2019
July
17
Wednesday

Welcome to your Daily. Today, we look at how fast politics can change, the most overlooked and intriguing recent U.S.-Russia story, Israel grappling with a dramatic part of its history, a Kansas farmer’s reason for hope, and a poet’s wisdom for the world today.   

First, our thoughts on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Justice Stevens was retired when the Monitor’s Henry Gass began covering the Supreme Court. But on hearing the news of Mr. Stevens’ passing Tuesday, I reached out to Henry to ask what he had learned about him since.

“It soon became clear to me,” Henry wrote back, “that Mr. Stevens embodied a kind of jurist that has become exceptionally rare since he retired in 2010.”

Mr. Stevens was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford after a career as a moderate conservative antitrust lawyer. In 35 years on the court, he gradually became a liberal bastion.

In his opinion, though, he didn’t shift at all. He said he was “learning on the job,” guided by a commitment to deciding cases in a humble, restrained manner. One statement of appreciation called him “an incredibly decent human being and a thoughtful jurist.”

The court, Mr. Stevens believed, shifted around him. Indeed, there are few surprises coming from the Supreme Court these days. The justices come with clear judicial philosophies that are rigorously vetted along partisan lines. “Perhaps the only predictable thing about Justice Stevens,” Henry says he learned, “were the snappy bow ties he wore.”

For a review of Mr. Stevens’ memoir, please click here.

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1. How fast can the political pendulum swing? Ask Maine.

In a world of political hot takes and partisan outrage, it can feel as if an opposing politician or party is doing irreparable damage. But Maine shows how quickly and dramatically things can change.

Mark
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Gov. Janet Mills hugs two young singers during her inauguration ceremony on Jan. 2, 2019, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. Ms. Mills, a Democrat, has ushered in a sea change in environmental policy in Maine.

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As governor, Paul LePage spent eight years dismantling Maine’s environmental policies. His successor is on a mission to restore them. Under her leadership, the Legislature has passed 56 pieces of environmental legislation, pledged to nearly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, banned foam food containers, prohibited offshore oil and gas drilling, stiffened river and lake protections, and established a new office to help plan for climate change.

“It was like night and day when the new administration came in,” says renewable energy developer Matt Kearns.

Not everyone is thrilled about the surge of legislation. “When you have one-party rule in any legislative body, you have a lot of voices that are not heard,” cautions state Sen. Matt Pouliot, a Republican.

But Senator Pouliot acknowledges that after the tempestuous years of Mr. LePage, “this legislative session was more subdued and civil.” Some see in that change, and in the flood of environmental policy changes, a precursor for the nation.

“When you see a rising tide at the state level, it’s often followed by meaningful action in Congress,” says Jamie Demarco, a lobbyist for climate action.

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How fast can the political pendulum swing? Ask Maine.

Duane Jordan is a proud logger; so was his father and grandfather. But as the timber business slumped, Mr. Jordan figured he would put some of his land on the rugged Down East coast of Maine to good use by erecting 11 wind turbines to make electricity.

He couldn’t.

The governor of Maine for eight years, Republican Paul LePage, slapped a moratorium on wind turbines and viewed renewable energy, as one critic put it, as “an existential threat” to the state. He promoted fossil fuels, vetoed clean energy bills, tried to tear up environmental regulations, was alone among Atlantic coast governors to court offshore drilling, refused to issue voter-approved conservation bonds, and sought to tax vast protected forestland or open it to development. He also refused to put up signs to direct tourists to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument designated by former President Barack Obama.

“He not only didn’t care about the environment, he was actively hostile toward it,” says a Democratic state senator, Brownie Carson.

Mr. LePage decamped the State House in January to move to Florida, after his frequent foil, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, was elected. In the whirlwind legislative session that ended last month, the Legislature passed and Governor Mills signed an unprecedented array of environmental bills.

“Look at this,” says Pete Didisheim, the longtime lobbyist for the state’s chief environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine. At his sun-lit office in Augusta, he spreads out a three-page list of environmental bills that were before the Legislature. In the right column next to 56 of the bills is a legislative result in green ink: “WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN ...” reads the column.

Mr. Didisheim has a huge grin. “Hands down, this was the most productive session for the environment and clean energy in my 23 years,” he says. “Not just 23 years,” he corrects. “Ever.”

Environmentalists nationwide have perked up at Maine’s dramatic six-month turnabout. Some see it as a teaser for what might happen federally whenever the Trump administration leaves and the president’s efforts to roll back environmental safeguards ends.

“Maine’s progress suggests a model for the rest of the country,” says Andre Delattre, a senior vice president for the environmental group Public Interest Network, from Chicago.

“There are parallels” between Maine and the federal scene, says Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president for political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington. “Paul LePage was a Trump-like leader who worked against the pro-environmental consensus of the state. Donald Trump is doing the same thing at the federal level. That creates a pent-up demand for legislative action.” 

Nationally, there are “more diverse interests, regional politics, and partisan politics” than in Maine, she notes. But “Maine did it the right way. Maine was able to build on bipartisan majorities. We see that as a critical part of a federal strategy as well.”

Maine moved fast with trifecta Democratic control of the House, Senate, and governor’s office. The Legislature pledged to nearly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, expand solar and offshore wind, promote electric vehicles, and distribute 100,000 heat pumps. It became the first state to ban foam food containers and the third to ban single-use plastic bags. It also prohibited offshore oil and gas drilling, stiffened river and lake water protections, threw out Mr. LePage’s appointees, and established a new office to help plan for climate change.

“Maine has a strong history of environmental protection and regulation” that has often been bipartisan, notes Sandy Maisel, a professor of American government at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. “But some of the Republicans were pretty much silent for the last four or five years.” Now, “the Republicans who worked in lockstep with LePage are not opposing Mills.”

Bipartisan environmental legislation sent to Mr. LePage during his terms was quickly rejected. He vetoed 642 bills during his tenure, exceeding the total of all his predecessors for 100 years. 

With no vetoes to override, Republicans joined their colleagues and environmental bills flew out of committees with unanimous votes. “Some of [the Republicans] switched and some of them know when the momentum is headed in a different direction,” says Hannah Pingree, who heads the state’s new Office of Innovation and the Future. “There was quite a bit of pent-up demand.”

Doug Struck
Duane Jordan proposed erecting 11 wind turbines on his property near Waltham, Maine, but could not get approval for them until the new governor took office this year.

And five months after Governor Mills took over, Mr. Jordan got approval to go ahead with his 11 wind turbines.

“This will be where Turbine 8 will be,” Mr. Jordan says, stabbing a stake at a granite ledge on top of Little Bull Hill, a bluff overlooking a rolling green carpet of forestland stretching 20 miles to the ocean. Construction of the 600-foot-high turbines would begin in a week, he says.

Mr. LePage – who boasted he was “Donald Trump before Donald Trump” – treated environmentalists, union activists, and rights campaigners as an anathema. His explosive, often profane rages directed at opponents were legend.  

Mr. Jordan, with a more typical Mainer’s restraint, said he thought Mr. LePage was not a bad guy. He credits the governor for coming out to the forests in Eastbook, near Waltham, to look at both his logging and his potential turbine sites on a rainy, muddy day in 2016.

“He was tough on wind,” Mr. Jordan says, while jostling up a gravel logging road in his pickup truck. But Mr. LePage was the kind of governor that Mr. Jordan felt was permissible to call on the phone one day and say, “Mr. LePage, you’ve screwed up my wind project.”

Matt Kearns, the developer who teamed with Mr. Jordan and a neighbor to propose 22 turbines and sell the energy to the local utility, says he spent “several million dollars” on the project before putting it on hold in 2015 to await more receptive state officials.

“We didn’t feel we were in a position to have a thoughtful dialogue with them,” says Mr. Kearns.  

In a century-old brick dock building in Portland, Maine, Mr. Kearns’ Longroad Energy runs a Remote Operations Center that electronically tends to 499 wind turbines in five states and nearly as many solar installations in another 19 states. Technicians in the darkened center watch a march of data on a dozen monitors round-the-clock for signs of blown fuses, broken connectors, or malfunctioning inverters that sap energy production. Despite the company’s reach, none of the wind turbines and only one solar field are in its home state of Maine.

“It was like night and day when the new administration came in. There was a willingness to have a discussion about science and economics and conservation” of renewable energy, Mr. Kearns says.

“We have crossed the Rubicon,” adds Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “Governor Mills absolutely deserves credit for this. She made clear that this is going to be a priority for her. A lot of these ideas were kind of teed up and ready to go.”

Not everyone is thrilled that the surge of legislation – on the environment, health care, and several other areas – was enacted so quickly. “When you have one-party rule in any legislative body, you have a lot of voices that are not heard,” cautions state Sen. Matt Pouliot, a Republican. Some of the fiscal moves were “an affront to the business community.”

But Senator Pouliot acknowledges that after the tempestuous years of Mr. LePage, “this legislative session was more subdued and civil.” Some see in that change, and in the flood of environmental policy changes, a precursor for the nation.

“I do see it as a model,” says Kathleen Meil, director of policy for the Maine Conservation Voters in Augusta. “I think what we have seen in LePage in Maine, and Trump at the national level, is out of step with public expectations for climate leadership. When the barrier is removed, the window of opportunity will be there at the federal level, just as it was in Maine.”

Jamie Demarco, who works for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby in Washington, agrees: “When you see a rising tide at the state level, it’s often followed by meaningful action in Congress.”

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2. Moldova shows Russia and West can work together. Can they do it again?

Did you hear the one about the time the West and Russia cooperated? That’s not a joke, actually. It just happened in Eastern Europe, with both teaming up to topple a corrupt oligarch in an overlooked story. 

Mark
Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
Law enforcement officers stand guard during a rally held by supporters of the Democratic Party of Moldova outside the government house in Chisinau, Moldova, on June 11.

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The tiny Balkan state of Moldova has long been regarded as a “captured state,” dominated by a single powerful oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc. But last month, against all current geopolitical expectations, Russia and the Western powers combined to effect peaceful regime change and oust Mr. Plahotniuc from power. Now some hope that the experience will serve as a steppingstone to resolving other, greater tensions between Moscow and the West, including in Ukraine.

Analysts stress that Moldova is probably a unique case. But there are intriguing similarities. Ukraine and Georgia also struggle with oligarchic meddling in politics, have “frozen conflicts” with breakaway pro-Russian statelets on their territory, and suffer from persistent social discontent. And Russia’s biggest nightmare, the prospect of NATO taking in Ukraine and Georgia, has fallen off the alliance’s agenda.

“What happened in Moldova took everyone by surprise. We might see it as a straw in the wind,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. “At least it suggests that great power cooperation can help to normalize the situations in these countries that lie between Russia and the West.”

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Moldova shows Russia and West can work together. Can they do it again?

Some are calling it “the miracle of Moldova.”

Indeed, the spectacle of Russia, the United States, and the European Union all cooperating to effect peaceful regime change in a small country is not something you see every day.

But that did happen last month in the tiny Balkan nation of Moldova, population just over 3 million, which holds the distinction of being Europe’s poorest country.

A large part of the reason why Russia and the West were able to reach an agreement on Moldova is because the geopolitical stakes were so low. But the Moldovan situation has similarities to other Russian neighbors in crisis – ones like Ukraine. The fact that Moscow, Washington, and Brussels could find a common solution on Moldova is raising hopes that the experience could be built on to resolve the greater tensions afflicting post-Soviet states caught between Russia and the West.

Finding common ground

Though nominally a democracy, Moldova has long been regarded as a “captured state,” whose political machinery, judiciary, security services, and media were effectively dominated by a single powerful oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc. He used that position to stymie the work of parliament, persecute opponents, and siphon off staggering sums of money from the nation’s banking system.

Parliamentary elections earlier this year were inconclusive, handing around a quarter of the votes each to Mr. Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party, the pro-EU ACUM bloc, and the pro-Russia Party of Socialists. That result seemed to spell permanent deadlock, which could only favor continued behind-the-scenes oligarchic rule.

But last month, against all current geopolitical expectations, Russia and the Western powers combined to nudge ACUM and the Socialists into a coalition. It has since formed a government dedicated to continuing Moldova’s movement toward the EU, maintaining a military stance of neutrality, and purging corrupt officials. Mr. Plahotniuc fled the country, and every single member of the Constitutional Court of Moldova resigned, clearing the way for sweeping reforms.

Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
From left, President Igor Dodon (formerly of the Party of Socialists), Parliament Speaker Zinaida Greceanii (leader of the Party of Socialists), and Prime Minister Maia Sandu (of the ACUM bloc) attend a new ministers’ swearing-in ceremony in Chisinau, Moldova, on June 11.

“The collective actions of Russia, the U.S., and the EU were key to helping Moldova escape from the grip of Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party,” says Zurab Todua, a historian and former deputy of Moldova’s parliament. “Society is awaiting full disclosures about the huge amounts of money stolen from state banks, and strong action against those who were involved. There are no illusions; everyone knows that positive changes can’t happen overnight. The main task now is to free state institutions from corrupt officials. Then, maybe next year, we can hold early parliamentary elections and make a fresh start.”

Nobody expects the harmony to last, but experts say that a better-functioning democracy will help Moldova confront its very real economic problems and political divisions more effectively.

There is even hope for reinvigorated talks on resolving Moldova’s three-decade-old “frozen conflict” with Transnistria, a Russian-speaking splinter of the country that broke away at the time of the USSR’s collapse, and whose quasi-independence has been guaranteed by about 2,000 Russian troops ever since. A Russian plan authored in 2003 by Dmitri Kozak, the Kremlin’s emissary to the region, would have reintegrated Transnistria into Moldova as an autonomous republic within a federal system. That fell through at the time due to Western objections to continued Russian military presence.

“We watch these ongoing political shocks in Chisinau [Moldova’s capital] with mixed feelings,” says Igor Shornikov, director of the Institute of Social and Political Studies in Tiraspol, Transnistria’s capital. “Our experience in the past couple of decades is that anything that happens in neighboring countries, like Moldova and Ukraine, causes economic and political complications for us. ...  There is a collection of old problems regarding our relationship with Moldova that have been discussed for decades. We do expect negotiations to tackle them again, but we are not awaiting any breakthroughs.”

Exporting the miracle

Some analysts have optimistically suggested that the experience of big power cooperation to enable a democratic transition in Moldova might lead to better approaches toward other former Soviet in-between countries, like Ukraine and Georgia, which have been the objects of bitter geopolitical competition in recent years.

Analysts stress that Moldova is probably a unique case and, frankly, too small for anyone to really care much about. But there are intriguing similarities. Ukraine and Georgia also face the plague of oligarchic meddling in politics, have “frozen conflicts” with breakaway pro-Russian statelets on their territory, and suffer from persistent social discontent. Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections this weekend in which a pro-Russian opposition party is predicted to come in second place, after which it may also seek to recalibrate its relations between East and West.

The central problem for all these countries is how to dwell in the turbulent space between the EU and their giant, possessive neighbor Russia. The latter has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to intervene with military force – even if the Kremlin has shown no appetite for any neo-Soviet reconquest of these countries.

Much has changed in the past crisis-ridden decade, which at least suggests that in Moscow and Western capitals, new approaches toward these countries might be possible – as was just demonstrated in Moldova.

For one thing, the lure of economic integration with the EU has waned somewhat as the dream of European expansion has fallen victim to the bloc’s own internal problems. Despite wars and recurring political crises, Russia remains the biggest single trading partner for Ukraine and Georgia, and is Moldova’s third largest. Ukraine’s economy has suffered terribly from the past five years of conflict and, despite high hopes, the West has not taken up the slack.

A recent outbreak of anti-Russian protests in Georgia was followed by the threat of renewed Russian sanctions against the little Caucasus state’s main exports to Russia. But unlike the past, Vladimir Putin rejected the idea in a clear sign that he values the recent warming trend in Russo-Georgian relations.

Russia’s biggest nightmare, the prospect of NATO taking in Ukraine and Georgia, has fallen off the alliance’s agenda. The westward drift of Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbors has inflamed its geopolitical conflict with the West, especially around the 2014 annexation of Crimea. But five years of tough Western sanctions and diplomatic isolation have failed to bring Moscow to heel, and growing disarray in the West makes any concerted new efforts against Russia unlikely.

“On the rhetorical level, NATO expansion, of Russia being surrounded, is still a major preoccupation in Moscow,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal. “But in practical terms, neither Georgia nor Ukraine is joining NATO anytime soon. And Moldova was never discussed as a candidate for the alliance. Still, the stated position of the new Moldovan government that it will remain neutral is welcome in Moscow.”

Mr. Lukyanov says that the Kremlin can probably compromise on almost anything other than NATO.

“What happened in Moldova took everyone by surprise. We might see it as a straw in the wind. At least it suggests that great power cooperation can help to normalize the situations in these countries that lie between Russia and the West. However, it’s more likely that it was just an exception, an odd moment that will not last. I think the forecast for this region is geopolitical conflict as usual.”

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3. A police killing puts racism on the agenda, this time in Israel

Ethiopian Jews hold a unique place in Israel’s history. But the reality is that they have largely been left behind. A recent shooting is forcing Israel to consider its views of race and religion.

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The covert operations that brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel decades ago are among the dramatic moments in the country’s history – a visceral realization of a biblical promise to gather together a nation of exiles. But their absorption and integration have been a challenge. Now, continuing protests over the police shooting of a young Ethiopian Jew are forcing Israelis who often give little attention to the tiny immigrant community to acknowledge that anti-black racism is real.

At a special session Monday of parliament, Speaker Yuli Edelstein said, “We need to honestly say that as a society and as a country, we have not done everything necessary for their integration,” saying there had been “sometimes racist or patronizing treatment because of their skin color.”

Michal Avera-Samuel, an Ethiopian community activist, says Israeli society needs to confront racism in a more direct way. “I’ve never heard of any policeman taking out their gun and shooting a white kid,” she says. She wants an independent inquiry into police behavior, an acknowledgment of anti-black racism, and educational programs to fight it.

Nevertheless she adds, “We are Zionists. We are building this country. We are all Jews. This is our nation. We don’t have another place.”

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A police killing puts racism on the agenda, this time in Israel

A scuffle breaks out at a community center employing black youths. An off-duty policeman intervenes, pulls out a gun, and opens fire, killing one of the teenagers.

The policeman later explains he felt threatened, but bystanders charge racism, triggering a wave of angry and violent protests.

It has the familiar ring of American urban tragedy. But the racially charged chain of events actually played out in an Israeli neighborhood with Ethiopian Jews, claiming the life of 19-year-old Solomon Tekah. The subsequent outrage has put anti-black racism and the socio-economic situation of the immigrant group on the country’s agenda.

Since the June 30 shooting, thousands of Ethiopians and supporters have demonstrated at major road junctions, snarling traffic for hours. In some incidents, protesters have thrown rocks at police and vandalized vehicles.

At a recent demonstration on a main drag in central Tel Aviv, protesters chanted “violent policemen should be inside [jail],” while invoking African American anti-racism protests by holding their arms above their heads with wrists crossed.

“It could have been my younger brother,’’ says Workalen Ananya, a 29-year-old customer service representative from the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. 

“We need a change. We need for there to be confidence between the police and the public,” she says. “It’s easy for the police to bug Ethiopian immigrants because it sees us as people without [strong] backing. We don’t have connections; we’re easy to shut up.”

The sudden mass arrival of Ethiopian Jews in Israel is considered one of the dramatic moments of the country’s history – a visceral realization of a biblical promise to gather together a nation of exiles.

Some 23,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel, many of them after walking for days in the desert, in jumbo jets in two covert operations seven years apart in the 1980s and ’90s. Thousands more trickled in over many years before and since. Today some 144,000 Ethiopians Jews live in Israel – more than one-third of them first-generation Israelis – making up 1.7% of the country’s total population.      

But the absorption and integration of the Ethiopians has been a challenge, and the newcomers have run up against discrimination and government neglect. A Bank of Israel report found that 35% of Ethiopian households in 2013 were living in poverty – nearly twice the national rate, but a substantial decline from 54% in 2003. An academic survey in 2011 found that 53% of Israeli employers preferred not to hire Ethiopian Jews.

Little focus on Ethiopians

On a deeper, more symbolic level, because the Ethiopians come from a population separated from the rest of the Jewish people for thousands of years, many Israeli Rabbinic authorities question the authenticity of their lineage. 

“There is a day-to-day difficulty for the Ethiopians that most people don’t appreciate. The general Israeli public doesn’t think about what is going on with the Ethiopians,’’ says Steven Kaplan, a sociology professor at Hebrew University who focuses on the Ethiopian Jewish community. “They are a small part of the population. There’s the Palestinians, Iranians, the economy, and parliamentary elections” that dominate the national spotlight. 

The current debate has stoked soul-searching in Israel: how to distill where the discrimination experienced by every other large wave of Jewish immigrants to Israel ends, and anti-black bigotry found in the United States and throughout the world begins.

At a special session Monday of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, Speaker Yuli Edelstein, himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, said Ethiopians and other immigrant groups have been forced to make extra efforts to break through glass ceilings in Israel.

“We need to honestly say that as a society and as a country, we have not done everything necessary for their integration – not just regarding home mortgages, but in the broader sense of sometimes racist or patronizing treatment because of their skin color,’’ Mr. Edelstein said.

A need to confront racism directly

But Michal Avera-Samuel, a community activist who runs Fidel, a nonprofit aimed at promoting the success of Ethiopian children in Israel’s education system, says that Israeli society needs to confront both institutional and casual racism in a more direct way. 

“I’ve never heard of any policeman taking out their gun and shooting a white kid. ... If a policeman gets violent with Ethiopian kids, there’s no punishment,’’ says Ms. Avera-Samuel.

At Monday’s special parliamentary discussion, an Ethiopian lawmaker from the opposition, Pnina Tamano-Shata, demanded a governmental commission of inquiry into the contemporary situation of Ethiopians.

Ms. Avera-Samuel says she wants an independent inquiry into police behavior, an acknowledgement of anti-black racism, and educational programs to fight it.

The gap between Ethiopians and wider society is due in part to a policy of settling the community in Israeli working-class neighborhoods, says the activist. That separation from Israel’s more affluent populations is why Ethiopians are commonly stereotyped as security guards or supermarket clerks, and why youths are deemed threatening, Ms. Avera-Samuel says.   

“The profiling is everywhere. We become suspects immediately. We tell youths, ‘You have to protect yourselves.’ We say, ‘When you see the police, go to the other side of the road.’

“Kids shouldn’t have to spend their summer vacation feeling that they’re not safe,” she says.

Right-left politics in the mix

The off-duty policeman said he fired his gun at the ground and did not target Mr. Tekah. On Monday he was released from house arrest, and he is expected to face charges of reckless homicide, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.

The demonstrations in recent weeks aren’t the community’s first protests, but footage of Ethiopian demonstrators setting fire to cars, shattering windshields, and throwing rocks prompted criticism from some that the protesters had gotten out of control.

Sympathy for the plight of Ethiopian Jews usually cuts across Israel’s partisan divide. That changed somewhat in the recent uproar, with one right-wing lawmaker claiming the demonstrations were fanned by the New Israel Fund, a liberal nonprofit branded by the right as extremist and traitorous. Out on the streets of Tel Aviv, meanwhile, protesters blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I don’t think Israelis consider themselves to be racists. Their general view of the Ethiopian immigration is positive. I think that the process of integrating this group into Israeli society is a long process,’’ says Shmuel Rosner, an Israeli journalist and fellow at the Jewish Policy Planning Institute. “To deny that mistakes were made, or that skin color plays a role would be naive and foolish. But to say that everything is because of skin color is not fair and is inaccurate.”

Mr. Rosner says that the Israeli police department has made efforts in recent years to recruit more Ethiopian police officers. That said, Ethiopians account for 20% of the population of juveniles in detention.

Similarity to U.S.

Indeed, Ethiopian Israelis who follow racial tensions in the U.S. feel they are experiencing the same sort of discrimination from law enforcement officers. 

“Every time I meet a policeman, they stop you for nothing. They say, ‘What are you doing here?’’’ says Shmuel Berl, an Ethiopian comedian and filmmaker. He complains the reactions of Israelis can be patronizing and “hypocritical.”

“Israelis like to pretend,” he says. “They say, ‘Wow, is this happening here? Hate is not only against Ethiopians.’ They don’t want to see the truth. They’re asking us, ‘Why are you going crazy?’ But if someone shoots at you, you would also shout and scream.” 

Though they see present discrimination as similar to that in the U.S., Ethiopian Israelis draw a distinction between the roots of racism in Israel and those in the U.S. The legacy of slavery and segregation is not woven into the DNA of Israeli society, they say, and most still identify as patriotic members of Israel’s Jewish majority. 

“We don’t have a history of bad blood with Israeli society,’’ says Ms. Avera-Samuel. “We are Zionists. We are building this country. We are all Jews. This is our nation. We don’t have another place.”

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Conversations on hope

4. Amid tariffs and floods, farmer finds hope in next crop of Kansans

Amid the worst downturn in 30 years, one farmer sees hope in the people around him. Part 3 in a summer series on people who are facing – and successfully navigating – America’s most intractable challenges.

Mark
Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Glenn Brunkow, a farmer outside Manhattan, Kansas, looks over his flock of lambs on a cold March morning. Facing tariffs, low crop prices, and an agricultural downturn, he is still dedicated to helping raise a new generation of farmers.

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It was January when Glenn Brunkow’s best friend from kindergarten called to say Mr. Brunkow’s hay shed had collapsed on the combine and grain trucks he had stored there. They had to wait until mid-April to pry the frozen roof off the vehicles. By then, Mr. Brunkow had lost more calves and lambs in the wet, cold winter than in the past four years combined.

And like farmers across the country, he was facing the worst agricultural downturn since the 1980s, which has been worsened by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China – the top destination for American soybeans.

But even when it seems that everything from the weather to Washington politics is thwarting American farmers’ best efforts, they have each other to lean on – and a new crop to cultivate, whether it’s soybeans or the next generation of Kansans. Mr. Brunkow finds great hope in the young people he works with, in whom he observes “a little less focus on themselves and a little more on community service and society.”

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Amid tariffs and floods, farmer finds hope in next crop of Kansans

The barn collapsed in January. More calves and lambs died than in the past four years combined as Kansas was hit with its wettest, coldest winter in years. When spring finally came, it rained so much that Glenn Brunkow couldn’t get his soybean fields planted on time.

But as he sat at home on a June day after pulling the planter into his shed, his soybeans finally in the ground and a rain cloud on the horizon, his hope rekindled.

“I look back ... and the [prior generations] have survived things that were just as bad or worse than this,” says Mr. Brunkow, the fifth generation in his family to farm here, recounting stories of the Depression, years of not having a crop at all, and no crop insurance to soften the blow. “We’ll make it through.”

Across the country, farmers are facing the worst agricultural downturn since the 1980s, according to Bloomberg. It is taking an emotional toll. Calls to Farm Aid’s hotline more than doubled in 2018. The suicide rate among farmers is estimated to be as much as double that of the average population.

But there is also tremendous resilience in this community, not unlike the seedlings they coax through the bare earth each spring. Even when it seems that everything from the weather to Washington politics is thwarting prospects for a fruitful harvest, they have each other to lean on.

Take that January day when Mr. Brunkow’s hay shed collapsed on the combine and grain trucks he had stored there. His best friend from kindergarten called to deliver the bad news. They had to wait until mid-April for things to melt enough to pry the roof off his vehicles – an exploit he described in one of his weekly blog posts for Midwest Messenger. As Mr. Brunkow was driving his last vehicle out, the whole structure started falling in on him. “I just gunned it,” he says with a laugh.

When Mr. Brunkow’s cows escaped out a back gate that was left ajar, a neighbor dropped everything to help. The same goes for when someone’s baler breaks down just as a rainstorm is moving in, threatening to ruin the freshly dried hay in the field.

“You’re a community,” he says. “You never expect anything out of it. You just know when you need help, they’ll be there, too.”

He sees that ethos growing just as strong in the newest crop of Kansans, observing “a little less focus on themselves and a little more on community service and society.”

Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts, who has known Mr. Brunkow since he was a college student and now serves with him on the KFB board, says he holds young people to a high standard, and they respond. “Probably the motivational part is as important as anything,” says Mr. Felts.

Mr. Brunkow has been involved in 4-H since before he graduated from college, and recently was selected to help choose the state leaders for the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America). At the recent FFA state convention, where more than a thousand young people dressed in blue corduroy jackets with white dress shirts and black slacks or skirts gathered at Kansas State University for four days, he was impressed to learn that many of the top-performing youths wanted to become teachers.

“These kids reach the pinnacle of leadership ... and they want to go back [and help].”

That service-mindedness helps offset his disappointment with Washington politics, where the kind of compromise that legislators like former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole once espoused seems today to have become a dirty word.

“All great societies have risen to a point, gotten too full of themselves, and imploded,” says Mr. Brunkow. “I do think we’re at the crossroads, and I think we’re going to have to be careful about the leadership we pick and the directions we pick in society.” 

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5. This writer’s job: Get young people to see poetry everywhere

Poets are often the stewards of a society’s contemplation, chroniclers of its changes. One message of America’s newest young people’s poet laureate is: extraordinary things are in the small and silent.

Mark

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John Phillip Santos had just started at Churchill High School in San Antonio when Naomi Shihab Nye rolled into his class as a visiting teacher. He and his fellow students were studying the works of Melville and Whitman. She brought in Joni Mitchell’s Blue album.

“She always had not only a sense of how to invite the spark of poetic ambition in young people, but was willing to work to make that real,” says Mr. Santos, now an author and mentor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Ms. Shihab Nye was recently named young people’s poet laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Young people need more exposure to poetry, she says, not just for when they’re children, but for when they’re not. Politics, justice, and identity are recurring themes in her work, and she doesn’t shy away from politics in conversation either. Avoiding politics only hardens divisions, she says, and poetry can help break down some of those divisions.

“If you’re a person living in a city and you read a rural book that moves you, you just got bigger,” she says. “That’s one of the biggest jobs of literature, making that bridge and inviting people to cross it.”

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This writer’s job: Get young people to see poetry everywhere

The world according to Naomi Shihab Nye is all about the quiet moments, all about the small details. Like the small cut on her arm.

The sleeves of her green plaid shirt are rolled up her forearms, revealing the cut, as she speaks to a group of teachers at Humanities Texas – her voice deep and raspy from decades of speaking in classrooms.

It’s mid-June and she’s been away from Texas for a few days. Socks, her cat, did not like it, so when she returned “a little cat love” was waiting for her. She’s driven up from San Antonio with her mother to speak to the teachers. Her thick gray-brown hair is tied into a big ponytail bundled over her left shoulder, making space for her wide brown eyes.

Children and young people “need more exposure to poetry,” she says, not just for when they’re children, but for when they’re not. “How does poetry help us live our lives?” she asks. “How can it help us? How can it serve us?” 

She has made a career writing about small things that can so often go unnoticed. In one poem, a caterpillar inches across the kitchen floor. In one novel, a little girl is “stunned into observation” after a car accident. Another poem celebrates the “quiet minute between two noisy minutes.”

In a fast-paced world that only seems to be picking up speed, Ms. Shihab Nye – recently named the young people’s poet laureate by the Poetry Foundation – asks that we slow down, stop, and look around. She asks that we travel, be it on a plane or on the page. Making time for that can help people, she thinks, especially children.

This focus on the seemingly minor, mundane details of everyday life – coming from a woman who has had far from an ordinary life – forms the soul of both her writing and teaching. Every life is extraordinary, she tells you, and by slowing down to see the details you can see how. To write, you don’t need a big idea, she often tells classrooms. 

“You don’t even have to have a little idea. Just look around,” she tells them. “You’re living in a poem.”

“Every day is filled with poems, it’s just whether you want to turn your head and look at them, or give them a little time on the page or in your mind,” she says in an interview. “I think it helps us to know that.”

Igniting poetic ambition

There isn’t much that is stereotypically Texan about Naomi Shihab Nye. She wasn’t born in Texas (though she has that in common with many of the heroes of the Alamo). Before Texas she lived in the St. Louis area and in Jerusalem. Her father was a Palestinian refugee. She is unabashedly liberal, and she doesn’t eat barbecue (though she likes the smell).

But she loves the spaciousness. She loves the multiculturalism, and she loves the artistic communities. Texas, she says, “is the most stereotyped state.” She moved to San Antonio for her last two years of high school and she’s never left, graduating from Trinity University in the city before becoming one of the most successful writers in the state.

You can’t be a successful writer in Texas and not have known Bill Wittliff – the screenwriter, photographer, and author known for adapting Larry McMurtry’s novel “Lonesome Dove” into a television miniseries – who had passed away days before the interview. He was “this consummate creative being,” she says.

“How do we help kids feel that kind of enthusiastic creativity that a person like Bill Wittliff embodied all his life?” she continues. “How do we help kids realize you’re part of an amazing place and you’re part of a complicated time? How can poetry help us look at it?”

The laureateship is two years long, and the first she has accepted. She’s never had much desire to be a laureate, but the focus on young people here appealed to her. 

Virginia Duncan was a junior editor at Macmillan Publishers in 1989 when she sent Ms. Shihab Nye a letter suggesting she write more poetry for children.

“She could do anything [with the laureateship], and I’m really excited to see what she will do,” says Ms. Duncan.

“There are many, many people who will say Naomi changed their lives because she came into their classroom when they were in third grade and she told this kid that he or she could be a writer,” she adds. 

John Phillip Santos is one of them. He had just started at Churchill High School in San Antonio when Ms. Shihab Nye, just graduated from Trinity University, rolled into his class as a visiting teacher. They had been reading the American classics – “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman’s poetry. She brought in Joni Mitchell’s Blue album.

“She always had not only a sense of how to invite the spark of poetic ambition in young people, but was willing to work to make that real,” says Mr. Santos, now an author and mentor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Over the years they became friends and “poetic allies,” he says. Not only did she encourage him to pursue poetry and writing as a career, he adds, but she showed him it was possible to do so while writing about his own Chicano culture and experiences.

“We were at the margins of the social order as well as the margins of the geographical world, but Naomi’s poetry always put us at the center of everything,” he says.

“And through it all she’s been able to be an amazingly prolific poet, and someone who’s work has only gotten deeper and more intense,” he adds. “She has never lost that sense of wonder and possibility about poetry as a force for change.”

“Making that bridge”

As a kid, Ms. Shihab Nye “felt like a grown-up,” and she saw a lot that she wanted to change.

When she was first learning about poetry – her mother reading her Emily Dickinson before bed – she was also often thinking about the stark racial segregation that surrounded her in Ferguson, Missouri, in the 1950s.

Her father, Aziz, was the only Arab in Ferguson. A Palestinian refugee who grew up in pre-war Jerusalem surrounded by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Armenian Turks, and more, he forecast how racial tension in the St. Louis suburb would explode decades later to fuel the Black Lives Matter movement.

“You can’t do this, this division,” he would tell her. “Someday this place is going to blow up.” 

Politics, justice, and identity are recurring themes in her work, and she doesn’t shy away from politics in conversation either. Avoiding politics only hardens divisions, she says, and poetry can help break down some of those divisions.

 “If you’re a person living in a city and you read a rural book that moves you, you just got bigger,” she says. “That’s one of the biggest jobs of literature, making that bridge and inviting people to cross it.”

The kid who felt like a grown-up has changed into a grown-up who feels like a kid, she says. She’s still figuring out what she would like to do during the two year laureateship, but it will surely invite children to cross those bridges. She wants to visit schools in rural areas, and to hold programs that bring Arab- and Jewish-American children together. She wants to continue what she’s been doing for decades in children’s classrooms, like exposing them to foreign poetry and music they may not have thought of as poetry. She wants to do something in Ferguson.

The Palestinian-American Texan knows full well the benefits of opening yourself up to new cultures and perspectives. Moving to San Antonio, a majority Hispanic city, “made me really think about the preciousness of mixed cultures in this nation,” she says. In today’s political moment, with President Donald Trump’s stoking fear of immigrants in particular, living in a city like San Antonio is “helpful to our souls.”

“It’s easy to turn an eye away from the people who don’t match us and try to find just the ones who do,” she says. “But when you do that I think you’re destined, in true America, for heartbreak and loneliness.” 

“I think as we grow we become honorary citizens ... of so many cultures that aren’t our own,” she adds. “To be part of other people’s cultures, it’s like our birthright as Americans.”

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The Monitor's View

Defining poverty to end it

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Despite progress against poverty in the past three decades, experts still struggle to define it and measure it. In the latest report on global poverty from the United Nations, scholars tried a new, less simplistic tack. They used 10 measures, such as insufficient nutrition and unsafe drinking water, to gauge progress. Across 101 countries, they found 23% of people are still considered poor on this “multidimensional poverty index.”

Yet in a closer look at 10 countries, they found encouraging news: The bottom 40% had moved up quickly in recent years. Some 270 million people had escaped poverty on this latest type of indicator.

This more granular information will help refocus anti-poverty approaches such as foreign aid programs. Yet the debate continues over what poverty is. What about non-material factors that are more difficult to measure?

Progress against poverty requires progress in understanding what the poor themselves perceive as quality of life. Sometimes it is more than clean water, a safe home, or a good education.

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Defining poverty to end it

Despite progress against poverty in the past three decades, experts still struggle to define it and measure it. Is it earning less than $2 a day? Is it scoring low on a happiness index? Is it deprivation in “capabilities” to function in society?

In the latest report on global poverty from the United Nations Development Program, scholars tried a new, less simplistic tack. They used 10 measures, such as insufficient nutrition and unsafe drinking water, to gauge progress. Across 101 countries, they found 23% of people are still considered poor on this “multidimensional poverty index” (MPI). Yet in a closer look at 10 middle- and low-income countries such as India and Congo, they found encouraging news: The bottom 40% had moved up quickly in recent years. 

Some 270 million people had escaped poverty on this latest type of indicator. Those furthest behind are moving up the fastest.

The new data also reveals that two-thirds of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries while half are children under 18. In addition, poverty has no or little association with levels of economic inequality.

This more granular information will help refocus anti-poverty approaches such as foreign aid programs. It comes as world leaders will gather this September to assess progress toward meeting the U.N.’s sustainable development goals.

Yet the debate continues over what poverty is. New definitions and measures are still in the works. Some scholars, for example, note the MPI is strictly focused on material measures. What about nonmaterial factors that are more difficult to measure?

The late economist Richard Fogel, who won the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, found that progress against poverty usually came after an upwelling of religious fervor that put a focus on spiritual values, such as a sense of purpose, strong family ties, an ethic of benevolence, and a thirst for understanding. This helps explain why many wealthy societies have poverty.

“In rich nations, the principal characteristic of those afflicted by chronic poverty is their spiritual estrangement from mainstream society,” Mr. Fogel wrote. The main task is to erase the spiritual divide.

New measures of well-being are certainly needed, especially if they help produce results in eradicating poverty. Progress against poverty requires progress in understanding what the poor themselves perceive as quality of life. Sometimes it is more than clean water, a safe home, or a good education.

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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.

Supporting hope in a nation’s struggle for progress

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In Sudan, one step forward often seems to come with two steps back. But there’s a powerful basis on which to hope for meaningful progress: The supremacy and activity of divine good cannot stay hidden indefinitely, but inevitably make themselves known and felt.

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Supporting hope in a nation’s struggle for progress

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Today, Sudan’s military and the country’s pro-democracy movement, which has been protesting the military’s authoritarian rule, signed a power-sharing document. This welcome development has brought some celebration, although Sudan’s citizens are still cautious, with the division of powers yet to be specified and uncertainty about whether the military will really give up its hold on power.

When a right idea, such as individual freedom within a just and representative government, is percolating in a nation’s collective consciousness, there is often a struggle, because entrenched positions of power don’t always want to give way. But there’s a profound basis for hope, because at the root of such struggles for progress is something deeper than what’s going on at the surface. The push for freedom and better government is being churned by quiet movements of thought that have to do with the truth of God and the real nature of every man and woman as God’s child.

Those involved in the conflict may not be aware of these deeper spiritual issues. But the real nature of every man and woman as God’s child – free and cared for – inevitably makes itself known and felt. The Bible records Christ Jesus as teaching, “Nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad” (Luke 8:17).

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, writes in a sermon titled “The People’s Idea of God”: “Every step of progress is a step more spiritual. The great element of reform is not born of human wisdom; it draws not its life from human organizations; rather is it the crumbling away of material elements from reason, the translation of law back to its original language, – Mind, and the final unity between man and God” (p. 1).

The term Mind as used in Christian Science is a name for God. It brings out God’s nature as the all-knowing, all-wise, all-governing creator, whose loved children are forever one with Him. The Bible says of God: “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:35). And, “He is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth” (Job 23:13).

This supremacy of the divine Mind brought out in the Bible may not be widely evident in world affairs, but this doesn’t mean the truth must stay hidden, or that we can’t help the world through our understanding of this truth.

Freedom is a law of divine Mind. Whatever opposes God’s law of freedom has no foundation in God and therefore no spiritual substance, intelligence, or staying power. Oppressive human tendencies manifest what St. Paul called in the Bible the carnal mind – the worldly sense of existence as opposed to the reality of life as spiritual, created by divine Spirit. Jesus called it the devil, because it embodies all evil and tries to oppose the supremacy and activity of divine good – which is actually unopposable because God is all-powerful, as many have proved through the practice of Christian Science healing in their individual lives.

Justice, unselfishness, and uprightness are inherent in all of God’s children, because man and woman are in truth the spiritual offspring and representatives of God, reflecting God’s nature.

To the degree that spiritual truth is genuinely understood by even a relative few, the impulses of freedom reach further into human consciousness and experience, are felt in more areas of the world, and are more solidly supported. By praying earnestly for humanity with a heartfelt desire for more spiritual understanding, we actively contribute to the progress of nations.

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Viewfinder

A beautiful harvest

Joe Giddens/PA/AP
Fields of echium in full flower fill more than 6,000 acres near the village of Feering in southern England, July 17, 2019. The brightly colored crop is grown for its seed oil, used in cosmetics, food, and various pharmaceutical products.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( July 18th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back for our story about the tension between two very different definitions of racism in America. We’ll be reporting from a rally for President Donald Trump and the district of one of the targets of his recent tweets, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

More issues

2019
July
17
Wednesday

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