to live in.”

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Now to our five stories for today, highlighting compassion in the opioid fight, ingenuity in countering an effect of climate change, and the cultural broadening of a popular literary genre. 

1. Trump, his critics, and the basic divide over the FBI

In calling for the investigation of his investigators, President Trump appears to have embraced the adage that the best defense is a good offense. How good an offense? Legal experts are weighing in.

 

The 30 Sec. ReadPresident Trump says there is a committed anti-Trump cabal within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s what lies behind many of his charges of alleged FBI and Justice Department misbehavior. The so-called dodgy dossier of negative info about Mr. Trump? Misused by the anti-Trump FBI crowd to get the Russia probe rolling, according to the president. A “spy” within the Trump campaign ranks? Planted by the anti-Trump group to get information useful to the Hillary Clinton campaign and other Democrats, Trump tweeted last week. This is a fundamental divide between the president and his critics, who think Trump is seeing something that isn’t there. There’s little evidence beyond a few bad email jokes about an anti-Trump FBI attitude, they say. The “spy” was an informant, an American academic living in England who contacted three Trump campaign officials to gauge what they knew about any Russia connections. If you believe the FBI is biased against Trump, that could still look suspicious. If you don’t, it’s evidence of a bureau trying to figure out what was going on with an important counterintelligence investigation, as quietly as possible.

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1. Trump, his critics, and the basic divide over the FBI

President Trump has been attacking his own Federal Bureau of Investigation for months. The fundamental assumption behind many of his charges is this: In its actions regarding the Russia probe, the bureau is propelled by political bias against him.

Mr. Trump’s anger over an alleged FBI “informant” in his campaign is the latest example of this dynamic. On Sunday he tweeted that he would demand a Department of Justice investigation into whether agents dispatched a spy to infiltrate his campaign for political purposes.

As part of this probe the Justice Department should look into “if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Trump tweeted.

There are indications this bias charge is affecting US public opinion. Earlier this month a CBS News poll found a slight majority – 53 percent – of respondents agreed with the assertion that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is politically motivated. Trump’s job approval ratings in general are as high as they’ve been in a year.

But the notion of an anti-Trump cabal within the FBI plotting to ensnare him strikes Trump critics and many legal experts as far-fetched. There’s little evidence such a group exists, they say. If it does, it managed to bungle the job – forgetting to make public much information about the Trump campaign and Russia until after the election was over.

“The president has a view of everything being political and situational. And that’s consistent with how he speaks. That’s not actually how law enforcement works,” says Andy Wright, an associate professor at Savannah Law School and former associate counsel to Vice President Al Gore.

Take the “spy.” Last week, Trump commented on reports on conservative media that the FBI had implanted a source within his campaign, implying that the bureau had dispatched an agent or other human asset to actually work for the Trump team while covertly passing info back to bureau headquarters.

“This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit,” Trump tweeted.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani quickly clarified the situation somewhat, saying in numerous interviews that the White House was not sure whether someone had actually been embedded within the campaign, or whether there was an informant at all. There had been some kind of “infiltration,” Mr. Giuliani said.

That seems to match up closely with what’s now public about the situation. The FBI tasked an American academic living in England who has been a long-standing informant to get in touch with three Trump campaign aides and inquire as delicately as possible about what they knew about Russia connections, and when they knew it.

The aides included foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. The former was well known to the FBI as a target of Russian espionage for years. The latter had already let slip to the Australian ambassador that he knew of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

This might still look suspicious if one believes in an anti-Trump FBI bias. But it’s also possibly evidence of a bureau that’s trying to step carefully. Sending an actual agent to interview the Trump officials would have set off alarm signals. Questioning them via a cutout was quieter. Indeed, none of this became public prior to the election. That’s a basic question Trump critics ask: If there’s an anti-Trump conspiracy, why didn’t it release more abut the Russia investigation prior to the election, when it might have done Democrats some electoral good?

“One could make a hypothetical in which the president is the wronged party here. The problem is we have zero evidence of that,” says Professor Wright of Savannah Law School.

Meanwhile, Trump’s demand that the Justice Department investigate whether his campaign was infiltrated for political purposes by the Obama administration itself could shatter a long-standing political norm.

Since Watergate, presidents have hesitated to use overt presidential pressure on the Justice Department to direct specific law enforcement cases. That smacks of using the tools of US justice for political purposes – something Richard Nixon tried to do, to his eventual regret.

One big question here is how will the Department of Justice respond? On Sunday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did give in somewhat, announcing that he would expand an existing inspector general’s investigation to include this question.

If Trump demands more than that, it could set off a chain of resignations, possibly including Mr. Rosenstein and perhaps even Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Another big question is obvious: what moves will Mr. Mueller make in the weeks ahead? Further indictments could make the “spy” issue seem small. Or Mueller could wrap up the case and say he found nothing incriminating.

“I keep thinking of the term, ‘history is contingent’,” says Chris Edelson, an assistant professor of government at American University in Washington. “There are many different pathways. When you read about the past you know how it is going to turn out. When you’re living through it, you don’t know.”

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2. High court sides with employers: a look at the likely fallout

Shifts in the worker-employer compact bear watching. Some employers have faced allegations of widespread workplace discrimination or of cheating workers on their pay. Yet increasingly, workers are asked to waive any right to class-action lawsuits in order to be hired. This piece looks at what today’s Supreme Court decision favoring such employer policies may mean.

 

The 30 Sec. ReadWorkers will have fewer choices in seeking redress over grievances as mundane as whether they’ve gotten their promised wages, because of a Supreme Court ruling Monday. Writing for the 5-to-4 majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that employers are free to include mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts that preclude workers from joining class-action suits or even approaching arbitration as a group. Already, more than half of employees work under such contracts, and the new ruling promises to bolster the trend. Worker advocates argue that the inability to join forces with other employees makes workers less likely to file formal complaints because of the fear of retaliation. Some wild-card questions: Could labor unions gain some traction in the fallout? And could mandatory arbitration actually end up hurting some of the companies that deploy it? Labor expert Robert Bruno says it could allow firms to hide systemic bad behavior at a time when the #MeToo and other movements are showing the need for more corporate transparency. “I can’t imagine how it’s good for the long-term shareholder value of those companies,” he says.

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2. High court sides with employers: a look at the likely fallout

In the wake of a #MeToo movement that is pushing corporations to clean up their act, the US Supreme Court threw companies a lifeline.

It allowed them to continue including forced-arbitration clauses in their employment contracts. Monday’s ruling means that companies can keep workers from launching class-action lawsuits – or even going to arbitration as a group – over issues from wages and overtime pay to potentially discrimination and sexual harassment.

Worker-advocacy groups, which say the ruling could apply to job discrimination and other grievances, called the 5-4 decision a big win for corporations and a blow to workers’ rights.

But longer term, the decision may also have unintended effects, say labor-law experts, including possibly hurting some companies and adding some luster to labor unions as a vehicle for pursuing worker concerns.

“It could be a double-edged sword,” says Martin Malin, an arbitrator and director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at the Illinois Institute of Technology law school.

The immediate responses to the high court’s Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision split along ideological lines.

“A worker who is not paid fairly, discriminated against, or sexually harassed, is forced into a process that overwhelmingly favors the employer – and forced to manage this process alone, even though these issues are rarely confined to one single worker,” complained the liberal Economic Policy Institute in a statement.

“Class-action lawsuits are an expensive and inefficient way to handle wage and hour disputes” or similar issues of employment law, and “principally benefit the lawyers” rather than workers, argues James Copland, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York. “It's an extra tax on hiring new workers.”

The court case involved three separate instances where employees had signed contracts requiring that they submit grievances individually to an arbitrator rather than go to court or press them as a group in arbitration. The employees in the case argued that they could press rights as a group under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act’s protection of “concerted activities.”

But the court’s conservative majority found that those contractual obligations were valid and did not contradict the National Labor Relations Act.

“The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written,” the court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, wrote for the majority, citing the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act.

Liberal justices dissented, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg saying the ruling was “egregiously wrong” because it would mean less enforcement of federal and state protections for vulnerable workers.

Mandatory arbitration has become increasingly popular among employers as a way to avoid embarrassing and costly class-action suits that can draw lots of unwanted publicity. In 1992, such clauses in employee contracts affected just over 2 percent of employees, and that number has soared to more than 55 percent today, according to a study released last month.

“Employees often think they have a lot of legal rights,” says Alexander Colvin, author of the study and professor of conflict resolution at Cornell’s industrial and labor relations school. “But this illustrates that they have fewer than they think.”

Worker advocates argue that narrowing opportunities for group action makes workers less likely to file formal complaints because of the fear of retaliation.

This may play long term into the hands of unions, whose negotiated contracts allow union workers to act collectively on a whole host of issues, some labor experts say.

Still, Mr. Copland says he expects unions will put highest priority on bargaining over pay and benefits, albeit with a role for legal rights as an issue in their bargaining process. The fallout from the court ruling, he says, will “test how much do they actually value this?”

And for employers, it remains to be seen how vigorously they will seek to expand the use of arbitration clauses.

While arbitration is generally less costly than the court system, companies often bear the entire cost of the arbitration process. And when many individuals at a company bring up cases, “the employer is now on the hook for 40 to 300 arbitrators,” says Mr. Malin, the arbitrator who has served in several such big cases. In all but one instance, the cases were settled before arbitration.  

Finally, mandatory arbitration could allow companies to hide systemic bad behavior at a time when the #MeToo and other movements are showing the need for more corporate transparency, says Robert Bruno, a professor at the School of Labor & Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I can’t imagine how it’s good for the long-term shareholder value of those companies,” he says. “It’s not going to help the business root out bad practice.”

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3. With compassionate outreach, a city cuts its drug overdose rate in half

Here’s another piece on cause and effect. As the scale of the national opioid crisis becomes clearer, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by what seems like an insurmountable challenge. But one city found a way to confront that hopelessness. Now others are following suit. 

Paramedic Larrecsa Cox heads a new Quick Recovery Team in Huntington, W.Va., that visits residents within 72 hours of an overdose. Here, she is driving home Jim Ward, an individual she helped when he was in the final stages of being hired for a new job as a cook. (Days later he got the position and began working.)
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Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIt’s a simple idea: compassionate outreach for those dealing with substance abuse, well after the sirens stop wailing. But a West Virginia city that has formally embraced that idea has seen its high overdose rates drop by more than half since last year. Since December, a Quick Response Team – composed of a paramedic, police officer, and mental health specialist – has been sent to the listed address of every individual who has overdosed. They visit within 72 hours, offering treatment options and support. In just a few months, the city has seen a change. Those who have overdosed say they feel genuinely cared for, while those who have become wearied by the toll of 911 calls are now met with gratitude. “For so many years, we didn’t see the patients being receptive,” says QRT coordinator Connie Priddy of Cabell County EMS. “And now, because we’re working on changing how we approach it, their way of accepting us has changed.” The West Virginia Legislature recently allocated $1 million to implement similar programs across the state, and communities have until early June to apply for funding.

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3. With compassionate outreach, a city cuts its drug overdose rate in half

Jim Ward and his girlfriend were awash in cash thanks to their regular trips down south, where they would buy thousands of prescription opioid pills from unscrupulous doctors and sell them back home in West Virginia for $220 apiece. But when they found out she was pregnant, they stopped all that.

The only problem was, the money stopped, too.

Mr. Ward lost the house he owned. He began sleeping at abandoned homes, and though he enrolled in some treatment programs, he was never able to stick with it – sometimes abusing the medication they gave him to get high again. He overdosed so many times he lost count. He and his girlfriend broke up.

“It’d gotten to the point where my mom didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” he says. Then one day in January his mother told him a few people had come looking for him.

They were from the Quick Response Team (QRT), a new initiative from the city of Huntington to follow up with every overdose survivor within 72 hours.

At the heart of the QRT model is a simple idea: compassionate outreach for those dealing with substance abuse – well after the sirens stop wailing. It has uplifted both first responders and those struggling with addiction, with each side able to see more humanity in each other. Those who have overdosed are amazed to see police officers or paramedics arrive on their front stoop not because someone called them with an emergency but because they wanted to check in. And those who have become wearied by the toll of 911 calls – being spit on, hit, or numbed by reviving the same people over and over – are now being met with gratitude.

“For so many years, we didn’t see the patients being receptive,” says QRT coordinator Connie Priddy of Cabell County EMS. “And now, because we’re working on changing how we approach it, their way of accepting us has changed.”

“[First responders] are having people say to them, ‘This is the first time that someone has cared enough to come and do this, you’ve saved my life, thank you,’ ” says Karen Yost, chief executive officer of the Prestera Center, which is partnering with Huntington’s QRT and implementing a similar program in Charleston, W.Va., beginning June 1. “Now they’re beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

The program, together with Huntington's other initiatives, has caught the attention of the federal government.

“I came to Huntington because it’s one of the best stories in the United States in terms of recovery. If we can turn around overdose numbers here, we can do it anywhere,” said US Surgeon General Jerome Adams on a visit May 10. “I’m here to learn about what's working so I can share it with Washington, D.C., and the rest of the nation.”

‘I was very proud’

Huntington’s QRT is composed of a full-time paramedic, Larrecsa Cox, and rotating shifts of police officers and mental health specialists.

Ward recognized Ms. Cox when she showed up at his mother’s house in January with the QRT; he’d first met her in an ambulance on one of his overdoses. This time, she was there to help him find a detox center. She drove him across the border to a Kentucky facility, the only place with an available bed, and drove him home again the following week. He says he hasn’t gotten high on opiates in the four months since, and he’s been a steadier presence for those in his life – including his 5-year-old son.

“One of my friends – seeing me get clean made him want to get clean,” says Ward, who texted Ms. Cox this week to tell her he’d just landed a job and worked 30 hours in his first three days.

“I was very proud,” says Cox, noting that getting clean is only part of the battle. “There are things the drugs have masked for so long, and once the drugs are gone you have to face them.”

It’s not just Ward who is getting his life back on track. Cox and her QRT colleagues have gotten about a third of the more than 230 people they’ve visited since December into treatment. Their work has helped Huntington – whose overdose rate had climbed steadily for years – cut that number by more than half since last year. Now, the model is set to spread across West Virginia, with the legislature allocating $1 million for a four-year pilot program. Communities have until early June to apply for funds, which will be administered by the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

Susie Mullens, interim director for ODCP, says they hope to see Huntington’s success replicated. “We certainly hope to see that around the rest of the state … the decrease in the overdoses, and community enthusiasm for bringing hope to the communities through the Quick Response Teams.”

The making of a QRT

Huntington made headlines in August 2016, when 28 overdoses occurred in one afternoon in the city of 50,000. Though first responders were able to save all but two individuals, the city concluded that wasn’t enough. They needed to help such individuals not only stay alive, but reclaim their lives.

Last year Bob Hansen, who had just been appointed director of addiction services at Marshall University in Huntington, heard about an interesting model in a community outside Cincinnati called Colerain. They had formed a Quick Response Team in July 2014 and had had an 85 percent success rate the first year in getting those they visited into treatment.

Colerain’s QRT only went out once a week, and their overdose numbers were only about a tenth of Huntington’s, which is the main city in the hardest-hit county of the hardest-hit state in America. But the principle seemed sound, so Huntington decided to create its own program modeled on Colerain’s.

It had no budget for it however. So the city applied for two federal grants in hopes they’d get one of them. By September, both came through and they had $1.3 million – enough to fund a five-day-a-week team for three years.

“The thing I so admire about Bob Hansen’s leadership is they were able to develop a full-time team,” says Shana Merrick of the Addiction Services Council in Greater Cincinnati, who helped implement the Colerain program and came to Huntington last spring to share their experience. “We were never able to do that in our region.”

A standard for the state – and maybe the nation

The team starts work at noon. Earlier than that, and they have trouble rousing the folks they want to help. They add the latest EMS records of overdoses to their chart, and set out on visits around the city.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Cox visited a homeless shelter with Prestera recovery coach Sue Howland and Lt. Eric Corder of the police department to try to find a man who overdosed a couple of days ago. This is their second attempt to locate him. Cox sits in the back seat of the cruiser flipping through her handwritten charts of everyone who has overdosed recently, but there is no address listed for him. Ms. Howland gets out to look for the man, but to no avail. She spots another individual they’d helped though, and goes over to chat with him, just as she would with a friend.

“Nobody is better than anyone else,” she says, explaining her approach. “Everybody puts their socks and shoes on the same way.”

Practically everywhere she and the QRT team go, they’re greeted by smiles and hugs from those they have helped.

But new cases can be tough.

After leaving the homeless center, they drive across town and knock on the door of a house they visited recently to see if the adult son is home this time. No, the mother says, peering out from behind the glass front door – he left at 6 a.m. for work and won’t be back until later tonight.

Is there a better time they can come? No, she says, still behind the glass door. He works seven days a week.

The QRT doesn’t believe her story, but there’s not much they can do other than reiterate their offer to help, and leave a card with their phone number.

It’s 5 p.m. and there’s no one else on their list for today, so they head home through the flowering streets of Huntington, where the spring sunshine and freshly unfurled leaves give an aura of hopefulness even to the run-down homes and yards.

No one is ready to declare the opioid crisis vanquished. But they’ve seen the community rally together to not only come to grips with the problem, but find solutions.

“When this [crisis] started, we got bombarded with: ‘Why are you wasting taxpayers’ money?’ ” says Gordon Merry, director of Cabell County EMS, who is happy to tell them the overdose rates are coming down. “When I go to lunch now, people ask me, ‘How are we doing on overdoses?’ ”

That community buy-in and willingness to work across all sectors – and most of all, to take on not only the opioid crisis but what Mayor Steve Williams calls the disease of hopelessness – could make Huntington a model not only for West Virginia but the country.

“If we find a way to be able to defeat this here,” says Mayor Williams, “then that becomes a standard that can be utilized certainly throughout the rest of the state, but I believe that it [also] becomes a standard that the rest of the nation will be able to follow.”

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4. Warming waters hurt Zanzibar's cash crop. These women have a plan.

Women in Zanzibar have been particularly affected by climate change, echoing a global trend. But their case illustrates another truism: Women are key to combating it, too.

Sihaba Mustafa (l.) and Mwanaisha Makame tend to their seaweed farm in Zanzibar, Tanzania.
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Karen Coates
 

The 30 Sec. ReadSeaweed is in everything from ice cream to shampoo. The global seaweed trade produces roughly 30 million tons each year. Much of it comes from Asia, but also Zanzibar, a semiautonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. About 24,000 Zanzibaris work with seaweed, and most are women who operate small-scale farms – women whose entrepreneurship has lifted them up not just in income, but in authority at home and in their communities. “I used the money to build a house. I used the money to school my children,” says one 20-year veteran of the business. “I’m like a father.” But warming waters are threatening both the seaweed crops and the women’s independence. From Peru to India, women are often particularly affected by climate change, in part because their perspectives and experiences are left out of decisions about how to adapt. But Zanzibar’s seaweed farmers are forging a way forward, collaborating with each other, and scientists, to turn their insights and challenges into solutions. “We say that the human mind works faster than events,” says one researcher.

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4. Warming waters hurt Zanzibar's cash crop. These women have a plan.

Zanzibar’s streets are serene in the dark moments before sunrise, and an amber glow tints the beach. The tide is out, and the air is fresh. A few women head to work, toting sticks on their heads and empty sacks in their hands as they walk toward the sea. They cross acres of damp white sand before reaching the warm, clear waters that shelter their farms: seaweed growing on dozens of neat, parallel ropes staked to the Indian Ocean floor.

“Seaweed farming in our area is only done by women,” says Mwanaisha Makame, a 20-year veteran of the business, as warm little waves lap at her long, flower-print skirt.

Ms. Makame’s family didn’t have money for higher education when she was young, so she went to the ocean to farm. These macroscopic marine algae changed her life.

“I used the money to build a house, I used the money to school my children,” she says of her son and daughter, now in their early 20s. “I’m like a father.”

And that’s a bold statement in Zanzibar: a semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, where women typically have lower employment, pay, education, and decisionmaking power than the men in their homes.

Seaweed farming has enabled thousands of Zanzibari women to earn cash and climb social ladders. They are working together, bucking social norms, and attaining leadership roles in communities where their authority has long been limited. As in other parts of the world, entrepreneurship has created incremental changes in women’s lives.

But the women’s success is threatened by a changing climate, which mirrors another global trend: women are disproportionately affected by global warming. Furthermore, they’re often kept out of conversations on how to adapt to a changing planet.

In Zanzibar, a significant rise in sea temperatures is killing seaweed. Not only does that jeopardize business – it threatens the sociopolitical achievements women have made. So they are fighting back.

Farmers in Zanzibar display brightly colored healthy seaweed plants, which they taste straight from the water.
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Karen Coates

Here and across the world, environmental activists say, channeling women’s knowledge could help save both local economies and ecosystems. It’s a model that seaweed farmers here are putting into practice, working hand-in-hand with researchers (and each other) to help communities adapt to a changing sea – while simultaneously protecting the environment itself.

'Money power'

Years ago, “women used to stay indoors and wait for their husbands,” says Flower Msuya, a senior researcher and seaweed expert with the University of Dar es Salaam’s Institute of Marine Sciences. Then seaweed farming presented new options.

The local industry started in the late 1980s, when two species – Eucheuma cottonii and spinosum – were imported from the Philippines. (Before that, wild seaweeds were collected for export, but the trade collapsed in the 1970s when stocks were depleted.) At first, both men and women farmed, but that soon changed. The work is hard, the pay is relatively small (though significant for women) and men sought other options. But the women stuck with it.

Today, Tanzania exports thousands of tons each year to Europe and the United States, largely for production of carrageenan, a thickener used in processed foods and cosmetics. The industry employs roughly 24,000 Zanzibaris, and the majority are women operating small-scale farms, Dr. Msuya says. “At first their husbands were like, ‘What? How can my wife go out there?’ But with time, they saw that their wives – they were getting money.”

And more than just money: now they have “money power,” Msuya says, “and their status has completely changed.” Mothers started covering the costs of their children’s school fees and uniforms. They bought food and furniture and radios. They paid their families’ medical bills.

That clout spread beyond the home. Seaweed farmers are often wealthier and more active in their communities than women who don’t farm. Some even travel to neighboring islands to train other women in commerce. “They started being business ladies,” Msuya says.

It used to be that export companies set the seaweed prices; now, some women work together, building business acumen by forming groups with collective bargaining power. They buy their own equipment, like ropes, or foster new businesses selling “value-added” products like seaweed powders, soaps, creams, and sweets – all of which earn more money than raw algae.

A steeper toll

But the business is in trouble as seaweed succumbs to the effects of warmer waters. Overall, Western Indian Ocean temperatures have climbed 1 degree Celsius in the past 30 years, and are still rising.

In the past, surface waters never exceeded about 88 degrees – the upper edge of optimal for seaweed growth – but shallow-water temperatures now stretch beyond 98 degrees, Msuya says. The warmth creates conditions ideal for plant diseases like ice-ice, which stresses the algae and makes them susceptible to bacteria. At first, the seaweeds turn white at the tips. Eventually, they die. Makame estimates she’s lost 80 percent of her crop.

In an already volatile global market, where prices can swiftly drop in the face of competition from more established industries in Asia, the potential loss could devastate any entrepreneur. But here, farmers’ misfortunes also threaten women’s independence.

Zanzibar’s seaweed troubles put a local lens on a global picture: the economic and sociocultural burdens of climate change fall unequally on women. In the Himalayas, they walk farther, work longer and miss school to collect water. In the United States, increased heat and pollution are linked to pregnancy complications. And when natural disasters force communities to move, women and girls can fall prey to sexual harassment and trafficking, as in the Philippines.

According to Women Watch, a United Nations gender-equity project, women are significantly more vulnerable to climate change for myriad reasons: they constitute a large percentage of the world’s poor, their livelihoods depend heavily on natural resources threatened by climate change, they dominate agricultural labor in developing countries, and social and political barriers limit their access to land, water, and other resources.

Climate change “amplifies difficult conditions and makes them worse,” says Brian La Shier, a policy associate of the Energy and Climate Program at the Washington-based Environmental and Energy Study Institute. “This is even truer for countless women around the world … oftentimes simply because of their gender and where they live.”

When natural disasters strike, it’s harder for the disadvantaged to get back on track. Say a flood destroys a home or a family’s crops. The husband may leave to search for work elsewhere – but the wife stays behind to care for the children. If she has little education or job experience, “there’s no safety net or alternative economic paths,” Mr. La Shier says. “These societal, economic, and environmental constraints can decide the ultimate fate of an individual, a family or even a community.”

For these reasons, he says, climate policies must include women and address gender. “Women form the economic foundations of many communities, but their contributions and expertise are often overlooked or dismissed outright.”

Tapping in to women's knowledge

Yet women aren’t powerless against a changing climate. In fact, their work – whether farming, foraging, or finding potable water during droughts – can give them crucial insights about natural resources that can help their communities adapt. That’s a message made clear by the United Nations last November when it adopted a “Gender Action Plan” to help ensure women are equally represented and influential compared with men in climate change decisions worldwide.

From Peru to India to Kenya, research suggests that when women are included in environmental planning and decisionmaking, community projects are better organized and longer-lasting. And that means families ultimately have better access to necessities like safe water and food, healthcare, and education.

In Zanzibar, women could play a critical role in saving the seaweed industry. And there are ample reasons to do so – including ecological sustainability. Ironically, it turns out, the victim of climate change is also a potential mitigator.

Emerging research shows that seaweed farming could temper the effects of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, locally and globally. Seaweed farms serve as carbon sinks, increase oxygen levels, and help remove nutrients that lead to algal blooms. And that, in turn, fosters diverse local marine environments. Seaweed farms can also dampen wave energy, protecting shorelines from erosion – another big problem in Zanzibar.

The potential climatic benefits of seaweed farming are so great, the authors of a 2017 article in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science argue for economic compensation to seaweed farmers in recognition of the role they play in combating climate change. This incentive could help expand the industry, hence women’s economic autonomy. Zanzibar represents just a fraction of the global seaweed trade: roughly 30 million tons produced annually, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Msuya is helping women grow their businesses through the Zanzibar Seaweed Cluster Initiative (ZaSCI), linking farmers to government and industry representatives to improve sales and prices for local farmers. Through ZaSCI, which Msuya heads, scientists and farmers communicate directly. When farmers have problems, they tell the scientists, who use that information in their studies. In turn, scientists share their findings with farmers.

Yet the problems – and possible benefits – of seaweed farming in Zanzibar have not received more public attention precisely because the industry is dominated by women, says Aboud Jumbe, head of policy, planning, and research at Zanzibar’s Environment Department. “It is because of that, that the voice for social equity has been missing,” he says. That bias is not uncommon: globally, women’s issues often get less attention, from medical research to immigration policy to economic growth.

“If seaweeds were grown by men,” Mr. Jumbe says, “we could be sitting here talking about something different.”

Msuya isn’t deterred; she’s determined. She is working with Swedish researchers to find native seaweed species that can withstand higher temperatures. And she’s collaborating with the Scottish Association for Marine Science on a program called Global Seaweed STAR, in which Tanzanian, Philippine, and Indonesian researchers work to improve seaweed farming in developing countries. The research relies on the direct experiences – and stories – of the women working in the water: the obstacles they face and how they can overcome them. “We say that the human mind works faster than events,” says Msuya, whom farmers affectionately call “mother.”

One solution is to farm deeper in the ocean (2-6 yards at low tide), reaching the farms by boat, she says. Since stronger currents can cause the seaweed to break, Msuya’s team developed a tubular net to keep the algae intact. (The design won the Australian government’s Blue Economy Challenge in 2016.) In addition, women are placing fish basket-traps near their seaweed “so they have two crops in one area.” For now, the harvest – rabbitfish, spadefish, parrotfish, eel – is mainly for the women’s families. But soon, Msuya says, they’ll have enough to sell.

There’s just one problem with deep-water farming: many Zanzibari women don’t swim (largely due to the archipelago’s conservative interpretation of Islam). So Msuya is helping to teach them, and providing life jackets. The farmers can work in teams so those who are more comfortable in water can dive in to anchor the seaweeds, while others can work from the boats, placing seaweed in nets and hauling in harvests.

Back on the beach, Makame and other farmers stand waist-high in gentle waves as the tide begins to roll back in. An overcast sky shields the equatorial sun. The women pluck bunches of vibrant red and green seaweed and offer a taste. “It is like you are eating cucumber,” she says. Crunchy, salty, and nutrient-rich.

Makame understands her industry is changing, and she must adapt. That’s why she and some of the other women have joined a 29-member farming cooperative, making it easier for customers to reach them, and for members to bargain for supplies. “When we are in groups, we have one voice,” says Makame, who serves as group secretary.

But she is particularly concerned about one thing: deep water. “It is very much worrying me,” she says. “That is something I really fear.”

Yet that is where Makame’s financial future lies. It’s where she can assert her independence. And she says she will go there.

Reporting for this story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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5. For the world of fantasy books, some real cultural broadening

Legends of elves and gnomes and other Norse-based mythology may make for delightful reading. But they reflect a fairly narrow band of cultural influences. That appears to be changing.

 

The 30 Sec. ReadFor decades, the field of fantasy books was dominated by white men penning tales about dwarfs, elves, and other Norse-based mythology. Today, that’s changing as diverse writers are bringing fresh voices to the field, incorporating the myths and legends of cultures around the world. “People have been trying to do this for decades,” says author Tomi Adeyemi. “It’s just that enough people have broken down the doors over the decades that we’re where we are now.” Certainly, speculative fiction writers since at least Octavia Butler, the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur Grant, have looked beyond Europe for inspiration. But no longer can they be dismissed as niche. From the $1 billion-plus box-office take of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, to the success of Ms. Adeyami's breakout debut, “Children of Blood and Bone,” audiences and readers are flocking to well-drawn worlds inspired by African and Asian countries. As one science fiction professor says, “We are not the field that thinks that what white men say is the only way to say things."

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5. For the world of fantasy books, some real cultural broadening

N.K. Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel, packs a powerful idea into a few lines of dialogue in “The Fifth Season,” in which an otherworldly woman’s search for her daughter resonates with the emotions of African-Americans after the Civil War desperate to reunite families ravaged by slavery.

“There’s a hole, a gap,” Ms. Jemisin writes. “In history.”

History suffers when perspectives are left out, Jemisin points out. The same may be said of literature. After decades of dwarves, elves, and other Norse-based mythology, the world of fantasy is changing, incorporating the myths and legends of cultures around the world. 

While the field was largely dominated by white men in decades past, today diverse writers are bringing new voices to the conversation, imagining futures based on more inclusive readings of the past, and creating multiethnic worlds that can help people understand their own. Certainly, speculative fiction writers since at least Octavia Butler – the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur grant – have looked beyond Europe for inspiration. But no longer can they be dismissed as niche. From the $1 billion-plus box office of “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, to this spring’s breakout debut novel, “Children of Blood and Bone,” by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi, audiences and readers are flocking to well-drawn worlds inspired by African and Asian countries. 

“People have been trying to do this for decades,” says Ms. Adeyemi, acknowledging those who laid the foundation. “It’s just that enough people have broken down the doors over the decades that we’re where we are now.”

Ms. Adeyemi has infused “Children of Blood and Bone,” published in March as the first of a planned trilogy, with West African mythology and culture. It reportedly sold at auction for seven figures and has already been optioned as a movie. In a fairy-tale beginning, teenage Zelie Adebola – a heroine as valiant as “Black Panther’s” General Okoye – and her protective brother Tzain, head to market to trade a fish. If Zelie doesn’t make a good bargain, she will end up a slave. 

While Adeyemi‘s setting is a magical fantasy world and her touchstones are from another continent, the plot is informed by US headlines. In “Children of Blood and Bone,” boys feared because they are different are killed with impunity by security forces. Adeyemi says she wanted readers to reflect on their reactions to police brutality, for example. 

The wisest characters in “Children of Blood and Bone,” are those with the patience and the courage to see the world through others’ eyes. Adeyemi says readers can gain insight into the sense among some minorities in America that going about their daily lives can be perilous.

“I wanted to build empathy with this book,” Adeyemi says.

'Hopeful books in very dark times'

Ausma Zehanat Khan’s fictional world is also rooted in her ancestral homeland and heritage. In the case of Ms. Khan’s “The Bloodprint,” the setting evokes northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Khan’s 2017 book reads like an Arthurian tale. Khan even makes a “Princess Bride” reference in her dedication. But her knights are women as well as men, and Islam, not Christianity, is her wellspring.

A sprawling fantasy – “The Bloodprint” is 400 pages and three more books are planned in the series – was the only way Khan, until “The Bloodprint,” known as a mystery writer, could imagine encompassing all she wanted to say about the history and possibilities of her religion. At a time when some in the West only see Muslim women as oppressed, and fundamentalists in the Middle East and elsewhere are barring Muslim girls from the classroom, Khan says she wanted to write about the strong, resourceful Muslim women she knows. Among them are her mother, who left Pakistan as a young woman and made a life alongside her husband in England and Canada.

“I write a lot about identity and belonging,” says Khan. “I try to write hopeful books in very dark times.”

For those who think the genre is all faraway galaxies or pyrotechnic wizardry, consider English writer Priya Sharma’s “Rag and Bone,” set in a not-so-distant, poignantly plausible, dystopian Liverpool. Dr. Sharma portrays a brutal city state where it’s a capital offense to agitate for minimum wages, workplace safety, and free health care. In the story included in her recently released first collection, “All the Fabulous Beasts, Sharma, who is also a family doctor, explores the distress she feels over the widening gap between haves and have-nots. The haves in “Rag and Bone” are buying body parts from the desperate poor.

“If you’re of a mind to explore really difficult political questions and social justice, there’s a lot of things you can explore through genre fiction,” Sharma says.

In “Egg,” another story by Sharma, a new mother gazes on an unexpected child and comes to a revelation about inclusiveness that goes beyond tolerance. “I’m fixed by my daughter’s gaze. She’s ferocious. Dignified. I bow my head. She doesn’t need my limited definitions. She has her own possibilities and perfections.”

Social media backlash, and support

A few years ago, a group of science fiction and fantasy writers and fans called the Sad Puppies campaigned against what they saw as political correctness and overemphasis on multicultural concerns. The backlash was testament to how much the field has changed. And their campaign didn’t stop Jemisin from winning the 2016 Hugo Award, on which fans vote, for “The Fifth Season,” a book in which one of the tactics of the oppressors is to hide parts of history. 

Kij Johnson, associate director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, sees no going back.

“We are not the field that thinks that what white men say is the only way to say things,” Professor Johnson says, adding she was inspired to work in science fiction by “people who were pushing the limits of what we should expect.”  

Sci-fi and fantasy are varied not just in voices, but in platforms. Stories are being created for graphic novels, online magazines, and video games, as well as traditional books. Authors such as National Book Award winner and MacArthur fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote a series of “Black Panther” comic books, are exploring the genre.

Social media has helped writers find both support and readers. Sheree Renee Thomas, who has published two collections of her own short stories and edited the “Dark Matter,” anthologies of science fiction and fantasy by fellow African-American writers, recently asked her Twitter followers for speculative fiction reading suggestions.

“I learned that people are reading more widely than we think they are,” Ms. Thomas says. She was struck by how many women authors got shout-outs, and how many of the recommended books had been published by small presses.

Writer and writing coach Nisi Shawl says she is seeing the result of concerted efforts over the years to provide funding and forums for emerging writers to connect. 

Ms. Shawl’s 2016 steampunk novel “Everfair,” imagines a history in which the murderous forces of Belgium’s King Leopold II are defeated in Congo by a multinational, multiethnic alliance. Shawl leads workshops in which she encourages writers to be inclusive in the range of characters they create.

“There’s two ways of getting representation in the field,” she says. “I’m addressing one of these, which is to be more inclusive in your writing.”

Shawl recalls going to science fiction conventions early in her career and seeing only a few other black and minority colleagues. She made a point, she says, of introducing herself to each one.

“Then one day I realized I couldn’t do that,” Shawl says. “Because there were more than 100 people of color.”

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The Monitor's View

Incentives for inmates to choose a crime-free life

 

The 30 Sec. ReadThe US House appears ready to pass a bipartisan bill that would improve rehabilitation programs in federal prisons, better preparing inmates for a crime-free life and a possible reduction of their time behind bars. Support of the bill may be a result of recent reforms in many states that have helped ex-convicts develop life skills for reintegrating into a community – the kind of reforms that many experts say have played a part in the nation’s falling crime rate. The idea behind the bill, known as the First Step Act, is that individuals, no matter what their past crimes, are capable of making a choice between right and wrong if given the right support. The bill’s future in the Senate remains unclear. But the political momentum in Washington seems to be toward giving inmates a second chance by offering better incentives to adopt a higher sense of themselves and their possibilities. Part of the concept of freedom in the United States is the freedom of individuals to know what is good – and choose it.

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Incentives for inmates to choose a crime-free life

America’s faith in the ability of those in prison to redeem themselves often ebbs and flows based on which political party is in charge of law enforcement. So it is with some surprise that the US House of Representatives appears ready to pass a bipartisan bill that would improve rehabilitation programs in federal prisons, better preparing inmates for a crime-free life and a possible reduction of their time behind bars.

Support of the bill by both Democrats and Republicans may be a result of recent reforms in many states, such as Texas and Georgia, that have helped ex-convicts develop life skills for reintegrating into a community – the kind of reforms that many experts attribute in part to the nation’s lower crime rate in recent decades.

The bill, known as the First Step Act, calls for the Bureau of Prisons to create individual plans for all people incarcerated in federal prisons to participate in education, job training, and other programs. Inmates could be assigned to prisons closer to their families. And those about to leave prison would be given help in setting up banking accounts and obtaining IDs. Those who participate in such efforts might be offered halfway houses or home confinement for the final part of their sentence.

In short, the plan relies on the idea that individuals, no matter what their past crimes, are capable of making a choice between right and wrong if given the right support.

In early May, the measure was approved by the Judiciary Committee by a 25-to-5 vote. And President Trump says he is eager to sign the measure. “When we talk about our national program to hire American, this must include helping millions of former inmates get back into the workforce as gainfully employed citizens,” Mr. Trump stated last week. “America is a nation that believes in the power of redemption.”

The bill’s future in the Senate remains unclear. It could be changed, better funded than the House’s $50 million goal, or perhaps twinned with a pending bill on reform of sentencing guidelines.

At the least, the political momentum in Washington seems to be toward giving inmates a second chance by offering better incentives to adopt a higher sense of themselves and their possibilities. Part of the concept of freedom in the United States is the freedom of individuals to know what is good – and choose it.

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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.

Preparing for the US-North Korea summit

 

Today’s column explores the idea that prayers in the quiet of our home serve as windows of light for humanity and of progress for our world.

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Preparing for the US-North Korea summit

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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A lot is riding on the upcoming summit meeting between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The potential for taking a major step toward peace is evoking cautious optimism, but also skepticism. It’s certainly an important moment. To me, having experienced many times the power of prayer, this occasion calls for sincere prayer to support a productive outcome to the talks.

The Bible, which is foundational to my study of Christian Science, is not shy about encouraging prayer, even for international situations. There’s this passage, for instance: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:1, 2). And elsewhere, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

The Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, bring out in various ways that the effectiveness of prayer lies in the spiritual truth that we discern as we pray – as we yearn to better understand the nature of God and our relation to Him. Even a glimpse of spiritual truth has a transforming, healing effect, because it profoundly changes our thought. It shows us what the material senses are unable to perceive – that God is right now present and supreme, and that His children live under His all-wise, all-loving government and care.

Because the physical senses can’t comprehend the nature and presence of God, who is Spirit rather than matter, our prayers need to get beyond the material view of life. Christ Jesus spoke of going into “the closet” and shutting “the door” when we pray (see Matthew 6:6). In the Christian Science textbook, Mrs. Eddy says of Jesus’ statement: “The closet typifies the sanctuary of Spirit, the door of which shuts out sinful sense but lets in Truth, Life, and Love.... To enter into the heart of prayer, the door of the erring senses must be closed. Lips must be mute and materialism silent, that man may have audience with Spirit, the divine Principle, Love, which destroys all error” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 15).

Like many others, I’ve found that going into this “closet” isn’t about ignoring what’s going on around us, but about gaining a truer perspective, one that brings encouraging, revitalizing glimpses of reality we didn’t have before. For instance, my prayers for the summit have helped me perceive more clearly that God is the divine intelligence, or Mind, that creates all and is expressed in what He creates – and all are therefore directed and informed by the same Mind. That God is divine Principle, the supreme Lawgiver who governs His creation justly. Prayer helps me acknowledge the presence and power of this unerring, just, and righteous Principle, and recognize that Principle is operating to govern the meetings rightly.

Much of what we see in the news isn’t consistent with these ideas. But as they become clearer to our developing spiritual sense, we begin to see that inharmony and hostility don’t have the power or inevitability they may seem to have. In the midst of all the undercurrents of animosity, hate, and distrust, prayer can bring us stronger views of God as divine Love, the loving Father-Mother of all, whose offspring express Love and therefore are motivated by good, and not by evil.

Because God Himself is infinite, spiritual truth is true everywhere. Therefore its light cannot be contained or limited. So our prayers in the quiet of our homes become windows of light for all humanity, bringing spiritual truth to bear on situations even thousands of miles away. This divine light that comes to us and others is the Christ, the divine Truth Jesus manifested in his life and healing works, and which still heals and saves today wherever this healing light is allowed in.

The effect of the Christ in human consciousness is to negate the darker currents of human thought and character and bring out more of the goodness that characterizes the real nature of all of us as God’s children, made in His likeness. The influence of the Christ can dispel suspicion, strengthen trust, clear up misunderstandings, and make room for wisdom.

We can’t predict the outcome of the summit. But we can trust that every “effectual fervent prayer” supports progress, as we discern more fully the presence of the divine hand to direct those involved.

( 750 words )
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Viewfinder

In Venezuela, challenging an outcome

Opposition leader María Corina Machado holds a Venezuelan flag during a protest against the previous day's presidential election in Caracas, Venezuela, May 21. Opposition organizers urged people to not participate in the election, which drew the lowest participation on record for a presidential election in decades. Most popular anti-government leaders were banned from being candidates. The pro-government National Election Council called Nicolás Maduro the overwhelming winner.
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Fernando Llano/AP
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 22nd, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Daily Edition Editor

Come back tomorrow. One story we’re reporting: After the Santa Fe, Texas, school shooting, can a broad spectrum of US students trade a sense of “it’s bound to happen again” for a summer of introspection and new purpose?

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