2022
August
18
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 18, 2022
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TODAY’S INTRO

When a baseball player puts compassion above competition

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Society often looks to professional athletes as role models. When they stumble in their personal lives or in their on-field behavior, they’re rightly criticized as setting a bad example. 

But perhaps we’re looking for our role models in the wrong places. 

Last week, an errant pitch hit Tulsa, Oklahoma, little leaguer Isaiah Jarvis in the head. For several minutes, he lay on the ground attended by adults. In the pros, such a pitch might have prompted a dugout-clearing brawl, or some form of revenge from the opposing team later in the game.

Instead of retribution, the batter delivered a hug. 

Twelve-year-old Isaiah trotted to first base, well enough to keep playing. Then, he noticed the pitcher was still visibly upset. Isaiah called time out, walked over to the mound, and wrapped his arms around his distraught competitor, Kaiden Shelton. And he gave Kaiden a quiet pep talk. “If I was in that position and just hit a kid in the head and almost gave him a concussion, I would be (crying), too. So I was just going over to make sure that he knows I’m OK and he doesn’t need to be crying because I’m just fine,” Isaiah told the Tulsa World Journal

More tears flowed in the ballpark as parents and coaches were touched by this display of compassion and sportsmanship. Video of the moment went viral

The Tulsa Nationals lost that playoff game. Their competitors, from Pearland, Texas, are now representing the U.S. Southwest at the Little League World Series that began Wednesday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Still, the Tulsa team won in the game of life. 

“You think about our world and how divisive things tend to become. Here are teams that they all desperately want to go to Williamsport,” Tulsa coach Sean Kouplen said. “But they put their friendship and caring for each other above that every time. It is just so refreshing and so inspiring.”

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

Rushdie assault an attack on more than freedom of speech

The assault on writer Salman Rushdie reminds us that the freedom of expression, as our London columnist writes, isn’t just about free speech. It includes having the humility and integrity to listen to ideas you might not share.

David

Two ways to read the story

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Last week’s assault on the British writer Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” was a frontal assault on freedom of expression, an essential value underpinning democratic societies.

But it was also a violation of another key precept of free societies – that citizens should be able to disagree with one another, even stridently, without demonizing their opponents.

The fatwa encouraging Mr. Rushdie’s murder, issued by then Iranian ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is over 30 years old. But in that ruling one can see the seeds of the angry, almost gladiatorial tone in modern American public discourse that has led to moves to restrict the expression of opinions that cause offense – with the definition essentially left to those who say they feel offended.

That runs counter to the sort of society for which Mr. Rushdie advocated, along with dozens of other writers, in an open letter published two years ago in Harper’s Magazine.

The way to “defeat” ideas you reject is by “argument and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” the letter read. That is a vision with even more relevance in the wake of the attack on Mr. Rushdie.

Rushdie assault an attack on more than freedom of speech

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Joshua Goodman/AP
People gather at an evening vigil for author Salman Rushdie after he was attacked, Aug. 12, 2022, in Chautauqua, New York. Mr. Rushdie, whose novel "The Satanic Verses" drew death threats from Iran in 1989, was stabbed as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.

Salman Rushdie is a writer of great intelligence, imagination, and invention. But above all, in my experience, he possesses two qualities that set him apart from those seeking to murder him for a novel that most of them have surely never read: complexity and nuance.

And those qualities are indispensable to unraveling the wider implications of last week’s horrific knife attack on the British author at a literary event in western New York.

The attack itself was anything but an act of nuance. It was a frontal assault on the freedom of expression essential not just to literature or art, but to the health of democratic societies.

Yet it also signaled the erosion of a deeper foundation of any well-functioning democracy, of which freedom of expression is just one stone: the free exchange of ideas and opinions, grounded in the kind of respect and tolerance that allows for disagreement, even strident disagreement, without demonizing those whose views we don’t share.

“Open debate and toleration of differences” were the values Mr. Rushdie defended in an open letter, published in Harper’s Magazine, that he co-signed two years ago amid a steadily growing atmosphere of populist-stoked intolerance on both the right and left in the United States and other democracies.

Those have never been easy ideals to live up to. The quest to define – and limit – freedom of expression long predates the 1989 fatwa, or Muslim legal ruling, by which Iran’s ruling Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for the killing of Mr. Rushdie for his novel “The Satanic Verses.”

Until then, legislation and judicial rulings in the U.S. and other democracies had produced a consensus of sorts over where limits to expression were needed: libel and slander, for instance, or incitement to hatred and violence that could lead to the physical harm of fellow citizens.

The underlying assumption was that to punish words simply because they gave offense to somebody’s feelings, beliefs, or political views would strip freedom of expression of all meaning.

Joshua Bessex/AP
The assault against author Salman Rushdie at the Chautauqua Institution in New York, shown here, undermined both freedom of speech and the U.S. tradition of respectful exchange of opinions.

Over recent years, that assumption has come under fire. Especially in the U.S., an angry, almost gladiatorial tone in public discourse has led to moves to restrict the expression of opinions that cause offense – with the definition essentially left to those who say they feel offended. That tendency has been supercharged by social media platforms, on which campaigns against an author, politician, public figure, or even an ordinary citizen can be organized within hours, often anonymously.

It is a trend that first emerged in the fatwa against Mr. Rushdie.

It was encouraged, he has always felt, by the equivocal response by some Western political and religious leaders, who said, in effect: “Yes, it’s wrong of the ayatollah to call for the murder of a novelist, but Mr. Rushdie was wrong to have published a book that could offend millions of Muslims.”

I remember wondering at the time whether any of them had read the novel or spoken to Mr. Rushdie. I was fortunate to have done both, just 48 hours before the fatwa. Amid the escalating denunciations of Mr. Rushdie, I’d expected “The Satanic Verses” to be a polemical tract, and the author to be an anti-Islamic firebrand.

But the book turned out to be a marvel of magical realism, full of unlikely twists and dream sequences. And while I could see how its imagined depiction of the prophet Muhammad could indeed offend Muslims – if they chose to read it – it was not a book about the prophet or about Islam.

It was, as Mr. Rushdie explained in the front room of the London home he would soon have to flee, essentially about “the experience of being an immigrant,” drawing on Mr. Rushdie’s own experience, as a Mumbai-born Indian Muslim who was now very much a British author.

When we next met, six years later, he was in hiding from the fatwa. We talked about how, despite his nonobservant upbringing, Islam’s texts and traditions still had a hold on him as a writer. “Yes,” he remarked, smiling, “I guess we are obsessed by what we don’t believe in.” Still, he did believe in “revelation” and ached to understand it. The controversial passages about Muhammad in “The Satanic Verses” had been his way of doing so, trying to “get inside” the head of the prophet, “outside Mecca, when revelation came.”

What struck me – even more so now, as Mr. Rushdie begins his recovery from his knife injuries – was that the fatwa had thrown down a daunting challenge for democratic societies by taking doctrinal aim at a novel born of contemplation and personal exploration.

In his open letter a couple of years ago, Mr. Rushdie seemed almost quaintly to imagine the kind of civil environment that might make it possible for his novel to coexist with its critics and detractors, who, of course, had an equal right to be heard.

A society, the letter said, in which the way you “defeat” ideas you reject is by “argument and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away.”

The irony – the key difficulty facing a deeply divided America too – is that this isn’t just a matter of freedom of expression, being able to write and say what you think, feel, or hold dear.

It’s about being able to listen as well.

The Explainer

How blue – and red – cities are resisting state abortion laws

Civil disobedience is sometimes employed by the political left and right when they disagree with state or federal laws on guns, marijuana, and immigration. It speaks to a moral stand that in a democracy, local government should serve the community – not “big government.” Our reporter looks at the rise of “sanctuary cities” for abortion.

David

Two ways to read the story

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Officials in more than a dozen blue cities from Boise, Idaho, to Memphis, Tennessee, are testing their ability to safeguard abortion access despite state bans against the procedure. 

One key approach? City leaders urge local law enforcement to de-prioritize investigations into potential abortion crimes. 

In doing so, it’s important to distinguish between “never” and “not now,” says Roderick Hills, professor of law at New York University School of Law.

“When you say never, you’re effectively nullifying a statute, and no executive official has the power to nullify a statute,” he says. With “not now,” on the other hand, “you’re simply saying you’ll enforce that statute when you get around to it.” (Think jaywalking.)

While this strategy is largely in use on the left, some red cities are employing it, too.

In New Mexico, where abortion is legal, the Republican commissioners of Otero County approved a measure declaring it a “sanctuary for life.” Alamogordo, a city within that county, passed a similar resolution.

On both sides, the resistance is somewhat symbolic. Just as cities cannot ignore statewide bans and authorize abortions, Alamogordo’s sanctuary status does not prevent residents from accessing an abortion so long as the practice is legal in the state. 

How blue – and red – cities are resisting state abortion laws

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Eric Gay/AP
Demonstrators gather near the state Capitol after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2022, in Austin, Texas. Boise, Idaho; New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Austin, among others, have approved resolutions that urge de-prioritizing law enforcement investigations into potential abortion crimes.

Amid the mudslide of legal questions set off by the end of Roe v. Wade is the role of local resistance. With the right to abortion once again left to states, officials in more than a dozen cities are testing their limited leverage to safeguard abortion access. While local governments generally cannot refuse to enforce state laws like abortion bans, legal experts say, some are declining to assist in the prosecution of people who violate the bans. 

Some blue city leaders in red states frame their pushback – however symbolic – as a political responsibility to constituents. 

“Local officials must now do whatever we can to protect the women in our communities,” Democratic Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said in June. “It is not my job to make it easier for the state legislature and the governor to drag women in Ohio back to the ’50s and strip their rights. It’s my job to make that harder.”

Republican leaders, meanwhile, see political opponents going rogue.  

In Louisiana, “nothing in the statutes, the City Charter, or the State Constitution permits these officials to blatantly ignore State law, conspire not to enforce it, and violate their oaths of office in this manner,” stated Attorney General Jeff Landry last month. The Republican called for pausing funds to New Orleans for “defiance” of state abortion laws.

Many conservatives argue that, given deep divisions around abortion that vary regionally, the Supreme Court shouldn’t “impose a one-size-fits-all regime on the entire nation,” says Roderick Hills, professor of law at New York University School of Law.

Extend that logic further, he adds, and “a blue city in a red state can make exactly the same complaint” against state abortion bans. 

What are cities enacting?

A few patterns of pushback are emerging, with nuances specific to the jurisdiction. 

Boise, Idaho; New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Austin, Texas, among others, have approved resolutions that urge de-prioritizing law enforcement investigations into potential abortion crimes. 

The Austin City Council in July approved the Guarding the Right to Abortion Care for Everyone Act, known as the GRACE Act, which limits the use of city funds to catalog and investigate abortion, and calls for “the lowest priority for enforcement” (except in cases of coercion, criminal negligence, or evidence of other crimes). Several other cities in Texas, where abortion is banned, have approved or considered similar measures. 

“In a state like Texas, where the state government is openly hostile towards necessary medical care, we must fight with everything we have to avoid being complicit in the violation of our constituents’ rights,” Jenna Hanes, a spokesperson for Council member José “Chito” Vela, the lead sponsor of the Austin resolution, said in a statement. 

Inspired by a 2020 measure limiting the use of city and police resources to prosecute personal possession of marijuana, the GRACE Act “is an entirely legal exercise of our city’s right to discretion when it comes to prioritizing the public safety matters that our residents consider to be important,” Ms. Hanes wrote.

But in the eyes of Rebecca Parma, senior legislative associate at anti-abortion Texas Right to Life, Austin’s City Council is “trying to flout state law.”

That’s why Texas Right to Life will push to expand private enforcement strategies, says Ms. Parma. In addition to Texas’ current abortion ban, Senate Bill 8, or the Texas Heartbeat Act, allows private citizens to sue people suspected of performing, aiding, or abetting abortion. Ms. Parma hopes similar enforcement mechanisms will be added to other Texas abortion laws, like one that limits access to medication abortion.

“We can have all the criminal penalties we want on the books,” she says. However, “those penalties are limited if we have lawless district attorneys.” 

Separate from assigning a low priority to enforcement of abortion-related pursuits, another strategy has emerged in Cincinnati and other cities, where officials are exploring ways to cover expenses for public employees seeking abortion.

And in St. Louis, Democratic Mayor Tishaura Jones signed a bill that directs $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars toward a new “reproductive equity fund” that could be used by St. Louisans beyond city employees. The funding would, in part, cover “logistical support” costs like travel but not fund abortion procedures. Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Missouri, where abortion is illegal, has sued the city, alleging violation of state law. 

Jeff Roberson/AP/File
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks during a news conference in St. Louis on Aug. 6, 2020. Abortion is illegal in Missouri, but St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones has directed $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to a “reproductive equity fund” that could cover “logistical support” costs like travel but not fund abortion procedures. Mr. Schmitt has sued the city, alleging violation of state law.

Meanwhile, dozens of elected prosecutors have said they are declining “to criminalize reproductive health decisions ... and [will] refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions,” signing a June letter from the progressive Fair and Just Prosecution network. 

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, where abortion is banned after 15 weeks, has suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren, who signed the letter and had joined a similar pledge supporting gender-affirming health care last year.

The governor’s executive order cites the Democrat’s “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”

Mr. Warren, who was elected by Hillsborough County voters, is suing the governor in federal court. The Florida Constitution offers narrow grounds for an elected official to be removed from office, he contends.

In a video, Mr. Warren condemned what he sees as an undemocratic move, adding, “DeSantis is trying to take away my job – for doing my job.” 

How viable are these strategies? 

The catch: Cities are limited in their ability to defy state law, say legal experts. And some states significantly limit the level of nonenforcement that lower jurisdictions can exercise, Politico reports.

When considering how executive officials practice discretion, says Professor Hills, it’s important to distinguish between “never” and “not now.”

“When you say never, you’re effectively nullifying a statute, and no executive official has the power to nullify a statute,” he says. With “not now,” on the other hand, “you’re simply saying you’ll enforce that statute when you get around to it.” (Think jaywalking, for example.)

Proposals for using public funds to pay for abortion-related expenses have also drawn scrutiny. However, unless a state puts limitations on how taxpayer dollars can be used, cities “would be able to provide a travel benefit pursuant to a bona fide employee benefit plan,” says Ron Kramer, a labor and employment lawyer at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Chicago.

The Hyde Amendment prevented the use of federal funding for abortion purposes,” he says. “I don’t see why a state couldn’t do something similar.”

Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News/AP
People watch the Abilene City Council meeting in overflow seating at the Abilene Public Library South Branch in Abilene, Texas, on April 28, 2022. After discussing a proposed ordinance to make Abilene "a sanctuary city for the unborn," the council decided to send the measure before voters in November.

What precedent is there for these kinds of local tactics?

These political strategies aren’t new, but rather an ongoing “arms race ... between the right and the left,” says Professor Hills. 

Some county sheriffs have vowed not to enforce state gun regulations, for instance. And throughout the pandemic, cities and states have clashed over who has the power to enforce COVID-19 mandates. For several years, resistance to U.S. immigration policies has earned liberal cities like New York and San Francisco “sanctuary” status, typically meaning they’ve curbed cooperation with federal authorities on immigration matters. 

The abortion debate is repurposing this “sanctuary” moniker – and not just on the left. 

In New Mexico, where abortion is legal, the Republican commissioners of Otero County approved a measure declaring it a “sanctuary for life.” Alamogordo, a city within that county, followed suit with its own resolution this month that declared it a “sanctuary for the unborn.”

However, just as cities cannot ignore statewide bans and authorize abortions, Alamogordo’s sanctuary status does not prevent residents from accessing an abortion so long as the practice is legal in the state, the ACLU of New Mexico pointed out in advance of the city’s vote.

Censored at home and barred from travel, Kashmiri journalists persist

Perseverance in the face of state persecution, our reporter finds, is becoming a hallmark of journalists in Kashmir, as they are illegally banned from traveling abroad.

David
Qadri Inzamam
Kashmir Walla staffer Aleena Mir is pictured recording a bulletin at their office in Srinagar, India, on Aug. 17, 2022. This year, the Walla’s office has been raided and its staff questioned and booked in criminal cases that have drained resources and demanded unprecedented resolve from its leaders.

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Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan headed to New Delhi International Airport in late July, ready to depart for Sri Lanka to cover the country’s economic crisis. 

Instead, he was held for hours and questioned about his personal and professional life. His passport was eventually stamped “canceled without prejudice,” meaning he would not be allowed to travel abroad that day. 

It was a perplexing, but not unique, experience. Several other journalists from Kashmir have been barred from traveling abroad since 2019, when the Indian government stripped the region of its autonomous status and ramped up media restrictions.

Officials gave no reasons for the bans, making them difficult for the journalists to challenge in court. Experts say these travel restrictions are yet another way that authorities are repressing journalism in Kashmir by treating it as a crime. Journalists have also been threatened with jail time and pressured to self-censor. 

As the local media landscape constricts, experts say authorities are increasingly focusing on independent journalists who work with foreign outlets. Those who can find ways to endure the harassment say it’s only made them more determined to report the truth. 

“When we choose to be journalists, we are aware of the consequences. These incidents do not come as a surprise,” says Mr. Hassan. “It might be difficult momentarily, but it won’t stop me.”

Censored at home and barred from travel, Kashmiri journalists persist

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Aakash Hassan was scheduled to fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 27 to report on the country’s economic crisis, but he never made it. Although the Kashmiri journalist had completed all the travel formalities needed for a speedy departure, when he reached the immigration counter at the New Delhi International Airport, officials took him to a room and questioned him about his personal and professional life. 

After hours of waiting, his passport was stamped “canceled without prejudice,” meaning he would not be allowed to travel abroad that day. 

It was a perplexing experience, but not a unique one. A few weeks prior, another Kashmiri journalist, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, was stopped from traveling to Paris to attend a photography exhibition. Other journalists from the region have also been barred from traveling abroad since 2019, when the Indian government abrogated the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and ramped up media restrictions.

Officials gave no reasons for the bans, making it difficult for the journalists to challenge the orders in court. Experts say these travel restrictions are yet another way that authorities are repressing journalism in Kashmir by treating it as a crime. Kashmiri journalists have been frequently summoned to police stations and questioned about their work, threatened with jail time, and pressured to self-censor. 

“After the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status … the authorities had decided that even routine journalism – if it appeared contrary to the narrative they wanted to propagate – had to be stopped,” says Kalpana Sharma, a veteran journalist and author who has extensively written about the Indian media. 

She says many local papers have caved to government pressure, and authorities are increasingly focusing on independent journalists who work with foreign outlets. Those who can find ways to endure the harassment say it’s only made them more determined to report the truth. 

Mr. Hassan doesn’t know for sure why he was barred from traveling to Colombo last month, but he suspects it’s related to his extensive reporting on human rights abuses and civil liberties in Kashmir.

In 2021, Mr. Hassan reported how several newspapers in Kashmir had deleted archived stories that criticized the government, and he also wrote about Kashmiri police harassing critics on social media. Both stories appeared on New York-based news sites.

“When something like this happens, it takes some time to get me back to the field,” he says about the canceled Colombo trip and other altercations with local police. But he eventually overcomes these feelings of frustration and starts writing again. 

“When we choose to be journalists, we are aware of the consequences. These incidents do not come as a surprise,” he says. “It might be difficult momentarily, but it won’t stop me.”

Qadri Inzamam
Kashmiri Journalist Aakash Hassan, in Srinagar, India, on Aug. 16, 2022, was recently denied the right to travel out of the country without being given any reason.

Criminalization of journalism

India’s rank fell from 142 to 150 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, a downgrade largely attributed to punitive action against journalists in Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region where authorities have long struggled to contain separatist insurgencies. 

“There is a complete opacity in terms of how the government in Jammu and Kashmir is dealing with journalists,” says Kunal Majumdar, India representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has documented a sharp rise in the detention and arrests of journalists since 2019. 

He adds that this harassment is part of “a larger trend that we are seeing across the country, but it is much more intense in Kashmir.”

The ongoing persecution has created compounding challenges for local newsrooms, such as The Kashmir Walla. 

This year, the Walla’s office has been raided, and its staff questioned and booked in criminal cases that have drained resources and demanded unprecedented resolve from its leaders. Its founding editor, Fahad Shah, was arrested in February for allegedly posting “anti-national content” online, including a story about a deadly police raid which quoted the victims’ families. Mr. Shah – who also regularly contributed to the Monitor – remains in jail today. 

Interim editor Yashraj Sharma says that “everything fell apart” after Mr. Shah’s arrest. While the small staff has demonstrated perseverance in maintaining the Walla’s website, problems continue to pile up. 

Qadri Inzamam
Interim editor of The Kashmir Walla, Yashraj Sharma, works at his office in Srinagar, India, on Aug. 17, 2022. The Walla's founding editor, Fahad Shah, was arrested in February for allegedly posting “anti-national content” online, including a story about a deadly police raid that quoted the victims’ families.

“We are running out of funds. We have simultaneous court hearings. In a single day, there are a million things we have to juggle between,” Mr. Sharma says.

Still, to bow out now would be worse, as the local media landscape constricts and there are fewer newspapers able to document the day-to-day realities in Kashmir. 

“We have been standing on the edge of a cliff for a long time now, but giving up is a privilege we simply do not have,” Mr. Sharma says.

Nowhere to turn

Mounting pressures have prompted some Kashmiri journalists to turn to national or international outlets to get their stories out, as well as build more sustainable careers. But even this strategy could draw government scrutiny. 

The director-general of Jammu and Kashmir Police told The Indian Express this month that authorities have an obligation to keep a watchlist of journalists who may spread a “venomous kind of narrative” while abroad. 

The Indian Supreme Court has ruled in the past that authorities can only prevent a citizen from flying outside the country if they are undergoing a trial or wanted by the law. But Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, says a number of activists and journalists have been arbitrarily stopped by Indian immigration authorities in recent years, including many Kashmiris. 

“The courts have usually refused to uphold these orders, and yet this disturbing practice persists, impacting freedom of movement and right to livelihood,” she says.

Srinagar-based journalist and activist Bilal Ahmad Bhat says he’s been stopped twice from traveling abroad, once at the New Delhi airport in October 2019 while heading to Malaysia for a conference, and again two years later, when he was prevented from boarding a plane to Lebanon.

“I wanted to take legal action against the travel ban, but I was told by a police officer that if I went by the legal way, the case would linger on forever,” Mr. Bhat says. 

Like other journalists, Mr. Bhat was never told why he was barred from traveling. 

After the first incident, Mr. Bhat says he started getting calls from various security agencies, asking him invasive questions about his personal and professional life. The ordeal filled him with anxiety, and he’s since struggled with frequent panic attacks and feelings of paranoia, which can make it difficult to focus on work. But he always finds a way.

“I will never give up. Even my family and friends are against the idea of me continuing journalism,” he says. “If I give up, who will speak for the people?”

Q&A

Climate action: How values – and disasters – influence progress

When it comes to addressing climate change, two values are often at odds: Freedom from government control and safety (protecting people and the planet). Our reporter talks to a U.S. scholar about the cultural shift underway on this issue.

David

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Out of sight, out of mind – for many people that’s been true of climate change, according to Andrew Hoffman, the Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. 

“You can’t see CO2,” he says. “You can’t feel global mean temperature going up. ... It takes a while for the public and politicians to move on something. They need a visceral prod to get them to do it.” 

That prod is here now – in wildfires, drought, flooding, and so on. “The evidence is becoming harder to ignore,” Dr. Hoffman says.

“The number of people who believe climate change is happening is going up steadily,” he adds. “Conservative Republicans less so, but among moderate Republicans, the numbers are going up.”

That general increase, he says, is partly a function of humanity’s evolving understanding of their relationship to nature.

“Before the Enlightenment, ... nature dominated us. ... We tried to make sense out of it using religion,” he says. “Then the Enlightenment comes along, scientific revolution comes along, and we treat it like a machine that we can tamper with. 

“Now, we’re starting to recognize that that didn’t quite work either. We’ve come to a kind of recognition that the success – and survival – of the human species and the natural environment are commingled.” 

Climate action: How values – and disasters – influence progress

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Mark Bialek/Courtesy of Dr. Andrew Hoffman
Andrew Hoffman is the Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, where he holds joint appointments in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability.

In recent years, environmentalists in the United States saw legislative efforts geared toward curbing climate change’s worst impacts as a Sisyphean task. They would lobby lawmakers to push for substantive action, legislation would be introduced, debate would follow, and then the partisan divide would send the boulder rolling back down the hill, where the effort would start anew.

That changed on Tuesday, with President Joe Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act. The sweeping bill represents the nation’s largest climate adaptation investment to date, including provisions for emissions reduction and clean energy investment.

Andrew Hoffman, the Holcim Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, is the author of numerous books, including 2015’s “How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate.” Dr. Hoffman spoke recently with the Monitor about how U.S. political and cultural values have shaped – and continue to shape – conversations about climate action. The exchange has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Culturally, what has held us back from reacting proactively to climate change? 

You can’t see CO2. You can’t feel global mean temperature going up. The science is complicated. It took a while for people to recognize the connection between CO2 and shifting weather patterns. The idea of taking proactive action on a problem that is far less visceral, less visible, has been a common problem on environmental issues for a long time. 

I remember Bill O’Reilly, when he was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under [President] George H.W. Bush. He said, “Where are we spending our money on environmental issues, and where should we spend it?” We’re spending it on very visible problems, like abandoned hazardous waste sites, when we should be spending on invisible problems, like radon and ground-level ozone. Climate change fits into that very hard to see kind of problem. The solutions are so enormous, with greater economic impact, that we wouldn’t see the benefits right now. It’d be for future generations. That idea of caring about future generations becomes a major cultural block. 

Foresight isn’t humankind’s forte, per se, but we’re not hopeless in terms of gauging the future. In this case, why do you think it’s so difficult in terms of adapting to a changing climate?

That’s true in so many issues. We deal with them when we have a visceral crisis. We didn’t get into World War II until we were bombed at Pearl Harbor. It takes a while for the public and politicians to move on something. They need a visceral prod to get them to do it. 

There [are also] plenty of ways for people to ignore climate change, even when they come to accept it, by saying, “It’s going to happen to somebody else, someplace else in the future. Not my problem.” It really became an issue in this country when it started to happen to us, now – the wildfires in the West, the drought in the Southwest, food scarcity. I think COVID has fed into it and made people realize how vulnerable our systems are. So, we are facing those crises, and now, people are waking up [to realize] that we need to do something about it.

The Inflation Reduction Act is one example of that progress. What about our contemporary cultural moment do you think allowed for us to take that step?

It wasn’t easy, and certainly we still have the partisan divide. If there were 49 Democrats [in the Senate], this wouldn’t have happened. There were 50, with [Vice President] Kamala Harris breaking the tie. Also, the Democrats finally got a little smart about this and took away some of the third-rail issues that got tied in with it. [Legislators also] didn’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of good. Politics is the art of the possible. Accepting good rather than perfect is a good step.

So, was it more card-playing luck than a reflection of our cultural moment?

No. I think people are ready for action on climate change. If you look at public opinion polls, the number of people who believe climate change is happening is going up steadily. Conservative Republicans less so, but among moderate Republicans, the numbers are going up. If you ask people why they’re changing their position, it’s because of the weird weather. I think that among the general public, there is a growing awareness and concern over climate change.

Given that, can we say we’ve begun to bridge climate action’s cultural divide?

Yes. But one of the problems with climate change is when you tell people you have a problem but give them no way to do anything about it – it’s demobilizing. People are now seeing ways to do something about it, and that’s getting them behind it. Whether it will be enough, that’s a different question.

I’d like to expand on that question. Would you deem the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage as an example of bridging the cultural divide, or is it more so the result of climate change’s symptoms – droughts, wildfires, flooding, etc. – hitting closer to home for many? 

We’ll see, because even the investments that are in the legislation are not going to have a visible impact on global emissions. For American emissions, it will take some time. People have short attention spans. They want instant results. Let’s see how it plays out.

How do we keep the public focused?

The wildfires, the droughts, the floods – these are visceral events that keep it on people’s minds in the same way that mass shootings still stun us. People think we’re getting numb to it, but we aren’t. It’s still front-page news. It keeps guns on the agenda. 

The effects of climate change will continue to take place, especially if they have costs associated with them. That’s the kicker – if you want to make something salient, put a dollar sign on it and that will keep people’s attention.

Why is value framing – cooperation, perseverance – important to climate action?

If you look at the partisan divide over climate change, for those on the right, they see efforts to address climate change as a restriction on economic growth and an opportunity for government to control the economy, to control our lives, and restrict our freedom. If you look at it from the left, it’s the need for government to come in to control businesses running amok.

It comes down to other values that climate change either affirms or challenges. That affects how people choose to accept or reject the idea of climate change. 

[But] the evidence is becoming harder to ignore. That’s why the public opinion polls are going up. Then it comes down to solutions. Again, that’s when values start to play in. Should we invest in nuclear power? There’s a partisan split, again. Should we be removing subsidies for fossil fuel companies? These are all now new value-based solutions, where before they were driving recognition of the problem.

Are we heading in a direction in which our values are more closely aligned?

That’s hard to gauge. If you want to go to a 3,000-foot level, think about some of the values that must shift to come to a full recognition of climate change. 

In many ways, climate change is not an environmental problem. Climate change is a systems breakdown. It’s the climate system. Importantly, we are now a part of [that system] in a way we’ve never been before. Human beings now can alter the global climate. That is an enormous shift in how we view the environment, how we view ourselves, and how we view the two being connected. It’s similar to the shift that we experienced around the scientific revolution. 

Before the Enlightenment, before the scientific revolution, nature dominated us, and we didn’t understand it. We tried to make sense out of it using religion, saying it’s run by mystical forces. Then the Enlightenment comes along, scientific revolution comes along, and we treat it like a machine that we can tamper with. 

Now, we’re starting to recognize that that didn’t quite work either. We’ve come to a kind of recognition that the success – and survival – of the human species and the natural environment are commingled. Now, we must think about our behavior in that sense. 

Inner dialogues: How songwriter Cass McCombs moves forward

Originality and creativity are esteemed by many songwriters. But for Cass McCombs, our reviewer writes, these qualities are imperatives. A look at how a new album manifests progress.

David
Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR
Cass McCombs debuts his 10th album, “Heartmind,” on Aug. 19. When he’s writing songs, he says he tries not to edit too much, capturing the way one’s thoughts can be profound one minute, contradictory the next.

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Musician Cass McCombs’ new album has achieved something he strives for in his songwriting: growth.

Since his 2003 debut album, “A,” he’s been keen to avoid repetition. Nineteen years on, and despite being hailed by The New York Times as “one of the great songwriters of his time,” he still finds songwriting a mysterious process. There’s no predictable method. Developing one’s craft requires digging through layers of hard earth – “mostly shale, and rock, and dirt,” he says – in order to mine rich seams of inspiration. He describes songwriting as a devotional act. 

“Heartmind” spans eclectic subjects including the travels of a fictitious jazz-blues band, a discharged soldier wrestling with his conscience, and the birth of a new Earth in which “dinosaurs lumber down Market St.” Mr. McCombs says his songs are like inner dialogues. He tries not to edit too much, capturing the way one’s thoughts can be profound one minute, contradictory the next. Humor figures prominently in his songs.

“The idea was to make something that sounded like something we’d never heard before,” says Mr. McCombs, who is also a published poet. “Like a new territory. Some undiscovered country. Futuristic in a way.” 

Inner dialogues: How songwriter Cass McCombs moves forward

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When Cass McCombs finished recording his 10th album, he emerged with something different from what he’d originally intended. While living in Northern California, the songwriter had been inspired to write about the Old West. His previous album included a precursor, a tune titled “The Great Pixley Train Robbery.” But he found himself intuitively making instead an album titled “Heartmind” (debuting Aug. 19) as a way to handle the loss of several friends. 

“Music has a mind of its own,” says Mr. McCombs, whose Americana style encompasses folk, jazz, country, and the improvisational jamming of psychedelic rock. “It always does the opposite of what you want.”

Mr. McCombs’ new album has, however, achieved something he strives for in his songwriting: growth. Since his 2003 debut, “A,” he’s been keen to avoid repetition. Nineteen years on, and despite being hailed by The New York Times as “one of the great songwriters of his time,” he still finds songwriting a mysterious process. There’s no predictable method. Developing one’s craft requires digging through layers of hard earth – “mostly shale, and rock, and dirt,” he says – in order to mine rich seams of inspiration. He describes songwriting as a devotional act. 

“If you rest on your laurels or you trust in things that have worked in the past, then the recipe is just mediocrity,” says Mr. McCombs, who is also a published poet. “Then you’re not going to create anything new.” 

Eclectic stories

“Heartmind” spans eclectic subjects including the travels of a fictitious jazz-blues band, a discharged soldier wrestling with his conscience, and the birth of a new Earth in which “dinosaurs lumber down Market St.” Mr. McCombs says his songs are like inner dialogues. He tries not to edit too much, capturing the way one’s thoughts can be profound one minute, contradictory the next. Humor figures prominently in his songs.

On the opening track, “Music Is Blue,” Mr. McCombs describes his relationship to the muse as a marriage with ups and downs. But the playful chorus concludes, “I wouldn’t have any other way / I love her, she loves me.” 

“Cass’ lyrics have always really stood out to me. They’re just such beautiful storytelling,” says Nicole Schneit (aka Air Waves), whose imminent album “The Dance” features Mr. McCombs on a song called “Alien.” “He dives in a little deeper than other people. ... They can be really deep topics, but he’ll make it kind of catchy.” 

“Heartmind” is dedicated to the memory of three fairly young musicians, and McCombs collaborators, who died in 2019 and 2020: Chet “JR” White, Sam Jayne, and Neal Casal. 

There’s one song on the album that addresses the loss of a musician friend. But it isn’t a morose eulogy. On the sprightly “Belong To Heaven,” angelic female voices coo over a drum rhythm that snaps like a clapper board. Mr. McCombs’ warm guitar lines are a throwback to the soft rock of FM radio in the 1970s. 

The rest of “Heartmind” is infused with the spirit of Mr. McCombs’ former collaborators. As he put it in a press release, “Their memories guided me throughout and hopefully they live through the music.” The result is the most energetic and musically upbeat album of his career. 

“Something new”

Making a breakthrough presents its own challenges because you’re upping the ante for the next time, he says. 

“A lot of rock music [relies] on set rules and structural things that people have already established years and years ago,” he says. “I’m interested in working with people who want to throw that away and come up with something new.”

When Mr. McCombs enters a recording studio, he comes prepared with songs built on strong foundations. If they’re sturdy, they can support the experimental ideas of producers, engineers, and guest musicians such as Wynonna Judd, multi-instrumentalist
Shahzad Ismaily, and drummer Danielle Haim from the sister trio Haim. 

For instance, the “Heartmind” title track features an instrumental coda in which the prevailing winds of a saxophone and Irish uilleann pipes converge. That’s not a combination you hear every day.

“There wasn’t a lot of conversation or deliberations about the arrangements,” says Mr. McCombs. There was, however, plenty of talk about striving for musical progression. 

“The idea was to make something that sounded like something we’d never heard before,” he explains. “Like a new territory. Some undiscovered country. Futuristic in a way.” 

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Prodigal nation: Europe pats Greece on the back

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Tourists visiting the Greek island of Santorini these days may ask why drones are flying overhead. The short answer: The government is trying to instill an ethos of integrity among Greeks. The drones check if tour boat operators provide receipts to visitors, a clever way of changing a deep-rooted culture of tax evasion.

Last week, the European Commission announced that it will end its special surveillance of Greece on Aug. 20 because the country has implemented so many reforms – like the tax-enforcing drones – over the past dozen years. In 2009, the government in Athens admitted it had lied about the size of its debt, setting off a financial crisis in the European Union and almost ending the bloc’s experiment with a single currency. After receiving very large bailouts – more than $300 billion in total – Greece has now “delivered on the bulk of the policy commitments,” stated the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

Prodigal nation: Europe pats Greece on the back

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The Greek, right, and European flags wave under the ancient Acropolis hill in Athens.

Tourists visiting the Greek island of Santorini these days may ask why drones are flying overhead. The short answer: The government is trying to instill an ethos of integrity among Greeks. The drones check if tour boat operators provide receipts to visitors, a clever way of changing a deep-rooted culture of tax evasion.

Last week, the European Commission announced that it will end its special surveillance of Greece on Aug. 20 because the country has implemented so many reforms – like the tax-enforcing drones – over the past dozen years. In 2009, the government in Athens admitted it had lied about the size of its debt, setting off a financial crisis in the European Union and almost ending the bloc’s experiment with a single currency. After receiving very large bailouts – more than $300 billion in total – Greece has now “delivered on the bulk of the policy commitments,” stated the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.

It has also paid off its debt to the International Monetary Fund – two years early. In 2019, Greece created its first anti-corruption body, known as the Transparency Authority.

“Today’s Greece is a different Greece,” declared its prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in July. “It is one of the countries with the most dynamic growth and the highest reduction of unemployment in Europe.”

One key to the reforms, besides fiscal austerity, were tactics to boost tax collection. A Greek habit of evading taxes was one reason the government long lied about the size of its deficit spending. In an unusual attempt to depoliticize taxes, a new collection agency was set up to run independently of the Finance Ministry. The government also provides incentives for people to move away from cash transactions toward the use of credit cards and online transactions.

A lowering of tax rates has encouraged compliance. And a public relations campaign called “Apodizi, please” recommends that tourists ask for receipts.

“As a result of Greece’s efforts,” the European Commission noted, “the resilience of the Greek economy has substantially improved and the risks of spillover effects on the euro area economy have diminished significantly.”

Greece still ranks high among EU nations in tax avoidance – better than Romania but not as good as Italy. Yet tax revenues are rising, and as Greece’s chief tax collector, George Pitsilis told the International Monetary Fund, it’s time for Greeks to develop a sense of personal responsibility. Greece’s European partners have now endorsed the country’s progress so far – by ending their watchdog role over Greek reforms.

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.

Neutralizing the pressure to cause harm

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We can all play a role in helping young people awaken to – and live more fully – their loving, pure, and good nature as God’s children.

Neutralizing the pressure to cause harm

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

“I just felt like something was pressuring me to do it,” John LaDue told his mother after his arrest in 2014. Fortunately, the 11th grader’s plot to carry out the worst school massacre in United States history was stopped before he could implement it. He agreed to receive treatment for a fixation on violence, completed a two-year jail term, and has lived a quiet and productive life since.

As this case and recent events illustrate, there’s a prevalent claim that not only can men and women feel a mental “pressure” to harm themselves and others, but so can kids and teens. What can help us all free ourselves from the influence of such malicious mental arm-twisting?

Daily prayer and spiritual studies empower children to resist harmful influences and help free them when they are feeling pressured to make wrong choices. Such moments of considering spiritual ideas or divine truths are more than a passive intake of secondhand ideas. They could be thought of as a shepherding of the child’s thoughts into greener pastures, where they feel safe and loved.

That echoes what we see in an examination of the ancient relationship between a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd’s daily attention, appreciation, and affection kept them mentally and physically safe. Yet, at times, a sheep or goat would become confused, as though under an influence, and the shepherd would take action to break the hypnotic state or wrong attraction, allowing the sheep or goat to reawaken to its true nature as an obedient and loving member of the flock.

Why does spirituality help children and teens resist the pressure to harm themselves or others? Because God is their divine Mind, Love, and Life, and all of us are spiritual beings, God’s children, made to express nothing less than the wisdom of Mind, the tenderness of Love, and the eternality of Life.

That’s why moments with the Shepherd, God, bring peace and mental dominion. Bible study allows each child to hear the Shepherd. When mental pressures come as suggestions to think, plot, or act unlovingly, immorally, illegally, or even violently, these pressures can be resisted and neutralized as we and our children cherish our spirituality and accept the Shepherd’s tender promises, “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2, New Revised Standard Version).

But how can we reach children we cannot directly touch or speak with or those who do not have access to spiritual education? Fortunately, Christian Science reveals that they inherently have an open channel of communication with God. They can hear the Shepherd’s messages guarding them, guiding them, and affirming their identity as God’s innocent lambs. We can support children the world over by engaging in active and deep prayer to see children for who they really are as God’s, divine Love’s, expression.

As we remind ourselves about the true nature of each of God’s children, they will also be reminded of who they are. When we see them as they truly are, they will begin to act that way. Even a child accepting destructive tendencies will respond to good when prayerfully reminded that they are good and receptive to good because that’s how they are created by God. Any resistance to goodness does not belong to them. It is so-called evil attempting to work through society’s ignorance of the divine nature of being. But it can’t continue to influence a child when prayer powerfully affirms everyone’s spiritual identity.

Prayer helps to neutralize the pressure to commit heinous acts. It eliminates the fraudulent belief that any of God’s children were made to be less than wise and loving.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, explains that “Jesus loved little children because of their freedom from wrong and their receptiveness of right” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 236). Jesus saw children’s spirituality, purity, and goodness as innate.

The help and healing needed today are possible. Every moment, we can begin to prove that no evil mind exists to apply pressure, plan for destruction, or promote confusion and violence. God is All, the only Life and Mind, and God’s children can be moved only to smile kindly, love effortlessly, and live harmoniously. “I just felt like something was pressuring me to do it” should be heard only after tender acts that touch the heart.

Adapted from an editorial published in the July 25, 2022, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Bridal path

Thomas Peter/Reuters
A woman in a wedding dress walks on the dried-up riverbed of the Jialing River, a tributary of the Yangtze, which is approaching record-low water levels in Chongqing, China, Aug. 18, 2022.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’ve got a look at what the latest sci-fi and fantasy shows can teach us about paths out of today’s tribalism.

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