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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

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

2018
December
11
Tuesday

The events of 1968 left influences that still linger 50 years later. This week comes a reminder that those legacies include a breaking of barriers in technology and exploration.

Humans circled the moon for the first time in December of that year. That journey and the “Earthrise” photo that resulted will be highlighted at an event tonight in Washington, with one of the original Apollo astronauts involved. You can view it online here.

This week also marks the 50th anniversary of something less known outside tech circles. In California, a Stanford-linked technologist named Douglas Engelbart made a presentation that’s now called the “mother of all demos.” The demonstration featured the first functioning computer mouse, and much more. Videoconferencing. Screen-sharing. Hyperlinks. A graphical interface with the machine. Plans for far-flung networks. Mr. Engelbart didn’t invent all this alone, but basically a straight line runs from his demo to today’s smartphones and internet.

Yet the footage also looks archaic – a reminder of how breakthroughs begin with ideas, dreams, and baby steps. And often with moral purpose. Engelbart’s vision wasn’t just about cool technology as an end in itself. As early as his service in World War II and his marriage proposal in 1950, Engelbart was nurturing a life goal: to help the world become more connected, to advance human progress and the solving of big problems.

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Now it’s on to our five stories for today.

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1. Israel’s own ‘witch hunt’ – and a test for the rule of law

Corruption allegations against Benjamin Netanyahu raise basic questions: To what extent may an elected leader maneuver to stay in power, and at what cost to democratic institutions?

Mark
Oded Balilty/Reuters
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem Dec. 9. For the past two years Mr. Netanyahu has been the focus of investigations. Yet with legal pressures mounting, the political tactician shows no signs of stepping down.

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Israel has had corruption scandals. But now comes what is shaping up to be a real collision between political survival tactics and the rule of law. Police investigators say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be indicted for dealings with an Israeli tycoon who owns the country’s phone monopoly and a news website. Mr. Netanyahu is alleged to have backed regulations that benefited the phone company in return for favorable news coverage. Netanyahu has shown no signs of stepping down, and is denigrating Israeli law enforcement and media, accusing them of conspiring to bring down a lawfully elected government. He has political cover. The decision to indict rests with the attorney general, a political appointee, and former Netanyahu aide. And there is no law that disqualifies an indicted prime minister from continuing to serve. Critics say Netanyahu is imperiling democratic institutions. “Everything is being undermined,” said law professor Yedidia Stern, vice president at the Israel Democracy Institute, in a radio interview. “There’s no reason to think that the rule of law in Israel is fortified in a way that it can’t be cracked. We are cracking it daily in our arguments.”

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Israel’s own ‘witch hunt’ – and a test for the rule of law

Allegations by the combative head of government of a sustained “witch hunt” by prosecutors and the media. Talk of a looming constitutional crisis. Heard this all before?

The leader being scrutinized, however, is not President Trump, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who over the past two years has been the focus of a raft of bribery investigations.

Yet with legal pressures mounting, the deft political tactician shows no signs of stepping down, instead denouncing the police and setting up what some say is a collision between political survival tactics and the rule of law in a democracy.

Israel certainly has had its share of political corruption scandals: Two prime ministers have even been forced to resign.

But now, after police investigators said last week that Mr. Netanyahu should face charges in a third bribery case – this time for dealings with an Israeli tycoon who owns the country’s fixed-line phone monopoly and a news website – Israel finds itself heading into uncharted legal and political waters ahead of an election scheduled for next year.

Netanyahu’s campaign to insist on his innocence and stay in office has many worried that his attacks on Israel’s legal institutions may do lasting damage.

Israeli voters might face the choice of reelecting a prime minister whom the police have recommended be indicted – or who already has been indicted. At the same time, Israel’s Supreme Court might find itself weighing an appeal to order the prime minister to resign, as it has done in the past with other elected officials under indictment – setting up a potential showdown between Israel’s executive and judiciary branches.

“We are already in the middle of constitutional crisis,’’ says Avraham Diskin, professor of political science at Hebrew University. “According to many prosecutors, Netanyahu should resign if he is indicted. That means just by indicting someone – without even convicting them – it’s possible to change the government in Israel.”

The corruption cases

Concluding its investigation into what has been dubbed “Case 4000,” the police said last week that Netanyahu pushed regulations favoring Israel’s telephone monopoly, Bezeq, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. As an alleged quid pro quo, the police said, the company’s controlling stakeholder, Israeli tycoon Shaul Elovitch, allowed Netanyahu and his wife, Sara – also implicated in the case – to dictate content decisions on the news website Walla, which Mr. Elovitch also owns.

Earlier this year, the police recommended Netanyahu be indicted in two other bribery cases. In “Case 1000,” the police allege that the prime minister accepted gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from Israeli tycoons. And in “Case 2000,” Netanyahu is accused of offering to pass legislation that would improve the competitive position of the daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper against a rival, in return for favorable coverage.

(There is a “Case 3000.” Netanyahu is not a suspect in that investigation, but his brother-in-law, a lawyer, is. He was paid for advising a German submarine maker that sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Dolphin submarines to Israel.)

“The chance that Netanyahu will be indicted on criminal charges, at least on breach of trust, is significantly greater than the chance that these three cases will be closed without anything,” wrote Chen Maanit, a legal columnist for the Israeli financial newspaper Globes. “And a situation in which a prime minister is put on criminal trial while continuing in office is unacceptable.”

Anti-police sentiment

Echoing Mr. Trump, Netanyahu has inveighed against Israeli law enforcement, prosecutors, and the Israeli media – accusing them of conspiring to bring down a lawfully elected government.

“The witch hunt against me and my wife continues,” he said, accusing the police of deliberately targeting himself and right-wing politicians, while ignoring ties between newspaper publishers and opposition figures. Since the start of the police investigations against him more than two years ago, Netanyahu has repeated the mantra that “nothing will come of it, because there’s nothing” to the allegations.

Critics say Netanyahu is fanning conspiracy theories to inflame public sentiment against the country’s police, prosecution, and the courts – imperiling institutions at the heart of Israel’s democracy.

“You can’t sacrifice everything in order to delegitimize those who are investigating you,” said Yedidia Stern, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University and vice president at the Israel Democracy Institute, in an interview with Israel Radio.

“Everything is being undermined,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that the rule of law in Israel is fortified in a way that it can’t be cracked. We are cracking it daily in our arguments.”

Layers of political protections

Conspiracy theories and rhetoric aside, there are layers of political protections that Netanyahu can marshal.

The ultimate decision on whether or not to take the prime minister to court, and what the severity of the charges should be, belongs to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt, a political appointee of the prime minister who served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary.

Critics of Mr. Mandelblitt have accused him of slow-walking the decision on whether or not to indict, and warned he plans to water down the charges. A former justice minister said Mandelblitt should have recused himself from handling the case.

There is no Israeli law that disqualifies a prime minister who has been indicted from continuing to serve, but there is a judicial precedent: The Supreme Court has ordered government ministers and other officeholders to step down after being indicted. The court would likely be called on to decide if the same precedent should be applied to a prime minister, but this time it would likely mean bringing down the government.

Though parliamentary elections are scheduled for next November, Netanyahu could call a snap vote. His authority is unchallenged within his Likud party, which has continued to lead public opinion polls despite the corruption allegations. If reelected, the prime minister could use that vote as a populist flak jacket against political or legal pressures to resign the premiership.

“Bibi could run as someone under investigation, and if he wins he could claim that he has a popular mandate,” says Jonathan Rynhold, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University. “The danger is that the Netanyahus will go right up to the edge of what is permissible. He’ll stir it up into a major political crisis.”

Two who resigned

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was forced to resign in 2008 by his coalition partners when indictment over his involvement in a Jerusalem real estate project became unavoidable. He eventually was convicted and sent to jail. Ending his first tenure as prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin resigned on his own initiative in 1977 after it was revealed that his wife, Leah, had an illegal foreign currency bank account.

If Netanyahu were charged, his fate ultimately would lie in the hands of the right-wing and religious parliament members who are partners in his coalition. Meanwhile, the Likud has sought to pass laws that would shore up the power of the prime minister. Earlier this year, the coalition tried to pass a law to protect a sitting prime minister from indictment, but the measure did not advance.

Compared with the United States, where the president is limited by the constitutional checks and balances of Congress and the courts, an Israeli prime minister with a loyal majority has more power to stay in office at all costs short of a conviction.   

“We don’t have a constitution ... and there are no term limits,” says Tal Schneider, a political correspondent for Globes. “The government controls the parliament, and the government can change the laws. Here, the opposition is only getting weaker.”

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2. US presence at climate talks mirrors political rifts at home

US withdrawal from its role as multilateral leader in global affairs is apparent at the COP24 climate summit. But local leaders and career officials are showing that there's more than one way to participate.

Mark

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In a way, there are many United States of Americas at the global climate summit in Poland. Trump administration officials are touting fossil fuel innovations while local representatives from individual states and cities offer a patchwork of grassroots dedication to climate action. A gulf of politically charged mistrust separates these opposing camps. A third element of career officials is attempting to sidestep US politics entirely and forge ahead as active participants in these collective negotiations. To be sure, the US role is significantly diminished compared with the negotiations leading up to the 2015 Paris Agreement. But if the US is a less visible presence at a federal level, there are still plenty of US leaders working to assure the world that America is not stopping the fight on climate change. A “We Are Still In” coalition of state and local US leaders remains committed to climate change, says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. That group, he says, offers “political hope … that a majority of Americans, and an increasing majority of subnational officials are committed to climate action.”

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US presence at climate talks mirrors political rifts at home

At the annual United Nations climate conference in Poland, the United States is, to say the least, a country divided.

The US may have formally announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, but it’s still a significant presence – and absence – at the 2018 summit of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP24. It remains to be seen just which part of its influence will hold the most sway as world leaders again convene to try to move forward on climate action.

The fractured nature of US presence here in Katowice reflects the sharply divided political climate back home, with Trump administration officials touting fossil fuel innovations and more local representatives from individual states and cities offering a patchwork of grassroots dedication to climate action. A gulf of politically charged mistrust separates these opposing camps. A third element of career officials is attempting to sidestep US politics entirely and forge ahead as active participants in these collective negotiations.

On the political side, Trump administration officials on Monday held a highly visible and controversial panel that was an unapologetic promotion of coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy, and which was interrupted part-way through by protesters offering a heated response to that message.

Acting as a counterbalance to that official US stance, stands the “We are still in” coalition of subnational entities – states, cities, businesses, and other organizations – who are still committed to America’s Paris Agreement targets. These groups aren’t able to officially represent the US or negotiate on its behalf, but they’re a visible presence here, reminding the world that the Trump administration represents only one segment of America, and that much of the country is continuing to work on climate mitigation.

But more quietly a small US delegation is still actively participating in negotiations, helping to hammer out agreements on issues like transparency and finance as countries work to agree on a “rulebook” that lays out how the Paris Agreement will actively be implemented. Generally career civil servants, they’re working on technical issues where the US position remains relatively unchanged and they can serve a constructive role.

On the sidelines

To be sure, the US role here is significantly diminished compared with the negotiations leading up to the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“The part of the talks that is about ambition is a part that the United States is just disengaged from,” says Reed Schuler, a negotiator for the US during the 2015 Paris negotiations, referring to the critical issue of encouraging countries to make their emissions goals more rigorous.

“That’s the void the subnational delegation is filling. It’s filling the conversation of, ‘here is the climate action moving forward in the US, and we hope our partners internationally are being more ambitious back home,’ ” says Mr. Schuler, a senior policy advisor on climate and sustainability for Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee.

The pro-fossil fuels panel was the only event the US government hosted at this conference, and it drew significant attention from both the media and protesters, who filled the room to capacity and then interrupted it part-way through, chanting “keep it in the ground” and “shame on you,” in between brief speeches from youth and indigenous leaders, before filing out. “In the US, the policy is not to keep it in the ground, it’s to use it in a way that is clean and efficient,” responded P. Wells Griffith, a senior energy adviser to President Trump who presided over the panel.

“It is important to the overall climate discussion that we consider what’s realistic and pragmatic,” Mr. Griffith told the crowd according to Time. “Energy innovation and fossil fuels will continue to play a leading role.”

The panel drew broad condemnation from an array of climate experts, many of whom noted the irony of the US government touting “cleaner” fossil fuels even as they take steps to dismantle standards to prevent methane leaks and pollution from coal-fired power plants, but most observers here see it as a bit of political theater that plays to Trump’s base but is largely ignored by the rest of the world.

“They had a side show last year, and a side show this year,” says Todd Stern, the US special envoy for climate change under former-President Barack Obama, and the chief negotiator for the US at the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The biggest way the US withdrawal from Paris and its shift on climate policy is playing out on the world stage is simply the void in leadership that it leaves, says Mr. Stern.

“The United States played a really big role in the negotiating process during the Obama years,” says Stern. And now, “that whole political level is not there. The US as a country does not have credibility or leverage here.” Stern credits other countries with not following the US exit from the Paris agreement just a year and a half after it was signed – a scenario that was possible – but says there’s no way for anyone to really fill the void that the US departure leaves.

“It’s hard not to have a strong US role in international affairs, period,” he says. “Things happen when the US engages, and it’s hard to make consequential things happen with the US on the sidelines. Not to mention the US on the sidelines throwing spitballs.”

Dueling messages

Still, in terms of the actual technical negotiations going on this week, as country delegations work to develop the rulebook, most observers say the team sent by the US is generally respected and consists of career officials who have been involved in these negotiations for many years. The US, along with China, co-chairs the committee on transparency – an issue where it continues to be a strong voice pushing for more rigorous transparency. “That stuff is not very partisan,” says Schuler.

The one exception to that relatively steady policy at the technical level occurred over the weekend, when the United States allied with Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to block endorsement of the most recent report  from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, focusing on the consequences of exceeding 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F.) of warming.

Disagreement over a single word resulted in the omission of the passage entirely. Instead of signing onto a statement that would “welcome” the report, the four outlier countries only agreed to saying the conference “notes” the report – a subtle but important distinction that sent a message about the US rejection of the international scientific consensus on climate change, and placed the US with some odd bedfellows.

“This is not an attractive coalition,” says Andrew Steer, president and chief executive of the World Resources Institute think tank. “In some ways, the US is playing a constructive role [in the rulebook negotiations], but overall, this is negative. This is science. This is the best scientists in the world, coming out with a really thoughtful report, and how appalling it is that the country that’s won more Nobel prizes in science than any other country ... should say, ‘we don’t believe it.’ ”

But if the US is a less visible presence at a federal level, there are still plenty of US leaders here working to assure the world that America is not stopping the fight on climate change. In the area of the COP24 center, where countries have their own “pavilions,” the United States is a notable absence. But the “US Climate Action Center,” representing the “We Are Still In” coalition,” has a large and active space, with numerous events.

“It’s sort of the pocket US alternative center, also known as the old negotiators’ home,” Stern joked during a panel on Monday.

The members of that coalition, and their presence here, “gives hope on two levels,” says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “One is that they’re doing things on the ground in terms of emissions reductions,” helping to keep the US on a path where, if it rejoins the Paris agreement, it can get back on track to meeting its goals. “And two, they’re offering political hope, because they’re showing that a majority of Americans, and an increasing majority of subnational officials are committed to climate action, and Trump really doesn’t represent America and the American public. That’s very helpful.”

This story was produced with support from an Energy Foundation grant to cover the environment.

 

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Perception Gaps

Comparing what’s ‘known’ to what’s true

3. Understanding war and those who fight it

The imagery of warfare can come to our TVs and computer screens more easily than ever. That can inform, but it can also distort the public view of what war is like, and how much of it is happening.

Mark

The protracted wars in Yemen and Afghanistan. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sporadic bombings. Between terrorism and wars, the world may appear to be more violent than ever. But is it? Since 1945, the absolute number of war deaths has been on the decline, observes Max Roser of Our World in Data, an empirical perspective on war and peace. As Mr. Roser puts it: “Although wars are still fought, the world is now more peaceful than ever.” Our latest “Perception Gaps” podcast explores misperceptions about war and about the soldiers who fight them. Most Americans have no idea what war looks like. The Pew Research Center found that 84 percent of today’s veterans say the American public has “little or no understanding of military life.” And 71 percent of Americans agree. How might that gap be bridged? Elliot Ackerman, a novelist and decorated former US Marine who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggests bringing back the draft. “Americans would benefit from having a more direct tie with their military because it would make them aware of what it means to go to war.” says Mr. Ackerman. “The more and more our military becomes a … separate warrior caste in US society, it means that most Americans ... don’t really understand what’s being done in our names abroad.”

SOURCE: Uppsala Conflict Data Program & Peace Research Institute Oslo
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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4. Why more states are giving juvenile offenders a second chance

More attention is being given to the idea that juvenile offenders can make radical changes. As a result, measures aimed at rehabilitation are spreading across the United States.

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Marshan Allen was one of many teens in Chicago during the 1990s who was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He was part of a bungled drug deal in which two teenagers were killed, though he was not directly involved in their deaths. At the time, lawmakers argued that juveniles who committed “adult crime” deserve “adult time” and he was convicted of first degree murder. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court disagreed. In 2012, it ruled in Miller v. Alabama that the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional. This ruling was followed by a 2016 decision that applied Miller retroactively to all prisoners given mandatory sentences of life without parole as juveniles. Thousands of inmates were suddenly up for resentencing, and juvenile justice experts say it helped begin a nationwide reform of juvenile sentencing. In Illinois, Mr. Allen spent more than 24 years behind bars, but the Supreme Court ruling enabled his release. Now he works as a project manager for the Restore Justice Foundation in Chicago. “It was a great feeling to come home ... and know I was able to start my life over again,” he says.

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Why more states are giving juvenile offenders a second chance

When Marshan Allen was a teen in Chicago, he says he faced a tough choice: Go to class or help his older brother. The issue: His brother was selling drugs, as were many people on the South Side of Chicago in the 1990s.

“I was surrounded by cocaine.... My mom, my uncle, the neighborhood,” he says. “My older brother James began selling drugs, and I was doing chores for him to make extra money.”

One day in March 1992 he stole a van. Two of his brother’s friends drove it during a bungled drug deal in which they killed two teenagers. Mr. Allen stayed in the van during the killing, according to court documents, but he was still convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. That’s because of a legal theory of accountability that said an accomplice could be sentenced to the same crime as the chief perpetrator.

The judge sentenced Allen to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was 15. At the time, with crime rates surging, lawmakers in both parties argued that juveniles who committed “adult crime” deserve “adult time.”

“I was crying like a baby,” Allen says. “I should be held accountable for my crime, but I didn’t think that specific sentence was fair.”

Ultimately, neither did the United States Supreme Court. In 2012, the court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that the mandatory sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional. The youngest offenders have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform,” and to require those mandatory sentences without considering features of youth constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, Justice Elena Kagan wrote.

This ruling was followed by a 2016 decision that applied Miller retroactively to all prisoners given mandatory sentences of life without parole as juveniles. Thousands of inmates were suddenly up for resentencing, and juvenile justice experts say it helped begin a nationwide reform of juvenile sentencing in state legislatures and courts.

“In so many ways, states are rolling back the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s [and realizing] that when young people make mistakes, they are still capable of rehabilitation,” says Joshua Rovner, senior advocacy associate at The Sentencing Project in Washington. “Young people in general are entitled to fairness and opportunities to reform.”

Before 2012, only a handful of states did not use guidelines for mandatory life sentences without parole. Today not only are the mandatory sentences gone, 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit judges from sentencing any juveniles to life without parole – most recently in Washington State, whose Supreme Court found that the sentence violated the state’s constitution in October.

The shift comes at a time of movement away from incarceration in the juvenile justice system toward second chances, as more is learned about how young minds develop until age 25. In the process, some states are moving toward newer forms of accountability, such as offering more opportunities for mediation between a victim and a perpetrator.

“We’ve made incarceration such a normal thing in this country that sending a young person away for any period of time, especially kids of color, wasn’t considered an unusual thing,” says Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. “[W]hat we’ve seen recently is a swing in juvenile courts from a punitive approach to more treatment.”

One of the first states to heavily invest in “community-based alternatives” was Missouri. About 30 years ago, the state started replacing youth prisons with a continuum of care, from treatment centers to secure residential facilities in Missouri’s state parks. Since 2013, it has reported a steadily declining rate of commitments and recommitments; overall, Missouri has one of the lowest youth recidivism rates in the country.

There’s also a push nationwide for young adults to have more access to therapeutic social services. Connecticut, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia are all pioneering forms of treatment for those between the ages of 18 and 24 in adult prisons.

While broad changes are shifting the juvenile justice system toward rehabilitation, and Congress may be looking at the first real criminal justice reform in a generation with the First Step Act, many states that once gave mandatory life sentences to youth are now using de facto life sentences of 40 to 60 years. The courts have yet to take up the constitutionality of those sentences.

“There are people who think that the criminal justice system can solve problems that it isn’t able to. That you can just lock people up, but that doesn’t work,” said Mr. Rovner.

In Illinois, Allen spent 24 years, eight months, and two days behind bars before the Supreme Court ruling enabled him to earn his release. Before his release in 2017, he got his GED certificate, a paralegal certificate, a business management certificate – even an associate degree. “It wasn’t always easy to do something positive in a very negative environment. There’s a lot of misery there from the guards and the prisoners,” says Allen. Now, he works as a project manager for the Restore Justice Foundation in Chicago, where he is lobbying to pass a bill to restore parole opportunities for children facing sentences longer than 10 years. “It was a great feeling to come home and be out of that place and know I was able to start my life over again – to start anew.”

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5. In bid to preserve a slice of history, Kiev activists rally behind Soviet-era art

Eager to erase its communist past, Ukraine recently launched a campaign to destroy Soviet-era symbols. But efforts to preserve these works point to the value of art as an important relic of history. 

Mark
Renee Hickman
Art historian and activist Ievgeniia Moliar stands in front of a mosaic she helped save at the Politekhnichnyi Instytut metro station in Kiev, Ukraine. Rather than destroying the mosaic, authorities simply removed the hammer from the original hammer and sickle design.

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Towering over busy Peremohy Avenue in central Kiev is a series of apartment buildings emblazoned with brightly colored Soviet-era mosaics highlighting phases of Ukraine’s history. Made up of thousands of pieces of colored glass, the mosaics feature workers, soldiers, scientists, and in one the hammer and sickle, the iconic symbol of communism. Mosaics like these are scattered throughout Ukraine. Since 2015, however, they have been under threat, first from decommunization laws aimed at removing symbols of the Soviet Union, and now from neglect. But in recent years, some Ukrainians have begun campaigning to preserve these unique works, seeing them as important, if complicated, relics of the nation’s history. When it was notified of plans to demolish the mosaics on Peremohy Avenue, nonprofit arts organization Izolyatsia launched a successful campaign to protect them. Volodymyr Priadka is one of the artists who created those mosaics. He is adamant that public art from the previous era must be preserved. “You can’t erase history,” says Mr. Priadka. “Even if you don’t like it, and even if it was bad. It is our history.”

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In bid to preserve a slice of history, Kiev activists rally behind Soviet-era art

On a busy boulevard in central Kiev, five apartment buildings stand out from the surrounding concrete shops and buildings. Towering over Peremohy Avenue, the apartments feature brightly colored Soviet-era mosaics representing the phases of Ukraine’s history.

One showcases a medieval motif, while others glorify workers, soldiers, and science. And on another, against the background of a traditional Ukrainian design, is a hammer and sickle, the symbol of communism.

Mosaics like the ones on Peremohy Avenue are scattered throughout Ukraine, from universities to apartment buildings and rural bus stops. Since 2015 however, they have been under dual threat, first from decommunization laws aimed at removing symbols of the Soviet Union, and now from neglect, as the country attempts to modernize its aging cities.

But now, some Ukrainians have begun campaigning to preserve these unique works, seeing them as important, if complicated, relics of the nation’s history.

Renee Hickman
Mosaics depicting themes from Ukrainian history overlook Kiev’s busy Peremohy Avenue. Since 2015, mosaics such as these have been under threat from decommunization efforts and neglect.

Ievgeniia Moliar, an art historian and activist based in Kiev has been involved in efforts to preserve mosaics around the city. “It was, of course, part of Communist propaganda by the government,” says Ms. Moliar of the mosaics. But at that time, she says, the artists who created them were often given more freedom than those in other disciplines and so developed “a lot of different languages to express ideas.” The results were sometimes masterpieces.

In 2015 however, many mosaics were scheduled for destruction after Ukraine’s parliament passed a series of laws which banned public symbols of the Soviet Union, ranging from statues of Soviet Union leader Vladimir Lenin to imagery like the hammer and sickle.

The laws were intended to eliminate visual reminders of the Soviet regime following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, while allowing for the preservation of works with artistic value. But there is no agreement about which pieces from the Soviet period constitute art and no official registry of such works, so decisions about what should be preserved or destroyed could be arbitrary.

Izolyatsia, a non-profit arts organization, had begun a project to photograph and catalogue the works, but soon were responding to calls from people living near the mosaics to help save them.

When it was notified of plans to demolish the Peremohy apartment building mosaics, Izolyatsia launched a campaign to protect them, involving journalists and local residents, writing letters to officials, and purchasing informational plaques to mount near the mosaics. City authorities ultimately allowed the mosaics to remain.

‘You can't erase history’ 

Volodymyr Priadka is one of the artists who created the mosaics on Peremohy Avenue. Over two decades, he and his colleagues produced the intricate designs in a painstaking process using thousands of pieces of colored glass.

Most of Mr. Priadka’s work is now focused on religious and Ukrainian national themes – far more popular in today’s political environment. But while his themes have changed, he is adamant that public art from the previous era must be preserved. “You can’t erase history,” says Priadka. “Even if you don’t like it, and even if it was bad. It is our history.”

Renee Hickman
Artist Volodymyr Priadka sits in his studio in Kiev, Ukraine, surrounded by photos of his mosaics from the Soviet era and his more recent work, which includes Christian icons and symbolic depictions of Ukraine’s revolution. He is adamant that public art from previous eras should be preserved.

Since the initial decommunization push in 2015, much of the most obvious communist symbolism has been eliminated from Ukraine’s landscape. But for the remaining mosaics, the main threat is neglect.

Oleksandra Gaidai, a senior research fellow at the Museum of the History of Kiev, says many Ukrainians are simply unsure about which pieces from the Soviet period should be considered art. As such, preservation is not prioritized in local budgets, and many mosaics are allowed to decay until they must be removed. 

Community-led preservation

Natalia Frolova is an engineer and mother of two who lives near Children’s Clinic No. 3, a pediatric medical clinic in Kiev’s Solomyansky district. On one of the clinic’s walls is a mosaic depicting a woman and three children wearing traditional Ukrainian clothing.

Ms. Frolova had been taking her children to the clinic and adjacent swimming pool for years when in 2017, she noticed workers preparing to remove the mosaic. The building owners had decided to destroy it – not because of decommunization, but in order to install additional insulation.

Frolova says the mosaic always lifted her mood, and she was disturbed to see it being torn down, so she posted a message about it in a neighborhood Facebook group and tagged a local preservation activist.

Over the following weeks, they contacted their member of parliament and journalists, and organized a press conference. With public concern building, the clinic owners eventually decided to leave the mosaic in place.

Frolova says she feels a sense of pride about what she was able to accomplish with her community. Still, she worries about whether this and other mosaics can be preserved from decay and future renovation efforts. “We need a balance between new and old,” she says.

Ms. Gaidai says she would like to see more community-led discussions like this when it comes to decisions about what Soviet-era art should be preserved.

“People are not feeling that the spaces in the city, in the villages, are their spaces,” she says.

And several art historians said public art should include informational plaques to offer context explaining its historic origins and meaning, as the art often comes from a complicated and sometimes dark period of Ukraine’s history.

But the notion that “the government decided it should be removed and so it was removed,” shouldn’t exist, adds Gaidai. To her, that practice itself seems like a Soviet relic.

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The Monitor's View

Global solutions on migration start at home

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After 18 months of talks, the first attempt at coordinating nations’ immigration policies wrapped up Monday in Morocco. About 85 percent of United Nations members signed the nonbinding “Global Compact for Migration,” calling for “safe, orderly, and regular” migration. The debate itself proved more valuable than the document. It helped nations look inward, compare themselves with others, and perhaps notice how their domestic divisions influence their migration practices or their standing in the world. Some were at ease in signing the pact. Others found the intense international focus proved disruptive. The mixed result is reflected in a Pew poll of 27 countries that have more than half of the world’s international migrants. A median of 45 percent favored fewer or no immigrants. Just 14 percent wanted more. Migration can destabilize communities and local politics. It can also force nations to define their idea of home, or the values and protections that reflect a country. Migration today is more global. Yet more countries find they must size up their identity as well as the size of their welcome mat to the world. 

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Global solutions on migration start at home

 With one in every 30 people in the world now migrants, it was inevitable that the United Nations would try to coordinate the immigration policies of nations that send, receive, or block migrants. After 18 months of talks, this first attempt at a global approach wrapped up Monday in Morocco with an agreement. About 85 percent of UN members signed the nonbinding “Global Compact for Migration,” one that calls for “safe, orderly, and regular” migration.

In the end, the debate itself proved more valuable than the 23 legal and humanitarian aspirations expressed in the 34-page document. The discussion helped nations look inward, compare themselves with others, and perhaps notice how their domestic divisions influence their migration practices or their standing in the world.

Some were at ease in signing the pact. As British Home Secretary Sajid Javid (himself an immigrant and a Conservative) put it in a recent speech, “It is when we’re comfortable in our own security, identity, and values that we are also comfortable being open with others, whether at home or abroad.”

In many countries, the intense international focus on migration and the decision on whether to sign the pact proved disruptive.

It caused Belgium’s government to nearly collapse. It forced the Slovak foreign minister to tender his resignation. It helped trigger protests in Italy. With nine countries in Europe opting out of the pact, the European Union is now even more divided on how to stem the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. In the United States, the pact was dismissed from the start by President Trump and drew little attention because of a more-divisive debate over the caravan of Central Americans and whether to build a wall on the US-Mexican border.

The mixed result in support of the pact is reflected in a Pew poll last spring of 27 countries that have more than half of the world’s international migrants. The sentiment against migration is strong. A median of 45 percent favored fewer or no immigrants while 36 percent say they want about the same number. Just 14 percent wanted more immigrants.

Of the estimated 258 million migrants worldwide, an unprecedented 68.5 million have been forced from their home. About 15 percent of the world’s adults say they would like to move to another country, according to a Gallup poll. The exodus from Venezuela, where some 3 million have fled so far, is one of the largest migrations. The number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees could reach 6 million to 8 million over the next year, according to the Brookings Institution.

As a global phenomenon, migration can destabilize communities as well as local politics. Yet it can also force nations to define their idea of home, or the values and protections that reflect a country. In Britain, for example, the decision to leave the EU and opt out of the free movement of EU citizens has opened “the need and the opportunity to define our country once more,” says the country's home secretary.

The UN pact itself may be forgotten but the exercise in birthing it was necessary and perhaps long-lasting. Migration is more global. Yet more countries find they must size up their identity as well as the size of their welcome mat to the world. The affections at home will be reflected in affections abroad.

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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.

The healing impact of knowing God’s kindness

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Pausing to affirm and feel that God is limitless Love, not vengeful and punishing, is dynamic prayer that transforms and heals.

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The healing impact of knowing God’s kindness

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I was asked to give a speech to a broad audience – some were going to attend in person, but most would be joining online. The people organizing this event had done a remarkable job of reaching out to a wide-ranging, diverse group of attendees, and I knew this was going to be a very special opportunity.

A significant part of this talk was to be devoted to the nature of God. This is a topic close to my heart that I’d spoken on many times before. But there’s always more to learn, and so I prayed to know what to say this time to all of these people! For a couple of hours I became very still and quiet inside, striving to drop my own ideas about what to talk about and really listen for God’s direction: “God, what would You like me to tell them about You?”

As I listened, I sort of expected a very bold and complicated answer, but what I heard inside was clear and simple, and it changed me forever: “Please tell them that I am kind.”

As these words gently settled in my heart, more than ever I felt God’s embracing love for our world.

There are many views of God out there, and one is that there are times when God is vengeful and punishing, that God teaches us by sending evil to harm us. But one of many helpful ways that Christian Science inspires us to think of God contradicts that view. It makes it plain that God is pure Love – consistently kind and entirely good. This is in line with a reassuring statement in the Bible that says, “See what marvellous love the Father has bestowed upon us – that we should be called God’s children” (I John 3:1, Weymouth New Testament).

The nature of the Love that is God is one of pure, universal love. In her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” The Christian Science Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, observes, “The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment, such as peace, patience in tribulation, and a priceless sense of the dear Father’s loving-kindness” (pp. 365-366). Opening one’s heart to God’s kind, consistent, limitless love can bring healing and redemption to any kind of experience.

As an example, a friend of mine had been educated to believe that, sure, God is all good, but this goodness is a distant reward. She felt that this present time was a time to suffer and that she shouldn’t be surprised when she became ill or, when trying hard, often failed.

She saw that I didn’t feel that way, and one day she asked why. I don’t recall my exact words, but I know I talked about the great Love that is God. I also talked about how the unrelenting, impartial love God has for all of us – His spiritual offspring – is not only a future thing, but is for right now and always.

God is always the same perfect Love and goodness. During all times and in all places, Love is unwavering. Could even one of God’s children be excluded from His goodness and care for a period? Never.

As I talked with this friend, I could feel God’s kindness toward her so tangibly. And she began to feel it, too. The change didn’t happen overnight, and there were some ups and downs, but like changing the direction of a big ship, the transformation in her thinking was steady and solid. As she saw more clearly that God’s kindness and love are always in action – timelessly – she felt a fuller, more palpable sense of peace and accomplishment in her life.

Filled with inspiration from these ideas, I gave the talk, which was well received. It was a great joy to tell those attending how kind God is.

Encircling the world, our divine Father’s lovingkindness is here at all times and in every place. God’s kindness and love are utterly consistent and abundant, and we can endeavor to be more consistently aware of this fact. Pausing to feel and affirm God’s limitless care is dynamic prayer that transforms and heals, enabling us to realize that, truly, “His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting” (Psalms 117:2, New American Standard Bible).

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Viewfinder

A very public spat

Evan Vucci/AP
In a testy Oval Office exchange Dec. 11, President Trump and top Democrats sparred over issues in what NPR called ‘an extraordinary show before the cameras and the press.’ On the issue of a government shutdown if funding for a border wall is not forthcoming, Mr. Trump said: ‘I will take the mantle. And I will shut it down for border security.’ From left: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, Trump, and Senate minority leader Charles Schumer.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 12th, 2018 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow, when our education writer will revisit her childhood school district to ask, How do cities that successfully desegregated schools handle a reversal back into segregation? 

Monitor Daily Podcast

December 11, 2018
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