2019
August
23
Friday

Welcome to your Monitor Daily. Today's stories include the seemingly impossible wonders of the ocean deep, a fracturing of alliances in the Middle East, the limits of ingenuity for an industry struggling under tariffs, the importance of perseverance when combating such persistent challenges as homelessness, and the power of music to make immigrants feel at home.

But first: This week the power of business executives ​– and the question of their obligations to society ​– surfaced for some well-earned discussion.

David Koch, who died Friday, symbolized that power and its role in U.S. politics. He’s been lauded by some for his proud bankrolling of a libertarian economic agenda. In the process, Mr. Koch and his brother also stirred deep controversy over the rise of money in politics ​– fodder for a new book as well as Monitor news coverage. Those questions will persist.

But earlier this week, the role of business leaders came into focus on another front: The question of how they influence the economy and all its participants, day in and day out. 

The Business Roundtable, a group representing leaders of many of America’s biggest corporations, issued a statement signed by 181 CEOs seeking to reframe the idea of corporate purpose.

While lauding the free-market system as the best way to generate jobs and “opportunity for all,” the CEOs acknowledged that “many Americans are struggling.” And they pivoted away from a profits-as-purpose view toward what’s known as a stakeholder model of corporate obligation. Those stakeholders include employees, communities, suppliers, and customers, not just shareholders.

Don’t expect an overnight change or the disappearance of fiduciary duties to shareholders from corporate mindsets. Critics are fair to say what counts will be action, not just words. But the statement points to a shift in corporate boardrooms that some leadership experts say is promising.

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Peering into the deep

Discovery beneath the waves

1. NASA eyes the ocean: How the deep sea could unlock outer space

Our first story invites readers to start their weekend by opening their minds to the seemingly impossible. Part 4 of our “Peering into the deep” series shows how the deep sea is emboldening scientists to do just that.

Mark
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

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It should be a lifeless wasteland. Temperatures are barely above freezing, miles of water apply crushing pressure, and no sunlight reaches there. But the deepest parts of the ocean are actually rife with outlandish lifeforms. Seven-foot-long tube worms, ghostly white snailfish, and massive crustaceans all make their homes in the forbidding depths.

Although the deep sea makes up about 90% of our vast oceans, it remains largely unexplored. For centuries, scientists assumed that life at such depths was impossible, until the advent of remotely operated submersibles in the 1960s opened up deep-sea exploration. 

An alien world of life has emerged as explorers have plumbed the pitch-black depths with ever-improving technologies. In the search for extraterrestrial life, scientists are turning to our own ocean for inspiration. NASA has begun to help fund some deep-sea explorations, and some astrobiologists have teamed up with marine biologists and oceanographers to probe the boundaries of biology here on Earth.

“This is the science of us,” says Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “And we don’t yet know that biology works beyond Earth,” or how it might work.

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NASA eyes the ocean: How the deep sea could unlock outer space

It should be a lifeless wasteland. Temperatures are barely above freezing, miles of water apply crushing pressure, and no sunlight reaches there. But the deepest parts of the ocean are actually rife with outlandish lifeforms.

Seven-foot-long tube worms, ghostly white snailfish, and massive crustaceans all make their homes in the forbidding depths. Single-celled organisms flourish in the unilluminated sediments. And some creatures even make their own light through bioluminescence – like the vampire squid, which ejects a sticky cloud of light-up mucus instead of ink when it’s disturbed, or the anglerfish, with a streetlamp-like lure emerging from its head. 

Although the deep sea makes up about 90% of our vast oceans, it remains largely unexplored. That’s for good reason. For centuries, scientists assumed that life at such depths was impossible – and checking wasn’t a simple task. But the advent of remotely operated submersibles in the 1960s opened up deep-sea exploration. 

An alien world of life has emerged as explorers have plumbed the pitch-black depths with ever-improving technologies. These mounting discoveries are dramatically widening our perspective of the oceans, and rewriting our understanding of the limits of life. They’re shaping our sense of what’s possible, and pushing us to think beyond basic assumptions – both in terms of exploring Earth and the vast reaches of space. 

In the search for extraterrestrial life, scientists are turning to our own ocean for inspiration. NASA has begun to help fund some deep-sea explorations, and some astrobiologists have teamed up with marine biologists and oceanographers to probe the boundaries of biology here on Earth. Exploring the unfamiliar environments in the deep sea reveals tangible guideposts for exploring space. But it also emboldens scientists to stretch their thinking and open their minds to the impossible. 

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Fangtooth, Anoplogaster cornuta, is a deep ocean predator. Its long teeth make sure it does not miss a meal of fish, squid, or shrimp.

Scientists have barely scratched the surface of fully understanding the full extent of life on Earth.

“Every time we go to the deep sea, in a place that nobody has been, most of the species, especially small things, have never been seen or described before,” says Lisa Levin, a marine ecologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “We’re still really at the front end of exploration. We’ve barely scratched the surface, so to speak, or the bottom.”

Turning biology upside down

Four decades ago, oceanographers discovered something that blew biology as we knew it out of the water.

Scientists had long thought that all life was sustained by a photosynthesis-based food chain: Some organisms convert sunlight into food, and other organisms eat those photosynthesizing organisms. So, the thinking went, any life at the bottom of the ocean where no sunlight reached had to be munching on dead organic material that fell down through the water, and there probably wasn’t enough food to sustain large, complex animals.  

But researchers were in for a surprise. 

On Feb. 15, 1977, a U.S. research team dropped a remotely operated vehicle into the Pacific Ocean north of the Galápagos Islands. They were searching for spots where heat from volcanic activity seeped out of the seafloor. The ROV sank over 8,000 feet, then scientists used its camera and temperature sensor to search for the warm vents. Most of the images the ROV took revealed what the scientists expected: barren lava flows. But at this same spot where the temperature spiked, a dense cluster of hundreds of white clams and brown mussel shells appeared.

A few days later, three scientists climbed in a submersible called Alvin and plummeted down to the spot to check it out for themselves. Sure enough, they saw clams that were nearly a foot long, white crabs, giant white tube worms with bright red tops, and a purple octopus. At those pitch-black depths, none of those creatures should’ve been there.

But how could such a vibrant ecosystem survive so far from sunlight? Researchers realized that there are microbes that, instead of using light to grow, use chemicals from the rocks at hydrothermal vents in a process called chemosynthesis. And other creatures can eat those microbes, filling out the ecosystem.

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Hydrothermal vent chimney. In the center of the photo, you can see the vent fluid, which appears like dark smoke due to the high levels of minerals and sulfides contained in the fluid. Look closely, and you will also see the chimney is crawling with Chorocaris shrimp and Austinograea williamsi crabs.

“When hydrothermal vents were discovered in 1977, it very much flipped biology on its end,” says Julie Huber, an oceanographer who studies life in and below the seafloor at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) on Cape Cod. “People knew that organisms could live off of chemical energy, but they didn’t imagine they could support animal ecosystems.”

Scientists like Dr. Huber have continued to study those chemical-munching microbes. And it turns out, she says, a diverse set of microbes can be really good at making a living where the sun doesn’t shine. They make use of the chemicals available to them, even at some of the harshest vents, known as black smokers.

“The possibilities are much bigger than we probably thought they were even just 15 or so years ago,” Dr. Huber says. “It’s really hard to predict what might be possible sometimes, because we don’t really know what exists yet.”

The discovery of life at deep-sea hydrothermal vents taught scientists like Dr. Huber to question assumptions about biology – and generated excitement about deep-sea biology and life on the fringe.

“This is the science of us. We are, of course, life. We are biology,” says Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “And we don’t yet know that biology works beyond Earth,” or how it might work.

Deep-sea life in the Milky Way? 

Robotic envoys circling Jupiter and Saturn in recent decades have made startling discoveries that honed astrobiologists’ interest in Earth’s oceans. Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus probably have vast liquid water oceans sloshing beneath their icy crusts. Dr. Hand calls that revelation “one of the most exciting and profound discoveries that we’ve made in the past roughly half-century of exploring our solar system.”

But it was the knowledge that hydrothermal vents could sustain life where the sun doesn’t shine that further piqued astrobiologists’ interest in those icy moons. Sunlight likely doesn’t reach below the thick ice sheets coating the moons. So if the chemically rich vent environments exist on those alien ocean worlds, they could fuel deep-sea life there, too. 

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
A deep-sea anglerfish living within the pillow basalts. You can see its round lure in between its two eyes. This fish is an ambush predator that waits for prey to be attracted by the lure before rapidly capturing them in a single gulp.

“The best chance we have of demonstrating whether there’s life beyond Earth in the next human generation would be by going and exploring the ocean floor of these planets that are right here in our own solar system,” says Chris German, a deep-sea oceanographer at WHOI who is at the forefront of oceanic collaborations with NASA.

On Monday, NASA approved the next phase of development for the Europa Clipper mission, which would take a closer look at Jupiter’s moon. 

Astrobiologists aim to keep an open mind when searching for extraterrestrial life, but they still need some parameters to work with. Life on our planet is made up of the same basic building blocks. So in an effort to define some sort of boundaries of biology, many astrobiologists turn to Earth’s most extreme environments. 

Life at the extremes

Welcome to the hadal zone: the deepest part of the ocean. It is made up of trenches and troughs, extends 3.7 to 6.8 miles below the surface, and is named after Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. 

“The hadal zone provides us with ways to look at the boundaries of adaptations,” says Tim Shank, a deep-sea biologist at WHOI. “What’re the boundaries of fish being able to live somewhere? What’re the boundaries of shrimp?”

There, scientists still think the only source of food is detritus raining down from above. But in the patches where the dead material collects, there’s much more than microbes. Many animals have flourished.

And food isn’t the only limiting factor for animal life. The weight of miles’ worth of water should be crushing. Animals should struggle to grow big. But Dr. Shank holds up a jar with what looks like a flea longer than a foot in it. Alicella gigantea is the biggest amphipod ever discovered – and it lives in the deep ocean trenches.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki/The Christian Science Monitor
Deep-sea biologist Tim Shank shows off Alicella gigantea, the biggest amphipod ever discovered. It lives in deep ocean trenches. The lab bench behind him is strewn with specimen jars containing other creatures of the deep.

But how can animals survive such bone-crushing pressure? 

Pressure does seem to be a key limit for some life. Dr. Shank and his colleagues’ research suggests that animals with spines can’t go any deeper than 8,200 meters (about 5 miles). Yet those giant amphipods and other creatures with exoskeletons seem to fare better at depths.

Establishing pressure limits for creatures on Earth could greatly help astrobiologists know where to look on other ocean worlds. Pressure seems to be a limiting factor for multicellular organisms, like plants and animals. But scientists have found microbes pretty much everywhere, even in the most extreme environments. So that’s what astrobiologists say they’re most likely to find in space, too.

Still, there are many more deep-sea environments to plumb the boundaries of life. Under the waves are trenches, canyons, plains, sea mounts, continental margins, hydrothermal vents, volcanoes, methane seeps, and mid-ocean ridges that run like mountain ranges through the ocean. 

“They’re just as different as if you thought about forests and deserts and grasslands and mountain ranges on land,” says Dr. Levin. And, given how difficult it is for humans to explore those depths, there’s probably still a lot more to discover. Already, life has been found in extremely harsh environments like methane seeps and low-oxygen zones, too.

“We still keep discovering new ways of living in the ocean, and new forms of life, and new microbial capabilities that nobody knew about,” she says.

A new lens

The door to Dr. German’s office is plastered with stickers from ocean exploration missions and NASA missions. A large map of the world stretches across part of his office wall. 

Gesturing to the vast blue space filling the page, he says, “imagine if you were an alien coming from outer space.” Most of what you’d see as you arrived would be water. So if you wanted to meet Earthlings, he says, you might think the ocean was the best place to look.

In June, NASA announced it will fund an interdisciplinary project Dr. German has been devising for years: the Exploring Ocean Worlds (ExOW) project. Dr. Hand and Dr. Huber are co-investigators on the project. But they won’t just look outward. That exploration starts on Earth – and may give us a new lens on our own planet.

This story is the fourth installment of “Peering into the deep,” a five-part series on the ocean. 

Part 1 dives into the ocean’s “twilight zone,” where a conveyor belt of tiny critters transport carbon up and down the water column each day.

Part 2 highlights the surprising discovery of vibrant coral communities thriving in the seemingly inhospitable deep.

Part 3 features an emerging technology that is enabling researchers to survey fish populations using a small sample of water. 

Part 4, which you just read, explores how discoveries of life in the deep sea are informing the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Part 5 will be an auditory treat featuring the mysterious sounds of the sea, from grunting haddock to singing cusk eels.

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2. Why Saudi-UAE alliance is cracking: Yemen, Iran, and Trump

Alliances crave common purpose and stable partners. Recent shifts in the prolonged Yemen conflict show how the power relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is fraying.

Mark
Fawaz Salman/Reuters
This Yemeni southern separatist's weapon features a picture of Muneer al-Yafee, a brigadier general who was among those killed in a Houthi missile attack. He is at a funeral for the fighters in Aden, Yemen, Aug. 7, 2019.

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After years of waging battle against Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now backing opposing sides in Yemen’s calamitous civil war. The split comes as shifting White House policies and wavering support for Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s regional ventures are bringing the two Gulf Arab allies’ differing views on Iran to the forefront.

Their most pressing point of conflict is in Yemen. This week, UAE-backed southern separatists overran forces loyal to the Saudi-backed government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and seized Aden, Yemen’s second city. But the tensions come in part from a fundamental disagreement over how to counter Iran: The Saudis feel their security can be guaranteed only by regime change in Tehran, while the UAE seeks merely to contain and push back Iranian influence in the Arab world.

But perhaps nothing is driving the wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE more than the behavior of the Trump administration itself, which has backed away from strikes on Iran; embraced their Gulf rival, Qatar; and soured on their interference in Sudan and Libya. And that is raising questions about whether the Arab world’s top power couple is heading toward divorce.

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Why Saudi-UAE alliance is cracking: Yemen, Iran, and Trump

If President Donald Trump arrived too late to serve as best man at the Saudi-UAE marriage of regional hegemons, he was definitely a close friend of the family: The Gulf Arab allies have played an important role in his campaign against Iran.

But after years of waging battle to drive Iranian influence from the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now backing opposing sides in Yemen, as that country’s calamitous civil war, frequently cast as a major Saudi misadventure, refractures along decades-old dividing lines.

The split comes as the White House’s shifting policies and wavering support for Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s regional ventures are bringing the two Arab allies’ differing views on how to counter Iran to the forefront.

And President Trump himself, whose ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are becoming problematic for United States allies in the region, is increasingly playing the part of homewrecker, raising questions about whether the Arab world’s top power couple is heading toward divorce.

But their most pressing point of conflict is in Yemen.

This week, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council – separatists who demand an independent southern Yemen – overran forces loyal to the Saudi-backed government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The STC seized Aden, Yemen’s second city and de facto capital of the Hadi government.

The development not only threatened to fragment Yemen anew, but it has also squelched Saudi hopes to restore Mr. Hadi’s control over Yemen and drive Iran-backed Houthis out of the capital, Sanaa.

The seizure of Aden was especially incendiary as it happened while Saudi Arabia was attempting to unify Yemeni factions at a summit in Riyadh. Not only was the move met with silence by the STC’s patrons, the UAE, but Abu Dhabi has also encouraged the STC to maintain control.

War of words

The public spat between the partners quickly became nasty, and revealing.

On Tuesday, from Riyadh, Mr. Hadi publicly blasted the UAE for backing the southern separatists, accusing the UAE in a separate letter to the United Nations Security Council of pursuing a “fragmentation” of Yemen through arming the group.

Fawaz Salman/Reuters
People look at cars that were burned during clashes in Aden, Yemen, Aug. 12, 2019. Separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates seized Aden this week.

In Saudi Arabia, where everything Yemen-related is vetted by the palace, and the Yemeni government-in-exile is closely managed, it is widely thought that Mr. Hadi was also speaking for Saudi leadership.

“Hadi is reflecting the Saudi point of view of the UAE’s behavior in Yemen,” says Imad K. Harb, director of research and analysis at the Arab Center Washington DC. “For the Yemeni government to say the Emiratis are not doing the right thing in southern Yemen, that is a sign that the Saudis are not satisfied with their actions.”

In the UAE, commentators close to the ruling families responded by declaring the Saudi-backed Yemeni government ungrateful, corrupt, and a failure, insisting that Yemen will “be difficult to reunite after today.”

Other Emiratis started a social media campaign with the Arabic hashtag #Return_our_brave_soldiers_home.

The fact that both the UAE and Saudi Arabia employ an army of Twitter bots and script social media influencers and personalities to post talking points elevates the social media war to a state-level spat.

Iran

The Yemen tensions come in part from fundamentally different philosophies on how to counter Iran.

While Saudi Arabia sees a zero-sum game where its security can be guaranteed only by regime change in Tehran, the UAE, which is just miles from Iran and would be the hardest hit by any military conflict, seeks merely to contain and push back Iranian influence in the Arab world.

For the past two years, their common distrust of Iran, shared by the U.S. president, was enough to paper over these differences. But as American military strikes on Iran this summer first appeared more likely and then were called off, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh began to drift.

In July, an Emirati military delegation traveled to Tehran to discuss maritime security to defuse Gulf tensions.

Unlike the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, when a tanker suffered an explosion off its shores in June, Abu Dhabi refused to publicly implicate Iran. Even the UAE’s language toward Iran has changed.

While Abu Dhabi is keen to act as a counterweight to Tehran, it wishes to avoid conflict as it relies on its financial and maritime commerce for much of its wealth. It sees conflict as bad for business, and bad for stability. And as recently as 2017, Dubai and Iran did $17 billion in trade.

“Dubai factors in the UAE’s approach to Iran very heavily,” says Giorgio Cafiero, director of the U.S.-based Gulf State Analytics. “If the Iranians started firing missiles anywhere near Dubai, many American and European expats would leave immediately, and that would have devastating effects on Dubai’s financial and commercial sectors.”

Saudi Arabia, which shares a 1,100-mile border with Yemen, saw the presence of Iran-aligned Houthis in control of the capital of its neighbor as an immediate threat to its security.

The UAE’s priority, however, was to prevent Iranian proxies from controlling the port of Aden and the vital shipping routes from the Persian Gulf to the Suez Canal.

With the Hadi government unable to regain control of Yemen, the Emiratis concluded that the next best scenario would be having the STC, the most powerful group in southern Yemen, look after their interests.

“Although the UAE does not want Yemen to fall apart, they are OK with a semi-state in the south that would protect their maritime interests,” says Mr. Harb of the Arab Center Washington DC.

Trump

But perhaps nothing is driving the wedge between Saudi Arabia and the UAE more than the behavior of the Trump administration itself.

After agreeing to billions in business deals with Washington, the UAE bought into the Saudi crown prince’s playbook: work closely and directly with President Trump in return for U.S. support and protection for Gulf projects and wars across the region.

In recent months that sure thing has turned into a bad bet: President Trump has called off military strikes on Iran; done a reversal and embraced their rival, Qatar; and soured on Gulf interference in Sudan and Libya.

Even more worrying is the politicization of the Gulf’s relationship with Washington; those close to the leadership in the Emirates say they are aware that the closer they are aligned with the U.S. president, the more vulnerable they would be to any political setbacks to him. 

And with Saudi Arabia’s brand becoming toxic following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the UAE is working quietly to publicly distance itself from the crown prince in the West.

“The UAE’s interest is avoiding the kind of reputational damage that Saudi Arabia has suffered in Washington and London as a consequence to the Khashoggi killing and the Yemeni civil war,” says Mr. Cafiero, the analyst.

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3. As trade war escalates, Iowa soybean country is front line

Great Plains farm states – long a bastion of Trump support – are becoming a sore test of the president’s premise that tariffs are a virtuous tool for promoting America’s economic interests.

Mark
Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Ed Ulch, a farmer in Solon, Iowa, says his soybeans have been stunted by poor weather conditions. They are much shorter than usual and carry only two beans in many of their pods, instead of the usual three or four.

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Soybeans are used in everything from asphalt to aquaculture. Their ubiquity has helped make them America’s largest export to China – by far.

But now U.S. farmers are losing their lucrative Chinese market. As a trade war between the two economic superpowers escalates, China has stopped buying American agricultural products. That’s a big blow for soybean producers, who feel like a sports bar across the street from a stadium that just lost its team.

“You just don’t have that ability to pivot,” says Mark Steenhoek, director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

Bad weather hasn’t helped. Heavy rains were followed by dry weather that’s stunted growth. Add in China, and soybean prices are about 20% lower than pretariff levels.

Government aid has helped cushion the blow. Farmers got about $8 billion in government assistance last year, and more is likely on the way.

But soybean farmers say they want markets, not payments. Many still support President Donald Trump’s aggressive approach. But among some, patience is beginning to wear thin.

“Neither the Chinese or us want this,” says April Hemmes, who sits on the United Soybean Board. “They need our soybeans. We’d love to sell them our soybeans.”

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As trade war escalates, Iowa soybean country is front line

What do asphalt, shoe soles, and aquaculture all have in common? They are three of the many ways that soybean products can be used – and that’s a testament to how much the U.S. soybean industry has invested to expand its markets at home and abroad.

But despite the industry’s ingenuity and initiative in finding ever greater ways to sell soy, it’s virtually impossible to make up for the loss of the market it has spent 40 years developing: China.

“The reality is, there is only one country on the planet that has 1.4 billion people, that has a growing desire to consume pork [and] poultry” raised on soy-based feed, says Mark Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, which is made up of two national and 12 state soy organizations.

He compares the soybean industry’s predicament to a sports bar that opens up across the street from a Major League Baseball stadium that draws 20,000 to 30,000 fans for each of its 80 home games.

“Now all of a sudden the Major League Baseball stadium has moved,” he says. “You just don’t have that ability to pivot.”

President Donald Trump campaigned on promises to address the trade imbalance with China, which he and others have criticized for devaluing its currency in order to make its exports cheaper – undercutting products made in the U.S. In office, President Trump has generally charged China with “grifting” America in bilateral relations.

When the president made good on that promise last year, Beijing retaliated with a 25% tariff on key U.S. agricultural products. Nearly all of those are grown in Republican strongholds, most notably soybeans – which are by far America’s top export to China.

Then this month, amid escalating trade tensions, China abruptly announced it would no longer purchase any U.S. agricultural products. Today China followed that move by unveiling fresh tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. goods.

China’s retaliatory actions have hit the hardest in rural Midwestern states, where many farmers voted for Mr. Trump. Some say that was a politically calculated move to undermine support for the president and his party. But despite feeling the squeeze, 57% of farmers in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois – the top U.S. soybean-producing states – supported the president’s approach on China back in the spring, according to an Iowa State University poll from March.

“He’s standing up for the people and for the country,” says Mark DeVries, a soy, corn, and beef farmer from Sheffield, Iowa, echoing the views of others at the cattle barn at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. “I can’t think of a time in the past few months that someone said, ‘We gotta get this bum out of office.’”

Another uncontrollable?

But fellow farmer Mike Holden, standing nearby, respectfully begs to differ. Though he has historically voted Republican 80% of the time, he doesn’t support Mr. Trump.

He points out that farmers have no control over the weather, the cost of inputs like seed or machinery, or the price of grain, so they can’t pass on the cost of something like tariffs, which have driven the price of soybeans down by roughly 20%.

“We have enough uncontrollables,” says Mr. Holden, who raises beef and grows corn and soybeans. “We don’t need another one in the government.”   

The 2018 tariffs hit at a hard time for American farmers, whose farm income had declined by roughly 50% since 2013. Flooding and unusually bad weather patterns this year have exacerbated their challenges.

Some Iowa farmers who were waiting to sell their soybeans until prices rebounded lost their entire soybean harvest when floodwaters seeped into their grain storage bins, causing them to burst.

Heavy rains made for late planting, and then a dry spell stunted growth. Ed Ulch, a veteran farmer in Solon, Iowa, shows a visitor one of his soybean fields, where the plants aren’t nearly as tall or fruitful as they usually are. 

“There should be three or four beans in a pod, and there’s only two,” he says, running his weathered fingers over the fuzzy pods. “I don’t see any fours on here.”

Mr. Ulch, who for years ran a fertilizer company on top of farming, had always wanted a businessperson to be president, so that he or she would understand “what goes on out here.”

But he would have preferred someone like Mitt Romney.

“To be honest with you, my vote [in 2016] was more against Hillary than it was for Trump,” he says – and that was before the trade wars hit.

“I’ll have a hard time voting for Trump again,” says Mr. Ulch.

And that is in Iowa, where the nation’s largest pork and egg producers create healthy demand for soy products, enabling it to weather the tariffs better than a state like North Dakota.

On Aug. 22, soybeans were about $8.50 a bushel. That’s half the price they brought in 2012. In late February 2018, just before Mr. Trump announced 25% steel tariffs targeting China, the price was $10.71.

Markets, not payments

It’s not just about the immediate dent that farmers are feeling in their pocketbooks, however. Though farmers received about two-thirds of a $12 billion farm aid package last year, and the Trump administration has announced a similar $16 billion package this year, they don’t want taxpayer money.

“We want markets; we don’t want payments,” says Mr. Holden.

For decades, soybean farmers have contributed 0.5% of their soybean revenues every year to something called “checkoff dollars” – funds managed by a congressionally mandated United Soybean Board and state soybean boards. The funds are invested in everything from improving production efficiency to marketing their product to foreign buyers.

Mr. Ulch, who spent 17 years on the Iowa Soybean Association board, has hosted more than 700 visitors to his farm – nearly all of them foreign – and has been on trade missions all over the world to develop new markets.

Country by country, buyer by buyer, he and his colleagues have painstakingly built relationships and strengthened the appeal of U.S. soy abroad.

Now, some farmers see Mr. Trump’s trade policy as upending those efforts.

“He has basically destroyed the markets we spent 34 years investing our own money to create,” says Mr. Holden. “Reliability is one of the No. 1 things we sold them. Now because of a tweet, we’re not reliable.”

Many are doubtful they will ever regain the access they once enjoyed to China’s massive market.

When Beijing put a 25% tariff on American soy, Chinese buyers didn’t want to pay the higher price for U.S. soy and turned to other suppliers – mainly Brazil and Argentina.

For Mr. Ulch and other farmers of his generation, who have seen markets lost to tariffs before, there’s a certain sense of déjà vu.

“[Vice President Mike] Pence says we’ll have this market back and even more,” says Mr. Ulch, sitting at his kitchen table, his white hair perfectly combed. “But I don’t think we’ll ever get it back.”

The China connection

Iowa has a special connection to China, which some hoped would ease trade tensions. In 1985, a delegation of low-level Chinese officials made a visit to the state. One of them was named Xi Jinping – who is now the country's president. He went to potlucks, stayed in a bedroom with “Star Wars” paraphernalia, and visited farms. When he returned in 2012, he told his old friends, “For me, you are America.”

One of those friends was longtime Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, whom Mr. Trump appointed ambassador in Beijing.

“People in Iowa were pretty optimistic when he became ambassador to China,” says farmer Jerry Rempe. “We thought it would help us in our trade.”

Mr. Rempe fully supports Mr. Trump’s tariffs, and says he respects the president more now than when he voted for him in 2016 – thanks in part to the fact that he kept his promise to address the trade imbalance with China.

But in some quarters at least, patience is wearing thin.

“It’s getting harder and harder for farmers to find hope in all of this,” says April Hemmes, who farms about 900 acres largely on her own and sits on the United Soybean Board as well as the Iowa Soybean Association board.

Last month, she and her colleagues traveled to China and met with Chinese buyers of American soybeans.

“Neither the Chinese or us want this,” she says. “They need our soybeans. We’d love to sell them our soybeans.”

When asked about Mr. Trump’s reelection chances, she says it’s too early to weigh in. But, she adds, “Hopefully agriculture is on the mind of all of the candidates. Because it’s not very fun out here right now.”

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4. Atlanta refused to give up on homelessness. It’s working.

Sometimes trying longer, and harder, actually works. Atlanta is using new funding to alleviate homelessness, but the key is services that don’t let people fall through the cracks.

Mark

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Southern hospitality and an enduring small-town work ethic are credited by a local champion for Atlanta’s commitment to reducing homelessness. But Jack Hardin is also one civic leader behind $50 million in funding for a new public-private partnership whose goal is to move more homeless people into permanent supportive housing. Wraparound supports here are key to helping people restabilize their lives.

For clients, the coordinated programs mean that they have help navigating bureaucracy as they move into permanent homes. It also means access to services such as counseling, health care, and transportation. Research has shown that permanent supportive housing can reduce the public cost of the biggest alternatives – temporarily sheltering, hospitalizing, jailing, and imprisoning homeless people.

“I don’t have the luxury of family or friends to help me out, so I have to do this on my own,” says Darrius Hankerson. He’s now working a second job, which adds to the income he earns from the fast-food job he’s had while living in a shelter. “So the fact that I can have ... a support system … it’s a real blessing for me.”

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Atlanta refused to give up on homelessness. It’s working.

Recounting how she went from homeowner to homelessness brings Roxie to tears. 

The loss of her job, onset of a painful chronic illness, and the death of a loved one were the factors that derailed her ability to cope. Once able-bodied, and working two jobs for a decade straight, she’s an example of how several trying twists in life can land even a hard-working American without anywhere to go.

“It was like a trickle-down effect. One thing led to another,” says Roxie, who asked that her full name not be used in this story. 

Thanks to a $50 million public-private partnership, launched by a group of private donors and matched by the city of Atlanta, her days and nights without a home ended for good at the end of April. 

The help came from Intown Collaborative Ministries, one of three nonprofits receiving early-stage funding from the partnership this year to move more homeless people into what’s called “permanent supportive housing.” The goal is not just a home but also the wraparound support that can help rebuild wounded lives.

So, in addition to meeting weekly with a social worker, Roxie has access to three hot meals a day, regular rides to get groceries and to the park, nightly games and other activities with staff and tenants, a pool room, and more.

On one level, it’s a story of progress here in Atlanta – where the homeless population declined every year for more than a decade through 2018.  But more than that, it may be an encouraging validation of strategies which are being embraced in similar forms nationwide, even as many cities are seeing their homeless populations grow rather than shrink.

Breadth and depth of services

“Our ability to keep homelessness brief for a larger portion of our population has been a part of our success,” says Raphael Holloway, CEO of the Gateway Center, the city’s primary entry point for anyone experiencing homelessness to find supportive services. “These are necessary efforts to expand our capacity to serve.”

Samantha Batko, an expert on homelessness at the Urban Institute in Washington, says it’s hard to pin down precisely why homelessness can rise in one city and fall in another. She notes that cities like Los Angeles are implementing some of the same strategies as Atlanta, but are still seeing homelessness jump sharply – at least partly due to shortages of affordable housing.

What’s not in doubt is Atlanta’s determination and persistence.

“In Georgia there’s been a lot of work recently done on all levels of their homeless system,” Ms. Batko says. It’s been everything from help with employment to “making their shelters more housing-focused and thinking about their shelters as conduits for people back into housing.”

In all, even though this January’s annual count of Atlanta’s homeless population showed a modest rise (up 5%), it’s still down more than 25% since 2015. And those were years during which the recently expanded public-private collaboration was being built.

“We’ve distinguished ourselves among major cities in the United States with the progress that we’ve made,” says Jack Hardin, an attorney and local champion behind the private funding.

The affordable housing challenge

He acknowledges that big challenges remain, not least how to execute Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ $1 billion pledge in June to address Atlanta’s own affordable-housing troubles in the next seven years, even as the city continues to gentrify. But Mr. Hardin sees a strong civic commitment, which he credits to Atlanta’s mix of Southern hospitality and enduring small-town work ethic. 

“HouseATL is a work in progress,” he says of the local task force on affordable housing that’s been underway since last year. “But it is an example of how this community is capable of organizing and attacking in a cooperative way a major social issue. We have almost every major player at the table.”

For Roxie, the coordinated programs here mean that she had help navigating reams of bureaucratic paperwork as she moved into a permanent home. It also means access to services such as counseling, health care, and transportation. Research has shown that permanent supportive housing, by giving people a chance to restabilize their lives, can reduce the public cost of the biggest alternatives – temporarily sheltering, hospitalizing, jailing, and imprisoning homeless people.

Roxie now pays $281 a month in rent, an amount her roughly $1,000 a month disability check can reasonably cover. Recipients of permanent supportive housing can pay anywhere from nothing, if they have no income, to an amount capped at 30% of income.  

“It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she says. “So I am extremely grateful because I feel like I’m finally on a journey of healing after all of this time.”

Flexibility of funds

Atlanta’s public-private partnership dates back to a 2016 private-donor challenge to the city, calling for each side to come up with $25 million to step up help for the homeless population. One key result was a new nonprofit entity, Partners for HOME (which stands for Helping Others Move to Excellence), to coordinate the city’s efforts. 

While most of the money was raised long ago from the city and donors like United Way, only this year has the pace of disbursements picked up, to put the money into action. And the final philanthropic donations are just rolling in, with an announcement of officially reaching the $50 million goal expected soon.

The public-private model isn’t unique to Atlanta. (Ms. Batko notes how Las Vegas, for example, leaned on a partnership to reduce homelessness among its military veterans in particular.) 

One benefit of the approach: Private funding doesn’t come with the same sometimes hyperspecific stipulations as government funding.

“The private money fills gaps that exist, because most public grants come with very specific guidelines,” says Margaret R. Schuelke, co-CEO of Project Community Connections Inc. (PCCI), another Atlanta nonprofit. “It’s allowing us to get people into housing faster, and it’s allowing us to be more flexible to the individual needs of the households we’re serving.”

“It’s actually a requirement in the contract that the provider be as flexible as possible to make sure the families get their needs met,” says Cathryn Marchman, executive director of Partners for HOME. “We are really focused on lowering barriers and increasing flexibility ... and meeting families where they are.”

So far, nearly $15 million of the $50 million total has been invested, the majority of it toward expanding the city’s supply of permanent supportive housing. The $50 million fund is being augmented by more than $60 million in state and federal funding from sources like the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services.

Tactics toward goals

Along with flexibility, the nonprofits emphasize persistence. Intown Collaborative Ministries has workers who will follow up with someone for months or more to encourage even the skeptical to consider tapping their services.

Across the city, Partners for HOME hopes to house 1,000 homeless people over the next five years. That would be about a third of the city’s current homeless population, a foundation that can be built on, say advocates. The goal includes an expansion of rapid rehousing for specific at-risk groups. Some of the funds are going toward emergency housing for LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24. 

Another top priority is increasing the number of “low barrier” shelters, which typically don’t require those using them to “buy in” or sign up for expanded services. 

Mr. Holloway, who heads the Gateway Center, points to how all the city’s providers of services on homelessness now use a computerized system to track bed availability citywide, in order to more rapidly get someone a place to sleep. And they use a standardized screening tool that allows them to assess the severity of an individual’s or family’s needs, to prioritize assistance.

“It feels good to finally have someone helping you, you feel like you’re not on your own,” says 21-year-old Darrius Hankerson, who moved into a subsidized housing complex in Atlanta several weeks ago with the help of PCCI. Mr. Hankerson has been homeless off and on since aging out of the foster care system at 18. His mother died when he was 9. He just landed a second job working for a catering company, which he’ll do on top of his job at a fast-food chain, one he worked while sleeping at a shelter.    

“I don’t have the luxury of family or friends to help me out, so I have to do this on my own,” he says. “So the fact that I can have somebody and have a support system … it’s a real blessing for me.”

Staff writer Mark Trumbull contributed to this article from Washington.

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On Film

5. What does The Boss's music have to do with immigration?

“Blinded by the Light,” like another recent movie, “Yesterday,” is about embracing Western music as a way of transcending racial barriers.

Mark
Nick Wall/Warner Bros.
Nell Williams (left), Viveik Kalra, and Aaron Phagura star in “Blinded by the Light.” The Springsteen-inspired film is loosely based on co-screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor’s 2007 memoir “Greetings From Bury Park.”
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What does The Boss's music have to do with immigration?

Great rock music can bring you into a new relationship with yourself. It can make you feel freer, on top of the world. The thin but genial “Blinded by the Light,” set in 1987, is about just such a connection: Javed (engaging newcomer Viveik Kalra), a 16-year-old Pakistani immigrant, lives with his family in a lower-middle-class apartment complex north of London. An amiable dreamer, he scribbles poetry and song lyrics until – Wham! – he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. In wonderment he exclaims, “Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt!”

This is the second movie this season about how the sons of Asian immigrants in rural England are utterly transformed by Western rock ’n’ roll. “Yesterday,” which recently opened, botched a marvelous premise: Through a cosmic accident, a middling folk singer of South Asian descent is reawakened to a world where the Beatles never existed. To clamorous acclaim, he reproduces their hits as if they were his own. “Blinded by the Light,” directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”), who was raised in London with an East African Indian background, does somewhat better. Despite its predictability, it conveys what it’s like to be enraptured by a rock idol. (The film’s loosely adapted source material is co-screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor’s 2007 memoir “Greetings From Bury Park.”)  

Western rock music, not the indigenous sounds their parents cling to, provides these young men with a ready-made outlaw lifestyle they imagine will liberate them from the confinements of their immigrant upbringing. (The same could be said for the Parsi Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”) Both of these movies, especially “Blinded by the Light,” are about embracing Western music as a way of transcending racial barriers. This embrace, this cultural appropriation, is valued. We hear very little of the family musical traditions these guys are breaking away from. Javed longs to be Springsteen – right down to the ripped plaid shirts and denim and red bandanna around his neck – because the music facilitates his escape from the poverty and racism in his neighborhood, with thugs spray-painting swastikas on walls and few prospects beyond becoming a factory worker like his disapproving, old-world father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir).

The paradox for Javed is that Springsteen’s music – which is amply represented on the soundtrack and underscores some jubilant Bollywood style musical numbers – makes him feel both more disconnected from his surroundings and more authentic to himself. And yet we don’t hear much of Javed’s poetry or song lyrics, so it’s not apparent, once you clear away the Springsteen idolatry, what paths his own artistry might take.

Movies about the intergenerational divide have been around forever, but “Blinded by the Light” joins “The Big Sick” and, to a lesser extent, “The Farewell” and the soapy “Crazy Rich Asians” in situating that divide in an East-West context. The cliches may be the same but the characterizations are more multiracial now. When Javed wails that “my family is stuck in another country,” it’s a time-honored teenage lament except, in his case, it’s almost literally true.

Malik, who has Javed’s life mapped out for him, right down to eventually picking out his wife, can’t comprehend his son’s intransigence. And conversely, the parents of Javed’s jaunty, white political activist girlfriend – played by Nell Williams – are broadly portrayed as Thatcher-era snoots.

It’s no wonder Javed feels at one with The Boss when he sings “Man, I ain’t getting nowhere. I’m just living in a dump like this.” What the film doesn’t have the wit to recognize is that Springsteen, by his own admission in his autobiography, is something of a poseur, too. Mr. Born to Run, who never worked in a factory, still resides in New Jersey near where he grew up.

In a way, this funny fact lays out another lesson that Javed could have taken to heart. When, at last, he and his father reconcile, what the film is finally saying is wherever you end up, don’t run from your heritage.

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The Monitor's View

Encircling the interrupters with civility

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One task of journalists these days is to count the number of times that presidential candidates interrupt each other during a debate. In the June 27 Democratic debate, for example, the count was 53. Many candidates are even being advised to interrupt. The personal clashes, the shutdown of real debate, and the resulting sound bites can give candidates a bump in the polls.

This trend is one aspect of a slippage in civility. Reversing this can’t be left to politicians. In the machine politics of today’s acute polarization, they have little room to maneuver from tactics of ugly rhetoric. The burden of reform lies with citizens themselves. It begins mainly at the grassroots, often with nonprofit groups whose focus is bridging differences or training citizens in civic behavior.

These efforts tap into a sentiment that may seem contradictory to the more overt expressions of anger and resentment. In a recent poll of adults by Civility in America, 92% agreed that civility among elected officials is important. In other words, the politics of deliberation, dignity, and honest debate are preferred over disruption and personal attack. These current interruptions in debates could someday go the way of dueling with pistols.

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Encircling the interrupters with civility

One task of journalists these days is to count the number of times that presidential candidates interrupt each other during a debate. In the June 27 Democratic debate, for example, the count was 53. Many candidates are even being advised to interrupt. The personal clashes, the shutdown of real debate, and the resulting sound bites can give candidates a bump in the polls. Their incivility may help rally core voters who feel unheard.

This trend in interruptions is one aspect of a slippage in civility and a rise in heckling. Polls show many Americans have stopped talking to someone over political differences (50% for Democrats, 38% for Republicans, and 35% for independents). Cable news shows can experience higher ratings and make money when pundits talk over each other. On college campuses, speakers have been disinvited or attacked because of their views. Some activist groups have planned an approved demonstration in public places and encountered protesters trying to deny them that forum, even by violence.

Is dialogue seen as a dead end? Is respect for an individual’s dignity seen as giving respect for that person’s point of view.

If so, the cost for democracy is the loss of the kind of listening that would normally lead to common ground for shared solutions. In addition, fewer citizens may vote. There is less civic engagement. The losing side of an issue may flee politics or try to destroy the tenets of democracy, such as the potentially divisive but essential right of free speech.

Reversing this can’t be left to politicians. In the machine politics of today’s acute polarization, they have little room to maneuver from tactics of ugly rhetoric. The burden of reform lies with citizens themselves. It begins mainly at the grassroots, often with nonprofit groups whose focus is bridging differences or training citizens in civic behavior.

One leader is Cindy McCain, whose husband, the late Sen. John McCain was a Republican known for working with Democrats and befriending them. For the first anniversary of his passing this Sunday, she is launching a social media campaign urging “acts of civility” by Americans. She believes the pendulum is going to swing back to civility and citizens might as well start it.

Another effort is Better Angels, a nationwide group of volunteers who offer workshops to help liberals and conservatives discuss each side’s criticisms of the other. The First Amendment Center in Washington holds events to help the public and media better understand each other.

The most effective campaign may be that of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, founded in 2011 after then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot. The institute has trained thousands, including state legislators, how to hold civil conversations.

These efforts tap into a sentiment that may seem contradictory to the more overt expressions of anger and resentment. In a recent poll of adults by Civility in America, 92% agreed that civility among elected officials is important. In other words, the politics of deliberation, dignity, and honest debate are preferred over disruption and personal attack. These current interruptions in debates could someday go the way of dueling with pistols.

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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.

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While there’s a lot of work to be done in tackling homelessness worldwide, there are also signs of progress, as an article in today’s Monitor Daily highlights. Here’s a poem that points to the “sweet warmth” of home we can all experience as God’s loved sons and daughters.

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I remember the first welcome home:
No questions were asked –
There was just the sweet warmth of Love’s embrace.
I’ve come home many times since then –
A little less stunned, perhaps,
But no less grateful.

I know I’ll come home many times again.

But I am learning to stay closer
To the wonderful heart of Love.
From there I can hear more clearly
My Father-Mother telling me I am a beloved daughter,
That I am always with Him – Life, Truth, and Love –
And all that He has is mine.

Adapted from a poem published in the Aug. 19, 1985, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

The week in photos

Agustin Marcarian/Reuters
Photojournalists strive to capture moments that tell a full story, bringing news from the remotest corners of the globe in an instant. Through them we learn more about the world, and ourselves. Here is a roundup of photos from this week that Monitor photo editors found the most compelling.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( August 26th, 2019 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back next week when Monitor correspondent Clara Germani will explore how African Americans are finding healing on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in the British colonies of America.

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 23, 2019
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