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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
October
16
Tuesday

If you remember the 1970s, you remember Sears. It was where your dad went for tools, your best friend’s mom bought clothes for the family, and where everybody shopped for a Kenmore stove or refrigerator. In Chicago, the Sears Tower – then the tallest building in the world – was a constant reminder of the retailer’s reach and might.

The company is even credited with helping create a style of blues music.

But competition has a way of felling the mighty. By the time the Sears Tower was completed in 1974, Sam Walton had already listed Walmart on the New York Stock Exchange and had more than 50 stores, infused with a philosophy of low prices and innovation. In 1994, the same year that Sears sold the Sears Tower, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon as an online bookstore, which innovated in cyberspace to become the world’s largest internet retailer in terms of revenue.

Sears’s bankruptcy this week is a reminder that, in business at least, nothing lasts forever. Good ideas trump stale ideas. You can build monuments to yourself. But if you want to survive and thrive in a competitive economy, it’s better to be open – and humble.

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Today’s five stories include a look at the deeper strategic US-China conflict, Arab women in Israel running for office, and how art revived an Italian town.

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A deeper look

1. With legal recreational pot, Canada leads way into uncharted territory

Did we say the ’70s? Canada goes counterculture tomorrow, becoming the first major industrialized nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The world is watching the experiment.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
A sign warns travelers against carrying cannabis at the Ottawa International Airport. Canada moved to legalize recreational use of marijuana nationwide beginning Oct. 17.

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As recreational marijuana becomes legal there on Oct. 17, Canada has moved to the forefront of global drug policy. After nearly 100 years of signing laws prohibiting cannabis, in line with international conventions on drugs, Canada has become the largest industrialized nation to embrace the opposite path. Polling shows the nation is ready for it, with three-quarters saying they support the move. But behind the hype, Canada finds itself in an unfamiliar place. Canadians are wondering if legalization will become a model from which to draw lessons about taxation and public health, or if Canada has moved too fast. Many agree that the country is outside its comfort zone. Canada is “a G7 country, a moderate country,... maybe known more as a cautious follower of an already well-tested trend elsewhere,” says independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored Bill C-45, known as the Cannabis Act, “[and now it’s] leading the way.”

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With legal recreational pot, Canada leads way into uncharted territory

Canada’s capital city is known for being sleepy, sometimes stodgy. “The city fun forgot” is a familiar crack. Counterfactual as that may be, Ottawa is still not exactly used to being on the cutting edge.

But cutting edge is exactly where it finds itself, after Canada’s Senate voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis nationwide, which comes into force on Oct. 17.

In doing so Canada has moved to the forefront of global drug policy. In open breach of the United Nations conventions on drugs, it has clearly stated that in principle, it does not believe that prohibition of marijuana serves the public good, after nearly 100 years of signing laws to the contrary. The stakes are high, bringing more momentum to the drug reform movement, in an era in which the public’s opinion about marijuana is increasingly out of step with the global policies their leaders embrace.

Polling shows the nation is ready for it, with three-quarters saying they support Canada’s move to become the first major industrialized nation to legalize a cannabis market. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected into office with a campaign promise to do so.

And yet behind the hype, Canada finds itself in an unfamiliar place. Underneath the broad support are many questions. Canadians are wondering if legalization will become a model from which to draw lessons about taxation and public health, or if Canada has moved too fast. Many agree that Canada is outside its comfort zone.

“We’ve just witnessed a very historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition,” said independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored Bill C-45, known as the Cannabis Act, in the Senate when the vote passed in June. On the cusp of the law going into effect, he notes the responsibility that implies for Canada. “You’ve got a G7 country, a moderate country, one that sort of sits in the center of the pack and seems to be happy being there, not exactly a policy leader, maybe known more as a cautious follower of an already well-tested trend elsewhere, leading the way.”

A new direction on marijuana

This is considered a huge moment for drug reformists, who for years have been fighting against the dominating mantra of the “war on drugs.”

Carlos Osorio/Reuters
Students Michal Marcinkiewicz and Carson Otto measure the light in the marijuana lab at the new Commercial Cannabis Production Program at Niagara College in Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, on Oct. 9.

“All eyes are set on Canada right now,” says Hannah Hetzer, senior international policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance in New York.

Canada is not the first to legislate and regulate a recreational marijuana market. That was Uruguay back in 2013. But the South American nation was quieter in its efforts and so tiny that it’s been easier to dismiss as a one-off. Nine American states and Washington, D.C., have also established recreational marijuana markets, with North Dakota and Michigan voting on recreational legalization as well in November midterms. (Marijuana remains illegal at the US federal level, however.)

And in December, when incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador takes office, Mexico could see a radical change in its drug policies. He campaigned on an end to the drug violence that has taken tens of thousands of lives in the past decade, since Mexico joined forces with the US to stamp out drug traffickers. If Mexico were to move forward, that would mean that marijuana would be legal on at least the local level in a stretch spanning the entire west coast of North America, from the Arctic Circle to the state of Chiapas.

While laws would forbid its movement across borders, it’s a powerful symbol for the direction the world is heading. Taken together, it makes it harder to ignore at the UN, says Ms. Hetzer. “It’s less tenable to maintain conventions that prohibit something that more and more countries might be moving in the direction of,” she says.

With its explicit breach of drug treaties, Canada has angered many countries at the UN like Russia, which sits in the zero-tolerance camp. And it’s opened a new front for critics of legalized marijuana such as Kevin Sabet, a former drug-control policy official in the Obama administration who testified in front of the Canadian parliament. As the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, he says the mainstreaming of marijuana in society is not inevitable.

“I think that the support for legalization ... is very soft,” he says. He points to the state of Massachusetts, where a majority voted for legalization but a majority of municipalities have barred retail stores, at least temporarily. “A lot of people, frankly a lot of Canadians but also Americans, inadvertently mean decriminalization not legalization,” he says. “They really just don’t want people to go to prison for pot or be stigmatized for it. It is very different than what’s actually happening.”

Too much, too soon?

On a crisp fall Sunday morning in Ottawa, the store Weeds is bustling. It’s one of several illegal pot shops to have sprouted up in the capital that has been quasi-tolerated. Tim Nelson, a longtime customer, says he believes in principle that legalization is the right way to go – putting him at odds with those who think like Mr. Sabet in the US.

But the two do converge on some points. He says he is mature enough to use marijuana but worries that kids will start wanting it more. And he wonders if Canada has moved forward too quickly. “I think we should have decriminalized first, and then moved to legalize,” he says.

Those kinds of mixed feelings appear in polling. There is clear majority support for C-45, and many Canadians are eager to create a legal model that generates tax revenue and jobs growth instead of fueling an underground market.

Yet a DART Insight poll in June showed that a majority (53 percent) of Canadians also say they are scared of the impact marijuana could have on their communities. Some of the uncertainty is over logistics, as provinces establish new rules about where cannabis can be sold or where it can be smoked. Some concern is longer term, though. Canadians wonder whether legalization will achieve the goals the government laid out: getting it out of the hands of Canadian teens, who according to a UNICEF report in 2013 were the highest users among 29 developed countries surveyed, and stamping out the black market. They worry that Canada will have to contend with big corporate money behind cannabis, after long-fought battles to control tobacco and alcohol advertising.

Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and one of the leading drug policy experts in Canada, says mixed feelings are normal, given all of the airing that the “war on drugs” has gotten over the decades. “I think change is hard when you’ve been doing something for 100 years one way, and somebody comes along and says, ‘Well look, we could do it a different way,’” he says.

Key to success is public education, including at the health ministry, which has had to revamp its messaging on marijuana. Canada has already led the way on patient advocacy and harm reduction in drug policy. Today it draws lessons from its nationwide regulation of medical marijuana in place since 2001. It has put harm reduction at the center of its strategies bringing Canada more in line with the European approach. Dr. MacPherson pioneered the “four pillar” approach centered on public health for Vancouver based on a much earlier Swiss model. “It’s the idea that people are going to keep using drugs whether we like it or not,” he says. “We need to figure out a comprehensive approach to respond to that.” He believes the logic behind cannabis regulation should be applied to some extent to other substances.

There has been some frustration on the part of activists that the attention on marijuana now is tying up resources while Canada, like the US, experiences an acute opioid overdose crisis, says Ann Fordham, executive director of the Britain-based International Drug Policy Consortium. Many activists in Canada, and beyond, argue that decriminalization applied across the board fits alongside a legal cannabis market.

No one expects that to happen any time soon in Canada though. “From a global perspective, Canada has a lot of skin in the game, they are forging ahead with cannabis regulation,” says Ms. Fordham. “And then also for the same administration to move forward with a decriminalization agenda, I think they are feeling a bit overexposed on the drugs issue.”

‘Prohibition hasn’t worked’

Canada has faced some threats from the US over its marijuana policies especially over border control. Earlier the US Customs and Border protection said that Canadians who work or invest in the industry could face a lifetime ban to the US when attempting to cross the border, though last week they dialed back the threat.

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, the US put out a “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem,” which both Canada and Mexico signed – disappointing many reformists who say it was just more of the hard-line status quo.

Patricia Erickson, professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Toronto, sees legalization in Canada as a response to a “phenomenon of normalization” over the past 40 years across all ages, classes, and occupations. In fact she sees US states as having paved the way toward reform in Canada.

Still, Canada might be under pressure to assert its stance on narcotics overall, perhaps behind its support of the US document at the UN. “Was it because in the global sense we don’t want to look too radical on drug policies, that we are signatories to treaties which we are apparently breaching with this legalization?” she asks.

Senator Dean says that as the world is watching, legislation in Canada has nothing to do with glorifying marijuana use or going “soft” on drugs. Instead it’s a simple recognition that the government decided to codify: He notes that too many Canadian youths use marijuana; the social harms of criminalization are clear (minorities are over-represented in cannabis convictions, for example); meanwhile the illicit market flourishes.

“The fact is prohibition hasn’t worked,” he says. “In a way we were collectively, Canada was looking the other way. Somehow it was easier to look the other way. And we had a government that for whatever reason ... chose to make an effort to confront it head on, to confront the harms of it head on, and to make an effort to regulate it."

He adds: “That’s a big shift but it’s arguably better than allowing prohibition to continue and doing nothing about it.”

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Patterns

Tracing global connections

2. Not just trade: Signs mount of a fundamental shift in US-China ties

All eyes are focused on trade as a source of the strains in the US-China relationship. But a much wider range of issues is in play and could affect everything from US diplomatic initiatives to support for foreign aid.

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This month, US Vice President Mike Pence served notice the United States sees trade as just one of many grievances against China’s economic, military, geopolitical, and human-rights policies. He questioned a core assumption of US policy: that support for China’s modernization and integration into the world economy would provide the basis for cooperation. What began as a trade dispute may be becoming much more: a fundamental shift in the most important great-power relationship. The root cause is economic. But there is also "Belt and Road," China’s $1 trillion international investment campaign that expands China’s geopolitical footprint and has security implications. US concern has been compounded by China’s South China Sea buildup and electronic espionage. The US has indicated openness to de-escalation, with President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping set to meet next month. But a substantive recalibration appears under way. While the administration had played down human rights, it has called out the Chinese on Tibet and their crackdown on religious communities. Mr. Trump also signed a bill revamping a body to provide loan guarantees to US companies investing in developing countries. One question now is whether a new approach might include a reopening to allies, who share US concerns. 

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Not just trade: Signs mount of a fundamental shift in US-China ties

It began as a trade dispute, but it’s becoming much more: a fundamental shift between the United States and China, the single most important great-power relationship in today’s world. Even, conceivably, a new “cold war.”

We’re not there yet. One wild card – the initially warm, now decidedly cooler, relationship between President Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping – could yet exert a restraining effect. The two men are due to meet in a few weeks’ time at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

Yet with efforts to resolve the tit-for-tat tariff battle in limbo, Vice President Pence this month served public notice that the US sees trade as just one grievance among many against China’s economic, military, geopolitical, and human rights policies. And he explicitly questioned a core assumption of US policy over the past two decades: that support for modernization in China and its integration into the world economy would temper Chinese leaders politically and provide the basis for a relationship of cooperation. Mr. Pence said, in effect, that ship had now sailed.

A new cold war, if that’s what it becomes, will likely look far different from the first. The Soviet Union was an underdeveloped country with an outsized military and a fearsome nuclear arsenal. China is also a nuclear power, and has been gradually building up its military reach in recent years. Yet with China, the root source of competition and of steadily growing friction has been an economic one. More specifically, it’s about how China has been using its growing economic might.

China’s economy is the world’s second largest after the United States. Its population of nearly 1.5 billion, along with its manufacturing and technology capacity, has given US and other foreign companies less costly production options, meaning cheaper prices for consumers at home as well as potential access to China’s huge market. But as an entry price for US technology companies in particular, China has required access to their cutting-edge commercial innovations, which in turn have powered a drive to develop their own high-tech.

There is also Belt and Road, the $1 trillion investment and infrastructure campaign through which China has undertaken to recreate the old trading route with the West. Beyond expanding its geopolitical footprint, this has had security implications, especially in cases where the recipient countries have ended up with unsustainable debt: access to naval facilities, for instance, in Sri Lanka and East Africa. US concern has been compounded by more direct military and intelligence activities, like China’s buildup in the South China Sea and electronic espionage and hacking against US commercial and strategic targets.

The challenge has been how to respond. The complexity has been highlighted by Mr. Trump’s initial focus on trade, and his imposition of steep new tariffs. With China having imposed counter-tariffs, both countries’ economies have been impacted. China has additional leverage as well, including a potentially key role in whether Trump succeeds in getting a denuclearization deal with North Korea.

Pence’s speech left the door ajar to de-escalation, saying Chinese leaders could still “change course” and agree to a “fair” economic relationship. It’s possible that, with the Trump-Xi meeting next month, one intention was to jolt China into giving ground on at least some of the trade grievances.

But there are already signs of a substantive US recalibration of China policy. While the Trump administration had previously downplayed human-rights issues, Pence directly called out the Chinese for their policy on Tibet and their crackdown on Muslims, Christians, and other religious communities. In another departure, from earlier plans to slash foreign aid, the president this month signed a bill revamping a body to provide loan guarantees to US companies investing in developing countries. It was a reply – though at $60 billion, on a much smaller scale – to China’s Belt and Road.

One question now is whether a new approach might include a reopening to allies, who share US concerns over China’s policies. Among Trump’s first acts on taking office was to withdraw from the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was set up to provide a counterweight to China’s trade policies and expanding economic power.

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3. A seat at the table: Why wave of Arab women are running in Israel

Paths to progress must often pierce both tradition and discrimination. But as one Israeli Arab woman tells us: "It’s time for people to take us seriously.... We can contribute, too."

Dina Kraft
Fidaa Shehadeh, one of the many Israeli Arab women competing for positions on local councils across Israel, is running in her native Lod, a mixed Arab-Jewish city in the center of the country.

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Israeli Arab women’s participation in local elections has been scant in a society that is only beginning to shed its patriarchal ways. Local government in Arab towns is dominated by men, usually established figures in the community with strong business or family ties. But in recent years, a coalition of women’s organizations has seized on the increased education and financial success of Palestinian women and pushed them to become problem-solvers in their communities. In a historic first, Israeli municipal elections this year feature all-women candidate lists running in a number of Arab towns and villages. A record number of women are running high up in their party slates, increasing the chances they might be elected. “In the last 20 years Palestinian women in Israel have made huge progress economically, and the side effect is they don’t want only to earn money,” says Samah Salaime, founder of Arab Women in the Center. “The next step is to see and influence where that money is going.” Male Arab politicians, she says, “may not believe women should be in politics, but they are realizing they don’t have any other choice.”

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A seat at the table: Why wave of Arab women are running in Israel

Examining the remains of a hotel built more than a century ago in this working-class, mixed Jewish and Arab city, Fidaa Shehadeh pauses to admire the engraved decorative detail on the building’s arched doorway.

Weeds grow out of the old building’s large blocks of beige-colored stone. Below, plastic bottles and bits of other trash are strewn on the sandy ground.

“So much could be done here, this should be a tourism site,” says Ms. Shehadeh, noting the handful of other remains nearby that – until the 1948 Middle East war that led to the creation of Israel – was the town’s center, an area that dates back almost 800 years.

Shehadeh, a 30-something urban planner, was born and grew up in Lod. Today she’s hoping to help lead the city as a member of the municipal council, one of a wave of Arab women in Israel running in local races in greater numbers and in more prominent positions.

It’s a wave created in part by women’s organizations that in recent years have seized on the increased education and financial success of Palestinian women and pushed them to become problem-solvers in their communities.

Shehadeh says she’s angry at what she describes as the neglect of this city in central Israel about 10 miles south of Tel Aviv: the lack of resources and planning by both the national and the local government itself to rejuvenate what is one of the most ancient – Lod is mentioned in the Bible – urban areas in the region.

Lod, one of the few cities in Israel where both Jewish and Arab citizens reside, is also one of the poorer cities in the country. One of her main priorities if elected, Shehadeh says, will be to push for better planning, especially in the Arab sector, to address the chronic problem of Arab homes and additions to homes being torn down by the state when they are built without permits.

From recruiter to candidate

Shehadeh initially was part of the national grassroots effort to encourage Arab women to compete for local office, an effort that began ahead of the last elections five years ago. But as she scouted for candidates ahead of the upcoming Oct. 30 race, she recounts, “People started telling me, ‘You are looking for candidates, but you should run.’ ”

She decided to go for it.

“And now I’m convinced it was the right thing to do. The reaction in the street I’m getting is amazing, and this is not the most feminist of cities, you could say,” she says with a smile.

In a historic first, the municipal elections this year feature all-women candidate lists running in a number of Arab towns and villages. And a record number of women, like Shehadeh, are running high up in their party slates, increasing the chances they might be elected. Two women are running for mayor in two separate Arab towns, and well over 200 are running for local office this year. This follows a previous surge in women running for office in 2013 after the initial push. How many more are running this year will be known closer to election day, observers say.

It’s a significant development. Historically, Israeli Arab women’s participation in local elections has been scant in a society that is only beginning to shed its patriarchal ways. Local government in Arab towns is dominated by men, usually established figures in the community with strong business or family ties.

“For these women running for office, social issues are at the core of their concerns – housing, education, and violence against women and violence in general,” says Samah Salaime, a Palestinian feminist activist and the founder of Arab Women in the Center. “Women are more involved in public life now because in the last 20 years Palestinian women in Israel have made huge progress economically, and the side effect is they don’t want only to earn money. The next step is to see and influence, where that money is going.”

Laying the groundwork

A coalition of women’s organizations, both Arab and Jewish, has been working for the past five years to further increase the participation of women in local office, creating workshops to train potential candidates.

Ola Najami, director of leadership initiatives at The Abraham Fund, an organization that works for equal citizenship of Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, has been helping spearhead that effort.

“When we first reached out to women to encourage them to become politically active, they would respond by saying they did not feel qualified, that they did not have what they saw as the right professional background, unlike men who often feel qualified just because they are businessmen or have clout in their communities,” says Ms. Najami.

“So we had to give women the tools they need – training in what one does as a council member, how to push forward their own ideas and formulate an agenda,” she says. “Providing this gave them the confidence to go forward.”

She says Arab women who run face a double layer of discrimination – as women in a patriarchal society, and as members of the Arab minority who, 70 years after Israel’s establishment, still often feel like unwanted outsiders.

“But I see light and hope,” Najami says, citing the increased visibility of Arab women in the upcoming election and the understanding, begrudging as it may be at times, by Arab political parties that their lists must include women, even if pressure is still needed to ensure those women are high enough on those lists to have a realistic shot of being elected.

“It may also be the influence of the #MeToo movement inside Arab society,” says Ms. Salaime. “They [male Arab politicians] may not believe women should be in politics, but they are realizing they don’t have any other choice.”

In the northern town of Shfaram, home to Druze, Christian, and Muslim Arabs, a nurse in her 50s, Nijmi Abbas, is heading an all-women party list.

“It’s time for people to take us seriously, we are 50 percent of the population and we can contribute too,” she says. “We want to focus on issues women care about, including help for women who are victims of sexual assault and violence and women who are struggling to find employment. We want to be their address on the city council.”

The path ahead

Shehadeh, whose grandparents were internal refugees in 1948 and settled in Lod, has deep roots as a community activist and is now the only woman on the Arab party list on which she is running. If elected she would become only the second Arab woman to sit on the Lod city council. Her only female Arab predecessor was effectively pushed out of her position after receiving death threats and after gun shots were fired toward her son.

Shehadeh credits growing up in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood and working with a group of young activists there for giving her a unique perspective.

“I always understood there are two sides of any situation. And that there are differences between us within the Arab community as well as differences within the Jewish community,” she says.

“I grew up knowing there were people in the world different from me and I learned to accept that early on. That meant also understanding that you can always talk to one another even amid conflict. After all, these were the people living next to me,” says Shehadeh, whose eyes are already set on a future goal. One day she’d like to run for mayor.

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4. Air quality: Can China extend success of its short-term measures?

Giving Beijingers more breathable air means cutting coal and other pollutants. But long-term climate solutions need to account for ripple effects – something China is confronting today.

As winter’s approach brings the first days of heavy smog, thanks to coal-burning heaters, Beijing residents are donning air-filter masks or hunkering down indoors. The good news is that China’s air quality has been improving since 2013, though readings are still several times higher than what the World Health Organization recommends. Beijing has proved its war on pollution can work. Its next question is how to maintain progress toward cleaner skies with a greener economy. The current plan calls for reducing coal consumption to less than 58 percent of total energy by 2020, while raising natural gas to 10 percent, by closing and scaling down coal-fired plants and mines and creating “no-coal” residential zones. Government inspectors are turning up unannounced at factories, fining and shutting down violators until they comply. But these stringent measures can come at the cost of jobs. “For the workers, it poses some real challenges,” says Ma Jun, director of the nonprofit Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Big factories can offer some compensation to workers, but private companies can’t,” he says, calling for the government to assist them. Moreover, industrial curbs could hit growth at a time when leadership seeks to double China’s 2010 gross domestic product and per capita income by 2020. “We all know that we cannot sustain that type of expansion,” Mr. Ma says, “because of the cost on our resources, on our society, on public health, on the air quality itself.” – Ann Scott Tyson

SOURCE: Berkeley Earth, US State Department, International Energy Agency
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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5. How one Italian town changed its fortunes – through art

To revive itself, Civitacampomarano, Italy, invited the world’s artists to paint on its walls. They did.  

Asia Palomba
A mural of a young boy and his shadow, by Brazilian street artist Alex Senna, helps color the historical part of Civitacampomarano, Italy. Mr. Senna and other artists were invited to make their respective marks on the town to help lure tourism.

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The all-time low birthrate in Italy is made all the more stark in a place like Civitacampomarano, where the fewer than 400 residents occupy a medieval mountaintop village in the hard-to-traverse Molise region, northwest of the spur on the Italian boot. In an attempt to breathe life back into the aging community, the town has taken up paintbrushes and spray cans as its weapons in the fight against depopulation. They created the CVTà Street Fest, inviting artists from all over the world – from Italy to Argentina to Poland – to paint on its walls. Alex Senna, a Brazilian who painted three murals in the town in 2016, was inspired by what he sees as the three defining characters of Civita: elderly women, cats, and children. “The people were always very helpful and ... warm, and every day we had lunch and dinner [together]. One day I was painting and a procession of a saint was passing by. It was cool because all the people I had met [the day before] ... were in the procession.”

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How one Italian town changed its fortunes – through art

Perched on a mountain is a medieval village made of stone. Its small streets are winding and empty, framed by old crumbling buildings sporting multiple “For Sale” signs. Welcome to Civitacampomarano, a town in Italy’s underpopulated region of Molise. The village, which has fewer than 400 residents, is only one of Italy’s towns that is experiencing a decline in residents. However, Civitacampomarano, referred to simply as Civita by locals, has taken up paintbrushes and spray cans as its weapons in the fight against depopulation. 

In an attempt to breathe life back into the aging community, the town created an annual street art festival called CVTà Street Fest, inviting artists from all over the world, from Italy to Brazil to Argentina to Poland, to paint on its walls. 

In 2014, local citizen and festival organizer Ylenia Carelli sent an email to Italian street artist Alice Pasquini, asking her to come paint in Civita and bring some color to the town. Not only was Ms. Pasquini willing to do so, but it so happened that her grandfather hailed from the village and was its beloved doctor. Today, Pasquini is the festival’s artistic director. This summer’s festival was the third and brought in more than 7,000 visitors, more than twice as many as the previous festival. The festival, which lasts for four days, has live music, street food, and workshops meant to preserve local history, including one on how to make cavatelli, the region’s famed pasta. 

As the festival continues to give increasing visibility and recognition to the town, it is also providing locals with a fresh sense of hope. 

“The town has come back to life in the sense that many people are [visiting] not only during the festivals, but throughout the whole year,” says festival organizer Barbara Manuele. “There is still much to be done.... The changes aren’t immediate, they’re gradual. But you can see change.” She stood in front of a mural by Argentine artist Francisco Bosoletti. The mural, painted in reverse negative and titled “La Resistenza” (“The Resistance”), features a number of women reaching toward the sky, a testament to the region and the town’s population, which continues to resist and fight against depopulation.

Many of the works of art painted on the maze of walls and buildings commemorate and immortalize the local people and the town’s history, says Ms. Manuele. In return for the artists’ work, the town has embraced them with open arms. 

“It was pretty surreal,” recalls Brazilian artist Alex Senna. “The people were always very helpful and ... warm, and every day we had lunch and dinner [together]. One day I was painting and a procession of a saint was passing by. It was cool because all the people I had met in the bar [the day before] were in the procession.” 

Mr. Senna, who painted three murals in the town in 2016, was inspired by what he sees as the three defining characters of Civita: elderly women, cats, and children.

While the town continues to feel the sting of depopulation, there are signs of change in the air. A new ice cream shop has opened (the first and only one in Civita); there’s an Airbnb unit for rent in the town center; and more and more tourists are seen walking through Civita’s stone streets.  

“[This] is fantastic,” says Lidia Ciafardini, who co-owns the ice cream shop with her husband. “No one knows about us, and the street festival gave us a way to let ourselves be known.” Ms. Ciafardini makes the ice cream herself using nuts and berries she collects from the forest.

The goal is to keep the festival going for as long as possible with the hope of drawing visitors, young and old, to view Civita’s vibrant walls, Manuele says. 

For now, though, townspeople are content with what they’ve accomplished and are buoyed by a sense of hope and gratitude. “We are [facing] extinction,” Ciafardini says. “This is clear, but the locals and I will never stop thanking Ms. Carelli for contacting Pasquini, and Pasquini for what she is doing, because if not, we would be finished. This is hope, and I don’t know where this will take us or how much we’ll be able to do ... but you cannot imagine what this means for us.”

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The Monitor's View

To fight corruption, Kenyans study integrity

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Last year, Kenya’s official body for fighting corruption found that the number of people paying bribes for government services had risen to 62 percent, up from 46 percent two years earlier. It also found that nearly two-thirds of Kenyans had done nothing to fight corruption. The results pushed the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to focus more on graft prevention – starting with the people themselves – while still going after corrupt officials. Last month, it launched an unusual public campaign. It issued a Bible study guide aimed at giving individuals a better understanding of the role of integrity in private and public life. The campaign is intended to help Kenyans discover God’s “direction on living a corruption-free life.” In a democracy like Kenya’s, the moral compass of citizens can help elect honest leaders and assist prosecutors and judges in ensuring rule of law. It is also the starting point in refusing to pay bribes and in calling out officials who ask for them. But the first task is a better understanding of individual integrity, a quality that has helped many countries keep corruption in check.

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To fight corruption, Kenyans study integrity

Kenya’s official body for fighting corruption conducted a survey last year, and it was shocked at the results. The number of people paying bribes for government services had risen to 62 percent, up from 46 percent two years earlier. The survey found corruption was now seen as the country’s leading problem.

Yet the real shocker was this: Nearly two-thirds of Kenyans had done nothing to promote ethical behavior or fight corruption.

The results pushed the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to focus more on graft prevention – starting with the people themselves – while still going after corrupt officials. Last month, it launched an unusual public campaign. It issued a Bible study guide aimed at inspiring individuals to better understand the role of integrity in private and public life.

“Every member of our society has an opportunity to contribute to the success of the war against corruption. Regardless of your status in the society, you can make a difference,” the commission stated on Twitter.

“The fight against corruption is winnable but everyone must commit to live a life that enhances the virtues of integrity, justice, patriotism and love for one another.”

Kenya has many laws and institutions to curb corruption. It now audits the personal wealth of civil servants, for example. Under President Uhuru Kenyatta, who recently vowed to end a culture of impunity among the political elite, dozens of officials have been arrested in recent months. “A time has come for every Kenyan to realize no matter how powerful you think you [are] or how much money you have ... that will not save you,” the president says.

Still, an estimated one-third of the government budget is lost to corruption each year. And compared with other African countries, Kenya ranks low on Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index.

“When the instruments of the State are captured by those interested solely in the primitive accumulation of wealth, the State itself cannot survive for long. It is for this reason that Kenyans must act...,” writes Samuel Kimeu, Transparency International’s executive director in Kenya, in a commentary.

The EACC’s Bible study campaign is intended to help Kenyans discover God’s “direction on living a corruption-free life.” In a democracy like Kenya’s, the moral compass of citizens can help elect honest leaders and assist prosecutors and judges in ensuring rule of law. It is also the starting point in refusing to pay bribes and in calling out officials who ask for them.

But the first task is a better understanding of individual integrity, a quality that has helped many countries keep corruption in check.

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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.

Never without a parent

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In every moment and every situation, the limitless love of our divine Parent is right there to lift anger, sadness, and hate and lead us forward.

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Never without a parent

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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So much of what we hear in the headlines relates to a sense of separation: children’s removal from their parents, suicides stemming from a feeling of alienation, racial division, women disrespected. We seem to face an uphill battle for love and unity.

This has led me to stop and consider what I’ve learned in Christian Science about divine Love, God, as a loving Parent who forever holds us in His, Her, care. This idea has had significant meaning to me since childhood, as I lost my dad at a young age. The Lord’s Prayer that Christ Jesus shared begins, “Our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). My mother frequently reminded me that my divine Father was ever present and ever caring. I embraced this notion so wholeheartedly that I once wrote “God” on a school form that asked for my parents’ names.

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “God, the divine Principle of man, and man in God’s likeness are inseparable, harmonious, and eternal.... God is the parent Mind, and man is God’s spiritual offspring” (p. 336). This has helped me see that the tender parenting qualities of our Father-Mother God are indeed always available to us, no matter our age or circumstance, because as God’s children, His spiritual expression, we can never be separated from God, good.

The natural tendency of any infant is to respond to the sound of its parents. A tender lullaby or murmured affection calms and reassures a babe. And so it is with God’s children, who are continually comforted with healing inspiration from our divine Parent. Listening for and obeying this inspiration keeps us safe and secure, enabling us to see how our infinite, all-knowing Father is caring for us in ways we can’t even imagine.

The Bible depicts this kind of care in the story of Moses. Surely he never dreamed he’d lead a nation, but through a series of unlikely events, his humble listening to God put him in a position to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. He had no GPS, just a steadfast faith in God’s direction. At one point, they faced the great Red Sea, and close on their heels was the Egyptian army, the greatest in the world. There were a lot of opinions put forward by those Moses was leading. Many wanted to give up and return to captivity, and others were critical of him for leading them to what looked like certain destruction. Which of them could have foreseen the outcome: the Red Sea parting so they could cross safely on dry land?

Similarly today, we might not always be able to see how problems can be solved, but we can trust in the same power. Science and Health explains: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need. It is not well to imagine that Jesus demonstrated the divine power to heal only for a select number or for a limited period of time, since to all mankind and in every hour, divine Love supplies all good” (p. 494).

Divine Love, our Father-Mother God, supplies all good to each of us continually. That includes individuals in government, immigrants, the marginalized, the unhappy – everyone! In every moment, every situation, our divine Parent’s love is surrounding us right there. When we recognize this, it lifts anger, discouragement, and sadness, enabling us to feel a fuller joy and peace and discern solutions we hadn’t dreamed of. Like trusting children, we can be assured of Love’s care and guidance.

No individual, no government, no legislation, can separate any of us from our ever-present Father-Mother God. As sons and daughters of God, members of His, Her, divine family, we can lean on infinite divine Love to support our brothers and sisters. Instead of just feeling heartsick or angry over the headlines, our thoughts, prayers, and actions are more effective and beneficial when we let God’s eternal love for all His creation lead us forward.

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Learning track

Altaf Qadri/AP
A young girl browses through books while sitting on a railway track in New Delhi Oct. 16.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 17th, 2018 )

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow we'll look at the Saudi journalist whose disappearance is having a chilling effect on Arab dissidents.

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October 16, 2018
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