2019
December
04
Wednesday

Today’s stories look at the just-released House impeachment report, the end of Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign, the potential impact of more women in EU leadership, the choices individuals make around confronting climate change, and efforts to make Canada’s youth hockey more inclusive. But first, some thoughts about reimagining gifts in the holiday season.

Maybe the headline caught my eye because we’re in the year’s most prominent season of giving: “Stuff nobody wants is costing us more. Just ask Milton.” The Massachusetts town just held an emergency meeting because its trash bill came in $820,000 over budget – evidence of the waning options for cheap overseas disposal of all that rejected … stuff.

And I thought: Do some of the ways we give exacerbate the problem?

As The Atlantic put it in May: “There is Too Much Stuff.” Tally up Amazon’s options for pretty much any item, as it did, and you’ll get the idea. Or ponder the consumption arms race driven by big outlets. Add the pressure many people feel to buy more or spend more at the holidays, and more towns are likely to join Milton.

Yet many people raise their voices annually in support of reimagining the meaningful gift. That kind of gift is on display more readily this time of year, probably because the holidays-inspired extension of the helping hand, the friendly conversation, or simply the benefit of the doubt has a knock-on effect. There’s even new academic attention to the phenomenon. At the just-established UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, which is tasked with “world class research,” the director has focused on “exploring how witnessing acts of remarkable kindness can cause an uplifting emotional experience that in turn motivates the observer to be kind.”

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The Explainer

1. What call logs may mean for impeachment: Three questions

Embedded in the House impeachment report are call logs – concrete records that shed light on connections between people and events before and after conversations.  

Amelia

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Now there are phone records. The just-released Democratic House Intelligence Committee impeachment report reveals, among other things, that panel investigators obtained call logs from telecommunications providers detailing interactions between some of the key players in President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

These aren’t full transcripts. And they appear to be centered on phone numbers largely associated with President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

But such records can be used as supporting evidence for the charge that Mr. Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy pushing Ukraine to launch investigations politically useful to Mr. Trump.

They can also raise questions, including whether Mr. Trump himself is the mysterious number “-1.” Why might that matter? If the phone data suggest that Mr. Trump was closely coordinating with his lawyer, it might make it harder to argue that Mr. Giuliani was acting on his own in pushing Ukraine to open investigations into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

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What call logs may mean for impeachment: Three questions

Yes, there are phone records. The just-released Democratic House Intelligence Committee impeachment report reveals, among other things, that panel investigators obtained call logs from telecommunications providers detailing interactions between some of the key players in President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

These aren’t wiretap transcripts. They don’t reveal what people talked about, or even, definitively, who was talking. They appear to be centered on phone numbers largely associated with President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

But such records can show connections and coordination between people working together. Their timing can shed light on things that occurred before or after the conversations. They can be used as supporting evidence for a general assertion – in the case of the Democratic impeachment report, the charge that Mr. Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy pushing Ukraine to launch investigations politically useful to President Trump.

They can also raise questions of their own. Here are three related to calls referenced in the House report:

Is President Trump the mysterious number “-1”?

The call logs detail a number of connections to Mr. Giuliani from a mysterious number identified only as “-1”. Who is that?

House investigators suspect it is President Trump. They are working to establish that fact “definitively,” according to Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff of California.

One powerful piece of evidence is that the notation has turned up before. In the trial of Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime friend and political adviser, for lying to Congress and other charges, phone records showed Mr. Stone also receiving calls from -1. Subsequent witness testimony established that the calls in question indeed came from the president. A jury found Mr. Stone guilty of seven felonies last month.

In addition, -1 generally contacted Mr. Giuliani after he had made a short call or texted to the White House. On April 23, for instance, over the course of an hour in the early afternoon, Mr. Giuliani made three brief calls to what the logs described as a “White House number,” according to call records contained in the footnotes of the House report. None were longer than 20 seconds. Half an hour after the last one, “-1” called Mr. Giuliani. The call lasted eight minutes and 28 seconds, according to the logs.

Finally, Mr. Giuliani talked to “1” quite a bit – longer, in fact, then any other number listed in the nine days covered by House Intelligence Committee documents. The total was 50 minutes of speaking, according to one estimate from Washington Post reporter Phillip Bump.

Is this identification game important? House staffers argue that it is, because the raw phone data could show that Mr. Trump was closely coordinating with his lawyer on Ukraine – especially during a few key days. It might make it more difficult to argue that Mr. Giuliani was acting on his own in pushing Ukraine to open investigations into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Why so many calls on Aug. 8?

House Democrats say the phone logs also document the nature and amount of communication among President Trump, Mr. Giuliani, and associates, in conjunction with key events in U.S.-Ukraine relations.

For instance, the back-and-forth on April 23, noted above, was followed by more phone calls between Mr. Giuliani and White House numbers, including “-1”, on April 24, according to call logs. A few hours after they finished, embattled U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a target of Mr. Giuliani’s, was recalled.

Aug. 8 of this year is notable in that regard. It was a crucial moment. Ukrainian officials were pressing U.S. representatives for an Oval Office meeting for their new president, as well as military aid. According to testimony from Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, U.S. diplomats, in turn, were scrambling find a “deliverable” – in the form of a Ukrainian statement announcing investigations – that would satisfy President Trump.

That day there were at least 24 attempts at communication between Mr. Giuliani and the White House, according to call logs, though most were very short, possibly missed calls or a game of telephone tag. At least two were apparently substantive: a 13-minute call between Mr. Giuliani and an “OMB Number,” according to House report footnotes; and a four-minute call afterward with “-1.”

The result was an attempt by U.S. diplomats to negotiate with the Ukrainians the exact language Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinskiy needed to use in a television appearance.

“Ambassador Sondland suggested reviewing a written summary of the statement because he was ‘concerned’ that President Zelensky would ‘say whatever he would say on live television and it still wouldn’t be good enough for Rudy, slash, the President [Trump],’” says the House Intelligence report, citing Mr. Sondland’s deposition.

The statement was never delivered. In terms of top U.S. officials, “everyone was in the loop” on this negotiation, Mr. Sondland testified before the House.

Have the phone records revealed new participants?

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the phone logs is that they include Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and a participant in the panel’s public hearings.

Representative Nunes and Mr. Giuliani spoke for around three minutes on April 10, for instance, according to the call logs. That week Mr. Giuliani was also in touch with Lev Parnas, a business associate in his Ukraine dealings who is now in prison in the U.S. awaiting trial on campaign finance charges, and John Solomon, a journalist at The Hill and author of pieces alleging misdeeds on the part of former Vice President Biden.

Mr. Nunes’ linkage to Mr. Giuliani is interesting in light of charges made by Mr. Parnas through his attorney that he had worked to put the congressman in touch with people in Ukraine who could provide dirt on the Bidens and other Democrats.

In an appearance on Fox News, Representative Nunes said it is “possible” he met Mr. Parnas but he does not recall the name. Intelligence Committee chairman Schiff declined to comment specifically on his colleague, but did say that while President Trump was “digging up dirt” on Biden, “there may be evidence that there were members of Congress who were complicit in that activity.”

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2. Kamala Harris shutters campaign. Does she have a shot at VP?

Amid uncertainty and contentious politics, voters crave clarity about a candidate’s values and policy ideals. When those aren’t fully articulated, doubts creep in.

Amelia

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The suspension of California Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential bid on Tuesday shocked her supporters.

In a letter to staff and supporters on Tuesday, Ms. Harris explained that her campaign simply did not have the finances to continue. But a lack of funding is a symptom, not a cause, and political analysts all point to one cause to explain her campaign’s demise: the lack of a consistent, core message.

“I don’t think she ever developed a coherent message. You could see that in the tag lines that kept changing. I think the last one was ‘Justice for All,’” says former Democratic consultant Robert Shrum.

Still the White House may not be out of the question for the former California prosecutor and attorney general. Mr. Shrum describes her as a “serious possibility” for the vice presidential nominee.

In Iowa, Jane Gasperi, a retired Des Moines real estate agent, is still too shocked to consider which other candidate she might back. Right up until she heard the news, she had been convinced, “My candidate is going to be on the ticket.’”

And perhaps she will be. Just not as president. At least not this time.

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1. Kamala Harris shutters campaign. Does she have a shot at VP?

On Monday evening, Kamala Harris’ Des Moines headquarters was humming with activity. Millennials sat with laptops at folding tables, twinkly Christmas lights above their heads. Purple and yellow “For the People” signs spelled out “Iowa” in a giant floor-to-ceiling display. 

The campaign was hitting all of its outreach targets to finish in the top three in the Iowa caucuses, Senator Harris’ state communications director said over breakfast with a reporter Tuesday morning, promising to follow up about a candidate meet-and-greet in Decorah.

Not long after, she texted: “The office is closed. Sorry.”

The suspension of the California senator’s presidential bid shocked her supporters here and around the country. Yes, her poll numbers had plummeted, and recent media reports had portrayed a poorly run campaign plagued with internal divisions. But she had performed well in the last debate, and was “all in” in Iowa, packing the house at a recent event in Indianola.

“Her momentum was changing,” says Janelle Rettig, the Johnson County supervisor who just endorsed Ms. Harris on Sunday. 

In a letter to staff and supporters on Tuesday, Ms. Harris explained that her campaign simply did not have the finances to continue. “I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign,” she wrote, in a subtle dig to ultrawealthy late entrants Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.

But a lack of funding is a symptom, not a cause, and political analysts all point to one cause to explain her campaign’s demise: the lack of a consistent, core message.

“Senator Harris never really had a rationale for her campaign,” says Phil Trounstine, co-editor and publisher of Calbuzz. “She had positions, but she never really had convictions. And people saw that, which is why she never caught on.”

She bowed out in time to remove her name from the California ballot, saving herself from an embarrassing showing and perhaps making her a more viable vice presidential pick, says Mr. Trounstine. But “Kamala was an inherently weak candidate, because she’s a show horse” – albeit “a good one.”

Senator Harris launched her campaign with a bang, drawing an enthusiastic crowd of more than 20,000 people at her January kickoff in Oakland. The former California prosecutor and attorney general had achieved rock-star status after her sharp questioning at last year’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. A gifted, personable speaker and personification of the American immigrant dream – her mother was from India and her father from Jamaica – she generated positive reviews from voters and the media.

“The campaign coverage was absolutely glowing, until it wasn’t,” says a former Harris staffer. As reporters and voters kicked the tires, many found them deflated. “She has never been tremendously strong on policy, once you get down into the details.”

The senator changed positions on “Medicare for All,” one of the most controversial issues in the campaign. At the June debate, she got a boost after zinging front-runner Joe Biden over school busing, but then adjusted her position on that as well. For a time, she seemed to be running in the progressive lane, then moved more to the moderate lane.

“I don’t think she ever developed a coherent message. You could see that in the tag lines that kept changing. I think the last one was ‘Justice for All,’ ” says former Democratic consultant Robert Shrum, who now teaches at the University of Southern California. Telling voters that she can “prosecute” Donald Trump is “not a sufficient message in this primary.”

Senator Harris is not the first upper-tier candidate to drop out. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who almost defeated Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, also entered the presidential race with high expectations, only to exit before the voting began.

Like Ms. Harris, “he had a problem defining himself,” says Dianne Bystrom, the former director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University in Ames. Mr. O’Rourke wound up focusing on gun control after this summer’s shooting in El Paso, but it wasn’t enough. He dropped out Nov. 1 for lack of funding.

Dr. Bystrom, who heard Senator Harris speak in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a few weeks ago, says her message of pay equity for women and teachers was strong but failed to resonate. That, combined with poor polling, and the spate of negative media coverage about internal campaign troubles, sunk her. “People don’t want to give money to people they think are not viable.”

An hour flipping through TV channels in Des Moines on a recent weeknight reveals ads for Mr. Steyer and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who has shot to first place in recent polls there) – as well as for former New York Mayor Bloomberg, despite the fact that he’s not even competing in the early states. 

The big spenders in the race rankle some Harris supporters. Jane Gasperi, a retired Des Moines real estate agent, had planned to host a house party for Senator Harris on Monday evening, but says she had to cancel because of difficulties in getting people to respond to an unrecognized number.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Jane Gasperi, seen here in front of her home in Des Moines, Iowa, Dec. 3, canceled her house party for Kamala Harris on Monday evening. She is not sure whom she will support, now that Senator Harris has dropped out. Not Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, she says. They are “the old” Democratic Party.

When a reporter rings her doorbell on Tuesday to ask her about Ms. Harris dropping out, Ms. Gasperi’s hands fly to her mouth and her eyes brim with tears. Her television was off and she had not yet heard. “No! She’s so qualified! And then there’s Bloomberg out there with all of his money,” she says. “I’m just so sad that it all came down to money.”

At a coffee shop in Iowa City, Ms. Rettig, the county supervisor, explains how she and her wife read all of the candidates’ books and interviewed them before endorsing Ms. Harris. She sees her as smart, tough as nails, and “maybe the best listener I’ve seen run for president.”

They, too, frown on the billionaire money pouring into their state – though they think it may backfire. “Iowa doesn’t typically let you buy elections,” says Ms. Rettig. “Here, you have to work for it.”

Attention is already turning to what’s next for Senator Harris – and her supporters. Mr. Shrum describes her as a “serious possibility” for the vice presidential nominee. If former Vice President Biden, who is leading in the national polls, or Mr. Buttigieg win the nomination, there will be pressure on them to select a woman, particularly a minority woman, to add diversity and boost turnout, he says.

Ms. Harris’ messaging inconsistencies wouldn’t matter in that role, because the message is set by the presidential campaign. And her prosecutorial experience could be a huge plus, since often it’s the vice presidential candidate who gets tapped to go on the attack.

In coming weeks, Americans may get to see her flex her prosecutorial muscles again when, presumably, the Senate – and the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she sits – take up articles of impeachment from the House.

Vice President Biden already appears to have glossed over their debate sparring over busing. From his “No Malarky” bus tour in Iowa on Wednesday, he said the contest lost “a really good one” in Senator Harris, saying she is “capable of being president or vice president or on the Supreme Court or attorney general.”

As for her followers, at least one of them, Tracy Van Houten, a Democratic party activist in Los Angeles County, says she will support Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “I will go for Warren, because I will 100% be voting for a woman in the primary.”

Scrolling through her social media feeds after the “heartbreaking” news on Tuesday, Ms. Van Houten says many of the senator’s backers seem to be flocking either to Senator Warren or to Julian Castro of Texas. Many Democratic voters are dismayed that, so far, the next Democratic presidential debate features a lineup of all white people, mostly men.

In Iowa, Ms. Gasperi, the retired real estate agent, is still too shocked to consider which other candidate she might back. But she knows that it won’t be Mr. Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom she describes as “the old” Democratic Party.

“I heard the other week, that 7 out of 10 of us are supporting someone now who is not going to be the candidate, and we have to be prepared for that. I heard that, and I was like, ‘Oh, I agree! But I’m not one of those. My candidate is going to be on the ticket.’”

And perhaps she will be. Just not as president. At least not this time.

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3. With more women in charge, the EU looks to tackle gender equality

Effective leaders often seek out diverse perspectives to shape better outcomes. The presence of more women on the European Commission is likely to influence what goes on the agenda – and how it’s addressed.

Amelia
Kenzo Tribouillard/AP
New European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (left) and her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, participate in an official handover ceremony in Brussels on Dec. 3, 2019.

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The newest European Commission, the executive branch of the European government that took office this week, is the first to be presided over by a woman, and has the largest ever commission representation of women among its ranks. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hopes to use the body’s new makeup to breathe new life into efforts to address gender pay and pension gaps, violence against women, costly child care, and the digital gender divide.

But it’s more than just a matter of agenda items, experts say. Having more women involved changes the dynamic of such bodies, as foreign policy analysts have found. In the past two decades, women have made up just 4% of signatories to peace deals, yet when women’s groups take part, the resulting agreements are less likely to fail, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is a tendency for women to be much more interested in the outcome, in finding solutions and the ultimate goal rather than a need to demonstrate power,” says Corinna Horst of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It’s not a winner-take-all confrontation, but more of a compromise – which is a very European thing.”

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With more women in charge, the EU looks to tackle gender equality

When Ursula von der Leyen was named the first female president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, she promptly announced that she would be seeking gender balance among her college of commissioners. 

Since 1958, just 35 of the EU’s 183 commissioners have been women, she pointed out. “We represent half of our population. We want our fair share.” What ultimately emerged was a set of 14 men and 11 women (due to one female candidate being rejected over integrity concerns and replaced by a man), giving Dr. von der Leyen’s college the largest female representation ever in the commission.

The new commissioners, who took office this week, will shape the priorities and political agenda of the European Union for the next five years. To that end, they have pledged to use the improved gender parity to breathe new life into previously stalled women’s equality measures, including efforts to address gender pay and pension gaps, violence against women, costly child care, and the digital gender divide.

This “more realistic” gender balance “is a big boost to democracy. It will be better reflective of the population, which is not 80% male,” says Christal Morehouse, senior program officer at the Open Society Foundations. “But I also think there’s a big connection between the symbolism of it, and what we’ll be able to measure and see on the ground as this goes forward.”

A different dynamic

That symbolism is powerful, and it is the culmination of a number of societal movements, says Corinna Horst, senior fellow and deputy director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “There is a development happening – you have the election of [U.S. President Donald] Trump and the #MeToo movement that helped bring back civil society engagement, saying, ‘We have an issue.’” Men woke up to this as well, “realizing they had wives, daughters who were affected.”

This helped move the debate to a “different level,” Dr. Horst says. “Now we’re at the stage where there are some more practical, tangible things happening. You see it in ‘manels,’” the all-male panel discussions that used to take place frequently in the capitals of Washington, D.C., and Brussels. “You’d say, ‘Why don’t you invite a woman?’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, we couldn’t find one.’ Now it’s, ‘Yes, you can – just look harder.’”

Jean-Francois Badias/AP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (third from right) and first Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans (second from right) pose for a group photo with European commissioners at the European Parliament on Nov. 27, 2019, in Strasbourg, France.

Now, at the highest levels of EU government, “We no longer have these pictures of summits of leaders as all men in gray suits. Now there’s some color and a skirt in there somewhere. And it changes perceptions. People see it and say, ‘Oh wow, this is different,’ but slowly it becomes normal.”

And this “new normal” has the potential to reshape the conversations within the commission, Dr. Horst adds. “It becomes part of our DNA, and I think we’ll see changes in how we do things.”

This includes, for example, how meetings are held. “I’m not saying women are better leaders – we have examples that aren’t that enlightened. But there is a tendency for women to be much more interested in the outcome, in finding solutions and the ultimate goal rather than a need to demonstrate power. It’s really listening and being a bit more empathetic, so it’s creating a different dynamic in the room. It’s not a winner-take-all confrontation, but more of a compromise – which is a very European thing.”

It’s a dynamic that corporate boards have recognized as well, since a diverse set of members with different life experiences tend to yield better bottom-line outcomes. Foreign policy analysts have concluded this, too. In the past two decades, women have made up just 4% of signatories to peace deals, yet when women’s groups take part, the resulting agreements are less likely to fail, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Commissioner for equality

It’s a message Dr. von der Leyen has taken to heart. The first tangible step toward her platform of gender inclusion was her creation of a commissioner for equality post, which will be filled by Helena Dalli of Malta.

During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Dalli told members of the European Parliament that in her first 100 days on the job she will be enacting a “pay transparency” initiative, which will require companies with staffs of 10 or more to produce reports on pay levels broken down by gender, and give workers the right to request to know the salaries of their colleagues. The measure could also include a ban on pay secrecy clauses in contracts, and a new requirement for employers to provide pay scales with job advertisements. This is all aimed at addressing the gender pay gap, which currently stands at 16% throughout the EU.

The pay transparency measure “is the tool that we are going to use in order to see where the discrepancies are,” Ms. Dalli said, arguing that the EU cannot address the gender pay gap without pay transparency. Today, the pensions of women in the EU are 36% less than men’s, due to pay inequality and because nearly 1 in 3 women in the EU work part time. To this end, the office is expected to push initiatives to create more affordable child care.

All of these measures will likely drive more nuanced discussions about how best to combine work and family, says Dr. Horst. “The number of women who have had burnouts is increasing, because they are taking care of parents and children.”

The commission’s new priorities are likely to prompt a debate about work-life balance, she adds. “What are the ways in which we can still be competitive, still have money to live,” but also have quality of life. “I see the debate shifting here.”

Preventing violence against women

Questions of economics have real effects on women’s safety too, since people who are financially reliant on their partners have a more difficult time leaving them. For this reason Ms. Dalli also pledged to pass the long-stalled Istanbul Convention on preventing violence against women, calling it one of the commission’s “main priorities.”

The convention would put in place “very practical” measures, including increasing the number of shelters for women fleeing domestic violence and mandatory counseling programs for perpetrators and children living in abusive households, says Manon Deshayes of the European Women’s Lobby in Brussels. Yet it has been consistently blocked by more conservative EU member states, and it will remain a tough slog to get it passed, analysts say.

Some members of parliament are also pushing to address “emerging forms of violence against women,” including digital trolling in which women are threatened with, say, rape and death for posting their opinions online.

As it puts these measures in place, the commission will also enact “instruments and indicators to see how we proceed,” Ms. Dalli said.

While this might sound like dry bureaucracy, when the EU promises to study something, it means business, says Fran Burwell, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. “One thing the commission does really well is benchmarking. They set up criteria and assess how you’ve done. It starts out friendly – then they start naming and shaming.”

This all helps to create a “virtuous cycle” that could jump-start progress on women’s rights measures that have been stalled for a decade, says Ms. Deshayes.

“Until we had a political strategy on equality between men and women, we didn’t have a clear commitment on this.” As the commission’s programs are enacted, “We have this virtuous cycle that begins to take place,” too, as younger EU citizens see more women in politics and become more motivated to join in themselves, Ms. Deshayes adds. “And things change.”

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The Chat

4. What can you do about climate change?

Global problems such as climate change often seem too big to solve, especially as an individual. We asked two Monitor reporters how they manage their daily moral choices.

Amelia

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Dave Scott (Audience Engagement Editor): Climate change seems like a really overwhelming problem. What can I do personally to help with this global problem – if anything?

Eoin O’Carroll (Science Writer): My own approach is to try to go green when making big decisions ... but if you sweat every purchasing decision you make, it will just make you feel neurotic.

That’s not a very hopeful or useful way to live. ... No one wants a world that feels joyless and ascetic.

Dave: We as individuals cannot actually make a huge difference in stopping global climate change. You know this, yet you make choices to reduce your carbon footprint anyway. How do you rationalize that?

Eoin: For me, it’s trying to live with some sense of integrity. ... Doing otherwise would mean not being able to sleep at night.

Amanda Paulson (Environment Writer): There’s a huge moral dimension to climate change. If there’s some small thing I can do to minimize my contribution to that, I feel like I should. At the same time, it’s not helpful to just start feeling guilt about every single thing we do that isn’t climate-friendly.

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What can you do about climate change?

Dave Scott (Audience Engagement Editor): Climate change seems like a really overwhelming problem. In Venice, Italy, they just had the worst tidal floods in five decades. St. Mark’s Square looked like a community swimming pool – albeit a dirty one.

You both write about this all the time. What can I do personally to help with this global problem – if anything?

Amanda Paulson (Environment Writer): Well, if you’re wondering what actions you can take that might actually make a dent in something huge like sea level rise or floods in Venice – the short answer is, not much. But if you’re wondering what kinds of actions you can take that help, there’s a whole long list from cutting out hamburgers to riding your bike.

Dave: It’s winter in Boulder. Are you still riding your bike?

Amanda: We ride our bikes through any kind of weather! We’re hardy souls. 

Dave:  Are you suggesting that I sell my car?

Amanda: Nothing so drastic. I schlep my kids around to soccer games and art classes in a Subaru. For the past year, I have had an electric bike, which makes me more likely to use it for things like grocery shopping. And we have solar panels on our house.

Eoin O’Carroll (Science Writer): In 2016, my wife and I purchased a LEED certified house that was built in 2010. It sounds very bourgie, but it was actually priced a little below the median home value for Massachusetts (which is admittedly astronomical compared to most of the rest of the world). The Boston Globe did a story on the house before we bought it.

Dave: A LEED house? 

Eoin: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a green-building certification NGO. ... It’s like they built a house within a house, and then insulated the space between. I actually feel the air pressure subtly changing when you open and close the casement window. I like to joke that I can plunge the toilets just by slamming the front door.

Dave: You bought a house that automatically plunges the toilets when you close the door? That’s awesome!

Eoin: The house also has some other cool features. The big front windows are angled so that it gets lots of light in the winter but not too much in summer. There are solar panels. And a pellet stove, which gives us a nearly carbon-neutral way to heat our home. Of course that also means, I need to schlep a 40-pound bag of wood pellets from my basement to my living room nearly every day during winter.

Amanda: I’ve seen the photos. Your house looks amazing, Eoin. 

Eoin: For transportation, I drive a Prius. But I think it’s also important to recognize the limits of individual actions. They can be effective in curbing climate change, and we should try to do them as much as we can, but we should never forget that by one estimation just 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global emissions.

Dave: Wait. If 100 corporations are the bulk of the emissions problem, is there anything you’re personally doing about that? Like disinvestment? Monitoring the stocks in your pension or 401(k) holdings? How far do you take this?

Eoin: You raise a good point: If you have a lot of money invested, then your personal carbon footprint is relatively unimportant compared to how much carbon the productive assets you own are emitting.  

Amanda: I don’t want to discourage anyone from exploring those things, but you could follow this endlessly, and at a certain point, it may be that the best action you can take is simply being informed, and being engaged.

Dave: It sounds like you’re both taking moral stands on some things but not others. How have your personal choices changed? From what to what? 

Eoin: So for my family, buying an eco-friendly home ended up massively increasing my carbon footprint, simply because we got a mortgage.

Dave: Huh? Why does a mortgage increase your carbon footprint?

Eoin: When you take out a mortgage, your interest payments end up feeding economic activity. A study in the U.K. found that, for every British pound spent in financial services, nearly six ounces of CO2 are emitted.

Amanda: We’ve had solar panels for years, but I recently looked at my utility bill and figured out how I could ensure that the remaining electricity we use comes from renewable sources. 

I think it’s by realizing that it’s not about drawing a firm line. There’s lots of gray areas. I really, really enjoy meat – and I made peace a long time ago with the idea of eating animals, as long as I bought humanely raised meat. But, while I haven’t yet gone full veggie like Eoin, I’m starting to reduce how often I eat it and I’m considering giving up red meat completely. Whether I can get my kids and husband to follow suit remains to be seen.

Dave: What’s the most environmentally correct meat to eat? Or, as the flight attendants ask on overseas flights: chicken or beef?

Amanda: Chicken! Or fish (sustainably caught or raised, of course). Even better: oysters. But really, there’s a massive difference between beef/lamb and any other protein source, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Dave: What if I splurge on grass-fed beef or bison? Would that be OK?

Eoin: Not from the cattle’s perspective. More generally, converting plant energy to animal energy is inefficient. The best thing for the climate is to cut out the middleman.

Amanda: Well, there isn’t a ton of difference – from an emissions standpoint – on whether your beef is grass-fed or not. But it’s better for the environment. And honestly, we all need to splurge occasionally, and not feel too much guilt about it.

Dave: You both have children. Do you just feed them oysters?

Amanda: My son has loved oysters since age 5. My daughter loves nothing more than a cheeseburger and bacon. This is where you get to doing what works for you. I think the first rule of parenting is pick your battles.

Eoin: I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years. At first I was very strict. These days, I don’t worry too much about, say, gelatin in a piece of candy or a veggie burger cooked on the same grill as meat. ... My wife is mostly vegetarian, and my kids (ages 4 and 9) have wavered back and forth. I keep telling them that it’s up to them.

Amanda: I think this gets back to Eoin’s earlier point about how much to focus on individual action, versus corporate or national or international action. Does what you do matter? It matters because every bit counts, and it matters because changing our behavior is probably the biggest way we get engaged on this issue. But emphasizing individual behaviors too much can take the pressure off of the levers that really matter when it comes to emissions, particularly national and international policies, and changes on the part of big corporations.

Eoin: Even if you lived a completely austere life in the U.S., you’d still have a huge carbon footprint by global standards.

Back in 2008, a group of MIT students calculated the carbon emissions of Americans of 18 different lifestyles, from vegetarian college student to a 5-year-old to a Buddhist monk to a person experiencing homelessness ... all the way up to the ultrarich Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates.

They found that the average American emits about 20 tons of CO2 each year, but that there exists a “floor” below which nobody in the U.S. can drop. Even if you eat in soup kitchens and sleep in homeless shelters, you will still have a carbon footprint of 8.5 tons. That’s about, say, the average person in Poland.

Amanda Paulson: When Americans try to take a moral high ground on what they’re doing about climate change, it can ring pretty hollow to someone who lives in Eastern Europe or Ghana or Vietnam. And while it’s an imperfect solution (and I kind of hate the idea that you’re “buying” your way out of guilt) I’ve started to look into carbon offsets.

Dave: Let’s talk about the moral high ground. The choices you make are those of people with a decent income in a privileged part of the world. What about those who can’t afford to make the choices you make?

Amanda: That’s such an important point, Dave. The vast majority of the world is just trying to get by, and thinking about how to reduce your carbon emissions is a huge luxury, by any measure.

Eoin: But at the same time, it’s up to those of us in rich countries to reduce our footprint, so that people in poorer countries can have the opportunity to become as prosperous as us.

Amanda: I think for people who have that luxury, it’s worth thinking about. Partly because it can feel really good to know you’ve at least made some choices that are more responsible, or you’ve moved the needle in some tiny way. ... Also, for those of us in democracies, one of the actions we can take that has the most impact doesn’t cost a thing: vote, and let your representatives know that climate change is important.

Eoin: My own approach is to try to go green when making big decisions – buying a house, maybe choosing a career, buying an appliance, a car, a vacation – but if you sweat every purchasing decision you make, it will just make you feel neurotic.

Amanda: That’s not a very hopeful or useful way to live. ... No one wants a world that feels joyless and ascetic. We still want hot showers. And the ability to travel and explore the world.

Eoin: I call it hair-shirt environmentalism. Some people really see suffering as a virtue.

Amanda: Just focusing on the carbon emissions emitted from a flight, and missing the incredible connections that can come from understanding a different culture or seeing a different part of the planet, would be a shame.

Eoin: On occasion, history’s public sufferers have contributed to society. But I don’t think eco-martyrdom is a great look for the global climate movement.

Dave: OK. We as individuals cannot actually make a huge difference in stopping global climate change. You know this, yet you make choices to reduce your carbon footprint anyway. How do you rationalize that?

Eoin: For me, it’s trying to live with some sense of integrity, to avoid feeling cognitive dissonance. If I’m going to write about climate change and its negative impacts in my professional life, I feel as though I need to try to minimize those impacts in my personal life. Doing otherwise would mean not being able to sleep at night.

Amanda: There’s a huge moral dimension to climate change. We as a generation have failed some of the coming generations and are asking them to make up for our failures. So if there’s some small thing I can do to minimize my contribution to that, I feel like I should.

At the same time, it’s not helpful to just start feeling guilt about every single thing we do that isn’t climate-friendly and it’s important to recognize that the biggest changes need to come from big policy decisions, or corporate actions.

Eoin: Yes, I’m glad we didn’t get into my paper towel consumption. That would ruin my reputation.

Amanda: Ha! We all have our weaknesses. I’m good at avoiding paper towels. But I do love bacon.

Eoin: Weird. You’d think that cleaning up a spill with bacon would just smear grease everywhere. 

Dave: OK. Thank you both. It’s almost lunchtime. What’s on the lunch menu at the Paulson Household: Oysters Kilpatrick? (Worcestershire sauce and bacon.)

Amanda: No oysters today. Probably just leftovers ... though now I want to try that. Sounds delicious.

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5. ‘Not really a white boys’ sport’: Canadian youth hockey gets inclusive

When a sport is trying to expand beyond its traditional demographics to reach new audiences, perhaps the best place to gauge its progress is at the youth level.

Amelia
Riley Robinson/The Christian Science Monitor
The Brampton Hockey Flyers, in orange, claimed victory against the Hawks, another Brampton Hockey youth team, on Nov. 23, 2019. Brampton Hockey is working to ensure its league teams reflect the Brampton, Ontario, community – and to keep enrollment up.

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Over the past month, Canada has been hosting a raging debate over just how inclusive hockey really is. Some Canadian opinion makers say that the sport is having its #MeToo moment on race and power. Yet at the youth level, many leagues and teams are reaching out to embrace newcomers to the country and its most iconic pastime.

Hockey 4 Youth was started by Moezine Hasham in Toronto in 2015. The organization’s goal is to help speed the path to integration of newcomer teens arriving from Pakistan, or Syria, or Vietnam, via hockey. They started with 30 kids. This year they will be running eight programs with about 250 participants.

Their co-ed program works with schools that are in walking distance of arenas and where students can store their gear – some simple solutions that break down common barriers.

Other minor shifts include intentionally using less insider terminology so that new families can be part of the conversation, says Dwight Graham, vice president of hockey development of Brampton Hockey. “When you do that, then they feel more empowered. And when they feel more comfortable, then the inclusion starts,” he says.

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‘Not really a white boys’ sport’: Canadian youth hockey gets inclusive

As a boy, Sinh Nguyen wanted to play hockey like his friends did. But his parents were immigrants to Canada, and looking back, he says they had neither the money nor the know-how to make that happen.

Today he’s an assistant on his son’s team in youth “rep” hockey in Brampton. And as minority team members in this city 30 miles northwest of Toronto which is 73.3% “visible minority” – how Canada describes nonwhite, non-indigenous racial minorities – they fit right in at South Fletcher’s Sportsplex on a recent Saturday morning, as Southeast Asian, South Asian, and black Canadians lace up.

“I think it just depends on where you live, but here I see all the different groups playing the sport,” he says. “It’s not really the old white boys’ sport.”

But that’s become a raging debate in Canada in the past month. From the firing of firebrand broadcaster Don Cherry over divisive comments about “you people”; to followup commentary by a television talk show host that hockey in her view is a rich, white sport; to the resignation of Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters last week over racial slurs directed at former NHL player Akim Aliu, hockey is having what’s been called by some Canadian opinion makers its #MeToo movement on race and power.

Yet at the youth level, many teams are already breaking paradigms – and realizing that if they don’t, they face a bleak future.

“Hockey has to connect with Canadians”

The diversity at the rink in Brampton is not just a reflection of the town’s changing demographics. It’s also a concentrated effort by a league that saw its enrollment drop in half – from more than 4,000 to just under 2,000 players, says Brampton Hockey general manager Glenn McIntyre – in the past 25 years. Overall, Hockey Canada registration has fallen to 453,361 participants, down from 500,120 a decade ago.

So the Brampton league has partnered with organizations to go into schools to teach ball hockey or to get newcomers into “learn-to-skate” programs. They have also participated in “First Shift,” a low-commitment entry into hockey, through which about 450 have participated in the past six years.

“Hockey is a Canadian tradition,” says Mr. McIntyre. “And we would like to see it stay that way.”

Riley Robinson/The Christian Science Monitor
Daniel Cabral of the Brampton Hockey Hawks waits to be put back in a game on Nov. 23, 2019, in Brampton, Ontario.

Last month, the Greater Toronto Hockey League hosted a summit called “The Transition Game” to shift culture and make hockey more inclusive. Although the league’s overall numbers have remained stable, says Scott Oakman, the executive director of the GTHL, registration has not increased alongside population growth.

“One of the comments made at the summit was that a hockey arena should look like a classroom in that community,” says Mr. Oakman. “And I think in parts of Ontario, that’s the case. I think we’ve in our jurisdiction made some inroads into certain communities, but I don’t think we’re anywhere close to having the hockey rink in our jurisdiction reflect what the classroom looks like.”

Part of youth hockey’s problem is the availability of other sports like basketball, especially after the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship last season. This has happened as hockey has become overly structured, argues Sean Fitz-Gerald, a writer for The Athletic Canada, a hockey dad, and author of “Before the Lights Go Out.”

Professionalized coaches and pressures at the youngest ages trickle down, driving up commitment – and prices. Even if music lessons or competitive swimming can be just as expensive, hockey’s intense schedules can mean “soft costs” (like needing a car or traveling to Buffalo for a tournament) put the sport out of reach. It’s no longer the “everyman sport” for all Canadians, Mr. Fitz-Gerald says.

He says hockey is also not doing a good job of connecting with new Canadians. “Part of that was that for years, hockey’s marketing plan was, ‘Hey, Canada, it’s cold, it’s time to come into the arena. The doors are open,’” he says. “But hockey has to learn, it has to connect with Canadians.”

Opening up to newcomers

There are many attempts to forge those bridges underway. Hockey 4 Youth was started by Moezine Hasham in Toronto in 2015. The organization’s goal is to help speed the path to integration of newcomer teens arriving from Pakistan, or Syria, or Vietnam, via hockey. They started with 30 kids. This year they will be running eight programs with about 250 participants.

Their co-ed program works with schools that are in walking distance of arenas and where students can store their gear – some simple solutions that break down common barriers.

Other minor shifts include intentionally using less insider terminology, says Dwight Graham, vice president of hockey development of Brampton Hockey. He uses language like “pick-up hockey” instead of “shinny” so that new families can be part of the conversation. “When you do that, then they feel more empowered. And when they feel more comfortable, then the inclusion starts,” he says.

Riley Robinson/The Christian Science Monitor
Binh Ngo picks up his son, Lex, after hockey practice on Nov. 23, 2019, in Brampton, Ontario. Mr. Ngo immigrated to Canada from Vietnam when he was about his son's age, and never played hockey himself.

Part of the mental shift has to occur within new players, Mr. Hasham says. “I tell my kids all the time, once they’ve started to play hockey and once they feel comfortable on the ice, they’re now hockey players.”

There is also new thinking that has to take place at the league level if programs for newcomers are to scale up. One of the GTHL summit takeaways, says Mr. Oakman, is that hockey has to return to communities. In the Toronto area, he says, that means offering programs at rinks standing idle. “Some would argue, well, there’s no kids playing hockey in that community, that’s why there’s no program there,” he says. “And I would argue, there’s no kids playing hockey in the community, because there’s no program there.”

Andrew Holman, a Canadian history professor at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and co-author of “Hockey: A Global History,” says questions about diversity join a history of crises in hockey, from Russian dominance to gender inclusion.

But hockey has also made strides to open up: In Canada, there is “Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition,” for example, or occasional broadcasts in indigenous languages. And it’s not the only sport that struggles with diversity. But hockey is held to a different standard here. “If you hold out a particular sport to be the emblem of the nation,” he says, “then it better be reflective of the nature of Canadian society.”

Those involved in Brampton’s local league agree. Mr. Graham says about 30% to 40% of Brampton travel program teams are visible minority. “There’s going to be a lag,” adds Mr. Nguyen, just like in his own family.

Mr. McIntyre says he believes that diversity will one day be reflected at the very top, in the NHL. “I honestly think you’re going to see that,” he says, “sooner than later for sure.”

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The Monitor's View

Why NATO at 70 is as young as ever

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Ever since losing its original purpose in 1991 – the collective defense of the West against Soviet aggression – NATO has somehow survived as a military alliance. At a 70th anniversary summit this week, this club of democracies showed why. Despite serious squabbles and huffy encounters, its renewal of purpose proved that NATO is more than a guardian of territory. It also serves as a reminder that the best binding agent among countries is a guiding set of principles that help them rise above base national self-interests.

The summit’s biggest concern was whether the United States has been drifting away from NATO. President Donald Trump, despite his former skepticism about the bloc and his upsets during the gathering in England, seemed to allay much of that concern.

NATO’s European members need not worry about U.S. support for the alliance. In a 2019 survey of Americans by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the largest majority yet (73%) said that NATO is essential to U.S. security. Such sentiments seem long-lasting. The bloc is built on self-reinforcing ideals. They inspire a solidarity across borders.

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Why NATO at 70 is as young as ever

Ever since losing its original purpose in 1991 – the collective defense of the West against Soviet aggression – NATO has somehow survived as a military alliance. At a 70th anniversary summit this week, this club of democracies showed why.

Despite serious squabbles and huffy encounters, its renewal of purpose and its workable compromises proved that NATO is more than a guardian of territory. It also serves as a reminder that the best binding agent among countries is a guiding set of principles that help them rise above base national self-interests.

To the 29 states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, those principles seem obvious: free elections, civilian control of the military, individual rights, rule of law, and so on. Yet to Russia and China, dictators, or Islamic terrorists, such universal principles are seen as threats to their exercise of raw power or their intolerant ideology. NATO’s beacon of ideals is also the reason for its continuing collective defense. Threats may change but core purpose does not.

Other regional bodies, such as those in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, still have far to go to emulate NATO’s success.

The summit’s biggest concern was whether the United States, starting with the Obama administration, has been drifting away from NATO. President Donald Trump, despite his former skepticism about the bloc and his upsets during the gathering in England, seemed to allay much of that concern. He helped resolve a NATO dispute with Turkey. He expressed gratitude for increased defense spending by European allies to relieve the burden on the U.S. And much to the delight of Washington, the transatlantic alliance acknowledged for the first time the “challenge” posed by China’s security encroachments in various parts of the world.

In a statement, NATO leaders said: “To stay secure we must look to the future together.” Much of that future relies on NATO’s ability to reach a democratic consensus on new threats and then be agile enough to devote resources to them. The bloc, for example, decided to shore up its military presence in the Baltic States and Poland after Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.

NATO’s European members need not worry about U.S. support for the alliance. In a 2019 survey of Americans by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the largest majority yet (73%) said that NATO is essential to U.S. security. Such sentiments seem long-lasting. The bloc is built on self-reinforcing ideals. They inspire a solidarity across borders.

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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.

Do you wonder if you make a difference?

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No matter where we find ourselves or whom we meet, when we let divine Love motivate our thoughts, words, and actions, they go farther and do more good than we could ever perceive.

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Do you wonder if you make a difference?

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“You’ve been shown a wonderful thing. You’ve been shown what the world would be like if you had never been born!” These are words from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a popular film during the holiday season. The lead character discovers in dramatic fashion the many ways he has affected the lives of others. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” also inspires people to examine the way they live – whether they’ve loved and helped others, or if they’ve been selfish.

Both stories make it clear for the fictional characters to see what is right to do and how to live productively and be loving to others. But how can we be sure we’re living the way we should? How can we tell if we’re really making a difference?

To find satisfactory answers to those questions, we might look for an example of someone who has helped others and loved others unselfishly and unceasingly. There are certainly many famous people throughout history who have lived wonderful lives, and probably many not-so-famous people who have made a tremendous difference to us personally.

Christ Jesus, though, is the best example we could have. He realized his identity as God’s beloved Son to such a degree that during the last 20 centuries his example has changed billions of lives for the better, inspiring hope and healing.

No one could ever fill the role Jesus has played, yet we each can recognize our own sonship and daughtership as God’s creation. Everyone, in his or her true nature, is always God’s child – a necessary, individual, flawless, spiritual expression of God. Through his healing ministry, Jesus proved this to be true. How can his example help us set our own priorities for living?

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). This is what Jesus said when once asked, in essence, What really matters? What makes a difference?

But even if we do this, we will only be able to touch directly the lives of a few. Does how we live and what we do really matter?

Here is a favorite story of mine that helps answer that question. A man was walking on a beach, and he spotted a young girl systematically picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. There must have been a storm that had washed hundreds of them ashore.

The man observed, “There are so many starfish here, you cannot possibly save all of them. Don’t you realize your effort is too small to matter?”

The girl picked up another starfish, threw it in the ocean, and said, “But it matters to this one.”

Of course, we’re not going to meet every person on earth. But how we live and love certainly does matter to the people whose lives we do touch – and to the world, really, because each good thought and act has a leavening effect in human thought and experience.

Yet even the best of human goodness and our loving intentions are not enough. Jesus’ actions couldn’t continue to be so far-reaching if they’d been backed only by personal benevolence. It was divine law – the harmonious law of God, infinite good, manifested throughout divine creation – that transformed the lives of those who knew Jesus personally and that gave permanence to his acts. He left people not only healed but regenerated.

And because this divine law is eternal, people are still healed and regenerated today through Jesus’ teachings and example. Jesus lived and worked under the impetus of God’s law; he was always “about [his] Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). No matter where we may find ourselves, if we are about our heavenly Father’s business – letting divine Love motivate our thoughts, words, and actions – our life makes a difference. It magnifies God’s comforting, healing, redeeming goodness, and therefore reaches farther and does more good than we could ever perceive.

Life is infinitely more and better than can be found in even the most idealistic movie scene. Life is made more wonderful for ourselves and others when we’re living, loving, and moving at the impulse of God, divine Love.

Adapted from an article published in the Dec. 11, 1995, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

The art of protest

Hadi Mizban/AP
An Iraqi artist draws on a wall during a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Dec. 4, 2019. Monitor Middle East bureau chief Scott Peterson is en route to Iraq, where parliament on Sunday accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi following months of turbulent protests.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 5th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when chief culture writer Stephen Humphries looks at hologram music tours. Are they really live music?

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